The video stream for this lecture can be watched here.
Whether David Kennedy goes by his curious handle Ramadanman or the rather more straight alternative Pearson Sound, his unique and very modern amalgamation of dubstep, house, garage and techno has made him one of the UK’s most talked about and forward-thinking producers. His talents have earned him a FabricLive release, as well as singles on Hemlock and Swamp 81 to add to those on his own Hessle Audio imprint. Here he reflects on dubstep’s growth through a handful of like minds at FWD>> to the saturation point of today.
RBMA: Morning! This is the time of the week where you have to go: (loud) “Morning!”
RBMA: Yeah, that’s right, don’t worry we’re all a bit tired, but yes, please make him welcome, Mr. Pearson Sound!
Pearson Sound: Thank you.
RBMA: How are you feeling, David?
Pearson Sound: Pretty good – well rested.
RBMA: So I think the best way to dust off the cobwebs from last night, and also to introduce your sound for people in the room that might not be familiar with your music, is to play a record. I think we should get an idea of the kind of music you make at the moment, and play something current.
RBMA: What’s this?
Pearson Sound: This is a track called "Glut", which came out last year.
RBMA: Alright, let’s listen to this nice and loud please. Over there, hello!
(music: Pearson Sound – Glut / applause)
So is that a very current release?
Pearson Sound: I guess, that’s about a year old now. But yeah, it’s one of the tunes that got popular last year, so I thought I’d play this one because you can never assume what people have heard or what people know about.
RBMA: Yeah, absolutely. And with that in mind, can you maybe introduce yourself and let us know who you are and where you’re from?
Pearson Sound: Yeah, my name is David Kennedy. I make music under quite a few names, such as Pearson Sound, Ramadanman, Maurice Donovan, and several others. I live in London, I’m from London, I lived in Leeds for a bit, and I co-run a record label called Hessle Audio and I also DJ.
RBMA: You’re DJing quite a lot at the moment. I think that it’s fair to say that the last year has been a very successful year for you as a DJ. Do you want to tell us about your schedule currently?
Pearson Sound: Yeah, it’s got a lot busier, and I’ve been DJing for as long as I’ve been making music, so it’s great and I’m getting to travel all over the world. Last month I was everywhere from Mexico to Germany to Brussels and all across Europe and fortunate enough to go to Asia and America and other continents, which is really cool. Things have been really busy. DJing is obviously the thing that takes up most of my time because of the travelling aspect, so I’m mainly busy with that right now.
RBMA: And are you enjoying yourself?
Pearson Sound: Yeah, definitely. I think it’s quite easy to get a bit run down sometimes, like last month I just hit it a bit hard in terms of taking on too many shows, and ended up being ill for three weeks solidly, I just couldn’t shake it. So I’m enjoying it until I just get too busy for my good.
RBMA: We heard in Scuba’s lecture yesterday about the difficulty between running a record label, making tunes, and DJing as well – how do you strike that balance?
Pearson Sound: At the moment it’s quite difficult. I mean, the way I’ve always done it is by not really spending whole days in the studio. I’ll take it in little chunks, so I've never really had a problem in that respect, but this year especially, you might be DJing on a Friday and Saturday and you get home on a Sunday and you don’t really feel like doing anything. And on the Monday, Tuesday, you might answer a few emails and Wednesday you make a few tunes, and it all starts again on Thursday. So you know, it can be a bit of a squeeze for time, and airports aren’t the most inspiring of places, but I’m always thankful, and I think that’s important you can never get complacent. Like when you see DJs complaining on Twitter about having to travel for four hours somewhere, it’s like, you’ve got to realise how fortunate you are at the same time.
RBMA: Now, over the last week we’ve been lucky enough to hear from people like Nile Rodgers and Trevor Horn about selling millions of records, and the good old days of people buying physical products and so on. Is it fair to say that for your generation the reality is that, putting out a record like "Glut" is creatively fulfilling for you, but is also basically a business card for your DJing services, and that’s where your touring income comes from? Is that the reality for the young producer/DJ now?
Pearson Sound: Being only 23, I never really saw the days where producers would sell 20.000 singles or whatever. Well, even that was not that much for the bigger tunes. But I never really saw the days when dance music sold and made ridiculous amounts of money. So the way I’ve experienced it is that, obviously you do make some money from releases, especially if they do well. But in reality in terms of income, DJing is more lucrative, because to make a tune it might take weeks, whereas to DJ it takes one night. So yeah, the industry has definitely changed in that respect and I think that definitely affects things. Like, you see producers who have made one big tune and they’re DJing all around the world. Which is cool, but it’s almost unfair to have that pressure to perform if you don’t want to. I mean, you look at someone like Burial, he’s never done any kind of live thing, and he’s sort of stuck to it in that respect even though he probably could have toured the world ten times over. So yeah, I think at the moment there's this slightly weird thing where everyone is expected to do a live show or to DJ, which is a bit strange if it’s not what you want to do.
RBMA: When you’re DJing around the world, how is that informing the music that you’re making? And further to that, as your venues get bigger, do you feel a pressure to make sort of ‘big room records’? Is your DJing really informing the tunes that you’re writing right now?
Pearson Sound: Well, there’s obviously a danger, and I suppose we’ll probably talk about it later on, in terms of the dubstep scene being part of my theory of how things went. If you saw Scuba's lecture, he didn’t go too far into that discussion, but as the music became more popular, obviously venues got bigger, crowds got bigger, crowds got more impatient. I think the smoking ban – in England, smoking in nightclubs was banned in about 2008, 2009 – and its effect meant that DJs feel like they have to work harder to keep people in the room to avoid them going for a cigarette, so music gets harder and faster and a bit more ‘in your face’ to try and keep people there. But personally, I think, if you’re playing a festival to 10.000 people, you have to keep it in mind because there’s a lot less subtlety onstage with such a big audience. I think it’s about compromising not too much. You’ve got to realise as well, with 10.000 people about 60% of them will have no idea who you are and no idea about the music you play. You can drop some of the bigger tunes, which maybe, if you were playing to 100 people in London you would never play. And that’s not a bad thing, if it’s a good tune it’s a good tune regardless. So, the kind of venues you play does inform the kind of sets you play and how you DJ, and I think it’s important to keep that in mind. And as long as you’re happy with what you’re doing. If you’re purposely like, “Oh, I don’t really like this tune but I know it will get a good reaction,” I think that’s when there might be a problem.
RBMA: So what was the period of musical innocence for you when you were devoid of any of those pressures or influences or things around you? What was the time when you first started making music for the sake of making music?
Pearson Sound: Well, I had piano lessons when I was young, and I sort of stopped doing it when I was about 12 or 13 because it sort of became uncool. I remember that my piano teacher at school would always get really frustrated with me because instead of reading the music, I would memorise how it sounded and play it from memory rather than sight reading. That always frustrated her so, we ended up doing jazz piano where in each composition you’d have a few bars where you do a little noodle and you could do whatever you want. So I enjoyed that more. Then eventually I stopped those lessons, and at the time I had an electronic keyboard like a lot of kids, and I would make recordings to tape. I’d make my own silly little radio shows, and eventually I got to use computers, and it sort of happened from there, really. I just started using FruityLoops in 2001, and I’ve kind of been using it ever since. So it was quite a natural progression from using little keyboards and tape recorders, to eventually using this really budget version of this other software. And because it was a demo you couldn’t save it, so after school I’d spend a couple of hours making a tune, then my parents would get home and I’d have to quickly bounce it out by recording it live. You couldn’t save anything, so it was very innocent in that respect. It was a lot more creative, I guess.
