At the risk of hyperbole, allow us to say that we'd be truly hard pressed to assemble a better crew of working UK producers than those featured in this edition of B2B. The stars of the hardcore continuum have aligned, so to speak, and in our favor—which is to say that Mumdance, Logos, Adrian Sherwood, and Pinch happen to have two closely related albums releasing this month. Bristolian Tectonic boss Rob Ellis continued his heady, dubwise collaborations with legendary producer, remixer, and reggae icon Adrian Sherwood on Late Night Endless, the first Sherwood & Pinch full-length. And the ever-busy Jack Adams—who recently signed his Mumdance & Novelist project to XL, and has a solo Fabric mix coming down the pipeline—teamed up again with fellow London grime experimentalist James Parker (a.k.a. Logos) for an austere, confrontational LP called Proto, which will also be released through Pinch's vital record label. So to put it all bluntly, we are now privy to an engrossing conversation between four inimitable producers who collectively span a large portion of British dance music history.
History, as it turns out, is also a prevailing theme in our extensive chat with the guys, who joined us on Skype from their respective homes and studios in Bristol, London, and Ramsgate. Being the elder statesmen of the bunch, Sherwood & Pinch share loads of insight into the long list of past experiences that have shaped their influential careers, not to mention a bit of wisdom on matters of production and collaboration. Though that's not to understate the points made by Mumdance & Logos, as the pair paint a vivid picture of where they come from and how their joint creative process works. And since they're all such groundbreaking artists in their own rights, we of course talk about the future and current climate of grime, dubstep, and beyond. It's certainly a long read (over 5,000 words by our count), but considering the voices and viewpoints that converge here, we'd wager it's well worth the time.
XLR8R: Both of your albums, Proto and Late Night Endless, deal a good amount with forward-thinking music, but also look to the past quite a bit for sounds, styles, and samples. Why is it important for your music to make these references?
Mumdance: With me and Logos, the idea is to keep the aesthetic of the sound, so we make it sound sort of futuristic. Traditionally, jungle and hardcore was all about future music. It's only these days that it becomes a retro pastiche. Even though we wanted "Dance Energy (82 Mix)" to be a throwback tune, the rest of [Proto] is about the future. The only thing is we're using old technology—the same technology they were using back in the day to make rave music—but using it with an idea of the future in our heads. We're trying to keep the color of those sounds, essentially.
[quote]"Music reminds you of moments, and you can almost use that to collage together something that impacts and touches on echoes of memories."[/quote]Pinch: For me, I think there's an element of your inspiration that comes from your experience, so you're always going to be referencing things from the past in some degree or another. Certain music and certain tunes might associate with moments—whether it's a big hardcore classic or something that set you off on the dancefloor, or something that reminds you of Christmas or whatever. Music reminds you of moments, and you can almost use that to collage together something that impacts and touches on echoes of memories. I think you can build a bigger narrative by referencing stories from the past and building on them.
Sherwood: I was once described—maybe a couple of times—as a fan who got his hands on a mixing desk, and that was in a derogatory way. But it's actually true, because I was a fan of the mixers. People used to mix tunes and shape sounds, particularly from the reggae quarter—like Keith Hudson, [Augustus] Pablo, and Lee Perry. I'm still obsessed, like a fan, of the old stuff, and as the years pass, you hear records that you're—dare I say—jealous of. You think, "Wow, I wish I'd done that." And to be quite honest, I tend to get obsessed with a sonic that is in certain things, and I try to incorporate it as I move forward embracing other things that are going on.
Logos: I find now that, with YouTube and things, the past blurs into the present completely for me. You have all your inspiration and you want to be forward thinking, but you can't escape the pull of what originally brought you into music.
[quote]"You create fireworks when you work with someone who's authentic and really good"[/quote] Sherwood: That's what I was saying about the "fan" thing. If you're a specialist, like with drum & bass or jungle, and you particularly love it and become great at it, that's brilliant. You will always [make a living] if you're really good as a specialist, because that passion comes through. A lot of people go along and suddenly change their style, change their course, but for me, I'm still an obsessive fan. I can't help it. You still have to embrace the new things, so it's good to meet another specialist or someone who's obsessive. You create fireworks when you work with someone who's authentic and really good.
Pinch: I think it's about reference points as well, having these gravitational reference points that you can make sense of things with. When a form of music is exciting and new and totally fresh, it's carving a new space. But later on, you can look back on those things, and they become signifiers and reference points to certain moments or changes in music. And then they can take on different meanings. It's like hip-hop sampling funk records and everything they can get their hands on: It's changing the context, but it also references a moment and a feeling. If you speed it up, that gives you a different feeling or representation of that sensation. It's about cultural references as well, I think.
