In Depth: London

In Depth: London | Soundspace

“It’s a great city. Don’t expect to hear bleeding edge techno playing in every bar and on every street corner. When you dig under the surface it has a depth and variety to its electronic music scene that can match any on earth.”Perc.

Cross-pollination is a term that is used a lot to describe the soundscape of London. That’s what happens when there is a creative blend of different cultures and people. The state of Western politics at the moment is disgraced even further when you realise that it targets the restriction of free movement. It seems like a slap in the face to those whose cultural heritage has played such a massive part in shaping the musical and ethical values of modern society.

“London is a cultural melting pot and has a much wider cultural diversity than many other large cities. There is an open-mindedness and hunger for fusion here that drives people to make new, innovative music”, explains Ali Wells, known most notably under his heavy and experimental techno moniker – Perc.

The history of how London came to become so culturally diverse as it is today is quite a tale; one that floats in and out of a range of pioneering visions and a revolutionary thirst for something new.

In the 1950’s the term ‘rave’ was used to detail the wild parties at the Soho Beatnik in London; Beatnik being a term initially used by American novelist Jack Kerouac, author of On The Road, to describe the anti-conformist youth that existed within his New York social circle.

Little did they know back then that the ‘rave’ would later sweep the nation in a wave of ecstasy. Acid House made its way to the free party scene of Manchester in the mid 80’s and later found its way south to London. Clubs such as Shoom and nights such as The Trip played a huge part in spearheading this new way of living.

Shoom was acknowledged as the first club to take on the iconic acid smiley logo. Many of who visited the club would soon be met with the hugging embrace of their first ecstasy experience. Here, things were spiritual, so spiritual that the club even had to print an open letter pleading with attendants to remain in employment, as many wished to ignore their jobs in order to fully embrace this new and free spirited culture.

Perc cites the 90’s era of acid techno as an inspiration to himself and his output on his Perc Trax label.

“Yes, it was an inspiration then and still is, both the music and the DIY anti-authoritarian attitude. It is the pariah of London electronic scene and some techno scenesters will not go near it with a barge pole which just makes me love it even more. I finally met Chris Liberator recently and it was one of the few times I’ve been dumbstruck meeting one of my musical heroes.”

Enter the 90’s and so arrives the images of Versace caps and the sound of Garage. The genre was used as an escape from the heavy drug culture that resides within the home of the ‘rave’. Weed was heavily present, but not much else, as explained by Mike Skinner in an interview with The Guardian.

“My experience of Garage was that – apart from ganja, of which there was loads – it wasn’t really a drug scene in the way that House was.”

The 90’s became the birthplace for many new forms of music. Breakbeat Hardcore reigned supreme during the mid-decade. Tracks such as Orca’s ‘4am’ and DJ Morph’s ‘Only Love’ are great examples of sounds that fall of the ‘right’ side of Happy Hardcore.

Drum & Bass shared a community home with Hardcore around the same period of the 90’s with pioneering artists such as Goldie, Shy FX, Andy C and DJ Hype dictating the pace. Jungle music, in 1995, was a sub-genre of D&B, one that adopted the Jamaican, raga sound, a sound close to the culture and souls of its fans.

In Real Scenes: London, a film by Resident Advisor, DJ Josey Rebelle speaks of the emotional and cultural significance of this form of music, explaining “When I hear Jungle music, when I hear Grime music, I hear so much of the generations that have come before. I hear reggae and I hear dub, I hear the pain of their parents, I feel their stories and that legacy and for me, personally, coming through from that generation, I feel it deep within me.”

Arriving in the present day, London is as much a very different city as it was back then as it is a similar one. The sounds of old – garage, dubstep, jungle, drum & bass – are enjoying a new lease of life. They never truly went away, but thanks to the thick diversity of labels and radio outlets that dot the cities landscape these sounds are dropping on new and eager ears.

The most dangerous significance to London’s modern club circuit is the looming threat of gentrification. When fabric closed, and indeed prior to that, there was so much talk of how London’s clubbing scene was doomed. It re-opened, and in a sense an oxymoronic feeling of naive and uplifting power has washed over the club goers and youth of today. We don’t have complete control, but we’re at least making a step in the right direction.

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has previously stated that he’s “fed up with the conversations” of clubs closing down, and wants to talk about the opening of a “new live music venue or new nightclub”, I’d like to do the same. We’ve had enough doom and gloom over the last year, with clubs such as Dance Tunnel closing, to last a lifetime. Let’s talk about something positive. The clubs that are still here.

“The booth at Corsica Studios feels like home to me”, explains Perc. Neil Pruden and Rob Huckle, the bossmen at London label Dred Collective share this sense of compassion with Corsica.

“I’d say Corsica definitely, it’s a really good space, good sound and they put on a wide variety of nights. Also their license goes all the way through to 3pm, I think, and they are a good example of London escaping gentrification, the way they are using a multipurpose studio space works really well in my opinion.”

