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Sonic Router

Sonic Router 017: Scaling Great Heights With Braiden
Oli Marlow , January 12th, 2011 06:52

Oli Marlow is setting his sights on DJ and producer Steve Braiden this month - who, not content with ruling the airwaves, is causing a storm with his single 'The Alps'

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Sitting in a Farringdon cafe window with the sludgey remnants of a winter snow shower quickly evaporating, South Londoner Steve Braiden sits poised. Upright and transfixed on the task at hand, the producer - who's just put out his first track on Joy Orbison's Doldrums imprint, the sprawling 'The Alps' - gives a great interview. He's measured, precise and full of sarcasm for an interviewer who's spent countless nights and early mornings, drunkenly tearing chunks out of his ear lobes. As a DJ his stock has risen furiously throughout 2010 thanks to his stint at the Red Bull Music Academy, which single handedly owned London and its events calendar earlier this year thrusting all participants out onto different bills at venues all across the capital. His star has been increased, too, by his late-afternoon, power-cut-ridden appearance at this year's Sonar festival and his Tuesday lunchtime slot on London's pioneering radio station Rinse FM, where he continues to join the dots between slower technoid tempos and the UK's current obsession with bastard house music.

His selections scale tempos and styles, with a lean towards more techno edged productions, and his repeatedly fresh perspective and DJ selection has paved the way for his own production work, offering him a hugely respected plateau to leap from as an artist. Taking his DJing seriously, Braiden began spinning on SUB.FM, a pivotal (and still relevant) tool in terms of internet radio for the growth and development of the dubstep genre before moving to his slot on Rinse...

"Back in 2007... I hooked up with Youngsta as I was digging all the time in Black Market,” Braiden tells us, leisurely stirring a brew that's heavy handedly been presented to him. "I'd go in there and chat to him a lot about mixing and what not and I gave him a mix which I think he was into, and then he invited me down to do a little thing on his show. So I did like an hour on his show and then Rat heard it, and he was like 'do you want a show?' And I was like, 'yeah, I want a show.' And then I had the show.

"I was playing pretty much just dubstep when I started off on Rinse - it was pretty much just 140bpm, maybe some older garage bits but I wasn't hugely deviating. And then from about... I dunno how long I've been on Rinse but I started playing stuff that dropped tempos. I've always been into techno and more electro stuff. So after a while I started incorporating that into my sets playing stuff like... I guess stuff on Dirtybird and maybe a few bits from Border Community. It wasn't really UK stuff.

"I was playing the slower stuff, and then I remember about six months later it was pretty much the norm. Now you hear everyone playing like 130-140 bpm things. I'm not saying I was leading that, because I wasn't, but my difference in tempos wasn't through the route of the UK scene really. It was more just me being into other types of music and wanting to play them. I wasn't really playing them out because I guess at that time the gigs I was playing were things like FWD, and that sort of vibe...

So it wasn't really the audience for it?

Steve Braiden: No, and that's the good thing with radio. You can try out different things and end up developing a whole different style regardless of the audience and what's happening on the dancefloor. I think one of the biggest... I can't really call it a turning point, but something that sticks in my mind as a moment would be one of Kode 9's sets at FWD, which must've been... I dunno, about a year and a half ago? Maybe longer... I can't even remember. All those nights kind of all blur into one...

But that was the first time I really got into funky. I'd heard a lot of talk about it, and I'd listen to Marcus Nasty's show, and I just wasn't really into it because of the vibe. It just felt a little bit plastic to me, and a lot of that sound still does, but when I saw Kode 9 at FWD he was playing this raw, darker kind of sound - his own tracks like 'Black Sun' and a track called 'Oozi' and other things that were influencing him around that time, and I really got into that. I was feeling that set a lot.

So all these things kind of came together: I was already playing different tempos in my sets anyway, and then seeing that set and then the scene went in a way that allows me to play all these kinds of tracks and now the audience is there - more than they would be say three years ago.

That's the thing about Kode's sets compared to a lot of 'commercial' funky, it's just so gutter. There's something about funky that does just feel like cheesy house music...

SB: I don't even feel that it's cheesy. I was talking about this with someone the other day about a lot of the feel of funky and don't get me wrong, there is some of it that I do like. But there's something about the sound pushed by a lot of funky DJs, the popular sound of about two years ago... there is something quite plastic about it. I remember how Manara said she'd listen to UK funky and it would make her depressed, and it's something I totally understood. It's not depressing in a Radiohead style; it's depressing in a claustrophobic style. There's something about that sound that's quite monotone. I can't put my finger on it, but it just feels like a claustrophobic head space. And I mean that's something that's quite important to me - the actual headspace of the tune and the colour and the atmosphere can get lost in a lot of UK music.

UK music is so based on rhythm, you know what I mean? You look at a lot of drum and bass, UK funky, dubstep etc and a lot of those genres would look down on 4x4 music because it's one rhythm – which is totally missing the trick – but, they would say that. And a lot of it is rhythmically focused but it doesn't have any atmosphere to it, or doesn't really experiment with the emotive qualities of the music. You get that a lot more in techno - I think sometimes you get that too much in techno - but it's very much about the atmosphere and the sounds made, but they don't do anything interesting rhythmically. That's what I'm trying to bring together: something that is emotive, in an interesting headspace that does a lot for the mind but is also rhythmically interesting.

Something you can listen to outside of a dancefloor context?

