Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Interview: Pinch

It's probably fair to say that most people reading this won't need any introduction to Pinch. Head of the Tectonic label and one of the Bristol scene's figureheads, he can take a large portion of the credit for establishing dubstep as one of the city's major musical forces, through his label and through the Subloaded and Dubloaded nights. It makes sense that the genre's settled with Bristol as something of a spiritual home - the city's rich musical history and famed soundsystem culture works within a similar ethos: all bass, space and restless progression.

He’s curating Bloc’s Subloaded stage for the second year running this weekend, and I caught up with him last month as part of a preview for This Festival Feeling (see the article up here). There was a lot more in the end than just chat about Bloc, and a lot of it fits with similar things discussed on CB/OB, so it seemed appropriate to publish the full thing up here.

This is the second year you’ve been doing Bloc – how did you get involved with them?

I almost can’t quite remember exactly. The Bloc guys got in touch - I think there’d been a preliminary conversation that one of them had had with a friend of a friend about the idea of something along these lines. They basically got in touch and said ‘We’d like to do a Subloaded on the Friday night, pick a line up.’ The budget was proving to be a bit restrictive…

You brought quite a few people from Bristol right?

Yeah, there was definitely a heavy Bristol slant on it, what with Subloaded being a Bristol-based night. But basically they got in touch, we put it together and it just went really well. It was on the Friday, and it was one of the busier rooms throughout the evening. And then they got in touch afterwards and said ‘We’d definitely like to do something again with you this year’, but this time they kind of bumped it up a notch, put it on the Saturday and compared to last year’s budget, the budget’s ten, fifteen times what it was!

Yeah – compared to last year you’ve got some real heavyweights, you’ve got a few of the Berlin guys…

This time they said ‘pick your dream line up’ – and it’s not quite 100% what I would have wanted it to be, but it’s not far off.

That was actually one of my stock festival questions I was going to ask you – what would be your dream festival line-up! You’ve done pretty well – you’ve managed to get over people like Dettmann, Shed…

Rhythm & Sound is probably what I’m most excited about – well, Mark Ernestus. He’s a pretty hard person to coax out.

Well, they both are aren’t they?

Moritz [Von Oswald, Ernestus’ musical partner in Rhythm & Sound] has been a bit more open more recently. I’ve never met Mark, but I’ve met Moritz.

He played here for Venn Festival a few years ago.

I met him then; I met him before that as well. Unfortunately he suffered a stroke, and he’s still doing some things, but his priority is with the band. The timing of his stroke was quite unfortunate for the new project. But yeah, before I ‘discovered’ dubstep, if you like, Rhythm & Sound were about the most perfect thing. I love that sound.

It was the opposite for me actually – dubstep led me on to discover Rhythm & Sound and Basic Channel. I was reading a bit about Ernestus in Wire last month – apparently he does these really dubby sets, where he’ll play a whole song, take it off, and then play the next one from the very start.

That’s the traditional roots soundsystem method, where you would normally play the tune and then the dub straight after. People like Jah Shaka still do that – from the point where the needle hits the rim, right to the end, and then right back again! I’m not 100% sure what Mark will be playing, but I do know that when he DJs he plays a lot of dancehall instrumentals, and Tikiman will obviously be vocalling everything. In all honesty I’m not entirely sure what it’ll be like, but I know that he’s a collector of extraordinarily rare dancehall instrumentals, so I imagine that I won’t have heard something like half to three quarters of what he decides to play on the night!

You must be pretty excited about your line-up in general – as well as getting a lot of the guys from around here that you had last year, you’ve got a whole group of others as well.

Definitely, it’ll be a nice balance. Curating is never quite as easy as you’d hoped, because you’ve got difficulty with timings of things, sometimes people are doubling up on gigs… But I think the transition from set to set should be fluidly musical throughout the night, It’s not often you’ll see Rhythm & Sound and Joker in the same room, but at the same time I think it’ll work! And it’s interesting that you say that you got into Rhythm & Sound through dubstep – for me it was something that set the context for getting into this sort of sound. I’m very much about trying to bring together things that connect the peripheries into a kind of dubstep main room context. I think there’s a lot of room for things - there’s a deep, meditational end, which Rhythm & Sound connect with very directly – but there’s a much more upbeat ravey edge to it, through people like Joker. And then there are people like Martyn and Kode9, who I imagine will somehow ride between the two vibes.

