So “Dressed for CCTV” is your 2nd album off the label “Village Live Records”, how do you feel you have grown as an artist since the last album?
Die Berlin Dateien, the first album with VL, was essentially a training exercise. I was trying to learn how close the gap between what I wanted to do and actually being able to do it. On the new album, the sound has grown from working with talented musicians who helped fill in the blanks that my lack of musical training has created. I think I’m fully grown as an artist, the difference in the past few years has been my ability to create more space to allow for randomness to occur, which in turn has seen the more experimental, dystopian sound I was always touching on, come into being more fully.
I like the sound of “more randomness”, can you give us some idea of what you actually mean by that?
I have been making beat for 14 years so my brain knows how to cut and arrange the samples and tweak the sound. I generally stock pile sound sources, so that when I do have time – hopefully more than six hours – to make a tunes, I will sit down in the studio and just start messing around with no set desire or specified outcome. This then leads to what I think other people, my girlfriend included, would call musical torture. Hours of skipping through sounds, relentless loops that play for ages whilst other things are tried on top, insane over-programming of drums, generally just letting my brain act out ideas. The process is exactly as that described in the intro sample taken from ‘Ex-Machina’ where Oscar Isaac’s character is talking about Jackson Pollock’s painting. Obviously, Pollock had intentions to create mad layers of dripped paint, as I do mad layers of samples but the samples I use are non-deterministic. This has all just become a process I have allowed to run itself, sometimes the output is fuckin shit and it won’t see the light of day, other times I’ll love it and then build on it by letting others play over the top of things. Even when I work with musicians I don’t want them to act out a specific request. I just ask them to fanny around for a bit, I take the recordings home and apply the same technique again.
Can you give me some idea of when the album was started and how long it took to come together?
I made the rough skeleton of Automatic Art in Jan ’16 and knew then that I was going to put it aside for some much darker weirder project in the future. Cut to summer 2017 and I finished DBD and had been real busy in the process of moving house and learning German, so hadn’t made much music. We secured a nice flat but had to move into this tiny little one bed place with three of us for a few weeks whilst it was being readied.
In this super cramped tiny environment I made ‘Rivers Of Ice Cream’, the instrumental for what is now ‘Something From Nothing’ (originally called ‘The Steep Climb Up Cunt Mountain, a name the label didn’t like too much), ‘Village Live Motherfuckers’ and ‘Round In All The Right Places’. For the next six months I stock piled loads of other beats and sound collages, mostly shit ones and just tried to practice every day in order to get new ideas going. I wanted the process to become automatic, in that I would sit down and let my mind wander and do what it wanted, hopefully producing something worthwhile.
Jump to early 2018 and the lads from VL dropped us a message saying if I wanted to put anything out before Sept then they were gonna need it by May. I threw over a cluster of 15 or so tunes and they were backing them. We thrashed out an order together. At this point I began to get a picture of how each tune would flow into one another, where the gaps were that needed filling and where I had to cut things down that were too indulgent. I then worked for a few months with Doron Segal and my friend Joel (aka BOOKS) on beefing up the tunes, fine tuning structure and getting other artists to such as Omas and Omri Abramov to do soloing or the more expressive bits of songs.
Seems like you juggled various day to day life stuff while making the album, so let’s talk about creative flow… Do you assign time to make music or do you accommodate it as and when you can?
I got into a pretty solid habit of trying to make music 35hours a week in my first 18months in Berlin, when I was making the album. This fluctuated across the time but meant that unless I was at work in the restaurant or out meeting mates I was making tunes or in a record shop. Recently, having found redundancy 🙂 I now do music all the time, so starting about 8am till about 7pm, this has started after I finished the album but over the past months the new shit I have been making is making the album I just released like baby steps.
So let’s talk about the studio! Can talk us through your studio set up and if there are any particular pieces of kit that were key in the making of “Dressed for CCTV”.
I have a super basic set-up in the studio: 1x Turntable, 1x Vestax mixer, 1x Macbook with an old ass version of Pro-Tools running through an Mbox. I’ve got an Sp404sx that I use to fuck around with FX but it doesn’t feature heavily on the album, but more in my newer music.
The key piece of kit to making hip-hop, well the beats at least, is records. My brain is never not looking for samples, breaks or weird sounds. If I hear a killer line in a film, it gets noted. If I hear someone mention such and such a break, it gets noted. I spend an unthinkable amount of time in record shops or on the internet searching for a sound that I don’t know how to describe before I hear it.
Interesting title for the album too! Can you tell us how the title came about??
I read the decent of man by Grayson Perry and noted the line from there. I liked it as it made you think the way technology changes the way we behave and the sinister nature of the surveillance state we live in nowadays .
From doing some research I can see that you spent time in Berlin after living in Manchester. (You might even still be living there!)
Berlin seems to be where a lot of artists go to live and seemingly in the notion it will aid them creatively… Saying that, would you say living in Berlin has had an effect on you as a producer?
