Appleblim‘s involvement in the UK dance scene can hardly be understated — alongside Shackleton, Skull Disco brought out the darker edges of dubstep, blending the deeper basslines and 140 template from the genre with an influence from techno and other genres, resulting in some of the most cherished material from the mid 2000’s.
Since then, Laurie Osborne has managed to maintain a position more to the side of the core of dance music, or of the mainstream, while still being an influential lynchpin. In any case, his musical output has become more sporadic, but certainly more exploratory, tapping into a very different vein of electronic music than his Skull Disco partner, Shackleton, whose release output has taken on an even stranger form.
Appleblim’s latest release ‘Infinite Hieroglyphics‘, marks his second album for Sneaker Social Club, a label at the forefront of the UK breakbeat and jungle scene’s modernist revival. It’s a far call from some of his former output such as ‘Vansan‘ or his collaboration with Perverelist, ‘Circling‘, which were marked with a moody and somewhat restrained sonic palette, but also a development from ‘Life In a Laser‘, his first for Sneaker Social Club.
On ‘Infinite Hieroglyphics’, we find coruscating plains of movement-inducing synth-work gliding amongst tactile breaks, and stunning ambience that shows a producer with a clear vision of sound, and a nearly unique dancefloor environment. At times, it can be evocative of that hard-to-replicate sound expounded by Barker, and at others much closer to the kinetic gear that Sneaker Social Club push: elevated mood, tight breaks and an independent sound that sits close to that of others while remaining its own.
We were delighted to grab the opportunity to speak with Laurie about the creation of his latest album, and tap into the mindset of the producer who created it. We also discuss his opinions on the state of dance music in the UK and Berlin, where he currently resides, and on the methods used to create ‘Infinite Hieroglyphics‘.
Interview By Freddie Hudson
"I believe if you can't make interesting music on cheap, broken, unpopular, available to all, or supposedly ‘poor quality’ instruments, then you're doing something wrong"
Hi Laurie – thanks for answering these questions! It’s really great to hear new music from you. Firstly, we’d like to start by asking when the album was made, and about the sonic inspirations that went into the production?
It’s a pleasure, thanks for asking me! The tracks on the album span a large amount of time actually, some like Rileys Spiral are from 2016 and others are very recent. I have tons of tracks sitting around on my hard drives 90% done, but it takes someone kicking my arse to do the final 10% — the hardest bit for me actually!
I played a bunch of stuff to Jamie Russell from Sneaker Social Club, and he told me which ones he liked/thought would work on an album, and we went from there. I find it really useful to be ‘A&Red’ in that way, that someone else can step in and say, ‘nah THIS is the one’, or ‘OK this works but why not start with the bass and drums’ etc… otherwise I can lose confidence in the tracks, and no one would ever hear them!
Inspiration-wise, I had been listening to a lot of ‘drone’ based music from people like Eliane Radigue, Phil Niblock and Pauline Oliveros… I guess, if anything, these tracks could be seen as an attempt to marry those worlds of abstract, minimal, long form, slowly evolving masses of sound, and the dance musics I love: electro, techno, jungle, garage etc.
I love the effect that drone music has on the brain. It can soothe or transport me when I listen to it, and I can lose myself in it when I make it — it’s like a form of therapy for me really.
I have a lot of these pieces lying about, you can hear some on my Bandcamp-exclusive ‘Hexworthy‘ album. I left in much more jamming and mistakes on this album too… I guess “psychedelic bass music” could be a description, if it didn’t sound so wack!
Similarly, we’re keen to understand the building blocks behind this album: are you a hardware studio purist, or do you approach production more holistically?
I’m not a purist about anything really. I was always scared of hardware, as I learnt how to make tracks on a PC with Fruity Loops! In fact, on this album, there is a combination of approaches. I do a lot with stock Ableton stuff which I love — I hate it when people say “you need this synth or that synth”. I believe if you can’t make interesting music on cheap, broken, unpopular, available to all, or supposedly ‘poor quality’ instruments, then you’re doing something wrong.
