Make What You Make without Knowing What You’re Making: A Chat with Hi5Ghost

The Bristol grime producer discusses his come up with Son Raw and what's next.
By    May 21, 2015


Part of a wave or rising young Grime producers transforming Bristol’s ever mutating music scene, Hi5Ghost made a major splash last year with “Kung Fu Kick” – a bandulu signed riddim that tore up sets by DJs ranging from Slackk, to Spooky. Speaking to me in his Stokes Croft studio, we discussed his come up, his Paper Cranes label and the city he calls home. —Son Raw

Are you originally from Bristol?

Hi5Ghost: It’s a weird one. I was born in Bristol but I grew up in London. My mum used to live in London, but she moved back to Bristol when she was pregnant. So I was born in Bristol, I grew up in London until 16, and then I moved back.

What part of London?

Hi5: Mainly South – Norwood, out Cristal Palace ways, and Greenwich.

Bristol had a reputation for Dubstep and Jungle at the time but London focused more on Grime – is that where you picked it up?

Hi5: Yeah, I picked up Grime from when I was at school and such. But my uncles they live here in Bristol and I picked up the Drum & Bass from my uncle Peter who’s a part of [legendary production crew] Smith & Mighty and he was always involved in that heavily – Trip Hop and Jungle. I inherited quite a lot of the music and I got my inspiration through him.

But then for Grime and that sort of stuff, my other uncle schooled me on a lot of Garage when I was really young so I was following Garage until it got darker and Grime started coming out with Heartless Crew and Pay as You Go, until Wiley started doing his own thing. So I like to think that I’ve been listening it from the start. I was listening to Pirate Radio super late… too late to be up!

Wait, your uncle was in Smith in Mighty?

Hi5: You got Rob Smith, Ray Mighty and then Peter D who’s my uncle.

Shit, I would have never known that. So were you exposed to a lot of sound system stuff at a young age through your uncles?

Hi5: Only through his studio, to be honest. I never had the chance to go to proper dub raves until I moved to Bristol, then he used to take me out. But really a lot of what I remember from really young was being in his studio with him working on stuff. All the hardware and some of the crazy stuff they used to come up with.

He was telling me stories about the things he used to do and I’d never have the patience, man. You’re limited to 6 channels, you gotta do all your drums, bounce that down, do all your instruments, repeat… and you only got 1 take! So if something’s out of place you gotta do it again.

I think back then, it was still new, still exciting – it’s not like having to play a guitar or a drum kit.

When did you start picking up stuff yourself?

Hi5: When I was still living in London I used to write loads of bars and emcee and when I moved to Bristol, that was one of the main things I tried to pursue. I used to host quite a lot of stuff [events]. I used to work with a Hip Hop emcee, it was appealing at the time cause it was 2 different flavors with Hip-hop and Grime. Then, when I was helping out in a youth club, I learned to DJ and then I started to make my own stuff.

What did you start on? I saw back then a lot of people were using Fruity Loops ’cause it was easy to crack?

Hi5: Reason! Sometimes I think that’s when I was at my most creative! When you don’t know what you’re actually trying to make or how to use the stuff. You’re not limited by knowledge or what you’ve picked up along the way. You’ll bang out a tune, it might sound rubbish but you’re still being creative and doing whatever you want instead of trying to compress and EQ stuff and lose the edge. That can takeover that sometimes.

Sometimes you just want to bang out something quickly

Hi5: Those are the best ones!

So at one point you started releasing music – the first thing I saw from you was “My Tram Experience” on Bandcamp… what were the steps between that early stage and actually putting out tunes?

Hi5: It was probably that tune, to be fair. Me, Kahn & Neek did 2 gigs in Germany when I was still their host MC. I’d finished tracks like “My Tram Experience” and a couple of other tunes I made just mucking around, but where the production was good enough to send – they played them out and the music got a positive reaction so that’s what made me want to focus more on production.

How’d you link up through Kahn & Neek – I guess it’s a small scene…

Hi5: Just through hosting a lot. I did a gig and Neek was DJing back when he was a part of a group called Tokin’ Mandem. From then, Batman who started [Bristol Grime event] Sureskank with Neek asked if I’d host one of their nights. I DJed the first time I played with them and I hosted after. Since then, we’ve all been mates, I became their resident and we’ve basically become family. Every weekend I call them up and we do something.

