Anyone can release a single, but it takes a singular effort to catch the ears of DJs and tastemakers across an increasingly fractured musical spectrum. With Telo/Shiftin – out now on Crazylegs, Bristol-based producer Gage did just that, earning praise and spins from both the new school of producers reinventing forward-thinking club music, and from the reinvigorated instrumental Grime scene operating at several degrees removed. Balancing twisted sound design to dance floor propulsion, and roughneck swagger to a rhythmic focus, both Telo and Shiftin’, along with a few other pieces heard across underground mixes, paint a picture of an artist coming into his own and synthesizing his influence into unique, hybrid forms. I sat down with Gage over a pint to discuss Grime’s impact on his youth in London, Bristol’s impact on his present, and the difference between aggression and intensity. – Son Raw
What were you listening to growing up? What were your musical building blocks as a kid?
The first thing that really connected with me, I must have been 10 years old, was 21 Seconds by So Solid Crew. I heard it on the radio, printed out the lyrics and obsessed over that. I also listened to the more commercial side of rap – College Dropout, what Jay-Z was doing. Then POW Happened. I remember coming to school after seeing the video on MTV Base and from there it was just Grime for about 3 years. It was pretty unavoidable on the playgrounds, not that I wanted to avoid it. I just geeked out basically!
So it started off with seeing and hearing Grime on TV, and we really see that original sound as part of what you do, but one of the real differences in regards to your work is the heavy dance floor component – was there a moment in a club that kind of kick started that? It’s one thing to experience music through TV speakers but on a club system, it can be quite transformative.
I think the night was 2011, so much later. It was Jackmaster, Joy O and Julio Bashmore and this was when they were really rising up. I found the perfect spot in the middle of a dance floor underneath air conditioning so it wasn’t uncomfortably hot and it was absolutely mad. Essentially I went home and started trying to make dance floor tracks from there. Since then, over the past two years I’ve found a middle ground between what I enjoyed when I was younger and a dance floor sound. A lot of people say 2006-2008 was a weak time for Grime but that was when the sound was REALLY influencing me. There were a lot of emcees who aren’t about anymore who were sick. Then from 2008 onwards I gravitated more towards the electronic side of things.
Who were some of those mid-period Grime producers and emcees who were influences?
Rapid was always a huge influence. Top 3 selected was always one of my favorite beats since I was younger. Not from the same period, but Mondee’s Straight is probably my Grime beat to be honest. I have Straight 2 on wax, it’s so sick. Emcee wise, I used to rate Griminal just as he was coming up, The “Fuck Radio” era with The Movement. When there was the War Report sending season around 2006 – Logan Sama used to premier every new send every Monday and I used to be on MSN just listening.
There are a lot of connections between those sounds you’re mentioning as well. Between D-Block and The Movement for example. In terms of starting to get on production, was that just a natural progression or…
That was college but I’ve always tried making music. Pretty much everyone who grew up where I grew up tried to be an MC or write 8 bars at least. I used to try to write beats on Fruity Loops and was awful to be fair. Then I went to college and didn’t Music Technology where I first touched Logic and by experimenting through that, I developed. They were more focused on bands and the live side but I stuck to it.
Now that we have the basis, let’s talk a bit about your current music. One of the things that really caught my ear about Telo/Shiftin’ is that there’s quite a lot of aggression to it but it never goes over the top, it doesn’t cross that line into-
[Laughs] Yeah, I didn’t want to use the words. There’s a line where if you cross it, it becomes another thing but in recent years, maybe because of that-
They hold back. They consciously lowered their threshold. I don’t think that was a consciously done thing to bring that to my music. There’s some songs that are really REALLY heavy, not just in terms of the Grime/Dubstep side of things – Techno as well. My threshold has probably lowered as I’ve come out of my teenage years and I think my music has responded to that – Telo and Shiftin are the product of that.
So that’s as hard as it’s getting for you?
No! I wouldn’t say that! [Laughs] Some of the shit I’ve made since has been intense. I don’t try to make stuff to be hard. Intense is what I try to make it. I think there’s a distinct difference between those two terms and the tracks they represent.
That’s a great way of putting it. I’m always interested in music that skirts that edge, where there’s melody but also that energy. Someone who’s expecting Deep House might be like “this is too much” but someone who’s out wanting to hear straight Jump Up D&B will be equally turned off!
