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Sonic Router

Sonic Router 023: Hodge Talks The Future Sound Of Bristol
Oli Marlow , November 8th, 2011 07:11

Sonic Router's Oli Marlow speaks to Bristol's Jacob Martin, whose music as Hodge and Outboxx is helping to spearhead a resurgence of house music within the city

“Music scenes seem to move in cycles and, in my opinion, when dubstep became popular it became bastardised, and this watered down, formulaic version of the original sound got adopted by the masses,” muses Jacob Martin, aka Bristol-based house producer Hodge. Voicing the opinion of a thousand listeners who had their minds blown by the low-slung sound of the blossoming dubstep of a few years back, he continues “The term 'dubstep' has become somewhat tainted to people who have been listening to it for years.”

The homogenisation of a sound palette is a common problem within modern electronic music. There are pioneers, the people who seem to capture a soundset perfectly. Then there are the people who take the music they create as their own personal starting point. As tastes develop, a producer's music should become engendered to different experiments in sound, production or their own personal growth. Whether that comes through covertly, via subtle sound osmosis, or through a purposeful biting often remains to be revealed, but everybody proceeds at their own rate, looking to different shores for inspiration.

“The good thing about taking influences from house music (again),” Martin continues, putting his earlier point in context, “Is that bad house music is most definitely already out there. 4x4 was bastardised a long time ago, so it doesn't even have to be considered that it's going to be ruined by scenester monkeys, as it's already happened a thousand times over. It's not a new thing [to do], it's just more a welcomed resurgence. And that's not to say there is no good dubstep about - Kahn's Boxclever and Punch Drunk releases are amazing.”

Indeed, as Hodge says, a lot of producers are maintaining their personal levels of quality, coming at dancefloor music with their own twist, harking more towards a lust for space and groove than the desire to spill drinks with a cleverly deployed LFO-savvy square wave. It's natural to express yourself creatively and there has always been space for producers working at polar opposites to co-exist happily - take Caspa and Mala for example. Right now though, it feels like there's something brewing, and in Bristol in particular, that's changing the way a slew of producers approach their art.

“I myself grew up in Kent and the music scene was terrible,” Martin says. “Since being here I've noticed a big shift in the way people approach music in general. Bristol has this wide variety of sounds. Some of the heads who at one point were just focused on one genre are now consuming a much wider array of music. Of course there are those who have always done so, but certainly in terms of club attendees, people are getting a lot more open minded here (though this is probably true of the UK as a whole).”

“When I was like 10 years old,” he continues, “I used go to this roller disco in Kent, and at 9pm they'd turn the lights off and play house music - real tacky but somewhat amazing. At the time I had no idea what I was listening to, but as I have got into house over the last few years, I keep hearing these same old tunes in a whole new way. It's like 'Wow, I know this tune but I never knew how deep it went.'”

Ever since Hodge began sending me music, he's always been sitting pretty around the house axis. The first thing he sent me, his 130bpm reimagining of 'Because' by fellow Bristol producers Portrait, was made simply because he liked the tune but wanted to fit it into one of his sets. It's that kind of talent and playful attitude that's seen him release records through Bristol labels like Pollen and Immerse, both as a solo artist and in collaboration with Matt Lambert as Outboxx. There's definitely a sense of boogie present in both projects, something Martin himself attributes to a love of “Parliament, Gwen Guthrie and Midnight Star,” though that sunset-stained, piano-led bliss definitely comes through more with his work as Outboxx. As Hodge the emphasis is definitely on groove, to which his discography to date can attest, but from the reams of his music that I've heard he seems to be finding his feet in terms of ideas. Tracks like the stuttering 'Hackers' or the tumbling 'Found His Cool' suggest an exploration of other methods, ones a mile away from simple re-appropriation of classic house. It's that melding of styles that places Hodge on the cusp of something pretty special.

