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Grievous Angel

If asked who might be my choice mixer, it would undoubtedly be his guy. There were two things in 2008 that I just couldn’t bring myself to stop listening to. In fact, at Bloc this year I was still forcing people to listen to it. So thank heavens there is a substitute for it now. These two things were Dusk & Blackdown’s debut album, Margins Music, and Grievous Angel’s Devotional Dubz mixtape. It was announced earlier this year that a remix album mix of Margins Music was to be released. Grievous’ Ableton skills have truly done it justice, and made what is perhaps my album of the year.

Here’s a little interview with the man behind it to shed some light on it all, and here’s the MIX.

Can you just give us a rundown of your musical history?

There’s been an awful lot. I had the benefit of an elder sister who was a real hipster, so I was into loads of stuff early on, like the Clash, Augustus Pablo, Scientist, Joy Division, James Brown and all the funk stuff. I got into Cabaret Voltaire and all the industrial stuff dead early on my own, I was just blown away by 2X45. So that whole vibe of out-there dance music that united black and white audiences was in me right from the start. Plus I was going out dancing to jazz funk and electro clubs in east London and Essex. All that led up to people like Tackhead and Renegade Soundwave who took the dub aesthetic and mutated it into techy soundsystem gear – and that’s the genesis of dubstep right there. I was well into garage first time round, that to me was the apotheosis of the whole current. I’ve seen a lot of good music come and go and trust me, this is a golden age, for all that’s wrong with the scene, this is a great time to be making and listening to music.

What drew you to Sheffield? How do you find coming down to London for shows now?

I had this vision of Sheffield being this fantastic, trans-formative place even though I’d never been there. This was back in the 80s. I guess Cabaret Voltaire had something to do with it, and a lot of it was wanting a big change from East London and Essex, but it was much more than that. By the end I hated living in London but I absolutely love visiting the place, it’s addictive. London is a state of mind, a city which is both imaginary and concrete. I’ve voluntarily and happily exiled myself but you can never truly leave.

What made you want to start producing?

I was always making music. I was in punk or post-punk bands at school, I’ve played in folk bands, I’ve been DJing for a really long time. It was always in the background. I was rubbish for years and something eventually came together.

How has your own stuff developed over time?

When dubstep and grime were emerging out of garage I was going in a parallel direction, doing stuff I called ragga techno, 3:2 beats with snare on the third and techno sounds. This was 2001, 2002. I’d been doing really terrible garage before then, and techno that was ok, and some jungle that was fairly good – Steve Barker used to review the jungle mp3s I put up in his column in the Wire. Kode got in touch in 2002 saying he liked some of it and sent me some of his stuff. I was too busy with babies to get into the scene properly and carried on doing my thing. Then an Italian guy who was managing this dance music label in Japan got in touch over MySpace saying he liked my stuff. Eventually, and incredibly, that turned into the first album which was dubstep, some dancehall, some ragga techno. Then I started making garage properly, started making funky… it all went off.

What was your reaction on hearing Margins Music?

I loved it. Captivated by it. Didn’t listen to anything else for like six weeks. This was long before it came out.

Where did you start with remixing the entire album? Could you run us through the process?

I put together a really minimal Ableton template. Channels for drums, bass, lead, vocals, other bits. Two FX sends – a delay and a reverb. The parts for everything went into that. I had a really clear idea of what effect I wanted the remix to have but I had no idea whatsoever how I was going to execute it, I just trusted myself to do the right thing. I just started randomly shoving parts around, cutting them up and recombining them. It all fell into place. But it took a long time, months and months of editing. It was a joy.

Is there something about working with other people’s music you really enjoy? You seem to do it a lot.

It keeps you away from trying to be too original, which I think is often the death of good music. You focus your energy on being original rather than on making a good track. Originality is simply the wrong objective. Originality is a bonus, its granted to you, if you’re lucky, once you’ve passed the hurdle of doing something worth listening to. I’d far rather make a great track that’s generic than a mediocre one that’s original. So remixing other people’s music is extremely useful because it cuts down your options – plus, you don’t have to work with a blank canvas, which is another big time waster. People start from scratch when they should be taking the last track that was good and mutating it.

What other albums would you like to have a crack at playing with?

I’ve always wanted to redo Kode’s ‘Memories of the Future’. I love his singles but I don’t think he landed that album properly. I’d like to go back and do it properly. Take some of the FX off Space’s vocals and turn them down a bit, but have some acapella bits, make it a bit more dancey, and of course do it as a DJ mix. I think all dance music albums should come as two CD sets with the mix as the main event. This is what long-form dance music is about. Collections of songs are just DJ ammunition. Which is fine, but it’s not an album.

I was a big fan of the Woofah magazine you used to be an editor of. What was the story with that? How come you set it up?