RBMA: So what was the age where you first came into contact with music technology?
Pearson Sound: I think it was probably around when I was eight or nine. I’m lucky that I’m young enough to have grown up with the technology of the internet, so I'm fortunate in that respect. I’ve always been using it, and in school it was drummed into you, in IT lessons and stuff like that, so I’ve been using computers from an early age. Using software for ten years means that you know it very well. Like, when I use a programme like Logic or something I’m unfamiliar with, I waste so much time just trying to find out something really simple, whereas if I’ve been using a software for that many years, it’s very instinctive. It becomes very logical from your point of view because you can do what you want, and express yourself a lot more quickly rather having to worry about how to just draw in the note. With FruityLoops I can do it just like that.
RBMA: What sort of music were you making in your early teens? Have you got anything with you?
Pearson Sound: Yeah (laughs), I was saying yesterday that there is this funny story. There was this physics technician at my school, and we found out that he was into electronic music. I think I found him one day making jungle music after school in the science labs or something, so we got chatting, and I told him that I made music too. So I made him a compilation complete with a massive page of notes describing what each tune was about and influenced by. Anyway, last month I just got this email in my inbox from the same guy, and he was like: “Oh, I just found this CD rummaging through my stuff.” And he ripped it for me and it’s quite funny really. I mean, I had a few of the tunes, but there were a few tunes there that I had lost on my computer. So it’s quite a nice little insight into the mind of a 14-year-old just pressing buttons on a computer. It’s nice, because back then we weren’t really making music for anyone, I didn’t send it to anyone – you’d play it to a few friends or whatever but you wouldn’t send it to DJs. It’s quite refreshing in a way, because now, as soon as you make something, it’s out there as soon as you play it on a radio show and people are listening because you now have an audience. I don’t regret that because it’s a natural progression, but I still really like the music I made at that age because it was just a lot more innocent, I think.
RBMA: So clearly, at 14, if you were going to clubs you probably weren’t supposed to be, but I imagine you weren’t yet. And you were making sort of tear-out drum ‘n’ bass tunes. Where did that influence come from? Was it the radio or what?
Pearson Sound: I listened to a lot of pirate radio in London, it was everywhere. You’d try and tune into Radio 1, and you’d have all these other frequencies a couple of notches away on the spectrum, and you’d hear all this different music. There was definitely some I remember, like there was this one called Rude FM which still exists today, it was a drum ‘n’ bass and jungle station. I could get that where I lived. And there was one called Itch FM, which was a really cool hip hop station. The thing about pirate radio, because it’s so transient, is that a station could get shut down or raided while you were listening to it. So I used to listen to Itch FM a lot, and then one day, I tried to tune in and it disappeared and I don’t think it ever came back. I’m sure you know more about that whole story than me, but that was quite cool in a way. You’d lock into a station and maybe never even find out the name, and I’d just make these recordings of all this pirate radio stuff, which I’ve still got in my archives somewhere. But anyway, I wasn’t going to clubs when I was 14 because I looked about eight or something like that (laughs). So my first clubbing experience was going to a night called FWD>> in east London, which Scuba talked about a bit yesterday. But I don’t think you can ever talk too much about FWD>>. I mean, apart from going to a couple of rubbish West End clubs with some mates, around that time, FWD>> was my first clubbing experience. I guess there’s not really a better way to get introduced to music on soundsystems.
RBMA: FWD>> had presumably moved to Plastic People by the time you were playing there?
Pearson Sound: Yeah, it was FWD>> at Plastic People on a Thursday night, and because I was still at school, I think I was 17. I could only go in the holidays because I couldn’t go out in the week. So I went down one half term on my own because that was sort of the ‘done thing’ in the dubstep scene because no one else was into that music (laughs). So yeah, I went down on my own and had such an amazing night and definitely would say – that cliché – that it changed my life.
RBMA: Yeah, I was gonna say, everyone in the room that’s a DJ or music lover has that moment or that period in their life where they really fall in love with club culture, or they have their moment in a club or whatever. Would you say FWD>> was that moment for you?
Pearson Sound: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you heard the tune I just played, it doesn’t really have any bass on it. I didn’t really know bass existed until I went to a proper club, I didn’t realise there was this spectrum of frequencies that I was just missing, that I didn’t know existed. I didn’t know to put it in my music, so I think that was the most immediate thing that changed when I went to FWD>> – it completely changed the way I made music. I was like: “This is what it can sound like, you can have your nose rattled, you can have your eyes shaking.” I mean, Plastic People is a tiny club – they changed the layout recently, but a few years back there used to be little nooks and crannies that you could go and sit in and they'd sort of amplify the bass. It was a very intense physical experience, and for a 17-year-old there, it was completely crazy, really. This was when you could smoke there, too, so you’d have this smoke-filled room with lots of incredibly loud music, and lots of guys with hoods up, looking moody. Yeah, it was a very formative time.
RBMA: A lot has been spoken about that club and that club night, obviously. But for people that are here from outside the UK or can’t really get an idea of the texture of what it sounded like, is there a record that you could play that sums up those early FWD>> days?
Pearson Sound: Yeah. I went to FWD>> quite a lot, I mean I wasn’t a regular, it was every couple of weeks. I’m in two minds; I think I might play this Caspa tune, because the first time I went to FWD>> I met Ben UFO there, he was standing outside. We’ll probably get onto that in a bit, but I remember the first FWD>> I went to, Mala was playing from Digital Mystikz, N-Type was also playing, and I think, Geeneus. I remember I was hanging out with Ben, and he was a lot more immersed in the scene at that point than I was, and he was telling me: “Oh, there’s this new producer called Caspa, no one knows who he is, he’s a mysterious producer,” and N-Type had all these new Caspa dubs. I’m pretty sure this tune got played the first time I was there, so I thought it might be appropriate to play it. For those who don’t know, Caspa is a producer from west London.
(music: Caspa – unknown)
A tune like that has just got this real intensity, if you imagine it on a soundsystem six times this size, and each one of those bass dubs just oppressing you. It was just an experience that I’d never really had, and I mean, I probably could have played any number of tunes to sum up FWD>>, but that one just stuck in my mind as I was having a look last night.
RBMA: Apart from the physical element of the bass and the soundsystem there’s also the personal element of the people you meet there, in terms of the fertile meeting ground of like-minded DJs and producers and fans of the night.
