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Bok Bok

If you missed the anthems and refixes by Girl Unit, Egyptrixx, Mosca, and Bok Bok that have dropped on Night Slugs, you must have been sleeping. Slugs do come out after dark, after all. The label sprang from the eponymous clubnight started by Alex Sushon, aka Bok Bok, and James Connolly, AKA L-Vis 1990, after they connected on MySpace. Bok Bok already had a solid grounding in soundsystem culture - his interest was piqued by a Slimzee mix in 2003, and then, as the grime scene evolved, he moved toward raw, upbeat grooves from further afield: Baltimore breaks, Detroit ghetto-tech, the footwork/ghetto-house hybrids in Chi-town, and South African arch riddim constructions. With Night Slugs an integral part of London’s underground club scene, Bok Bok, as its head honcho, has carved out a distinct space for himself and his posse on the futuristic side of bass-heavy, hip hop-leaning dancefloor-obliterators. In this talk at the 2013 Red Bull Music Academy, Suchon discusses his passion for the dancefloor and un-human music

Hosted by Emma Warren Audio Only Version Transcript:

RBMA

 Good morning, everybody. I want to welcome our first guest of the day, DJ, producer and co-founder of Night Slugs, Bok Bok.

Bok Bok:

Hello.

RBMA

So I guess our starting point for our conversation is something about clubs. To what extent are nightclubs the source for most of what you and Night Slugs do?

Bok Bok

I would say it's like the main context. It's the place where our music's meant to live, so it's vital, actually. Yeah, it's like the main focus. It's only really recently that a few of the producers in Night Slugs have started to think outside of that context really, and there's various causes for that. I guess part of it is just growing up as an artist and stuff like that. I'm really keen to try and keep as much of the music in that context as possible, because my whole thing is, Night Slugs is about the club and we're about trying to make that space much more dynamic and interesting and flexible and much more of an experience than it's actually traditionally set up to be. This idea that the club is just a hedonistic place, it's OK but I think that it could be so much more than that, or it could be more than that while still being hedonistic and a fun place to go out and have a good time. But it's also, if you let it be, a place where you can have a genuine experience, then I think it can become that.

RBMA

So if you're in the business of kind of redesigning the nightclub to be able to do different things, for different things to be possible, what else would be in there?

Bok Bok

In the club? Well, sometimes the possibilities are kind of limited. I find that frustrating because a lot of the time I want clubs to be just how I want them to be. I want them to be dark, I want them to be smoky. In fact, I want it to be pitch black, which hardly ever happens.

RBMA

The old exit light business.

Bok Bok

Exit lights, the bar light, it's health and safety. But all that stuff is really frustrating to me, because I just want everyone to be able to be in their own space and almost have this underwater kind of experience, almost like this sensory deprivation feeling of being detached from normality and therefore being able to experience something. I know Kode9 has talked about this as well and the way he talked about it kind of influenced me as well, you know, clubs as being dark and that and allowing you to have a really unique experience in them. But there's other stuff too, like we did a warehouse rave in New York a few months ago and it was our own production; we weren't working with anyone else, we promoted it ourselves. Me and L-Vis really made a point to try and design the space, so we worked with the Thunder Horse guys to present the space in a certain way. So we had these plants on the stage and a backdrop of old, grey TV screens that weren't switched on, that were just there for a texture, I guess, and a smoke machine that was going really overboard, to a point where at one point the lights in this warehouse came on and that was kind of part of the thing, that when the lights came on you could still not see anything because there was so much smoke in the room. And that's kind of what we want, you know, but the opportunities where we do have the chance to control the club environment, we definitely try and seize those because it's rare. It's becoming more common for us to be able to do that and it's definitely something I want to try and focus on.

RBMA

Smoke's a funny thing. I remember when the smoking ban came into force in the UK and it was suddenly like someone was missing. It was like a person had left the room.

Bok Bok

Yeah, it was difficult for more reasons than one, but yeah, it was definitely strange. But, you know, you can create smoke machines without people having to smoke, so there's an easy way to get 'round that. I just wish people would relax about health and safety and then we'll have a better time in the club.

RBMA

But for you, the club as a thing, it's important in lots of different ways. It's important because that's how you started, and I guess it's important because it's a kind of ongoing test station for what you do.

Bok Bok

Yeah, because I don't want to do this thing, a lot of people's careers take this path where they start kind of here and then they have this aspirational thing where they want to be somewhere else. I think that's fine but I always want to keep one foot in the club, at least one foot, if not both. We'll see how it pans out, but the important thing is I want to stay rooted to what it is I started doing. I'm trying to be a DJ, that's what I want to be doing for god knows how long after this. When I make music, that's the context I'm thinking of and this idea of 'The Club' with a capital C, it's definitely something that's vital to me for sure.

RBMA

So when you first started doing parties, was it because there was, like the classic reason to start a night, because you want to do something slightly different and there's a group of you and you want to do something and then it takes on a life of its own, or was there a slightly different reason?

Bok Bok

No, that was exactly it. It was me and L-Vis, we were bored with the situations we were getting booked at as up-and-coming DJs. We didn't feel that we really had a context in London that much, because some of the stuff that was going on at the time was cool but we just didn't fit. That was definitely the motivation to start something new and try and cultivate it and we really did that. We didn't have any idea of where it would lead at all. We just wanted to start a club night for fun, just like everyone else. I mean, how many of you guys run club nights, it's like everyone does it, right? We really just started off from that, just being these DIY promoters doing raves in South London in a venue that used to be a squat. Our sights weren't set high.

RBMA

But there is a lineage there, isn't it? Because you had a club like FWD>> and then you had DMZ starting because they wanted to do something slightly from FWD>>, that was their thing with more shades of colour in it. Then you, broadly coming through those experiences, had the same feeling.

