Truancy Volume 94: Slugabed

Slugabed gifts us our 94th Truancy Volume. 2012 was a busy year for the Bath-born, London-based producer: his debut album, Time Team, was released on recently diversified label, Ninja Tune. Meanwhile, he was laying the foundations for Activia Benz, a label that coolly promotes the music of a splash of artists from around the globe. During our lengthy Skype conversation, we talked about composition, Internet culture, how hip-hop’s changed and ever-changing and the importance of visual art in music today.

So, how are you? What have you been up to today? “I’m pretty good. I just met some friends from Prague for lunch. I’m going to go and play with them in two weeks at a party they do there and they holiday in London, so I thought we’d go for some lunch.”

So how long is it you’ve been in London for? “I’ve lived in London four years…” But you’re from Bath originally – what was that like? “It was all right – quite a nice town. Small, pretty. Quite a lot of drugs.” Haha, I imagine it as a little sister town of Bristol, sort of. Were you connected with Bristol at all? “Yeah, well you know people from Bristol, you go out with people in Bristol but at the same time, it’s very different from Bristol.”

I think of Bath as quintessentially British – do you think your music challenges that at all? “It’s pretty disconnected from Bath as a place. I think the fact that I was in Bath lent itself to making music; there’s not a lot to do, there’s not a huge scene. So I’d spend my time listening to stuff from L.A. and instead of going to cool club nights I’d be going around my friends’ houses, listening to different music. Bath is responsible for what I was doing but not directly. I feel that this is something that’s happening more and more with music: you get ‘bedroom producers’ who are fuelled by the experience of going around to other people’s houses and listening to songs on the Internet. It means it’s more varied, and it doesn’t really matter where you’re from. “Yeah, now it doesn’t matter. You’re growing up in the early 2000’s so, say, you’re part of the dubstep scene, that’s what you’re going to be creating. Whereas if you’re just in the middle of nowhere nowadays you can pick and choose what you want to be a part of or not a part of.”

Stream: Slugabed – Superphreak (Stuffrecords)

Something I’m really interested in is your track names. “Sun Too Bright Turn It Off” and “It’s When The Future Falls Plop On Your Head.” These, and most of your track names, remind me so much of weird Twitter (like Paul Jac) and also of producer Wanda Group, who also has amazing track names – “Piss Fell Out Like Sunlight”. “I really like his track names, a lot.” So why do you do it? “A lot of the stuff that came out around 2012, like Time Team, was childlike. All ideas about innocence. “Sun too bright turn it off” was something my brother said when he was younger as my family was driving out of a garage or something. The other, apparently, was when I was three years old. I turned to my Dad and said: “What’s it like being dead? It’s when the future falls plop on your head.” I don’t know why. I don’t remember it obviously. I don’t feel I can claim ownership over it.”  It’s funny, when those track names are placed within the context of your album, they become something a lot more profound in a strange way. “All the stuff from that era of production was just silly little ideas, very ethereal, hard to explain imagery in my head and childlike nostalgia. More feelings and images, really. Because it was my debut album, it was a very personal thing for me. It didn’t need to make sense.”

I wanted to ask you about your melodies. For me, they set you apart from your peers. They always seem very considered. How do you compose them? “It’s tough to say how I write a melody but it’s definitely something that’s always been at the forefront of what I want to do with music. At times it varies into making beautiful, ugly music; sometimes it becomes beautiful clubby music. But on the whole what I want be doing is creating a nice atmosphere and nice harmonies. That’s what drove me to make music in the first place so that’s where the emphasis is for me as a producer. And I think it’s something, as you say, that sets me apart a bit. If I tried to make stripped back club music, I’d struggle to make it as unique because what I’ve got is my melodic side. I don’t actually have a piano myself but my dad does and when I go round there I’ll spend hours on that. Always long-winded, simple, ambient type stuff but I’ll be able to use some of it.”

