GETTING CREDIT

SUBCULTURE

Speaking with London's genre-jumping producer Subculture on his latest mixtape 'I Dream of Everything', the origins of Subculture Sage and pushing artists out of their comfort zone.

What was the process of creating the ‘I Dream of Everything’ mixtape, as a lot of it you made alone in Cornwall, how did that work with the collaborations on the project? Did you create the instrumentals and take them to the artists or work with them to create an energy for the instrumentals?

So, I generally just make a lot of shit and then some of it ends up being Subculture Sage, some ends up being my solo stuff, some Tertia’s … there’s so many people that I produce for. I listen to so much different music, as it’s basically 24/7 in my life, so I try to create uncompromising and without prejudice and once I can make sense of what I’ve got, I’ll then try to figure out what will be useful.

 

Part of my process before lockdown, which might change after … I’ve been going on regular trips to Cornwall. The first time I went I was producing someone's album and they ran out of money but in their family they had a house in Cornwall, so offered an exchange. But now I just go and rent from someone directly as I go a lot and I’ll just pack all my equipment in the car and drive down there. Just take a lot of edibles and wine. Just wake up in the morning and keep creating and stay up late creating and wake up early and make loads of shit. That used to be my most productive period in terms of making shit from scratch … until Corona.


Do you find that you get a different sense of inspiration from working somewhere like Cornwall which is quite isolated opposed to creating in the city?

100%, I think it’s also focus. Just being able to have absolutely no distraction and it’s beautiful, my mind feels clear. My phones not around, I don't have the internet. But definitely, over the last four, five years I can hear the time in my life or I can hear Cornwall. I’ll just drive to watch the sunset at the end of the day at the beach and listen to all of the stuff I’ve made … It sounds so corny but that coastline is so grand and just mad. 

 

There’s a Subculture Sage song called ‘The Captain and the Purple Lady’ and around that area in Cornwall there’s loads of benches, they’re all unique or just blasted by coastal erosion. They all have these crazy names and that song, when I hear it, I just hear the waves. It was winter when I was making it, in this storm that ended up being quite a well known storm and I was standing by the water on this cliff face but that song just sounds like wind and whales. So yeah, I definitely hear it in the music.

"I’ll just get more wild ideas out of them because they don’t have to be committed to their sound."

So, did you approach any of the artists with the songs or did you want to create the instrumentals from scratch with them in the studio?

Every one kind of had its own story, they were all recorded in my studio. Like I’ve made 60 new things since lockdown, I’ve started the process and I have so much music but I haven’t started thinking about the next mixtape. Right now, I’m just listening to a lot of psyche-rock and post-punk but then a lot of jazz and hip-hop, so I’m just making what’s making me excited and it often isn’t the same stuff that gets other artists that I work with excited.

 

That’s the great thing about my solo stuff, for example, ‘The River Bend’, Rachel [Chinouriri], is amazing on it but she would never have taken that beat for her solo project, they’re always my visions and I’m thinking, ‘Ah, it would be amazing to get that artist on that beat’, because I know they wouldn’t normally do it. When I invite them on to my record, they can just follow with my vision and I’ll just get more wild ideas out of them because they don’t have to be committed to their sound.


Do you feel then that collaboration is not only important for your growth but in order to pull something new out of the artist you’re working with?

Yeah, totally. There’s a track on the album called ‘Gunning for Fees’ and it’s got two friends of mine on it but they’re such different artists, they would never be on a song together. Grand Pax is like dusty, left-field kind of indie and then Goya [Gumabani] is a rapper from Brooklyn, who makes lo-fi, hip-hop. They’re completely different worlds, so for me to get them both on the same track, was so exciting.

What were the main influences that went into that mixtape, if you had a moodboard for it what would’ve been on there?

 

Definitely a combination of jazz, punk and hip-hop. That’s kind of what would sum up the whole 'Subculture' sound. Trying to figure out where my balance exists between those things. I think it comes to the stuff I’m listening to, I have a big record collection. I’ll have a listening session jumping straight from The Stooges to Wu-Tang Clan to D’Angelo. ‘The River Bend’ is a good example to combine something that sounds like a crusty, old Billie Holiday record with a Pusha T beat or something really futuristic, but also jazzy and old as well.

"any producer/artist

relationship ... relies heavily on

trust, communication and patience."

Is there a song on the album that felt like the anchor or the track that set the tone for the overall record?


