Sunil Sharpe makes his Edinburgh debut for Overground x Pulse this Friday. He’s been kicking around the Irish techno scene for a good while but has been touring internationally more and more of late, so it’s an exciting booking for the Bongo and should be a great night for techno fans.
Here’s a good interview (courtesy of Fabric’s blog) with the man hailed by some as ‘Dublin’s answer to Jeff Mills’, where he name-checks some of his earliest influences as a DJ, demonstrating the unpretentiousness which has no doubt been core to his enduring success (and includes a track by Edinburgh’s own Neil Landstrumm, no less)….
Until a few years ago, it was quite rare to hear the name Sunil Sharpe outside of Ireland. The Dublin-born artist has been considered one of the country’s best techno DJs for the best part of a decade, but his growing following has meant you’re now as likely to find him at places like Bassiani or Concrete as you are anywhere in the Irish capital.
The increased interest surrounding Sharpe is easily explained. Over the years he’s developed an outstanding talent for mixing records, sometimes cutting between 30 tracks or more in the space of an hour. A string of banging techno releases has also helped, and his forthcoming On A Roll LP with DeFeKT under their Tinfoil alias should be an opportunity for more of the same.
Sharpe joins us on a techno-heavy billing in Farringdon this Saturday, so we asked him to pick out a handful of records for our next Cornerstone Tracks feature. In his list, he discusses some of his earliest vinyl purchases as an aspiring DJ, and how these shaped him as an artist today.
Cambodia (Clanger remix) – The Art Of Trance [Platipus]
Some older friends of mine were big into trance, goa trance, and anything with a trippier sound palette. I picked up a lot from them, and by the time I got a pair of decks, it gave me a head start with trance or tech-trance, or good old acid-trance as well. Naturally I knew of Platipus Records. Like many Platipus fans, I was a bit of a completist when it came to artists like The Art Of Trance, Union Jack and so on. I still occasionally play some of them. This one is slightly more minimal but has a different hypnotic ingredient to the others; definitely one for the head as well as the feet.
It’s interesting because trance gets a bad rep but lately we’ve heard a lot of big name house and techno DJs playing it. Is there really much difference between trance and techno?
At one point there wasn’t. I switched off to it as vocal trance came in but the early era before that had so much amazing music. It’s disappointing that many will overlook what an incredible movement it was or base their judgement on the more commercial stuff. Trance was just as vital as techno for a while. Like with techno though, you can’t just scratch the surface, you need to look deep into it to find much of the best stuff.
Tranceido – Tandú [Noom]
This was on a Billy Nasty mixtape that I used to listen to. Back then it was close to impossible to find track names, but it wasn’t as important, as you could still hear it on the tape and preferred hearing it in the mix you knew anyway. After I started playing records though, things obviously changed. One day I popped into a shop called Music Power in Dublin’s Merchant’s Arch, and picked this one out to listen to. BOOM! The track with the sireny horns off that tape was now mine! It was such a rewarding part of buying records back then: randomly putting the needle on a record of something you loved and never expected to hear.
Quite a fearless sound to this. Were you already looking for a specific style of record like this at this point or collecting from quite across the board?
As simple as it sounds, I just wanted any records that sounded good, I wasn’t thinking quite like a DJ yet in terms of what could go with what. As I started to find labels and producers I liked, I would get fairly obsessed with their music. I was buying mostly techno then, all kinds, and some tech-trance records too I guess. Some Chicago stuff also which crossed into house here and there. I think I widened my collection a lot more when I started getting bored with new techno for the first time – a situation that everyone probably reaches at some stage!
Vessels in Distress – Model 500 [Network]
A second-hand copy of this and The Art Of Stalking by Suburban Knight were two of the first Detroit techno records that I got, delivered from Hard To Find Records. Like a lot of records back then, I listened over and over, really absorbed them, and it was tracks like this that I feel “coated” me somewhat going forward. It was techno on a much deeper level. I later found out that this was co-produced with Martin Bonds (aka Reel by Real), which makes sense considering his own classic track Surkit; you can definitely hear a connection between them. We’re at a point now where the first wave of techno partially gets forgotten, but I think you should know that first wave, and especially Juan Atkins’ music. It’s so warm and free, uplifting and tension-filled too. It’s nice to see the appreciation people have for Drexciya’s music, and rightly so, but it’s still clear to see who a lot of this can be traced back to.
So would you say discovering Detroit became a gateway in itself for you?
Yes and no. I was probably drawn more towards the darker sound of Detroit, and got more into second generation people like Jeff Mills, Underground Resistance, and Kelli Hand; there was another producer called Punisher, I liked her stuff a lot too. The Kalamazoo guys like Jay Denham also. I think when I began working in a record shop called Spindizzy, I discovered a lot that I had missed or overlooked. I worked with Graham O’Sullivan (who had co-run the D1 record shop in its early days) there too, who showed me some less obvious stuff that I may not have known otherwise.
Crisis A Gwarn – Bandulu [Infonet]
I bought a second-hand copy of this in a short-lived shop called Vinyl Frontier in Dublin’s Abbey Mall. At one point there were about five record shops in this mall, including one that specialised in German and Dutch hardcore and gabba tapes. This was like heavy metal meets hard techno when I first heard it. So fierce and warped. I eventually got the chance to play with Bandulu and see them live. Such an intense and masterful clash of worlds, dub reggae v techno. Lucien MCing and owning the room, an authoritative-looking John O’Connell controlling the desk and Jamie Bissmire rocking the 909. It’s extraordinary that Bandulu haven’t had more coverage in recent years for their contribution to techno. What a group they were.