Stream: Slugabed – GIRL FUK U

I watched a documentary about psytrance on Saturday night and Mr Kakehashi, founder of Roland, was talking about inventing the drum machine. He said that his invention means that “manufacturers and musicians manage without meeting,” which made me want to ask you about your relationship with technology, and whether you’re an instrumentalist too. We know you play piano… “So yeah, I play keys badly. My fingers don’t do exactly what I tell them all the time… I have an okay knowledge of harmony I suppose…” Your dad is a pianist right? “Yeah my dad’s really good at the piano. He finds it funny, how basic the stuff I do is.” Does he like the end product? “Hmm, he listens to loads of complex weird jazz. He listens to different elements of the music to me. He doesn’t hate it! I play drums badly as well. I haven’t sat at a drum kit for about five years but if I did, I’d stay there for hours. But as for technology, I like basic technology. I’m not a person who wants to update everything and I don’t make synths or do clever circuit bending. For me, the musical side of it is a lot more interesting – the composition and general arrangement of sound. I’m not in it to push boundaries. I produce on a really old version of Fruity Loops.” Why? “I guess the ideal answer is that I like its limitations but the real answer is just laziness. I don’t want to spend my week teaching myself to learn a new piece of kit. It [composing] is a very momentary thing: I want to sit down and do what I want to do there and then. So it’s part busyness, part laziness and part happiness with the crappy software that I use.” Some amazing stuff has been produced using it though, like “Brand New Day” by Dizzee Rascal. “I didn’t actually know that, but I think most grime probably is because it was a ubiquitous, easy-to-get-hold-of piece of software.”

You’re a hip-hop fan I gather. We want to know what you like – past and present. “I’m not as much of an expert on hip-hop as I’d like to be these days. I have this mind state where I like to focus on my own music. Sometimes if you let too much get into that… But when I DJ I need to know new music too. When I was 14, 15, it was loads of jazz and Madlib and Dilla so I was writing weird chilled out hip-hop stuff, all 90bpm. I listened to drum’n’bass when I was 17. But hip-hop first spurred me on to produce. But I never really considered what I made to be hip-hop because cos it was kind of weird.” It’s really interesting – I mean you’ve released loads of stuff – but you’ve ended up at Ninja Tune which, based on what you’re saying, kind of seems the perfect label – does it seem that way? “It’s good. It’s a nice label. It’s a nice place to be. I don’t know, so many people have so many different perceptions of so many labels. I mean some people think of Ninja Tune as what it was ten years ago – the trip-hoppy era, but it’s really been reinventing itself recently. All the team are really enthusiastic and everything. So when you remixed Roots Manuva’s “Witness”, was that the start of your relationship with Ninja Tune? “Yeah, they actually asked me to do a remix for their 20 year boxset and I said yes, then requested to do “Witness” then they said no. That night I downloaded the instrumental and a capella and got to work. My manager met with the label a few days later and took it on a USB stick and played it to them. I guess that was the first thing that convinced them that I was worth betting on… I don’t think I answered your question about hip-hop fully. I’m really into Yeezus. That’s my favourite hip-hop album. It’s so ridiculous and over the top and brash. It wouldn’t have worked in any other era. Lots of hip-hop heads say it’s stupid and not good hip-hop and that. But I think it’s what hip-hop needed. I also really like Leif and Mykki Blanco. I think Mykki Blanco is my favourite rapper at the moment and there’s all that hoo haa and everyone’s like, “What’s up with that? What’s happened to hip hop?” but things change. Who even cares? But to someone who is so deeply a part of hip-hop, I can kinda see why it’d be an issue but to me it is just music and we don’t need to put things in boxes. In my mind, there’s just one genre and that’s music and that almost bleeds into this one bigger genre called art.”

Stream: Roots Manuva – Witness the Fitness (Slugabed Remix)

It’s good that you say that art is the genre of your mind because I wanted to ask you about your label, Activia Benz. It was set up in 2012 by you and visual artist Jake Slee “Jake is a general visual and ideas man and a graphic and interesting guy. He’s working on a bunch of ideas.” Is every record on the label uniquely packaged? Is that the idea? “To be honest, we don’t think too deeply. We all put out music we really like then we’ll curate the art and the general presentation of each release. Uniqueness comes into it but it’s a natural pursuit for us. We’re going to take the label onto a new platform quite soon but I probably won’t go into that too much unfortunately because we’re still ironing out the creases.”

More labels now seem to adopt visual as as important as sound. You go on to Activia Benz’ website and the aesthetic is confusing. You have to work your way down through the page to get where and what you want, which I think works really well in a digital age – it’s interactive. “Exactly. That’s what we’re trying to do with the website. We’re not doing vinyl at the moment because it’s too expensive. The way the release spins round when you hover over it is to give you a feel of having a tangible product even if it is an image on a screen. We’re updating the website to make it even more fun soon.” And in terms of the label, it’s quite far reaching, geographically speaking. You’ve got 813 who’s from Russia. Eloq’s from Denmark. Deech is Belarusian. There’s also Lockah who’s Scottish and Taste Tester’s American. Was it part of your mission statement to be quite diverse in this manner or just coincidence? “We didn’t sit down together and decide we’re going to get our artists from all over the place. It’s  about hearing the music we love and being happy to bring it all together. To put it simply, we wouldn’t not put something out because it comes from a certain place. It’s nice how, say, Night Slugs are so centred around London but for us, I guess we’ve got quite a lot of friends from far-reaching places. We draw in anything from anywhere.”

