Featured Stories I by I 22.07.15

Watch the Thrown: LHF’s Amen Ra on escaping the hardcore continuum and remaining an outsider

When mysterious four-piece LHF first surfaced on Keysound Recordings back in 2010, it was easy to view them as the latest in a long line of pirate radio outsiders and misfits.

Marrying the dubstep rhythms of the day to a mysticism born of B-movie samples and dusty loops, their debut album Keepers of the Light was a sprawling, rewarding listen, which inspired a devoted fanbase despite the group being at odds with virtually every trend in dance music at the time. As club culture went clinical and cool, Keepers of The Light was nerdy and esoteric, a perspective as distant from dubstep’s global ambitions as it was from house’s Ibiza chic. Behind the Kill Bill dialogue and Wu-Tang one-liners, however, there was a real message in the group’s sampledelia, and a sense of spirituality drawn from rave’s original school and DMZ’s transcendent sense of space.

Listening to LHF’s new record For the Thrown, an Amen Ra solo album in all but name, that emotion and spirituality is immediately pushed into the foreground. Gone are the film and rap snippets and two-hour run times; instead, the album is both streamlined and expansive, bursting with textures expressed with a newfound sense of clarity. It’s completely different from LHF’s previous work, and when I spoke to Amen Ra I found out it emerged from a unique set of circumstances.

“I’ve gotta be free of all these past movements and current trends, you know what I mean?”
Amen Ra

What made you decide to keep a certain level of anonymity?

I’m not sure this was a decision that we made. I don’t feel like we’re any more anonymous than anyone else if truth be told, bar the fact we don’t have photos. We’ll definitely turn up to your party, and we have a radio presence and that – I’m happy to speak on the mic and if you holler at me I’m happy to chat. But we are by nature low-key in terms of not being into the glitz and glamour. We’re not trying to sexy you out or anything like that. Honestly, with the interview thing, it’s just a case of most of the time once you’ve done one interview you’ve done them all, until you have some new work, so we don’t think it’s necessary to do more than one or two.

I guess there is also the culture we were brought up around too – pirate radio was a faceless entity, and upon first discovering it, it was kind of mysterious, just sounds, no faces. We wondered, who were these guys? Maybe that culture has seeped into what we do. So I wouldn’t say it was a decision but more something we’ve always done – we played on pirates and recorded mixes on tapes before the internet came along. Maybe we haven’t embraced it the same way as others, what with Instagram and all that. It’s just not us.

When did you begin to play on pirates?

I started playing on pirates in the early 2000s. Me and [Fellow United Vibes member] Vibezin would play dark garage on one block in Hackney – I forget the name of the station – and before that Mission FM 90.6, which was the station that people like Heartless Crew, Footsie, and Slaughter Mob first played on. In fact it was Slaughter Mob who first put us on.

Did you fit in at that station and in the musical climate at the time?

Yeah, I mean me and Vibezin played garage a lot, and early dubstep and grime, but I can say that I’m not paying homage to that stuff when I produce, I am not trying to emulate those sounds at all. At the time we fit in perfectly ’cause we were playing the newer dark stuff alongside the old school underground classics and people weren’t mixing it up like that.

But LHF is a different kind of entity to United Vibes. Born out of the UK underground, yes, but there are certain quirks to some aspects of our sound that take it beyond the traditional stuff and into spookier and less familiar territory. I think my personal drive to find something new comes from the fact I’ve seen and been into so many of the cycles of UK music, and now I want to push myself to embrace unknown combinations.

To me, the important thing is finding that clarity in myself to really express what I am in that moment, away from any scene or anyone else’s perceptions. For that I’ve gotta be free of all these past movements and current trends, you know what I mean? I’m in it for the freedom, man.

LHF’s music has previously been categorized as part of the hardcore continuum, but For the Thrown feels removed from that.

I’ve always had a small issue with people going on about LHF being this dubstep/garage/jungle crew, ’cause I’ve always felt like we’re much more than that, and I’ve always been interested in how to express all those influences in a way that creates something that’s fresh. I said this somewhere else but I’m gonna say it again: each of us has a unique voice, away from what we are in front of our mates or in front of the scene or work or whatever. Away from all of that stuff, there is something inside all of us that sees the world completely in our own way. We are each a genre. The question is, are we brave enough to to really find out what genre we are and express it? I mean you could get ridiculed for sounding different from others or not doing it properly, but you know what? The world needs people that aren’t doing it properly!

