Always FWD>>

Genuinely influential nightclubs are rare and precious. FWD>> is one of those places, and this weekend, it celebrates a decade of influence. Here’s a few reasons I’m proud and happy to have experienced it, and why I’m looking forward to tonight, where DJs from Youngsta to Ben UFO will be playing music from the last ten years of FWD>>

The people behind FWD>> understand the need to create and destroy. They provided the foundations for this thing we call dubstep but it was never just a dubstep club and they never got stuck in a genre. The DJs played (and play) grime, house, garage, weird electronic music, whatever they want.

They’ve curated tonnes of new talent. I can’t tell you how many people I saw go from the dancefloor to the DJ booth. If you’re good, they give you a chance. Ask Ramadanman, Oneman, Braiden, Brackles and countless other people. People who went to the club were inspired to to make music, start record labels and radio shows, to write and design blogs and to photograph what was happening. Once you understood the power of FWD>>, you could apply it to your own life. It’s an excellent philosophy to live by.

FWD>> has serious levels of persistence, confidence, attitude and taste. To start with it was just producers and their friends and the hardcore originals. Later, after a location mutation to Plastic People, and stints on Thursday and Friday it would be busy every week, with big queues outside, so they moved to a Sunday night to deter people who just wanted to get pissed and the fly-by-nights.

As a community, FWD>> is very open-minded. If you’re into it, you’re accepted. I went regularly between 2006 and last year and regularly saw baby-faced youngsters, people in their 30s who’d been through jungle and recognised immediately how good this music was, students in battered trainers, Croydon girls in denim dungarees and allsorts, basically.

FWD>> has been brilliant at creating a space for their music, and letting other people join if they want to. There’s no sense that they’ve ever tried to appeal to anyone. They just do what they do, and they do it well. Sarah Lockheart, Geeneus and Neil Joliffe and resident Youngsta have built something powerful that will continue to influence the UK’s music and creative industries for some years to come.

Hats off, that’s what I say.

Terror Danjah on Pick N Mix

Just a warning, really. Grime producer Terror Danjah is coming down to the studio tonight to be interviewed on my weekly radio show. I’ve got questions about the space between grime and dubstep, about SB.TV and about his trademark gremlin cackle… and who knows what else’ll come up. He’s a nice man. So nice in fact that he came down to Live Magazine a few weeks ago, armed with a bottle of Lucozade to keep him refreshed while the journalists of the future grilled him for a profile piece we ran in the mag.

I’ll put up a transcript of the interview over the weekend some time, ready to read alongside the show which will be available to listen again on Monday.

James Blake ‘James Blake’… Some Thoughts

I got James Blake’s album in the post today. And as well as the usual feelings of anticipation and curiosity you’d expect to feel when faced with such a hotly-awaited piece of music, I also felt a genuine sense of pride. I didn’t have anything to do with this album, obviously. I didn’t write the stripped down gospel songs, or let the beats fall in that idiosyncratic way, or allow the silence to gain such momentum that it became a presence: 22 year old Blake did all of that in his bedroom. But I know something about it, I know something that he knows, because I also attended FWD>> regularly during that heady period of expansion between 2006 and 2008, a place that is regularly cited as the springboard for Blake’s music. I wasn’t there at the start; I was part of the generation that took over from the hardcore that built dubstep’s foundations, a period that maximised the beginnings, but before the existence of all those horrible records people shout over on Radio1.

When I think about FWD>> I think about the music, and the darkness behind the curtain that separated the dancefloor from the bar area (watch any YouTube footage to see how dark that place was. All you can ever see is the orange light behind the DJ booth and the odd lighter). It was funny, intense, energetic, hedonistic, powerful. You’d meet people from wildly different lives: sophisticated 16 year olds who’d post on the dubstepforum about bouncing across the playground to Barefiles mixes; old school bassheads who had been around the block and recognised that spark of scene genius; short Croydon girls in loads of make-up and shirt dresses; middle-class students and of course the regular contingent of DJs and producers who you’d find at the back, where the bar merged into the cloakroom.