Mumdance: When this house wave came through that we're just sort of coming out of now, the first time I heard all those tunes it was the hardcore versions of them. First time I heard "Someday" by Ce Ce Rogers was "Sweet Harmony" by Liquid. I didn't even realize they'd nicked the piano riff from it, that was just the first time I'd heard it. It's interesting to me how I'm coming from a completely different angle with it, working backwards.
Do you feel these older sounds and ideas are just better than what's happening right now? Or is there something you think people need to learn from them?
Pinch: [It's] probably also that those stories were relevant then and can still be relevant now. They just need to be told slightly differently.
Mumdance: I think the best way to go into music is to let things unfold organically. I think if you ever try too hard to do something it can sometimes become contrived, unless you have an idea you're trying to express. I just find that all the best music I've made is about working quickly and just letting things unfold as they are. Trying too hard at something makes it come out worse than if stuff just happens organically. Staying in the moment is important.
Sherwood: You're just thinking about making a good tune, aren't you? I think if you're revisiting an old idea, or taking an old hook from something and replanting it in something else, I love that. To me, like with the reggae stuff I'm obsessed with, it's like a version of [the idea].
You all got your start as solo producers, but have been working more and more collaboratively as of late. Is producing with someone else a matter of inspiration and convenience, or more just a satisfying change of pace?
Mumdance: I do a lot of collaborations, and the main reason I do them is that I get bored sitting in a room by myself all day. It's nice to have a bit of company, you know what I mean? [laughs] And, literally, that's kind of the base of it, but also, when you're working with someone, they have a completely different way of making music and a completely different idea set. When those two things collide, it creates something new and special. Collaborations are definitely fun if they're with the right person. Half the battle with a collaboration is just getting a rapport with someone in the studio. It's not the actual making music, it's understanding the person that you're in the studio with. If you get on with the person, and you're friends with them, and you enjoy hanging out with them, then it's a lot easier to make music with them.
Pinch: Good point well made. [laughs] Yeah, I'd agree with that. I think, traditionally, people were more used to making music together than apart, so it's probably quite a fundamental social thing. If you enjoy working with someone, then the result is a bonded piece of art. It's a good way to pass time, actually. [laughs]
Have past collaborations helped prepare you for working on these records? Like, do you often take away new ideas and methods from working with other people?
Pinch: Every time.
Sherwood: Every time, definitely. I think everyone would say that.
Pinch: You'd be a fool not to. You'd be missing [out].
Sherwood: You pick up something off everybody you work with, I find. The weirdest little things you'll find yourself applying a few years later. Then it suddenly dawns on you where you got that from, and it's some kind of odd thing you'd forgotten about. I picked up things from bands like The Fall, and I could list like [Einstürzende] Neubauten and some other people. You can refer back to something you learned off somebody from a completely different background to yourself that you worked with years ago.
Mumdance: I think that's definitely right. There's definitely echoes of the way me and James work that I picked up off Pinch, and we learned a couple little tricks off Pinch that we use quite a lot. [laughs] Like, what's that pitch thing, the audio pitch thing?
Pinch: The pitch shifter.
Mumdance: Right. It never occurred to me to use that, really, and now we use it all the time. So cheers for that, mate. [laughs]
Pinch: Sometimes, like Adrian was saying, it's not always that obviously perceptible. I think that's life, innit? If you meet people that have an influence on you, it influences you in all sorts of ways. A lot of things I've picked up from working with Adrian involve moving sounds in an organic, three-dimensional way, and lots of panning. There's a little message in every experience, and that's one of the things I enjoy about doing lots of collaborations.
Sherwood: I think it's good to have fans, as well, even if they're not making music. Just fans of music, and you sit in an evening with them, listening to stuff that you'd never normally put on yourself. And you suddenly hear some ideas from music you'd never normally check, and you think, "Wow, what a mad idea!"
I can remember hearing The Jesus & Mary Chain for the first time, and what struck me was the guitars were right in your face. The drums were really tiny, covered in reverb right in the back. The whole balance was so alien to me, because I'm used to the snare cutting your forehead off and things like that, and I'm suddenly hearing this. Geoff Travis, who ran the company [Blanco y Negro Records], said, "I want you to mix this." I said, "Jeff, I'm hearing this for the first time, and it's perfect. I think if you do anything with it, you're gonna ruin it." You can learn that stuff about perspective of sound and other ideas from the weirdest things. [Like] Link Wray and the Ray Men, where the sound effects are twice as loud as the band. And that's reminiscent of Blackboard Jungle, where the sound effects are much louder than the track. Those kind of things, you pick them up and you don't even realize it.