We’ve heard one Ricardo Villalobos playing a record of theirs at the club recently, but we have to say in general we’re also surprised by how few techno artists seem to know of them. Do you think there’s still a lot of untouched gold in 90s techno like this that people have overlooked?
Definitely. Having said that, I think social media and the ongoing sharing of content means that people are clued into a lot more old stuff than previously. As DJs, we can introduce people to older acts, but I think journalists have a responsibility too. In London alone, the amount of techno history is mountainous. I appreciate that some journalists weren’t listening back then, but if not, get to know this stuff and share the knowledge. Techno has a history that needs to be told and sometimes re-told; DJs and journalists have a duty here. I’m not going to say we’re the “historians”, but you know what I mean!
Chord Memory – Ian Pooley [Force Inc. Music Works]
Back when you’d associate certain tracks with a specific DJ, as if they nearly made it themselves, this was very much a Carl Cox tune. I was after this for a while, and had to settle for the likes of Celtic Cross or the odd Ian Pooley remix until I got it! This is probably the first time I remember buying what was considered to be a ‘big’ tune that my friends also knew after hearing it out. At the time I was hooked in by the jacking beats and “Rock The Discotheque” sample, but these days it’s more about the chords and breakdown for me. An all-time highlight for producer and label.
It’s interesting how the appealing part of a record can change with time. Or the B-side you never played suddenly sounds like a gem you’re been missing.
Definitely. It often happened with some older Marco Carola records – one side would be a banger, but over time I’d go for the other side or inside track, which would be a lighter, pulsing groove for earlier in the night. But yes, it is an ongoing thing for me – sneaky A2 or B2 tracks that later become the highlight of a record!
This is surely one of the biggest records that came out on Force Inc. Do you still play a lot of stuff on the label?
It kind of depends on what I have access to. Not all of my collection is in one place, and some stuff has fallen out of sight here and there. I’d say the ones that I kept closest were Heckmann’s later Welt In Scherben releases. They’ve aged quite well too.
Praline Horse – Neil Landstrumm [Tresor]
I was on the way home from town one day. I had literally just got my own decks, and had a bag of records with me that I’d bought in Comet Records, including labels like Labworks and Prolekult. I bumped into a friend and early DJ inspiration of mine called Mark Gormley, and showed him what I’d got. He recommended a label called Tresor. The seed was sown. I knew of Joey Beltram and the first Tresor record I bought was by him, but it was over the next year that Neil Landstrumm, Cristian Vogel and Tobias Schmidt opened up a new kind of world for me. They were like protest records against everything else I was hearing, as they were so original and followed no template. Landstrumm’s music was obnoxious, Vogel had this weird insect funk, and the Tobias Schmidt stuff was very one-minded too. I loved Swedish techno for instance, but I could tell that these producers were very much the opposite of loop techno.
This doesn’t sound a world apart from some of the tracks you’ve made. Have you taken inspiration from Landstrumm in your own production?
That’s hard to say, but I guess I must have. I think what I took from him and other producers of then was a mind-set, that techno is an experimental music form where you create your own style and sounds. Making my own original sounds was my main goal when I started making music, before I ever fleshed things out into completed tracks. It’s not so hard to make sounds that are different, but forging that into a style of your own becomes a challenge. Neil is one of those producers who can make an electro track or a techno track, or a ravey track, or something slow and dark, and you still know it’s him. To have such a distinct sound that carries over many styles is quite rare. Definitely one of the greats.
Freddy is one of my all-time favourite techno producers. I used to read Mark EG’s reviews in Eternity Magazine, which is how I found out about him originally. Mark’s writing was funny, colourful, full of enthusiasm and made me want to track down and own anything I’d find by someone like Freddy Fresh. This was taken from a CD on Freddy’s Analog label, and Holzplatten put out five tracks from it on a 12”. It’s an epic 303 workout, turned into some type of dark sci-fi soundtrack. Amazing.
Like Bandulu, we’re surprised Freddy Fresh isn’t better known in the techno world.
Freddy did what some techno producers weren’t “meant” to do – he didn’t make only techno. He was big in the breaks world and through his association with Fatboy Slim; he had a long background in hip-hop too. He had also stopped releasing techno for many years. Dustin Zahn then re-released an old track of his on Enemy, and I managed to get some new material from him and Paul Birken for Earwiggle after that too. He has since become reinvigorated by techno, his Analog label is back up and running, and it seems people have been discovering his old stuff again too. His name is going to grow in the techno world again for sure.
This sounds like an end of the night record. When would you pull normally pull it out?
I’ve been the other way around, I would open up a set with it. I agree though, the end of the night would be a good time for it too because it’s such a climactic piece.
Maya Medvešek has spent a lot of her life in Glasgow, which you might guess from hearing her DJ. Something about the city seems to breed DJs who know how to rock a party by spanning genres and eras, unafraid to drop anthems while they do it. Medvešek is no different. Her sets encompass everything from classic acid house and electro to new-school grime and footwork. She has an enterprising spirit that keeps her selections adventurous and forward-looking, with a mixing style that hearkens back to the rough-and-ready days of classic Chicago house. This might be explained by her formative years spent in Ljubljana, a city she says took great influence from Chicago and Detroit.
It’s that push and pull between retro and futuristic that defines most of Medvešek’s work. Take her two recent EPs for Fool’s Gold. Wavejumper is a thrilling EP that combines Drexciyan electro with ghettotech and rap, while Sanctuary takes old rave music and polishes it. Her RA podcast is full of new and unreleased tracks that fold in techno, breakbeat, electro, footwork and acid. There are classic flavours from newer producers like Arttu and Bodyjack, early ’90s hardcore from Public Energy and an appearance from the king of rave throwbacks, Special Request. It’s mixed live from the decks at one of her favourite nightclubs, K4 in Ljubljana.
