Sunday, May 10, 2009
Silkie - photo by Ashes57
Even for a genre dominated by dubplates, 12"s and podcasts, my gut reaction tells me it will be a good year for dubstep or dubstep-affilated albums. With the Hyperdub album race underway (current front runner: Darkstar's, which I'm exceptionally excited about...) and Kryptic Minds' dark opus - not to mention a little something up my sleeve on Keysound, the album format may be about to hold its own this year.
In this company comes a very strong contender for album of the year, "City Limits Volume 1" by Silkie. Released on Mala's Deep Medi label, I've written about it in depth in my Pitchfork column this month, due live next week. But ahead of that, here's an interview with Silkie...
Blackdown: So can you tell me about where you started, musically?
Silkie: I started producing in 2001, when 15 years old. I was in the last year of school, stuck in music lessons. The way I first started was on Cubasis. In class they had Cubasis where most people played piano and record stuff in whereas I would program it. I’d just click on dots inside the edit window. My teacher was like ‘what are you doing?’ because she didn’t know you could do that. So I was just fiddling around before I got to know how to play music.
B: So it was more like composition rather than performance?
S: Yeah, it was a bit like the old school way of composing when you’re talking about programming, where lots of classical composers will just write the score rather than play the music and find out what they’re doing from there.
B: Back then do you remember what it was that made you want to produce more?
S: I took it like a computer game really, just creating new things. I was a DJ before I was making music and DJing got me into listening to beats. The way I found I could make music was I went into WHSmiths and there was a magazine like Future Music and it said something like ‘Make Music Now.’ And beforehand I didn’t know it was something you could do on a computer. Because that was around 2001, a time where software was starting in its own right to actually make a tune rather than to just synch hardware to it. So that was a transitional period when I got involved where I could make music of a decent standard on a computer.
B: It’s kinda crazy looking back because before you needed about £5000 worth of outboard equipment to get started. Now these days the most you’d spend on is your monitor speakers, right?
S: Yeah, other than your computer, it would have been the monitors for me.
B: Do you remember what it was about writing music that made you still want to write it, eight years later?
S: I kinda never just stopped. I can equate it to like watching EastEnders when you’re young. You start and carry on doing it – there’s nothing really that stops you from doing it. You’ve got to get your next fix. You feel like you’re not doing anything if you don’t do it. You feel like ‘what am I doing if I’m not doing this?’ Because I did kinda put my eggs in one basket when it came to the end of school because I had good grades so I could have done various A-levels but I choose to do a B-Tec national diploma in music which is the equivalent of four A-levels so at that point I’d made my decision.
B: You make those decisions then and often it takes years to happen for you...
S: Yeah it’s mad how it all comes together in the end even though at the time it’s loads of scattered thoughts and you don’t really have a plan as to what you’re going to do or even which kind of music you’re going to be into.
B: Back then, Unorthadox were part of the grime scene, would you call what you were making ‘grime?’
S: It wouldn’t say I followed grime. I started buying records in 2001 but stopped in late 2002, early 2003. The reason I stopped buying records because I wasn’t feeling what was coming out at the time. I’d be in the record store thinking ‘I don’t actually want to buy anything.’ Also I didn’t have a job and it came to the stage where my mum was not going to fund my record collection. So making music is free, so it was the cheapest way to carry on doing what I like. At the time, 2001, there wasn’t no distinction between dubstep and grime, because there was no such thing. It was all garage and that’s what I came from. So when I was buying records in 2001, I was buying garage. But obviously it had changed a bit then from what it had been in 1999. And when I started making music I was making garage, it was more like breakbeat-y garage, that was the main music I was making and I didn’t know music at all when I first started making beats. I didn’t know how to play the piano or anything about notes so it would be just beats and basslines that I was trying to write without even a melody just a repeating stab. That would be my beat.
B: So you were working on breakbeat garage and working with Unorthadox: back in those times were they your main focus or were you writing other styles too?
