|Playing favourites: Young Echo
Aaron Coultate sits down with the Bristol collective to talk grime, guns and PJ Harvey.
Since forming in 2010, Bristol's Young Echo collective have quietly established themselves as boundary pushing purveyors of dub, drone and bass-influenced music. Kahn and Vessel are perhaps the best-known members of the group, whose number has recently swollen from six to eight with the addition of Neek and Manonmars. Their various projects are hard to keep up with. Together Kahn and Neek make incendiary grime. Amos Childs and Alex Rendall collaborate as Jabu. Sam Kidel works solo as El Kid. Childs and Cris Ebdon carve a sideline in speaker rattling dub-drone as Zhou. And Ebdon also produces atmospheric steppahs as Ishan Sound.
The hub of their operation is a regular online radio show that encapsulates the Young Echo ethos, where the mood is supportive and no music is off limits. Last month saw the release of Nexus, a part-album, part-compilation for UK label Ramp, their first recorded output as a collective. Over several pots of tea in a Clifton basement, we rifled through records, iTunes folders and YouTube links to discuss some of the tracks and LPs that have shaped the Young Echo crew individually and collectively.
Selected by Cris Ebdon.
This one has an exotic air to it.
El Kid: We're going to need to chip in and get you some flute lessons, Cris.
Cris Ebdon: I love pipes, and I'm a big fan of Dubkasm. This is a really great digistep production.
Are these guys an important part of the Bristol scene?
Kahn: Yep. Stryda in particular has been a real pillar of the music community in Bristol for a while. He's been running Teachings In Dub for around 10 years.
Neek: His radio show [Sufferah's Choice] has been going for like 15 years.
Kahn: When Subloaded started doing the second room at Clockwork, they brought the dub and dubstep soundsystem worlds together.
El Kid: It always sounded so much heavier in the second room. They had the floor shaking.
Kahn: It was a very formative experience for me. I started going to soundsystem things more after discovering that party. With a tune like this, it's so simple, but as soon as you hear it on a system, it's like…
Neek: They had been playing that tune for a few years on dubplate and they were getting lots of requests to release it.
Cris Ebdon: It only got officially released in 2010.
Cris, you make music as Ishan Sound. Is this one of the tracks that inspired that project?
Cris Ebdon: Well, yeah, all of Dubkasm's stuff, really. This has an acoustic sound to it, even though parts of it are digitally programmed. I think there's a nice balance in doing something with authentic sounds that still has a huge sonic impact.
Selected by Cris Ebdon.
Neek: There's a kind of trance feel to this. It's also kind of techno-y.
El Kid: It sounds like rave culture and dub culture meeting.
Cris Ebdon: Amos doesn't like steppahs.
Amos Childs: I do like this, but I wouldn't listen to it at home.
Can you remember how you first got onto this one, Cris?
Cris Ebdon: I have been digging through King Earthquake's back catalogue recently. I'm just hooked on his stuff. I started listening to him because of a Pablo Gad tune he produced, "Heavy Laden," which came out on 10-inch ages ago.
I hadn't heard this tune before, and the first thing I noticed was its house/techno pulse.
Cris Ebdon: He's always had a soundsystem, and he played up in the Midlands in the late '70s and early '80s. He's been getting back into it over the past 10 years, so a lot of the music he's been putting out recently has been more relevant to the sound of now.
El Kid: It's the most physically overwhelming music I have ever heard out as well.
Amos Childs: I remember one of the massive light fixtures at Trinity fell down while this track was playing.
Kahn: The physical impact is such a big part of it. I was just thinking, if I listened to this without ever having been to a dub night before, I'd be like, "This is too simple." But as soon as you hear it in the right context, it makes sense. He'll keep playing that version of "Power Pack" for like 20 minutes, and he won't even drop the bass until halfway through.
Neek: Well, imagine listening to the Casio preset of the "Sleng Teng" riddim without any Jamaican culture behind it. It would be weird. But someone in a studio in Japan has put a preset in this little machine, and years later it's been used on thousands on records.