Mumdance: That's really interesting, and I notice that when listening to your tracks with Pinch. The sound effects are so loud, so it's interesting to hear you say that. I really like that about the tunes.
Sherwood: You hear it in the club, and it sounds like the sound effects are coming through the ceiling.
How do you know when a project is right for collaboration or not?
Pinch: I think you can develop a sense of what your shared sonic space becomes. For instance, if I'm working Jack, we agree on what's cool about certain aspects of techno and certain aspects of this and that. And when I'm working with Adrian, there's a shared sonic space that's more dubwise, maybe more rootical, and more beat-driven from a slightly different angle. I think that's part of the magic in a good, ongoing relationship, a kind of agreed shared space of imaginary sonic overlap. And if I start certain tunes, I might be thinking, "This would work really well if I bring it down to Ramsgate, and we get some piano and some vocals. Or Adrian gives it a dub twist."
Sherwood: All that's true. The thing is, if you're making a solo record, you're calling all the shots. You don't need to consult anybody, and you're single-mindedly going for whatever you think you're going for. If you're working with someone else, it's like you're producing each other, and that becomes the sum of the two parts.
Mumdance: I think half the fun of it is getting that shared middle ground. One thing I didn't even notice that Rob pointed out before is that when we make tunes, we don't ever compromise on a track. We don't go, like, "Ah, yeah, you can have this snare if I can have this kick drum." We always have to agree on every single aspect of the tune. And it's the same with me and you, James, innit?
[quote]"Horse trading over sounds is not the answer to doing a collaboration."[/quote]Logos: Yeah, horse trading over sounds is not the answer to doing a collaboration. When you work solo on something it can become very precious, and you can become very single-minded, like you said, Adrian. With collaboration you have to be more flexible, but towards a greater good, I think. We compromise, Jack, but we're working with shared parameters.
Well, Mumdance, for instance, is about to release a Fabric mix album, but something made you decide to keep that a solo endeavor.
Mumdance: I actually went and asked Fabric. I've been playing at Fabric for like seven years now, so I was just like, "Come on, mate. It's time now." [laughs] And even though I was doing it myself, it felt like a collaborative process, because half of the music I put on the mix I commissioned especially for it.
But it's still just you making the mix and calling the shots.
Mumdance: With a mix like that, it's so personal and a lifetime ambition for me. I wanted it to represent me and my journey through things. I really enjoyed putting it together, and I'm really happy with the way it turned out. I got everything across that I wanted to get across, and I hope everyone else likes it.
Tell us a bit about how you guys work together. Are you primarily meeting up in person, or sharing ideas remotely?
Pinch: It's different for me every time. If I'm working with Jack it's always same studio at the same time. With Adrian it's a bit of both. Sometimes I start with mixes up here, bring them down to the studio in Ramsgate, and then we kind of flesh them out, rearrange it, add samples and instrumentation, change it all around. Unlike any of my other collaborations, it's always Adrian who finishes off the mixes. I'll be there throwing my two sense in on the mix a little bit, but he's a master of the analog mixer, so it'd be foolish for me to go anywhere near it.
Sherwood: Thank you, Rob.
Pinch: That's my situation, and it's slightly different every time. But I prefer to work as much as possible with the person in the room. I think that's what captures the real atmosphere. It's better all around, I guess. It's more sociable, for one. I have done some online collaborations where you sort of send parts back and forth, but like we were talking about earlier with this sort of shared sonic space, it's much easier if you're in the room together. Maybe if one of you gets a little bit tired, the other one can pick up the reins. That's a nice to dynamic to keep things flowing.
Logos: Me and Jack only work in person, and it works really well. Even when Jack didn't live in London we didn't do stuff online. I find it a bit hard. Someone sends me parts and I just get distracted and do something else.
Mumdance: Also the dynamic of having two people in the room [is important]. Like when someone gets stuck, the other can sort of jump in with a fresh head. For me, that [increases] how quickly you can get stuff done. What me and James do, we always go to the studio every week on the same day. So we have like a routine of every Monday we go in and spend the whole evening doing tunes. The songs that we make in my studio sound different than the songs that we make in his studio, just because of the equipment and what's to hand.
