London’s vibrant music scene has always been about creating something new and fresh, feeding it to a ravenous public, letting it digest and then doing it all over again. New ‘scenes’ are born out of nowhere and are just as quick to fade out into obscurity again. Musicians, producers and DJ’s alike scream to be heard whilst jostling for column inches and air-time alike. Sure, it can feel a little claustrophobic at times but maybe it’s this urgency that maintains London’s ‘edge’ and keeps this city of beautiful contradictions one step ahead of the game.
In one small pocket of the city resides a producer who is no stranger to innovation and re-invention. EVM 128 has always been someone with his finger firmly pressed on the pulse of what’s good about the city. With nearly 15 years spent ‘learning the trade’, this 31 year old producer is ready to unleash his soul-drenched, beat-laden gems on a public that have been waiting for his debut without ever realising it. The Groove Content EP is a complete mash-up of styles, drawing its influences from disparate musical genres – it’s a heady mix, flirting with 80’s boogie with a little nod to the off-beat swing of Dilla and a wink in the direction of bass-heavy, wonky dubstep. The sound of the painfully soulful ‘Groove Content EP’ is underpinned by all of the above but at the same time screams with a rudeboy swagger that is truly its own.
Number Six caught up with EVM 128 one sunny day in Brick lane over a cup of tea to discuss the past, present and future.
So let’s begin at the start. When did you begin producing?
When I was about 18 my great grandmother passed away and with the money that she left me I went out and bought an Atari, a Yamaha mini keyboard and an Akai S20 sampler. I’ve played drums since I was 9 years old and I’ve always been crazy about music so it was natural to make the transition into computers a few years later. I was hanging out in Sheffield at the time with a lot of jungle heads from the Drum and Bass Arena.
The Drum and Bass Arena in Sheffield was huge back then. There’s also a big student scene up there right?
Yeah but I wasn’t studying...just followed a lot of friends up there. I was just hanging out really and absorbing what was going on around me.
So you hadn’t released anything up until that point?
Not at all. I was always into music so I would hang with people that were into bands or DJ’s and it was never meant to be a career choice – more of a hobby type of thing. Almost copying what other people were doing. Plus I was bang into the jungle scene at the time and I wanted to be an MC. I’d furiously write down rhymes, then go to the Drum and Bass Arena, grab the mic and spit the same rhymes that I spat the week before...time after time. A bit later I got into sampling and buying records. A good friend of mine called ‘Extra Breaks’ taught me how to use cubase on the Atari – he taught me about midi and recording. I was hooked after that...proper hooked. Let me just add that my beats were really crap at that time.
I guess the idea is that you aren’t going to make a classic on your first tune.
Well, you’d be bloody lucky if you did. It was basic production at the time - I was taking jungle breaks and looping them, cutting them up then adding a couple of little keyboard sounds. Back then you could only play 6 or 8 samples and if you played any more one of them would cut out. I remember that being a hurdle. I mean I only had an Akai S20 which was like an MPC but not as good.
Did those restrictions force you to be more creative in your approach? I mean look at Lee Scratch Perry, Duke Reid and the early reggae producers – they made classics on a four track!
It’s funny you mention four tracks. My dad was a blues musician and he had a four track recorder. He taught me how to use it and what i would do is get all these microphones, mic up the drums which were in the basement and make drum loops on the four track. I can’t believe I forgot that…it was long before I got the Akai. That was a lot of fun but things are very different now. I mean it’s ridiculous. You can even make a beat on your iPhone.
So your approach to making music is completely different or no?
It’s more serious. It was a conscious decision to get serious about making music. I’ve always moved around a lot and I had this equipment but I’d never really be at home focusing on music. I basically got to the point where I decided i wanted to make music seriously but i had to leave London and go and hide in Wales where there were no distractions for a couple of years to make music.
I guess by then you had a better set-up?
Yeah definitely...better all round really. I had a good computer and better equipment, more experience and no distractions meant that I could finally focus on what I always wanted to do.
So how did the hook up with Ross Allen happen?
It’s funny how prolific you can be without being distracted all the time. I was up in Wales for over a year working on beats. When I was happy with some of it I sent up a few tracks over to a friend who in turn played it to Ross and a week later he was on the phone hassling me to sign on the dotted line.
So you needed to leave the city in order to perfect your craft?
London shapes you in many different ways. I was influenced by the music, the clubs, the people, the dirtiness...everything. You are influenced anyway without realising...so i went away and used those influences constructively. It’s also quite hard in London too.
Well there’s always the demand to be ahead of everyone, be on the scene, be at every party and it can be hard to focus yourself and be diligent, stay in and work on your craft as opposed to a little bit here, a little bit there.
Exercising a bit of self discipline now and then is no bad thing. So how are you finding it being back in London after two years away?
Well Ross is keeping me busy with remix work and I’m also resident at his weekly Meltdown Sessions at the Social. I get the chance to test out my new tracks on the system down there which is important. I like that instant reaction to your music that you can only get in clubs.
So who are you working with right now?
I like working with vocalists. I’ve got a couple of female vocalists I’m working with right now and then there’s African Boy and another MC called ‘P’ from NuBrand. They are all really good in their own right but it works resally well wuith what i’m doing right now too. To be honest i don’t have time to party any more...i mean that. Its more like a job now...i have to keep on top of things and not let them slip.
So how has the EP been received? And how does it feel having your first bit of vinyl out?
Feels amazing. Wicked man! I’ve always wanted to hold my own bit of vinyl you know...in all seriousness though, its been really well received. Obviously Ross has been rinsing it on his own show but Gilles Peterson has picked it up and played it on his ‘Worldwide’ show. He put it in his winners Top 50 and from then the Youtube hits went through the roof. Radio helps a lot.
What’s up next for you then?
Well I’ve just finished a remix for MJ Cole with Elizabeth Troy on vocals. That’s out on Studio Rockers label. Next up is a DJ Shadow remix with Little Dragon...that’s for Ross Allen. Plus I’ve just finished two tracks for Afrikan Boy which will go out on his album early next year. I’ll be ready to drop my second EP by then too. Also live shows, the festival circuit and DJ’ing a lot more. I want to get to the point where I’m just DJ’ing my own productions so its more like a show. I’ll be doing it off a drum machine, keyboard and Ableton. Its all about focus and keeping your head down.
‘The Groove Content EP’ is available from all good independent record stores the length and breadth of the country and to download from Juno records.
EVM128 featuring Afrikan Boy and ‘P’ will be performing live at Number Six on Thursday 1st December from 6.30pm.