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Realising Fantasies: Cooly G Interviewed
Christian Eede , October 13th, 2014 08:39

Of her second album, Wait 'Til Night, Cooly G says, "I feel like I'm starting to find myself again". Ahead of its release next week, the Hyperdub producer talks to Christian Eede about the record and abandoning musical tribalism

Throughout our time together, Merrisa Campbell, aka South London-based producer Cooly G, keeps photos of her two-year-old daughter close on her phone. Campbell explains that she's staying in Blackpool with her mother while she works on redecorating the home she shares with her two children. It's evident that the separation is difficult for her, but it's just one of many sacrifices that she references during our conservation in the balancing act of being a single parent and one of Hyperdub's focal characters.

Since signing with the label in 2009, Campbell has steadily progressed into the label's central fold following a wealth of club-oriented, UK funky and tribal house-influenced EPs and a debut album in 2012, entitled Playin' Me, on which she concentrated the personal rage and hurt from a failed relationship or, as she puts it herself, "being fucked around". Now, as Hyperdub celebrates its first decade as a fully-fledged label, she unleashes another full-length collection of material in Wait Til' Night which sees her moving into more refined, intimate territory than ever before.

Introduced as an album of "lo-fi bedroom music" and a shift away from the largely club-rooted productions of past, Wait Til' Night is, like Playin' Me, an acutely personal rumination on her state of mind during its production. Born out of improvised, quick-fire home studio sessions, she describes the creative process as "more energetic than fucking ever". The indignation of her debut effort is traded for sensual, bodily sex jams, crafted on skeletal drum patterns and noirish synths, all of it a manifestation of fantasies that she says are "becoming real for me now".

It seems then that Campbell is in a much better place now than in 2012. As soon as we meet, she gushes about the recently-shot video for the album's title track (which is due to premiere a few days after our chat) - the pride in her work is evident. Notably, the video for 'Wait Til' Night' sees her stepping out in front of the camera for the first time, perhaps hinting towards a further move away from the anonymous, shadowy press photo design of so many of today's underground electronic producers in favour of opening up the distinctive, curious personality that exists behind Wait Til' Night.

However, Campbell still seems to occupy a relative outsider status, using her own Dub Organizer label to showcase fledgling rather than established talent, and indicating an unwillingness to conform to particular scenes and be drawn into the battle lines that run parallel to such scenes. Speaking to her about the tension that she felt at the height of UK funky, as well as her straight-up approach to building DJ sets without a concern for who made what she plays, ultimately reveals little interest in the tribalism of different musical divisions because; as she bluntly puts it herself, "I've got way better things to do".

Both of the albums are a lot more vocal-driven than the majority of your EP material which is obviously rooted in the club. Do you prefer to keep vocal material to those longer projects in that maybe you don't feel that the club tracks can extend to an album concept?

Cooly G: I probably will be doing that next. I'm actually working on that now, music that's more club-orientated, but with a lot of vocals too. I feel like I've been lost for a few years, well not just a few, probably at least ten years where I've been so busy and now I feel like I'm starting to find myself again. It's like I'm finding Merrisa again, so when I wanted to do this album, [Hyperdub] must have given me the deal around July or June last year and I ignored that they even said that until it came to November and then I remembered that they'd given me a deadline of January, so I was like, I've only got two months to actually do this fucking LP, so I waited until the end of the school term around Christmas and over two weeks, I sent the kids to my mum's and I superly went in everyday for 14 days and finished the album.

Was that exhausting?

CG: No, it was more energetic than fucking ever. It was really weird because I didn't have to worry about feeding them, bathing them or whatever, in between me working on stuff and if I'm making tunes I usually have to stop, feed them, stop, bathe them, play, but this time around there were no kids and it was just me going crazy.

So do you find that when you're working on an album project you have to have that space from your children in order to get things done?

CG: I'd never been away from them like that before unless I was going abroad for a show, but I only did it because I wanted to finish the album on time and I didn't want to not do another album. I thought they could have so much fun up there rather than me just working on bare tunes and saying to them, "Oh, I'll play with you in an hour", so it was a decision that I had to make to sacrifice Christmas and New Year to let them be up there and have untold fun because I had to do the album, so I decided it would be best for them to be up there and I've never done that before. I've always made all the other tunes you've heard with them running up and down the stairs and in-between breastfeeding the baby. So, this time around, because I was looking to do something much more sexual, so I needed that space to do that.

