Sleeper’s contribution to dubstep has been meritorious. When he first launched into the scene with District back in 2010, their debut tracks Angry Birds and Gravelly Hill took Rinse FM regulars by pleasant surprise with their back-to-basics approach of space and bass, the foundation formula which paved way for the genre a decade prior. Countless collaborations with District eventually won Distance over landing the pair a regular release spot on Chestplate and an amplitude of recognition. Over the next five years, Sleeper’s sound would mutate and evolve connecting the dots between sound system culture, eyes down techno and kaleidoscopic sound design. The launch of his own label Crucial Recordings has unearthed a new tribe of forward-thinking minds whose productions twist and deform the traditional DMZ aesthetic into a new strand of hypnotic alchemy. Release #10 is a friendship affair calling in graphic design genius Mesck alongside mix down mastermind Thelem for an EPs worth of hybrid concoctions which Sleeper and co have been mining for a minute. As I’m sure many of you agree, the Crucial discography is impressively solid and with Oxóssi returning for CRUCIAL011, it’s no secret that Sleeper continues to nurture the talent progressing that sonic envelope of dubstep. In the lead up to its release, I caught up with Zach and Alex to discuss the Ghettonomics EP, Crucial’s success and what lies ahead.
Always a pleasure to be catching up with you guys, how’s 2017 been treating you so far?
A: Yeah man we good! This year’s flying so far, been a bit of a blur of studio sessions and sorting Crucial bits but busy is good. Sometimes it gets a bit hectic trying to keep up with it all but it’s a good balance.
Z: Just kind of riding the wave as usual. Creatively it’s been off to a solid start, so many projects on the horizon. A lot of new music, new design work, and even new people in my life. Quite the breath of fresh air really.
Alex, first things first, congratulations on the 10th release with Crucial. Looking back, you must be delighted with what you’ve achieved with the label in the space of only two years?
A: Yeah dude, honestly didn’t really have much of a vision past the first couple of releases but once we did the Foamplate 12 things just kinda started moving a bit, and made me realise I could do something here. In the beginning I just wanted another outlet for my own stuff, like a little side project thing almost, but yeah after the Foamy bit every other release just sort of fell into place. And yeah it’s mad to be at the tenth release already, and even nicer to be able to release this collab EP with some long time mateys.
The label has deservedly earned bag-on-sight status, what would you say has been the secret behind its success, and how would you like to see it evolve over the next ten releases?
A: I’m not really too sure if there’s any secret really. There’s a lot that goes into running records out so I guess it’s just a combination of good luck, timing, working with the right people and just being on your game. It’s a collective thing too. The label wouldn’t be where it is now if it wasn’t for the whole team, it’s the music that makes it what it is and I feel really lucky to have been able to represent some of the most exciting new producers in the scene. The next five or so releases are now locked in and I feel like we are really moving. And yeah you can probably expect to hear Crucial evolving slightly this year, the next release is a sick plate from Oxóssi, really experimental sounds coming from him at the moment, after that we have a couple of new artists to announce, one of them will be taking us in a more UK hip hop direction and the other is some straight dubby fire! Plus we got a special collaborative / split EP we are working on with a bunch of the artists on the label. Also, had my eye on a few new guys who just recently popped up on my radar too so we will see what happens later this year.
The Ghettonomics EP is ultimately a fusion of your signature sounds, which couldn’t be more different, yet somehow compliment each other perfectly when mixed together. So my question is firstly, how did you use that to your advantage when producing the EP, and secondly, how did you decide who was taking lead at each stage of the building process?
Z: I don’t even know that it was ever really “decided” per se, it all just kind of happened very organically. Matty and Alex had already written “Squeeze Off” and that spawned the inspiration for “Strawberry Cough” which just started as a drum and horn arrangement that I had already laid out. Fast forward to Matty and Alex staying with me in LA for a few days and we had it pretty much wrapped within a few sessions. The process’ for the collabs with Alex were very similar, he was staying at my place for a week or so while in town for a B-Side show and we were just going back and forth until we had drafted up a few things we were happy with. I think we worked on 5-6 beats during that time but only 2 of them made the cut. There were a lot of different plans for how the music was to be released, potentially starting a label between the three of us or splitting it up between Chapters and Crucial, ultimately I think we just decided that releasing on Crucial as a whole was the best move.