Sherwood: What Rob and I tend to do is make loads of tunes, and you got to go into the creative space thinking you're going to do something magic. Convince yourself or believe something spiritual or magical is going to happen. What I've learned over the years is that it's good to have like six or eight tunes that you're working on. We work like throwing ideas at them, overdubbing them, stripping them, rearranging them... Whatever. If you get a bit bored, [you can] jump from one to another. Or if it's like an energy thing, go and have a walk down to the seafront or whatever, and then come back and attack it with a fresh energy. If you go in the room and feel a bit jaded or tired or whatever, you got to believe you're doing something special by the essence of the creative process. I sound a bit like a hippy. [laughs]
Pinch: It's true, though. I definitely picked that up from working with you, [the part] about pacing your attention, almost, to keep a certain flow or energy moving.
Mumdance: I find that working with the grime guys as well. When you work with MCs, they'll all gather together in the studio, loads of them, and it'll almost be like a party atmosphere. Almost like the primary focus isn't recording. You're getting drunk, having a laugh with your mates, and when it feels right, they'll jump in the booth and start doing something. I wish I worked like that a bit more. But when you're a producer sort of moving blocks around on screen, it doesn't have the same...
Pinch: Beneficial effects.
Mumdance: Beneficial effects, yeah.
Sherwood: I've got an engineer, called Dave McEwen, who's been with me for a few years. There's another amazing set of ears to work with there, and I like the current way of working with Rob and Dave, or just Rob and me, or whatever we're doing. But a lot of productions that I was a fan of had massive teams back in the day, like The All-American Rhythm Section. They had someone arranging the horns, someone arranging the strings, and this and that. And so it's interesting to have a specialist come in and give a live performance. [Rob & I] would get someone to come in and play live percussion, or live bass or horns or whatever, and just to bring an extra percent of magic to the track.
Logos: I come from the background of never really working in a band environment, apart from when I was in my teens. All of my production is basically me in a room moving sound around, or maybe me and Jack or me and another producer, which is completely different. All that most producers have now is a laptop, they've never had the access to that kind of traditional music industry apparatus. For me, getting access to or experiencing that sort of world is quite interesting.
Are there any special machines, plug-ins, or programs that are integral to the sound of your records?
Pinch: I never want to give away my secrets. [laughs]
Mumdance: With me it's my old Mackie mixing desk, I think. That's been integral, and the 909 drum machine. There's no secret about that. It's been used for years and years and years in countless dance tracks, so I don't think James and I are giving anything away by saying that. [laughs] More and more I've been seeing how the Eurorack modular synth is my current obsession. I think that's going to play a big part in the next wave of stuff that I make.
In your opinions, what continues to keep grime and dubstep relevant to the current state of electronic music? Why are you still compelled to explore these sounds?
Pinch: Probably because I think they still sound good. That's the easiest answer. [laughs]
Logos: I sort of came up originally on jungle, or drum & bass, really. It was the era that is written off by people that don't really know a lot about drum & bass, except everything after '98. Then I was lucky enough to be around grime, but really dubstep, when it was actually happening in London at FWD>> and DMZ. And that was an authentic, UK-wide—like London, Bristol, and a few other outposts—young dance music. It wasn't techno, but it was in a dialog with techno. And [from there] you carry on on your own path. It's like a jet stream from a plane, and you can look back and see where you come from. So I'm not going to just start making techno.
Pinch: For me, a lot of those feelings and moods are still relevant, but they can be presented in a new form. You can say there's aspects of the jungle vibe, which very much carried through garage and grime into dubstep. There's something about that vibe that made sense and connected those scenes. Those moods, what they evoke and whatever it is that's behind that, they're still relevant. That's why I like chasing those moods, chasing those vibes, trying to find new forms to present them in that engage you, interest you, catch you off guard, or whatever.
Mumdance: Maybe this is a generalization, but I feel like maybe a theme running throughout all of us is we weren't directly in London when it was all sort of popping off. We had a slightly outside perspective on what was happening. Like there was definitely a Bristol sound, which is different from the original London sound. I think just not being in the thick of it can sometimes be a blessing, as much as it can be a curse.
So you're chasing after the music that maybe you missed the first time around?