Pearson Sound: Yeah, I mean Scuba was saying, he was at the very first FWD>> in 2001 but the way he saw it was people coming down and swapping CDs, and coming down once a month to a club where people would come and hang out. And although the first one I went to was in 2006, there was still very much that same vibe. The scene had grown, but sometimes there’d only be 30 people there, and sometimes there would be 100 but it was never really that busy, and because it was every two weeks, people would make an effort to come down. There would be people who had work at 8am the next morning, but they still came down, and you’d see the same familiar faces every week. There was this really nice personal sense of community. There could only have been about a couple of thousand people who were actually into the music in the whole world, pretty much, so you felt like you were part of something. If you overheard someone talking about dubstep in the street, you’d go up to them and you’d probably know them somehow. It was this very strange community and obviously it grew very quickly, but certainly for the couple of years that I experienced it, there were a lot of familiar faces at the nights. There was always people there that had something to do with the scene, be it a producer, a DJ, maybe having a radio show, a blog, everyone did something. There weren’t a lot of people who were just punters, most people had some sort of involvement in the scene and I think that’s what made it pretty special. The internet was around, and it did have a very important hand in developing the scene, but I think that the way I remember it is a lot more about the people – this group of people who now, are all off doing all sorts of things, but we all came from a very similar place.
RBMA: Clearly, you met Ben UFO and Pangaea there, who go on to do Hessle Records, and we should certainly talk about that in a bit, but do you want to give us an idea of some of the other producers who are now quo/unquote household names that you might have met down there?
Pearson Sound: Yeah, apart from FWD>> there was this other night called the Red Star, which I was quite involved in and played at from time to time. It was down in Camberwell, in south London, and I don’t think a lot of people have really talked about it, there’s never really anything written, but it was sort of this weekly night similar to FWD>>. It was set up in a similar vibe to FWD>> and that was where, as the music became more popular and FWD>> got busier, a lot of people started going. I think it was even on the same night as FWD>>, which is a bit controversial. In terms of the people involved, it was pretty much everyone who lived in London, to be honest, everyone from Bok Bok who runs Night Slugs, even Skream would just pop down just for fun with his mates. They’d all drive up from south London to come down, there was just loads of people who are now doing really cool stuff. Everyone from Ikonika to a lot of people who I’ve released on my label, like Untold. There were a lot of people who were involved in that who now are maybe really successful DJs. There were even people who you used to see a lot, but I’ve now sort of lost touched with, which is a sort of a shame. But everyone’s off doing different things. Some people are off travelling the world DJing, some people have lost interest in the music and are now doing something completely different, but it’s just quite interesting to see where everyone’s gone, even though we all were in that sort of place at that time.
RBMA: So would you literally just go to the club and then go home and make a tune straight after?
Pearson Sound: Not really. Apart from not really working at night, I think it was more a gradual thing. After going for the first time, I realised I was missing all this bass in my tunes, so I’d go and put it in, and then I’d send my tunes to people and they’d be a bit more popular, and I kind of realised what I was missing. And then when I started DJing myself and playing on soundsystems, that’s almost like self-incubation. You can finish a tune that day and play it that night, and as you play on more and more soundsystems, you realise what sounds good, which frequencies work, and you can just test stuff out. You can play a tune and think, ‘Oh, that wasn’t quite weighty enough’, and add more bass. Or ‘That’s a bit overpowering’, so you take some out. DJing almost becomes like having a massive pair of monitors which you can just use and test out stuff, and that was definitely the vibe at FWD>> and Redstar. I played Redstar quite often and I'd always just have a new bunch of tunes and I’d go and test them out. It was very useful, and I just hope that there are people who can have similar experiences today because I feel very fortunate to be able to have that creative ground to experiment in.
RBMA: And as a fan of the music, certainly another environment where’d you go and be excited to hear new dubs was a club called DMZ. Do you want to talk about your experiences there?
Pearson Sound: Yeah, DMZ was a clubnight. Well, it’s still going, so DMZ is a clubnight, which is often in Brixton, which has changed venues a couple of times. It was every two months, so a bit more of a special occasion, and it was on a Saturday night rather than a Thursday, so it was a bit more of a party, more of a rave. And it was run by the DMZ guys: Mala, Coki, Loefah, Sergeant Pokes. The whole point of the night was that they’d headline every night and play for two hours at peak time, and that was when you’d hear all the new Coki dubs, or all the new Mala dubs, and everyone would make an effort to come down. People would cancel bookings to come to DMZ. I remember I got asked to play in whatever city, and I was like: “Oh, I can’t, it’s DMZ.” You’d make excuses – it sounds crazy now that people would actually do that but people would make the effort. It’s a lot bigger capacity as well, I don’t know, 600/700 people, and everyone would be there – basically everyone from the scene would come down to those nights. So yeah, it was a bit more of a party. FWD>> was more ‘eyes down, quiet midweek session, have a few beers’, whereas DMZ was until 6am, a proper full-on rave.
RBMA: And some of the original DMZ 12-inches are worth a lot of money because they’re vinyl-only – have you got any of them with you?
Pearson Sound: Yeah, I feel the most appropriate thing to bring to represent DMZ would be a DMZ record, because although they always invited guests, like, there were always lots of people on the line-up, it was always about DMZ. The room would massively fill up when DMZ came on. So I think I’ll play a record by Mala, who’s definitely a massive influence – he was playing at FWD>> the first time I went down, playing all his new dubs. I think I’ll play a record called "Anti War Dub", which is quite a big tune by Mala and it’s quite hard to get now on vinyl. It was a vinyl-only release – I bought two.
(music: Mala – Anti War Dub)
I have a particular memory with this record, I think it was DMZ’s third birthday. They said that every year they’d have a birthday party and every year they would have a bigger and bashier line-up. And I remember it being a couple of years since this record had been out, and Digital Mystikz stepped up and there was this really tangible sense of excitement in the year. For DMZ’s birthdays, people would travel from America; people would travel from all over Europe for a clubnight! You could always buy a t-shirt with the line-up on. People would travel thousands of miles to come to it and all these international producers, who you’d never met but had talked to on the internet, would come down and meet up and get talking to each other. Anyway, DMZ were stepping up, and there was this amazing excitement in the air, and Mala just put this record on and the place just completely went off. I think there’s a video on YouTube of it somewhere. It’s one of my favourite memories. I think this tune has a lot to say about the DMZ vibe, it’s called "Anti War Dub" and it’s such a positive, genuine, spiritual message – it’s not just some acapella chucked over the top, it very much sums up their ethos and the way Mala approaches music. He’s very much about keeping things real, as in a real physical product, and having a real club night that people come to and joining people together. And I know that sounds a bit wishy-washy cliché, but with Mala it’s 100% genuine, and if you ever get the chance to see him DJ, or if they give a talk, definitely do it.
RBMA: We were lucky enough to have a lecture with Mala a couple of years back in the Academy which you should definitely check out online if you haven’t seen it, because he's definitely a huge influence on many of us, including yourself, who is now often to be found on the same line-up as Mala. So, going from the boy, the passionate DMZ fan who’s taking the night bus to Brixton, and cancelling any arrangement in order to be there, fast-forwarding to being 23 and being billed on the line-ups – how does that feel, coming full circle?
Pearson Sound: It’s crazy really, because I did my Fabric CD and had a launch party for it, and had him down to play, and that circularity to it is incredible. I’m always very thankful to him and his approach to music, which definitely informed mine.
RBMA: Another influence that your generation has taken from the DMZ and Mala approach to music is your commitment to vinyl and cutting dubs and all that. Maybe we should talk a little bit about that. We heard you play on Sunday night, and clearly you were playing from Serato, but as a label, you have a real commitment to putting out records as well. Do you want to explain that balance?
