His music is kind of the same way. Helix's breakout tune is called "Drum Track," which sounds more like just one section of a song. And, really, that's what it is: simple percussive sounds bang out against clipped, stuttering chords. This happens for a few minutes, and then its over. But there's something deceptively inspired hidden in these simple sounds. It was enough to capture the imagination of Bok Bok and the Night Slugs crew, who, along with a host of other UK DJs attracted to his workmanlike destroyers, have been tirelessly championing the young artist.
He's been on the up ever since, despite losing almost all of his gear in a recent home robbery. "Drum Track" eventually caught the attention of integral grime MC Flirta D, who lent his distinct vocals to the tune for its eventual release on Night Slugs (instant cred for a newbie producer). A few months later, Thigpen had a release on the promising All Caps label out of Glasgow, with two more slices of minimalist techno-grime hybridism. This year saw his most promising release yet, an instalment in Night Slugs' Club Constructions series full of bottom-heavy club music.
So where do you live these days?
I live right outside Atlanta, in Stone Mountain. It's still sort of Atlanta because it's on the borderline.
Is it better than Savannah?
It depends. It is cooler up here cause there's more parties nearby. In Savannah it's pretty much my friend Chris who throws parties sometimes, and I think that's about it down south. In Atlanta, there's like a deep house scene, there's a bunch of fun shit to go to, and you can go to rap clubs, too—that's the real fun.
What was it like living there?
Well, my roommate was from New Orleans, and he says New Orleans is just like a non-stop party, like everybody is getting drinks at some point of time. And that's kind of what Savannah's like. It's not that unusual to see people in the liquor store in the morning at all. Regular average people going about their day-to-day life, just going ahead and needing something alcoholic. But, yeah, rent was real cheap, so I could just kind of fuck around and work whatever part-time jobs. It was cool but kind of the same shit, and all my friends graduated so there's no reason for me to live there anymore. So I moved up to Atlanta.
And what was going on there musically? You said your friend was throwing parties there.
Yeah, well he recently started throwing some more disco and house, live-electronic, house, synthwave, goth, whatever—I don't know what that shit's called. It sounds like house to me. He's been doing that for a little while and I can't remember the name of it. It's all just little shit in bars. Nothing crazy, but big fun. If you like metal and shit there's a few squat houses with some good shows, but I don't think people fuck around with that.
Did you feel isolated when you lived in Savannah?
Sort of. I mean, I was kind of isolated on purpose cause I just sat around in my house and made beats. I didn't really try to listen to new music, didn't try and do much. As far as personally, if I wanted to go to a certain show I felt isolated cause nobody would want to drive to Atlanta. But it didn't matter. I had a pretty good time and of course I had friends. It was good.
So obviously there wasn't any grime there, and I gather that grime is pretty important to you. How did that happen?
Internet. All internet. That's the magic of the internet. You can be watching some random rap video on YouTube and then find grime, like, a second later. And that's basically it. In like 2006, I was just bored and looking through stations on iTunes and I found Rinse FM, and it had all the grime I liked.
I learned more about it later—at first I didn't give a fuck. I was just like, "Yeah this is jamming and that's cool," and I didn't really care. I wasn't mad serious about it, I just enjoyed it. Now that I make tracks and DJ and I have to have cool shit that no one else has, I've been doing my research on the poppier grime shit from like 2007-2009. Like, the "urban" shit, I think they called it. That's me and grime in a nutshell.
And what was some of the first stuff that caught your ear?
[Dizzee Rascal's] Boy In The Corner. That whole album. Besides that... Wiley. I had a friend from London who didn't give a fuck about grime, he thought it sounded goofy and shit, but he liked garage music, like So Solid and shit. So I know a little bit about So Solid and Heartless Crew, but didn't really hear them much. The first producers I liked, I didn't know them at the time, but Wiley, DVA, Bless Beats and, I guess, Terror Danjah. I feel like I had pretty good taste.
I liked Flirta D, which made ["Drum Track"] a fucking dream come true. Like, I got to have one of my favourite MCs on my track, on wax! That was a big deal to me.
I don't know, it was just cool. I mean, I liked some hip-hop stuff, you know, I'm from the South. I'm gonna know and like some rap shit. I was really into grime because it was like hip-hop, but it was this crazy, crazy hip-hop. I kept listening to it and it brought me to all this techno, dubstep and house.
So you got into techno etc through grime?
Yeah. I know it's kinda weird, but yeah, that's the way I did it.