I still live here, it’s great. It’s no better place than Manchester to make music though. I like the shitty weather in Manchester, makes you stay inside and get on with shit and the people there are second to none. The major difference for me is that I know less people here, so have less social obligations and in turn shit loads more time to mince around in the studio. I live pretty cheaply and so therefore don’t have to work so much, if at all, to fund the music. I think people play on that ‘Berlin is great place to be creative’ shit too much. Most cities offer a some form of cultural melting pot that can stimulate your imagination, you just have to seek it out. I think some people think if they move to Berlin and get a weird hair cut that they are gonna make some ground breaking music, but they’re not.
Ha Ha! I do sort of think that about some producers and their drive to move to Berlin… Going back to Manchester, you mentioned there’s no better place than there, I remember a while back reading a Marcus Intalex interview and him also referencing exactly the same thing (himself also living in Berlin at the time), what do you think it is about Manchester that makes it a great place for you personally to make music?
Having lived there all my life I always managed to find pretty big gaffs for cheap, which meant I could have a studio in the house. I’m not one of these people that needs a designated space and time to ‘be creative’ and a warehouse to go to. I’m mostly always on it, so best shout for me is to have my set-up in my living space so I can roll out of bed, sit there in my duds and reduce the time from pillow to pro-tools to 0.
As I said previously, the weather is conducive to staying indoors and getting on with tunes but I also think that it’s cheap to live and party, which means the amount of cross pollination between creative heads is higher than places where you gotta be wedged to go out and immerse yourself in culture. Also, people take their music pretty seriously in Manchester, but simultaneously don’t take themselves too seriously, so you get a great mix of graft and humour. That means you are surrounded by people who are challenging each other to create new and exciting stuff but aren’t gonna get too far up their own arse to still come to the pub.
It also has a rich music history which I think creates a positive feedback loop where the new musicians coming through are inspired by previous generations and then feel they need to take the baton and carry it to somewhere new, which they mostly seem to do.
So let’s talk about influences! Give us an idea of some of the music that shaped your sound…
Lately, I have had two major obsessions, the genres of The Canterbury Scene and Music Concrete. Initially, as a sound source they offer this bat-shit crazy selection of noise and song structures that are rife for sampling, but then they are also incredibly inspirational in terms of what people were and are still trying to do with musical expression. Bands likes Soft Machine, Henry Cow and Art Bears aren’t essentially easy listening, but like with the more extreme jazz, if you can let you brain get past the initial panic the music creates, its presents this super ethereal and strange place for your thoughts to exist. This is something that has influenced me a lot and I have tried achieve a similar feat in my own albums. My aim is to make music that represents the mechanised world I live in and make sense of it, not make some catchy song about how my missus cheated on me or how deeply I love cars.
Additionally, I am a fan of lists and recently worked out exactly who my top 5 favourite hip-hop producers are: Rza, Shadow, El-P, Premier and Q-Tip. I know someone will harp on about how I missed out Kanye or how Dilla is the best or Marley Marl shaped everything, but this is my list and they are wrong 🙂
There is one full collaboration on the album and that’s with Nottingham based rapper Cappo! How did that come about?
I made a beat the night of the Tory re-election, in the aforementioned tiny gaff and I was losing my shit to it when I was making it. Dancing round with my headphones on whilst my girlfriend and sister were laughing at me. I was buzzing so hard I sent it to the label lads like : check me out, look at me new beat urrgggghhhhhh! They said they thought Cappo would sound sick over that beat. I said ‘is there any chance you can make that happen?’ They said ‘yes’. Sent it to him and he was up for it. Then things went a bit quiet for the winter and we had actually started moving ahead with the album as it stands but just with the beat without rhymes on it and then like a lightening bolt Cappo sent the verse over and I remember walking home listening to it on repeat buzzing. Like a small child type buzzing. He fuckin killed it and then obviously it had to go on the album.
While we are on the subject of working with Cappo and also considering your past with being part of the awesome “the natural curriculum”, you must find it easy working with vocalists right?
I’m a vocalist myself and all my beats are still made with a view to getting someone to rap on them. It’s only when i take things too far that this isn’t any longer an option. Pauly Omas told me not to forget about rappers – what with all my self indulgent instrumental making – and I have absolutely no intention of doing so. Just waiting to see who and what comes out of the ether.
So the album will get a full 300 ONLY vinyl release (which I will deffo be copping) and it’s looking smart! Who dealt with all the artwork?
The man Toby Curtis. He did my first album cover with Village Live as well and I told him that it takes decision out of my life if i just have him do the artwork for all my instrumental releases fro here on in. I like the fact that his abstract expressionist based in graffiti is pretty much parallel to my music. The guy is fuckin sick and if i was not a poor bitch I would buy more than the one painting I currently have of his. Any affluent young professional mother fuckers reading this should check his gear online and get one bought whilst they still don’t cost £20,000 a piece. Salute Toby!
So the albums done and set to drop, what else can we expect from you moving forward?
Myself and BOOKS have begun a concept album, with us combining on production. The first half of which is built and half treated. It is by far the most ambitious thing I have ever made and I sit there with a joyous screw face every time I listen back to the rough edit we have so far.
I will be spending a lot of time working with MOVE 78 in the coming year, touring and showering down our dystopian jazz into the ears of the unsuspecting public.
I started my third instrumental album for Village Live, which i’ll hopefully finish by January. It’s built entirely out of Anime and Manga soundtrack records I copped in Japan earlier this year.
Thank you for chatting with us Joe and massive big ups for the album!