Woofah came about because my best friend John Eden wanted to do a reggae fanzine. He roped me in cos we do all that kind of stuff together. There’s no reggae magazine in the UK and there hadn’t been much in the way of fanzines since Boomshackalack but in France for example there are like three proper magazines. We thought it was about time that reggae and soundsystem culture in general needed coverage. The remit got extended to include grime, cos that’s obviously 21st century UK dancehall – but then, once you do grime, you need to cover a bit of dubstep as well, and since that was what I was into anyway, I handled all that. Of course it’s much easier to get dubstep interviews and review material than it is to do grime and reggae so it’s kind of over-represented, in terms of editorial mission it’s definitely third on the list. It doesn’t need the coverage and the stories just aren’t as strong.

We wanted it to be all paper, all analogue, like DMZ – with absolutely no digital content. You can’t even buy it that easily. You have to know. If you’re not clued up enough to get it, you’re really not the kind of person we want to have it. It’s VERY elitist. They take effort, nous and connections to obtain. And we don’t print many. Cos we come from an era when it was hard to find stuff, you had to form relationships to get underground music and books. You were starved instead of gluttonous and what you got was really valuable to you. It’s good to give people a little taste of that. What was going to be a little Stewart Home-style stapled pamphlet turned into something much bigger when droid got involved. He’s this genius dancehall and jungle selector who’s also an amazing designer. He turned Woofah into this amazing seminal cultural artefact.

What’s happening with that now? Is there another issue being put together?

The next issue is in design. It’s been in design for a long time. I delivered all my stuff months and months ago. The bits I’ve seen are amazing. But there’s a lot to do. And the founders involvement has changed. John had to get his life back after organising the launch and the next few issues so he’s stepped back to being just a writer. I’m focusing a lot more on my music so my involvement is limited. Droid is running it but he’s got a lot on – his label, Ruff Revival, is doing some amazing records and they’re blowing up, plus he has some family commitments. I think another one will come out. But I’m not holding my breath.

What do you think of the current state of the music press? What do you think people should be doing or focussing on?

It’s all about blogs and forums isn’t it. There’s a historically unique ability right now to connect directly with experts at length. Reynolds is the classic example of that. I disagree with a ton of what he says but it’s crucial we have him, as well as antidotes like bokbok and Mos Dan and Mellissa Bradshaw. But the access to the collective voice is essential too. Forums have this issue where they go off quite badly as they get popular, just look at dubstep forum, but dissensus is still pretty on it. So much of the action now is on twitter.

Who are you rating at the moment? DJ or producer wise.

Live I just fucking love Kode 9. He’s got sooooo good. Every time he plays it’s just a lot better than you think it’s going to be, he finds a way to tweak his sets so they always hit your palate in this particular way. And they’re so memorable. So much character. I can remember bits of every set I’ve seen by him. Like when he played word up at DMZ, I don’t think anyone can forget that. Dub Boy is just about the best DJ in the country though, especially for funky. He’s just devastating. So is Heatwave. When they play it’s just so outrageously dirty, there’s like fucking on the dancefloor. Shaka is still the ultimate. Utter bliss. But Iration Steppas make a whole world with their system.

Never seen the DMZ clashes on it though. Mala used to be the best but he plays too much wobble now frankly. He wants to be making some house music in my opinion. Producer wise I get sent so much stuff and most of it is awful. But there’s a bunch of people I get hyped for when it appears… basically the same list as every other dubstep / funky / wheredoyoucallit fan. Blackdown of course, Cooly G, who’s made some of my favourite records of the year… Untold when he’s not being too glitchy, at his best no-one can touch Jack. Roska, though it’s getting to sound a bit samey. Kode though I don’t get much off him. Slackk is doing big stuff, after I did Ice Rink he started sending me all this Eski House which has been going down a storm, he’ll be big next year. MJ Cole and Zed Bias stuff deliver every time as does Baobinga, I’ve no idea why Sam isn’t massive, his tunes are brilliant. I’m a bit obsessed with Sully at the moment. He’s done this remix of 23Hz and Numaestro which is my tune of the year by a mile. I’m still listening to a lot of folk too, like 9Bach, Laura Marling, the Imaginary Village.

How have your sets been shaping up recently? What seems to be going off?

People love the funky. They like it hard and fast too. Soundclash moves the floor every time though I’m playing it less now. Ice Rink goes off every time, it’s apocalyptic. Thing is, when I play, I always start with some hard dubby 2step, and I usually kick off with So Solid’s Oh No (Sentimental Things). Once you’ve played that kind of stuff you’re rolling anyway, it’s proper UK music, everyone loves it, everyone thinks of it as THEIR tunes. Noone wants to hear wobble, not from me anyway, they’re not interested, they want hard stuff but they want things like Untold’s remix of Knowledge. So I play garage, dubstep and funky, bit of grime depending on what I’ve got ripped. I’d like to play a load of 94-era jungle too cos everyone loves it but I always run out of time.

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