|Joy Orbison & Boddika: Their own thing
RA's Ryan Keeling travels to south London to meet the most distinct pairing in UK club music.
Peter's pet rabbit is hopping around his flat. Al nurses a hangover with a cup of tea. As we casually chat before heading out into Brixton to take photos, I'm left wondering why I ever had this down as an odd pairing. Granted, there's an age difference between the producers who are better known as Joy Orbison and Boddika. And their sounds haven't always exactly aligned. But take a step or two back and the similarities are there in plain view.
Joy Orbison (real name Peter O'Grady) burst on to the scene in 2009 with "Hyph Mngo" through Hotflush Recordings, a single that was notable for its ubiquity (it was voted RA's #1 track of that year) and striking singularity. Something almost immediately felt different about this artist—a belief that only deepened by what came after: No rushed sound-alike follow-up to "Hyph Mngo." No online mixes. Barely any press presence. The Joy Orbison discography has developed at very much its own pace, with no 12-inches sounding quite the same—from the sputtering, sun-drenched garage of "J. Doe" to the woody, rolling house textures of "Wade In."
As one half of Instra:mental, one third of Autonomic and solo as Boddika, these past few years have marked Al Green out as UK club music's most restless innovator. Along with his partner in Instra:mental, Damon Kirkham (Jon Convex), and Darren White (dBridge) the collective "Autonomic sound" gave drum & bass its biggest shot in the arm in recent memory. But before anyone had the chance to properly absorb the scale of its impact, Instra:mental were on to the next thing. Or should we say next things. There was the deliciously cracky house of "Let's Talk"; the pervy electro of "Voyeur"; the full-length expression of Resolution 653. Running parallel to all of this was his music as Boddika—put simply, some of the nastiest house, techno and electro ever committed to wax.
Green may have been more prolific than O'Grady during this time period, but their emphasis on quality control has been up there with the Sheds and Actresses of this world. Their first full collaboration, "Swims," was dynamite in the hands of the DJs who had it during 2011, eventually surfacing on the equally fastidious Swamp 81 at the start of 2012. However, the real vehicle for their project was to emerge shortly afterwards: SunkLo has so far released two limited 12-inch singles (the third will be out later this month) that through "Mercy"'s grit and "Prone"'s atmospherics have again driven the pair inexorably forwards.
Could you start by explaining how you set yourselves up on a day-to-day basis?
Joy Orbison: Well, I work mostly through Al's [studio] now, but I [also] work at home. I'm setting up something at home at the moment—like a little studio—but I spend so much time at Al's that I pay rent on that. It's been quite good actually, but I do need to get something on my own as well because I need to be able to do a bit more at home so I can bring more [to Al's studio] because I was doing everything just with my laptop when I am travelling and stuff. I have always been like that, but I have learnt so much working with Al so it's kind of hard to go back. That's the thing... Once you sort of see that side of things, it's very hard to go back.
Boddika: It's just a fun way of working, isn't it?
Joy Orbison: Yeah. Before I started working with Al, I was starting to buy little bits and pieces, but not much. I was renting a bit of studio time but it was basically very much "in the box." Then, after going to Al's and being opened up to a totally different way of working—all sorts of hardware... I don't know. I feel like it's much more about jamming. There's [also] much less outside influence because we don't have the internet there at The Zoo [Al's studio]. He's had a massive effect on the way I work. I don't think I could work any other way.
Boddika: Yeah, I mean working with Pete... Obviously I have been doing this for quite some time. Before Boddika, I was Instra:mental... When you start working with someone else you just learn other things from that person that you haven't picked up before—the way he sort of has a vision for the arrangement early on; this, that and the other. It's a two way street, the learning curve. I have learnt stuff from working with Pete—how he sort of thinks and plans things out. I think that's been quite helpful to me as well.
How would you describe this way of working Pete mentioned?
Boddika: Well basically I have just got lots and lots of toys in the studio, lots of analogue effects. I've got some really sick digital effects units as well and it's just hands on the desk, everything's set-up ready to go, so you've got a hi-hat and I can run through six or seven different machines. It's just really creative. If everything is that hands-on then you're just stumbling across stuff constantly —"oh, that sounds fantastic." Whereas if you were just on the screen you're not going to be as spontaneous as to what you're going to effect it.
Do you think it immediately had an effect on the way you were thinking and approaching things?
Joy Orbison: Yeah, massively. I think it's just very hard to go back once you have gone down that route... Everyone has their own process, and no one really knows what anyone else is doing. Al has given me faith in just having a bit of confidence, and doing your own thing. That's very much what Al seemed to be doing, and I was very lucky to have any part of that.
So what's the meeting story with you two?
Boddika: It was at Gramaphone, wasn't it?
Joy Orbison: Yeah it was through... we had spoken on emails and stuff, but the way I remember it the big thing for me was there was a Swamp81 night at Gramaphone...
