“Flamboyantly percussive”: a chat with Blacksmif
Blacksmif is a London-based up-and-comer in the ever shifting, mutating world of UK bass. His EP, “…And The Sun Rose Out”, dropped on Synchronicity Records in March of this year, and caught the attention of the Grand Old Tastemaker herself, Mary Anne Hobbs:
I spoke with Blacksmif (real name Yemi Olagbaiye) earlier this year via email about his music, creative impulses and future directions. Sorry for only posting it now, but better late than never, right? ….right?
I’ve described your music using my own words in the past, but I want your take on it. How would you describe your own music, in 15 words or less?
Flamboyantly percussive & melodic electronica (for home & club listening) in a bass-driven, jazz-tinged environment. I know that’s a really verbose way of putting it but i was reading an article someone wrote about my music the other day that had this description in it and it seemed to hit the nail on the head for me.
It’s interesting that you mention the word “flamboyant”; lately, a there’s been a trend in electronic music away from minimalist atmosphere to what people call “maximalism”. What’s your take on that idea? True, false, somewhere in between?
I think any idea in the name of trying something new in any creative context is a good thing, right? I mean, that’s what creativity’s all about – experimenting, taking risks, breaking rules. There’s a lot of artists out there adopting this idea of throwing out the window all ideas about politeness or tameness with certain types of electronic music and i find it really refreshing. Sure, there might be some mistakes made along the way but i think there’s some good stuff out there (and stuff coming out) with that kind of ‘atmosphere’ in mind and it’s gaining traction and i think it bodes well for electronic music. It shows people are still willing to take risks to help push the music forward and let it grow.
Speaking about pushing the music forward, your jazzy take on future garage/bass music is something I personally haven’t seen in the genre. I also noticed that you mentioned in an interview with Futurednb that you grew up listening to jazz, soul, and R&B, so I guess I can see how it ends up in your music….but tell me: what inspires you, on a day to day, basis, to craft music?
Yeah it’s actually my parents that were listening to that kind of stuff and i’d just hear it around the house rather than ‘listen’ to it. You know what it’s like when you’re a kid – you just want to rebel and do something different. I was actually more into rock, indie & metal as a kid. But anyway, back to the question. I guess what inspires me to craft music on a daily basis is simply the satisfaction i get from creativity. Nowadays I don’t even care if no-one’s gonna like the music I make – as long as I can stick it on my iPod and vibe off it for a good few months then I’m cool with that. So i guess what i’m saying is that I primarily make music for ME and that’s what keeps me / it going. I think there’s a lot of emotional facets to the equation, too. I find making music as a nice creative release after a hard days work (yeah, I still actually have a 9-5 job) which I think has always been the biggest inspiration – a chance for me to let myself go from the world and get totally lost and immersed and something that so self-expressing. Then what you find is that emotionally, so much of your life around you and you’re experiences get thrown into the mixing bowl when you actually sit down to make something. Well, I dunno if that’s true or just comes across as just some hippie, psycho-babble bulls*** but at least I’d like to believe this is what happens.
I know that feeling, I often find that I love listening to music so much…that I can’t spend the time to make it. But speaking of music…you recently dropped an EP, “…And The Sun Rose Out” on Synchronicity Records. What’s your relationship with Synchronicity Records, and how did the EP come into being?
I met Nikki Acute (she runs both Synchronicity Records, Family Tree Records and an artist booking/promotion agency called Acute Artists) online through twitter through a mutual friend who also produces music, under the alias of Ed Cheeno. We got chatting and I sent her some of my tracks and it all kicked off from there. It was just really refreshing to finally find someone else that got my music and shared the same passion for it. I think that’s really important when going for a label to put yourself out there. We shared the same vision for the tracks and ultimately that’s what helped give it such a push in terms of making sure the right people heard about it, getting a music video created for the title track, etc. It was also quite nice (even though it was my debut EP) to have a label willing to let me be so hands on with the process.
