20 Questions: Batu - XLR8R
Omar McCutcheon talks Bristol, Benjamin Mendy, and his XL Recordings debut.

Omar McCutcheon has been producing music as Batu for almost half a decade, but his most recent release—a four-track debut on XL Recordings—has exposed his sounds to a much wider audience. 

McCutcheon spent his childhood in Oxfordshire, United Kingdom, and found a connection with music after his uncle set up Streamizm, an online streaming service for dubstep—the first reference point, he says. He soon began purchasing records and spending hours on Dubstepforum, an online forum that inspired some early dubstep experiments. Enrollment in Music Production at Bath Spa University helped him shape his sound and served as a gateway to the exploration of the bubbling nearby Bristolian scene. It was here that he first crossed paths with the likes of Peverelist, Bruce, and Pinch with whom he worked to shape his dubstep, grime, and broken-beat influences into the bass-heavy brand of club music he's been pushing ever since. 

Having debuted on Pinch’s Cold Recordings back in 2013, McCutcheon has since appeared on the likes of Livity Sound, sister-label Dnuos Ytivil, Hessle Audio, and his own Timedance.  The latter of these labels only surfaced in 2015 but has quickly established itself as a leading, forward-thinking imprint in these singular aesthetics. Lurka, Laksa, Ploy, and Bruce have all appeared. 

In support of McCutcheon's XL debut, we caught up with him to learn more about it, Timedance, and the man himself. 

1. Where in the world are you right now? 

I'm in my bedroom/studio. Unfortunately right now both making music, finding music, and sleeping all take place in the same little box for me. I'm planning on getting a studio space but I get the feeling it's going to be a pretty stressful process. Getting a studio in Bristol is easier said than done as far, as I understand..

2. What have you been up to lately?

I’ve been trying to balance writing some music alongside a pretty hectic touring schedule this summer. I started some tracks earlier in the year when I had some time off and now I’m trying to finish them in the week and basically going away every weekend. Playing loads of festivals this year has been fun, it definitely opens your DJing up to some new contexts that you don’t come across when playing clubs… Different times and settings have definitely helped me develop my DJing, I am definitely taking it all a lot more seriously than I was a couple of years ago

3. You’ve just signed to XL Recordings. How did your relationship with the label come about? 

Will, who works there as an A&R, reached out a while back. I knew of him a bit already 'cos he used to live in Bristol and also used to be a dubstepforum regular like myself back in the day. We got chatting and eventually things progressed, I really liked the vibe of everyone who works there. They really value underground talent, but not in a way that is at all manipulative or exploitative as it maybe would be with other labels. It seems like a very honest project.

4. How does the A&R work with Timedance? What are you looking for? 

I think now I've been running the label for a few years, there are a few different narratives running through the label's work. There's kind of a web of concepts and sonic ideas alongside a network of influences and relationships which the artists I work with share. In a lot of ways because of this, I don't feel in control. The decisions often make themselves, I'm kind of a vessel for where everyone else wants to take it. I guess this is a contradiction though because ultimately it's all about my tastes ultimately, but I do feel like everyone's ideas play into it. Playing the tracks in clubs is always an important part of the process, hearing things on a dancefloor will usually make up my mind if I'm on the fence about something.

5. Can we expect a longer format release anytime soon? 

I don't think so. I would like to do it one day. Right now I don’t have the time or any kind of conceptual idea that would suit a longer form. I like with EPs that you have 2 to 4 songs which are all individual statements, snapshots of experimentation or development; when you finish a release it’s kind of like that chapter has been finished and you can start again. I don’t know how my process would work for an album in this sense, and I’m not in a rush to change this formula.

6. What advice would you give up and coming DJs today?

Good question.

I feel like more than ever it's difficult to get noticed establish yourself in this scene unless nepotism is involved. The amount of money involved in dance music has made it has become a real industry; we kind of have a tier of "safe-investment" name DJs now who play the same festivals again and again and it's pretty difficult for new names to break through sometimes. Very little space is left for younger people, who are definitely some of the most creative. Because of this I think ultimately doing your own thing and taking control of your own destiny will give you so much more control and pay off in the long run. There's so much polite, unimaginative music—try and do something different and honest to yourself. That and get some good earplugs.