I think a lot of people mentally separate four-on-the-floor music like techno and house from grime and dubstep. How do you feel about that?
Well, I mean, if you listen to a disco track, it's not gonna be all four-on-the-floor, even though disco is four-on-the-floor music, and a lot of disco tracks aren't four-on-the-floor, you know? That's what I reference a lot. If I'm doing music I'll reference disco and '80s hip-hop and '80s house. I do tracks for that style of mixing—you listen to sets from back then and people didn't mouth off like, "Oh this is 4/4," or "This is broken." Nobody gave a fuck, they just danced. It's dance music, who cares?
The tracks you've released so far mix grime and techno in a way that not a lot of people would do. Does that just come naturally to you?
"Coming naturally" to me is a more positive way to say it than "Oh, I just make the tracks." But yeah, that's how it is.
Obviously a lot of your tracks are very simplistic and minimalist.
You've seen Jeff Mills, right? You seen him play the 909?
Exactly. If Jeff Mills can do that, then I feel like you just might be able to put that on wax and people would have no issue with it—there's so many old house tracks that are just like drums. I don't want to make retro stuff, like "Oh remember..?" No. I wasn't there, I can't remember that. I just make new shit that pays tribute to it.
So you have Flirta D on top of a track that's primarily inspired by Jeff Mills?
And Ron Hardy. Don't forget Ron Hardy. When I made "Drum Track" I was trying to do grime as seen through the lens of a Ron Hardy drum track, cause he was the first DJ that I heard playing drum tracks. Like one of those old sets on the internet, shitty 64kbps shit. And it would just be a drum machine breakdown. I was like, "What if Ron Hardy played grime?" And then it sounded stupid and unfinished with drums only. So I added a stab. Then Flirta D somehow got on top of it. There's a lot of different music coming together there for me.
Is that your proudest moment so far?
I think my proudest moment so far was going to Berlin. That was stupid cool. I like public transportation and I like riding it when it works, and Berlin brought me a lot of joy for that. And I like partying till nine, ten, 11 in the morning sometimes, and Berlin has that, too—with good music. It's not like, "Oh I'm at an afterparty and I'm just here, and someone is playing tech house off phone speakers." It's just funny when I get to travel and see the differences between America and everywhere else. I guess the travel in general is my proudest moment so far. Without music I would've never travelled at all, I would've still been in Savannah just making beats and washing dishes.
Any other touring highlights?
One time in Sheffield I decided that I was gonna do my live set and play records—I haven't tried it again since. I mean, it was like three or four in the morning, so I think everybody was drunk, but I was doing drum fills with my laptop and little drum breaks and playing records and mixing it with that. I remember that I was just slaying it through records so fast and I ended up like stacking two of them to play one, because I would play a few seconds of one record and skip to another.
When you're playing out you play live?
Well, I was. Pretty much completely live everything. I'd have a song set up already to open with, just so it wouldn't be me having to sequence something right there and make up a track. But it was just all improvised. I don't do that anymore though, and then all that gear got stolen, too, so yeah, that's not happening at any time soon.
If you're getting booked to play next month, what are you going to play?
DJing, definitely. I have records and I do have money enough for Serato, so that's good. I can take that to other places even though I can't DJ at home. So I can DJ places, but I cannot play live for the moment.
I remember you saying that you couldn't really DJ that well, and that was part of why you bought the decks to have at home.
I didn't have decks at home before, I had to go over to my friend's spot to play and he had a life, too, so he'd like be, "Nah bro, not today." So I wasn't practicing every day and now I've got them at home I practice mixing every single day.
I think it was last year, you were in Europe and you were stranded for a bit?
Oh god. OK. Let me just cry real quick, I'm getting real emotional. Basically what happened was I was not entirely aware about how passports worked, so my passport shit wasn't in order... I was going to move to Amsterdam. I had some stuff lined up there, a club residency and housing and stuff. I'll never know if that was actually there because they didn't let me fly. I was just stranded in the UK for a week or two. That was a real special time.
What made you want to move to Amsterdam?
Because I knew my friend's lease was running out and I was just gonna move wherever she went.
Have you considered moving to Berlin? That seems like a pretty standard move for people like yourself.
That's the part of the interview where I say something stupid. I'm really opinionated on American dance music and honestly I think a lot of American producers are putting out much stronger material than in Europe. It's not that I won't play European records and it's not like I don't like European music. I mean, I love grime and shit. I buy a lot of UK peoples' tracks. But, I don't know.
