Reflecting a period in which dubstep and grime were still just undefined - or perhaps even over-defined, carrying with them a multiplicity of different, and differently inadequate, names - offshoots of a similarly difficult dark strain of UK garage, Underclass is emblematic of that raw, somehow-cohesive multiplicity that had an increasing number of disenchanted and disillusioned garage heads entranced as the UK crept into the noughties. Similarly to the way in which the likes of Threnody, Etch, Wen, Beneath, Visionist all contain, in their music, nods towards the rich musical history they have - often simply by making music where they do - inherited, Underclass' beats are aware of their influences and rejoice in twisting them into a new, informed figure. But what is striking about tunes like 'Ecko', though, is the intensity of their sparsity; and while this may sound paradoxical, it's a concept well-illustrated and illuminated below as we receive an insight, as unlikely as it might be, into the influence of John Cage and of Futurist theorists on Underclass' music. The result is a sound which is very raw and very engaging.
Hedmuk: Your tunes tend to share a raw, stripped-back aesthetic: is this something you feel you aim for consciously, or does it seem to come naturally?
Underclass: I do separate the textures and the rhythms consciously. The beats and bass are about vibes, movement and flex whilst the textures are more precise and all about depth. If you listen to my beats the instruments might be stripped back, but that is just to leave space for the incidental sounds in the background. I’ve always been interested in the ambience encasing sounds, natural reverb on mechanical sounds like a helicopter or traffic, so leaving other areas sparse to let ambience ring out is important.
H: What was it that first got you involved with producing and making beats?
U: I got into making beats through DJing. I have a decent collection of early grime and dubstep and have been mixing it for a long time now. Really I started making beats mainly because my old vinyls had more crackle than bass as I’d rinsed them, so I wanted to make something with that aesthetic but for this decade. I wanted music that was raw, dark, cold but also paid attention to detail. 10 years ago coming out with something made on a Playstation was acceptable and new, but whilst the melodies and beats are still sick the depth isn’t there in terms of texture.
H: It's clear that you draw a significant influence from early grime and dubstep sounds, but do you find yourself trying to step away from your influences, to an extent, in order to set your music within a new, fresh framework? Where else do you tend to draw influence from, is it mostly music or are there other things that you find to be inspiring?
U: Early grime and dubstep are just what I grew up with so those sounds and that aesthetic is just ingrained in me. I have some older friends who were junglists and it is the same with them, 'Amens' are part of their psyche. Alongside grime I listen to a lot of electroacoustic music and I've listened to that since before I locked onto grime. I felt grime fitted into that, especially early on it was abstract and vanguard in the same way Jonathan Harvey, Jonty Harrison, Pierre Schaeffer etc. are. I use a lot of those composers as references for sounds and textures, while my rhythms & bass come from grime. I don’t look to step away from or step towards my influences, I just see what comes. I never think ‘I want this track to sound like DJ Oddz/Luigi Russolo/Trevor Wishart’, I just write.
I’m not interested in going back and trying to recreate anything that isn’t already ingrained within me. I don’t want to go back further and make a rave, garage or jungle pastiche because that was then. I also don’t want to make a record that sounds like 'eski' or early grime, but these sounds and rhythms are just what are in my head and what my brain is wired to so they probably come out. If I ever write a track with an Amen or an obvious 2-step beat then I have sold out because I would deliberately be trying to be something I am not. I didn’t experience garage or jungle first hand and I don’t have a complex about that and feel the need to make neo-garage/jungle through guilt, so I just write what comes.
As for taking influence from other places, like I mentioned probably the biggest thing is how sound behaves in space and just using my ears at different times in different places and thinking ‘how do I make a police siren sound like it is travelling towards me at 120mph through a city at 3am, and how can I incorporate that in a tune’. Probably the single biggest influences on how I listen to sound comes from the Futurists and their writing, and also John Cage and his lectures. Reading those teaches you to really listen to everything and without the Futurists we probably wouldn’t treat the sounds of industry as music. It is almost 100 years ago now but without them I don’t think we would be open to sounds and textures in electronic music today.
H: Like many of the producers within this loose grouping which we've mentioned previously, you're taking certain core aspects of styles such as dubstep and grime and pulling them back to a slower 130 tempo: what was your initial thinking behind this, and how important is the extra space that doing this can give?