What have you been up to recently?
A great year so far. I released the Sanctuary EP on Fool’s Gold, Acid Mouse on Metro Jaxx, worked on remixes and music for a feature film, had the amazing opportunity to travel to India and teach production for women thanks to the British Council and Wild City, held Producergirls workshops, played some great gigs, celebrated five years of my club night, Nightrave, and my label, Heka Trax. It’s been a very personally transformative year as well as I’ve done a lot of inner work, shamanic retreats and practice, and feel I’m starting a new exciting chapter in my life and my music.
How and where was the mix recorded?
The mix was recorded at club K4 back home in Ljubljana, Slovenia while visiting. K4 is one of the oldest leading electronic music institutions in Slovenia (it’s been going since the late ’80s) and the first club I ever went to, so it has a special place in my heart. Recorded in one take on CDJs and a Pioneer mixer.
Can you tell us about the idea behind the mix?
Nice jackin’ house and techno party time, some classics, quite a lot of recent and unreleased stuff in there and a couple of my new tunes as well.
A lot of your productions and DJ sets incorporate old-school dance music sounds. What draws to you those classic styles?
I guess I’m partial to some rave nostalgia from when I started out, as it got me into DJing and producing, but mainly because it still holds so much energy and life. It’s no-nonsense music made for people to have a good time. I also love how club music has evolved into so many new forms and hybrids now, I often play quite a variety in my sets.
Is there a healthy scene in Ljubljana, and any producers or DJs to watch out for?
Ljubljana has always been a bit of a techno haven, I’m very grateful to have had such a good scene to look up to when I was a teenager—a fantastic Detroit and Chicago influence, loads of great electro, local producers like Umek and Random Logic. I moved to the UK in 2002, so I’m a bit out of touch but the scene is very vibrant. Try K4, Metelkova, Bozidar for clubs and look out for nights by Bojler, Stiropor, Rx:tx. If you like beautiful, shimmery jazzy vibes I recommend Your Gay Thoughts, they have a new album out soon.
What are you up to next?
Should have a couple more releases out this year and I’m starting a new label with a more focused direction. Apart from that, doing what I love most: DJing and travelling about. I also want to build on my therapist qualifications to hopefully help musicians with their mental health and wellbeing in the future. It’s all about creating a balance.
Nightwave – Rainbow Body (unreleased)
Lauren Flax – It’s Ours (unreleased)
Arttu – WD40 (Jack For Daze)
Arma – Girl (unreleased)
Bodyjack – Nataraja (unreleased)
Mak & Pasteman – Reakt (Boom Ting)
Oli Furness – Trigger (Jack For Daze)
Benny Rodrigues – Cocaine Speaking (UTTU)
Special Request – Make It Real (Gerd Janson & Shan Prance Mania Mix) (Houndstooth)
Raito – Gunman (BNR)
Lone – Oedo 808 (unreleased)
Defekt – Acid Bounce (Tripalium)
Solid Blake – Masha (Modeselektion)
Martyn Bootyspoon – Spread That Kat (Steve Poindexer Remix) (Fractal Fantasy)
Public Energy – Three O’Three (Stealth)
Mella Dee – Expansion (Warehouse Music)
Nightwave – Bang The Rocks (unreleased)
Bleaker – Hype (Funk) (UTTU)
Ritzi Lee – Reverse Processed (Theory)
Panteros666 – Euronature (Meteociel)
Clark – Honey Badger (Warp)
Kenny Larkin – Without Sound (Rush Hour)
Launching at The Bongo Club, Distrikt is presenting to you some of the best drum and bass, bassline and garage dj’s in the current scene and who better to headline our launch than DJ Q!
Part of the TQD collective, DJ Q is an innovative bassline DJ who is set to raise the roof for the first event. With recent performances at Boomtown and Lovebox festivals earlier this year, this event is one that is not to be missed!
Tickets have been flying, so don’t hang around if you’re keen! Grab one here.
We will be closing our doors for our annual summer hiatus, 16th July – 31st August, due to our lease being taken over by The Underbelly (who have a prior agreement with landlords Edinburgh City Council dating back more than 15 years now).
While we’re obviously saddened and somewhat financially hobbled by not being open for business through the Fringe, we have no choice in this matter, nor anywhere else to locate our events satisfactorily.
Please come and help us make our last week in the building until September a proper blast! It helps us to keep all the wheels turning (and the wolf from our doors).
It’s another coup for the Substance crew, as they join forces with Pulse once again to welcome Berlin native Boris Dolinski to our stage. He’s been resident at Berghain since Day One, having been involved with the original OstGut club & Panorama bar (from ’98 & ’00) before it opened.
But his heritage runs even deeper than that, as he also lived in New York in the mid-Eighties and was a regular at the legendary Paradise Garage and Loft parties when both were going strong, taking early DJ cues from Larry Levan and David Mancuso. How many DJs still active in the world today can lay claim to an involvement with such towering temples of dance music history?
This audio interview he gave to Resident Advisor, where he talks about his early clubbing experiences in Berlin and at the Garage and then becoming a DJ himself (‘all i want to do is create memorable experiences’), is worth a listen.
DJ Boris is kind of a charismatic, multifunctional weapon in the Berlin club life. His musical roots reach back to the mid 80s, when he lived in New York for four years where he absorbed the unique spirit of the seminal club Paradise Garage weekend after weekend. From the Club’s mentor Larry Levan Boris learned to believe in his musical intuition as well as a broad musical spectrum, which nowadays ranges from Disco, Hi-NRG, Post-Punk and (Kraut-) Rock to House and Neotrance, all of which Boris loves to throw into one set.