Boddika: Yeah, it was an Ashes  art exhibition and me and Loefah were DJing.
Joy Orbison: And Benny Ill was playing and Kryptic Minds, and I really wasn't going out much then. You've got Benny Ill from Horsepower and Al from Instra:mental, Kryptic Minds and Loefah from DMZ and it was just like for me it seemed the most, I don't know... it felt like people had earned their stripes and they were really making a lot of original music that was very much their own and I kind of really looked up to that. And then I was talking to Loefah about Al and how much I loved Instra:mental and that kind of stuff. I think Loefah was a bit of a catalyst because he was always saying I should go down The Zoo. "He would love to have you." That's how I remember it.
Boddika: I honestly can't remember our first session. Well, we did "Swims," right?
Joy Orbison: Yeah, cos "Swims" was done in a day and then the mix too in another day. [The track] was kind of like a bit of fun, "Let's see what we can do in a day..."
Boddika: It really was, yeah let's just see what we can do and we just smashed that out. We had the whole track down and I recorded a synth line and then we chopped that up and then I said, "Get some samples out." I had never heard that Tronco [Traxx] record before in my life, and when I heard the sample, "Walk for me." I said, "That is fucking sick." And it just fell on top.
Joy Orbison: And then it was out of our control, really. Weirdly, when we did "Swims" we kind of just sat back and were like, "Right, we enjoyed that, but we do want to make something different." I mean, "Swims" isn't a million miles away from what I had done and what Al had done before. But we didn't want to do that.
How detailed did you go on those conversations? Were you discussing genres or specific guiding principles?
Boddika: It's basically about drums, percussions and things like that...
Joy Orbison: Well, we definitely scrapped a lot of stuff. We definitely [produced] a lot. We have been working for over a year, but we scrapped so much stuff. It's weird, though, actually because the record that's just about to come out—SunkLo 3—I am pretty sure is one of the earliest demos that we did. We kind of got into a territory, and it's kinda stayed there. That's why I like it so much because it was all about finding that space.
Boddika: Last night I was having some drinks with some friends of mine. We've done this tune for someone to do a vocal track over—it's a demo. It came on my iPod that was plugged into the stereo, and the snare came in and my friend said, "Oh, this is you and Pete, right?" He knew just from the drums straight away. It was the first time that it clicked in my head that we had developed a sound. And the more the series goes on, the more people will realize. It'll all start to fit into place a little bit more. We're not just writing house, we're not just writing techno.
Why did you scrap a lot of stuff?
Boddika: Well, I'd never say anything is dead and buried. Sometimes things just need a little bit of breathing space. Sometimes we go into the studio and nothing happens. It doesn't happen often, but when it does you just gotta let that shit go. There's no point in getting wound up about it.
Joy Orbison: We definitely have high expectations of what we're doing. A lot of the things that we cast away are because we don't think they're interesting enough. We just think, "Ehhh, it's not really enough." We don't want to put something out for the sake of it—or just because we made it.
Do you feel that you're both deep thinkers in terms of what you present?
Boddika: I think so. But for Pete and myself, it's very much on a personal level. I just want to keep standards up; for ourselves more than anyone else. We could release all the tunes we've got, but it's just not the way forward... Of the tunes on the next release, one has leaked out, but two of them are ones that no one has ever heard. I think that's really exciting. When I get a Levon Vincent record, [I won't have heard it and] I'll listen for the first time and say, "That's amazing." That doesn't happen very often. Things just get ripped to death, put up on YouTube.
Pete, do you think you've been pretty conscious of that from the start? It feels to me like—looking over your discography—you've been careful about what you've released so far.
Joy Orbison: To put it honestly, and not to sound like a bit of a dick, I'm not that massively confident about what I do. I try to hold back on things if I'm not 100% on a track. My discography could be a lot bigger, but then again I'm quite happy about that. I haven't done everything that I've wanted to. But that's been the nice thing about the SunkLo project. It's a testament to how much I believe in what we're doing that we've put out three records in six months. I get a lot of interest in the older tracks I've done and that's great. I love that people like them. But I don't think that those are the most necessary records at the moment... I think my early stuff was just me learning. I learned in the public eye a little bit, just because my first single had a lot of attention.
Was it a long process to get up to the point where you were sending stuff out?
Joy Orbison: Yeah, massively. I didn't send out anything really. "Hyph Mngo" was one of the first things that I sent out, and even when I sent it out I was convinced that people were going to hate it. I remember sending it to Ben UFO and being so nervous about it. I was very unconfident about that release.
Did you have much of a foothold in the scene prior to that?
Joy Orbison: Not really. I met people through that track really. I had always been messing about with things, but I had never been in the scene at all. I had DJ'd at a couple of things through friends who were nice enough to put me on.
Did you have much of a rave or parties history?