I think it was ‘Second Exodus’, ‘Glitter Stream Stars’ and ‘The River Bend’. ‘Glitter Stream Stars’, for me, felt really indie but also quite jazzy as well, and then ‘Second Exodus’ is just weird, alternative, so yeah, those three would probably be the anchors.


You also have a record label, Twisted Hearts Records, could you tell me a bit about how the label came about and what the aims are for it?


It started when I was 23/24 and I had just started Subculture Sage, we were just sitting on our first EP but we had no idea how to release music. Meanwhile, a good friend of mine, who I run Twisted Hearts with, wanted to start a label and he said let’s start together and release the EP.

 

We stopped for a couple of years as Ariel started working for RCA and I was working with Tertia and I think we were hanging out in my car, getting high and I was playing him all the music I was working on and he was so excited, he wanted to start the label again. So, we had this whole concept that we were going to re-brand the label, we wanted it to be a singles label. We wanted the music to be ‘Trip-soul’, basically a synonym for Trip-Hop, it was the same fundamentals of like jazz, indie and hip-hop.

 

So, we wanted the branding to not represent it like all of the other soul labels, like Soulection’s branding is super slick, whereas we wanted it to look kind of scrappy and punky. So, all of the artwork was like black and white, film photography, Basquiat style. We were running as a singles label, until we decided to offer Tertia [May] a development deal. Really only Tertia and Myself, were the only things we put out on the label that are bigger than just a single.

Are you hoping to develop more artists on the label or release your own stuff on it?


Yeah, we’re always looking for more artists, there’s a couple more that we’re talking with about releasing stuff soon. There’s a record that we’re hopefully putting out soon that’s a collab record with me and Goya Gumbani and that’s finished, it’s like an eight track album. It’s finished and just collecting dust, right now until we figure out how to release it!


What kind of things would you like to be doing in the next five years with the label?


I suppose the artists that we’ve been working with particularly myself and Tertia, we want the trajectory to continue without a doubt. To kind of bring a few more names through and doing something different in London … and globally. I think just more releases and more artists and just more interesting stuff, trying to figure out exactly what that is … it’s a weird one running a label because I don’t think either one of us want to be rushing or pushing it.

How has it been working with Tertia May and developing her sound?


Really, good - she’s kind of becoming my day one because it’s been so long. When we started working together we spent like a year making just shit and then the first song we made that was really special was ‘Heavenly Thing’, it was nothing like anything else we were making together but we knew it was a winner. So, we kept going down that path. I think the last EP I made with her ‘Not From Concentrate’, was like the best work that her and I have made together. 


How is it running a label as an artist?

 

I think there’s a positive and negative to it. The positive, is that I really get the struggle and any artist that comes and sits with us and talks to us, there’s an energy. My partner whose not an artist, there’s an experience that I have about making and supporting music that I think uniquely can only come from someone who's been through it before. There’s a weird opportunistic, aggressiveness that you can get from people in the industry when you speak to them, I think I just really understand the perspective of both, not a lot of artists know how to run a PR or radio campaign and how to market but at the same time the people that do that, don’t always value the process. 

 

All of the artists on my record are friends of mine that I speak to regularly, I’m on the phone everyday to different artists like rappers who have been in the game for a long time but never really had the heat they deserved or people who are young and have only been about for two years and getting way more recognition that have been there for fifteen. It’s a crazy one and I’m still learning as well, like everyone, and getting a sense of what’s realistic and what is an accomplishment. 

I had my first LA trip just before and it gave me this whole other energy because the vibe there is so different. I’ve been so immersed in music in London since I was like fourteen and it’s so different there. It’s really fucked up my head.

How do you feel LA and London differ when it comes to music?

So, one thing is that London is a corporate working city, so the energy is about hustle and work and it’s not an artist city. So, if you are an artist in London, I think you have to wedge your existence into the vibe here. In LA, people aren’t from LA. They moved there to follow their dream and you feel that, you can feel the difference.

 

Then at the same time you have this amazing rich and diverse, and really fragmented musical history in London from like the punk scene, through the 90s and I think the Dance world affects people in a massive way - the way people are like married to a genre. Like when I was in Uni, you were either into Dubstep or you were into Techno or DnB, House .. you couldn’t really just fuck with everything.  The vibe I got in LA was nothing like that. In every session, I was like do you want to rap, or sing and they’re like ‘I don’t give a fuck’, so you say ok, do you want to do an indie thing or a hip-hop thing and it’s the same answer.