U: Well, I don’t write dubstep and apart from a few tracks and producers I’m not interested in it particularly these days. A lot of the grime I have on vinyl is slower than 140 too and the beats I was making weren’t halfstep so they didn’t need the extra tempo to drive them. 130 leaves enough space for the background sounds and textures and it is a bit of a coincidence that some other producers seem to be working at that tempo too. I thought when people talked about 130 they were talking about Swamp81 or Night Slugs and although I like some records from those labels it is a completely different sound, although the framework might be similar. It is the difference between standing in front of a speaker in a rave or listening to the beats from the back of the room. One is direct and the other has space. I think the same difference was present in grime vs. dubstep 10 years ago. I suppose the only thing linking a lot of this loose grouping is the use of grime aesthetic with early dubstep’s sense of space. Obviously a lot of new dubstep has moved from the back of the room to in front of the speaker and lost that space whilst other stuff is obsessed with the space and has lost the vibes.
H: You've recently been picked up by Dusk & Blackdown, receiving regular airplay on their Rinse show: how does it feel to be getting that level of recognition and exposure?
U: I’m shocked that I have been picked up so quickly by some big names but I had spent a while working on tracks and I knew at the end of last year that I had reached the right level to send beats out. Initially Threnody played a few tracks and this got me a lot of attention very quickly. Blackdown messaged me to say he had heard my beats on Threnody’s show and asked if I could send some. I locked onto his show the next week and him & Dusk were playing them. Brackles and J:Kenzo have played them out too, which surprised me a bit, but I’m honored they like them and feel they work in their sets. If anyone plays my music then it means a lot and the fact that people I’m playing, like Filter Dread, Epoch and Rabit are playing me means more to me than if someone told me Skrillex had just dropped my track.
Hearing Blackdown & Dusk drop them was special as Keysound is on fire at the moment and that Rinse show is a monthly ritual for me. It’s good for me to get support from DJs because I’m not that up for the hype game of Facebook pages or whatever. I have a Twitter to communicate and a Soundcloud to put out some tunes, but I’d prefer to be judged by my beats than how many followers I have. DJs are the important people for repping my beats and getting them out to the wider public.
H: How did you go about putting together the mix you've done for us?
U: I started off by pulling out all my vinyl and thinking what I could put in but in the end the only track that did was an old SLT Mob one. I think it is far more important to rep what is now rather than what I like. I can listen to my vinyl for fun at any time. I did consider putting in a little live re-edit of Loefah’s 'Mud' that I do with 2 vinyls, but I just thought if I start messing around with vinyls and tunes everyone knows already it is too much of a vanity thing. Everyone knows and loves 'Mud' so it was too easy playing that.
After that I just sat down and mixed. A few producers have sent me dubs that I’m really feeling and I feel work with my tracks so I just hunched over the decks and treated it like any mix I do. Nothing was planned I just went with the mood.
H: Finally, are there any forthcomings or anything else in the pipeline that you'd like to put the word out on?
U: Nothing is set in stone at the moment. I have given out a track with you and another one out for free with Below The Line, and then I'll be seeing which labels are interested. I’ve been chatting to a few and now just need to find the right home. I may just stick out a white label 12” to get a couple of tracks out there. Really it is only a couple of months since I came out the dark so I’d like to get a few gigs to hear my beats on a system within the space of a rave whilst continuing to develop new material too.
Download: Underclass - Hedmuk Exclusive Mix
Steve Reich – Come Out (Underclass Edit) [Dub]
Underclass – Ecko [Dub]
Threnody – Emergency [Dub]
Underclass – The Revenge [Dub]
Sepia – No One Is Safe [Dub]
TMP – Battleground [Dub]
Rabit – Black Dragon (Shy Mix) [Dub]
Underclass – Klang [Free]
Name_Pending – 1snewve2 [Dub]
Filter Dread – She Glitched It [Dub]
Si Begg – UFO (Threnody Remix) [Dub]
Filter Dread – Murky [Dub]
Rabit – Air Port Systems [Dub]
Underclass – Istiklal Avenue [Dub]
Threnody – Ark [Dub]
Slaugter Mob – Fireweaver [Rephlex]
Underclass – Hype Dem [Dub]