Yeah, both have been playing a lot of the crossover stuff between funky, dubstep, garage, building it up into quite upbeat sets.

Martyn’s been doing that, yeah, and that should blend into what Shed and Dettmann do. To be honest, I am really pleased with the Subloaded lineup for Bloc this year. I do think that there’s always inevitably going to be people bouncing back and forth from room to room, to catch so-and-so, but I like to think that there will be some people who stick around for the majority of the evening, as there will be a bit of a journey vibe. That’s something I really like the idea of. It’s a little bit boring if you go to a rave and you hear the same style of music, within a genre even, from start to finish, non stop banger after banger.

Hearing the same song three or four times in a night by different DJs – it keeps it at a fairly level energy throughout the evening, rather than really progressing anywhere.

Yeah – we’ll see how it pans out, but I feel really positive about the whole thing and really pleased with how it’s worked out.

The whole line-up’s pretty bass heavy this time anyway – that was something I noticed, compared to last year which was quite house and techno oriented, there seems to have been a real influx of bass sounds into Bloc this year. Do you think that reflects the way that things have been going in the last year or so, the crossover between house, techno and dubstep that’s been going on?

I think that was already happening in different ways. In the last year, the funky scene has certainly come to the forefront to a certain degree – and that would be an obvious place for house to come in.

I suppose that’s what I was really referring to, the crossover with funky. With techno it was kind of already there.

Yeah, well you had Villalobos playing Mala and Shackleton years ago. I don’t know - I feel as though there’s always going to be good records that are just good records for the sake of good records. I know that you’ll hear big house tunes in funky sets, but I don’t know how much that happens the other way round. House is a very well established and well-produced genre, and there’s probably an element of snobbery towards the production of some funky stuff. But then there are open-minded people, people who don’t really care about those sorts of presumptions to the same extent. I don’t really know.

But I do think that in the last year there’s been a developing trend, if you like: this idea that at the core of a dubstep set, people like Kode9 and Martyn are quite happy to play what’s known as the ‘wonky’ side of things, and funky, and dubstep. I guess for me it’s interesting that these kind of links only really seem to thrive in the context of dubstep, even though they’re not strictly dubstep sets. That’s definitely something, and I think there’ll probably be more crossover between those kinds of things. It’s interesting, I’m just thinking as we talk about it now - at the weekend I just played Athens and Berlin. In Athens I was playing with Dorian Concept, and in Berlin it was with Slugabed and Blue Daisy. So in the eyes of many promoters it’s already something that can sit and exist in the same room. I guess I generally feel quite positive about that, it’s all about diversifying and progressing with sound. As long as it keeps things interesting…

It’s interesting that the dubstep scene seems to be the entity that has created that sort of binding, that it couldn’t really have existed without dubstep providing a background for it.

I don’t think it’s the case that it couldn’t have existed, but I just think it might not have had a home to thrive in. I think the reason is that dubstep’s always been something that’s scraped at the periphery of different subgenres. A lot of people will have come into the music from their own various angles – some people from techno backgrounds have gotten into it from a certain angle, or people who’ve come into it from garage, grime, drum ‘n’ bass, electronica, dub, roots, dancehall – and obviously anyone who does get in through those roots comes in through a tune that touches on both sides of what they’re interested in. That’s how a lot of people got into it, so for it to then bounce back out that way doesn’t surprise me much, that’s probably why it can do that. It’s something that incorporates various fringe subgenres anyway.

Well, it’s good to see it doing that, as opposed to just stagnating and becoming entirely jump-up, banger-type tunes.