Bok Bok

Totally. You guys know about FWD>>, does everyone know about FWD>>? FWD>> was a club night in London and I bring it up - well, it's a good thing you brought it up - I want explain a little bit because it's totally vital, influential to what we're doing now, I feel. FWD >> was in a club called Plastic People, which has changed a little bit now, but at the time it was like this tiny box club in Shoreditch. The size of the soundsystem and the way the soundsystem sounded and felt and the way that it was set up was way beyond the size of the room, but for some reason it just worked amazingly. That was like the ultimate feeling of what I'm describing, the underwater club experience. You go there and the lights are off and you can completely have your own space, because it was never that busy, or most nights it wasn't that busy. The music was, when I started going, predominantly this thing that was being called dark garage, 8-bar, which then soon became dubstep, but people would always go there and play different disciplines of the same thing. So you could see four DJs on one FWD>> line-up and they would each be bringing their own slant on this kind of sound that was bass heavy, and a really physical experience because of this crazy soundsystem. People would go there and test tracks, dubplates would get cut just so they could be played in this club. So, yeah, it was kind of special and it was definitely a community that I wasn't really even part of, I was just going to the nights because that was somewhere I was getting a lot of inspiration from at the time. And I stayed going there, definitely had some of my most influential club experiences in this tiny box room. So yeah, FWD>> was like a template.

RBMA

But by being there you kind of were part of it because...

Bok Bok

Yeah, you could say that. I became part of it slowly, but the difference is I wasn't running up to the DJs trying to give them tracks, or I wasn't running up to the DJs trying to befriend myself or anything like that. I just wanted to go there, listen and you know, smoke and leave basically.

RBMA

But there's another interesting thing about that. Obviously, I think it influenced a lot of people and a lot of people who were there went off to do things.

Bok Bok

Definitely.

RBMA

It sort of enabled people to do things.

Bok Bok

I think it was the foundation for so many, because people like myself and DJs like Ben UFO and DJs like Oneman, we all started around the same kind of time, so this new wave of London people who came after the initial FWD>>, Rinse, DMZ people. We felt like we were definitely following in their footsteps to some extent, so it definitely set a precedent.

RBMA

There's something about the infrastructure, but also about the message that you can do stuff, you can invent something.

Bok Bok

For sure.

RBMA

 And that all the relevant bits were in place for you to be able to do that. That also had an impact, didn't it?

Bok Bok

Definitely, but also I never felt like I couldn't do something, or I couldn't try. I mean, as much as they helped, that also came from the feeling that you can, why not?

RBMA

So when you started your parties, can you give us a sense about how it goes from being people wanting to do a party - because what you are doing and the thing that you're into doesn't quite fit the things that already exist - to it becoming a thing where people are giving you tunes and you're thinking, "Well, this is the next logical step"? How did that come about?

Bok Bok

To be honest, I'm not really sure how that came about. It was just so organic and natural, where the people that are coming out to the nights are friends of ours and maybe they get inspired by something they hear or they get inspired by a certain blend and then they go home and make something. Or just the fact that they're like-minded and we've been talking for years and we've been sharing music and DJing together for years. It's just a really, really natural thing that came about. I can't take credit for it. It's just a beautiful phenomenon that a bunch of people happened to start making the right kind of music at the right time. And me and L-Vis just happened to be lucky enough to be in a position to be playing that in different places and trying it out in DJ sets and figuring out that, "Shit! It's functional, it works, you can play this in the club and people dance to it." Really, that's what led to the foundation of the label. Also there was this frustration where we were thinking about tracks by people like Kingdom, people like Egyptrixx at time, because Girl Unit and Jam City weren't really in it at that point so much, in the really early days. We were more looking at people like Kingdom and Egyptrixx and thinking, "How come these club tracks that are so effective, that are so functional and sound so good and we like them so much, how come they're not getting signed to other labels?" Me and L were having lunch one day and I really remember, really clearly, being like, "Hold on, 'That Mystic' by Kingdom, that tune's old as hell." We were like, "Hold on a minute, why hasn't anyone done anything with that yet?" And we were like, "Well, maybe that should be our first release." Obviously, that didn't happen in the end, but it's interesting that something like that was around for so long before we even started the label and it was definitely a catalyst; to think about it just sitting there on the shelf and sitting there in our DJ crates, and how unfair that is for everyone else.

RBMA

So if you're thinking about the early days of the label, I mean, obviously lots of people will know about all this but there'll be some people who won't. So who are the early parts of the family and what was it about their sound that pulled you towards them?

Bok Bok

I have to say that Girl Unit, back when he was called Girl U No It's True, was completely foundation and he was definitely with us from the start and DJing with us from the start and everything like that. My first real interaction with him was when he submitted a mixtape for my - I used to run a blog, like a webzine - that's pretty retro to say that now, webzine. I used to do that with someone you might know, Dan Hancox, we used to do that together. He's a journalist in London. So anyway, Girl U No It's True did a mixtape for that blog and it was all Miami bass, booty kind of stuff. It's not far removed from what he's doing now at all, actually, or what we're doing now. I can't even remember what year that was, but that was a long time ago. That was before the words Night Slugs were put together.

RBMA

And that was a kind of a bassline inspiration, the "Slugs" part.

Bok Bok

The name? Yeah, the name is a bassline thing. It's like a London bassline thing. Slugs means like 'womp' and the night is everything else, the ephemera. That's when it happens, at night. So, a pretty literal name, really.

RBMA

We're going to be playing lots of newer stuff as well, but is there something you can play us from the early part of the label, just a little snippet to give us a sense about where you're coming from?

