Hailing from Croydon, we have Assemblist. International wayfarer and young veteran of the South London jungle, this is an artist who is certainly no stranger to the depth and breadth of music; in all its vivid forms and colours. Whether immersed in the velvet depths of interstellar house grooves, riding percussive waves of drum n bass or unleashing the native energies of grime; his curation is defined by a versatility of genres, all united under the umbrella of sound system music. A multi-instrumentalist of different traditions, this diversity of style is reflected in the selections for TRUSIK Mix 52, with the 140 tempo receiving an infusion of jazz, funk, house and techno under Assemblist’s discerning ear for harmony. Holding a firm belief in the power of storytelling, Assemblist has crafted a unique ambience and atmosphere in the mix. This is a narration of the heart, taking listeners through a prismatic display of mood, ambience and all-around vibes. Whether watching lonely tides on foreign shores, dancing by the moonlight of a starry night, or floating through the inky cosmos of outer space, we hope you enjoy the journey wherever you are, and wherever it may take you.
Assemblist, blessed on taking the time for this interview, what’s good with you?
Yeah I’m aight. Seen better days, seen worse. Just grinding like everyone else.
The London grind yeah?
(Laughs) The one and only. Sometimes, I even mean that positively but yeah, not today.
Fair enough. Well, for those reading, you’re likely still a relatively unknown individual “on-the-scene”. Could you describe yourself so that people can gain a better understanding of who you are and what you do.
Sure. The name is Gene. I’m a musician of different instruments and styles (probably my biggest attribute and my worst trait, as I seem to be involved in so many projects I can never keep up), but I produce and DJ under the alias Assemblist. In terms of lyrical content, I’m a poet and MC by the name Vociferous Sly; a project that is another big focus of mine at the moment. Oh and I write for TRUSIK. I guess you could call me a part-time music journalist in that capacity.
Damn, sounds busy! I guess we’ll be more specific for TRUSIK readers, what is your relation to production and DJ’ing, when did you start?
It’s a difficult thing to answer. I mean, in terms of practically starting to experiment with production/mixing hardware and software, only a few years. But anyone who knows me knows sound system music as an essential part of me. It’s a thing I just grew up with, as I think you generally do in London. But I think even more specifically with South, because of the huge concentration of diaspora – West Indian and otherwise – it’s just something I’ve been lucky enough to experience since I was young. All that beautiful hybridity is deeply embedded in the roots of the culture, and when you get all that colour and soul, you know it’s gonna be something special. I mean, you get it everywhere in London, and lots of other European cities, but still, there’s just something unmistakable about South. I wouldn’t have traded growing up here for anywhere else.
It’s definitely a generation thing too. If you were born in the early 90’s, wherever you were in the UK, you’ve definitely been that kid listening to garage in the car on the way to school. (Both laugh) Shout out DJ Luck and MC Neat and all the original garage icons making them journeys worthwhile. If your parents knew, they knew.
(Laughs) Real talk, it’s actually one of them ones. I mean, I especially remember going shopping in Brixton with my mum, hearing the sound systems blaring from the shops and street corners and just really enjoying the power and ambience of the music, all that peace and harmony amongst the chaos and dissonance of street life. I think it really seized me. That first experience of truly feeling the music as it flooded through me, as far as I can remember. Although I think the human penchant for bass or low percussive frequencies goes way back to the womb days even, heartbeats and such.
It’s true though, it’s mad how your environment constantly challenges and inspires your musical tastes. I guess it’s always that process of experience informing us all as artists. What put you mainly on the dubstep kinda tip – instead of sticking specifically to roots, ragga, dub or ska etc?
Well, I moved further out to Croydon when I was younger. I was a teenager when the dubstep hype blew up there, as such, I grew up in the raves of the early 2010’s, kinda just before the gentrification and drug war repression started closing down all the best venues. I’m talking Cable, SE1, Matter and of course Fabric. As a result, obviously I’m all about the 140 bpm – on varying ends of the spectrum (from melodic deepness to the grimier darkness) – as well as a cheeky bit of garage or drum n bass from time to time. But speaking of environment and influence, I think the more I’ve travelled, the more I love to mix and dabble in lots of different genres; I’ve really been on a deep house and techno wave recently for example.
Ah yeah, you were telling me you’ve just got back to the UK. It seems you’ve been moved by the Berlin vibe then? Interesting. So how do you negotiate all these influences. It must be difficult to pin down and work at a particular style, or build a particular audience when you are constantly experimenting with or researching different genres of music?
I’ve just accepted it as the nature of my tastes and passions. I play drums, piano and guitar, I emcee, I mix, I produce, it’s all a bit much to put into one cohesive project or persona. I think it can be a huge hinderance for me in some ways, as I feel like audiences sometimes just want consistency of style or genre. From a marketing perspective too I guess, when it comes to branding or promotion, it becomes more difficult. But it’s a good thing I don’t subscribe too much to that perspective anyway. So yeah, right now I’m just doing what feels right for me. I’m in it for the music; which includes representing the 140 spectrum in all its colour and range.
Well it’s definitely evident that your tastes stray into unfamiliar territories when it comes to dubstep music. There’s lots of cross-pollination with house, techno and jazz going on, especially in this mix. What would you say about this development or innovation in the 140 tempo?