Line The Clouds
Selected by El Kid.
This one's quite easy on the ears. Is the rest of her album more abrasive than this?
El Kid: Definitely. It's full of quite harsh dissonance and strange instruments. Ashley Paul's music is quite weird. This is the nicest track on her new album. The rest of it is quite abrasive, but with her singing in a really sweet way. She's released some other albums before, and they've all been pretty challenging to listen to. This is the first time she's brought the pop song format into her sound. It's extremely rough around the edges, but all the better for it.
Amos Childs: I like how unproduced it sounds.
El Kid: It kind of sounds like no one can play their instruments properly. I think [the album] was recorded through the little microphone on the top of a laptop.
In The Valley
Selected by Amos Childs.
Have you guys seen Lee Perry play before?
Neek: I saw him last year in Bristol at Motion. It was really good. I'd heard mixed reports [about his live show]. But he was completely with it. I've got a documentary about him, it must be from about five years ago, and it's narrated by Benicio Del Toro. In that he goes on about how he's quit drinking and smoking, but I think he'd already done quite a bit of damage by then.
Kahn: He burned down his studio, right?
Neek: Yeah, he said it had demons in it. He basically had load of hangers-on, people stealing equipment and taking advantage of him because he was so nice. He just thought it was bad ghosts and evil spirits, so he burned down the studio with all the equipment in it.
El Kid: It was supposed to be this kind of utopian community centre.
Neek: He produced these guys called the Congos, and by end of the interview he says they're really evil… he was a bit of an alcoholic at the time, drinking straight rum. It's a shame, because I think lots of tapes got lost in that fire.
Soul On Ice
Selected by Manonmars.
Some classic West Coast hip-hop. Why did you pick this one?
Manonmars: I like the amount of ground that it covers. This album was ahead of its time. It has that West Coast sound to it, but it encapsulates what I love about hip-hop, in that it can go from being the most stereotypical shit to something that is as far as you can go from that, with all kinds of historical and political references.
Are there any tracks on there that you find yourself returning to now?
Manonmars: There's a track called "Nature Of The Threat," which is really dark. Music like this can open your eyes. In a four or five minute song, you're obviously not going to learn what you can reading a book, but it raises issues and makes people aware. You can see it happening in hip-hop now: all the East Coast stuff like Joey Bada$$, they're trying to enlighten people with their music, and make it cool to be smart again.
Tubz & Footz
Selected by Neek.
This one is a monster.
Vessel: Play it at 33 [RPM].
Neek: [Plays it at 33] Is that doing it for you [laughs]?
Vessel: I liked it before, but I really like it now.
How often do you play this one out?
Neek: I still play this out often. It's golden era stuff, and it's really good if you've got an MC. They can ride on that tune—it gives them energy. The switch up in it is so simple, too. Footsie produced it—obviously he's an MC but at the time, D Double E [of Newham Generals] was more famous, so Footsie took a back seat and concentrated on making instrumentals for D Double's vocals. But because he had the MC mentality, he wrote it as an MC would write an instrumental, which is cool.
Slew Dem Productions
Way Down Da Road
Selected by Neek.
Neek: This is Chronic, the head of Slew Dem. This is produced by Scorcher.
El Kid: I think it almost sounds like they're ashamed of using that snare for like the 300th time. It goes really quiet [laughs]. It's like, "We're using it but we're not proud of it."
When did you pick this up?
Neek: I have loved this tune for years. It came out when I first started buying records, and I never picked up a copy of it because I felt it was a bit too "skengman" in the lyrics to play out. Whereas now, I don't support it, but I look back at it in a nostalgic way. It's them doing a British version of gangster rap.
Kahn: When you're a UK duo, playing US gangsta rap is kind of exotic, so it feels fine. But if it's people with British accents speaking about knives, you don't want to play it as much. It's a bit like, "Oh, it's over in LA, it's fine. They're just telling a story."
Neek: My friend moved to Ireland and he was getting rid of all his records, so I got this from him in around 2008. I think it came out in 2006. He used to play it all the time and I was a bit hesitant. I'd stick to instrumentals or grime with lyrics that were more focused on parties.