Bok Bok

From the early days? Sure. I think this is still one of my favourite tracks for the club ever. So this is "IRL" by Girl Unit, which I'm sure many of you know.

(music: Girl Unit - IRL)

You know, I still remember when I first heard this and I just couldn't believe that my friend made this. My friend made this, it was crazy. It was like, "Is this getting signed or what? Can I have this for the label, please?"

RBMA

In the beginning part of the label there was a really distinctive sound. You had lots of different artists but there seemed to be something that very much brought it all together.

Bok Bok

Yeah, I think people plucked a few words from our early press releases that really stuck. I'm not going to reiterate those now, because I'm trying to shake all that off at this point.

RBMA

That's the reductive nature of the internet, isn't it?

Bok Bok

It's inevitable. But in my view, there was something that was connecting the releases that was a bit more intangible than that, that was more of a feeling, kind of an aesthetic approach to mixing and certain sound palette choices.

RBMA

OK, let's break that down a bit, because that's interesting. That takes it away from the reductiveness of what other people think.

Bok Bok

Totally.

RBMA:

So what are those things that you say stylistically brought them together?

Bok Bok

It's even hard for me to pin it down, but a part of it has to do with the fact that I mix a lot of the records, so I look after the cohesion of things to some extent. I don't do all of it but I've done a lot of the records over the years, the actual engineering part. But I'd like to think that I'm not moving away from what the artists want. I'm trying to just build on their vision. I guess the whole listening to soundsystem music that was innovative, that wasn't like - nothing against reggae or anything like that - but that's not retro, that's soundsystem music that's trying to do something totally different, but with the constraints of having these bass bins and these tops and trying to fit into that template of sounding good in the club. I think that's the mentality of, like, "How will this push, or how will this feel?" To some extent it was that. To another extent, of course, it was shared interests, shared musical influences and all that kind of obvious stuff that would make people get on, musically. So a shared interest in grime, a shared interest in ghetto house and all these different other genres that were important to us. Other than that, I think it's just trying to make people feel stuff in the club. Obviously, you want to make them bang but there's something else there too, and I think that x-factor, that intangibleness is maybe what brings them together.

RBMA

And are you aware, or not aware, but do you know what the feeling is that you want people to feel?

Bok Bok

It varies between tracks, because some tracks want you to feel something and other tracks want you to feel something.

RBMA

Give me some examples, if you can or want to.

Bok Bok

For example, with "IRL," with Girl Unit's music, it's like again there's a variety. Even in his music it varies so much, it's like one emotion in one track and one emotion in another track. With "IRL," when I heard it I was just like, "This is horrible, this is horror. When this is going to be loud in the club, this is going to be horrifying, but in a really cool way." Just that sense of panic from his synths and the wooshing high frequencies, just profoundly uneasy.

RBMA

I wonder what goes on with your heart and your blood pressure, it's like internal stuff.

Bok Bok

That's what I'm trying to say, it should be a physical experience.

RBMA:

You started the White Label imprint at the same time. It seems now like a very clever thing to have done, to have had it at the same time, sort of reflecting the output. What was the reason to start it, really?

Bok Bok

We just had bootlegs, basically. We had tracks that we didn't feel comfortable putting out properly, so limited, vinyl-only releases seemed like a nice, cheeky way to get around that. The first one was actually L-Vis's record that he already released digitally on Sound Pellegrino, so we were like, "Fuck it, why not?" So we just did a vinyl of it, small run, 500 copies or something. They sold right out. Then after that it started to be more about actual bootlegs, like creative ones, ones where we'd take an acappella that we definitely weren't allowed to use and just put it over a beat that we'd made or something like that. And just clever edits because the thing is, we make a lot of these for our own DJ sets. Kingdom does probably an edit a day like that and the rest of us like to do that kind of thing, too, and it just makes our DJ sets so much more special. So, to some extent it was the need to share some of that and to also allow other DJs to be able to have access to some of that stuff.

RBMA

But what's it done for the whole thing, to have both those aspects running in parallel?

Bok Bok

It's nice to have different outputs, because we've got Club Constructions now as well, so it's almost like there's three strands to the label. Now that we have White Label and now that we have Club Constructions, it's nice to be able to let the EPs be more monumental. Every time there's going to be a new EP from now on, in the main Night Slugs series, it should feel like the next big statement of where we're headed, like a big artistic statement, we really go in on the art and try to make it really dynamic. Whereas with the other ones, it's like a chance for us to keep feeling DJs and feeling the club hopefully, as long as people want to play it. It's like, when I started getting into DJing it was all about going into a record shop and seeing what was on the wall and then maybe asking what was behind the counter, you know? It's like cheeky white label culture. I really miss it, because it's a really special thing that felt really special. When you've got something on white label that felt like it wasn't really widely available or widely known and you could play it in your DJ sets, it was an amazing, awesome feeling. And to some extent it's trying to preserve some of that culture that I feel like I come from as a DJ.

RBMA

It's the power of secrets really, isn't it, aka unreleased dubs?

Bok Bok

Kind of, yeah. It's not quite dubplate culture but something in the middle.

RBMA

We could now talk a bit about how the label progressed into albums, or you've kind of reached a point where you're talking about DJs and you as a DJ and the DJs that influenced you. I wonder which path should we take?

Bok Bok

I don't know.

RBMA

 (laughs) Well, let's come back to the thought about the DJ then, because I think that's kind of next in where we're going to come to, and maybe you can just tell us a bit about the label and how you moved into the sort of transitional phase of putting out albums.