Pearson Sound: Yeah, there’s definitely a sort of inner conflict with this. We were talking about it earlier, the fact that I love vinyl as a format, but then again, not DJing with it myself has always had me a bit torn. I mean, I run a vinyl-only clubnight, even.
RBMA: What’s your vinyl-only club night?
Pearson Sound: It’s called ‘Acetate’ – it’s in Leeds currently. I might go somewhere else, it’s just a play area for people with lots of vinyl to bring it down and play it without any technical problems. Because a lot of the reason a lot of people have stopped using vinyl is because of clubs not looking after their turntables, leads being dodgy, needles being rubbish, or pitch controllers being very inaccurate. And it’s a bit of a vicious circle, because if clubs aren’t looking after their decks, then no one’s going to want to use them, and if no one’s using them, clubs are like: “Well, why should we spend £1.000 on a new pair of decks when no one’s using them?” So I guess it’s a vicious circle, and that’s exactly what’s happened in the last few years. Basically, no one’s using vinyl in a club situation now, and there’s only a few clubs where you know everything’s gonna be cool, where you know that they care about their technical set-up. To go back to Mala again, as a 100%-vinyl DJ, he obviously has a lot of frustrating experiences where he gets booked and travels thousands of miles, puts on his first record and just gets a big feedback drone. You know it’s like, if you’re gonna book Mala, at least make sure everything’s tidy! I’m a big proponent of vinyl, I love the way it sounds, I love the physicality of it, though Serato and digital DJing is great. With travelling so much, like you sometimes might play three shows in a row, and not have a chance to go home, and there might be three completely different gigs. One warming up for a band, then doing a headline slot, then maybe closing a night, and they’re gonna be three different sets. I don’t know how they did it back in the day – sorry for looking at you when I said that (laughs) – but for me now, that’s the format I play. I’m picky about the stuff I play, if it’s not well enough produced, I’ll give it a little master at home, to change the EQing. A lot of the time digital formats can be a bit too harsh I find, so when EQing in the club I like to make sure they’re not ripping people’s ears off. But in terms of vinyl, I just love it because when I’m playing vinyl and I’ve got a big crate of vinyl, it’s not so much about the artists and track name, which is why I don’t like Serato having this big screen in front of you, desperately trying to find the tune you’re after – with vinyl, it’s much more visual. A lot of my house records, for example, I have no idea who made them, but I’m like, “Oh, I wanna play the one with the yellow label with the dog on it.” You know exactly what that record is and it’s a lot more instinctive and more fun. So when I’m playing with Serato, a lot of the time I’ll just switch off the screen of my laptop, have it completely to one side. I see my laptop as a sort of digital record box, I see my hard drive as just a massive crate of vinyl. Rather than having it right in front of my face, rather than that cliché of looking like I’m checking my emails.
RBMA: When you’ve gone to FWD>> in the beginning, or a lot of your early clubbing experiences, the majority of people would be playing acetates, or would be playing dubs. Was it exciting when you finally got to cut one of your own records?
Pearson Sound: Yeah, well, it was the done thing. CDJs existed back then but no one really used them. They were very expensive and it was around 2005/2006 that they really caught on. But yeah, everyone cut dubs, it was a ritual for nights like DMZ and FWD>>, you’d cut fresh dubs. I remember once, Mala’s bags got lost at the airport and he specifically called up the cutting house and got them to open up on a Saturday and he cut a whole batch of fresh dubs for the night. It was a ritual, almost, going to the cutting house. I don’t want to sound like I played 100% vinyl all the time, but I did cut quite a bit, and it was great because your tunes would get a bit of mastering before they were cut as well. You know if you play something from CD it hasn’t been through someone else’s ears, and someone else’s equipment. Whereas if you cut it to dubplate it’s been through a mastering engineer’s system and they’ve tweaked it a bit, which obviously makes it sounds better, and that was the format, and it’s a very nostalgic format. I might play something off dubplate because it’s cut in a different way to vinyl, it’s cut a lot more raw and it’s a lot louder, and it crackles a lot more. I’m trying to think what I could play – I could play something new actually, I still cut plates occasionally. I might play a VIP of a tune I made. The thing about dubplates is that they cost like, well, you can get 10-inch ones which are a bit cheaper, but 12-inch ones cost £50 or 60€ or whatever, so they’re not cheap, and you’re not gonna cut something that you’ve spent three hours on. So it makes you think about what you’re playing a bit more, and makes you commit to finishing tunes, and commit to your ideas and have confidence in your music and other people’s music if you’re spending that amount of money on it, I think. So yeah, I’ll play you something. And I’ve got a couple of dubs so we can have a little show-and-tell because they smell really nice. So yeah, this is a little VIP I did of a tune of mine called "Grab Somebody" which I don’t know, I think it’s coming out.
(music: Pearson Sound – Grab Somebody VIP mix / applause)
So yeah, if you want a dubplate as well, it’s kind of (knocks dubplate) it’s made of metal, basically. It’s a kind of metal plate covered with wax. So not only do they weigh more, they wear out as well, so if you have a dub that you’ve played 50 times, it will get a bit crackly and sound a bit weird. But there’s loads of dubplates from back in the FWD>> and DMZ days that have never come out, or never been released, and sometimes the only copy of the tune that exists is on one of these. And it’s a very transient medium, so there are some tunes that would just be lost forever, which is kind of quite romantic in a way. Sort of how these very famous original dubstep tunes are eventually just going to wear away and disappear into thin air.
RBMA: So, talking of vinyl, your record label Hessle Audio has a commitment. You put out records that are vinyl-only, don’t you?
Pearson Sound: Yeah, not with Hessle, my own productions are vinyl-only. To be honest, it’s due to using very dodgy samples rather than trying to impose stuff on people. In fact, the only vinyl-only releases I’ve done have been ones with incredibly illegal and obvious sampling done on it (laughs). That’s the reason behind it really, it’s not an elitism thing like: “Oh, I can play that off my laptop and you can’t.” It’s more: “I really don’t want to get fined by whatever major label.”
RBMA: Was the Swamp 81 vinyl-only?
Pearson Sound: Yeah, the release I did on Swamp 81 called "Work Them" was vinyl-only, but that was the choice of the label, that’s the way they run things. I think they’ve got plans for digital eventually, but I know they have quite an old-school ethos like that, which I respect and it’s frustrating for some people, but it’s the label’s choice at the end of the day. If they’re putting out the music, they can choose how it’s sold and presented, which I think is always important. If that’s a labels ethos and the way they want to do things, then you’ve just got to respect that. I know people who have even bought turntables just to get a vinyl release, which some might see as a bit excessive in these economic times, but I think it’s up to the label about how they run things. With Hessle we always do digital, and it comes out at the same time as the vinyl. We like to keep it that way because we DJ digitally, so it only seems fair to me that we sell it digitally as well.
RBMA: And just while we’re on the subject of "Work Them" on Swamp 81, is it fair to say that that was the time where things really snowballed for you, in terms of taking off? It was a very big year for you last year, wasn’t it?