But where is FWD>> in James Blake’s self-titled debut? I can hear shades of Plastician and Skream playing their mix of Black Ghost’s ‘Some Way Through This’, or the first time I heard Appleblim playing there – my overriding memory of that set is hearing shockingly irrational beats with huge cliffsides of compressed air powering through the speakers, and hearing him play ‘Circling’ – or those weekly spins of galloping, understated soulful Mala tracks ‘Left Leg Out’, ‘Blue Notez’ and ‘Lean Forward’.

Most, though, I can hear Kode9 playing Massive Music’s ‘Find My Way’, a song recast to suit the needs of people who’ve grown up with breakbeats and who understand instinctively that music, song structure and rhythm can be re-arranged. ‘Find My Way’ felt like one of the first records I heard within dubstep that could be classed, however vaguely, as a song (that’s excluding all the dancehall and grime lyricists who’ve always surrounded the music) and to me, it’s a definite precursor to Blake’s music. One major difference is that Blake has dropped any hint of Jamaican soundsystem heritage from his album and replaced it with Bon Iver-style vocodered folk (that one second of vocoder on ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’, stretched out over a whole song on ‘Lindesfarne I and II’), sparse, skinny gospel (‘Measurements’), and emotional, hungover pop (‘Limit To Your Love’). I might write a fuller album review at some point, but for now, two listens in on a rainy Saturday morning, I think that’s enough.

I saw someone questioning on Twitter whether 2011 would be the ‘year dubstep meets the pub singer’ and at its worst, that’s an apposite and accurate observation. On the other hand, this is a year when people who’ve experienced something special are coming back into the world, armed with everything they know about sub-bass and silence and perfectly misplaced beats and they’re taking this armoury into pop songs. James Blake has done it and who knows what fellow FWD>> alumni Ikonika, Braiden, Subeena, Deadboy or Ramadanman will create over the next few months and years. But I’m telling you. It’s going to be interesting.

NME Radio Show… back on air

My Pick N Mix show went out on Friday night, after a few months off air. Here’s what I played, with a few Youtube links hyperlinked in case you’re interested in how it sounds, because there’s nothing more annoying than getting a list of music you can’t listen to.

The shows should eventually be hosted for listen back on redbullstudios.com…. but not just yet. Next week’s show is 8-10pm, Friday night, on NME’s DAB station or on nme.com/radio. Plus there’s a new app.

DJ Nate Hatas Our Motivation (Planet Mu)
Silver Columns Always On (Caribou Mix) (Download)
Matthew Dear Soil To Seed (Ghostly International)
Solar Bears Crystalline (Letherette Remix) (Planet Mu)
Ahu To Love (One Handed Music)
Cooly G Up In My Head (Hyperdub)
Friendly Fires and Azari III ‘Stay Here’ (Download)
Superrisk ‘Find Your Way’ (Mensah Mix) (Punch Drunk Records)
Jon Hopkins Vessel (Four Tet Mix) (Domino)
Katy B ‘Louder’ (Rinse)
DJ Naughty Goosebumps (Roska Kicks N Snares)
Kaseem Mosse ‘We Speak To Those’ (Non Plus)
Count and Sinden ‘Do You Really Want It’ (Domino)
LV and Bears ‘Explode’ (2nd Drop)
Vaccine ‘Cascade Failure’ (Non Plus)
Hell Interface ‘Midas Touch (Skam)

Twin Sister ‘All Around And Away We Go’ (Domino)

Darkstar

I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview (prehear?) of the new Darkstar album, which will be out on Hyperdub in October. You know when you hear something for the first time and it all sinks in perfectly? It’s the sign of a really well-concieved record if you don’t have to go back and listen again to make sense of it, or work out what you think about it. And that’s how I feel right now. I’m off to listen again/again/again…

NME Radio


My Friday night show on NME radio starts again on September 3rd. Better get playlisting!

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