Obviously there are some fairly suggestive song titles on the new album like 'Your Sex' and 'Freak You', so how do you approach writing about something that personal?

CG: I didn't even care because it was what was on my mind and I could explore my fantasies because I'm a single mum and I don't have a partner, so, yes, I do feel sexual at times. I'm not gonna phone someone to go and have sex or whatever, so I wait until night when the kids are in bed and I might, you know, dress up myself and do sexy shit and that's what I'm about. It feels like I can become myself again and that's good for me.

For people listening to those tracks, do you like them to relate it all to you or do you prefer there to be some distance there?

CG: They need to know what I'm about and the album is part of me. All of those lyrics are true to me and 90% of them might be fantasies but some of them are becoming real for me now, so it's like a whole journey for me. The album's been finished since the beginning of the year and I love it. I love the whole vibe and that I had really done what I wanted to do at the start. Those styles are a revamped version of what I would do when I was about 15 or 16 years old, but my production wasn't really tight then. I was just putting together some drums and little bits of melody, but now I'm obviously a lot better, so I've waited a good 15 years to do something that I always wanted to do.

So, when you're working on music here and there, do you ever start out with the intention that it's going to be a full-length project?

CG: Not really, but I knew that I had to do this album, so I had to do about 20 tunes for it. Five of those I didn't fully record properly because I wasn't completely happy with them, but 15 of them were fully finished. When I was working on 'Your Sex', I had loads of people here and the studio was all set up in my living room and there was nothing else in here, just equipment and a little sofa, so I had loads of people round having a smoke and a drink or whatever and I just started to feel sexy and then I started making a drum pattern. My friend started playing his guitar and we just blended together, so I finished the tune, and then I just sat down and started saying to myself, "Your sex is on my mind" and I was like, "Oh my god", it just started rolling. Then I recorded it and it was just done right there. I mixed it down that night, so then the next day I'd start working on the next tune, so I was just going with the flow without fully knowing what I was gonna write about. It was purely how I felt in the moment and that was the same with the first album where the lyrics were a lot angrier and about being fucked around.

You were in a completely different state of mind working on Wait Til' Night then?

CG: I was starting to think about me again. I hadn't thought about me in a long time because I've been busy being a mum and producing, so I'd forgotten about me. This might sound silly but I got my nails done and started to do things again for myself. Before, I was just making sure they were alright, the music was on time and I was getting to the shows.

Obviously, with Hyperdub being a smaller, more independent label, it's quite closely tied with its artists, so do you think that's freed you up in terms of not feeling too much pressure from your label managers, etc.?

CG: It has, but Steve [Goodman, Hyperdub founder, aka Kode9] will always cuss me out and say, "If that shit ain't finished by this time, that shit ain't coming out", so I'm like, "That shit is gonna be finished because that shit is definitely coming out", so there is a good pressure there because I know that they'll be fine with something a week or two weeks late.

How has Hyperdub's tenth anniversary been for you in terms of being able to travel to so many places with the extended crew?

CG: It's been really exciting because we have toured together in the last five years but this one is obviously different because we know that we're celebrating something so special and with Burial putting the picture of himself online as well that felt really special, so everything came together for us this year.

I read about your first full live show, which you did in Copenhagen and you said it really stressed you out.

CG: It pissed me right off because we were put on the wrong stage, there was a soundcheck while we were doing the show and I still kept going because I like to be professional, but in my head when I got home, I thought, "Maybe I shouldn't have done that". I don't want to let people down though, but it just didn't feel right. The sound wasn't right, the stage was too small for us, but we still kept going and the crowd seemed to think it was great but we knew that it wasn't supposed to be like that.

So, do you think of yourself as a bit of a perfectionist in that sense?

CG: I had rehearsed to perform a certain way and it wasn't that way and when I wanted to try and be sexy while performing the new stuff, it just wasn't working, but it was a nice place and the crowd treated us really well.

Is the full live band project abandoned now then?

CG: It's not abandoned, but I suppose it's just been put to the side for a bit, so that I don't have that pressure right now for my own health because I'm so tired. I can't be getting more stressed out than I already am. I get vertigo and I've had it for a while but I didn't know.

How did you first come to realise that?

CG: I had it really badly one time a couple of months ago, so I went to the hospital and I was just like, "I'm dizzy, everything's fucking spinning", so they checked me out and said it's vertigo. They told me that I really need to sleep and rest because my body's going crazy.

Has that changed the way you've worked then?