 

Like Brockhampton, I don’t think stuff like that has been or could be getting made in London as easily. It makes sense when I’m there, why it’s coming from there. The NiNE8 Collective have a lot of colour in their music and as a group, they make quite a variety of stuff, so it feels a little bit LA - maybe, it’s just that the younger generation understand it better.


I definitely think the lines of genres are beginning to blur, what do you think people are creating other than specific genres?

 

I don’t know, I still sometimes in London think that people are too closed minded. I work with artists and play them stuff and they’ll be like, ‘Yeah, this is cool - but nah, not for me’, who am I to say what their sound should be but it does at times feel a bit close minded. All I was saying before is I think that culture we have of being married to a sound, some good comes from it but also some bad. 

"the amazing thing about producing for these artists, is that you can see all these weird little shortcuts and techniques that they’ve created for themselves."

 

So, I want to move on to your Duo Subculture Sage, how did you and Hypeman Sage first link up?

 

I think it was 2014 and I wanted to find a rapper to work with, I had just started producing music full-time and it wasn’t a job but I wanted to make it that and just believed in myself. I grew up listening to a lot of hip-hop but I had never worked with a rapper before Sage, he was actually the first one.

 

A good friend of mine told me about him and showed me this video of him on a Mahogany Session, like seven years old, walking in the snow and spitting this acapella - it was really nice, heartfelt and even humorous. Then I saw other videos of him online and he was so aggressive and on his Grime thing, way before Grime was cool, which it now isn’t again!

 

I was like wow, this guy is amazing, so I reached out but he didn’t reply and then about six months later, I was at the pub with that same friend that had told me about him and one of his friends was talking and said he’s got this friend called Hypeman Sage and every producer he goes in with is making the same Dubstep and Grime shit and it’s so hard to find open-minded people. I thought, well that’s bullshit, I reached out and he ignored me and I’m just what he’s looking for. He was like, ‘No, there’s no way he would’ve ignored you, drop him another line’, so I did and he replied like ‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t see it’ and yeah, I invited him to mine and we worked on something, literally still living at my parents house when we did that and yeah, the connection was just so good.

 

Still, even to this day, our tastes are so fucking different, like visually, artistically and musically, we are very, very different people. He’s more like a brother than a friend at this point, we’re so different but have been through so much together but yeah it’s a super special relationship - proper ying and yang thing going on.

 

How did you find that your differences pushed each other to try new things?


I think that with any producer/artist relationship, it relies heavily on trust, communication and patience and mutually, we’re both not always perfect. So, sometimes I don’t think that we create harmony and it can be a lot of arguing about small things. The amazing thing is that we’re both great in our own ways and we’re both so different - so, when we do create a balance and we are able to trust each other, that can be really magical.

 

It’s a hard one because we never really knew our place and while we spent so long trying to figure out our place in UK hip-hop, the entire scene changed. We’re like wow, we still don't know whilst everything around us is changing, it forms some kind of weird solidarity to what you are. So, it’s hard doing a collaboration with someone that’s so different, it’s really challenging but I think it can be more rewarding, if you’re able to get through the challenges. 


What are your thoughts on the London’s thriving music scene, do you think there is anything that could be done to give better support to upcoming artists?


I think that it’s amazing that people can do things themselves. I think the people in London aren’t quicker enough to help each other. It’s so hard to really make way and create a career or make money with music that’s not of a particular zeitgeist of the moment, whether that be drill or afro-beat, uk rap or neo-soul, if you’re not doing something that’s part of that, it can be hard and it creates a cynicism and a fear that people aren’t going to make it.

 

After coming back to London and trying to live here how I did in LA, I started reaching out to people I thought were friends, people who I had helped with strategies and advice and people didn’t really want to help. Maybe that’s just part of being in a city where the energy, unlike LA, it’s this corporate place and also, it’s so real and so gritty and there’s so much amazing culture and diversity and so much energy in the city to be inspired by. I know that if I left London and went somewhere like LA, I would miss it here in a massive way.


I wanted to talk to you a little bit about streaming as I’ve heard you’re big on vinyl, how do you feel streaming has affected the industry for the best and the worst?


Oh god. Well. I’ve ranted a lot about streaming, I think that maybe it’s like a PC Vs. Mac thing. There’s a lot of people who are music boffs, who fuck with streaming. Alright, let's take it back like thirty years ... so much time and creativity to make a mixtape with someone.  I think that what streaming services have done has taken that romance of the playlist and turned the whole music world into it.