I’m not saying I’ve mastered this concept, and honestly, after the first album dropped I found myself going into the studio trying to make music with these pre-conceived ideas about who I was based on Keepers of the Light, the reviews, and people’s general comments, and maybe a part of me wanted to keep the momentum going and wanted Keysound to like my tunes and all that. But the shit sounded stale, just good old UK music, basic shit you’ve heard a thousand times, and I had to really forget everything and go back to the drawing board. Go back to being that dude that sits in the pub and plays the piano without even noticing people are there, just playing, you know? Once I found that freedom again, things started happening. I sent the odd track to Martin but on the whole I kept them to myself. They were my little gemstones, and until it felt right I didn’t play them to anyone lest I became distracted.

I’ve never played piano in a pub by the way! That was just an analogy.

What inspired you while you were creating the album?

In 2012, on the day that the Maya said our current epoch came to an end, I had a life-changing experience. I ended up in the hospital in a pain I can’t describe to you now. There were moments when I felt this was really it for me, and that realization of my own mortality is something I’m now grateful for, ‘cause I still feel the reverberations of it and it’s touched every aspect of my being. In that time I understood what love was, what ignorance was, and maybe had a better idea of what I wanted for my life. I think I think I left hospital on Christmas Day, maybe Boxing Day, and had a good couple of months to recoup. I started making music straightaway. The tune ‘Surrender’ was made as soon as I came out.

One of the things I understood deeply was that, no matter what, life was here for me to observe, look at deeply, listen to, and take in. No words needed. It’s the pure experience of it that’s important. People seem scared to look for too long in case they get accused of staring and get boxed in the mouth, or in case someone gets the wrong idea, but I started thinking, “fuck it, I’m embracing this experience and if I want to look upon you, I’m going to look upon everything and take this in and mould it into my own shapes and really own this experience.” All of this music came out of moments when I felt that reality. So much positive stuff happens when your intention is good and you ain’t scared. Slowly these tunes started to come out of me that I felt were not like anything else, that were really my own voice.

I also started an electronic project with a friend which was also influential. He had an SP, I had a Korg, and we were making these improvised pieces that were bringing out this shit in me that I didn’t think I had. That was mad inspirational. We literally just used to set up this 8-track and just record one track then layer it with another, and another, and honestly some of this shit was beautiful and showed me a lot about how to just let go and play. It was definitely influential for this project, musically.

I started to recognize these moments when I was really open and would always take the opportunity to jump on and make some music. I think that was an important transition. I used to make music all the time, I was obsessed, but I don’t think that was a good thing for me because it was only on the odd occasion that I would actually do something special. And with me, it has to be immediate – if it ain’t happening within the first hour, it just ain’t happening. But my process became more refined and when I felt those moments I would jump on and make something real quick and smooth, and most of those ended up on the album.

So learning about waiting and seizing moments was also a big influence. Long walks, bro – I would take these long walks in the countryside. That used to really give me something. No music in my ears, just the ambience of the moment.

“It’s more than just making music for me. It’s a way of stepping into the unknown, which is life.”
Amen Ra

How did you get the sounds together? There’s a lot going on here – flutes, guitars, harpsichord. I honestly can’t tell what’s sampled and what’s not, it’s quite organic.

That’s good to hear – I don’t want people to know what’s sampled and what’s not. The sounds were whatever I was feeling on the day I made the track. I’m purposefully disorganized. I hear people say that they get samples together into folders and create a sound but that sounds so boring to me. I wanna have 564,738 folders and not know what’s in what. It’s quite magical, the days when I’m open. I find sounds so quickly and they’ll all be from random folders and just fit. I know it’s cliché, but it’s a feeling. The whole way to train to be a musician or producer, I think, is knowing yourself, not knowing your samples. For each emotional state there is a sample or set of samples, but if you’ve already got your shit narrowed down and organized, how are you gonna really be able to represent that emotion? But then a lot of producers are looking to produce a certain emotion or sound and not necessarily represent their own, you know what I mean? With me it’s a deeply personal thing and it’s self that comes first.