Bok Bok

Sure, OK. The first time we put out an album was because Egyptrixx made one for us. It's like a lot of things with the label, to some extent I'm trying to look after the whole thing, I'm trying to really make it cohesive and make it feel good and make it feel like it's all happening at the same time and everything like that. But a lot of it wasn't actually planned, a lot of it happened really serendipitously because someone happened to make the right piece of music. So sure enough, Egyptrixx just made an album and there it was, and it was great and it fit the sound of the label, the aesthetic of the label, so much that we just couldn't not do it. I never actually set out to be like, "OK, we've graduated, we need to start doing long-playing projects." It wasn't like that at all, Egyptrixx just happened to make us a really wonderful album and that was our first album release. Then we also did Allstars Volume 1, which kind of ended up sounding like an album but that wasn't the intention at the time, but it's a nice byproduct of that. The intention with that was just to collate all our music and put it together and make people listen to it kind of in a row, drive the point home that yes, these tracks are cohesive.

RBMA

And I guess also, maybe giving an in to people who aren't so deep in it.

Bok Bok:

Totally, doing a compilation really helps with that in the sense that people who aren't following it on the daily, weekly basis of what's hot, what just dropped or whatever. A lot of people got into stuff that way and because tracks like "Wut" by Girl Unit were on it and things like that, it was a cool move for us because it helped us expand. That's not really an album, it's kind of different to what you were talking about. For example, obviously Jam City did an album with us called Classical Curves, which is really special and still really means a lot to me and it seems to have connected with a few people, people seem to like it. But the way that came about is that we actually asked him to do that, because I would always listen to his demos and he always had a shitload of music that never got released. He recently leaked some of it, which is cool. We're really happy that happened because I feel like it deserves to be out there, because a lot of it's really, really good. But he always had an absolute ton of music that he didn't really want to put out some of it, and the volume was too high for us to even put out, really. But I would always find myself listening to it, like in a playlist together, one after the other, and I always found that his tracks sounded really good surrounded by other tracks by him. So that's where we came from with that, we actually asked him, commissioned him to do an album for us. Then we almost had that done and then it got completely scrapped, and he just suddenly got this vision and just wrote from scratch and then Classical Curves happened.

RBMA

So can we have a little listen to something, and maybe tell us...

Bok Bok

Yeah, for sure.

RBMA

 Play something that when you first heard, you realised that something completely different had happened.

Bok Bok

Totally.

(music: Jam City - Her/applause)

RBMA

So what did you think when you received this?

Bok Bok

I mean, that wasn't what it sounded like when I received it, but it was in a batch of tracks that made me go, "OK, this is his own project, basically. He's got his vision and he's definitely got it worked out."

RBMA

We could carry on talking about Night Slugs for ages longer. I think probably we should come back at some point to talk about some of the newer people that are in the family, but I just wanted to take it back to you for a minute. You've said before, basically I'm a DJ, and it was DJs that influenced you heavily in the first place. Can we bring things 'round to a certain gentleman by the name of Slimzee?

Bok Bok

Totally. So Slimzee was the godfather of grime or is the godfather of grime, whatever you want to say, but maybe a little bit less active now. He was most active around, I want to say like 2002, 2003 onwards, until he got his ASBO. An ASBO's an Anti-social Behaviour Order, which stops you from doing certain things in the UK. It's kind of a loophole in the law, which means you don't get sent to prison, but you're on parole, kind of. It restricts your movement. I think he's got the only height-based ASBO, where he can't travel to a certain height, because that means he can't get to the pirate radio station.

RBMA

He wasn't allowed over, was it four floors or something?

Bok Bok

He wasn't allowed to go four floors above ground level or something crazy like that.

(laughter)

RBMA

Because he dedicated so much to the pirate radio world.

Bok Bok

He is pirate radio, you know? I got into him through Dizzee Rascal, basically. I know that was the way into grime. For people that are into grime, I think a lot of people, it made it click for them when the Dizzee record came out, when the first Dizzee singles started coming out, "I Luv U," and all that kind of stuff. Before that, I'd gone to school surrounded by garage and everyone was listening to garage, which was OK for me but it didn't really click until I started hearing these really deformed kind of sounds. It's like techno being made by kids that didn't have a techno audience, or didn't have any audience for that matter, really.

RBMA

And sometimes quite literally being made on a Playstation.

Bok Bok

At times, although I think that's been played up a little bit. But definitely being made on cheap software, being made with cheap sounds, being made without any real technical know-how. But that's actually what made it special because they found their own way through it. In fact, I've been trying to recapture that naivety, I guess, and it's impossible, because the way they did things, the not-knowing was exactly what made these producers make this crazy, brilliant music. That they didn't have anyone to answer to, they didn't have anyone to necessarily look up to, apart from maybe garage producers they knew or something. A lot of the time they were just acting autonomously and their only real audience was the pirate radio DJ who they would give their dubs to, or the people that were listening to the stations. But it's like no one cared: no one was like, "You can't do this because that breaks the rules, because this isn't house, or this isn't how garage works." There wasn't any of that at all. But I got into Slimzee because he was quite tightly related to the Roll Deep crew, which Dizzee Rascal was in at the time, and I just started listening to a ton of radio. I used to listen to all sorts of bollocks before that, but basically it just wiped the slate clean for me. I was like, "Oh, OK, this is what I was meant to do in life, I was meant to play this music." So I would just spend all day long taping radio, listening to radio. We were really lucky in London that we had this pirate radio culture, because I know it's unique to the UK. A lot of countries have something similar, but the way that the we had it... our radio's really tightly controlled, it's pretty hard to get a licence. You can only really get a licence if you're doing something fairly unique or if you're serving a community that's fairly unique, so that's how it came about with having a pirate radio culture. I'm sure you guys already know about that anyway.

