This month’s column takes the form of interviews with two artists who’ve both recently released very different landmark records.
You’re probably already familiar with Guido. The Bristol native, real name Guy Middleton, has released two singles to date (the swollen grime odyssey ‘Orchestral Lab’ and R’n’B joint ‘Beautiful Complication’, both stunning), and last month followed them with Anidea, his debut album and one of the most accomplished LPs that grime or dubstep has produced.
Guido’s musical upbringing is inspired by grime, and as a member of both Peverelist’s Punch Drunk stable and the “Purple Trilogy” with Joker and Gemmy, his ties to dubstep run deep. But Anidea is, at its heart, a pop album, reliant on overwhelming hooks and melodies. Sometimes these are provided by guest vocalists, but mostly they’re courtesy of synthesized instruments; memorably saxophone on the incredible ‘Mad Sax’.
More than anything, you get the feeling that Anidea is just the start for Guido. He’s already stated in another interview that he gets more out of playing piano than he does producing electronic music, and the inspiration he gets from classical music (both in traditional form and in video soundtracks by the likes of Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu) is clear to see on Anidea’s symphonic crescendos. Guido’s got ideas beyond dance music, and I can’t wait to hear how they materialise. We spoke about this and more over email.
“Uematsu’s music translates perfectly to an orchestra and that is the nature of his compositions. I guess you could say I would like to play it by that angle too.”
You’re trained in both jazz and classical piano – are you from quite a musical family?
“I wouldn’t say my family is hugely musical but my dad was in a punk band and can play guitar, keyboard, mandolin and various stringed instruments. I’m not trained prolifically in jazz and classical although I have learnt both for a few years.”
What contemporary music were you into early on in life? Any particular acts?
“I use to listen to a lot of hip-hop, R’n’B from the 90’s and so on, that was what I was mainly into.”
When did you start producing? And what sort of stuff were you trying to make then?
“I began to produce whilst I was attending my early secondary school years, I don’t believe I was aware of trying to make a particular style of music, I just wanted to make music!”
You’re always grouped in with dubstep, but you’ve said you used to go to grime nights a lot when you started. Was that stuff a bigger inspiration to you?
“Nope, it was never really the nights that got me inspired, I was just young and wanted to go out with friends.”
What particular grime were you into? ‘Orchestral Lab’ always reminds me of Ruff Sqwad tunes like ‘Lethal Injection’.
“Low deep, Davinche, Dizzee, Wiley to name a few.”
Are you still into much grime now?
“Not as much as I used to be.”
You’ve said that you get more of a thrill out of playing piano more than you do producing – is live instrumentation something you’re going to incorporate more and more into your music?
“We’ll have to see. It feels more enjoyable to play piano than it is to try and make music on a computer sometimes but I do both.”
Do you reckon you’d ever make an all-out piano-led record, like Sven Weisemann with Xine?
“Yeah I don’t see why not!”
“The music writers for early Japanese games were a very talented bunch. They had to make music that accompanied the player whilst they played the game and the sound plays an important role in setting a feeling from the game.”
The two realms of music that seem to be the biggest influences on you – correct me if I’m wrong – are incredibly different: 8-bit video game sounds, and classical. Is your music an attempt to bridge the two, do you think? It’s something people like Uematsu have done with the Playstation-era Final Fantasy soundtracks, to some extent.
“Could be. Uematsu’s music translates perfectly to an orchestra and that is the nature of his compositions. I guess you could say I’d like to play it by that angle too.”
Obviously you’ve talked about being an Uematsu fan before – what other composers are you particularly into? You heard Hiroki Kikuta’s Secret of Mana score?
“Yes I played the Secret of Mana game so I’m familiar with it, I think the music writers for early Japanese games were a very talented bunch. They had to make music that accompanied the player whilst they played the game and the sound plays an important role in setting a feeling from the game.”
When you work with vocalists, is it usually the case that you build a track and they record on top of it, or is it a more cooperative relationship than that? You ever built a track on top of a raw vocal, for instance?
