B2B: Leon Vynehall and A1 Bassline Discuss Collaboration, Their Laszlo Dancehall Project, and the State of the Scene in Brighton
While there are plenty of shared musical characteristics between the work of rising UK producers Leon Vynehall and Christian Sibthorpe, their respective careers to date have charted notably different trajectories. On the one hand, Vynehall is relative newcomer and still something of an enigma. Having first emerged last year with a string of impressive, understated house releases, he has quickly made an impression while remaining resistant to revealing his true identity. Sibthorpe, on the other hand, has been putting out music since a relatively young age, and has a string of releases and different aliases behind him that reach back to his early roots in drum & bass. He's best known, however, for his current work as A1 Bassline (although he's also recently released an EP as Christian Piers), a moniker under which he's produced a string of confident, bass-driven house tunes for labels including Dirtybird, Southern Fried, and his own imprints, Tighten Up and SOURCEUNKNWN. Both producers are clearly keeping busy on their own, but that hasn't dissuaded them from putting together a collaborative project, Laszlo Dancehall, which debuted with an EP of upfront, and classically minded house tunes on ManMakeMusic back in May. A second Laszlo release is due to arrive next month, and both producers also dropped new solo releases last week, so we here at XLR8R figured that now would be the ideal time to get together with the pair for a chat about collaboration, the state of the scene in Brighton, and the virtues of DJing to empty rooms.
XLR8R: How did you two first come to meet?
Leon Vynehall: We both lived in Brighton. It was just the usual routine of meeting other musicians or producers out around town or at club nights. The club night we mostly all met at was Aka Aka Roar, which I was a resident at for about two-and-a-half years. It was just the usual case of getting together and finding common interest and stuff. Then we got a studio together with Lorca, who's also from Brighton, and then getting together and making music came about pretty naturally.
I think me and Christian have very similar ideologies about making music—how to do it and what we wanted it to sound like—so it all came about very naturally. It wasn't contrived, we never really set out to do something, it was just us having a studio and being in there for a morning making something and being like, "Yeah this sounds alright, it isn't crap…"
Christian Sibthorpe: Ordering those horrible greasy pizzas…
LV: Yeah, loads of pizza and coffee.
So how similar are your roots and influences in dance music? Christian, you've got roots making drum & bass, and Leon, there seems to be a lot of old funk and classic house influence in your work. Do you have much of a shared musical heritage that you've bonded over?
CS: It's more band music, actually, that we've got the most common interests in.
LV: Yeah, definitely.
CS: That was a big part of it. We both grew up listening to weird indie bands and stuff. It's weird, seeing as Brighton is quite an alternative place, you don't actually meet that many people who have an interest within that side of music. With regards to house music, yeah there's lots of old stuff and new stuff we both like. But actually we found that, in terms of common interests, it wasn't particularly just about music.
LV: No, definitely not. I think half the time in the studio we were just chatting about films we both like, or talking about stand-up comedians, or books and whatever. It definitely wasn't just music. I think it's quite rare to get together with another producer and not just talk about music the first time you meet each other—that's the icebreaker—but I think the cool thing about me and Christian is it's not just about us having to listen to the same type of music. It's not just us making music together around that one common interest. Not that we weren't friends before, but I think doing this sort of stuff has made us become closer friends. It's not really just about doing the music so we can play shows or make a quick bit of cash. We have a really good time doing it… It sounds really clichéd and cheesy; it's like something out of a chick flick.
CS: It could be the start to a Mills & Boon book.
How quickly did the sound of the Laszlo Dancehall project come about? Did you immediately have an idea of where you wanted to go with it, or was there a lot of throwing ideas back and forth before finding that common ground?
CS: The first song we wrote together I think is quite different to everything we've put out now. But then, I can't remember what the second track we wrote was…
LV: The second track we wrote was "Manley Harrison," which was out on the first record. So I guess it only took one song of playing around with stuff before we clicked over it and it was like, "Yeah, that sounds better, I enjoy that." We wrote that song in a matter of hours, it really didn't take very long.
CS: There's a really cool record shop that Leon showed me called One Stop Records in Brighton, which has got loads of world music and African music. That was half of the ethos behind the project—good sampling. Leon's really good at picking out great samples of drum loops and weird obscure stuff. Then the other half was that we wanted to achieve as close to an analog sound as possible. Obviously, we've only released the one EP, but a lot of people are saying those tunes are close to '90s house. To us though, in that era, that was the kind of equipment people were using and we like that lo-fi analog sound.