Pearson Sound: Yeah, 2010 was a bit funny, I wrote loads and loads of music, I had it all stacked up. I was still finishing university at the time so I had quite a lot of free time to make stuff and ended up writing loads and loads of music. The way it turned out was that I ended up having a release out every single month, and I just sort of battened people down until they listened to my stuff. It was just a bit over the top with release after release. I worked with them, Swamp 81, and did "Glut", and a couple of remixes I did definitely helped. And the fact I worked with them, which was vinyl-only, also helped because it didn’t become too overplayed and it still stayed a bit fresh I think. I don’t know, that was my theory on it. Some people think it hasn’t even come out yet because it’s not on iTunes or whatever, which sort of shows that keeping things vinyl sometimes avoids over saturation or being in people’s faces too much.
RBMA: A lot of people compared your work then with music from Chicago. Were you listening to a lot of that sort of music at the time?
Pearson Sound: Yeah, it was kind of impossible not to really, because juke and footwork were so hyped. London has a habit of picking up on other people’s genres and then copying them and rinsing them to the ground, unfortunately. I think to a certain extent that happened with juke. It was kind of a fresh new sound and everybody got on it, but for me, tracks like "Work Them" and "Glut" were a lot more influenced by Baltimore. I kind of missed the whole Diplo/Mad Decent thing because I wasn’t really into that sound at that time, but the whole Baltimore thing in the UK didn’t seem to take off as much, but that was way more of an influence on "Work Them" and "Glut", a lot more than juke, I thought. It just so happened that the two occurred at the same time, and so they got compared, and the fact that there were chopped vocals, but for me, the use of the breaks, the way the rhythms flow, is a lot more Baltimore club music.
RBMA: Can we hear a little bit of "Work Them" just to give people an idea? Because if you compare them to early tracks that you did like "Blimey", definitely in the progression of your sounds, the 808 has become your friend in the last couple of years, hasn’t it?
(music: Pearson Sound – Work Them)
Pearson Sound: (comments over music) Yeah, the way I’ve always worked with a tune like "Blimey" is very percussive and the main reason I wrote it was because I had a load of new sounds that I wanted to work with, and similar with the stuff I did in 2010. A lot of it was kind of down to the new sounds I got to work with, I had a few new drum kits and new samples to work with, and that was the result. The whole 808 thing became trendy quite quickly and I think it’s become a bit over-rinsed now, so I’m currently preparing my arsenal.
RBMA: They’ve been trendy for about 25 years!
Pearson Sound: Yeah, this is the thing, 808s have been around for so long but it’s suddenly had this resurgence – I think it’s one of those things that is never really gonna go out of fashion, like there’s something about those 808 drums, they’ve just got fewer grooves if you use them in the right way and the bass is good.
RBMA: This was definitely one of those records that it was right across the board that DJs were playing it. Everyone from dubstep DJs through to house DJs…
Pearson Sound: I think its appeal was that it’s 130 bpm, so its slow enough for house DJs to play, but it’s fast enough for dubstep DJs to play, so it pleases all camps, in a way. If you get a record like that I guess it’s a good thing.
(music: Ramadanman – Work Them / applause)
Sorry, if you find that tune annoying if you’ve heard it too many times, that vocal gets in your head a bit.
RBMA: So let’s talks about your record label. You mentioned about some of the people you met in the early days going clubbing, and seeing as you’re only 23 now, that must have been very young.
Pearson Sound: Back in the day (laughs).
RBMA: Sort of, back in your day! Ben UFO and Kevin Pangaea, tell us about your relationship with them.
Pearson Sound: Well, basically I went down to FWD>> for the first time on my own, none of my friends were into this kind of music. FWD>> always opened really late, because they were always a bit sloppy with opening hours. So we were waiting outside for about an hour normally before going in. There was this guy outside and I met him, I think I might have spoken to him on the internet a couple of times on this website where people who were into dubstep chatted. We just got talking and it’s just bizarre to think that if the club had opened on time or I had decided not to go down that night, I wouldn’t know Ben, who also lived with Kevin Pangaea, and we wouldn’t have started the label, and things would be really different now. So, it’s very bizarre, I don’t like to think about it too much, we could get into fate and destiny and all that (laughs). It’s just very strange that he was the guy I met the first time I went down and now we’re still really good friends and we DJ together and run the label together.
RBMA: So presumably, on Hessle #1, you had no idea how to put a record out so you had to experiment, right?
Pearson Sound: Yeah, I had no idea how to do it. I had help from a couple of friends; this guy called Whistler who runs an internet radio station and he started his own label. So I called him up and asked him how he did it, and he gave me a really detailed breakdown, and basically, the thing he said was that you need distribution. I didn’t really understand that at first, I was like: “What? You just press your records and you sell them, don’t you?” And I didn’t realise how important it was to have someone to get those records to people because there’s only so much you can drive around London in a car and sell them to shops. If you really want your record to be heard by people, it’s got to go all around the world, and all around the country and shops. So I wrote this letter to a distributor, and put in a few CDs with some tunes, and eventually heard back from her, and had some hour-long heart-to-heart on the phone, found out how it all worked, and it just started like that. It was very much a learning process. Our second release had about five different test presses, it took like, six months to come out and was full of nightmares, but experiences like that just help really, because if everyone did everything for us you wouldn't have a clue, and I’m very grateful that we had those painful initial experiences. And eventually, we signed a pressing and distribution deal, which is basically where you give a distributor music and they arrange all the pressing. You still do all the artwork, you still have full creative control, but they sort out the boring stuff – they get the artwork in the right format, and they arrange delivery, and it makes life a lot easier, and they get better rates with studios and shops. If you can, getting a press and distribution deal is great, but I think it’s also good to try doing it the DIY way first. I used to go around Soho in London and go to all the record shops and sell records to shops myself – I’d even sell records outside DMZ, for £5 a record. I remember that Benga bought one of my records, he used to sell his CDs and he was like: “Oh, I used to do that,” and he bought a record off me. I think people appreciated seeing that, it was like a farmers’ market, you know, meeting the person that made your potatoes (laughs). They’d meet the person that made their record, and I think people like that in a way. I did that for a bit and then realised that it’s not really about standing outside a nightclub at five in the morning trying to sell your record, and half the people lost the records on the night bus so it was a bit silly, but it was a good experience.
RBMA: So fast-forward to now and you’ve just released a compilation, which in a way is a summary of everyone who is on the label, it’s called 116 & Rising.
Pearson Sound: Yeah, it was our first biggest projects, because we’ve been running since 2007, so it’s now been four years and we kind of thought we’d have a crack at doing something bigger. We haven’t had an artist album and we don’t really have any plans to, because there were quite a lot of compilations that were coming out last year by big record labels, sort of more commercial stuff, and I think our distributor was like: “Look, you guys should try doing that.” They definitely believe in us, they’re very supportive, so they gave us all the support we needed and told us how to do it, and we assembled all the tunes, some nice artworks, with some hiccups along the way, and eventually we got it out which is a product that we’re really happy with. It’s a triple vinyl, nicely designed, double CD and the whole vibe of it was having everyone who’s ever been released on the label. It was a very democratic affair, there was no preferential treatment for any particular tune. On the vinyl, there are two tracks on each side, there’s no tune that gets the whole side, we just wanted a kind of ‘thank you’ to everyone that has released on the label, and sort of pushing what’s out now. [Academy participant] Cosmin TRG was our first release in 2007 and now he’s changed his name slightly and is making very different music, but it’s still great stuff and we wanted to put it out and just sort of show what people are up to. We’ve also done a tour to support it, so it gives you a lot of different opportunities, and obviously having a CD out there appeals to a lot more people. There’s a lot of people that don’t buy vinyl or have no interest in vinyl, but as soon as there’s a CD on the shelf, people buy who go to HMV or just want something to playing their car. You can never be too complacent with who your music is buying reaching, because you assume a lot of people have heard your music, but there’s a lot of people who never will have. So we put in a second CD of a selected back catalogue, just to give people a bigger perspective on what we’ve been doing for the last few years.