I talk too much shit about how America makes better music, because we started house and techno. I kinda feel like it would be a cop-out if I moved out of the US when I talk so much shit about how good the US music is. Also, it gets too cold there. I can't be in that cold. I gotta be in like, sweat mode, all the time.
Why do you think American music is so much better?
Europe are bigger consumers. They cut more electronic music, there's more of an industry, it's a bigger thing. In America—and I really fucking hate to use the term—it's a lot more underground in general. There's not a lot of money in it. There are some places where there's an audience, but the money is just not like… it's not a big enough audience.
Since American dance music is really fragmented, you get people in small places who find some shit on the internet and they'll keep going with that and they'll get really good. I have these friends in Tennessee that used to go to raves and shit and they have an all-vinyl techno label. I don't really know what the fuck they do, but they make really banging techno, they're just from like, "Fuck-knows-where" Tennessee. I'm sorry, that was mean. I think they live in Knoxville now, but they used to throw forest trance raves and shit, and now do they techno parties.
It's interesting that you say it's so fragmented in the underground, because there's the whole EDM thing, which is very mainstream.
That's great. Look at that "Harlem Shake" shit. That got onto Billboard, right?
A fucking dance track, number one. Instrumental. No vocals, none of that shit. Some beatmaker, like chucklehead—no disrespect—got to number one through a jamming dance track. That ushers the way in because... well, just think about it. The poppier shit is gonna hit first. Shit's gonna be on the come up for American dance music because of that, because there's so much mainstream acceptance now.
I know everybody's parents are trying as hard as they can to outlaw all these festivals, but their kids are going to have none of that shit. It's going to be progress. In a few years we're going to have a real dance music economy, like Europe—but it's definitely not ready yet.
It strikes me as funny that you have such a pro-American viewpoint, because your music itself sounds very European.
Really? I mean, I love Basic Channel and Chain Reaction stuff, and the Berghain stuff. I always try to have some little thing from some American music or something. I like to use the Lex Luger drum kit. But maybe it's just American to me. Maybe everyone else thinks I'm from the heart of London or some shit.
Well, also consider the labels that you release on.
That comes back into the European dance music economy. We make the music and they sell it. No disrespect to Night Slugs obviously. I'm really happy to be part of the team.
How did you get involved with them?
Through Girl Unit a really long time ago. I had a SoundCloud link on my Twitter and I guess he listened to it. God bless the poor man if he listens to SoundClouds on people's Twitter bios. This was a long-ass time ago and he was like, "Oh, I like this track," and I was like, "Well I don't, but here you go."
A while later, you remember that track on All Caps, "Stacks Riddim." That track was like, people were playing it, like Ben UFO, Jackmaster, and Girl Unit wanted it. I didn't want my... I know this sounds really snooty, but I didn't want it to be one of those tracks that every big DJ had or whatever and it went around and everybody heard it, but nobody had it and by the time it came out nobody wanted it. So I didn't send him "Stacks." I sent "Drum Track" to him and he liked it. Bok Bok hit me up in the middle of a Rinse show and asked me to send it to him and then he played it on the air later and I was just like man... just amazed. It was beautiful, and I guess that started it.
You recently released a track on Ilian Tape as Thigpen. Why the different alias?
At first I was like, the Helix thing, I was trying to keep it exclusive to Night Slugs, but it's kind of turned into my… there's a certain sound to Helix now and the Thigpen tracks don't fit that sound.
Are there more of them coming?
Probably. And I have other aliases, but we're not getting into those.
Have you actually released anything from those other aliases?
Two of them were played by Ben UFO like forever ago and I've lost the files long since. One of the aliases is releasing something soon. That's it. It's a decent sized label.
What's next for Helix?
More Night Slugs stuff primarily. For my Night Slugs EP, which I'm going to start one day, I want to try and recapture the feel of the old 2007-2008 urban stuff that they used to play on Rinse. Not quite grime all the time. Sort of R&B, sort of house. All kinds of stuff. I just want to try and recapture the feeling of that. But not make tracks that sound retro.
Are you now living as a producer and DJ?
Yeah, sort of. It was kind of weird for a little while, but it's better recently. I'm doing remixes and have a few bookings. We just got robbed... they took a lot of gear. It's been lucky that since [Club Constructions Vol. 4] came out that more people have been wanting to book me and I'm actually getting out of the house on weekends, more than just to go to the store and get some shit. It's good that I'm starting to get paid a little more after the robbing shit happened. I'm just trying to make being the Trak Master Helix my full-time job.