Those tracks had no intended audience. They were just stuff I wanted to play when I was DJing and they just happened to come out pretty weird. But yeah, Intensity is what I intend on when I make dance floor tracks, basically. I like the idea of pushing someone towards the edge, seeing how close you can get to it without them falling off. My music is unapologetically explicit, is how I’d put it.
That’s something you see in the early Grime you mentioned too. Something like Pow…
Because of Pow, I dropped my love of Football for about 5 years I think.
So you’re saying that when you made those records, you did made them for yourself rather than for an audience. Is music making a very inward looking process for you? Do you consider yourself as part of something larger with your peers or is it really an individual pursuit?
I wouldn’t say it’s completely individual because you’re always influenced by what you hear and a lot of what I hear is sick but there isn’t any intention to mold myself into a box. I don’t particularly agree with boxes that people get put in but there’s a lot of stuff I’m hearing all the time that gets me. I consider myself as a part of a group of like-minded producers and we all benefit because we’re bringing new ideas to the table with each new track. One of my ideas might inspire a completely different idea in someone else and vice versa. There’s been a lot of exciting stuff happening over the last year – at least last year for me.
Who would you consider to be those peers?
I’m always fucking with Logos’ shit. Neana as well, Murlo definitely, Timbah. There’s the crew in Ireland – Glacial Sound, Bloom, Shriekin’ who’s making great stuff – Airmax97 and Strict Face in Australia. Derailing a bit but Strict Face’s Highbury Skyline, I heard that on the Keysound show months ago and I’ve been obsessing over it ever since. That Dark0 EP on Lost Codes as well, I’m vibing so hard off that right now. There’s a whole gang of people making very, very cool things.
I was trying to figure out how to NOT ask about Bristol since it’s a major cliché so I’ll flip it around: your music sounds quite a bit different than anything typical of Bristol! Bass pressure aside, when people think of Bristol they think of a lot of darkness and space, but Telo/Shiftin are very driving and hard hitting. Has living here had an impact your music?
Yeah it has – definitely. I’d say probably more so in the live environment. Being in this city and being around a lot of people who are constantly working on things and sharing stuff with each other makes for a strong creative drive amongst your peers. It’s a similar but more localized version of what we were talking about with peers on the Internet. I can guarantee if I stayed in London or went to any other city, nothing would be the same. My music would probably sound completely different – I can’t say how, it’s completely hypothetical but I know it would.
So we’ve got a local component, a Grime component…have American club sounds had an impact on you? Because listening to your music, there’s a propulsion in addition to the intensity we mentioned. Something that isn’t as simple as a 4X4 kick but that has a bounce to it.
Yes is the simple answer. There are a lot of American producers, club wise that have made an impact. With Telo particularly, it has the emphasis on the 4 because it was made after hearing a club track. It didn’t start with the synth blast, it started with the rolling kicks. I heard a track by Rod Lee called Curley – I was trying to catch his snare pattern cause I thought it would sound really cool on kicks and then later, I added the synth sound to really complete it.
I can see how that works. As a track it’s still very drum led despite the synth. It’s very much carried by the percussion rather than midrange. And it’s made an impact across a lot of DJs – I’ve heard Murlo and Slackk really jacking up the tempo to fit it into their sets. Was that weird to hear it put in a different, and altogether faster, context?
It was so weird hearing it at 140! The first time I heard it was Slackk’s September or October mix. When you make a track you make it for the context it’s in but it’s nothing but a compliment when someone tries to fit it into what they do. If Slackk wants to play a 128 track – well, he must really want to. As for me, I wanted it to fit at a tempo that I like to play, I start mixing around 128. I didn’t make it thinking it would tear up a set but it’s very cool. With Shiftin’ though? It can’t sound right at 140! But Telo’s nice.
Wrapping up, what’s a track – random one – that’s really been in rotation with you recently.
This guy called J Hawaii, one half of ISLAND, made a track called Hawaiian Feel Tool. I must have played it off his soundcloud like 30 times. It’s just an 8 or 16 bar loop but I don’t think I’ve heard sampling quite as on point as on this track. It just does the thing. That track sent me on a sort of a hype trying to find the perfect sample to cut up because the sound was taken so far out of its context and put into a new one. I don’t know the original but you can tell just by listening that it was taken from A and put into Z via like…M.
Last question: Who would win at Tekken, you or Neana.
Me every day! I wouldn’t choose Yoshimitsu though.