Joy Orbison: A big history of buying and listening to music, but not really going out. That's the nice thing about Al... I would always buy drum & bass tape packs, and that was the kind of thing that Al would actually go to. So I would listen to the tapes and imagine what it was like, and Al could tell me.
Do you see drum & bass and jungle as common ground for you two?
Joy Orbison: Yeah. Influence-wise, I'd say it's more the later stuff. We talk about Ed Rush & Optical, early Dillinja stuff, Metalheadz. We are quite interested in being UK-sounding, so that drum & bass influence, that almost tech-step thing is a big part of what we do. You might not be able to tell, but it is.
What do you think it is about that period of drum & bass that engendered this latter-day sense of creativity?
Boddika: It was just so original when it was happening. There were some magical times throughout drum & bass's history up to a certain point. I don't listen to drum & bass anymore, haven't done for a long time. But '96, '97, '98, '99, they were incredible years. It was just so cutting-edge and futuristic. It was fucking unbelievable. But when big money came into the equation, things started going downhill. That's the case with most genres though.
Al, how do you see your relationship with drum & bass in 2012—if there is one at all?
Boddika: The only person I listen to these days is my good friend dBridge. I'm not disrespecting the scene in any way, shape or form; it's just not something I'm interested in anymore. People change, times move on, as all things do. I spent a long, long time listening to drum & bass, and I felt that I lived through the best years it ever had. And I'm happy to have been a part of that.
What were some of the early conversations you guys were having over music?
Joy Orbison: Drum & bass and jungle is a big one. Randall was one of your favorite DJs.
Boddika: Randall was the reason I started doing everything. I think the first box-set that came out of AWOL London, there was a tape in there from Randall at Paradise with MC GQ. That tape changed my life. That tape made me want to buy turntables. Those turntables made me want to write some beats. I even got a cat called Randall. It was the way he was doing things as a DJ. He was double-dropping tunes... It was just so fresh—I'd never heard anything like it.
Joy Orbison: I suppose the first time I really got into dance music from the age of 12/13 would have been through my uncle [Ray Keith] who used to make CDs and tape packs and that was all jungle. I suppose it was '97. I think some of my early tape packs were '96/'97 and so I don't know I always had this image of it being very futuristic.
Boddika: I very much got into house and techno over the years as well and Drexciya, who I've name checked time and time again: massive influence on me. We're both feeling a lot of house and techno, there's such a history to dig through, so there's so much to talk about.
Joy Orbison: I remember as well, especially with some of the earlier stuff we [produced], there are certain elements [where there's] quite an interest in shoegaze and stuff like that...There was definitely a lot of restraint in what we did, like holding back on things, kind of keeping quite raw and not trying to overdo things.
Consciously dialling things down?
Joy Orbison: I think that's where the SunkLo thing came from, we were doing it without thinking about it and that's where the name came from I think because we had these tracks that always had this sunken feel to them. I suppose that sound is something I've always been really into with garage and people like El-B. Groove Chronicles particularly. There is something quite sunken, quite dirty, quite low-end, that kind of swing vibe to it. And you see it in other things. You see it in house and techno...
Boddika: We didn't sit down and say, "Right we're going to start a label and do this and that." Everything's just developed very naturally.
Joy Orbison: Yeah I don't even see it as a label, it's just like a collection of records. "Series" is a better way of saying it. It wasn't really about being a label, I didn't want to have a label at all, it's very much just a series of records.
Is there a defined number of releases?
Boddika: No, we're just rolling with it which is really nice, it's just going to do its thing. And there's a lot more music that we've got half-written and lined up.
Joy Orbison: Some interesting collaborations as well, but it's all about trying to hold back on that information. When we did the releases they literally just come out...
Boddika: In this day and age you can find out whatever you want, you can get whatever you want with the internet... When I was younger the internet wasn't there and you had to fucking track shit. I just think people have got shit way too easy, even if they wait a little bit longer for a release to come out they scream. It's like, "We want everything now, now, now." And I really don't like that mentality whatsoever. And I think with SunkLo we're putting a bit of mystery and excitement back into it. It's like, "Why the fuck not?" You don't know when it's coming out and you don't know what's on the record. And I think that's great, you know.
Did you have set ideas about how many records you were going to press?
Joy Orbison: It's been a bit up and down.
I just get the sense that there has been quite a lot of people who haven't managed to get hold of your records.
Joy Orbison: It's very hard to talk about limited because everything's limited these days. If you sell over 5,000 it's great. So limited is a weird way of putting it I think. It's like the second, with "Dun Dun," the numbers were a lot smaller with that than with the first one, but the honest reason was because we weren't sure how many it was going to sell.