RBMA: And if there’s a camp of Hessle artists, like a Hessle crew, do you want to list a few of the people who have been released on the label?
Pearson Sound: Well, aside from my own stuff and Pangaea’s music, there’s about eight or nine of us now. We’re all mates, there’s no one on the label that I’ve never met and there’s no one on the label that I wouldn't go for a beer with, so it’s a really nice environment to work in. We’ve got Untold, we’ve got James Blake, we released one of his first records, we’ve got Joe, Elgato, Peverelist, Blawan, I don’t wanna miss anyone out, it’s like naming my children (laughs). I think that might be it. So yeah, there’s a really nice crew of people and everyone gets along, and it’s a really nice thing to have. I don’t think I’d ever want to release someone’s music if I hadn’t met them or I didn’t get along with them. If I thought someone was an idiot, I’m not sure I would want to put out their music, to be honest.
RBMA: And so going back to release one, what was your manifesto or your ethos when you got together and decided you wanted to do Hessle? Where did the name Hessle come from?
Pearson Sound: Well, at the time I was in university in Leeds for a few years and Ben and Kevin were also in Leeds and they lived together. They’d been in Leeds for a few years and I came up, as a sort of fresh-faced first-year student, and I kind of wanted to start a label, and those guys were my sort of dubstep friends and they were into the idea too. So we thought of a name – we were getting sent tunes at the time because we were DJing in clubs a bit and we had a radio show. There was this guy called TRG from Romania, and he sent us a couple of really amazing tunes, which sounded very different from what was being made at the time. If you think of what defines dubstep as a genre, a lot of people would be like, a half-time beat pattern, a kick snare, slightly more sluggish kind of half-step of rhythm, but the tunes that this Romanian guy sent us were completely different. They were like, garagey, shuffly – they had a completely different groove from anything that was being made at the time, so we thought that was an ideal way to start the label. Initial problems aside, we got the first record out, and it was really well received, it had quite a few DJs playing it, and I think people found it quite refreshing, in a way. Yeah, that’s kind of how it started. The name comes from the street that Ben and Kevin used to live on. We had a big brainstorm trying to think of a name, and it took ages, we had some rubbish potential ones, and we actually changed the name at the mastering session for the first release. He was like: “So what shall I write into the groove?” And it was going to be Hessle Avenue but we changed it to Hessle Audio. It’s funny how these things work out, isn’t it? So we had the first record out, we waited a few months because of all the problems with the second one, but we got that out, then it became a bit more flowing. Then when you get more of a reputation, then you get sent more interesting music. A lot of the releases we’ve done have been very natural processes. Someone like Joe, for example, we’ve known him for a while, and he kept sending us music, and we were hanging out with him for ages. It was never unsolicited, it was never like: “Dear Hessle Audio, please find attached…” We knew he was working on stuff, and it was very back and forth, and eventually he sent the right tunes, and we rolled with it.
RBMA: 116 & Rising is a really good starting point to understand if you want to get familiar with the music of Hessle. But bearing in mind that you’ve gone from a first DIY release to now having a well-distributed and beautifully produced compilation, there’s a couple of people here that might be thinking of starting a label. Are there a couple of bits of advice that you could impart? In 2011, what would they be?
Pearson Sound: I would have loved someone to do the same for me, but it didn’t happen, so I’m more than willing to share a couple of things. Firstly, just make sure that the music you put out is amazing, basically. There are a lot of labels that release ‘alright’ tunes and it just doesn’t generate that same excitement. If you’re consistent with the music you release, if you’re consistent with it being original, not gimmicky, forward thinking. The way we see it at Hessle is the kind of stuff you’d be listening to in ten years’ time. If it’s got that longevity, and isn’t something people are gonna get sick of, then it’s something that people are probably going to be interested in. So that’s one thing: be original. Obviously, name helps, the way you present yourself. If you call yourself like, Slime Audio, or something like Filthy Bangers (laughs) or something like that, your label is going to be perceived in a very different way than if it’s called Sandwell District, which kind of reflects the kind of music that’s on it. So that’s maybe something to think about. I would say, try and keep the boring admin-y side in check, because we had it where we didn’t, and four releases in, suddenly you have this backlog of records, it all catches up with you. So I would say keep royalties and mechanical copyrights in good check. Make sure you’re paying everyone, account to your artists, and be open with them. There’s nothing worse than labels that are all shady or try and ask for royalty statements and just ignore you. I think it creates a slightly uneasy atmosphere, because they’re making money from you so why shouldn’t you get your cut? Be open with your artists and keep your business end in good order. Also, I don’t really like it when labels release a massive list of “We’re going to release these 12 releases this year,” and then you get to the end of the year and they’ve released one, if not two. I think, and we do it at Hessle, that’s there’s a lot to be said for keeping your cards close to your chest a bit, don’t get people’s hopes up. Because there are inevitably delays, especially if you’re doing vinyl, there are inevitably things that can go wrong. Even in the last couple of weeks, we had a sort of lacquer for the pressing plant go missing, it ended up in some depot in Holland, and they couldn’t find it for ages, and that holds up a release for two weeks. There’s always these problems that happen, so if you tell people it’s out next week, and it doesn’t come out for two months, people are like: “Oh great, I don’t really care now.” If you say it’s coming out on a specific date and it does, I think it creates a better vibe. That’s how we do things, anyway.
RBMA: Thank you very much. So we talked technically about the label side of things. Let’s talk technically about you as a producer for a minute. What did you start off using and what do you use now to make your music?
Pearson Sound: Well, I started off using keyboards and tape recorders, then I started using a demo version of the software. Then I started using FruityLoops, and to be honest, my set-up has stayed pretty consistent. I only got monitors in 2008, I was writing stuff on these little computer speakers and a sub, which was fun for a bit. But if I was going to advise you to buy anything, I would definitely say buy monitors, because if you can’t hear accurately what your stuff is sounding like, then I think you’re kind of shooting yourself in the foot a bit. I know there’s some massive producers who just use the stuff they’ve been using for years but I do think that monitors are very important. Definitely buy the best you can afford, because you get what you pay for with monitors, really. I’ve had the same ones for four years and I know them really well, and I know they tell me the truth about what my music sounds like. So over the years my set-up has stayed relatively consistent, I’ve bought a few bits of new hardware and occasionally a better computer. Sometimes it’s fun to have something to play around with. If you’re always clicking on your mouse, it can get a bit frustrating, and sometimes to get that new inspiration, you just need something to play around with, something physical to tweak and make sounds with. If I’m ever feeling uninspired or like I can’t write any music today, if you just switch in the synthesizer, press ‘record’ and jam out for a bit, you always end up with some interesting noises and you feel like you’ve done something. My set-up is relatively simple, a track like "Work Them" is 100% digital, there’s nothing outboard in that at all. Whereas a lot of my other stuff comes from external sources.