RBMA

Although, as I've heard Norman Jay say before, in most other countries in the world pirate radio would not be tolerated. People did it in the UK and they sometimes had all their gear taken away from them or got in trouble with the police, but it was still, not exactly tolerated, but it happened and there are plenty of other places where that would just never have happened.

Bok Bok

It would have just got straight down, yeah, it's interesting.

RBMA

So we've got a lot to be grateful for.

Bok Bok

We are lucky with that, for sure.

RBMA

But you've got a kind of classic piece of Slimzee that I think we should share. Tell us what it is first.

Bok Bok

This is the intro to a tape called Sidewinder. Sidewinder was a rave brand at the time, they were doing really big grime raves and garage raves and they would do these tape packs. So this is DJ Slimzee on the turntables and a really young Dizzee Rascal and a pretty young Wiley on the mic, both sounding pretty hungry and kind of at their peak.

(music: DJ Slimzee, Dizzee Rascal & Wiley - Sidewinder tape)

So they would start off just playing the big vocal tracks of the time and kind of lead on to actually spitting. Shall I forward a little bit into the tape?

RBMA:

We could listen to a tiny bit more, or you can tell us where that energy and feeling and impetus is in what you do, either where it is or where you would want it to be?

Bok Bok

I mean, I've been trying. I don't want to confuse you guys, there was like a kind of a soul intro there and stuff like that. If you listen to this tape it's about, how long is it? Is it 45 minutes a side, is that what tapes used to be? It's pretty intense. The mixing's really fast, the BPM is around 138, 140 the whole time, Wiley and Rascal swap bars, it's like 16 bars, 8 bars, pass the mic constantly, play around with each other's bars. The energy's unbelievable. You could get this in the rave as well, it wasn't just a radio thing, this is possible in the club. Basically, that possibility is something I still feel has been untapped, because the way that this music went, the story of this music is like, it didn't go anywhere near as far as I felt like it should. Grime's still around, it's a scene, there's raves, people like Butterz are doing great stuff with new artists, but this old aesthetic, this original aesthetic of grime, of the way it sounded back in 2003 onwards, I do feel like it's been lost to the ages. There's various reasons for that. We had police crackdowns, we had a ton of prejudice, we had media hype that went down as fast as it went up, all these different reasons. To me, my whole career is almost based around a frustration of, "How come this isn't more celebrated? Let's try and capture this vibe." I'm not trying to make retro grime, that's definitely not what I'm trying to do out here, but it's capturing that energy, capturing that possibility that a club could be so intense and that dance music and rave music could be at that level of intensity.

RBMA

Can you play something of yours...?

Bok Bok

 Where I've tried to do it?

RBMA

Yeah.

Bok Bok

Sure. You guys probably know my track "Silo Pass" but I'll play it anyway.

RBMA

I think that's the one for now.

(music: Bok Bok - Silo Pass)

Bok Bok

 (comments over music) I actually sampled Dizzee Rascal for, what is it, the first 16 of this or whatever? He was a great producer, that's another thing people don't really know. You guys should go home and check out Dizzee Rascal's beats if you don't know them, because he was great. (stops music) That's enough.

(applause)

RBMA

So that's grime as kind of rude club music, not that it isn't in other environments, but that's you making it specifically.

Bok Bok

That is me specifically making grime.

RBMA

And do you want to break down a little bit what went into that track, for us?

Bok Bok

Yeah. I went out of my way to figure out exactly how all of my favourite tracks were made, from that era. It was kind of hard because...

RBMA

Did you draw diagrams?

Bok Bok

I didn't draw diagrams. It's more to do with process and sound kits and stuff like that. This actually applies to my production as a whole. What I've been trying to do is, I've been trying to take really technical influences from my influences. So what I'll do is, when I like a track I'm going to figure out how it was done, what equipment was used, what sound kits were used, what drum machines were used. I'll recreate it privately as an exercise in just learning how to produce. So for this whole EP, for the Southside EP, which is what that track came from, I went back and figured out a lot of these cheap, but no longer available sound kits that were being used at the time in 2003/'4, by these London producers.

RBMA

Like what?

Bok Bok

Like what? OK, so one of them was called Plugsound and I don't mind telling you guys about this because good luck finding it. If you can find it, then props to you, honestly, because it was hard to get it to work. It's like this free, French plug-in with just like sound banks, modules and whatnot. The other thing is a Korg Triton rack. That's really important for this whole era and those are really readily available and also totally rinsed by The Neptunes, like that's their whole - that and the, I think Phantom, is it? - that's their whole sound. So, good bit of gear, check that one out. Also the Wiley bass, that kind of comes from that module as well. So anyway, I spent a little bit of time researching how these things were made, what effects were used and stuff like that, and then tried to make it my own. I don't know to what extent - you guys can be the judges of to what extent I succeeded - but the point is, it's trying to pay homage in a fairly direct way where I actually figure out the processes involved.

RBMA

And it sounds truly wicked.

Bok Bok

Thanks.

RBMA

Can you tell us what sort of response you got from the grime world on that tune?

Bok Bok

Yeah, with that tune I'm pretty happy with myself actually, because I feel like a lot of people in grime really embraced it. I mean, DJ Spyro, who's one of the like - he's like a reigning king as a grime DJ, he's still probably the best grime DJ around - bootlegged it, or asked to remix it, and a bunch of other people bootlegged it, Spooky bootlegged it. Spyro then bootlegged himself. So that's always a good sign, because that was another thing that was super appealing to me about that kind of culture is, at the time, because it was a lot of FruityLoops production and Fruity just lets you loop stuff up real quick... (noise in the background) Woah! Cool!

(laughter)

Anyone got a field mic?

