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Sonic Router

Sonic Router 004 - A Dubstep Column For July
The Quietus , July 21st, 2009 13:20

Whilst June and July have seen this country’s fair capital city littered with sunshine, storm showers, festivals and high profile Britpop reunions, in the past my early summer months were spent in the sticks; amongst the torrents of rape fields and the tarmac expanse of the Nottingham-bound A52, rather than in and around Farringdon (the true gateway to the city of London). From the comfort of that rural setting, it appears I was blissfully unaware of the musical renaissance happening in the pockets of bedroom studios and nightclubs across the city.

Without the immediacy of London nightlife and a position smack bang in the sweaty cleft of the music industry it’s tough for rural folk, like I once was, to uncover the wider extent of a ‘scene’ without getting to experience it firsthand. The main thing I’ve fallen for within bass music is that it has fringes – those edges where genre lines blur and that gulf-like intersection where the ability to classify the music and label it with a short-sighted term becomes absolutely redundant.

I guess I’m just gutted that this musical maturing has occurred now, years after I moved away, and that the work of some of the musicians currently residing in an NG postcode seems to be ticking every box of mine in terms of originality, style and production.

Whilst I’ve made no quibble about my hankering for the work of Spam Chop’s Wigflex camp over previous columns for this very site, it’s only since I’ve been privileged enough to delve into the catalogue of one of the label’s rising stars that I really feel charged enough to explore the Notts phenomenon a bit wider.

But what is it about the area that makes the music so brutally original?

“Futureproof [one of Nottingham’s most forward thinking club nights, birthed in 2006] has been an amazing meeting point, melting the cerebral with the gutterbass,” says Berkane Sol owner Geiom, known to the tax man as Kamal Joory. “It would be nice to think that the Berkane Sol and Wigflex labels are also proving inspirational to some folk...”

“Bassline and grime are big up here…” he continues, “both those styles are pretty twisted up sound wise – I was checking some yesterday, thinking about how bassline producers often take no notice of the vocal melody when they build a track. So you end up with a demented result somewhere between pleasure and pain. Even people who don't follow those scenes get to hear it on road all the time.”

“Plus there's some pretty quirky people in Notts,” Joory muses, “I think the generic or cliched club sounds that are big in bass music right now are actually driving some of these people to build their own sound.”

Appleblim & Geiom – ‘Shreds’ [Berkane Sol]

Joshua Harvey is one such producer who has created his own gloriously personal sense of sound. His work under his The Hizatron1 moniker feels like it lives inside the possibilities of a 140bpm dance but it’s stripped completely bare; so naked in fact that it kind of shimmers amongst the space it’s left itself to resonate in, fulfilling the minimal prophesy of ‘less is more’ down to a tee.

Openly admitting he takes more of a cue from James Holden, Minilogue and Trentemoller, Harvey seems to revel in the fact that he’s doing something a little bit different. “I like clever techno,” he states, “Wigflex has an element of dubstep obviously, but we don’t want to be pigeon-holed.”

Label owner Spam Chop continues: “I think that stems from the fact that we grew up listening to Wu-Tang and old Hysteria tape packs, while going to garage raves. We’d come back after a ‘rowdy’ night out and need to listen to something lush to calm us down.”

“A number off-kilter artists, each who broke their own mould; have created a landscape of music, glistening with their own idiosyncrasies and hence a scene to be noted,” offers follow Wigflexer [Adam] Taylor.

“That all being said, I think in time the scene will have an influence. As potential new producers come through and know they have to stand up creatively to what's already out there, in order to be noticed. I don't know if we're quite there yet though, and I can’t speak from experience on that one. It's all healthy competition I guess, and that shit keeps you on your toes.”

It’s not just dubstep that is running strong in the water up there either, with Dealmaker Records leading the way for instrumental hip-hop artists to get a big enough platform to really launch from. Tom Calvert, aka Red, signed to the label and ended up scoring a Playstation portable advert and is now setting himself up for further releases under an alias on Jackmaster’s Wireblock label (which recently scored the accolade of Resident Advisor’s ‘Label of The Month’).

One half of the duo Kids In Tracksuits, Lone, aka Matt Cutler, received a huge amount of props after his sampla-delic debut opus, Lemurian came out last year. Resulting in a 12”, ‘Joyreel’ / ‘Sunset Teens,’ and an album deal with Actress’s immensely revered Werk Discs label, it was a move into the city centre and involvement with regular parties like Wigflex that influenced his output, making it more upfront and danceable, according to Dealmaker spokesperson Sean West.