‘Music was most important for Levan. He was uncompromising and he knew how to convey it. That’s what I’m trying to achieve, too, when I’m djing.’ Many years later, Boris became a resident at Panorama Bar’s first incarnation in Berlin, where he was able to build a loyal following by playing long sets lasting until noon. ‘The crowd is always a lot more receptive for music at the end than at the beginning. That’s when I rather have the opportunity to present unusual stuff and that’s when I’m able to let my feelings run freely.’
After the old OstGut/Panorama Bar closed, Boris played in almost every club in Berlin, but when the follow up club Berghain opened its doors in 2004, he quickly focused on playing out here again. Since 2005 he has got another musical platform, as he is taking care of the label Careless Records as an A&R. Both as a dj and as an A&R, he is not exactly keen on refining a certain genre, but rather to push music with a certain twist.
We’re more than a little bit excited to be hosting the first Edinburgh show in some twenty years by ex-PiL bassist and all-round UK legend Jah Wobble, a unique character, a unique artist and a musician par excellence, who has worked with more inspiring artists on more records than just about anyone else who has played the Bongo in its 22 year history.
This 2014 interview by Robert Barry in the consistently excellent FACT Mag (copied below) goes some way to demonstrate why he and his amazing band are still considered in such high regard across the music scene, some 40 years after he first started out with ex-Sex Pistol John Lydon and co in post-punk innovators PiL, and also why his pioneering style is so perfectly suited to us at the Bongo.
Jah Wobble has been putting the old firm back together.
He speaks habitually of his players – in this case, longstanding group The Invaders of the Heart – as “the firm,” as if their business was bank robbery or football terrace violence instead of dubbed out pop fusion. At one point he refers to the band’s mid-’90s incarnation, when they were breaking into the Top 40 with hits like ‘Visions of You’ and ‘Becoming More Like God’, as “the Norwich City of the music scene.” Like the then-UEFA qualifying Anglian football club, he says, the group were “punching well above their weight.” But the current line-up of musicians, he insists, “are world class – and I am not saying that lightly.”
He’s a big fella, is Wobble, with a pronounced cockney accent, a face he claims has been compared to Vladimir Putin’s, and a very determined stare. When he looks at you and says he is not saying something lightly, you know not to take it so. But then he veers off into talk of karma and samadhi, quoting from Zen scholar Daisetsu Suzuki, and one is left with the curious impression of attending a yoga class with one of the Kray brothers.
In my head Jah Wobble looks much as he does on the cover of his autobiography, Memoirs of a Geezer. Suited and booted. Equal parts film noir detective and East End spiv. But today he could scarcely look more different. I’ve interrupted his morning run, so he’s wearing a sweat-blotched blue t-shirt and a baseball cap that says ‘bullshit’.
He talks incorrigibly, almost unstoppably. Even after I’ve told him we’re done and I’ve turned the tape off, he starts going on about his antipathy to art deco – something he puts down to the Highbury grounds of Arsenal FC, rivals to his beloved Tottenham. But I tentatively suggest it may have just as much to do with a more general resistance to grids and straight lines. For Wobble, everything moves in waves. and smooth curves. Nothing is ever clear cut.
“THE KARMA OF GOOD DEEDS IS RUNNING OUT,” HE TELLS ME. “IT’S ALL VERY UNSTABLE. ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN.”
He wasn’t always called Wobble. Once upon a time he was John Wardle, one of a group of friends at London’s Kingsway College that were all called John. It was thanks to one of those Johns – John Simon Ritchie, aka Sid Vicious – that he first picked up the bass. During the Sex Pistols years, Wardle would sometimes borrow Vicious’s bass while they sat up taking speed. “Bass chose me,” he says, “I don’t feel much separation between it and me.” Later, a friend stole him a guitar of his own. Without an amplifier for it, Wardle would lean the headstock against a piece of wooden furniture in order to amplify the vibrations.
In some ways this accounts for his famously negligent attitude towards his instrument. Former Can drummer, Jaki Liebezeit, with whom Wardle often collaborated in the early ’80s, would say, “it’s incredible, he just leaves his bass anywhere.” To which Wardle responds philosophically, “Where does bass dwell? It’s not in the bass. It’s in the interaction of things.” Learning to make drones by direct contact with a physical solid object “actually taught me more,” he reflects, “than having it powered into an amp. It’s natural vibration.”
But it was one of the other Johns – the one that at that time was still calling himself Johnny Rotten – that gave Wardle his first break into music. After his departure from the Sex Pistols, Rotten rang up his old pal from college, saying he wanted to start a band. Living at home at the time, on the dole, Wardle figured he didn’t have much to lose.
In Public Image Ltd., his heavy bass notes were the anchor, the solid physical object emanating heavy-duty vibrations, around which the increasingly deranged guitar and vocals would swirl and gyre like something conjured by the witches in Macbeth. “I was so lucky to have my bass to the fore, because I was a real amateur guy,” he reflects of PiL’s first two albums First Issue and Metal Box. “It was, like, three-quarters of the signal.”
Two years ago, Wardle returned to that second Public Image album for a series of gigs with the group’s original guitarist Keith Levene under the name Metal Box in Dub. This came as something of a shock to many observers, not only because Wardle had spent many of his interviews up to that point explaining that he and Levene had never got on, but also because both had eschewed the chance to appear in Lydon’s reformed Public Image in 2009 and now here they were onstage with the singer from a Sex Pistols tribute band. “It wasn’t a parody,” he insists. “I want somebody who sounds like him, as he did then. That’s the point. He’s sung these parts more than John probably has.”
“As much as anything,” Wardle tells me, the reunion came about due to a feeling that he “didn’t play enough with [Levene] back then.” With the benefit of maturity, he believed they could now make the old songs “sound better that it would have at the time.” His one regret concerning the reunion, he says, “was that we never recorded it.” Not for want of trying. They had even gone so far as to hire a mobile recording van for their London show at Shoreditch’s Village Underground, only to find that the distance from the stage to the car park was too long for the rig to stretch.
Wardle left the original PiL at the beginning of the 1980s. After a brief spell in a “power trio” with ex-Public Image drummer Jim Walker and a friend known as ‘Animal’, he put together The Invaders of the Heart. The original idea, he tells me, was “to try and present some of the feelings behind the music I’d heard from around the world.”
Since his teens, Wardle had been tuning into shortwave frequencies from around the globe, picking up bits of Egyptian chanteuse Om Khalsoum from Radio Cairo and Romani music on Radio Ankara. “It came with a natural phasing from the shortwave oscillations,” he explains, “which made it more exotic – as if it was coming from another universe.” The Invaders would bring this cosmically distorted oriental sound together with the “unpredictability” of jazz and the “spaciousness” of dub, all mixed together “in a very amateur, youthful way that probably annoyed a lot of more experienced musicians over the years.”
Around the same time, he started working with ex-Can members Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit, first on Czukay’s solo album On the Way to the Peak of Normal, later receiving equal billing on Full Circle and Snakecharmer. This latter EP, Wardle calls “a mini-marriage made in heaven” for the way it brought together Czukay and Liebezeit with The Invaders of the Heart as a backing band and New York DJ François Kevorkian manning the controls.
In particular, the encounter between Liebezeit and Kevorkian’s Linn drum machine, Wardle describes as “like when Freud and Jung had a meeting, round the old oak table.” Things didn’t go so well for either party. The Can drummer “got freaked out” because it sounded like the drum machine was losing one and a half beats every minute. The Linn, for its part, ultimately threw in the towel. “A puff of smoke came out and it died.” Upon analysis, Liebezeit was vindicated. The drum machine was out of time. Czukay, delighted, exclaimed “He out-computered the computer!” Kevorkian, on the other hand, “was genuinely upset.”
Touring the record in ’83, Kevorkian showed them round the loft party scene, taking in the Garage as well as Disco Fever in the South Bronx amongst other spots. “Real exuberance,” is how he recalls the atmosphere of those clubs. “The whole idea of trance was very strong.” To Wardle, who had grown up listening to soul music, he recognised immediately a continuity with the all-nighters popular in ’70s Britain. It was, he says, all about that “special thing of people going into a room and actually worshipping the music. Real bass was respected.”
Bass, for Wardle, has always been about shapes and patterns. “I was self-taught,” he tells me, “so I made patterns – and I’m a ‘pattern mode’ guy when it comes to sequencers. It’s actually quite medieval in a way. Unlike the Bach view, of chordal progression which reads from left to right.” The statement makes me think of John Ruskin. In his mammoth work on the architecture of Venice, the Victorian art critic praised the inventive designs and ornate traceries of the gothic cathedral builders, in whom he saw the perfect marriage of craft and intellect; thought made healthy by labour and labour made happy by thought. If such a union is somewhat characteristic of post-punk as a whole, then it is particularly so of Jah Wobble, one of British music’s most articulate and philosophically-inclined spokesmen.
“WHEN I COME OUT OF PIL, I THOUGHT, GOD, I’VE GOT TO LAY OFF THESE POWDERS. BUT BY ’83, I’D GONE BACK ON THE POWDERS AGAIN.”
“It’s very theatrical in a way,” he says of post-punk (“that strange pot pourri”). And it’s this theatrical element that makes it a ripe vehicle for the expression of discontent. “There’s so many things involved in it, it’s somehow the perfect medium to say stuff and to suggest stuff.” But Wardle had little truck with the Red Wedge movement in support of the Labour Party that so many of his peers joined in the mid-’80s, detecting in it something “slightly juvenile”, though he will grant “that it was good that people resisted and were against Thatcher. For some reason it didn’t feel right for me at that time. But then again,” he shrugs, “I was an angry sort of bloke at that time so it was probably my problem.”
Wardle’s temper was once notorious, back in the days when his drunken stagger earned him the name Wobble. Histories of the punk scene tend to be littered with anecdotes detailing his various punch-ups. Even some years later, with Kevorkian in New York, he admits to being “very badly behaved. I was becoming a real nuisance at times out on the road so that started to fuck things up in every way.” He acknowledges that for much of his early career he was “drinking a lot” and taking drugs. “There was a little gap,” he says, “when I didn’t take drugs. When I come out of PiL, I thought, god, I’ve to lay off these powders. But by ’83, I’d gone back on the powders again.”
Around ’84–85, he says, “I just really broke down and had to stop drinking and drugging.” It was, he tells me, “like a bright star that suddenly imploded.” He spent several years working “part-time” in music whilst driving a mini-cab, and later, working on the London Underground. Finally, one day in 1986, his old percussionist Neville Murray came and knocked on his door. If it wasn’t for that call out of the blue, “I probably would have stayed on the Underground, to be honest. I said to him, do you really want to…? I was shocked.” That was the beginning of the group’s most successful phase, breaking into the charts and collaborating with Sinead O’Connor, Dolores O’Riordan, Natacha Atlas, Chaka Demus & Pliers – the Norwich City of the music scene.
He’s scarcely stopped releasing records since. Today, thanks in part to his own 30 Herz record label, he’s more prolific than ever. Over the last few years, new Jah Wobble projects – from Chinese dub to Moroccan chaabi to working with the Modern Jazz Ensemble or making electronic post-punk with Warp Records’ Julie Campbell – have become as regular as severe weather warnings. “I decided that I’d better hurry up and move,” he says, adding ominously, “events could take us over at any time.”