RBMA: Is that a bedroom-made record?
Pearson Sound: Yeah, pretty much.
RBMA: Your neighbours must love it.
Pearson Sound: Well, the great thing about living in Leeds in student housing is that all your neighbours are students and they don’t really care. I was very fortunate for a few years to have a space where I could just make as much noise as I wanted. I think that’s very important as well, because if you can’t hear your music loud, then you’re missing out on a big aspect of it. So if you’re fortunate enough not to have neighbours, or have a separate studio space, then that’s very beneficial.
RBMA: Tell us briefly about building a track – where does it start for you? I mean, obviously everyone has their own process, but when you sit down and start from a blank canvas, how do you start building a tune?
Pearson Sound: It very much varies tune to tune. Some tunes you might hear a sample that you really want to use, and then you start playing with that and putting stuff on top of it. I’m very rhythm-orientated, so sometimes I might just start a drumbeat and see what happens. Things can go very interesting ways like, if you start with a sample and build around it. Sometimes I’ll just end up taking out that original sample, it can drift very far from what you started with. Some of the best stuff I’ve made has been happy accidents, in a way, like deleting something by accident and realising it sounds better like that. So I know it’s hard to pin it down in a specific formula, or a specific manner of working, but maybe generally starting with drums and rhythm. Because I find if a tune doesn’t have that certain groove, or that certain rhythm, then I never really like it that much.
RBMA: Can you explain to us why you’ve got so many different names?
Pearson Sound: (laughs) I’m sure a psychologist would have a field day. For stuff like my Maurice Donovan stuff, I might play one of those tunes in a bit, that’s a sonic decision, that’s very much a separate project, whereas I work as Ramadanman, I work as Pearson Sound, I’ve done a few collaborative projects. But I think when you were talking about 2010 and I had all these different releases out, I think part of the reason was that I had a few different names, so if people bought a Ramadanman record one week, then a Pearson Sound record the next, there might be a lot of people that might not know that the two people are the same, and so it can be beneficial in terms of not over-saturating. Also, with the name Ramadanman, it is something I made up when I was like 13. It’s a really stupid name. And I’ve been doing stuff as Pearson Sound since 2008, but it's only in the past couple of years that I’ve solely focused on that. I see it as a far more serious name, a bit less gimmicky, and also I think certain names can get associated with certain sounds and styles of music. I think you see it happen quite often with producers. People say: “Oh, he’s a drum ‘n’ bass producer, I’m not even going to listen to his new stuff.” So I think names can often give you a bit more freedom, maybe remove preconceptions, and I just think it’s quite fun, trying to confuse people and switching things up. I’d like to just be judged on the music, basically, and for people not to worry too much about who made it.
RBMA: How do you deal with the Ramadanman imitators and the Pearson Sound imitators, of which there seem to be a few coming up?
Pearson Sound: On the way here I was listening to some of the stuff I’ve been sent recently. It’s quite funny when people send you stuff that is really copying you (laughs). I’m not sure what the intention is, maybe they think, ‘Oh it sounds like you, maybe you’ll like it’. I mean, I’m not really bothered by it, because I think I did it first, in a way. But it can be a bit frustrating sometimes, but as long as I’m happy with being original I don’t really let it get to me. There’s definitely ‘imitating’ and ‘being influenced by’ and some of my good music friends who have had big tunes have even said to me: “Oh, sorry about that Dave, that might have been a bit too close.” And I don’t really care, it’s not like I’ve never been influenced by anyone, and it’s not like I can trademark certain sounds. I can’t trademark an 808! I don’t really think about it too much. If I like a tune, I’ll play it pretty much.
RBMA: Who are your musical contemporaries at the moment? Who are you looking to that really inspires you?
Pearson Sound: It’s a bit tricky really because I find whenever I get asked the inevitable ‘Who are your influences?’ question, it’s always like: “I never really see it in that way.” Obviously, I like a lot of artists, and a lot of different artists, but as much as I like Madlib, or whatever, I would never really say: “This tune is influenced by Madlib.” I think it’s a bit more subconscious in a way – you’re influenced by everything around you, people you hang around with, the lifestyle you lead, so I find it really hard to pin down. I could list people that I like, but if you’re talking about musical peers, I definitely think there’s a movement of people, that we get booked for similar nights or play on similar bills, or hang out and do radio shows together. That would be people like Ben and Kevin, anyone from Bok Bok, Jackmaster, Oneman, to Floating Points to Joy Orbison, James Blake, Mount Kimbie, and all that lot. If we’re seeing it as musical peers, we’re all similar ages, from a similar musical background, we’re all off doing different things and we all respect each other’s space, I think.
RBMA: It’s interesting that you come from such a dubplate culture of cutting tunes early, but there seems to be a paranoia amongst the new-school labels about letting tunes out too early, and them getting ripped from radio shows and put on YouTube too early. Sometimes, as a radio DJ I get sent a Night Slugs release the week before it comes out, which is not something I’ve ever been used to in terms of getting music early.
Pearson Sound: It’s almost like anti-promotion in a way, I kind of like it. I think too often there are tunes that 20 DJs end up having and they just become overplayed and people become sick of them. By the time they come out, everyone’s like: “Oh, I’m not even gonna buy this, I’ve been hearing that vocal for that last six months, I don’t want to hear it.” So, for example, with something like "Work Them", we took a decision to hold it back, and I think it’s about keeping music special as well, because if everyone’s got a tune, what’s the point? Once it’s out, and people can play it themselves, then I guess it’s fair game. But before release I think it’s important to keep things special. For my own music, I don’t really send it out that much, I like to keep it. If people come to see me DJ they want to hear my new music, and if I’m the only one that has certain tunes, then that’s cool. That "Grab Somebody" thing, I think maybe one or two people have it, and that keeps it special. If you want to come and see me play, you know you’ll hear things that no one else will have or stuff that I’ve just made, which keeps things fresh
RBMA: Well, there’s loads of tunes of yours that I’d love to play on these speakers, but I think it’s time to open questions up to the floor before we play some more music.
Participant: I spend a lot of times in airplanes and airports as well and I was wondering what your favourite production or editing set-up was in an airport, on an airplane, when you only have that little table?
Pearson Sound: I never make music anywhere other than my studio or my bedroom. I find, apart from the fact that I DJ on my laptop and I would have to carry two laptops, I’d probably end up having to do all the work twice. I’d make the tune then I’d probably have to re-edit it, re-balance it, change the mixdown. I see travelling as a very different space mentally from DJing. I think often when you’re travelling, you’re tired or annoyed or stressed, and I don’t really find it a very conducive atmosphere making music, personally. I know a lot of people love writing stuff on the road, and that’s the only chance they get, but I’d rather keep the two separate and watch some films instead of making music, personally.
Participant: I really wanted to know, what do you call your music? It’s obviously not dubstep any more, so what do you name it?