Another music-related question: how do you tend to approach your music from a compositional standpoint? Does it begin with a sample? The drums? A bass line?
My compositions used to be quite similar in how I’d approach them but things have changed quite a lot. Typically I’d almost always start with drums – build a beat a few different patterns and start to mold a track around that. In fact, most of the time it wouldn’t even be a case of moulding anything around it – things would just appear in my head based on certain syncopations and rhythms that almost draw you in to that creative line of thinking. Now it’s a bit different. I always used to play the piano and I guess I’ve just sort of fallen in love with chords again. A lot of the stuff i’m writing at the moment begins with chords and i’ll work out my drum patterns and samples accordingly. I think the bass-line is almost always one of the last ‘fundamental’ things i add to a track before getting into any of the real hardcore tweaking and adjusting etc.
Speaking of your debut EP, there was a really lovely video done of your title track. As far as I can tell, there’s a lot of flowers being unfrozen out of a block of ice, and filmed both backwards and forwards. How did that video come about, and how do you think the video fit with the music — your music — that accompanied it?
Yeah it was a really nicely put together idea I thought. The label (Synchronicity) & I sat down to discuss the EP release and we just thought that the title track, because it had so much more meaning to me personally, deserved a bit more attention than the rest of the EP. It’s a bit ironic given that “M.A.N.D.Y” turned out to be the one ending up in MixMag’s Top 10 tunes of the month back in April. Anyway we just handed over the track to a company called WeFreeTheBox to come up with some ideas and this was literally the first idea they came up with. I think it fits really well with the feeling behind the track. I was always a little disappointed that we could only make the video so long but i guess it kinda serves me right for making such a stupidly long song – I get carried away sometimes.
You said you listened to rock, indie, metal, that sort of stuff as a kid, but…what kind of music are you listening to these days? Any particular artists or albums you’re shamelessly nerding out about?
Actually, recently I’ve been re-hashing some of the old stuff i used to listen to which is of that same vein. Bands like Q.O.T.S.A, Deftones, Biffy Clyro (before they went all poppy & gay), stuff like that. I am listening to a lot of hip-hop / glitch-hop at the moment too. There’s a Japanese guy i found the other day called Ichiro. He’s got an album called LoopShu which is off the chain in my opinion. I’ve also been falling in love with Dilla again… for the umpteenth time… I’m quite schizophrenic with my music tastes so I quite often jump from month to month in really intense phases. Who knows what I’ll be listening to next month…
Well, it looks like I’m starting to run out of questions to ask you. Any releases you have on the horizon? Any live performances you’re excited to be doing in the future?
Yeah there’s a couple of things on the cards here & there. First & foremost, I’m bringing out a new EP with Hypercolour’s sister label – Space Hardware. I’m really excited about that as Jamie Russell (of Hypercolour) is a really switched on nice guy who seems to understand my music and his labels have done a lot to help a number of talented artists out there so I have faith in him and this EP. We’re hoping to have it out at some point before the end of the summer pending some other developments which I can talk about just yet. I’m also putting out another EP with BlahBlahBlah records again. Both EP’s have got some real exciting & beautiful tracks on them in my opinion so I can’t wait for the rest of the world to hear them! In terms of performances, I’ve got Dimensions Festival coming up in Sept which is gonna be HUGE!! I’ve not done a boat party before so i’m pretty psyched-up for that! Plus, from a spectator point of view it’s simply one of the best lineups I’ve seen for a festival to date. Too many names to mention here.
Finally, do you have anyone out there to whom you want to give a shout-out? It doesn’t have to necessarily be music-related, anything goes!
Yeah, shout out to every single person on SoundCloud who’s ever listened, commented on, or favourited one of my tunes. That’s what keeps me going man, that kind of support is very much appreciated and I’m thankful to everyone for it. I hope to have plenty more good music for people to listen to over the years to come.