S: At the time I was kinda writing everything. Even when I was getting known in grime with Unorthadox and Nolay and people like Wiley and Jammer approaching me – I done a tune with Jammer on his Nekkle camp album, the same album with Quest’s Hard Food on it – that was just surfacing from what I was making, as I was making so many different things. At the same time I was making what could be classed as dubstep tracks and it was just different styles of garage to me rather than different music. I was making slowjams, r&b and hip hop too. I wasn’t making music with a plan for it to come out, or for it to ever surface. My brother, Silver, was an MC in Unorthadox. He’d come in my room, hear a beat and go ‘that’s good, lemme go to the studio.’ I was just working away not thinking ‘lets put this out’ and it’s always been people come up to me while I’m just getting my head down. And that’s been the way my music has come out over the years rather than me making a tune, burning a CD and giving it out at clubs – that kinda route. It’s been through friendship groups and one person talking to the next. So I don’t feel like it’s been forced and it’s been very slow, but steady. I haven’t tried any big marketing pushes. Even with the Deep Medi thing, it hasn’t been one release and then an onslaught of tunes. That’s just how I’ve always liked to take it: just kinda slow.
B: OK so just to finish with Unorthadox, were you part of it or was your brother just in it?
S: Well my brother was in Unorthadox and because he was my brother and i was a producer, I was basically their producer but I wasn’t actually in Unorthadox because at the time I had my own crew. I was the producer and the DJ for NK. They were friends I grew up with locally. Everyone who was a DJ had a group of friends that wanted to MC, so it was kinda like that. But they weren’t really focused. We were on radio but they weren’t taking it seriously. I would be telling them ‘yeah you should do this, or that’ but at the same time if people aren’t taking it seriously you cant do anything about it.
B: So when did you first become aware of dubstep becoming a scene or a sound that was more than just garage?
S: Well the first tune I made was with Harry Craze – he and I started making music ... well that’s how I started making tunes, with Harry because he was in my same music class and he had this Yamaha sampler with a Kaos pad on it. Well he’d make beats on that and I’d make beats on my computer on Fruity Loops. He used to listen to drum & bass and I’d say it was for crazy people and he’d say garage is for gay people or something like that – that was our little argument back in the day. So we ended up making music together and then Heny G came around, because I’ve known Heny for nearly eleven years because he just lives around the corner from me. So he came round and he was into the scene, he’d been to Velvet Rooms and all that. So through him coming around I had a tune released on Heny’s label for [the shop] Release the Groove. I was 15 or 16, that was my first tune that came out. So he was like ‘oh I need a remix for the other side’. This was back when every tune had a remix on the other side. So we quickly knocked out a remix in about two days. Heny gave it to Youngsta and at the first Forwards>> at Plastic People, Youngsta used to drop it all the time. It was called “Dark Square.” Yeah that’s vintage, I’ve got like one copy of it somewhere. So Youngsta used to play it and Heny was like “you need to come down to Forward...” So I came down and this was before it was a dubstep rave, it was 2002, kinda like a future music rave. “Forward music.”
B: Exactly. Dark garage + breakbeat garage + proto grime = “the forward sound” as it was known...
S: So I ended up going down there as well as making grime and I ended up making beats, well I wouldn’t say ‘in that style’ because I felt like I was already doing it so it wasn’t like I needed to adapt in any way but it felt more like an outlet because I was making all types of music but obviously there’s not an outlet for every type of music you make. So through just hanging around the scene and making friends, I ended up leaning towards dubstep because I felt more comfortable really. It wasn’t really about the music as such it was just more just comfort in the sense that in grime I felt restricted by the MCs because there was certain frequency ranges you had to leave out because it would be very crowded around there. But in dubstep I felt I could make my own vocal lines because the beat is the music, in a sense. I can have something on top but it doesn’t actually need it. It felt like freedom. Once I started to understand the dubstep attitude, when I was at the raves I felt more comfortable, settled in and stopped making things that could be classed as grime at that time. I started concentrating more on the basslines when I heard music on a nice system.
B: A lot of people in dubstep who don’t like grime have issues of how it is ‘negative,’ where do you stand?
S: The main thing about grime isn’t whether it’s negative or positive, because you can get vibes from something however you want to get it, but the main thing about grime is that there’s a lack of unity, when I was in it. Everyone was kinda against each other. It was a crew mentality. In dubstep there is an underbelly of crew mentality but at the same time it’s not overt and it’s not trying to block people. So in dubstep someone would book me at their rave and they bring me in, but at the time in grime Wiley wouldn’t just book someone from another area unless it’s through a link. It wouldn’t be just a straight bring in just because they’re talented because there’s a lot of fear that if you bring in someone talented they’ll overtake you.
B: Yeah all the grime MCs seem to see each other as being in conflict with each other.
S: Yeah so I just didn’t like or understand that aspect but I still like some of the music and I feel that there’s just as much good grime as there is dubstep.
B: I agree.
S: I have this philosophy that 5% of all music is good and that you don’t have to worry about the 95%, if you can find your 5% then you’re alright because a lot of people focus on what they don’t like. And that’s not important because that’s not going to make you feel good. People go on about how shit a tune is, but I don’t worry about it. If you don’t like it, don’t listen to it. There’s no point ranting and raving about what you don’t like.
Silkie - photo by Ashes57
B: So there’s Harry Craze and Heny you’ve known for ages, when did Anti Social come about as one unit?
S: It was very slow. I had a release when i was 17 on P records. My friend works for Polydor, and when Ms Dynamite’s A&R Jade Richardson got laid off, my friend took over P records. I used to go to his office and just chill with him. We used to go through demos and i really found out the industry for what it was on the inside. We’d go through demos with pictures of girls and decide to call them. It was really throwaway, decide in 3 seconds whether you’d listen to it. We ended up hanging around together a lot, we’d go places, I’d buy records for him – stuff that I thought was good and bring it to him. He ended up saying ‘well lemme release something from you.’ So I said I was going to put a little sub label logo on the record, I had a brainstorm and thought “Anti Social Records.” So how it got born, a little logo to say ‘I’m from Anti Social.’ With the rest it’s hard to say what happened because it was so gradual, we just hung around and the name got talked about so it all came together.
B: So when did you meet Quest?
S: I met him in 2003. I met him through Heny at radio, React FM. Heny used to Lush FM and Quest used to be in grime crew Northwest Untouchables. Heny was playing one of his beats that he made. Quest walked in and was like ‘wow...’ so they linked up through there. They started rolling but I was on React FM as a slowjams DJ. I was playing slowjams, I wasn’t even DJing grime just making it but because it was my friend’s station I went on there and played slowjams. So I met up with Quest, heard him play a few of his tunes in his set and they were sick. I started playing him my tunes and it was this kind of thing where I was sucked in by his sound because it sounded similar to mine. Even back then that’s why the link up happened: he was on the same tip as me. You know when you find someone and you’re like ‘rah he’s doing what I’m doing?’ And it’s better to just be with that person rather than be against them in the future, in a way. It was a ‘if you can’t beat them: join them thing.’
B: Where’s Quest from?
S: Harlesden, in north west London.
B: So when did the link with Mala and Deep Medi formally come about?
S: Quest and J5 went to go get a CD off Mala and they played him a CD of theirs. A couple of weeks later Mala calls me up having listened to the CD and says ‘I’ve been listening to your CD and I can kinda hear an album in what I’m hearing, not right now but I can hear how all the tunes link up. I’d like to put out some releases.’ So the album was planned before all the 12”s and the Deep Medi tour. He wanted to up our profile and then had then wanted to release the album.
Quest then calls me up 30 minutes after I’d spoken to Mala saying Mala had said exactly the same thing to him. So we went down to meet him, this was like 2007. We had a chat, all got on and took it from there.
B: You could have been signed to any label by anyone, what does it mean to you to be signed by Mala?
S: In my time I’ve had a lot of approaches from various different labels and I didn’t mind putting something one tune with someone but if you look through my releases I haven’t had a second release on any label and before Medi I’d released six or seven pieces of music. But it was always on a different label because I always had in my mind I wanted to start my own label. But because of the way Mala explained what he was trying to do, it didn’t feel aggressive or offensive. Because a lot of time labels will come up to you and say ‘this is what I can do for you...’ but you feel the undercurrent of what they’re trying to do, a quick capitalisation. Mala had a long term thought. If I’d had a short term thought, I’d have signed with these labels already. But I’d be putting all my eggs in one basket so I wanted to take it slow with whatever I was doing. But it was just the way he approached me. I already knew his music and greatly respected it but it was probably less that more of the way he handles himself and spoke to me about it.
B: So how did you go about assembling and shaping the album?
S: I wanted the album to be a snapshot of what I was doing in that nine month period of time, rather than being conceived as an album. I have quite a high work rate anyway. I also had the privilege of DJing out quite a lot while I was making it. So I’d play things that weren’t finished and see what worked, go by what I was feeling. At the same time people’s reactions will sometimes make you feel something a lot more because you see something that you didn’t before: it’s like a different angle. Especially with people you respect, like Quest would like “Oi! THIS tune...!” when I didn’t think that much of it, it’d sway me and I’d go ‘oh I get it now’ and re-listen to it from the first person point of view. It knocks you off centre and out of the producers position and just come in there as a listener. I’d play music to people around me: it was kind of a team effort, not just me sitting on my own in a darkened room, except when I was making the music, because when it came to finishing off certain bits of it, I’d happily take advice.
B: The album sounds coherent, but it also sounds like you tried to do a certain type of thing well – you didn’t try to do random hip hop tracks, pull in unusual vocalists or change your sound for the album. What was the thinking for you on focusing on your thing rather than switching things up?
S: That ties into that I wanted it to be: a snapshot of what I’ve been doing rather than start making random hip hop tracks now. I wouldn’t have even minded a vocalist on the album and the way I take things, I wait for them to approach me. That might sound big headed or something like that but I just see it as the most natural way. Because if someone comes out of their way to come to you and say something, then they mean business. It’s more like letting the music speak.
Even the name, City Limits. What I’m talking about in the name is that living in this city, this city has limits but at the same time, the limits of the city is what you put on it.
When I was younger I never went anywhere. I had one holiday - when I was 13 - up until when I first played abroad, in 2007. That was 8 years of not even leaving London. You can really be trapped in London if you don’t get out. Because it’s so big, you can really feel like London is the world. It makes you feel like that.
B: Yeah totally. Because it’s so huge you never get to the end of it. So do you think your perspectives have changed now you’ve had so many DJ dates and travelled abroad?
S: Yeah definitely. It’s just been encouraging seeing people’s reactions and what people say. I don’t think it changed my direction musically but I feel like carrying on what I’m doing and making even more music. That’s what I’ve brought back when I’m abroad. I often want to just go home and make a tune.
Silkie at DMZ - photo by Jimmy Mould
B: What places that you have DJed have had the biggest impact on you?
S: I would say New York, when I played at Dub War. That was really intense. It’s a really nice club. I feel like in some places they let the crowd be the DJ, but they’re not paid to DJ they pay to come in. And if they see someone’s name on a flyer they should research it and find out if they would like you if they come, not just look at the genre of dubstep and decide they’ll like it. So that’s when I play in these places I just play what I want and sometimes you get an average reaction and sometimes you get a really good reaction but at least people can gauge that you will play something they like.
B: Yeah all the best DJs lead and not follow.
S: Yeah because the followers can just move anywhere. ‘It’s not about this anymore, it’s about that.’ But if you stick to your guns there’s always people out there who will stick to their guns. It’s long to have to be a Simon Cowell basically, to find out what’s going right now. If you just do what you’re doing it will come together.
B: So there’s a lot of hype around Anti Social, in a positive way, and it seems to be because you guys represent a way of doing dubstep that’s different to a lot of other people right now, one that’s not really hard or aggressive. Do you think that’s a fair comment?
S: The way I look that me, Quest and Anti Social make is it’s music to dance to, not music to bang your head to. You can do your own dance, your shoulder dance or nod your head - you don’t have to go all out. And that’s why I like to do long sets. I’ve been getting two hours sets recently, I feel like it really represents me, I want to go everywhere. I’ll play the hard aggressive tune at the right time but at the same time I’ll bring it all the way down to something else that’s nice and mellow. The way I see it is a banger is only a banger if the last tune wasn’t. You have to go harder and harder and harder. It’s like heroin: in the end you don’t feel it.
B: There’s no loud without quiet.
S: I feel like you’ve always got to take it down somewhere. I think a lot of the reason people don’t because when you take it down the crowd may not react but they’re listening. People don’t have to go crazy all of the time to like something. So if you take it back down and play something mellow, maybe the crowd dies down or go to get a drink, but they’re not leaving.
B: The key word you use there in relation to Anti Social is “dance.” You guys seem to have a focus on percussion and rhythmic energy, that’s the focus rather than using mid range bass to make people dance, which lots of people are now. Has percussion and groove always been your focus?
S: It was never really a decision, that was it from the start and what brought us together. I felt like because I was making beats before melodies, that’s what I start my music with. That’s the focus and everything follows through after that. A lot of time my beat will change, with a fill at the end of one or two bars. So i had get the beat interesting because there was nothing else i could do and then when I learnt music i put that on top of it.
B: A lot of the percussion on the album focuses on variants of the halfstep beat pattern, did you ever consider putting snares in other places or having none at all?
S: Thing is I go through phases and my album is a phase. And what I’m doing now is the phase I’m in. Because I’ve gone everywhere with my music it’s hard to find someone who’s followed my music from the start in 2002, and you might think that was I’m doing now was related to before but it’s not really. Something will just click and it will be the next phase. Before I could make loads of different types of music at the same time but now I need to zone out and maybe that’s because I’m older and I can’t multitask as much. When you get older you have to focus more, whereas when you’re younger you can do five things at the same time... maybe not do them well but you can do them. That focus when you get older helps you get specialised at something.
B: What producers are you feeling right now?
S: Apart from the producers around me like Quest or Mala I don’t really hear a lot of other producers. It’s hard to really say who I’m feeling but I am feeling a lot of the things that are happening right now. It’s hard to centre it on a person – I prefer not to in a way. Just listen to the music and if it hits you it hits you and if it doesn’t it doesn’t.
B: I wonder if there’s an interesting parallel between what you’re doing and what Joker is doing with synths. In some ways they’re quite different but in others there are some similarities, with the use of pitchbent synths. Are you into what he’s doing?
S: Yeah definitely, me and Joker are friends. We first met up at Generation Bass but we ask each other questions all the time and it’s nice to be in contact with people who are on the same tip as you. We bounce off each other nicely. He gives me a lot of his stuff when it’s unfinished and we’re close enough that I’m not afraid to say ‘why don’t you try that?’ Because I wouldn’t be offended if musically someone I respected said ‘why don’t you try that?’ So I kinda bounce off the people around me.
B: To me with Joker I can hear more hip hop and grime in his sound whereas you guys have a more rolling uplifting, euphoric vibe sometimes.
S: Yeah. We’re going for different things but doing it in a similar way.
B: So is it true you’ve finished your second album already?
S: The reason why that’s been said is because I’ve got enough for more than a second album at the moment but I’ve not finished it in a sense where I’ve selected all the tracks. The point where I said I’d finished my first album was when the completed tracks were selected. I had an idea halfway through my first album for the tracks for the second album, but it was a demo second album. But since then so many tunes have been made that only three or four will get lifted from that and put with the new tracks I’ve made – because I’m always making new tracks but you’ve got to know when to lock yourself off. But it don’t feel the time is there yet: my first album isn’t even out.
B: You seem to have a really high work rate...
S: It’s because I work in parallel. There’s load of tunes that are not actually finished but they’re at a certain stage where I can play them out. They’re not tidied up yet but you do want to play the early bits out just to know what to do to it later. If you DJ out a lot the rave becomes your second studio so you can go out, test things and see what happens. And because I work in parallel, have loads of things I’m working on at once, that’s why I make a lot of tunes. I do them all quite slowly but a lot of them come out. But I don’t have to finish one before I start another. If you’re doing it in series you have to wait to find the right idea for that tune before you move on.
B: Where would you like to see dubstep go this year or next year?
S: I think dubstep will obviously get bigger but because of the people involved I don’t think it will lose its roots. I don’t think dubstep will break away from the underground. It will still feed from the underground, whether things go overground and are widely accepted as popular, I don’t think it will lose its roots because it’s such a young music when it comes to people listening to it there’s such an energy when it comes to everyone being a producer. And people will say: everyone’s a producer and so there’s more bullshit but if there’s loads more of something then you have to shift through it. Maybe it’s harder to shift through but if you do and you take your time, then there will be a lot more good stuff than if only a few producers were making something.
B: Finally, how do you feel about tempo right now? Faster, slower, the same?
S: I dunno my philosophy is to carry on doing what I’m doing, my music will change if it changes. I don’t want to think about ‘should I change this or change that.’ All I want to improve rather than change. Because change is linear but improving is going forward. You can change but it doesn’t mean you’ve gone anywhere. I just want to go forward and improve. Obviously your sound will change with your surroundings so you don’t have to think about your sound changing, it will just change and you won’t have noticed it. In five years time the tempo might have gone up or down, you don’t know what’s going to happen. You’ve got to go with what you’re doing now: that’s the main thing.
· We did a "City Limits Volume 1" preview mix on our Rinse FM show last month. Download it here Tracklist here.