“Plenty of good clubs in London at the moment, Corsica, Fire, Fabric , XOYO, Coronet, Jamm, Five Miles. So many to name, all depends on what you’re looking for really.”

Houndstooth artist Guy Andrews is an artist who favours the evening gig concept to the night out.

“London is really amazing for its gig scene and is really where the city demonstrates its diversity. There’s a lot of very interesting programming at the Southbank Centre and the Barbican. King’s Place also put on a lot of excellent shows covering a wide variety of genres”, states Andrews. “Then you have the whole world of smaller gig spaces and even secret gigs in odd locations. I find London’s gig scene really exciting – at the venues I’ve so far been to, people engage with the performances in a really attentive and respectful way, and I can total absorb myself in it.”

“Technology and the internet is also such a vital part to how people interact in this city that it enables you to experience gigs, exhibitions and such in a way that you couldn’t whilst living in a smaller town. For example, looking at an app that focuses on connecting people to secret gigs in London, I can see that over the next 10 days there are at least 24 gigs happening. This is amazing.”

The most recent example in the fight against gentrification is the re-opening of the Hackney Arts Centre. The local council in Hackney are notoriously difficult to deal with when it comes to the culture we cherish, so this can be viewed as a significant win. The team behind the re-opening are none other than the heads behind Village Underground, a venue in East London. They are now residing over what they’re describing as a “world class, cultural venue for Hackney and London.”

We haven’t even mentioned Printworks, yet. London’s latest cutting edge venue boasting line up upon line up of face melting talent.

Platforms haven’t always existed for the artist to thrive. Pirate radio has had a profound impact on the way London has discovered and digested its music. Kiss FM was originally a pirate radio station dedicated to promoting black culture and music when mainstream media outlets didn’t cater for their interest.

Kool FM has been credited with being the first pirate radio station to play Hardcore Jungle. It was founded three years prior to the most recognisable name in pirate radio history, Rinse FM.

Founded by Slimzee and Geeneus, Rinse pushed the freshly emerging sounds of garage, grime and dubstep when no one else would take it on. SWAMP81 founder Loefah, in a verbal analysis of dubstep with VICE, provides a symbolic illustration of what it was like tuning in at that time.

“Mala used to come round to mine when Hatcha and Youngsta were on air, park his car in a street in South Norwood and pick up a signal by the Crystal Palace tower. It was such a dodgy reception, and the heating in his car didn’t work either, so it was fucking freezing, but we’d just sit in our car for hours, sparking zoots and listening to Rinse.”

FWD>> hosted a radio show on Rinse FM, hosted by Kode9. The original line up included Hatcha, Youngsta and Slimzee, and over the years more names were added due to the surge of new talent joining the growing community. Producers like Plastician, Skream and Benga would soon dictate the London sound.

Big Apple Records played a pivotal role in the development of the genre. Hatcha and Skream both worked in a store that would be visited by Digital Mystikz (Mala and Coki), Zed Bias, Walsh and Loefah. It began selling hardcore and techno before later turning to the sounds of garage and drum and bass, and finally arriving at the emerging scene of dubstep. The store became the home of alien sound, where up and comers and fans alike could come to indulge in a sound that was yet to hit the mainstream.

As the sound itself evolved, so did the streams in which it was used to be digested. Rinse FM, Kiss FM and other pirate radio stations have since legalised, paving the way for new concepts such as Balamii, Radar and NTS.

These radio stations host an incredible wealth of diversity. Visit NTS’s website and you can choose to indulge yourself in anything from Persian Disco to Dancehall, Jungle and leftfield Techno.

“In terms of experimental electronic scene, there is definitely some activity going on. It seems to lie more in the realms of artists residing in and around London rather than things such as very experimental nights going on”, explains Andrews. “I feel that’s what is really pushing the scene are the radio stations. The diversity you hear on stations such as NTS is incredible – for me that’s where London’s scene is really thriving.”

When it comes to techno, however, Perc isn’t entirely convinced. It appears that the majority of artists follow in the footsteps of their predecessors instead of pushing for something truly cutting edge.

“A lot of the techno coming from London (as well as elsewhere) follows the preset templates what were laid out years ago. Most of what I hear can be directly linked to Mills, Hood, Basic Channel and increasingly Mike Parker. People need to take a chance on something different from the norm. Having Ansome’s South London Analogue Material (SLAM) label in London was great and even though it is now based in Berlin it still pushes a resolutely UK sound and attitude. People need to realise that you can break from established sounds and still make something that can call itself techno and can still move a dance floor.”

“I think it is clubs, venues and shops that have set out the city more that artists and labels. Blackmarket, Lost, Eukatech, Rough Trade, Plastic People, Reckless, Trade, Velvet Rooms, Turnmills, Bagleys, The End. It goes on and on.”

A label that definitely breaks from the established sound is Houndstooth. An in-house venture of fabric, Rob Booth’s imprint has been consistently pushing some of the most interesting takes on electronic genre for the last five years, with releases coming from the likes of Call Super, Throwing Snow and Akkord. It’s a label that the Dred Collective look up to, for sure.

