Functions Of The Now XIII: Glacial Sound

After meeting LA native Guy Fridge for the last edition of Functions Of The Now, we move across the Atlantic to hit up Paul Purcell in Dublin, the man behind one of our favourite labels: Glacial Sound. On the cusp of its fifth release, it’s testament to Glacial Sound’s precision that with just a handful of records scattered across the last two years it’s become one of the most essential labels in the current grime landscape. Thus far it’s been home to the EPs that solidified Rabit and Murlo’s respective sounds as well as pushing them to the forefront of the modern grime scene, a white label containing Logos’ most potent dancefloor cuts to date and of course legendary MC Riko Dan’s underground anthem Black Dragons. Purcell is remarkably understated about the game plan behind Glacial Sound, downplaying the cohesive aesthetic and high hit rate as simply stemming from talking to artists at the right time and having outside forces dictate a slower release schedule. That said, if we’re to believe that the potency of the label’s output genuinely stems from the convergence of chance events, he’s evidently had some very good fortune bolstering his canny A&Ring.

The label’s next release, courtesy of the genre-defying Sharp Veins looks to continue the pattern of honing in on artists on the cusp that began with Rabit and Murlo. We’ve had our eyes on the young producer for a while – in fact we profiled him for Functions Of The Now at the end of last year – and we’re thrilled to see his debut EP Inbox Island arrive so fully formed. Conceptually, it’s Glacial Sound’s boldest release yet, with Sharp Veins explaining: “all the songs on Inbox Island describe (and live in) fictional places – idyllic, isolated locations far away from where I am now, all viewed through a digital prism. It’s escapism, or a brand of it heavily informed by all the fucking time I spend on the Internet searching for places I’d rather be.” Matching this geographical transcendence is an aesthetic that will be significantly more difficult to place than most that circle around the fuzzily defined club music scene that’s been developing over the past few years.

While the tracks on Inbox Island share some of grime’s DNA, it’s a far cry from the pure strains on display in Glacial Sound’s catalogue thus far. There’s a distorted pulse here and a hint of Sharp Veins’ square wave hammering past as William Skeng there, but on the whole, ambience and precise sound design take precedence. The result is a set of club abstractions that marry the organic warmth of his Soundcloud material to a more overtly electronic sound palette. The title track and opener is a prime example of this principle – taking a Drexciyan lead line and enveloping it in wave upon wave of synth voices, manifesting as a piece that’s dense and weightless at once. Elsewhere “2 Bad So Sad” plays a similar trick, with its audacious pitch-shifting central figure floating atop layers of pillowy synth pads.

In terms of Sharp Veins’ youth and breadth, as well as his aesthetic, one comparison that comes to mind is a young Dro Carey. There are superficial points of intersection – a similar sampling discipline, the occasional forays into grime production – but it’s the tunnel vision genrelessness that compels us to join the dots. Since Dro Carey emerged five years ago he’s become a prolific and singular voice on the outskirts of the electronic underground: we quietly anticipate a similar path for Sharp Veins, and it’s exciting that Glacial Sound will be kickstarting that journey. From this edition of FOTN’s mix and Purcell’s future plans this release may well be the beginning of a widening remit for the label as well.

As usual we’ve got some records from the FOTN universe to recommend, and the first up is a bit of a curveball – Boxed main man Slackk coming correct for the legendary R&S. OK, R&S is a bit of a different proposition nowadays, having looked ever wider for releases since rolling back into action this past decade, but seeing grime on one of the techno labels par excellence still brings a tear to our eyes. Elsewhere Mumdance brings Logos back for an extended session on the second Different Circles 12″ Glass. The title track hits hard with its distorted pulses, but the real gold is on the B-side, where punches are pulled and the ambience stretches out to infinite. Gobstopper Records continue their rude form, seemingly enlivened by the response to label head Mr Mitch’s Planet Mu debut. This time they’re debuting Iglew’s “Urban Myth”,  one of the clear highlights of Sharp Veins’ edition of FOTN. And while all the publications are going crazy for “Shutdown” (and quite rightly so) don’t forget that the younger Adenuga JME releases his new album Integrity on Monday. Twitter meme anthem “Don’t @ Me” is already floating round and should whet your appetites for the main event.

We caught up with Paul over Skype to discuss battling Record Store Day, sailing to Inbox Island and the grime ‘resurgence’.