“I started making music at around 140bpm a couple of years ago now it was nothing serious at first, just messing about, generally starting tunes and making loops but never finishing them,” he tells me in between playing me skate videos with his hip-hop soundtracks. “Over the last few years I have just slowed down the speeds. It's almost like the older I get the slower I want music to be.”

That sentiment is something that seems to be echoed by a number of Bristol-based producers - the likes of October, Vessel (who we interviewed here, along with an excellent mix), El Kid and Kowton. The opening of the Idle Hands shop at the start of 2011, the last remaining 'hands-on' vinyl outlet in the city, has provided something of a focal point for the city's scene to rally around. The team involved are working at pushing a knowledgeable, thoughtful take on house and techno music. Labels like Punch Drunk, Livity Sound, Futureboogie, BRSTL, TANSTAAFL, Idle Hands and Immerse have also been instrumental in the diversification of Bristol's dancefloors, feeding off the energy and presenting it to the wider world.

“It does feel like there has been a shift in Bristol nightlife this year,” agrees Idle Hands owner Chris Farrell, who is releasing some of Martin's work as Outboxx later this year. “House is back on the agenda in a major way, as is R&B and dub. There is a sense that some of the sounds that have fed into and inspired dubstep/bass music for the last few years are now being accepted on their own terms.”

“It's a really exciting time to be making music, as people are so accepting,” Hodge agrees. “Everyone is really experimenting with all sorts of tempos and styles. For example I went and saw Ekoplekz play at the Bank recently at EFA's Pollen night, and by the end of his set the crowd had gone from standing at the bar to making a makeshift seating area in front of his setup.”

“Bristol is still perceived as a dubstep city,” Farrell continues, responding to Hodge's point and my sweeping statements in the same breath. “And in many ways it is. The sound united dubheads, junglists and techno people. It bought a lot of scenes closer together in Bristol. The infrastructures that were set in place in those early years, and the respect the scene has earned, mean we now have a platform for doing other things.”

“I guess producers are looking for something new to do,” Hodge says, “Something where they have a bit of space to breathe. I know people like [Immerse Records owner] Kidkut come from a jungle background, and in the early 90s they weren't necessarily paying attention to house and techno. But now, with people exploring other tempos, they have the chance to explore the sound themselves, and they can see where the sounds they loved within jungle might have evolved from - and that'll resonate with them. It's really exciting, as producers are coming back with a fresh set of ears, using influences and sounds that have perhaps not been used in this context before.”

DOWNLOAD: Hodge – Sonic Router Mix #107

Vessel – Pentimento [forthcoming Immerse]

Crystal Fighters – Champion Sound (Outboxx Remix) [forthcoming Zirkulo]

Midik – Koh Sa [unreleased]

SHS – Til U Were Dead [unreleased]

Kidkut – Pilsbury Dance [unreleased]

October & Borai – Sticky Fingers [BRSTL]

Behling & Simpson – Politics [Futureboogie]

Larry Heard – So I Dance (Bashmore Dub) [unreleased]

 Kowton & Outboxx – Important To You [unreleased]

Hodge & Vessel – Kung Funk [unreleased]

Ultrasound – These R The Sounds [forthcoming Well Rounded Housing Project]

Martyn – Vancouver (Hackman Edit) [unreleased]

Hodge – Crush [Immerse Records]

KLIC – Arp [forthcoming Wicked Bass]

Gerry Read – Dreama That Girl [unreleased]

 Hodge – Turmoil [forthcoming Deadplate]

Kahn – Margeaux [unreleased]

Artifact – Deserted [forthcoming Deadplate]

El Kid – Hypnosis (Walton remix) [forthcoming Left Blank]

Tessela – Darlene Please [forthcoming Lo Note UK]

Kowton – Looking At You [forthcoming Keysound]

Hodge's The Fall/Crush EP is now out on Immerse
Outboxx's Blueberry Lemon EP is now out on Well Rounded Housing Project, and the Aphoria/Cromwell 12" is forthcoming on Idle Hands

Words: Oli Marlow for Sonic Router.