I resample a lot inside Ableton, and then play things through speakers and re-record them — “re-amping” is the term I believe. Aphex Twin said he would always re-record his breaks and tracks when sound checking, and recommended it in all aspects of electronic music making. It’s the best bit of advice I’ve ever had: it can give life to parts that could possibly be a little static or ‘laptop’ sounding.
I am lucky to have access to a wide variety of synths at the college I work at (Catalyst in Berlin). So, on the album there is the Korg MS20, Roland 500 system, Korg Volcas, Arp Odyssey, and I’m happy to have those sounds in there somewhere.
However, there is just as much VST and Ableton stock stuff. The jams that led to most of the tracks are explorations of those synths, when I really didn’t know much about how to use them. It was a learning process and a “fumbling about in the dark” kind of thing, using different sequencers to trigger them and so on.
There might be an hour of jamming resulting in just 5 or 10 seconds of a loop that I would then build a track around (on ‘Zephyr’ for example) or something that came entirely from a mistake — the title track ‘Infinite Hieroglyphics‘ has a sound, a kind of “3D Basic Channel” sound ( in my dreams!), which started from dropping a microphone whilst it was plugged into Ableton’s vocoder.
A lot of tracks come from preparations I would be doing for my students, showing them examples of stuff, start a jam to explore this or that synth or technique, and, hey presto! I’ve started another track! The tricky bit is deciding on which ones to finish!
This is your second LP for Sneaker Social Club – who continually run great releases. What was it that forged Appleblim and SSC together in the first place? Who else on the label do you admire?
I met Jamie many years ago when I was DJing in Ibiza with Second Storey. We were lucky enough to have a relationship with the amazing and legendary We Love Space crew and club there, we played live in the main room! Broken, wonked out electro bass techno in the main room of Space! to 2000 people! And it worked!
But, yeah, we met Jamie, got on really well. He was doing the Hypercolour label at the time, and we did a remix for Axel Boman for an offshoot (really love that remix!) and we just hit it off from there. We lived together in Bristol for a time, and then somehow all ended up in Berlin together.
I have the utmost respect for Jamie, he’s a great DJ, he has great ears, and is simply interested in putting out great records. No front, no ego, no hype. It’s been brilliant watching him put out records from some of our biggest heroes like Matthew Herbert, Neil Landstrumm, Luke Vibert etc, but also nurturing new talent.
Jamie kindly got me involved in the Sneaker Social Club nights at OHM /Tresor in Berlin. It was a residency for me really, the first I’ve had since I was regularly playing at FWD>> in Plastic People back in the day. We had people down like Paradox, Fabio and Grooverider, Shackleton, and Christoph de Babalon down to play, and a great crowd and brilliant staff.
The sound guy Barry was a true sound person, constantly tweaking the system and treating the room, and getting the best out of the rig. In the end I really felt it matched Plastic People in terms of quality and vibe, if not in volume. I tried out a lot of the stuff on my album there and it felt like ‘our crowd’ – which I hadn’t felt in a long time. Lets see what happens when things open up a bit again…fingers crossed…
From Sneaker’s back catalogue I would recommend Etch, Dream Cycle, Luke Sanger, Al Tourettes, 2 Bad Mice, The House Crew remixes, Interplanetary Criminal, Thugwidow, Dead Mans Chest, Sonic – basically check the lot out!
There’s a certain optimism to the music here — ‘Riley’s Spiral’ in particular is very elevating. Is this something tailored to a perceived need for fun back on the ‘floor, or is this just where your heart is pulling you these days?
It’s interesting that you get optimism from that, I’m glad! I often feel my music is somewhere in-between, confusion and resolution, happy and sad, mind and body… my favourite emotions in music are melancholy, wistful hopefulness, somewhat conflicted.
It sounds like a cliché, but the tracks are borne from my emotions on the day. I was going through some pretty mad emotions over these sessions, severe anxiety and depression, settling into a new country, losses, new friends, building trust and so on, so maybe that comes through sometimes, but really that’s what I love about music, it is open to everyone’s interpretations, and that may be different according to their moods themselves that day.
It’s been a long while since any of us at Inverted Audio caught an Appleblim show. Does ‘Infinite Hieroglyphics’ represent some elements of your DJ sets today? Or, does it more fill a gap that you can’t fill with music you’ve come across?
Like all other DJs, until very recently I was only playing on streams and radio sets, for people like Addison Groove’s ‘Barrelfest’ and HÖR. So, I treated these differently each time… I secretly showcased 100% unreleased music from this album, and several other albums I have ready under different names and projects… that was a lot of fun, especially mixing between these tracks as a DJ, seeing how these different vibes fitted together.
It seemed to go down well, and was the nearest to getting a crowd reaction like testing things in OHM that I had had since lockdown. I have now played a couple of gigs at clubs in Berlin, and have been enjoying mixing up the new artists and labels I love such as Al Wootten, Trule, Well Street, Livity Sound, 3024, Timeisnow, Warehouse Raves and more with old classics and obscure jungle and D&B. I am prepping now for an album launch and am not sure which way to go….lets see!!
"I have the utmost respect for Jamie, he’s a great DJ, he has great ears, and is simply interested in putting out great records. No front, no ego, no hype. It's been brilliant watching him put out records from some of our biggest heroes like Matthew Herbert, Neil Landstrumm, Luke Vibert, but also nurturing new talent"
Breaks and jungle-esque licks are a calling-card of Sneaker Social Club, and seem to be prevalent in the tracks you’re making these days. That said, there’s a lot of producers using this form of dance music with a very simple technique — who should they listen to for inspiration, and how do you approach and produce them yourself?
I was always wary of using breaks since I was such a massive fan of hardcore and jungle from back in the day, that I felt, well, what can I bring to the table? Also, I had never had the experience of cutting breaks up in a hardware sampler, or even in later programs like Recycle.
Like many others I think it was when Paul Woolford started using breaks again in his Special Request project that I was inspired and thought about using them inside Ableton’s Simpler and Sampler. I was also intimidated by the fact that, having been so into Remarc and Bizzy B, and the likes of AFX and Amen Andrews, that everything had to be super chopped and edited. But, that’s the joy of breaks; they are an ingredient just like anything else.
I think the accusations of using something ‘simply’ as a bad thing is wrong…some of the best uses of breaks in Baltimore or Jersey or other Club music or old skool hardcore is just sling it in, loop it, ruff it up a bit! So, a well-placed, very simple loop, can be just as effective as a well crafted choppage that has taken hours to prep.
It’s like presets: people get accused that they aren’t trying hard enough when they use them, but I mean what was ‘hard’ about say, ‘Louis Louis’ by the Kingsmen, or ‘Forming’ by Germs…these songs weren’t ‘hard’ to play and probably weren’t planned or ‘refined’ much..and thank goodness for that!
Music is the translation of emotion, and if you get a good feeling of a preset and a Funky Drummer loop who am I to say ‘oh no, you should have thought a LOT more about that loop, or you should have studied this producers technique of blah-blah’ ?!
Guardianship of music is wrong, no one has the right to say oh, we were here first, or people shouldn’t be trying to make hardcore or jungle or (place your genre here) or using 808s or Reeses or whatever…if you were lucky enough to be there at the start of a genre then great!
I was, but it wasn’t my ‘skill’ that did that, I was lucky to be shown FWD>> by someone! But if you don’t like what’s going on, make your own tune, if you cant make music then start a label releasing music YOU think is great, start a night.
Two examples from people I respect hugely…I remember dBridge made a tune called ‘Death of a Drum Machine’ as he was sick of hearing the same 909 and 808 samples in tunes…that doesn’t mean he never used them again (maybe it did hahah!), it was just a statement of try something different.
Krust said the same thing…producers would answer and call and response each other in the tracks they made..if you thought too much amen and Ragga was in the scene, then well, sample something different. Also Andrew Weatherall said as soon as he caught himself getting sniffy or elitist about new people turning up to a scene or sound late, that’s when he’d check himself and leave that scene…wise words.