Vessel: So you didn't want to play that track out because you thought it wasn't appropriate?
Neek: Yeah. It felt like maybe you were promoting gun talk. But then there's something great about them making the record anyway. It was a snapshot of what their lives were like then. Now, apart from Chronic, they're all pop stars. Well, one of them died.
Amos Childs: The music is quite British. Even though they're talking about serious things, it sounds light-hearted.
Neek: There's a sense of humour to it.
Vessel: That's the thing about grime, there's this great balance between simplicity and complexity.
Kahn: You wouldn't want to get into a fight with the guys, but using the video to Tempah T's "Next Hype" as an example, it's clearly a laugh. They're constantly trying to outdo each other. They're showing off. And in that sense it comes from Jamaican dancehall. I don't feel it's inappropriate—they're not making it for everyone. If you don't want to hear that kind of music, you don't have to listen to it.
Neek: I play reggae and dancehall, too, and I am conscious of playing lyrics that have gun talk. For me, grime is a British continuation of dancehall, in the way that everyone uses the same rhythm and instrumental, and there are ten versions of every instrumental.
Vessel: I know this in on a tangent, but the bigger problem in that music for me is the misogyny. If you're talking dancehall culture, not so much grime.
Amos Childs: There's a lot of homophobic stuff in dancehall and grime, too.
Kahn: The line is there when it comes to that side of things. But understanding patois lyrics, you get used to certain terms. I feel more aware, and I'll always listen to what people have to say. But gun lyrics, I can't help it sometimes. It's like the equivalent of someone playing really hard metal or something really challenging. It's aggressive music.
Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea
Selected by Kahn.
Kahn: This is the kind of thing where my mum would know why this is so important to me.
Kahn's mum: When he was small, he'd listen to Rid Of Me when he was trapped in the car on long journeys.
Kahn: There's something specifically about this album. I remember John Parish [Harvey's producer] really didn't like it; and I think because John didn't like it, PJ didn't either. He said it was too poppy. But as an album I loved it. The songwriting is amazing. And there's a track featuring Thom Yorke on there, too.
Vessel: That's the one for me.
Kahn: It reminds me of being a teenager.
Kahn's mum: When you see someone strutting about in her heels, doing it all on her own, in front of a massive crowd, it's amazing. Because she's just an ordinary, down-to-earth person.
Kahn: I love the way the album opens. "Beautiful Feeling" and "This Is Love" are both great. It's probably her most polished album. Uh Her Her, which came afterwards, is more raw, but it doesn't have the same majesty.
El Kid: I'd feel very differently about it if she decided at the time that was going to be the way she'd make her albums from then on. But the fact that it's her one polished album makes it really special, and I like that she's gone back to being grungy.
Selected by Kahn.
How big an influence is Tricky on you?
Kahn: About 90 per cent of everything I've made has been influenced by this [laughs]. Lyrically and musically this encapsulates so much of my taste. I think we all take influence from Tricky. Coming from Bristol, ever since I was really young it’s been something I've tuned in to. The music sounds like it was meant for this city. Same with the Massive Attack stuff and Portishead. But Tricky is kind of the weirder one.
These names are more or less inescapable when you talk about music in Bristol.
Amos Childs: It can be a lazy link to make.
Vessel: I'm not denying they're brilliant, I just think it's too easy to refer to those events from 20 years ago. But they shaped the sound and we owe them a lot.
Amos Childs: If people are going to chat about being influenced by the Bristol sound, there's no way you can't mention the Skull Disco guys [and] Peverelist and Pinch.
Vessel: The main thing for me is not so much the music, but the mentality in Bristol, where it's small and everyone knows everyone, and it becomes a self-contained DIY scene. You know the person who's putting out your record and you'll probably be friends with them. That's just as important to the Bristol scene as gloomy music from 20 years ago.