RBMA

I feel like this is just a signal, it's just like this is a raw track.

Bok Bok

This is the rave siren. Track's too hot.

RBMA

Yeah, you just got it burning up then.

Bok Bok

So yeah, Spyro did that remix and has been playing it. Although interestingly, Spyro will only play - he was only interested in the first 16 of the drop, as soon as the Arp comes in he's like, "Nah, I'm out." So I guess some of the otherness of it was still not that much embraced, but the point is people played it. People in the grime scene played it, people considered it a grime track. I got a lot of feedback from OG producers saying, this sounds really authentic, this sounds like it's from that classic era, which I think everyone misses. I'm not the only one that feels like that. It feels like everyone who was into that music is slightly teary-eyed about it, because it just disappeared.

RBMA

Well, I guess it didn't disappear because it just mutated into other things, but there weren't enough of those records. There's a kind of canon and there's not millions of them.

Bok Bok

There's a canon, and the potential is hinted at. The surface has been scratched, that's the thing. I'm not ready to leave it behind, for that reason, because I feel like there's so much potential there and you can make that music for years and you can still come out with amazing, original stuff.

RBMA

Can we talk a bit more about some of your other productions, because actually, even though it's kind of your co-label - that's not quite the right sentence, but you know what I mean - it took you a little while to actually put your music out, I mean, not that you weren't making stuff, because I know you were making stuff, but how come it took a little while?

Bok Bok

I'm pretty time-starved because I do a lot of stuff with this label. I'm just going to say, if anyone wants to start a label you better clear out your next year and a half at least. Clear your schedules, basically. So it's like that, it just ate my life, especially because I'm involved in a lot of aspects of it; from the art direction through to the audio direction and mixing and all that kind of stuff. It's just time. Then between that and doing DJ shows and stuff, it means that I'm really limited for studio time. I always really envy producers that can just sit down and bang out a track from start to finish in half an hour. I might be able to do the core idea in half an hour and I definitely try to not to string it out, because I feel like, if it's not happening move onto the next thing. That's always been my approach, but I can't finish stuff. I need to really get into a zone where I've got like three weeks of nothing else but studio, at least. Then I can write a record, but I haven't had that for years, so that's the reason that I'm a little bit slow.

RBMA

So can we hear something else of yours?

Bok Bok

Yeah, what shall I play?

RBMA

Well, you were talking about the Tom Trago stuff. You weren't here, but...

Bok Bok

I'll play that after. I want to play for you guys this track "MJT," which I mentioned at the start, because this track kind of became the template to what I'm doing now. This came out on Night Slugs White Label series.

(music: Bok Bok - MJT/applause)

Thanks. So the thing with that track is, the sample, the little key and the one little bass note, is from a Mary Jane Girls track that was produced by Rick James. It's like a really sweet boogie love song and it's like, the idea of taking that little snippet and making it like that. Originally, this track was called - I shortened it down because I thought it was a bit uncool to say it, but it was called "Mary Jane Torture," because the repetition is meant to be unpleasant to the max. It's meant to take something that used to be about love and human feelings and then make it feel really un-human. And that's kind of become the template for what I'm trying to do with my next record, my next EP.

RBMA

Is there anything you can tell us about the next EP?

Bok Bok

Er, no, not for now. Mainly because of what I was saying earlier on, because of how I'm pretty time-starved. And I just want to let the music speak.

RBMA

Fairly soon we're going to put it out to questions for you lot, but I want to talk a little bit more about some of your production and some of newer stuff, the newer faces that have become part of Night Slugs. Let's stick with you for the minute. What else have you got going on, producer-wise?

Bok Bok

So, I've got a collaboration with a guy called Tom Trago from Amsterdam, which started off as a one-off, but I think we're going to keep it going because we've done it two years in a row now. We take a few weeks in August and just get together in his studio. He's got a really amazing studio in Amsterdam, not amazing for the equipment, although he has got cool stuff in there, but just the vibe. It's beautiful and we always make cool shit in there. Originally, Teki Latex from Sound Pellegrino asked us to collaborate, that was his idea, but since then me and Tom have gone off on one and I think we've got at least three 12-inches, probably coming later this year. They just need to be edited and mixed and all the other stuff that needs to happen. But yeah, it's a different project. What we do together is much more analogue jam kind of vibes. We'll get in a room, we'll get few machines going and just see what happens, record long takes and then try and edit something together out of that. The core ideas of the tracks definitely happen within half an hour or something like that, just while we're together, and we try and keep as much of the live takes as possible.

RBMA

What is it about him or that scenario that makes it a good collaboration for you?

Bok Bok

Because we do come from really different places. He hasn't got my roots and he's really into disco. I mean, I love disco too, but it's just to do with what your true passions are what actually feeds directly into your music. He makes a lot of house, so when we come together the things that we've got in common tend to be Chicago music, house, some disco stuff, some boogie stuff, synthy kind of stuff and I guess there's less of an emphasis on - I don't know, it's kind of hard to put into words - but there's less of an emphasis on making it like super cutting-edge club kind of stuff and more of just trying to create a nice vibe that maybe references the things we both like.

RBMA

It's funny because again I've you seen you before mentioning Dance Mania and Lil Louis and that kind of mid- to late '80s Chicago vibe.

Bok Bok

And '90s too.

RBMA

Later stuff as well?

Bok Bok

Yeah, definitely.

RBMA

So what is it about that sound that appeals to you?

Bok Bok

It's hard to say what it is in words. I love house music but I think people have different ideas of what that is, but to me it's like, that is what I love about house music, because of that Chicago sound. But it's much the same as what appeals to me about grime, really.

RBMA

There's a rawness.