 

I think on the plus side, you have a way higher percentage of people who have music as a part of their life, way more hours in the day there’s music playing, they probably know about all different types of music, like the average person now, compared to like the 80s. I think that it makes it harder for people to feel like they’ve connected to the artist or like they’ve invested. 

 

Also, being able to distribute your music is completely democratised now, some spotty teenagers are able to make the most amazing waves and have a platform. As an artist I realised I was streaming a lot and I realised if I’m spending 24 hours a day thinking about this music and making this music and putting it out and only listening through Spotify, it made me feel like music was disposable. Then it made me question what I’m doing … like why am I spending all this time making something if no one gives a shit, and if they do it’ll only be for ten minutes. When I started buying vinyls, I didn’t feel that way anymore.


Is there anything that you’ve learnt from an artist that stays with you when creating?

 

Yes, 100% and that’s when I know that I’m working with the right artist. I think that Sage taught me the importance of lyrics and taking advantage of a platform you’ve been given to talk about something, so why talk about something that’s a waste.

Rachel [Chinouriri], I learnt about harmonies a lot - just watching her work. She played the bass on a song we have unreleased, she doesn’t really play bass but she recorded a simple line and a harmony over it and another and another and suddenly there’s four beautiful chords … she didn’t even know what the chords were. She does the same with vocals, she’ll stack up nine or ten harmonies and it’s just like what the fuck, I love that. Not everyone tries to do it, which is the amazing thing about producing and producing for these artists, is that you can see all these weird little shortcuts and techniques that they’ve created for themselves, it’s completely involuntary to be inspired by it.


Do you feel that instrumentation is important in understanding production?


I would never say that knowing theory can restrict you, I have had experiences of working with a lot of classically trained musicians who get really distracted by the technicality of what’s being played or what could work, so they’re coming at it like a scientist. A lot of people who are instinctive, can just kind of develop their instinct but for me, music theory is the same as music production theory, as I never studied music production, ever, I never knew what a compressor was, you pick up bits on the way but I never really learnt technically.

It’s a hard one because even like Radiohead, no one can do what Radiohead do without music theory. No one can do what Flying Lotus does without music production theory, it’s a really delicate balance between the two. I was producing for so many years and then only two or three years ago did I get into music theory, just putting together chords and what scale and how to make 7ths and 9ths and what does it mean.


Which artists inspired you to get into music and who is inspiring you today?


When I was younger I was a hip-hop kid in like Primary School, the first music I was buying was Fugees,The Score’. My Uncle was recording music in Brooklyn when I was really young, like he recorded ‘36 Chambers’ in that studio in Brooklyn he recorded the ‘Protect Ya Neck’ demo before they had any signing or money and even all of the early Gang Starr records, some Mos Def and 

Q-Tip and he would be sending me shit. 

For instance, I just finished producing Chelou’s album which is like Funk/Indie and then I’m working Tertia and then Sage and making all this hip-hop and then psyche and punk shit, different music makes you feel a different way. Like I couldn’t play industrial music to my mum because it would just sound like noise but once you can understand that it’s meant to make you feel a certain way, you can’t criticise it. You can’t compare Migos and D’angelo because they’re trying to accomplish something different and therefore produce something different. 


If you could produce for any artist, who would it be and what kind of track would you want to make with them?


It’s always nice to take someone slightly further off than they would go, whilst still remaining relevant to where they are. Like Tame Impala with elements of garage-rock in it, he works with a lot of rappers but I think that psyche vibe mixed with rap - it’s so interesting.

 

I feel like I’m doing it at the moment with loads of people. I’m working with Hak Baker and I’m a really big fan of his and I don’t want to change his music, but for me, I hear his voice and think he would be great on this and this … I’ve been making a lot of post-punk stuff and been trying to channel my inner Joy Division and make something that has lots of 808s in it and just crazy hip-hop production, as well.


If you had to recommend five artists to your listeners, who would they be?

Iggy Pop - Lust For Life

The Stooges

Thee Oh sees 

Onoe Caponoe 

Ill Considered

Puma Blue

What’s coming up for the rest of 2020?

 

There’s the Chelou album that will be coming out, Tertia’s next load of music, the record with Goya Gumbani, my next mixtape and then there’s a series of Subculture Sage releases, everything is raring to go.

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