“Houndstooth have had a major impact on me in terms of how to present your label, how to sustain its longevity by keeping to the music you love whilst also holding a diverse catalogue of releases. I’ve learned over time that the little details make a difference in a labels growth.”

“When we first started I was over excited and impatient to put out a release and I made mistakes as a result, but when you look at labels like Houndstooth you realise they have been doing this for a long time and I think the main ways to reach that level is to try and keep your mind both on the present and the future so you know where you are going and also be patient when opportunities arise.”

The Dred Collective concept itself is home to some of the most exciting music currently coming out of London. A collective inspired by the artists that call it home, they wanted to “create a platform for them and others to have a chance to be recognised for what they are doing and then hopefully progress past us onto labels.”

“We began by releasing free tracks every Thursday and also compiling large compilations to help push those producers to a wider audience online. It has changed since, in the sense that we evolved into a label, improved on our quality control, focused more on bringing back the 90’s style in rave and also maintaining that feel of community. We have had a core group of artists that have been with us since the beginning but we still stick to the tradition of releasing free compilations alongside our EP’s and physical releases to help continue to promote lesser known producers.”

The label is home to an intriguing micro-genre, Jungle Footwork. The sound blends together elements of UK Jungle and Footwork, a dance and genre that originated in Chicago in the 1990’s.

“The mix of US and UK genres works beautifully. I’ll admit it’s a love/hate genre but I think it’s a great way to introduce footwork into the UK scene and vice versa with Jungle to the US as there is that sense of familiarity when you listen to it.”

A footwork scene doesn’t really exist in London, but there is certainly an interest there. Neil highlights Good Street Records and Hyperdub, two labels that both look to promote the high intensity sound.

“The Good Street Crew have played a part and have held nights on in Dalston which they invited us down to a while ago alongside the guys from We Buy Gold and Trax Couture. Teklife came over to London last year as well and there is sure to be more that we haven’t mentioned, but it is slowly becoming more recognised across the UK and hopefully it will reach a healthy state overall.”

It’s difficult not to touch on the resurgence of Grime when talking about London. A sound once ignored by the mainstream is now welcomed with open arms. The likes of Skepta, Stormzy and Krept & Konan have embarked on an expedition to expand to the U.S, an idea that would of once seemed ridiculous. When Drake signed to independent grime label BBK, it really symbolised how far the genre has come.

There are certainly some interesting things happening within grime, and no shortage of talented emcees, but take a look a little further into the worlds of its instrumental and experimental cousins and you’ll find there is more to be discovered.

Gobstopper Records, headed by Mr. Mitch, are responsible for some of the most thoughtful, emotive and creative music to come out of the urban jungle. Not a fan of labelling his sounds with a particular genre, Mr. Mitch blends elements of ambient, grime, soundtrack and experimental music to compose alien tracks that excite and tug on the heartstrings.

Amongst the roster you will hear everything from Japanese influence to dancehall vibes. Bloom, an experimental artist hailing from Belfast, has put out a project on the label, QUARTZ, a fierce and nostalgic instrumental grime concept.

Mumdance is another producer that has been making waves with his experimental take on grime in London. Although born in Brighton, the artist has founded a label and event called Different Circles which focuses on creative sound design and experimental textures.

“I liked Mumdance & Logos’ Different Circles events that ran a while ago on Sunday afternoons at a pub in Dalston”, says Perc. “Varied line-ups in the back room of an old school boozer for very little cash. They need a few more people in attendance but I really liked the idea and hope they bring it back at some point.”

Guy Andrews points out NTS host Lee Gamble’s UIQ label as one of the most exciting in the city. Releases have come from the likes of Lobster Theremin affiliated artist S. Olbricht and NL1.

“He’s putting out music by some really interesting artists and has a great aesthetic.”

There’s really something for everyone in London, no matter what you’re into. We could sit all and rhyme of an endless list of labels and artists that haven’t even been mentioned and we still wouldn’t of even scratched the surface of what this great city can offer. Gentrification and increasing rent prices will provide a threat for the foreseeable future, but I hope you can see in your time reading this that there are still plenty of things to remain positive about.

“I feel that the city is a great place to express your creativity. In fact, one highly creative person I know recently said they felt “nervous to leave London” due to the fear of their creative identity not being perceived in the same positive way as it is within London”, explains Andrews as our conversation comes to an end. “Providing you’re a reasonably social being, it’s quite easy to get established amongst other people who share a similar vision to you.”

“Despite some people leaving, I wouldn’t say that there is a lack of creative people in London. If you want to live in the city and be a creative you can of course make it work, but you have to shift your priorities a bit. Something I’ve noticed recently is a new level of honesty floating to the surface amongst musicians and producers. Those based in London will now freely admit that to sustain a decent standard of living, music in most cases cannot be the primary form of income. A lot of people have alternative employment or expand their involvement with music beyond just writing and producing, so they can afford their desired standard of living and be creative at the same time.”