LV: I guess this was an outlet to make more tool-y stuff. The songs that we made only have one context and that's the dancefloor. Separately, I know the songs that I make aren't usually all about the dancefloor. Most of the time I'll do stuff that's a bit slower, and I'll put tracks on the end of a release that aren't all aimed at the dancefloor—excluding the "Brother" b/w "Sister" release, that was just a functional dancefloor thing. But yeah, this was just about me and Christian finding some really nice records with some interesting sounds or textural elements, and then making something that we could play out and would work well in the club environment.
CS: Also, it's stuff that we wouldn't really want to release under our own aliases, that was part of it. That's what's been really nice about the project, I know it's not the best thing to just have one specific sound, but because there was no barriers or no routes we had to take, it's wasn't like, once you've built one song the next one has got to sound the same, because we had the freedom of doing whatever we wanted to do.
What's it like working in the studio together? Are your methods of making music naturally similar or do you each have different ways of approaching a track?
LV: I think the main difference is me always telling Christian to take the top end out of everything. [laughs] But apart from that, I think actually doing this with Christian, I've learnt a fair few things about producing. I'd hazard a guess that Christian might have likewise.
CS: For sure, it's always really interesting to work with someone, as you can learn from each other's processes on how to make music. But what was really nice was, when I stopped making drum & bass and started making stuff around 120-130 bpm, I actually stopped resampling records. When I used to make drum & bass, it was really interesting to find old funk records and sample the drum loops out of them, and that was one of the exciting things about getting back into that type of house music. It was like coming 360 on how I used to make music originally.
How do you guys approach playing out together? Was your recent joint DJ set for Boiler Room pretty representative of the way you're working as a duo?
LV: We haven't been doing it long enough to warrant us putting together a live set, although that's not something we wouldn't want to do. We just haven't had any time yet. I think the main thing is that when we play out under the Laszlo Dancehall moniker, it's mainly all Laszlo stuff. So it's not just me and Christian playing songs that we'd play in our own set, it's 90% just Laszlo stuff, and then the rest is just songs that are maybe in a similar style.
CS: For me, compared to what I'm known for as a producer under this alias, it's nice for me to play stuff that I couldn't really play myself as A1 Bassline. So, for me, it's a lot more fun to express that other side of house music.
Are you both still based in the studio in Brighton? From an outside perspective, there seems to be a fair amount going on down there at the moment.
LV: Actually, I'm not there anymore, I've moved up to the Midlands, so my studio is up here now. You're still in the studio there, aren't you Christian?
CS: No, I've actually moved out now too. I've moved my studio back home.
LV: For me, Brighton will always be my home. I grew up just down the coast from there and since I was 10, my mum would always take me down there. So Brighton has always felt like a second home to me. [The reason] I've moved away certainly isn't because I hate Brighton, the opposite is true.
CS: Leon Vynehall hates Brighton. There's your quote. [laughs]
LV: I've only been gone six or seven months, so it's not that long ago. As for the club scene in Brighton... Maybe like two or three years ago, house nights that you would get now, who are booking the big names, would be rare. There was Aka Aka Roar, which was every Monday. Back in 2009, they were booking guys like Untold on a Monday night and people like Ramadanman, but there wasn't a massive market for that. Dom, who runs Well Rounded, was doing stuff at a really tiny little bar called The Butt, or something like that, but it was all really only tiny little nodes. There were more dubstep nights than there were house nights. The guys who ran Aka Aka Roar and things like that were really rare.
As the years have passed and house and bass and techno, or whatever you want to call it, have got more popular, the influx of nights like that have shot through the roof. I think it's kind of saturated it a little bit. It's almost selfish to say that, because there was this little group or clique that went to all the nights, and you'd know the faces or whatever… It's profitable now down there, if you know what I mean, but there are still guys like Well Rounded and Aka Aka Roar for whom it's not about the money."
CS: I remember, even though Move D is quite a big name, some guys booked him back in October and there was only about 50 people. It's quite hard though... Did you play the night when it was just Theo Parrish and Marcellus Pittman?"
LV: Yeah, I played downstairs. See, those nights were good because those were Aka nights.
CS: I think the sad thing about Brighton, because I've only lived here for a couple of years, is realizing there's not a massive appetite for that. From growing up in London, it was kind of a shock moving to another city and experiencing clubs in a completely different way.
LV: I think Aka were doing the kind of nights that you'd find in London but there weren't the London people there to go to them. It's painting a picture like they were all dead events but they weren't…
And it was at those nights you honed your skills as a DJ?
LV: Yeah, definitely. When I was 17, I DJed at another club but that wasn't even under a proper name. I'd just get £50 a week and play some songs. But I really learnt to play properly at Aka; I learnt how to play to no one, and as any DJ knows, that's a really hard thing to do.