Let’s talk a little bit about how you began Glacial Sound: what did it come out of, and what was your inspiration? “I suppose it came around when I was playing on a radio station in Dublin. When I started radio it was probably about 2011 when I was in college. The other shows were playing trance, hard house, techno – you know that sort of realm, 4/4. I was playing grime from the start with bits of funky and 130bpm kind of things. I had a lot of stuff built up but I wanted to keep it fresh every week. I only did it over the course of a couple of months but I did it every week – and you run through a lot of music in 2 hours. I just got in touch with a lot of people like Rabit and Murlo, just to get music. Then I was like “fuck it, might as well start a label”. It wasn’t any lightbulb moment like “Oh I should start a label” it just stemmed from that.” So you didn’t really have any relationship with any of these guys until you got in contact purely for the radio show? “Yeah it was pretty much through that. I’d met a few people through parties over here but not those guys. Rabit’s in Texas obviously and I didn’t meet Murlo till afterwards. But me, Shriekin and Major Grave are in Dublin. We go to whatever parties are on, especially me and Shriekin cos we’re younger: just us turning up with the Buckfast, standard.”

What kind of parties were happening around that time in Dublin?  “There were a lot of dubstep parties for a while, but then there was some stuff in the Hyperdub sorta vein – they get booked quite a lot in Dublin – and the Night Slugs people. You know when they ruled the world in about 2011? That’s when I started going out clubbing here.

It’s interesting bringing up Night Slugs and Hyperdub because I think a sizeable part of the scene nowadays probably came into grime via labels like those rather than the classics. What was your route into grime, had you been into it since the early days? “I wasn’t into it in a “club” sorta way – until I started DJing at least – because I’d never had an experience of it in a club, but I listened to a lot of commercial hip hop so I’d be on Channel U and MTV Base and all that on Sky. I didn’t really get grime at the time, I was just waiting for the next G-Unit video or something to come on but I’d watch the Wiley videos like Pies and Igloo. Then one of my mate’s brothers gave me a bootleg copy of Kano’s Home Sweet Home. At the time I thought it was UK hip hop and that it was sick. The beats on that were grimey but it was Davinche and all that, it wasn’t like hearing something totally alien.”

Who or what would you single out as the precursors to what you’re doing now then? “I’d say that Butterz laid the foundation for the modern grime label. I’ve talked to people who have other labels like Tom Frasier [Coyote Records] and Butterz have been the massive inspiration. It was kind of like – Elijah & Skilliam are doing it, I can do it. Another thing they did as well, which not as many people seem to give them credit for, is start grime back up in clubs. “Yeah, they presented it as party music again. And another thing they did was merch – it’s ridiculous. When I was over in Japan everybody was wearing Butterz caps and Butterz t shirts. Everyone was on it, it was crazy.”

Butterz definitely laid the template and there are few others doing it, but even so it’s quite novel to be releasing grime on 12″ these days. Is the format important to you? “Not massively – it was at the start because I think it kind of solidifies the label, do you know what I mean? But, nowadays it’s just more of a hassle – I’m thinking I should just do CDs or something. It’s important to have a physical thing to me, like an actual tangible product but I didn’t grow up listening to things on vinyl, I probably have more of an affinity with CDs. It’s interesting the relationship the old era of grime has with the medium. I think some of the mythology comes out of it coming out on these – now impossible to find – white labels. And now people will pay £90 to get old Ruff Sqwad or Danny Weed. “Haha yeah, or Mssingno. It’s difficult sometimes though, like the Sharp Veins 12″ is delayed because of record store day. That’s why I did the Fuck RSD promotion

How is everything going with the Sharp Veins release? How did it come together? It must’ve been difficult whittling down all of his material into a five tracker. “Yeah I’m really happy with it, it’s been a long time coming. He’s got a crazy amount of stuff man. I just kinda had this vision for Inbox Island and I wanted that to be the EP. We spoke at length about visuals because he instills visuals in people’s heads with his music, it’s crazy. This is my personal view of Inbox Island – the first track kinda lulls you in, it’s real bright. That’s as you’re approaching the island. Then, the rest is a drop into the jungles and canyons – just picture some kind of volcanic island or some shit. Then the last track – that’s you escaping the island. He just plants these pictures into your head. I’d say the Sharp Veins release is kind of a turn away from some of the stuff that I’ve released previously. It’s just that everything’s going to be called grime, Inbox Island is probably going to be called grime.”