Well, firstly, it’s not such a new development. It’s more just a tiny niche within a small scene. There have been labels releasing such music for a while; Chord Marauders, Mindstep and Deep Heads for example. Or occasionally you had dubstep tunes that were infused with jazz or soul making big waves on more established labels. It’s strange because I think dubstep as genre has always had that versatility, you can seemingly inject any kind of music into its veins. However, this end of the spectrum doesn’t get so much love in the clubs, I’m not sure why. For me, it’s stuff I can really throw shapes to, with all the melody and groove going on. Not that I don’t love the classic, heavyweight bangers too, don’t get me wrong. I still enjoy slaying sets with that vibe. But I think for me as an instrumentalist, it is just more nuanced and innovative in certain aspects, especially in regards to mood and progression. You can really tell a story with it. In some ways it’s like, do you even call it dubstep anymore or is it just 140 music? The answer isn’t easy, I know artists themselves in the genre, or subgenre, calling it “future dubstep”. I’ve also heard “fusion dubstep” thrown around too. I’m not sure how important the answer really is though, as long as it still sounds good. Actually, there was a great discussion going on about this in a thread online the other day.
Nah, on Facebook. There’s a forum/group for dubstep enthusiasts – both serious discussion about the genre, as well as memes and funny threads – it’s run by the Shitty Dubstep crew, if you know anything about those guys, so early shout out to them. But keep it hush, coz it’s obviously for VIPs only (laughs).
You actually mentioned how sick you were of being on your phone a moment before we started. How do you feel about social media in all of its influence on the music game now, have you been having a social media crisis?
I think because of the proliferation of social media as a publishing platform for independent musicians, the game has never been so competitive. I’ve been really shit with social media from the get go (even with SoundCloud) as I generally despise it, as well as having reason to just avoid it. I’ve been performing and meeting people, but completely lack any infrastructure for a public platform because of my aversion to social media. Regardless, I also see its beauty and power in positive ways to inspire, inform and educate so, I’ve resolved to be a lot better with it now, as I feel like I should play the game a little, before I try to change it. Something like that anyway. I just think we have to be very wary and vigilant about the people who own the platforms we put so much soul into. Artistic integrity, privacy, human rights, it all means nothing to the logic of profit. That’s the real game, and it’s been rigged for quite some time.
I hear you. I think in some ways it’s never been easier, but somehow, it’s also never been harder for artists to put themselves out there. Whether it’s getting signed, or even heard. But if we’re gonna talk about the music game, who would you be recommending in terms of artists or labels, who are you vibing with right now. In terms of the dubstep scene firstly anyway, although perhaps otherwise too for people who are looking to expand their horizons into other genres?
Wow. It’s a big, big list. I’m just gonna reel off some names: B9, Jafu, Trashbat, Geode, Zygos, Congi, Ago, Headland, Distinct Motive, Pugilist, Bukkha, Subtle Mind, De:tu, Chokez, Samba, Gerwin, Lewis B, Elefant Doc, Dillard, K-Lone, Six Sunsets. The list would go on for a long time. Those are only some newer names I would be recommending. And some aren’t even that new. For other genres, I guess if you want some silky smooth house, Dixia Sirong, Paul Budny, DJ Aakmael. If you like your liquid drum n bass; Fixate, Liquitek and Electrosoul System, all artists I really admire.
What are your forthcoming plans. Do you have any releases coming out, or are you going to focus more exclusively on the MC aspect of things?
Yeah for sure, I think as I previously mentioned, I’m still learning and refining my abilities in different areas of production itself; I’m such a perfectionist in this way, and as a result I don’t quite feel ready to send anything off to any labels or too many other producers just yet. But then again, I also prefer being a selecta and tastemaker at the moment; an encyclopaedia of old and new music in all of its forms. Being immersed in that world is great and definitely goes hand in hand with all the music journalism and writing I do for TRUSIK or other outlets. But otherwise, you can definitely expect to see potent wordplay and lyricism coming from my corner soon. I’m ready and have never been hungrier to smash scenes in that dimension.
You sound confident!
Yeah course, you gotta be in that game. I know myself. I know where I come from. I know where I want to go. I’ve been spitting since I was much younger (since before being a DJ) so I can’t wait to show the world what I can do in that vein. I really mean it. Words were all we had once. In some ways I think that’s still true.
Ears to the ground for that then. Before we finish, you got any shout outs you want to make?
Out to everyone who’s supported my writing at TRUSIK. Obviously out to Alastair for having me on the team. And of course, out to the family. Bloodline and otherwise. Out to Darkstepper (The Pit), out to Rebel Simpson (Unclassified Kings), Juju and Locks Myth (Tribedem & The Spot), out to Busyfingers (Beat Meet/L.A.B Collective) hold tight Sicaria Sound (Radar), hold tight Louis a.k.a Foamplate (SYSTEM/Plant Power), out to Jake & the Shitty Dubstep crew, Jack Taylor (Tailored Sound), Tino (Peachy) and the Fruit n Juice gang up in Sheffield. Out to Zeb Samuels, out to Ash Walker (Deep Heads) and out to everyone who supports TRUSIK itself – blessed for that. See y’all soon.