Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Multiverse Music

A feature I wrote for Venue magazine, based on an interview with producer Ginz, half of Emptyset, whose album 'Demiurge' is one of 2011's most impressive releases. He's also one of four people behind Bristol's all conquering Multiverse Music, which is what we mostly spoke about on this occasion...

What connects dubstep, ‘Transformers 3’ and cats with thumbs? The answer is a recording studio on Whiteladies Road, home to seven record labels and a music publisher. All of them are run by Multiverse Music, a four-man collective whose best-known member is Pinch, the producer of classics like ‘Punisher’, ‘Qawwali’ and ‘Joyride’. You’ll have heard his colleagues’ music too, although not necessarily in a club.

Multiverse was founded in 2003 by Rob Ellis (Pinch), James Fiddian (Fidz) and James Ginzburg (Ginz), an American who needed a visa to stay in Bristol after university. “I looked at my options, and the only viable one was to start a business,” he remembers. “But looking back at the business plan, it’s funny – by this stage we were supposed to be millionaires.” Multiverse might not have made them rich, but it’s been very influential, not least in the rise of dubstep. It was 2004, says James, when his friend Dickon (ThinKing) “started going on about this night in Shoreditch – FWD at Plastic People. He dragged a few of us down there and we had our minds blown.” Immediately connecting with the new sound, they used their Subtext label to unleash ‘Lion’ and ‘Pop Pop’, two stunning 12”s from shock-and-awe duo Vex’d. “We weren’t expecting them to sell”, says James, “because the music was obscure at that time, but they did well. ‘Pop Pop’ is still one of my favourite records.”

They founded Tectonic, which became the most important dubstep label outside London. It championed a techno-influenced strain of the genre, perfected on albums like 2562’s ‘Aeriel’ and Pinch’s ‘Underwater Dancehall’. “We were putting out seminal records that we didn’t realise were seminal at the time,” James says. “But to think about what we were doing as influential is to have serious delusions of grandeur.” He believes dubstep has moved away from the sound Tectonic pushed anyway. “We’ve put out some bangers,” he says, “but you’re in a club playing what you think are bangers, and then some kiddie starts playing the devil’s music and makes your tunes sound like... soft jazz or something. Nobody really likes the tag dubstep any more, because it bears no relation to what it was at the beginning.” Tectonic’s releases have since diversified, and Pinch is working on an album with maverick producer Shackleton: “I don’t know what you call it,” James says, “but it’s very strange.”

Definitions aside, Multiverse imprints have been involved with many of the most exciting club sounds of recent years, from October’s submerged techno to Baobinga’s good times, anything-goes ‘bass music’. Running labels on behalf of emerging Bristol producers is a speciality: “We started Kapsize for Joker, Wow! For Gemmy, Build for Baobinga.” Next up is a label for Guido, whose ‘Anidea’ album for Punch Drunk was one of 2010’s finest. Bristol is important to them, says James. “It makes a big proportion of the music that’s considered seriously in various genres. Before, you had places like Jamaica and Iceland, and you wondered how they were producing such a disproportionate amount of what you heard. When I came to Bristol in ’98 there was a list of influential names, but now you can just keep on rattling off interesting things that are happening.”

As Tectonic, Build and the rest push the boundaries of dance music, the re-launched Subtext is where they’re “taking things completely out of the nightclub”. James – who produced breakbeat and dubstep as 30Hz and Ginz – is half of “weird sound design and noise” duo Emptyset, and their brilliant ‘Demiurge’ album takes minimal electronica into the realm of pure sound. Paul Jebanasam, the collective’s fourth member, previously made dubstep as Moving Ninja but now concentrates on “composed music – a crossover between minimal classical and industrial drone”. They’re also working with Roly Porter of Vex’d, whose aunt is known for her mastery of obscure instruments like the ondes Martenot. “They recorded her playing various instruments and Roly created a universe out of that,” says James. “It’s simultaneously incredibly aggressive and blissful.”

As composers, they’re increasingly in demand. “Fidz is a pure composer,” explains James. “He wrote the music for the Cravendale ‘Cats With Thumbs’ ad. Then we did the trailer for the ‘Transformers 3’ movie – that was one of Paul’s.” They’ve also scored an advertising campaign for Lexus, and licensed tracks to films like ‘Children of Men’. “It’s not like we’re making jingles,” says James. “Film trailers feel like a culmination of all the weird stuff we’ve done. You can make alien sounds and big explosions and somehow it’s economical.”