Haha, I feel like in some small way we might contribute to that: Functions Of The Now started as a grime series but has widened its scope slightly since, we just haven’t explicitly spelled out that shift. I’m guessing you take a fairly dim view on the “grime resurgence” then? “I dunno, it’s funny because I have people who wouldn’t really know anything about grime but they’d be in college and they’d say “we read this article about the resurgence of grime” and all this. But it’s been good for the past 5 years. There’s lulls obviously, but it’s just consistently at the forefront at the moment.” I think on one level there’s ‘more’ stuff happening right now, I think that’s true at least. “It’s definitely more visible right now, because it’s cool as well so you’re gonna see what’s going on. But since grime was coined there’s been cool stuff happening all along. It’s just a question of how many people are watching it really.” Yeah I even wrote an article for a student newspaper back in 2010 arguing that there was a “grime revival” [don’t worry, I’ve learnt my lesson since]. I guess you can choose things to look at.. “..And you can build your own narrative. So people will use the Kanye thing and build whatever narrative they want out of it.”

One thing that people have complained about with what’s happening right now is that there’s lots of instrumentals kicking around but the vocal tracks are missing. This is something you’ve pushed against though, as you had the Riko Dan vocal of Rabit’s Black Dragons. How did that come about? “That just came around as a special – I just hit up Riko and asked “Could I get a special, like?”. I got him to do that, and it was just me and Rabit who had it for ages then Murlo was doing a mix and asked if I could send it. Then one or two other people – Logos, a couple of others – they all wanted it so I thought “fuck it we might as well give it a bit of room”. I’d got the mileage out of it as a special. Then Logos played it at Boiler Room and things went crazy. It’s a secret for now, but I’ll have some more vocals coming out. One is over some Major Grave beats, and there are one or two others in the pipeline but they haven’t been finished so wait and see. I agree with people who say there needs to be more vocals though. If you were to put them on a scale, the instrumentals versus the vocals, they’re absolutely dwarfed at the moment. It’s something that needs to be addressed from both sides. The eski stuff that the bigger MCs are spitting on right now could bring MCs back onto the weirder side. It’s just meeting people in person: when it’s a face to face thing you’re able to present what might not necessarily be what they’re generally spitting on a bit better.”

Other than the secret vocal tracks, what do you have lined up? “We’re gonna have something from V1984. It’s really up in the air though, really fluid. He’s crazy, he makes one track every day. He has some many tunes it might be hard to dwindle it down to an EP so I don’t know what could happen. It could be a more expansive project. Like a 20 track EP *laughs*.

How much of a role do you play shaping the material on the releases?  “It kinda varies. Sometimes I might say, ‘I’m not sure about that little vocal snippet’ but I’m not like an executive producer or anything. The Rabit one, that was just when I was setting up. He was just building the tracks – there was one or two we didn’t use but as they were coming in we sequenced it, just as we were going on.  The Murlo one, he had sent me a zip with one or two other tracks which have since come out – I kind of had a format at that point but I’ve switched that up now. The Riko one was just there so we had to give it to the people.”

Now that you’re here on your fifth release,  do you have an idea of what kind of space you’re trying to carve out with Glacial Sound? Can you define what you’re looking for in a Glacial Sound record? “A lot of the stuff is quite melodic, but I’d say the Sharp Veins is kind of a turn away from that. Obviously the lead track is quite melodic but otherwise not so much. I do think that’s it’s best if it’s not defined though. I take my time with the releases because obviously I’m a student and I don’t have a ton of cash to throw at a label although I do put money into it whenever I can – and it kinda works out well for me, because the selection process for the EPs is really strenuous. I’m going to be like ‘do I want to spend all this money?’ and that helps me curate it in a certain way. It’s a restriction working in my favour and I’ll probably keep doing 3-4 records a year, maximum. I don’t really like to say ‘this is what it’s all about’. I try and keep it as open ended as possible because I could end up releasing tech house *laughs* no I’d never do that but open ended, yeah.”

Any last shout outs before we wrap up? “Shout out to everyone who’s supporting continually. You see the same people buying all the records on Big Cartel and Bandcamp, shout out to those people who are buying them consistently… even though the schedule isn’t consistent. And everyone who’s playing it and writing about it.”


Parker – Untitled (Aaliyah Mix)
V1984 – ??????
????? ????? – Red Moon
I Need A Thot (Mistress Edit)
Sharp Veins – Glowworms
V1984 – ??????
Rabit & Riko Dan – Black Dragons (Ziro Remix)
Sharp Veins – Inbox Island
????? ????? – ???????? ??
????? – ???

Artwork: Joe Jackson

Simon Docherty