It would be difficult to deny that, in some ways at least, Bristol resident Laurie Osborne (a.k.a. Appleblim) has a natural aptitude for electronic music. He was, after all, one of the two producers behind Skull Disco; a label-cum-collaborative project from Osborne and partner Sam Shackleton, it was rightly regarded as one of the most adventurous and aesthetically complete enterprises to come out of the formative years of dubstep.
Since Skull Disco's demise in 2008, Osborne has been running his current label, Apple Pips, where he's been responsible for curating a release schedule that anticipated dubstep's shift towards the more robust rhythms of house and techno. Early releases from the likes of Martyn, Ramadanman, and T++ began joining the dots between the deep, sub-focused textures of South London and the classic sounds of Detroit and Berlin, long before this became commonplace.
Appleblim "Vansan" (Skull Disco, 2007)
His DJ career has followed a similar trajectory too; at the helm of the sixth addition of Tempa's seminal Dubstep Allstars mixes in 2008, Osborne was instrumental in testing the boundaries—both sonically and geographically—of dubstep's then-intimate inner sanctum. His sets in the latter half of the '00s were undoubtedly influential in breaking dubstep's religious adherence to 140 bpm, allowing elements of house and techno to bleed into the sound. As a producer too, in the years following the dissolution of Skull Disco, he's been responsible for a string of excellent collaborations with the likes of Peverelist, Geiom, Ramadanman, and October.
Yet despite all these achievements, Osborne, by his own admission, struggles with the fundamental process of creating electronic music. Having begun his musical career as bassist for alt-rock band The Monsoon Bassoon, the idea of sitting alone in the studio, as a solo producer, and creating tracks away from the influence of any collaborators is still, it seems, not something that comes naturally to him. It's for this reason that—surprisingly for a DJ and label owner of his prominence—until recently, one could almost count the amount of solo Appleblim tunes in circulation on one hand.
"It's just slackness and lack of confidence," Osborne explains. "I've never really considered myself an electronic musician; I'm a bass player, a guitar player, and I can play drums and keys, whatever, but when I first started making tunes, I was just using Fruity Loops and cutting up samples, and I never felt that they were really finished tracks. They were just ideas that I happened to do and that Shackleton was happy enough to put out. I probably would never have done that on my own. It was only through Shack saying 'Right, I'm mastering this release, get me something finished by next week and we'll put it out.'"
Appleblim "Fluorescent" (Apple Pips, 2013)
That said, recent months have seen Osborne begin to approach production with a renewed energy. Following several years of hectic DJing, 2013 has seen him ease off the touring schedule, create a new studio space, and begin to tackle music making head-on. As a result, recent weeks have seen a string of new Appleblim tunes begin to emerge, including his first fully solo 12", "Fluorescent" b/w "Past Present Future." The key to this new approach, Osborne explains, is setting deadlines; he's taken to booking mastering dates in advance and working to enforced timeframes. "That's the only way I can get things done; if there's a deadline, I'll do it," he says. "Like, for the recent SUB:STANCE boxset, they told me, 'You've got to have something finished by this time, and if you don't do it, you won't be on there,' so I did it! But I've always been really bad at setting myself deadlines like that. I've got tons of half-done tracks that I'm just tinkering with, but it always takes me a long time to do that final push." Osborne continues, "I've had a reasonably good response [to my new material], but I never really know if people play my tunes. Even with Skull Disco, I don't know how many people ever really played them in clubs; there were a few plays on Rinse and a few plays at DMZ but it was never really, like, peak time, big DJs playing my stuff. It was more like it would crop up in warm-up sets and stuff. So I never really think about people playing my tunes, but every now and then someone will come up and be like, 'Oh, I heard your track out and it sounded really good.' And that's still a buzz."
Osborne appears to be operating with increased confidence these days, but despite his recent surge in solo activity, the idea of collaboration remains key to his musical outlook. Aside from his recent solo endeavors, Osborne speaks enthusiastically about forthcoming projects with fellow Bristolians Komon and Al Tourettes. "I think the idea of collective music making is much more appealing to me," he explains. "I don't feel comfortable making music on my own. I don't really write songs, I could never write songs with the band even—it was always just five people making music in a room together. It was more about arrangement. I'm still like that with the electronic stuff. I do bring ideas to the table, but I think my skills lie more in arranging or embellishing ideas that are already there and being knocked around. I just find every time I get in the studio with other people, lots happens."
Appleblim "Past Present Future" (Apple Pips, 2013)
This natural inclination towards working with a collective seems to be manifesting itself in other ways too. As dubstep's close-knit roots have fragmented over the past few years, he's begun to put increasing emphasis on his local connections and friends, both when building his DJ sets and the Apple Pips release schedule. "With the way that the scene has changed and the way that my music making as changed, I want my sets to include mainly mine and my crew's music," Osborne explains. "My mates are making a lot of tunes, so my little core of people who release on the label are pretty prolific and they seem to be in a bit of a theme at the moment. Without trying to jump on the house thing, everything seems to be between 120 bpm and 130 bpm, because we all got a little tired of the 140 stuff. I've just realised recently, 60%, 70% of my sets are our stuff."
"I think that's cool because I come from the school of dubstep where it was all about having exclusive tunes; that was how you got a name DJing," he continues. "It was the only way I ended up doing it, because I had access to these tunes from Bristol that, around the world, other people didn't. I still like the exclusive nature, although I'm not chasing as many producers anymore. It used to be, because I wasn't a music maker, or because we were all early in our music making careers, I was constantly hunting dubs off 'big' producers. Because we were so into the scene, we'd be like, 'Look, we're putting on little nights, do you fancy swapping some tunes?' So you'd make a little CD with your stuff to give out, and you'd end up swapping it for tunes from people like Distance or Plastician. It was about trying to find these tunes that no one else had, and now, for me, it's still about that same idea, except drawn more from a local pool of people."
That seems fairly fitting though; there's a cycle of influence within Bristol's network of producers and DJs that seems to be the driving force behind the ever-evolving Apple Pips roster. Furthermore, many of the artists that Osborne references as influential in inspiring his renewed burst of creative energy—in particular Bristol collective Young Echo—come from a younger generation of creatively ambitious electronic artists for whom Skull Disco is an obvious, and often acknowledged, influence. "That's the lovely thing about Bristol," Osborne explains. "Every six months you'll see, 'Oh, so-and-so's hooked-up with so-and-so and they're doing a project together.' Like, you've got Addison Groove and Sam Binga, and they've got a big tune in the drum & bass scene now, and that's sick. And Jakes is doing his thing, and Komon is doing his thing. We're not turning our back on anything; Komon can still make a drum & bass track that gets signed to Metalheadz, it's all still in there, but it's like, whatever you're buzzing off in the studio at the time is what gets made. I see the label, basically, as just a vehicle for that; it's just whatever people are making, that I think is good, [I want to] get it out there... Someone's going to want to hear it, doesn't matter if it's 200 people or 2000. There's stuff that I'm going to put out over the next three or four releases that's probably not what people would expect from us, but that's kind of cool, I think. It's kind of fun."