Yeah, I suppose my feelings on that are fairly predictable. It’s complicated, because you could look at dub music and you could ask, ‘What’s really changed in twenty, thirty years? Has there been much change?’ It’s not something that’s really progressed at the same technological lightning speed that it developed at. I guess you could take hip-hop - although there are various trends that change things, it’s not like it’s broken into any new paradigm of thought in the last ten, fifteen years.

Then something like drum ‘n’ bass - again, apart from some of the Autonomic stuff, the last several years in drum ‘n’ bass have been kind of a samey blur, there’s not really been a huge amount of progression. I guess it’s really noticeable in something like drum ‘n’ bass, because it was such a powerfully developmental scene. With dubstep, it’s interesting that people are almost sidestepping the genre a little bit. I think people are a bit less precious about maintaining a thing for the sake of it, and are actually just more interested in good music and the progression of good music. That’s my very badly worded, loose philosophy on that one!

That’s certainly what got me interested in dubstep in the first place. I was too young, or too uninterested, to get into drum ‘n’ bass when it was very progressive, or doing some really interesting or exciting things. I got into dubstep more or less through Burial’s first album, Kode9’s Memories of the Future, Burial’s Untrue and your Underwater Dancehall – and immediately from there you could see that there were people looking to do something that wasn’t ‘just dubstep’, if you know what I mean, not just sticking to a rigid dogma. It never seemed like a scene that was particularly precious about the core of what it was ‘supposed’ to be.

Well, I think circumstances have changed quite a lot in the last five years or so in dubstep, but I still think that at the heart of what I think is the ‘good’ end of it is a basic desire to hear something new, and to be a bit freaked out by it. It’s long been the driving force for a lot of genres. That’s what pushes someone like Kode9, who’s always had a very restless approach to it - in so far as you’ll go and hear him play, then hear him play six months later, and six months later again, and every time it’s like a paradigm shift.

He’s very progressive in his outlook.

Yeah, and that doesn’t always necessarily imply that everything he does is therefore better than the last thing, but I think his drive behind that is maintaining a sense of awe in his presentation of the new.

With Tectonic you always seem to have remained at heart a dubstep label. What you’ve put out has always been what you would call ‘dubstep’. I remember reading in an interview you saying there was a certain kind of aesthetic to the label – certain tunes that were Tectonic tunes, and certain ones that weren’t. Is that something you’re still sticking with, amongst everything shifting around?

Yeah. Of the various headstates that music can put you into, there are different routes into the same headspace, almost… Though it’s funny you should say that, as I’m just about to put out the first non-dubstep release on Tectonic! 

What are you putting out?

It’s a girl from New York called Pursuit Grooves. It’s dubstep-related, but it’s very beaty, groove rhythms, and she sings on it. It’s really nice, really good music, and a little bit different. It’s a tiptoe into the realm of dubstep but actually, as I’m thinking about it, it’s somewhere between hip-hop, funky and broken beat. [Note: It's since been announced that the EP will be entitled Foxtrot Mannerisms, and is due for release on April 5th]

I’m quite hypocritical sometimes, because as much as I’m saying that dubstep’s about progression, there have been certain things held [steady] with Tectonic. But then if you look over the course of our releases you can hear a sense of progression, development and experimentation. But I do think that the thing that ties it all together is something that exists in this certain headspace. It’s pretty difficult to describe, but ultimately it’s the headspace that I most enjoy! Somewhere between… something with a bit of a serious edge - not serious for beard-stroking’s sake, but for impact. Impact rhythms, without getting into tear-out territory. I like it to have impact without necessarily diluting itself in any way.

I imagine you can keep that going at Dubloaded as well – having a midweek night must be good for putting on something that people will want to listen to, rather than just something to go and shock out to on a Saturday night.

Yeah, well Tectonic is at the stage now where we’re doing albums, and there is a different approach to putting together an album. But the rest of the content is 12” singles, and they’re mastered, cut and designed to be heard on a soundsystem. It’s still physical experience music, and that’s where you’ll get the most out of it. But then obviously with albums there’s a little more room to play around.

Are you putting out any new albums on Tectonic any time soon?