And what’s coming next from Activia Benz? “On April 28th, we are releasing DZA’s Big Bang EP.

Stream: Slugabed – DO U C ME THO (Ninja Tune)

So back to your music: generally, it seems to have gone from a quite abstracted and distant style (like your Super Freak edit) to more complex dubstep driven stuff (which gained you recognition from, suitably, Mary Anne Hobbes and Benji B) to more dramatic, almost spiritual stuff (“DO U C ME THO”). Can you explain it? Is this where you’re at now? “One of my curses as a music maker is that I always change what I’m doing. I’m always writing music for the moment that I’m in, for myself, in a way, so I’m fickle with it. I wouldn’t say I’ve arrived at this sound. The next release you hear from me will be different. But the development has become more spiritual and dramatic and that’s just true of me just nurturing the side of my music I like. I don’t want to write dark music; it’s boring to me; it’s an easy idea. But I like creating a complex emotions, so that when you listen, you feel a little bit of hope and a tiny bit of dread. That’s something I’m trying to perfect… My next E.P., which I think will be on Activia Benz, that’s happy summery music, which contrasts “DO U C ME THO””. So you match mood temporally… “Yeah but not just the season. While I’ve been writing this music I’ve been happy with it, happy within myself.”

You started producing before you started DJing – how do and have they influenced each other? As a 14, 15 year old bedroom DJ you can get away with some awful mixdowns and weird ideas. Weirdness is all good but you learn quite quickly how to be weird in a way that people actually like. I started DJing in the local pub when I was 17 and I played out my stuff which was so badly mixed and challenging that people were like, “This isn’t really music – can you put something else on?” You don’t need to sell out but there’s a certain level of getting it right. Obviously the more you play out the more you want to make more fun, dancey stuff. That’s the immediate effect from DJing. I still really love writing music that I would never play out, though.”

You went on tour, all over the place, really… “It’s strange. In some way, the places where you wouldn’t expect, they’re the most fun. Somewhere like a small town in Eastern Europe where they don’t have the luxury and choice of music we have in London. They come and they dance to the most weird and experimental stuff all night because it’s so exciting. Whereas somewhere like London, maybe people are too well-educated that they think, oh this is a bit too housey for me. But as for my favourite place ever that I’ve played, [clicks tongue], some of the shows that I’ve had on the West coast of America have been really special. It’s an enthusiastic scene and I feel that I’ve had fans there for quite a while. I feel appreciated when I go back there, like to California or Oregon.”

So the mix you have prepared for Truants. What can we expect? “Naturally there’s some unreleased stuff by me. There’s some unreleased stuff from my label. And some other stuff from my label that’s already out. I think it’s something you can put on while you’re getting ready for a night out or something you can put on in the bath. It’s dancey but weird and maybe a bit chin-scratchy.”

And to wrap up: have you watched True Detective? “I haven’t I’m afraid. I haven’t watched Breaking Bad or The Wire or True Detective, or anything I should watch. Instead I just sit in front of Escape to the Country for hours.” When was the last time you danced? “Today, if that counts?” Yep, it does. “For like ten seconds? I dunno, I do it all the time.” What’s your favourite drink? “Beer.” Ale or lager? “All the beers. Yeah. Both.”

Stream: Truancy Volume 94: Slugabed by TRUANTS


Dynooo – Fitzrvya
Slugabed – 1 Badman
Slugabed – Real Buds
Oneohtrix Point Never – Still Life (Lockah Edit)
Lockah x Taste Tester – Higher (DJ DJ Booth Remix)
Eprom – Lost Levels
Rewrote – Chroma VIP
Gillepsy – webmoney webguns & webpussy
Slugabed – Pure El Niño Vibes
Silkersoft – Wasserlevel
DZA – Sakura
Mykki Blanco – Bugged Out
KW – Body Work
Slugabed – Another Chance 2k14
Grobbie – Game Boyz
Slugabed – do u c me tho
Napolian – Is It Love?
Kappa Kavi – Best I Ever Had
Ana Caprix – Flashlite Ft. i-octane
Sivey – Puffin Chunks

Erin Mathias


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