Bok Bok

There's a rawness, there's a level of intensity there that other music doesn't reach, and a level of honesty. You can kind of hear how it was made and who it was made by, in a way, even though it's electronic music. Again, it's got that whole potential for emotiveness, and I don't know, there's just so much power in it. That's another time I think when clubs were being really, really challenged by productions.

RBMA

What do you mean by clubs being challenged by productions?

Bok Bok

Not thinking, "OK, I'm going to make a club track," and thinking that's a reductive process, actually thinking that's the biggest challenge ever. Like, how do I make people dance and feel good or feel physially engaged, while also making them feel something else?

RBMA

Or that thing about making people like stuff that they don't yet understand...

Bok Bok

Yeah, making people physically react with their bodies, by dancing, to things that their brains aren't up to speed with yet.

RBMA

I guess that's partly to do with a challenge for the dancefloor, but it's also often a challenge between producers, isn't it, of like, how can I step up to this next level? And I guess that's something that you've seen, that will always be present in those nightclub worlds that have ended up creating amazing music.

Bok Bok

That's why I'm so into the idea of community, because I love the idea that we're a community of producers and we've got this dialogue going on between us. That's definitely true for the Night Slugs label. That track "Her" that I played by Jam City from his album, that's definitely influenced the _Club Constructions _series, and we just have these memes that go back and forward. Hopefully everyone in the camp feels mutual about this, but we like to think the ideas are there on the table and it's kind of a push-pull, call and response situation.

RBMA

So can you tell us about some of the people that more recently joined the camp?

Bok Bok

Yeah. So, one of our new recruits is a guy called Helix who is a US producer, he's from Georgia. He's cool as well, but it's like he had to be in Night Slugs, because he gets exactly the right crossover. He loves grime, he loves rap, he loves techno and he loves house, he loves disco and all the right things.

RBMA

Did he know that he had to be on Night Slugs?

Bok Bok

No, he didn't. Phil Girl Unit actually kind of A&R'd that one. He showed me a track called "Drum Track" and we ended up signing it and putting it out. So Girl Unit, that goes out to you, that one. But yeah, he definitely belongs and I think he feels that way too, hopefully. His next release with us is a_ Club Constructions_ volume. I'm really interested in what's going on with Club Constructions, because me and L-Vis gave everyone a set of parameters, which all started with L-Vis's first Club Constructions record, some of the things are like, the reverbs have to be super short and tight.

RBMA

So you've actually got a list of Dogme-type rules?

Bok Bok

Yeah, there's a manifesto of sorts. The whole point of Club Constructions is, while the rest of the label is trying to get into maybe slightly loftier territories, where we're really trying to be a little bit more out there, I guess, with some of the stuff we're doing. We definitely want to keep one foot in constantly producing new, really functionalist club music that doesn't necessarily have much content. It's drums, you know, it's club tools, DJ tools, it's functionalist.

RBMA

So what are the rules, then?

Bok Bok

So as I say, one of them is no long reverbs. One of them is no unnecessary vocals. I don't know how many people know "Bring In The Katz," but that came out as a Club Constructions record and that's a vocal record, but I would argue the vocals are absolutely essential for that one to work. So it's these things, no unnecessary vocal samples, no unnecessary long reverbs or effects. All these rules have been broken somewhere already in the Club Constructions catalogue, but it has to feel a certain way, like, we encourage tape saturation for that project. There's a few different things, I can't actually remember all of them.

RBMA

It's a weird thing to mention, really, but in George Orwell's five rules of writing the last rule is, "Break all these rules rather than say anything outright barbarous."

Bok Bok

Cool. We definitely encourage that, for sure. As I say, the rules have been broken over the time, but they've got to be broken in the right way. I'm really interested in the fact that because we created these parameters - or not because of that, but maybe that aided the process a little bit - but what's happened with Club Constructions a little bit now is that the producers have gone away and the series has its own sound. And you guys will see from some of the stuff that ends up coming out, like the next three releases that are lined up, they all sound really similar in the best possible way. They're all done by three different people. I just find that fascinating that they can communicate with music. None of them wrote to each other and were like, "So, what are you doing for your CC release? Are you going to do it like this or are you going to do it like that?" None of them did that, it's just musical ideas. They hear me play the demos on Rinse FM and they go away and they make something else. It's a beautiful thing.

RBMA

So can you play us a more recent release that illustrates something about where you're collectively are at the moment?

Bok Bok

I guess Club Constructions would be a good place to do that. I'll play something from the next Helix. This is a particularly brutalist piece, but hopefully you will see the influence, because I really feel like this one was influenced by the Jam City track I played.

(music: Helix - Linn Jam (No Synth))

Bok Bok

There's almost no point playing this in its entirety, because it is that, that is it. But I want to play another one just to illustrate the point I'm making. This is by a different producer, I'm not going to say who yet, but this is another forthcoming Club Constructions thing. It's not the same but the relationship's there, I think.

(music / applause)

RBMA

Shall we head back into 'off the record' territory again for one track, before we put it out to questions?

Bok Bok

Yeah, let's do that. So this is something that I've... we didn't talk about Fade To Mind, it would be good to introduce them a little bit first. A recent development with Night Slugs is...

RBMA

The thing is, this is a live edit so we have to make sure that we're clear about which bits we keep in and which bits we don't. So we're keeping this in?