Well, the last one was 2562’s Unbalance…

I was at the launch party for that actually.

Yeah, that was a good night. To answer your question, there are a few more things that will be coming out over the course of the year. The Pursuit Grooves thing is actually an EP – six tracks on vinyl, seven as a CD – so that’s somewhere in between. There’s a very big project coming up not too long after that, though I can’t really tell you about it as it’s not entirely sorted! But as well as that, in the pipeline we’re working with an artist called Jack Sparrow, who’s working towards an album for us.

He’s got a 12” [Terminal/Torment] coming out soon right?

It’s dropping this week, yeah.

And it’s about time I got back into the studio and started putting one together. Whether I’ll get it out this year or get it finished next year, I don’t know. I’ve spent the last year on a fairly quiet tip, I didn’t really do a lot - I did a couple of remixes, and that was more or less it really. I spent most of last year abandoning my PC and Fruity Loops, and getting to grips with Logic. I moved to Mac, and two days after I bought the bloody Mac my PC packed it and just wiped itself, took loads of shit out with it as well – a bit annoying. It threw me in at the deep end, and I’ve not gone back to Fruity since then.

How have you found Logic?

A bit slow to start with, a few big hurdles, but I’m really enjoying Logic. I really like it. I can hear a massive improvement in the production levels. It’s just a much easier platform for producing to a higher quality.

I remember someone who used Logic saying to me that he could tell the difference aurally between a track produced on Logic and a track produced on Ableton, Fruity, whatever, through the sound.

Fruity’s a weird one because people don’t tend to use the stock plugins. Logic has really good stock plugins, so that’s what you can hear a lot of the time. The tape delay is the biggest giveaway – once you’ve heard it, then you can hear it in peoples’ tracks. You know it’s there. I’ve just done a remix for this girl Emika, who’s releasing on Ninjatune, so that’ll be out sooner or later. And I’ve started getting together some tracks and I’m really pleased with them, they’re going down well.

Have you been playing them out?

Yeah. A few people have got them, and they’re getting played, so I just need to get back into the studio and make some more!

Just to get back on the whole festival tip for a minute, are there any other things going on at Bloc you’re particularly looking forward to? Are you planning to stick around all weekend?

I’ll be around all weekend. Predictably, I’ll stick my head in for the Friday night FWD vs. Rinse thing, and I’ll try and catch a bit of the Autonomic lot – Instra:mental, Breakage and dBridge. I can honestly say that last year I did a bunch of things from Glastonbury to European festivals, but the best weekend I had was at Bloc. I’m not just saying that for promotional reasons either – I made a point of booking the whole weekend off with my agent, and said ‘I don’t want to go anywhere else, I’ll be at Bloc for the weekend’. It almost doesn’t matter too much, I don’t want to know too much about the lineup. I know it’s Salt ‘N’ Pepa and various people, but I’m just up for the adventure.

And it’s a lot of fun to go to a festival at Butlins.

I really never thought I’d say it, but you’re right.

Are you much of a festival person generally?

Umm… (lengthy pause) no! Though I really enjoyed Glastonbury last year, that was good fun. I stayed for the weekend for that one as well. In the right circumstances and in the right situations it’s really good fun, but I must admit that I’m heavily sold on the luxury of having the amenities you do at Bloc – just being able to have a shower and a cup of tea whenever you want, and you don’t have to worry about queuing for the toilets. If you’re with the right group of people, the weather doesn’t fuck you up and you don’t burn yourself out too heavily on the first day, camping can be good fun. But it’s also quite exhausting.


Bloc is on this weekend at Butlins in Minehead, and it looks likely to be quite incredible. Pinch's Subloaded stage is on the Saturday night, and features Mark Ernestus & Tikiman, T++ (Live), Pinch b2b Distance, Appleblim b2b Peverelist, Kode9 b2b Martyn, Shed & Marcel Dettmann, Joker, Blazey and Mungo's Hi-Fi.

Dubloaded is happening at the Croft tomorrow, with Pinch himself, Pangaea and Kidkut. See you down the front...

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