Boddika: Me especially. I was like, "Froth" and "Mercy," you know, they were quite powerful tunes and they were getting a lot of support. But with the second one, obviously we love the beats, but I just didn't think it would reach out that far. I guess it's just your own insecurities, isn't it? So we pressed a lot less. I won't say how many we pressed... I couldn't believe how quickly they'd sold though, as they hit the stores they were gone in 20 minutes.
Joy Orbison: The third release is coming out in the next two weeks—maybe less. And that again is a different angle I think.
Would you consider a repress if the demand was there?
Boddika: We're talking about certain things to do with the label in the future. But we don't want to say too much right now. Everyone will get happy one day. We're not doing it to be pricks or anything...
Joy Orbison: I think it should be that if you made the effort to buy vinyl, you should be rewarded a little bit. The idea of repressing sometimes seems a little... I don't like the Discogs pricing. That does fucking piss me off. But, at the same time, you can only do so much. I don't really want to repress. We want to keep moving as well. When you get caught up in repressing stuff... Plus repressing, at a certain level, it's like cashing in, a bit.
Boddika: I've bought limited records, and I've been one of only 500 people to have that record. Then it gets a repress, and I'm fucking pissed off. You know what I mean?
Joy Orbison: And we don't do any sort of promo other than, like, maybe a handful of DJs we'll give the records to. So if you're a budding DJ and you like what we do, and you buy that record, you have the possibility of playing something that only a certain amount of people have.
So how much time have you been able to devote to your other respective label ventures?
Boddika: Nonplus is doing its thing. Skudge and Basic Soul Unit are on board at the moment. And I'm putting together a mixed artist album. Tunes are coming in for that at the moment.
Like a label compilation?
Boddika: Yeah, but a mixed artist album. Every Nonplus artist, plus there's going to be some new faces writing original tunes. There are going to be 12 tracks, something like that.
I've now taken over Nonplus. I used to run it with my partner [Damon Kirkham/Jon Convex] from Instra:mental. I solely run the label by myself now, so I'm looking to push it into new directions.
So you're not likely to do more Instra:mental stuff?
Boddika: No, that's done. That's finished. Although, there's a release coming out—I will say no more than that. One more Instra:mental release; very much Autonomic. It's a beauty that should've come out a long time ago. But that's going to be happening at some point this year.
Joy Orbison: I've been trying to focus a lot on Hinge Finger, getting that up and going. We've got a new release coming up quite soon, but I can't say what it is yet, just in case it's delayed. Ellipsis just came out. I've been writing a lot on my own. We write a lot on our own anyway.
What was the history with you and [co-label owner] Will Bankhead?
Joy Orbison: I had a friend who helped out with Doldrums who worked at Honest Jons. And then I met Will in Berlin when I played at Berghain. We just met though friends. He had some of my records, and I knew of him through the Trilogy Tapes stuff. And we just kind of became good friends. He lives just up the road, so we'd go out drinking a lot. He started doing stuff with Doldrums, and then Doldrums didn't really work out after a while. And he just sort of said, "Would you like to do something between the two of us?"
I have so much faith in what Will does. And I like having his stamp on everything. I just think he's brilliant. He's a massive influence as well.
Did you decide to take a similarly low-key approach with Hinge Finger?
Joy Orbison: It's kind of quite low-key. What I like about Will, which I've never really had with people before, is that he's quite instinctual. He doesn't overthink things. He's got good instincts and you can see that with his history. He's got an insane history with Honest Jons and Mo' Wax and stuff. Yeah, so we just wanted to have a label where we didn't... Because Doldrums was...we didn't do much. You could see the stagnation was because we overthought things and were a little bit too conscious. We never gave it any time. I'm glad we put it to bed, to be honest. I don't think I really did that label justice.
I'd been talking to Madteo for a year-and-a-half or something before that record [Bugler Gold Pt.1, Hinge Finger's first release] came out. We hung out when I was in New York. That's a really personal record for me, because Madteo I think is a really exciting and interesting musician. If you meet him, it's like you want to... That's why we put him on the cover. He embodies his music. He's a really interesting person, and yeah, I was really happy to do that record. And Will was the only person that I knew that would be like, "Yeah, let's do it. Let's start a label with that record." And then he did the amazing artwork. I couldn't have done that record with any other person.
Pete, I wanted to ask about your lack of presence in the press. Is that a decision you took from an early stage, because you appear to have done barely any interviews?
Joy Orbison: I like a certain amount of separation between myself and the music. You'll see a lot of interviews with people who have opinions and I don't know how important they really are. They've been given this kind of platform, and it's like: "How did you earn that platform?" I don't think I've really earned a platform to be giving you all this, "I think this and I think that..." I'd rather people to just listen to the records, really. I just don't like doing too much... I know it sounds a bit arrogant—not arrogant, but a bit snobby maybe—but I don't want to talk about it sometimes. I like people to be able to read between the lines a bit and make up their own mind.
Published / Thursday, 05 July 2012
Photo credits / Paul Clement