Erin Kubicki on 23/9/11
Influential-producer on the bass scene (undoubtedly since dropping the sub-lunging ‘Anaconda‘ in 09), Untold’s dub-pulses have steadily been reaching across the city and the industry for the last few years; be it through his own recordings or through his founded label Hemlock (releasing everyone from Ramadanman to Breton to James Blake). With bass music currently changing and revaluating where it’s at it’s hard to define the parameters of the scene and Untold is doing nothing to constrain them. Erin Kubicki caught up with Untold to chat bass-now and how Hemlock fits in.
Pulse: Do you feel the bass scene has changed in recent years, do you agree with critics when they say it has been ‘watered-down’ to some extent? Untold: I guess a lot of it is quite retrospective. There’s a lot of young producers using sounds that were around a few years back: a lot of that is recycled garage sounds that people who were around when garage was first doing its thing are making comparisons and saying that it hasn’t got that sort of rawness and roughness that it did originally. But I guess that’s quite common: you could apply that to like techno, or you could say that drum and bass is being watered down as well. The sound is just changing.
What direction can you see bass-music heading? I think it’s going to continue to expand outwards really. One thing that I do think is good is that there’s lots and lots of different reference points being explored at the moment and I think definitely this year bass music has made a line in the sand between itself and dubstep. There’s a lot of producers who came through from dubstep who were feeling slightly constrained or were in this strange musical space that no-one really knew what to call. Dubstep meant different things to different people but now I think that’s becoming more defined this year, so there’s going to be more and more areas to explore elsewhere, there’s going to more reference points.
Where do your productions fit? I’m exploring as well really. I think a lot of producers have slowed down to help make that separation from dubstep, they’ve slowed down the tempo and I’ve done that too. I’m now writing stuff that’s around the tempo of house and techno. That opens it up especially for my DJ sets as well: mixing to lots of other different genres - it makes it easier. Right now I’m exploring Detroit techno; it’s really opening things up.
Lots of producers/DJs seem to be revisiting old school house and techno at the moment, why do you think this is? I was never into that at all. For me personally it took me a while to understand house, I felt that the metronomic 4/4 beat was a bit of a constraint really but now I understand once you accept that as a template there’s so much to explore and do and obviously it makes it accessible; people have been dancing to that beat for years. It makes it easier as a DJ to have that familiar reference, that familiarity. Also bass music artists are being booked to play bigger and bigger crowds and the bigger venue you play its sometimes harder to play the more experimental stuff and have the vibe in the room with you so definitely playing stuff that’s more house orientated is a way to capture that.
Do you feel it’s partly down to club-demand? What do people want on the dance floors at the moment? It’s a very funny time. I used to plan out my sets and pretty much knew what I was going to be playing but now just because of music at the moment it’s impossible to do that. Obviously some people just want to hear bass, whatever dubstep is right now but other people are very open. It's good, it’s exciting being a DJ right now as you don’t know what the atmosphere is going to be like, or what the crowd are going to respond to and when you try and guess it that’s part of it. It’s not a good time to be planning tune by tune sets.
Is Hemlock operating on what people want at the moment or is it separating itself, doing its own thing? We’re just trying to create a label really with music we think is interesting. I guess looking back we’ve always been on the outskirts starting off with what dubstep was and now going through to elsewhere: we’re signing bands like Breton; it’s kind of really thrown it out really. So we’re not so bothered about labels we want music that sounds coherent, sounds like it should fit the label.
You’ve had so many great artists on your roster (Pearson Sound, LV, Fantastic Mr Fox), what’s it like seeing them grow from the small label notably James Blake this year? It’s fantastic, we’re so proud of him (James Blake). He’s absolutely prolific at the moment. It was obvious when James started playing us some of the vocals stuff especially for his album we knew we weren’t ready at that time, he had something that was bigger than we could do service to. For him to go out and get the Atlas deal that’s just been so fantastic to see that happen - and obviously it’s really nice when he comes back to us and does another single.
Do you think it’s important for small labels to know their limits in terms of what they can do for themselves and what they can offer artists? Yes. To expose a new artist into new territories, to a point, it depends on the quality of the music but you still need to invest a hell of a lot of money into it. I think now if we’ve found another James Blake, not that we’re holding our breath but I think that’s something that we’d look to take on now, and there are ways of doing that for smaller labels to get the exposure which is needed. But certainly at the time you know a couple years ago we weren’t ready. There’s nothing wrong with having a vision but if you do take on a new artist that has got that much potential I don’t think it’s right for smaller labels to look to lock them down. If the working relationship is good between the artist and the label then hopefully they’ll come back.
How do you judge your successes as an independent label? It’s certainly not on sales, I just think looking back listening through the catalogue, I still enjoy all the stuff we put out, I don’t think we’ve put out any fillers. I just look to it as a legacy. That’s the thing that spurs me on, each release gets stronger and it defines Hemlock as label, as a brand Hemlock becomes more defined. We’re looking to expand as long as the music is good - that’s good enough for us really.
Do you feel, especially within bass music, there is a network growing, a community? There always has been. And to be honest most of the people I’ve met in dubstep and bass music there hasn’t been that competiveness, aside from healthy competition, there hasn’t been any of the nastier stuff that I’ve heard of in other more established scenes. Definitely everybody supports each other and there are lots of good collaborations going on, labels doing nights together - I think that side of it really helps. Especially when musically its broadened so much, especially in London, a lot of those ties people have to each other from those small labels has helped keep that community around that was there originally in dubstep.
Is there anyone you’re looking forward to releasing in the near future? We’ve got a new artist called Guy Andrews who’ll be our next single (in November): I think he’s going to do really well. His sound is very percussive but musically it’s very, very strong and fits into almost like a minimal techno kind of sound as well. He manages to capture all these sounds into one tune; I think he’s going to have a really strong year. It’s nice to get someone new that hasn’t had any releases before so we’re looking forward to that one.
Asides from Hemlock, what’s for Untold? I’ve had an ongoing collaboration with Samuel Chase and that’s under the title of Dreadnought, our album’s almost there. It’s taken longer than I thought but that’s what we’re working to. I wanted to write an album on my own but I do feel that when you have vocal content it does really throw it open so much than what I can do by myself. What started out just me doing some trials with a few singers has evolved, the writing process has evolved to me working with Samuel Chase but the output is definitely going to have a much wider reach than something that I could do by myself. It’s been interesting. The stuff that’s Untold I’m just going to concentrate on single and EPs.
For more on Hemlock & Untold, head here
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