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7. What are some of your favourite lesser-known records in these UK aesthetics? 

I think the early No Symbols white labels really paved the way for a lot of things that came later, in my opinion. I was still trying to solidify my ideas in terms of combining my influences of dubstep with house and techno and at that time Beneath really hit the nail on head in a way that no else did, for me.

Croydon House from Pinch and also Mega Drive Generation from Martyn were also massive game changers too.

8. Which DJs are inspiring you at the moment?

Paquita Gordon, Phuong-Dan, Laksa, Gigsta, Skee Mask, JASSS, Laurel Halo, Covco.

9. Do you read reviews of your music? 

I do, I'm not really sure why though. There are some reviews of my music I love, when I feel like someone has really got what I was aiming for. Ultimately, I think reviews (rating systems especially) can cloud producer's judgement of their work though. Reviews and criticism are important for sure, journalists should be able to slate someone's music if they make constructive points, but from an artists point of view, I don't know if taking note of that side of things helps you make better art?

10. Where do you find yourself digging for new music — and do you have a clear process? 

No clear process really. I collect notes of stuff I want to check and then start googling pretty much. If I come across something I like, I'll probably skip through the artists or labels back cat. and see what comes up. I love Bandcamp for digging, got to give a special shout-out to them!

11. Who do you show your music to before you release it? 

Lurka, Via Maris, Bruce, Ploy, my girlfriend, and my housemate. I trust them all and all of them will have different things to say.

12. If you could go B2B with anyone dead or alive who would it be?

I'm not massively into b2bs apart from with a few friends, to be honest. This year I've played a fair bit with Simo Cell which is always great and also played with Objekt at Field Day Festival in London. By far the biggest crowd I've ever played to, at first I was really nervous but it ended up being amazing.

13. How did you first become involved with the Hessle audio boys?

I met Ben UFO at Motion in Bristol on my 18th birthday haha! In terms of releasing music with them, it first started with me playing "Marius" at Freerotation, I think David asked Larry (Bruce) if he knew what the track was and then I got an email a few days later...

14. How do you feel your new XL release differs from your earlier work, in terms of sound and the idea behind it?

I made an effort to write music at a few tempos which I hadn’t used before. The process of writing that EP was a interesting one. All the tracks came from quite wild experimentations, and then it was a case of trying to fix them into tracks slowly. It took a while and was something new for me definitely. Ultimately I was hoping to have four tracks that would stand up to repeated home listening but also work in more adventurous club situations. I wanted to make something that would maybe not be an instantaneous hit but something which you could keep going back to and hopefully get more from it each time.

15. Are you now at a point where you’re looking to show your work to a wider audience?

Kind of, I have started thinking a lot more about other projects I’d like to do. I feel like my mind is way more open now to other creative ideas, I don’t really want to just DJ and make down the line club tracks forever. Right now it’s all pipe dreams and notes on my computer but I definitely want to try different things and continue to learn! I kind of feel that most dance music producers have a certain shelflife, same with labels too. There are lots of exceptions to this but it’s really important to me that I feel like what I’m doing is worthwhile and not just adding to the noise. I think about that constantly nowadays, it’s definitely made releasing my own music more difficult.

17. How do you push yourself in terms of experimentation?

New VSTs and sounds helps a lot. I also impose limitations quite often of what I’m allowed to use which can make for some nice accidents. I just try to be as free as possible, you never know what’s going to work.

18. What’s the last thing that made you laugh and why? 

Probably something from Benjamin Mendy on twitter, if anyone knows how I can make him my friend I would love to know...

19. Do you believe that the accessibility of producing music has been of detriment to the electronic scene or is it helping to find more artists and better music?

I think its making things better for sure. What's so exciting to me is the music coming out of other parts of the world, South America and Mexico, China, South Africa, and loads of other places have young scenes of amazing imaginative bass music. It's so exciting that dance music is now no longer a thing that only middle-class western people are contributing to. For years, it kind of felt like that to me.

20. What are your top three albums that you are listening to at the moment?

Zaliva D Sky Singing

Cocou Chloe Erika Jane

Autechre NTS Sessions