Bok Bok

Yeah, we should keep this in. There's a recent development with Night Slugs, which is cool and again points to the organic way in which we work and the way that everythings developing. Kingdom, who is an artist that released on Night Slugs several times and has been part of our family - like I said earlier on, he was one of the ones whose productions really made us start a label in the first place - he recently started his own label and that's called Fade To Mind. We're calling it 'sister labels' because they've kind of taken a lot of cues from our template and done their own thing with it. They've filled up that template with their own content, but there are similar parameters there. We're all friends, it's people like Nguzunguzu, Prince William and DJ Rizla, Mike Q is involved. There's a lot of people who we're already sharing music with and sharing ideas with, but more than that, I think structurally, the way it's been set up and the way that Kingdom is looking after everyone's mixes and trying to keep a cohesive element there, and the way that their art has a relationship with all the rest of their art...

RBMA

Because there's an artwork link, a relationship, isn't there?

Bok Bok

Yeah, there's an artwork relationship, even literally in the template - they use the same cover template as we do for their EPs - and we definitely want to make that link explicit. So it's interesting, it's a way in which people are influencing each other. I find it really interesting because to a large extent it's hands off, it's not me and L-Vis sitting there telling people, "This is going to be your next move," or anything like that. They've gone off on their own and done that and it's very much their project, their baby, which leads us onto what you were about to ask. So, if we can once again go off the record...

RBMA

We're on, we're off...

Bok Bok:

Sorry to be awkward, but when stuff isn't finished I don't want it out there yet. So, Fade To Mind have a new artist, Calela. She's a singer and she's about to do a mixtape with them. It's 15 tracks and it's like, so many producers from Night Slugs, so many producers from Fade To Mind have productions on there. It's kind of an interesting thing for us because it's a first. We're all interested in producing for vocal projects, but it's really the first time that any of us have been able to do that with someone and to a level where we feel really kind of satisfied by it. So I wanted to play you guys my beat for that project and how that came out.

(music: Calela - unknown / applause)

Thanks, guys.

RBMA

Wow, that's a wow. So, questions. Who's got the microphone? Who has some questions?

Participant

Hey. I was wondering if you could tell us about how it's different to produce for a vocalist, and how was your process different?

Bok Bok

I'm really new to it, actually, so I'm still figuring that out. But with the track I just played, I feel like I had to take cues from the lyrical content, I had to take cues from what was already there. The process with that was kind of interesting because I came into that when there was already a demo there, which had a completely different production, but the vocal was similar and the vocal melody was similar. So, I wrote around it and I felt like there was a certain vulnerability and softness that I needed to preserve. I worked really differently on that one, especially with the way I treated the drums and everything like that. I really wanted to work totally differently on that track to the way I would work for club music, because it's one of the first times I've done a track that was explicitly not really a club track. But Calela and I are planning to work more in future on stuff which will be more for my project, which will be clubby. I definitely want to negotiate a way to make club vocal music that doesn't necessarily have to compromise or change the way that it works, compared to what I normally do. But for that particular track I definitely wanted to keep things really held back and really gentle. But at the same time I wanted to give it an edge, so there is this weight to it, like there's the sub bass, which you wouldn't get in a ballad normally, because I always want to subvert things a little bit.

Participant

Hey man, thanks for being here.

Bok Bok

My pleasure.

Participant

Also, thanks for repping the South. There's a lot of good dance music in the South and I don't think it gets repped enough, thank you. But my question to you is: I think we didn't touch on it enough, but the artwork I think plays a very important role in your label's direction, at least coming from my perspective, and everything almost seems very airtight and the branding is on point. How much time did you spend on that, what was your vision on that, who did you get to work? Can you explain all that, because I think that's one of the strongest parts next to the music?

Bok Bok

Thanks for bringing it up. I spent a ton of time on it. I'm trying to spend less time on it because, really, I want to be in the studio, but it's another one of those things which initially started off with not having much of a plan or we didn't really have a map of how it was going to develop or anything like that. I just made the Mosca cover and I had certain ideas at the time. I was watching the Panasonic ”Glider" video - I don't know if people are familiar with that, but it's a piece of early electronic art, which was generated electronically. It looks kind of naive these days but it's groundbreaking. It's a little bit like the Tron aesthetic, it's a little bit like that wireframe, slightly '80s-looking. But really, to me it looks like modernism so that's why I'm drawn to it. Those are the influences for the early art. I guess what I was really trying to do was illustrate the music in a really literal way, in a synaesthetic way. If you guys aren't familiar with synaesthesia, it's like the effect of one sense making you get another sense, so it's like taste making you feel like you're being touched. So it's like, when you hear music, what do you see? It was literally an exercise in that. So, for the first year or so of Night Slugs, I was just doing these really simple - what I saw as modernist, hopefully - illustrations that would go some way to giving the music a little visual home to live in. I guess that hasn't really changed, that remit hasn't really changed, but the main thing that has changed is that the production's just gone way higher, the standards of what the visuals actually look like. The biggest catalyst for that was Jam City's album project, which has a really interesting story behind it which is kind of long, so I probably won't get into it. Basically, we were forced to do a 3D render for that project. Not many people realise that's what it is. It's not a photo, it's 3D. Since then we've been doing this really intricate 3D pieces, which take forever, and the way that that's done is, me and the artist will put together a wireframe or - it's kind of just like a layout. We'll say how it'll be laid out, we'll say what textures are going to be applied, so we fully art-direct the whole piece, and then we hand it over to a 3D person who will then create it for us. It's pretty cool and it's getting more hands-off, which I'm happy about. I want other people to be able to contribute to it and I don't want it to be just me any more, so it's developing, it's cool.

Participant

Thanks man, I appreciate it.

Bok Bok

Pleasure.

RBMA

Any more, or are you all so blissed out by that last piece of music that all the questions have left your mind? If so, feel free to come and talk in person.

Bok Bok

Yeah, I'm around, I'll be around all day today, so see you guys around.

RBMA

Definitely, so I think a big round of applause, thank you.

(applause)

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