SB: Yeah, absolutely. Or even from the dancefloor context it'll all kind of blur and stimulate a different part, you know? Not just the rhythmic part. I'm very conscious of how in the UK a lot of people are there for the rhythms and the bass. I mean I would love that [when I go out], but I would also love the textures and the atmosphere of a lot of techno based music, so a lot of the time I'd try and mix them together. But you have to do it in a very certain way.

I'm very conscious about the low end that the people need to hear, so I do things like teasing in tunes over the rhythmic low end, or just doing very quick mixing between those very atmospheric tunes so that the people who just wanna hear the bass or whatever will still be into it, but it still has that kind of atmosphere. So I guess that's what I'm trying to do with my productions is actually bring it together all in one, as it's what I've been trying to do with my mixing for a long time.


Braiden – The Alps [Doldrums]

'The Alps' is the first complete thing Braiden has put out there to date - bar a slew of half finished beats meticulously mixed down and spun together for Mary Anne Hobbs and her now defunct BBC Radio 1 experimental show – and it's a throbbing, journey of a track, that aligns him with his two polarizing loves easily. There's a rigid constant kick drum pulse in the underneath that exhales and breathes with texture, yet the futuristic sheen to his synth work and the irregularly pitched vocal samples aligns him with a lot of the new bastardized breed of music that defines genre restrictions. Honestly, it's a triumph. Set out in macro detail it unfurls like a DJ tool, an evolving shift yet a rigid and truly engulfing piece of music.

So how have you found the response to 'The Alps'?

SB: It's cool man. I couldn't really ask for more to be honest. It's a little bit strange because it is a fairly old track to me now and because it's the first tune I've actually done so I'm really grateful.

I was speaking to Girl Unit the other day about it, and we were saying that he had one thing in mind for 'Wut'. He wanted it to be this really warm track and then all these people are talking about these sharp kind of laser sounding sounds in it when he was going for something a lot more warm. He asked me if there is anything about 'The Alps' that I was shooting for? And there's nothing really, but all the stuff I've read so far has been on the button, not that it matters either way, or makes it a better or worse tune, but it's all been positive and quite accurate and it just means a lot to me because with that tune I'm trying to bring together those two things. I have a very certain vision for my music. It means a lot that it's gotten that kind of response…

Do you think people have got the fact that you're trying to bridge two styles?

SB: I don't mind. I don't care. I think some people may or may not but it doesn't fuss me too much. Just the fact that it is being accepted by both. Like, I know that Hardwax are really on it.

Yeah?

SB: Well, I mean they bought like a quarter of all the records! They bought 250! That's why they've all sold out in UK stores, because fucking Germany's got 'em all [laughs]... And Hardwax rarely do that, they usually order like 50 or 60 and if they order 250 they can't give them back, they're confident they'll sell 'em all. So they've been pushing it really hard; apparently they really like it.

Do you think, and I'm playing devil's advocate here, that that's on the strength of the tune or the fact that it's on Doldrums?

SB: Well, Doldrums isn't really big enough for a record store to be like, 'We'll put it in the shop and it'll sell'. It's not a DMZ! I mean, Doldrums has the connect and speaks to them but it's still their choice to buy so many. Apparently they just really like it. They've embraced it, but it's kind of too early to tell.

Obviously a lot of the people I've pushed it to are people I know, but it's one of those things where people who are into techno need to be able to get it. It needs to be on shelves, people need to buy it. Like you still hear techno DJs playing 'Claptrap' [by Joe, released on Hessle Audio] now, as they wouldn't have played it before the release as they didn't get it from Hessle. 'The Alps' has only been out a week, so it'll be interesting to see what DJs do pick up on it or whatever. If people are liking it... I'm not really too bothered if they're liking it because it's this or it's that, as long as they're into it and the other stuff I do in the future then that's what it's about. It's not about why...

So what made you wanna go with Doldrums? You must have had a lot of other label interest…

SB: Yeah I did. It was because firstly he [Joy Orbison] is very down to earth. Like, I knew Pete personally and… actually I think the turning point of my decision was when I saw him play at Deviation and he was saying before he played about doing this Kasem Mosse remix and I was like, 'That's cool! Yeah alright, wicked!'

He also told me, 'I really like the tune, I'd love to sign it but maybe it might be better for you to wait until that mix goes out on Mary Anne Hobb's show because then other labels might take an interest.' And he probably shouldn't be saying that… and a lot of labels wouldn't be that honest… especially if they do wanna sign something. So I appreciated that and then I saw his set and it tied into a lot of what I was feeling at the time, he was playing some really interesting house…

Yeah, I remember Benji B saying that his set was very learned and incredibly well measured…

SB: My favourite bit of the set was the first half of it - the house and techno stuff but I was just really into it - so all those things together and then seeing that set I was like 'Yep, that's really good'. They were talking to me a lot about their connections with Hardwax and how they'll try and push it to those guys, and then they'll try and do nights at Berghain. And there's that whole European techno thing that they had connections with and for me, it's really interesting cause I don't wanna be a UK funky producer.

Also it's reaching out to a different audience than I could reach out to. I wanted that tune to get out to people who don't listen to Rinse. So all those things kind of came together… it's kind of funny because I've got my first record out and it doesn't even have my name on it [laughs].

Yeah, after all that, it's quite funny that it just says DLDRMS003…

SB: Yeah I showed it to my mum and she was like, 'It could be anyone'. I should've written BRAIDEN in white pencil on the label…

Words: Oli Marlow for Sonic Router
DLRMS003: Braiden – The Alps b/w Kassem Mosse Remix is in stores now - on vinyl only for the time being.