On a bit more of a serious note: clubbing in the UK seems to be on the precipice of returning full-steam. What do you make of this, even from afar, in Berlin?
I don’t have much to say about UK clubbing as I haven’t experienced it in so long…in terms of Berlin it seems to be being managed ok…masks on the dancefloor, negative test required etc. It still doesn’t feel like a ‘rave’ per se because a rave really is about abandon isn’t it, lose yourself, hug people, shout yr head off, whoop and holler, and this seems a long way off.
I know of people who have been doing outdoor things but in a very responsible way, up to 200 peeps, distanced, masks, names taken down, they get stopped by Police but generally it is amicable and I haven’t heard of people being charged yet…I noticed all the pics of raves and festivals in UK last weekend and to be honest it made me feel strange…no judgment though, it’s a hard situation and everyone is guessing really aren’t they…
UK clubbing has, perhaps, not been at its best in recent years. Do you agree? What do you feel the clubbing community itself can do to make things more about the dancefloor and the music?
I’ve got to say I think the Berlin clubbing world needs a Plastic People more than ever. A dark room, a killer sound system, music lovers running the venue, polite and cool security…obv this is perhaps a long way off in terms of safety regs in Berlin..I hear places like FOLD and The Cause in London are like this.
I’ve had some experiences on Berlin recently with meathead door staff being rude, confused and inexperienced. I think perhaps there are new staff and teams after lockdown and people don’t remember the vibe before, or perhaps did’t experience it and they all want to be Sven Marquardt from Berghain – except they don’t know how to do it. Actually being picky on the door can help keep idiots out, but it is a skilled job…and not always wielded correctly.
But look, regarding ‘more about the music’ yes, for me that is paramount, but other people want to go out, drink some cocktails, see some inflatable monkey go by, and have a bit of a bop…that’s fine..not everyone is standing in the rave thinking, ‘ooh I would have taken 300hz out of that snare’ hah.
There’s been a spate of re-issues of some classic UK music going on, from Mala’s early DMZ catalogue to the archiving of old Source Direct, to name but a few. Do you think this will have an impact on the clubbing world, with more of these old, vinyl-only releases getting a digital release?
If you’ve read ‘Retromania‘ by Simon Reynolds then you will know he thought we were at ‘peak reissue’ and digging for old stuff then, and that was 10 years ago! The reasons are several but digital archiving like YouTube is mainly to thank for it. Culture seems to have slowed down in some areas, in contrast to a perceived speeding up around the turn of the millennium.
I love the fact I can get hold of old jungle and garage tracks and don’t have to pay a fortune for old copies…again I’m not a fan of purist scenes or ‘only play original vinyl’ etc. I think thats fun as a challenge, say for diggers, I mean, I respect that world of finding obscurities, but I also love things being made available again.
It’s all fun, I dig for vinyl a lot myself, really as a fun thing that I obsessively have to do..I love getting out to weird places and looking for stuff…thankfully that is starting again a bit here, swimming and digging is my passport to sanity!
Outside of Berlin, which other cities, places, or festivals have you played in recent years that has given you a burst of excitement in the world of dance music?
To be honest, during the last 5 years I’ve only really played in Berlin, and at Houghton Festival (best festival in the world and I played the best set of my life there! Big shouts to them and fingers crossed for next year).
I really loved playing at the clubs I know well now in Berlin , ://about blank, Greissmuhle (RIP), Suicide Club, Paloma, OHM etc.
By the end of my international DJ thing I was very tired of it, the flights seemed very wasteful and even being sent to a club you don’t know and trying to ‘read it’ exhausted me…Of course as things open up I won’t say no per se to international things but to be honest I love being part of this local scene and being more rooted and tied to a city and scene and its clubbers…let’s see how things go over the next year.
‘Infinite Hieroglyphics’ is out now via Sneaker Social Club. Order a copy from Bandcamp.
1. Infinite Hieroglyphics
2. Rileys Spiral
4. A Madman’s Nod
6. Opal Moon
9. Stand Firm
10. Illusory Universe