“With Aarya’s vocal on ‘Beautiful Complication’ I completely built the tune around it. She had written to another beat before and I felt inspired to try making another tune to it. With Yolanda it was very easy I sort of knew how I wanted the singing to go so I sent her another song as an example to show her. I was really happy with what she did.”
How’s your DJing going? You started pretty late – how did you approach learning it, knowing you had to get good really quick now you had bookings?
“I picked it up from going to nights and seeing other Dj’s play. I took advice from friends then practised and got there in the end. I am having a great time as a DJ being able to travel and go to new places and meet people from doing music is a fantastic thing and I appreciate it very much.”
Gremino hails from Finland, and has been bubbling under the radar for a while now, picking up support from Dusk & Blackdown and Kingdom among others.
He’s released three records this year, the best of which, ‘Shining’, dropped last week. Marrying gritty, gravelly production with overwhelming waves of bass, it’s stationed somewhere between garage, grime and Euro rave, while also managing to sound like a 2010 update on Adam Beyer’s ‘Remainings III’. It’s backed with ‘Be and See’, which leans closer to bassline house, with sharp, alien sounds darting all over the mix.
More than anything, Gremino just doesn’t seem like he gives a shit: he fills his tracks with abrasive noises that aren’t easy to listen to (check the insect buzz that takes over the second half of ‘Be and See’), and builds nervous, awkward rhythms. For a taste of what to expect from Gremino, his six-track Defender of Rhythm EP is available as a free download from his myspace. You can expect to hear a lot more about this guy this year.
“Long, dark and cold winters probably have an effect on my music…”
You’re from Finland, so I’m really interested what your first exposure to dance music was, and what it was that got you making this sort of music.
“It was my early teens in the late ’90s when two of my friends introduced me to dance music. The first track which got me into it was Prodigy’s ‘3 Kilos’ from their second album. I loved that funky and chilled vibe, and also liked the long duration of it – you could really get into the vibe. These friends listened to a lot of this so called “demo scene” music, and there was this Swedish tracker artist Randall (not that Randall!) who had made kind of covers from old UK hardcore / jungle tracks. I’d like to call them covers, because some of the tracks’ samples would’ve all been sampled from a single hardcore / jungle track, and then he would create a kind of tune with them. Anyway, I just absolutely loved that music! It was fast, energetic, drums were just super cool, loved the piano riffs and the sped up hip-hop samples. Of course my friends would also introduce jungle and D’n’B for me, and I was totally hooked up to these fast, complicated and groovy drums.
“What got me making music? Again, these two friends. They made music with this classic tracker ‘Fast Tracker 2″ which was very popular in the ’90s, so I started with that in ’99. First I did mostly jungle and D’n’B alongside other electronic music. I used FT2 quite a long time if you take account how dated it was. Finally in early ’05 I moved to Reason as I got a new computer, and started to try my hands more in another styles. I made lot of dancehall beats, though they never progressed from loops to whole tracks…later in that year I was introduced to dubstep and grime and started to make grime beats in late ’05 I think.
“Around that time I started to read blogs (mainly Gutterbreakz and Blackdown), Dubstep Forum (it used to be so good!) and Dissensus. Reading these encouraged me and gave me massive inspiration to develop my own style. Especially Dissensus which has this “do whatever music you feel” and “mimicking is a crime” mentality.”
Not to sound cliché, but in what ways does Finland inspire your music? It seems obvious to ask about the dark winters and that, but I feel like I have to.
“Yes, long, dark and cold winters probably have an effect on my music, but I think the general Finnish melancholy state of mind has been one factor. And if we don’t count the last winter, recent winters haven’t had that much snow, so they’ve been extra dark as snow light ups the environment. Also I think how cities have been built very spacious (it’s hard to find narrow places around here), inspires to create spacious vibes. I’ve made garage tracks, but they don’t have the same slinkiness as the UK ones – as they obviously are grimey, they have this kind of Finnish weight…or something. I think most of my tracks have that.”
The first I heard of you was the Defender of Rhythm project. What was the premise behind that, and why did you decide to give it away for free?