A: You just kinda sit and hang out and listen to bits of sounds you got on your laptop or whatever, or make some weird sounds on a synth or record something, smoke some weed and then pick some stuff you all like and just take it in turns to sit at the controls and build. The thing I like about making beats with other people is the ideas that generate while you are working, like if Mesck is sat editing some drums I can be in the next room recording some percussion sounds to layer over the snare or whatever. Things can come together real quick when you’re working in a group
I was going to ask whether the production process involved all of you in the studio together throughout the project but Zach beat me to it.
A: It was a mixture of methods but mostly we were in the studio together. “Squeeze Off” was the first tune made, must have been about 18 months ago now. Matty came up to mine and we jammed out about 3 or 4 ideas in a day and then I went a stayed at his and took the stems to finish it off and mix it down. Then we were all in LA at Zachs in summer 2015 together for about a week or so, that’s when we banged out “Strawberry Cough”. California heat waves are not a joke.
Which track on the EP would you say you had most fun making?
A: Definitely “Strawberry Cough” just cos we were all involved in that one and all chillin in the studio together pretty much from start to finish, it’s my favourite tune on the EP and we had mad strains that day too.
Z: My favourite was “Ghettonomics”. I remember Alex sending me a shitty work-in-progress phone video of that one in its early stages from my home studio while I was at work and I just knew that was gonna be the one. Not to mention it was also the most different from either of our styles which was something we were really striving for. Progression before complacency each and every time.
Zach, as with Crucial tradition, you put the artwork together for the release which features a magnificent Pokras Lampas inspired, gothic centre piece for the sleeve. Could you briefly run us through the creative process behind the design and where you source all this inspiration from?
Z: I think I mentioned in a previous interview with you guys that I’ve just always been into graffiti and how it can evolve into typography / illustration. This was basically just a progression of that same concept. There are quite a few artists out there doing circular calligraphy and while it’s easy to confuse the different styles there are certain aspects that set them apart from each other. I got myself some parallel pens and just went to town drafting up some weird occult mandala scripture (laughs). As far as the rest of the art, I don’t even know how to describe the process, it ended up in a completely different place from where it began, that’s for sure. I don’t really ever have the end result in mind, just kinda go in whatever direction feels right given my mood and the vibe of the record.
What else can we expect from the pair of you in the coming months, is there any other forthcoming material, interesting projects, or up and coming music gigs you would like to inform the readers on?
A: Obviously loads of Crucial stuff to look out for. Other than that I did do a kinda album / mixtape thing using some old cassette deck last year, been sitting on it a while so that might end up on my Bandcamp page quite soon. Also, I have a collaboration release with a couple sick MC’s from Bristol coming. Managed to bang out quite a few beats under a new alias this year too so look out for them. 😉 Safe if you know already.
Z: Chestplate 041 is coming up pretty quick which features two new ones from myself, “The Veil” and “Slang Suffocate” as well as a remix I did for Saule coming out on Infernal Sounds, respect to Aneurin and those guys. I’ve also got another EP dropping later in the year and I think there may be a Chestplate 10 year thing we’re doing as well.
Any final comments or shout outs you would like to share before we wrap this thing up?
A: Yeah of course, have to shout everyone supporting the label and the stuff we are trying to do. Like I mentioned before, it’s a collective thing, I wouldn’t be here doing this still if there was no one there supporting, buying the plates, downloading the digital releases, listening to the podcasts or even just telling mateys to check us out. All that support keeps it going for sure so thanks to the people reading.
Z: Big thanks to everyone supporting the music, going to the shows, and buying the records. Of course eternal respect to the Crucial Recordings team. Also out to my Sub.mission, Chestplate, and GourmetBeats families as well.