2009’s must-grab Multiverse retrospective ‘Dark Matter’ was dominated by dancefloor material, but James says “I’d love it if in two years what we were doing was so diverse that you’d struggle to put it all out on one compilation. Hopefully that’s the way things are going to go.” The important thing is that the collective is sustaining for everyone involved. “It’s very difficult to make anything happen in isolation,” he says. “But when you’ve got a community of people who are doing good things, you can create a world that people connect with. Otherwise, you’re just throwing things out into a sea of stuff.”

Friday, 1 July 2011

Here Come The Sunz

Furious, foul-mouthed and frequently hilarious, The Bastard Sunz are one of the most exciting rap crews around. DJ Rogue and producer Rola Rok take care of the beats. B'Tol and Milestone – aka Tilla and Mylo – do the talking. They spark off each other like overgrown schoolboys, so it’s surprising to learn they’ve only known each other for a few years. Tilla “grew up in Easton mostly”, while Mylo started out in Plymouth. “Bastard Sunz came about from us both being the loudest and most upfront guys at a lot of the shows,” says Tilla. “We’re kindred spirits.”

Their 2010 album ‘Le Discoteque Martyrdom’ is a thrillingly fierce statement of independence from MCs who’ve paid their dues but aren’t afraid to highlight the scene’s failings. “It’s put a few noses out of joint,” says Tilla, “which is a thing of beauty in itself.” The most obviously controversial track is ‘Coup’ – a broadside against rappers who mistake political platitudes for insight. “It’s the tokenism of ‘conscious’ rap,” explains Tilla. “If folks are labelled as such, they tend to slide toward cliché.” It highlights “rappers who are on the dole who write about sticking it to the man, the lack of humour and self-awareness, and the ideological elitism that comes with it.” There’s a punkish irreverence towards hip-hop convention throughout the album, and they seem largely indifferent to rap’s big hitters. Tilla cites his influences as “Fat Club, 3PM, Wildbunch, Aspects and Numskullz” – Bristol crews to a man – while on ‘Top Rank’ Mylo baldly states “Pioneers can fuck off, my heroes are unknown.” It’s not hard to see why they’ve ruffled a few feathers.

Then there’s the bad taste. Bastard Sunz revel in it, and when they let rip – as on ‘Murder Factory’ – there’s enough body horror and violence to make a sadist blush. They find the ‘horrorcore’ tag hilarious, though. “Just look at the album artwork,” says Tilla. “Painting your face and wearing a wrestling mask shouldn’t be seen as mildly intimidating.” The album’s opener samples the theme from horror sitcom ‘Psychoville’: “an intentional nod to how we wanted the album to play out. We’re both pretty morbid in our sense of humour, but it’s a sample from a comedy, however dark.”

When B’Tol and Milestone get going, it isn’t always easy to tell where the joke ends and their opinions start, which makes their less guarded moments all the more potent. Tilla fires a warning shot against greed and self-corruption on 'The Shades', while the raw confessional of Mylo's 'Crescendo' deals with attempted suicide. There is a serious side to the group, then, albeit one that plays second fiddle to profanity, sick jokes and surreal juxtapositions. “I can’t believe some of these so-called conscious rappers are that virtuous 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” says Tilla. “If this is the ‘real’ that you are putting out, then you must be one of the most boring, self-righteous, indignant turd-burgers known to man. Do you ever laugh if someone isn’t blowing smoke up your back passage and telling you your 768-bar tirade on the ills of mortgage rates changed their life?”

The group’s next release is ‘Le Discotheque Remixicon’. It sees Sunz cuts re-armed for the dancefloor in a variety of styles, from the slamming electro-flavoured hip-hop of Awkward to the dubstep/drum & bass crossover filth of Maldini. “Superisk has given us what could be deemed a straight hip-hop beat with his unique, bass music tinged twist,” adds Tilla. “And Terry Hooligan has made some crazy, carnival-steeped breaks hybrid. Everyone stepped out of their comfort zone.” What we’ve heard of it so far is seriously impressive, and they’re already in the studio working on their second album proper with Rola, their “silent mastermind”. What exactly is a discotheque martyrdom, then? “It’s what British rap has become,” says Tilla. “People who should know better, myopically lamenting their woes to an audience of their peers. We want to re-engage the dangerous element, whilst also making it a bit of fun.” Mission accomplished.