CG: Yeah, I need to be a lot more chilled and relaxed about things now, so, like, even if I'm in a cab heading to an airport and I think I'm gonna be late, I have to say to myself, "No, it's OK, just relax", instead of, "Fucking hell, drive faster, you cunt" and getting all dramatic and worked up, so I'm more relaxed about things now. When I do shows though, I'm fine. It's just when I'm in a crowd that I'm not so good.

Do you think having that avenue to produce music is part of relieving that tension for you?

CG: Definitely, like yesterday I sat down with my headphones and just listened to the album properly and the first tune I picked was 'I Like' and as soon as the bassline just hit me, I was crying. But it was out of happiness that I'd completed something that I wanted to do and that I like it so much. I'm really proud of it, more than anything I've done before.

You had to cancel the show at Hyperdub's Corsica Studios party a few weeks ago - was that supposed to be a full show as well then?

CG: Yeah. I blacked out the day before and I could never have gone. I was feeling weak and I felt really bad about it because my brother went and he said that people were really disappointed I wasn't there. But I just felt so ill that I never could've gone on stage and done the show.

Has that kind of anxiety been a big problem for you in the past?

CG: I've just been doing too much recently and not sleeping properly, but now I'm decorating my house and it's just making feel better as well because I've been throwing out things that I don't need. It's been really refreshing for me and I'll sit down and think, "What else am I gonna throw away?" and it will be about 4 am and then I'm like, "Shit, I've gotta take this little boy to school in the morning", so I wasn't getting much sleep, but now I'm on top of that and I've taken the whole month off. My baby is with my mum.

Would you say that environments are really important to you then, both creatively and for your own general wellbeing?

CG: When I first moved here, everything was all packed up and I was feeling really stressed and I wasn't realising that that was what was stressing me out. I analysed everything too much, but then when I started getting rid of stuff, it just felt like there was less weight on my shoulders because I had tension for months and I didn't really know what it was. When I started getting rid of stuff, it felt like that was all fading away and I need to be relaxed to be at my best.

I've noticed that you've remained fairly grounded to South London from childhood and you're still based here - do you think that's shaped you musically in any way?

CG: I grew up in Brixton as a bit of a tomboy and that's all part of me, being that sort of boyish type of girl, but now I feel like I'm changing. I can be boisterous, but I don't feel like I am as much as I used to be now.

Growing up, your dad was part of a reggae soundsystem in Brixton and I know you've said that you have a lot of his records from that time. How did growing up around that culture affect you musically?

CG: I got to hear different frequencies of sounds from an early age and that's what triggered my brain. I started remembering how the bass would be taken out and then dropped back in and those were the things that made me think, "What's that? Why does it sound like that?" There's pictures of me from when I was about two at the mixing desk and seven was when I really started learning to DJ. I used to sit on the petrol station wall, wash cars and save up the money from it for decks.

How were your formative experiences in terms of clubs and raves?

CG: I was underage going through the backdoors of fucking Brixton Academy, going to jungle raves. I remember going to a rave and we were all in the queue for ages and we dressed up like we were big women and we got in there and like five minutes later on the mic, I heard, "Erm… we are looking for a Merrisa Campbell, her mother is outside to collect her" and I was like, "Oh my fucking God". I had to run out, my brother was there, pulling me out and I didn't even get to party, so that was a funny one.

Was there anything you were listening to around making Wait Til' Night that fed into it in some way?

CG: Before I started on the album, I was listening to a lot of The Weeknd and I saw him live. There was a tweet too from Jeremih that someone phoned me about, saying he's looking for productions from people for his new album. Someone tweeted me saying you should do this, so I started making 'Want', but then when I finished it, I was just like, "Fuck that, I ain't giving him this, I'm fucking keeping this for myself", but it's what started me on working on this whole kind of sound and tempo, so I had that drum pattern before I started properly working on the album.

How did it feel to get in front of the camera for the first time for the 'Wait Til' Night' video?

CG: It was weird. I woke up the morning after filming and just thought I wanna be an actress now. I'd met the guy in it with me only a few times before and I didn't really know him properly. I was thinking, "Oh god, this is gonna go all wrong because I don't know him and we're not gonna have that connection", but for some reason we just had something.

I can imagine it feeling really awkward if you had to be close with somebody like that for a video, so how was that for you?