Then they started their label Bandulu, and you put out Kung Fu kick with them as well, the first time I heard that on radio it got 2 reloads – think it was Slackk, it was nuts. How did that process start? Cause that ended up being actually a big tune, not just another track.

Hi5: It was crazy, I heard the sample in the middle of a mixtape and I knew I wanted to use that. From there it just made itself – there was no thinking about it, I made it on my laptop before I had a studio or half of my equipment. It was on my dead mac laptop that turns off as soon as you disconnect the power. I made it in an hour, sent it to Kahn and Neek and asked if I should finish it and they said yes. Then within a week I had it done to a level where I could send out. I don’t think I’ve ever had that again since, where I was just in the zone. It was a late night after overtime at work and it just made itself.

They ended up remixing it as well.

Hi5: Before they decided to release it, I was speaking to Royal-T about it and he wanted to try to push it to be a Butterz release, and him and Kahn were in contact with Elijah about it. So then to be a solid Butter release we figured we’d do a Kahn and Neek remix. Ultimately, I don’t think he was into it at the time but it came out on Bandulu but I’m happy with how it turned out.

Ultimately it felt like more of a Bandulu release – they’ve got that dancier, Garage-y feeling. Which I love, but even down to the artwork you guys did for Bandulu with the darkness… it fit the tune better.

Hi5: Yeah, I rate everything they do for sure. That was probably just Elijah’s wisdom – he’s clued up and he saw that before I did or before Royal-T did.

The only thing is, now I can’t get the tune on digital, cause Bandulu’s on the Bristol wax-only thing!

Hi5: [Laughs] It’s just sticking to principles to be fair. I feel bad for the people who don’t DJ with vinyl but still appreciate the song and still want to buy it and push it but… there was a dip in vinyl and I’ve always enjoyed buying it. I remember finishing school and going straight to Rooted Records and buying vinyl. There was a point where I missed it – I couldn’t find any good tunes! So the fact that we’re like: this is it, you can only get it on vinyl, it’s not about isolating it or saying vinyl’s cool, it’s just something we enjoy doing. When we get music we pay the money to cut it to dubplate, so this is our way of helping bring vinyl culture back. And now it’s good to see other labels put money into vinyl as well. It’s exciting! I can go to a record shop and buy records I like!

To me, I never got the sense that it was exclusionary. I think it’s interesting here because it makes so much sense for Bristol: you can go to Idle Hands, pick it up and boom! It’s in your hands. It doesn’t feel like buying from a robot or computer – its very human. It’s cool that you guys have that.

Hi5: I used to be SO excited when I bought vinyl. I used to spend all my money on it – I’d buy a tune, listen to it on my gran’s record player, LEARN the tune’s structure and know it by heart. I learned every tune in my bag how many bars in the intro, how many in the break, I could double drop every tune.

And back then a lot of tunes had those irregular intros! Not only does it take skills to mix on decks, but people were making tunes with weird structures to fuck with you.

Back on track, P-Money spit on the “Kung Fu Kick” remix– and that came out digitally on Rinse! I ended up playing that one a lot, obviously. How’d he end up the remix of a tune that you put out?

Hi5: That was all Kahn, just working in the background. He was playing Cable in London and P-Money heard it there and contacted us, spit on the remix and that was it. I’m happy because he did a good job on it, and it can be played on daytime radio, almost.

That EP was sick as well, my favorite tune on there was “2 Minutes.” SICK.

Recently you started Paper Cranes – your own label, and you put out “Duppy Maker” with Trends. What are your plans for that, moving forward?

Hi5: I’ve just sent the second release for mastering, I’m just waiting for the records to come back. The second release ain’t gonna be a Grime tune. I listen to loads of different stuff and within Bristol, there’s quite a lot to offer – it’ll be someone from here, just slightly different. I just want to make it clear that this label is open minded about loads of different music. Admittedly the majority of the stuff, depending on how long I can keep it running, will be mostly Grime. But it won’t be solely Grime.

In terms of your production, does that apply as well?

Hi5: I’m working on stuff that’s quite a lot slower, influenced by Trap but not trying to make it sound typical. It does have heavy 808s but not the typical rolling snares. I don’t know what it is yet – I’m still experimenting. It’s a project allowing me to do stuff out of the norm, like I was saying earlier: make what you make without knowing what you’re making. I’m just gonna write what’s on my mind at the moment.


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