El Kid: The scale of Bristol is special in that it's rare to come across someone's music here and not know them personally. It's actually quite a big place and there's a lot going on, but at the same time there's room to collaborate with people doing lots of different things. It breeds a kind of collaborative spirit that you don't find elsewhere.
Vessel: That sums it up well—it's the spirit of the thing. You might meet someone, or be friends with someone who's making similar music, but there's no sense of competition.
Kahn: It's very supportive.
Selected by Alex Rendall.
Why did you choose this one, Alex?
Alex Rendall: I first found this album through Amos. I've always loved hip-hop, but I'd never really heard much alternative hip-hop. Amos introduced me to some of Doom's work and some of Madlib's work. I was about 16 at the time and listening to standard stuff like Little Brother, Common and Nas—more commercial stuff. And Amos said, "Hey check out this guy MF Doom, have you heard of him?" And I think I said, "Yeah, yeah I know him," but I didn't. I listened to the tracks he put me on to, and it changed the way I looked at rap. Doom was really trying to push the boundaries of what he could do with wordplay. It was really exciting to hear that for the first time; it has informed my writing since.
Are there any particular cuts on that record where you especially admire the lyrical content?
Alex Rendall: "Meat Grinder" is incredible. It's so weird and awkward, but also raw and hard-hitting at the same time. The way rap music should be.
Amos Childs: The way that whole album works together, there's a beautiful side to the production and the rap. MF Doom's voice almost sounds like it was recorded off an old tape 40 years ago. It blends into the crackle of the instruments.
El Kid: On top of the production values, there's something about the way MF Doom uses his voice and the way Madlib uses samples. The way it ties together on that album is incredible.
Selected by Vessel.
Ike Yard have kind of re-emerged with reissues through Blackest Ever Black and Desire. How did you get into them?
Vessel: Well, I don't listen to that much music anymore, and I think that's something that happens when you start making a lot of music. There's not much you listen to that has the same impact as it does from when you're young. But there's something I love about this… I could listen to it on loop forever. It has as much propulsion as a 4/4 track, if not more. [Ike Yard] were four guys who've gone from being a band, and decided they want to pick up four drum machines. There's no MIDI really, they're just playing polyrhythms on drum machines. And there's something very basic and instinctive about that.
Amos Childs: I really liked that tune. It has a kind of punk feel.
Vessel: When Neek was playing "It'z War," it reminded me of this. It's what happens when you get people who have no context, they just go and do something new.
Kahn: Grime is like garage's punk. That was the establishment, and these guys were like, fuck that, and made something raw and aggressive.
Shout The Storm
Selected by Vessel.
This is pure body music. When did you first start digging around this kind of stuff?
Vessel: The past year or so. It's really been tied into my experiences playing live. Those hypnotic patterns are something I'm really striving for. It's also interesting to think that a lot of this music was made in the '80s in Britain, and the sounds reflected the social and political context of the times. It's oppressive and angry.
When was this made?
Vessel: 1981. The other thing I love about them, and this goes back to the whole community and family-orientated thing, this was self-released. They used to wrap CDs in foil and hand them out. There was something so unconventional about them, something so removed from the machine that music is today. It's a white label culture thing, I guess. It's not available to everyone.
Neek: There's some effort involved if you want to be part of it.
Vessel: And because you're making that effort to be involved, you're appreciating it on a whole new level.
El Kid: We're living in times where the economic situation is the most important thing for the people representing our communities. And when you don't make as many copies as you can sell, you just make a few, and you make music that's cathartic rather than calculated to be mainstream, the music becomes anti-economic.
Would you say this music is seeping into your own productions?
Vessel: Yes. You can play it super loud. It reminds me of when I saw Pete Swanson, he played in an art gallery in Bristol. It was the kind of event where you get white middle class beard strokers like myself to stand around listening to ridiculous noise music. All of a sudden he's got this massive £20,000 rig in the middle of the floor, and he's smacking the table so hard he's breaking it, and he's got people jumping around. It's that kind of attitude that makes electronic music exciting.
Published / Wednesday, 03 July 2013
Photo credits / Theo Cottle