Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Interview: Broken Bubble

Dance music is a lexical maze these days. The roots of the genre family tree are more intricately twisted than the soundwaves pounding your eardrums.

Not that there’s anything wrong with niches so long as music is constantly shifting and progressing, as Broken Bubble netlabel founder Guy Thompson would attest: “The reason there’s so many [names] is that genres tend to stagnate after a while so if you can look at things afresh then it’s a good thing. The group mentality means that everyone ends up taking too many similar elements to each other and so when something new springs out it’s one of the great things about the evolution of music. Now people can go from house to dubstep to techno to drum’n’bass to house to acid to anywhere else so it’s great if you can find a way to bring that all together in a meaningful experience...”

The development of dance music since dubstep nodded its head into a bass hungry public eye has served to further blur genre boundaries, so the dance family tree is more a forest and the resultant mixes make for varied listening. Those dabbling in post-dubstep have dipped into anything from reggae to jazz via funk and ambient IDM. If you ask any individual, they’ll label their sound differently. Broken Bubble artists Hurtdeer and Duskky call their output ‘dubfunk’, which Thompson agrees with, but the only certainty is that dubstep’s successors have presented a fork in the road.

“Some people still try to claim that dubstep’s a single genre but I think it’s blatantly split into at least two distinct styles. The very mid-range heavy stuff – I don’t really want to mention artists, but that kind of sound doesn’t connect with me on an emotional level at all. Then a lot of people are pushing the deeper sounds; that’s where names like future garage have come from. Duskky and Hurtdeer are calling their stuff ‘dubfunk’, which is quite a good catch-all term for the kind of sound they’re pushing. You could call some of the stuff my labelmates are making post-techno-funky-wonkstep, etc, etc and that still wouldn’t adequately describe the sound of the track.”

While Broken Bubble as a label opens its arms to a plethora of genres, there is a distinct sound emerging – one that owes a debt to the likes of Hotflush, Hyperdub, Echodub, Acroplane and Planet Mu, both in terms of forcing wide the mainstream gates for forward thinking and inspiration: “Burial’s albums obviously, Boxcutter’s Glyphic and Benga’s Diary of an Afrowarrior – they were all big inspirations that got me back into mixing tunes rather than just being a listener. From then it just seemed like I had a rare surge of motivation and decided that to get something going I might as well do it myself. Right now FaltyDL, Floating Points and Ital Tek are producers I look up to – he’s got his sound absolutely nailed on at the moment.”

From that surge, Sicknote was born. Thompson put his own decade’s worth of experience with DJing in deep house, prog house and broken beats into the fresh post-dubstep template of the late 2000s. Then, unafraid to stick to his guns with regular residents, including xxxy and From The Kites Of San Quentin’s Phil ‘Blood Boy’ Bretnall, he also gambled by bringing in the occasional imported non-Manc to headline.

“I’d met xxxy at a night called Offbeat Suburbia and got him on to do the first one, then had him as a resident for a while. Now things have gone extremely well for him; he’s headlining shows all over the place. I tried to focus on people who were away from the trends of the genres I suppose. The first one we did at the Corner in Fallowfield we brought Phaeleh up from Bristol for his Manchester debut and packed the place out – it was a really buzzing atmosphere. Again, he’s another one who’s gone on to have a huge amount of success.”

During a brief hiatus in Sicknote promotions, the Broken Bubble label has taken shape with the help of links with London-based Mothers Against Noise collective and the rapidly improving technologies accessible to anyone who puts the time into learning about them. Bandcamp is one of the online platforms that can help with music distribution by cutting out the middle man and collating similar sounds under one virtual roof.

“I think seeing people selling music that way showed that it was the thing to do. There’s a big trend for giving music away... for an artist the most important thing is to be heard as widely as possible, but at the same time there’s so much free music out there that people can perceive that it doesn’t have as much value as the stuff that’s being sold, so I’m trying to strike a balance with that. And there’s a lot of good music set ups now – I think Soundcloud really helps as a platform as well; helping like-minded producers to hear each other’s stuff – it’s been a major factor in getting such a good roster of artists together for the label.”

The roster has grown almost exponentially since Thompson’s DJing alter ego Cogidubnus launched the label in February with an EP entitled The Pan-Galactic Memory Bank. Others have followed and Duskky’s second digital album Rascality, released this week, is the eighth through Broken Bubble when including the superb 14-track mutual remixing compilation We Can Build You, which displays the kinship and respect shared between a group of producers whose shades of melody and rhythm can fuse harmoniously but equally command praise individually.

“Having been in contact with Duskky and Hurtdeer for a bit and swapping tunes with them, I realised we had all the wherewithal to do it ourselves, so I’ve been doing the artwork and distribution, whilst Sandy (aka Duskky) and Max (aka Hurtdeer) have been doing the mastering. They’ve been instrumental in helping me set up the label in the first place, adding a lot of ideas with all aspects of the process and it’s the same with a couple of the other guys.”

“Duskky tends to take quite a break-beat science approach to his tunes. He likes pulling apart drum breaks and working a real rhythm with a lot of reggae and funk influences. Hurtdeer brings in influences from techno, breakcore and videogame music and explores different time signatures with a lot of tunes in 7/4 instead of 4/4, which makes them difficult to mix from for other people, but it sounds great when he does it!”

The roster isn’t limited to that core trio. Second Line has so far appeared on the compilation and has an EP pencilled in for September, while Macka’s eclectic combination of dubstep beats, freestyle melodics and the occasional Shakespearian quote gives his Piano Works digital record some of the standout Broken Bubble moments.

Beyond those are a couple of newcomers in Broke’nFolk (“he’s done a really cool EP made out of funk, jazzy drum breaks and a lot of interesting synth work as well”) and Gravious (“he had an early release on Hotflush and has had a quiet few years, but he’s back with a vengeance pushing a very fresh sound”) who promise to add yet more sonic colour to an already luminous palette.

Although there’s a scientific approach to making the synthesis, selected samples often originate from science fiction. Cogidubnus in particular is partial to building on ideas from sci-fi literature and soundtracks: “Pan-Galactic Memory Bank is named after a novel by Kilgore Trout, who’s a character in Kurt Vonnegut’s novels. I’d been reading his Breakfast of Champions book just before I made that track... Then there are a few samples from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and, yeah, it’s always interesting to explore your influences by sampling.”

Cogidubnus brings those influences with him to Chorlton’s Dulcimer bar on Thursday 14th July, where he, Duskky and Hurtdeer will share the limelight for what will be a Broken Bubble live showcase. Thompson’s latest foray into live mixing prior to this was at the Total Garage night at Joshua Brooks; a more diverse line-up in a sense, but Thompson profited from an open-minded audience: “I think it [Total Garage] went well. The crowd was open to exploring the possibilities of what garage could be, I was able to play a lot of the minimal, 2-step stuff that comes under the ‘future garage’ umbrella. It’s an area that has a lot of creativity with producers like Roof Light, Sorrow and Fedbymachines all making great sounds.”

“I think at the Now Then Manchester night we’re probably going to alternate; we’ve got about four hours or so and I think we’ll rotate with half an hour each and gradually build it up. Max (Hurtdeer) and Sandy (Duskky) have been working on stuff at 200bpm – one of the things about dubstep when it started was getting a good change of vibe from switching tempo between 70 and 40bpm, so they’re trying that with 100 and 200bpm.”

Words: Ian Pennington
Images: Courtesy of Broken Bubble & This City Is Ours

A taster of Cogidubnus' mixing vibes can be heard here.

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