“Lone’s music was more laid back, at home listening,” West informs, “perhaps its as he's grown up pretty separated from the main Notts "scene" but now he’s moved into the city, his new music and forthcoming Werk album is way more thuggish and club based!”

Lone – ‘Sea Spray’ [Dealmaker Records]

The singular, yet duel monikered entity, Keaver & Brause2 also released his debut work on the Dealmaker label to a ripple of appreciation last month. The Middle Way takes the spliced template of hip-hop and some of that super punchy side chaining technique that Flying Lotus made golden with his Reset EP and welds it into a melee of posturing harps and impossibly mature beat sketches.

Most of those I’ve mentioned so far are people who brave the East Midlands elements daily – those who continue to live local and offer the city a broad, diverse spectrum of sound – but there does in all honest reality seem to be a strange and odd infection that takes hold of people who take refuge in the city, even for a short time, benefiting from the tight knit community of like minded computer musicians.

Brackles and his consistent on/off production partner Shortstuff3 are two artists who quite possibly swung down the cobbled streets of the Hockley district for a few years at university. A duo who, thanks to the committed work of some, have gone on to release impressively pitch bent tracks that sound like absolutely nothing else, crammed full of musical menace and the sort of ideas that fuel open eared dances till the wee hours (especially when they’re wielded by such amazingly competent DJs as themselves).

“I never really set out to be a producer,” explains Brackles, “I just downloaded a demo of FruityLoops out of curiosity cause that was what people at school were saying you needed to make tunes, so I thought I'd have a go. It wasn't until I got Reason that I started to take it seriously…”

Brackles – ‘Get A Job’ [Applepips]

“We both like stuff with energy that can also hold your attention outside of a club setting,” enthuses Shortstuff. “There are similarities in the things we write individually, but when we make tunes together you get a kind of odd combination of the two, plus the older we get the sillier our stuff becomes. We’ll just get drunk and muck about and if something sounds crap we’ll let each other know.”

With tunes released on Berkane Sol, Pollen and now Applepips and Planet Mu, Brackles cites the help of certain comrades as the reason why Nottingham has managed to build up such a strong sense of community.

“Geiom brought me and Shortstuff through by releasing our first tunes and Spamchop running Wigflex and releasing all his crew like Hizatron and Metaphi really helps give Notts a bit of an identity,” Brackles enthuses. “Anyone in Notts who is coming through now will definitely have been sending their stuff to one of those two and they'll always listen, give advice and let you know if they're feeling.”

“Though, neither of us has lived in Notts for some time, ‘Broken Harp’ was the last thing we wrote up there, and for me the tune really captures that time,” agrees Shortstuff. “I love Nottingham though and people like Geiom, Spam Chop and the Futureproof crew have undoubtedly played a big part in shaping my output.”

Walk the streets of Nottingham on a Friday or Saturday night and you will undoubtedly see the United Kingdom’s seedy bar culture in full swing, with bleached and war painted girls tottering along the uneven streets in high heels and skirts that - individually - show more thigh in a second than Serena and Venus Williams did in this year’s Wimbledon final. And yes, I have seen a man fall in slow motion straight onto his face after reeling simply from the swing of a punch, rather than any actual physical connection, in the city’s Market Square one late December evening, but tucked neatly into the back streets and inside the welcoming haven of central nightclub Stealth there will often be something fresh, completely innocent and unconceited going on, with producers and DJs making new friends, and the resulting waves getting people like me, who missed a trick when I spent my formative years there, very, very excited indeed.

“I heard a bunch of the local 'headz' singing along with the pitch bent organ bit (!) from the Geeneus track ‘Yellowtail’ when it got dropped a couple of weeks ago...” offers Geiom, ”I love stuff like that… Maybe that's the key [to Notts’ newfound prevalence] - clued up producers who still like to dance.”

“It could well be another town, country, planet sometime soon,” concludes Taylor, “I know us boys have been simmering away for a few years now, but it surely is time to bubble.”

Words: Oli Marlow for

Most of the releases mentioned will be available physically as well as digitally. Check your local record shops or online stores for more details. We buy music and recommend you do too.

Information on all these artists and more can be found at

1 Download The Hizatron’s mix for Sonic Router here:

2 Download Keaver’s mix for Sonic Router here:

3 Download Shortstuff’s mix for Sonic Router here: