Bubblin' Up: Walton
- Words: Elissa Stolman
It's been almost a decade since Kode9 (a.k.a. Steve Goodman) inaugurated Hyperdub, and by now, the label's inbox is flooded with submissions from aspiring producers. "There are so many, 20-plus a day, and then ones through SoundCloud as well," says Marcus Scott, the label manager. "I try to listen to most of them." Although the competition is stiff, there's still a chance that a hopeful artist might stand out and land a release with the influential outpost; Sam Walton, the youngest addition to the Hyperdub roster, is living proof.
In 2011, the Manchester native sent some samples of his work to the label's email address, and within a few months, the tracks had materialized as his debut self-titled EP—a dream come true for a fan who had followed the label since his teen years. "[Marcus] didn't think the tracks were good enough to put out, but he liked the idea," Walton says of his early efforts. The sketches piqued Scott's interest, so he kept up a correspondence with the then-19-year-old producer, offering him feedback until the songs were ready to be released. "[There's] a slightly more distinct tone to what [Walton] does," Scott says. "The kinds of things that he was putting together, like grime and funky rhythms—a danceable grime sound was appealing to me."
Over the past two years, Scott and Goodman have guided Walton's development as a producer and released three of his records: the Walton EP in 2011, the All Night EP in 2012, and a white-label single that appeared just last month, "Baby." The track—a jittery cut with a pitched Brandy vocal that draws inspiration from 2-step and UK funky—heralded the arrival of his first full-length record, Beyond, which dropped this week. Listening to the LP, it seems like a good fit for Hyperdub, as it shares the label's experimental approach to grime, UK funky, and 2-step; Walton prefers to deconstruct and rebuild his influences, not recreate them.
Walton's first musical love was grime. "I heard Dizzee Rascal on the radio, and then went back and looked through all the grime stuff and more underground stuff," he says. "I think that's where most of my influences come from. It was the first kind of music that I was really into." His early productions, like "Aggy," reflected his taste for demented grime basslines, but by the time he started composing Beyond, the 22-year-old had discovered and started to experiment with new styles, like 2-step and UK funky. However, regardless of what genres he's dabbling in, Walton's approach usually involves stripping down rhythms and building them into neck-jerking, complex patterns, whether he's working with grueling low end, gauzy vocals, or bubbling synths.
"Usually, when I'm in bed, I'll get an idea," he explains. "I'll think of a melody at nighttime. I'll have no ideas, then I'll get in bed and something will come to me." Although his official discography is relatively sparse, Walton's creative energy was virtually ceaseless, until recently. "Since I made the Hyperdub album, I've found it quite hard [to produce]," Walton says. "Just had a block, I can't think of ideas."
Part of the problem is that his process was disrupted by his first pseudo-tour. In June, he traveled to America with a few friends, mostly as a vacation, but also to whip through a few gigs in San Francisco and New York. Even with the haphazard nature of his itinerary, he still notched his second-ever performance outside of the UK at Francois K's storied Deep Space club night. Walton is undoubtedly enjoying his time in the States, but is also looking forward to getting back home. "Hopefully [the block will be gone] when I get back and start flowing again," he says. As for his DJ schedule, he still hasn't played much outside of England, but Walton has performed regularly in the UK since the release of his first Hyperdub EP—right around the time he enrolled in a six-month-long DJing course at Manchester's School of Sound and Recording. "I thought I might put [the Walton EP] out, so I thought I had better learn how to DJ so that I could get booked and start making some money."
Walton has also found other ways to make a living off his music. "I got quite a lot of remix stuff, and I've been doing stuff for TV as well," he says. "All the stuff that [I make that] I don't like anymore or get bored of, I've got a guy I can send it to—background music for TV and stuff like that," he explains. He recently signed a deal to produce an album of library music, although he's sketchy on the details; all he's willing to divulge is that he was commissioned by a sub-label run by "a big company," and that his tracks will be selected to appear on a compilation for the imprint. "I don't really want to incorporate it with my Hyperdub stuff, so it's all under a different name, and I'm keeping it kind of private," he says.
His reserve with respect to his library-music projects might seem evasive, but it really stems from a desire to keep his musical endeavors separate; more importantly, he doesn't want to taint his artistic efforts as Walton with commercial motives. The young producer takes his work seriously, especially when it comes to official Walton releases; only his strongest tracks survived the vetting process for Beyond, which involved whittling down the tracklist from 20 to 13 songs. "It was originally going to be an 8-track EP," he says, "and then we found a connection between the tunes and thought, 'Alright, we'll just make it an album.' So I worked off those tunes to get a few different bits to make it all fit together, and turned it into an album."
Without question, it was a big leap for a producer with only a few EPs under his belt. Fortunately, the Hyperdub camp saw that he was up for the challenge, and was willing to help the young musician put his best foot forward on his debut LP. "[Kode9 and I] just thought, 'Well, he's ready to do an album,'" says Scott. "Perhaps he is, I'm not sure. Only the market can tell us, really."
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