There’s always a note of apocalypse in the air with Jah Wobble. “The karma of good deeds is running out,” he tells me. “It’s all very unstable. Anything can happen.” When I point out that he’s expressed the same feeling about the period at the end of 1970s when he first joined PiL he retorts, “Yeah, and I think it was right to have it.” But Wardle takes “the long term view. What good I do now, when I die, the shadow of the good deed reverberates out and helps people in some way. The action will continue. Music’s a great emanator,” he continues. “It emanates out in a way other arts don’t.”
So the Wobble continues to send out wave upon wave, reverberating and emanating, innovating and inventing. “I’m always ready,” he says, “if a voice comes from above: Jah Wobble, you have had enough time, go away! I’ll go away. I’d be cool with that.” My suspicion is, that voice won’t be coming for a long while yet.
Back in the day, techno was such a boy’s club. You could count the ladies on the international stage on one hand. At one point, way back in the Nineties, there was just Eindhoven’s Miss Djaxx (owner of the mighty Djaxx-Up-Beats label). Then Grenoble’s Miss Kittin and Zywiec/Detroit’s Magda appeared in the late Nineties (plus doubtless one or two others, now forgotten). With pioneering auteurs such as Wendy Carlos (A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Tron etc), Delia Derbyshire (BBC Radiophonic Workshop) and Cosey Fanni Tutti (Throbbing Gristle/Chris & Cosey) having done so much for electronic music in its early years, why should it just be the preserve of the men?
Attitudes have changed a fair bit of late and it’s more than a little bit refreshing to see so many women forging an international following as techno artists in 2018. Lena Willikens and Violet (aka Ines Countinho) are two such women and we’re proud to be hosting them, thanks to ace party-starters Lionoil. Each comes with no shortage of props and with good reason…
Willikens is a resident at Düsseldorf institution Salon des Amateurs, nearby her hometown, Cologne. She’s released on Cómeme, and as a firm member of the tribe she presents a monthly radio show ‘Sentimental Flashback’, which is class and very highly regarded. A packed diary with appearances at Panorama Bar, Berghain, Corsica, Concrete and Dekmantel alongside her long running residency tells you all you need to know about her prowess as a selector.
Violet is a relative newcomer to the international circuit, but with an equally expansive portfolio. Founder of Rádio Quântica in her hometown, Lisbon, she started the naive label last year and made a very strong impression at Berlin Atonal festival last year (recording below, so so dope). There is a strong political dimension to Ines’ work; organising a series of all-female techno releases for International Womens Day, which began with her 2014 cover of Detroit classic ‘Transition’ by Underground Resistance, which attracted much praise from the dance music community and UR themselves.
This interview Willikens gave to Alasdair King for The Ransom Note is fairly revealing:
The sky is an unpleasant shade of ominous grey as I walk amidst the hustle and bustle of Kingsland Road. It’s a moody Friday afternoon in East London and there is a stark chill in the air, summer seems far away. That evening Lena Willikens would play all night long alongside her old friend Valdimir Ivkovic at a warehouse space on the shadowy outskirts of town, the flickering lights of the city but a distant glimmer against the deep black of night.
I meet the pair at Gillet Square around rush hour and am greeted with polite smiles and handshakes, both Lena and Vladimir have been on the road for quite some time, there’s no exit route in sight. As disc jockeys and artists affiliated with electronic music they seem far removed from the stereotypical intricacies many whom spend their nights beneath the glow of lights often portray. There is a humble honesty to the way in which they speak and present themselves, this was not “the dream” but a reality based upon an array of spectacular circumstances and events which helped shape a career.
It is hard not to reference Düsseldorf at this point.
Salon des Amateurs remains a sparkling example of an institution which has helped define a narrative within a particular niche of music. It is more than simply a club but a state of mind and the perfect representation of in which music meets environment. There isn’t a stereotypical sound but a sense of understanding as to the history which exists behind each of the founders and to whom the environment is curated for. Both Lena and Vladimir have held long residencies at the club in recent years, honing their craft and expanding their breadth of knowledge along the way.
Lena talks about the early days of the club.
“In the beginning Salon was not supposed to be a club at all, it was just a place to meet, hang and listen to music. During the first few years it attracted a lot of people who couldn’t really name what it was, they didn’t understand what was happening there. There were huge queues on a Saturday night and we would run a really strict door. People played free jazz records at ‘peak time’ and there wasn’t even supposed to be a ‘peak time’. All of a sudden so many people started coming and were interested in dancing to weird shit and this led to the first regular party every weekend. I wasn’t djing back then but Vladimir was, for me it was just really welcoming and about sharing new music that we discovered. It wasn’t about DJ egos.”
The club acted as a gateway and helped form the basis of an ideology which many of those associated with Salon des Amateurs have since adopted. Just as the parties were free natured and unconfined so must be the belief system behind the people playing the records. In fact, even the notion of a “DJ” in a formal context remains up for debate when referencing the musical trajectory and style of Lena Willikens.
“For me it (the club) was super important. Without it I might never have started dj’ing and running my own nights. There wouldn’t be this belief in sharing music. It’s never been about ‘dj skills’, that was never the focus, just the music. Logically becoming a ‘dj’ was never something I intended and I still have a hard time identifying myself with the profession. However, sometimes it really amuses me. I enjoy reading the faces after telling people ‘i’m a ‘dj” and guessing the stereotypical images in their heads…”
Whilst the club acted as an entry point for Lena there have been several chance encounters which have helped her navigate through the collision course that is modern day electronic music. Cómeme, the imprint run by Matias Aguayo aided in the output of her first EP back in 2015 whilst her long standing radio show “Sentimental Flashback” was also hosted on the label’s illustrious radio station for a number of years. However, these opportunities were not sought but granted, an ethos which Lena has applied to the way in which she lives her life day by day. She smiles with genuine honesty as she reflects on her aspirations, or not, as they may be.