“There were many reasons behind that project. I decided to do a DIY CD-r release because it’s very unlikely that labels are going to sign a no name who makes completely different sound. I wanted a physical release because the EP was an entity, and choice of medium was CD-r because it was affordable. I wanted to really experiment with rhythms, but there were a one condition for it: they had to be groovy. Anybody can make a super complicated rhythm, but the real challenge is to make it groovy at the same time. Like jungle music. So I felt that at the times there weren’t labels repping for that kind of sound, so I went to my own route.
“At the end of the day, that project was a big fuck you to underground dance music scene. There’s a lot of talk about being individual and not mainstream, but in reality a big group pressure is going on. Those tracks weren’t a protest against pop chart music – why should had they been when I don’t care about the whole thing – but instead, they were a protest against the mainstream of underground.
“Another thing I wanted to do was to try how this freebie system would go. Few years back there were discussion about giving commercial releases for free, like how it ultimately gives artists and labels more exposure, how DJs will do the promotion for you when they download a free 320, and how music fans will still buy the music. Also before the hardcore legend Luna-C put the whole Kniteforce back catalogue for free download, he wrote some blog posts about free music, which inspired me. So the reason behind putting my EP as freebie was to get more exposure for it, and ultimately for me. Okay, obviously it sold only a few units as I was a no name, and this freebie method only works for big artists/bands (and they get most of money from gigs anyways), but would I had as much exposure from it if it hadn’t been free? At the end of the day that project was a bit crazy, but it just had to be done!”
“Around ’07-’08 I was totally pissed off by the lack of exciting rhythms, groove and funk in dance music.”
Keeping with Defender of Rhythm – something that always strikes me about your music is its take on rhythm. Tracks like ‘Chemical Blast’ or ‘Gangsta Girl’ move in really weird ways, it’s reminiscent of the mad rhythms of a lot of ’03-’04 grime. Is that something you go for?
“The name Defender of Rhythm has a meaning. Around then (’07-’08) I was totally pissed off by the lack of exciting rhythms, groove and funk in dance music. It seemed that producers were more interested about non-rhythmical parts, sound design, mixing and overall post-production than a proper riddim. Or then there would be peeps who would make super complicated IDM-style beats…without the slightest groove. As I said, the real challenge is to make experimental, complicated, but still really grooving rhythm. A good rhythm which makes you dance – isn’t that the most important thing in dance music?! So to give another answer for your previous question, to create an exception for these conditions was another premise of Defender of Rhythm.
“Old grime has indeed been a big inspiration for my music. I love that ‘Pulse X’ *gong* bass. When I got into grime, I was totally bored of over-production and conservatism, so these nasty and cheap toy synth sounds, rebellious rhythms and in your face minimalism of 8-bar beats were like a medicine for me.”
I like the fact that as everyone seems to be slowing down closer to the 130bpm mark, you’re making some shit that’s super fast…
“Yeah, I’ve wanted to take bass music back to jungle. Jungle is still my favourite music. I remember when there were people worrying about dubstep’s tempo increasing – about how it’s soon going to be 150bpm tearout – but the thing is that high bpm doesn’t have to mean tearout! It’s just a different groove. Recently I’ve slowed my tempo down, but I hope DJs will find some use for my faster tracks as this juke stuff is starting to get popular.”
‘Shining’s been kicking around for a while, but its proper release seems to be a landmark for you – I think this is the first time a lot of people will have heard of Gremino. Do you feel that? And what plans do you have to follow it?
“It’s hard to tell ‘Shining’s effect this early, and I’m only looking at things through the internet so I can’t really tell you! It’s been in high places at Juno Downloads single charts in front page, but there’s also been the Rag & Bone release which was been received well.
“Right now I’m going to take a summer holiday from production. I’ve been working hard for my music…There’s a new demo track though at my Soundcloud called ‘Late Night Vibes’ (just a temporary name) which is a 129bpm chilled one – no edginess there. That might be more about my future direction…though my plans in music change very often.”
Gremino ‘Be and See’
Gremino ‘Shining’ (Jam City Remix)