CG: I made him come round a few days before we filmed it. I'd seen him around before because he's like a friend of someone I know. I thought he'd be the perfect guy for the video, so I approached him about it and I was just like, "Come around man, let's talk, have a drink and just have a laugh, see what happens because I need to know I can talk to you before I even do this video because we're acting out a date." I was so happy that I asked him because he was so professional, like he'd done it before [but] he hasn't even done it before either, so we just did it naturally. We didn't have to do bare takes or anything, it was just done.

You've already mentioned fantasies while talking about this album and obviously acting out a date for the video is part of that, so do you like having these outlets to explore different sides of yourself?

CG: Some people have fantasies and they probably don't deal with them until about ten years later, but that might be the perfect time for them to do that. With the first album, I'm really angry on the tracks. I've been played and treated like shit, but now I'm not letting any of that get to me. I don't really tend to write things down on paper though when I'm working. I'll just sing, record and practice some harmonies. Sometimes, the beats and the drum patterns will come to me first. Like, with 'Your Sex', the beat on that just made me start thinking about somebody that wasn't even there and I just started writing that lyric.

Are there any further plans for Dub Organizer?

CG: There are actually. I'm trying to put together these EPs where I just bring together five different producers and just put out records with banging house tracks and push some smaller producers because they're all so sick.

Do you like having that ability to help out other, less known producers then?

CG: Yeah, I feel like it's something I need to do, to give back.

I read an interview in which you were talking about how you'd assisted some of the producers on the past EPs on the label and I guess Steve has been like that with a fair few producers on Hyperdub, so are you looking to mirror that relationship?

CG: It's something I've always wanted to do from when I was young. In my head, I used to have this pretend label called 'R U Listening' and I just imagined I had everyone in South London all working for me. I had this idea of enemies making tunes with enemies, just wanting to bring people together.

Do you feel that there's any competition for you in the sense that you maybe look at other producers or artists, hear their stuff and it makes you want to better yourself?

CG: I don't tend to listen to too many producers like that. I listen to a lot of slow jams and that whole vibe. When I'm getting sets ready for DJing, I'm looking to just play things because they sound heavy. A lot of the time I'm just playing something without checking or looking at who's made the beat, which is why I don't really put together playlists and that. I don't check the tunes or care too much who made it. If it's a banger, I'm playing it. I don't really get the idea some people might have of, "Oh, I'm not gonna play this because he's made it".

Maybe too many people get hung up on having that kind of attitude?

CG: Definitely, I'd say there's people who don't like me, who hate the fact that I'm a girl and I'm doing my thing.

That's something we could maybe touch on. I've noticed with Hyperdub that there are considerably more female signees than perhaps most other underground electronic music labels. Is that something that you've particularly noticed and do you even think it's important?

CG: I try to look at things like I'm a mum and I have to look after my children which means my mentality is different from other people. They might think, "Oh, she made a sick beat, so I've gotta make a sicker one than her." But, I never look at people like that because my time is for the kids, so I don't have time for that attitude. I've got way better things to do. I've gotta finish my house and do activities with my kids. I'm exhausted quite a lot and I still am now at times.

There were some comments you made for a Guardian piece on UK funky where you said that it didn't have the family that, say, grime had as a genre. What made you think that?

CG: There was no real sense of family at all because it felt like everybody was competing with everyone else. I used to do these mixtapes called Dubplate Politics before I got signed and it was about these DJs in the funky scene, and they didn't wanna give you their tunes and I just thought, "How am I gonna promote your tunes if you won't even give me anything?" People wouldn't book me because I'm a girl. "I've got dubs, you've got dubs, but you don't wanna play the dubs, you don't want that DJ to have it but that other one can play it." There was just a lot of confusion and it seemed like everyone just wanted to be on top.

Stemming from that, how does the way you've worked on the two albums differ from the tracks you make for the club?

CG: I did focus more on this album than anything else I've ever done. Even with my last album, I thought it was good but it could have been better, stronger, tougher, so it was quite underrated which made me focus a lot more on this album, so I could make sure it was stronger.

So, you're always striving to better what you've done before then?

CG: Not intentionally, but I guess so. When you're just making beats, you obviously want it to be banging, but it won't happen unless the vibe is there. You can't make a banger if you're forcing yourself to do it. I'm working on a rap EP at the moment, so I've been recording in my bedroom for that and just chilling. I wanna work on the live set as well and work out how I can bring the vocal stuff from the album into my normal DJ sets because I've decided that's how I want to do it now.

Wait 'Til Night is out on October 20 via Hyperdub

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