“All my life I’ve refused to think about ‘becoming something’. Having a profession has always felt weird and wrong. I try to stay an amateur and don’t let too much routine into the game. I try to avoid repeating myself too much, in order not to bore myself. I’m not someone who looks back much and I’ve never enjoyed picturing the future.”
There is very much a priority placed upon the present, throughout our conversation this becomes clear and apparent in regard to a variety of circumstances and life choices, not just musically but across the board… When asked about the nature of stereotypes and her somewhat abstract take on the world of dance music she laughs and relays the manifesto. It’s admirable to say the least.
“It’s neither a choice nor an accident. It´s a consequence of what I’ve done in my life so far, and which people I’ve met. I was lucky to meet a bunch of wonderful open minded people at Salon des Amateurs and in the Cómeme crew, all are dedicated to music and willing to share. Stereotypes are boring and for me it’s more of an instinct to avoid them in order to keep me going. Not only in music but in life in general.”
Little is certain and self reflection has the potential to bore and tire. Why look back? This brings us to the conclusion of our conversation, a refreshing insight into the nature of the mindful experience behind the booth which is often forgotten. Having reconciled the nature of musical discovery and the importance of a humble presentation Lena places emphasis on how best to proceed in an era in which analysis and saturated opinions far too often have the last word. If you weren’t there then what do you know?
“I really enjoy creating special moments together with people who are willing to go on a journey with me. It’s over when the lights turn on and these moments become something else in your memory – but cannot be reproduced. It’s not creative detachment, I think it’s actually the opposite. In order to create something in the moment, which I can identify with, I have to be emotionally connected with the music and the crowd. Listening back to a live recording is frustrating because too much information is missing and sometimes I just can´t recreate the feeling of the night in my head. It tries to capture something which cannot be captured. From the temperature of the room to the smell, the mood of the crowd, the atmosphere behind the bar, and so on… It’s not just the DJ and their music that’s involved in creating something that’s special, or something that’s not.”
And this interview with Violet (courtesy of laccroix.com) is equally enlightening:
Almost ten years ago, when Myspace was the best option to listen and discover new talent that was only at a distance of a mouse click, A.M.O.R., two female rappers from Lisbon (Violet and Honey), catch my attention with intelligent lyrics, really peculiar flow and beats that blended Hip Hop, Grime, Dubstep and blinking the eye to other musical hybrids. I never stop following them since then and what a better moment to ask Violet (Inês Coutinho) for an interview if not right now, following her recent collaboration with Versace for SS16 Haute Couture show?
Lacroixx: I will begin by saying that I still proudly keep your first mixtape, the CD-R “Cor-de-Rosa” from A.M.O.R., a captivating work since the beginning which let us with powerful tracks like “Game Over” or “Abecedário”. How did the group start to take form with your “partner in crime” Honey?
Violet: Aw, thank you – means a lot to know you got it at the time. It all began almost 10 years ago in Lisbon. It literally started on a specific day – 5th October 2006. It was a holiday and we had nothing to do – Maria (Honey) is my cousin and we would hang out a lot. We both loved hip hop, especially Portuguese hip hop, and we both had a vein for creating so we thought we’d write a lyric over a Sam The Kid beat off of his “Beats Vol.1 – Amor” album. We recorded it on my laptop, uploaded it to MySpace and from then on we just kept them coming.
A.M.O.R released in 2013 the excellent début album “∞” where Rap merges with instrumentals that go beyond Hip Hop. Can we expect the same irreverence in future works from A.M.O.R.?
Yes, I think that will always be inevitable for us. We relate to a vibe, not a genre – and it’s definitely a futuristic yet super emotional thing that we aim for. I feel like in the end, it is hip hop to be fair – just not a revival type of hip hop. We’ll definitely keep that edge in any music we put out in the future – we really can’t help it!
You were initially working with talented producers and beatmakers inside your group of friends like DJ Núcleo till you start producing your own music. How did Violet moniker and solo work start to take form?
Our first beat was by DJ Núcleo (Abecedário) and then we got some stuff from Photonz for “Game Over” and we fucking loved it. For the album we worked with Photonz, Shcuro, Niagaraand Chainless, some of our favourite Lisbon producers. I did produce ‘Reality Check’ for A.M.O.R. around 2007 but didn’t pursue production very seriously until 2010 when I started playing around with Ableton more often. By 2011 I had some interesting material but no finished tracks yet, and it wasn’t until early the next year that I wrapped my head around finishing tracks (it’s a right mission for me) – the first track I finished was ‘Palmas’. I put it up on Soundcloud and it got signed straight away by Nazar from Wicked Bass, and that was a real push for me to finish more tracks as I had to come up with an EP for the label – and so I did. By July my 1st solo release ‘Collective Data’ was out.
I bought that EP, “Collective Data”. “Palmas” never left my Dj sets, was such a blow of fresh air when I first heard it. These steps in music production lead you to being selected for RBMA Barcelona. Did you feel that experience was influential in your career after 2008?
My time at the RBMA was amazing and certainly helped me shape the way I look at my ‘career’ (really don’t like this word ahah). The lectures with idols like Gary Bartz, Front 242 or Goldie inspired me to do my best and work on my dreams, while my co-participants were amazing humans that inspired me to really dig deep in my soul to reach for that creative, original drive… My artistry really. They were all so talented, phew. I came back really energised (no pun intended) and bursting with ideas and plans.