Obviously its not all about knowing self, if you’re gonna be a producer that’s probably shitty advice for up-and-comers. But beyond a certain point, like, when you know your basics, it’s all about that. Just let go.

It’s funny, because as a listener I almost feel you have to approach LHF music in a way that’s also open to chance and randomness. No one knows how many tunes you guys have made either collectively or solo, and from an outside point of view, we have no idea how or why we’re hearing the bits that get played on Sub.FM or on a release.

Yeah, exactly! I want people to approach without knowing what they’re gonna hear. If you have an idea of what LHF is, this album will probably turn it on its head, I hope. Look, there are pitfalls to this approach – some things sound too random for people and they can’t hold on to it, so they probably just think it’s trash. It definitely comes with dangers, but man, it’s more than just making music for me. It’s a way of stepping into the unknown, which is life.

I think people can relate to that approach as well. You do get artists with these incredibly manicured catalogues, but people love acts with expansive, vast visions: your Madlibs, Sun Ras, Frank Zappas.

Yeah, you’re right about those guys. I do feel like UK guys have a strong idea of doing it properly. You know: “That’s proper.” I think we’re overly proud about our tiny island producing this unique music form sometimes, and that somehow we’ve gotta keep it alive. But times are changing in the UK, and I feel this younger generation who are coming up having dug into all kinds of music are doing bits that are away from tradition and something fresh. There’s this whole class thing in the UK too, where if you talk a certain way then you’re not authentic and can’t be making UK underground music or whatever you’re making. But I’m not sure – as long as you’re doing you, I think these days none of that should matter. But I see people talking about class slyly now, which has no place in music.

Did you put the album together yourself or did Keysound have a direct involvement in putting the pieces together?

I gave Martin a couple of tunes, ‘Entrapment’ and ‘Surrender’, which he really liked. That was 2013, and I think he heard ‘One Door Isn’t Enough’ on my SoundCloud in the same year. But I think the turning point for him was when he heard me do this radio show where I put together a little 30-minute mix of the stuff I’d been working on. By that point I knew the tunes well and put together this nice little showcase. I didn’t make too much noise about it and didn’t even tell Martin to check it, he just happened to download it and in that mix there was a whole bunch of tracks that made the album. After that, we were sending him tunes specifically for an album – initially we were gonna try to do an LHF album with all the sounds on there but it soon became apparent this was only gonna work as a solo thing, my tunes weren’t sitting well with other LHF tunes.

A couple were added after the main bulk, just from me sending them to Martin to consider. One was from 2009, ‘Triumph’, and the other from summer of 2014 which I played at a Keysound session, ‘Natural Boost’. I think that’s the newest tune on the album. Then we just got the order down semi-collaboratively, although Martin had more or less nailed it from early and I was just arguing against myself throughout the whole process until I realized we just needed to take out this one tune. The tune we took out was actually called ‘For The Thrown’ but it didn’t sit well. The title just worked for the album. I feel real compassion for those that struggle but don’t lose their dignity or become bitter and twisted and full of hate. This is for them mostly, and those that find life breezy.

Is that what For the Thrown refers to? I’ve been trying to wrap my head around that title for a second.

Yes, it references those whose spirits have been overthrown and dominated by our everyday pressure to fit in and who are trying to find their way back. When I think back over my life I think, those people who were seen as weirdos, outsiders, those that were quiet, simple – they were ridiculed most of the time and even now, I see people getting crushed ‘cause they ain’t like other people, they ain’t ‘normal’. These are the people who have the most to offer me and I feel that in the greater world, these are people that dream, these are people that understand that their minds create reality and don’t believe in the ‘reality’ they are taught to believe in.

It’s mostly for them, but I’m not going to say others can’t get down ’cause I don’t think these sounds evoke that sense of feeling like an outsider, there’s the full range of emotions in this. I found love in this past year – you can hear that in tunes like ‘Triumph’, and ‘Natural Boost’, which are just fun tunes. This album is just my journey. It can be used for reflection as well as for fun, it’s got all of that, I feel.



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