Mumdance: I don't think it's chasing anything. It's more of a case like, I used to love this when I was growing up. I don't want to make a throwback tune, but I like the feeling of the song, so I think it's more trying to capture [that feeling]. That's why I use all the old technology. It evokes the feeling of the time, you know? If you're using 12-bit samplers, it's got a sound to it. It's using that sound, but twisting the processes into making new things. The most important thing, as I said before, is that jungle and hardcore was always obsessed with futurism, science fiction and the future. I think a lot of that is forgotten now, because people just make retro tracks. We wanted to continue that idea of making futuristic music, definitely [as far as] what me and James do. And Rob as well.
Pinch: Yeah, and I think what Jack and James do really well is capture that mood of the proto-junglistic era, that kind of early grime, and all those kind of things. They capture those moods and present them in different soundscapes, in different tempos, and different groove structures. And that's what it's all about. It's the same thing we were talking about earlier, back when hip-hop was sampling records; it's about capturing moments and using that as a tool to kind of evoke the mood or the vibe that you're going for with a track.
From a production standpoint, what makes these genres continue to be exciting to experiment with?
Mumdance: I think it's just what we know best, maybe.
Logos: We do, yeah.
Mumdance: It's what I know and what I love.
Logos: I'm not that interested in genre. We just sort of go to the studio without any real preconceived idea. We just keep going, onto where we're going next.
Where do you see grime, dubstep, and the so-called "UK bass" scenes going next?
Mumdance: I think it's just all so fractured at the moment that literally anything could happen. On a sort of good [quote]"There's no rules at the moment, so people are making really interesting music because they're not trying to fit into any preconceived idea of genre."[/quote]level and a bad level, there's no real unity in many of the scenes. There's little outposts all over the place, which I think is good thing because it [makes for] a lot of interesting music. The time is just very exciting because we don't know what's going to come next. There's no rules at the moment, so people are making really interesting music because they're not trying to fit into any preconceived idea of genre. People seem to just be expressing themselves, and not trying to fit into any notion of what they should sound like. People are just doing their thing, and I think that's when the most interesting music is created. And that's sort of why we called the LP Proto, because that's what we wanted to reflect.
You all seem to envision a dark, almost dystopian future for club music. What keeps everyone headed in such a challenging direction?
Mumdance: Well, I think the Holy Grail when you're making dance music is something that will destroy a dancefloor, obviously, but also is interesting enough to listen to at home. We don't really plan anything, though, so I guess the dark, dystopian thing is just [leftover] from the tech-step stuff we both listened to when we were growing up. That was always about science fiction and dystopian future, and for me, that's where it comes from.
Logos: The hardest and darkest you can get is best, basically. There's a balance, because you want it to [also] have a bit of "stush" quality to it as well. It goes bad when people go into just like gnarly noise. Basically, you want a tune to drop, and you want it to be the heaviest thing and just wipe out everyone else's tune.
Pinch: For me, I just buzz off it. I like that dark vibe. It doesn't spin me out or challenge me in a negative way, it's just what engages me. I like that kind of dark energy, I like minor keys, and that kind of play of tension and release. That's just what I like. [laughs] I've often played things for people, and they'll say, "Oh God, that's a really dark one." And I'm thinking, "That's one of my gentlest, lightest tunes." I think people just have different levels for these things, but I just buzz off dark music a lot of the time.
Mumdance: But it's not just the darkness of it. You hear something like "Click Clack" by Nurve—and [this is] what I like a lot about UK dance music—and you just go like, "What is that? That isn't even music." It just knocks your face off, and when you hear that, for me, one of the best parts is...
Pinch: Ambush, the surprise.
Mumdance: Yeah, that's it. You're just like, "How? I've never even heard this before. It doesn't even sound like music. I don't even know what it is." Those sort of mind blowing moments that have happened are a big things that drives me forward as an artist. I like making those weird sort of... Doing things wrong, you know what I mean? A lot of the time these things are done by not doing things in the correct manner, and I think that's quite interesting.
Pinch: There you go. That ties back in with what Adrian was saying earlier about different ways of mixing stuff down, and it's just [about] capturing a strange energy or something surprising you haven't experienced before.
And what about you, Adrian?
Sherwood: Well, all these lads, you hear what they're doing, and when I grew up the dance music was all twangy and clicky, horrible fucking rubbish. What the three of them do is wicked. It's bass heavy, it's got the odd minor chords jumping out the speakers at you, and to be honest with you, what keeps me going is hearing refreshing new stuff. Like I said earlier, stuff I'm almost jealous of and wished I'd done myself. Or it [makes me think], "Wow, where does that come from?" Every time I go out, I hear something really peculiar or really brilliant, and it's just like, "Geez, that's absolutely nuts." It appeals to my sense of humor, and I love that.