One of the things I truly admire in your work is the chameleonic way how you express with the same intensity the creation of explicit music for the dancefloor, other times more chill or even song writing where you also sing or rap. Do you have a preference when creating or it can result in a surprise at any time.
I guess like all humans I experience quite a wide palette of emotions daily. I tend to listen quite closely to them but I’m not great at ritualising my emotions: I’m not the kind of romantic who will buy flowers and chocolates or call my friends just because, but I’m the go-to person to talk about anything for hours on end when my loved ones need me. I love big hugs and real human contact, and I often find myself having a very meaningful conversation with someone at a café, over the phone or even at a big rave. I feel like this kind of non-conventional emotional intensity really bleeds into my music, too. If I were to be honest about my experiences when expressing myself through sound, I would 100% have to reflect this, and that’s what I do. I also think that the intensity you mention comes from the fact that I love so many types of music with so much passion. I’m a sucker for a Chicago acid banger as much as atmospheric, melodic stuff or a great pop song, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable limiting myself artistically so I think anything could come out.
Your cover of Underground Resistance’s “Transition” inspired all the team of Donatella Versace and the fashion designer herself which created an “empowering” collection for women that helped introduce a new concept, the “Athletic Couture” Spring/Summer 2016. What was your idea when you first started to develop your version of Undergrond Resistance which has magnificent voices from different female collaborators.
For “Transition”, the idea was to celebrate International Women’s Day by re-working a classic I absolutely love. I felt like it would be great to get together with a group of girls and write that amazing piece of history again, from a female perspective. It’s a track that influenced us all so it really made sense. I did my version of the beat and Nancy Wang, 88, Nightwave, Mamacita and Coco Solid added their beautiful vocals. It wasn’t until 6 months later that Simon, the music consultant for Versace, got in touch to use the acapella for the Prêt-à-Porter SS16 show. It was a mind-blowing experience to watch the actual show streaming live – my boyfriend and I, eating toast in our kitchen in London, jaws dropped.
From the initial solicitation to use your cover of Underground Resistance till the invitation to create the entire 15 min of Donatella’s parade, it was a very small step that resulted in the soundtrack “Body/Soul 2.0”. How did all the process happen and how has been the feedback?
After the Prêt-à-Porter SS16, Versace got in touch to ask for an original piece for their SS16 Haute Couture show. That happened early this year. I locked myself in my bedroom-studio and came up with a set that merges some of my favourite tracks I’ve produced alongside an ace remix Ursa’s Reef (a.k.a. Photonz, my boyfriend) did for my track Miami. I wrote additional percussion and tweaked the tracks for hours on end, wrote lyrics with the Athletic couture in mind – Ms. Donatella Versace sent me a few pointers on the vibe of the collection and what emotions she wanted to convey. Such an amazing woman to work with. Simon, Versace’s music consultant and Photonz were both instrumental in the process, helping me through my nervous breakdowns and pointing me towards the best decisions be it length-wise or arrangement-wise (the show timings are very precise). My boyfriend mastered the track and we both got on the Eurostar to see the show live in Paris – it was an unforgettable experience. The people at Versace were super gracious and down-to-earth while very inspiring and professional, and they really adored the piece which was a great feeling. I got very nice feedback from lots of places, from instagram to facebook, media and real life. It was very humbling to get so much love from it.
Together with Photonz (Marco Rodrigues), your boyfriend, both have been collaborating in different fields of music such the creation of D55 label or the most recent Rádio Quântica, which delivers radio programming with focus on Portuguese artists. It seems to me it works also to stir people’s minds, not only the radio heads but the listeners themselves. Do you think there is a lot to do to provide a voice to Portuguese talent?
Marco (Photonz) and I work very well together. We really thrive on bouncing ideas and making things happen – trying to illustrate our common dreams in this reality is something we have a penchant for. We both felt, when we started Quântica last year, that Portugal’s most exciting talent had little to no representation in the radio medium. We felt the same about the political and philosophical ideas we believe in: they seemed to have no place in radio (or any conventional media). With the radio station we aim to make that music, that art, those ideas more accessible to everyone: kind of a cultural fast-forward, as Marco brilliantly puts it. There is still a lot that can be done to make the local artistic playground a fairer one, and we’ll be sure to keep contributing towards that goal.
You live for some years now in London, was the search for new musical challenges that made you leave Portugal?
We moved to London because we see living abroad as a very enriching experience on so many levels. The artistic level is one of them, and it’s a city that can really push you to be more assertive and productive with your passions. On the other hand, it’s a place where the possibility of being a freelance DJ is very real, as there are so many venues and opportunities, and flying to other European countries is so accessible from there.
Picking up the two main subjects of this interview, the women and the Portuguese music scene, can you leave us five names of Portuguese female artists to discover?
EDND, she is half on Roundhouse Kick, one of One Eyed Jacks’ (the label Photonz founded and my primary music home) mainstays. Her music is both beautiful and honest – I don’t think I can recall anyone who can convey their emotion so clearly in their music.
EMAUZ, she crafts a really interesting and vibey blend of acid and techno, but there’s also a very soft and soothing vibration to it.
mariavapordagua, is half of A.M.O.R. but she also makes her own beats. The first one will be released on the new Labareda compilation and features really fresh and original drum patterns and a super tight bass.
Caroline Lethô, a young producer who is really inventive and passionate. Her productions can be quite nocturnal yet energetic, great stuff.
Sonja is a DJ who plays regularly in Lisbon and blends a deep and vibey combination of genres in a variety of atmospheres with real style. She’s also putting out an all-girl compilation on her label Labareda, where you can finds lots more Portuguese girls who are making music.