Pearson Sound: We didn’t get on to talking about dubstep as a name, but for a long time, people were very interested in the name and people wanted to be associated with the name. But now it seems the opposite – when dubstep comes to mean something else, everyone runs away from it. I think part of the music that’s going on now, part of its success is that it doesn’t have a name. When people ask me what I DJ, it’s quite a difficult question, without reeling off a list of different genres. I think it’s a good thing not to have a defined name to a scene. Because as soon as it means something, it means a kick on the first beat, a snare of this beat, and personally, I’m all for avoiding it. I know that journalists and shops, especially, love to label something in that way, but I’d rather just not think about it too much to be honest. But I guess it just takes elements from a lot of different music and combines them into something fresh, hopefully.
Participant: My opinion on the music scene happening right now is all about what’s coming from the US and UK. England’s music seems to change all the time, like every ten years there’s a big movement, or every couple of years music changes. What do you think pushed the music scene to go forward all the time?
Pearson Sound: I think the UK has always had this culture of soundsystems, this lineage of music. Some people subscribe to this theory of the hardcore continuum, where acid house goes into hardcore which goes into jungle, goes into garage, goes into dubstep. I think it sort of makes sense, but I think you can’t start applying new music into that theory. So I think there’s always been this lineage of new music, and there’s a hunger for it. Partly because the club scene is so strong, there’s a lot of clubs, and very underground music is still popular. You can have a very underground artists playing to 1.000 people in the UK quite easily. You have clubs like Fabric playing really underground music to 3.000 people every weekend, so it’s definitely more in the subculture, there’s a bigger audience for it. But to answer the question of why it’s always moving forward, I think it could be to do with the soundsystems. Often, the soundsystems in the UK are to a good standard, and I think having a soundsystem that accurately represents frequencies and has all the bass is important. I think if I played the tune I just played on tiny little speakers, it would lose a lot of its impact. So having spaces where people can hear music how it’s meant to be heard, are very important. Without wanting to generalise, in America, that isn’t quite the case – a lot of people are frustrated there because they know how good we have it in UK and Europe. But I think that’s also part of the reason why music develops in different ways, like the really noisy dubstep, for example, it sounds quite good on phones or really tiny speakers, it’s not as essential to have the full frequency range. So yeah, to summarise, I think it’s to do with better soundsystems, but I’m not too sure really, it’s hard to say.
Participant: You’re obviously in a really privileged place where you can go over a lot of styles now, and you’re not held to the dubstep scene, but your new stuff is doing this very purist house thing. Do you ever feel like there’s a duty or a danger of diluting something that came from a small purist underground scene when you’re constantly going through things?
Pearson Sound: I think the whole house thing is very interesting because right now we’re in a time where, especially for my peers and this movement, it would be much easier if it had a name, wouldn’t it? (laughs) But yes, this current musical climate is a lot more house-based than normal, and I think it’s a bit dangerous in a way, there’s a lot of stuff about at the moment – is it just re-hashed house from the ‘90s with a slightly more modern touch? There’s a bit of ‘Emperor’s new clothes’ syndrome, which I sort of agree with, and when I DJ I’m very conscious of it. I love house music, I’ve been DJing it for years, when I was a teenager, but I don’t really feel like that’s what I’m here to do, I’m not here just to play a house set in a club. So I think there’s definitely a danger of becoming a bit too formulaic in that kind of way. And you said earlier about being in a more privileged position where you can play a lot of genres and I think a couple of years ago, people who would come to see me play would be expecting a certain sound, and at that time things were already moving. If you played the housier stuff people would get angry, and it still happens recently even, sometimes in America or even in Australia, someone told me to: “Play some dubstep, you..." Insert expletive here. (laughs) So you do get it, but now I do feel very fortunate to be able to play a two-hour set and be able to start at house music and end at dubstep and play all sorts of things in between. I think that’s what I’d really like to do, just keep the variety because I’m not sure I could ever just play an hour of the same kind of music anymore.
Participant: I’m curious, when you make music, do you always make music to be heard in the club, or do you want people to listen to the same music at home?
Pearson Sound: My primary thought when making tunes is definitely how it’s going to sound on a soundsystem, it’s just the mind I’ve always been in. Going to FWD>> it’s all about the club. I mean, obviously stuff like the ambient thing or music that I make for different intentions, then it becomes different. But the club and the dancefloor stuff I play is always designed for how it will sound on a soundsystem, and that’s definitely the optimum environment for it to be heard, so I always have that in mind.
Participant: Do you see yourself in the future doing the club stuff, or do you see yourself produce more like the ambient stuff?
Pearson Sound: I just like to keep doing everything really, I enjoy being able to make big club records, but then I like doing something really introspective, like a three-minute drone piece or whatever. I like being able to do that. I think the danger is when you start thinking, ‘Oh, will this sound good on a mobile phone?’ or ‘Will this sound good on speakers with no bass?’, that’s maybe when you start to compromise how you make music. You shouldn’t be compromising music for the format it’s played on, you should be catering for you, I think. Obviously, that’s an ideal world, but I think that’s what you’ve got to aim for.
Participant: You were speaking earlier about when you gave your physics teacher your CD or whatever it was with your music on it, and you said you had an explanation of what you were feeling when you created it, or…?
Pearson Sound: It was less feeling, it was just jumbled thoughts of a 15/ 16-year-old, you know? For the drum ‘n’ bass tune, I was like, ‘This is a really rave drum ‘n’ bass tune, the vocal is a bit stupid, but it’s wicked’. (laughter) I’ve got it here, but I’m not going to read anything out (laughs), it’s probably far too cringe.
Participant: Why do you think you felt you had to do that?
Pearson Sound: I don’t know really. I think I gave CDs like that to a couple of other people, and I don’t know what to say about how to explain myself… I don’t know.
Participant: It’s just interesting, because then you said you did radio, so I’m pretty sure you were doing that on the radio, too, explaining songs while you were playing them.
Pearson Sound: I did two different kinds – I did fake radio shows when I was about 10, just pretending to be the interviewer and the interviewee, and all sorts of stuff, I don’t have those with me, thankfully. But then I used to also do Rinse FM and other stations, but I’d never really introduced tunes there before I played them. Say, if before I played an ambient tune, I was like: “This is a really sad piece of music, you should feel sad,” I think that’s almost pre-determining how people should react to a piece of music, whereas a lot of my favourite stuff is very ambiguous or even ambivalent. Some tunes that people find deeply sad, I find incredibly euphoric, and I think the way music is interpretated should never be dictated. I think a lot of music nowadays can almost be telling people how they should react to it, when I find some of the best music has been people that have very personal interpretations.
Participant: Was grime important in the development of your sound?
Pearson Sound: I was into grime before I was into dubstep, in fact. People like Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, they were very present living in the UK, they were in the charts, they were on Top Of The Pops, they were on television, they were on the radio, so it was kind of impossible to ignore. And I think being a sort of, middle-class kid from north London, you’re always seeking cool edgy stuff. So I checked out grime, and kids in my school were always swapping CDs and stuff like that, I was definitely into grime. I made a few grime instrumentals, and the way I heard about dubstep was that I was posting some of these grime instrumentals on the internet, and someone was like: “Nah, mate, this isn’t grime, this is dubstep.” And I was like: “What’s dubstep?” And I did a quick google, and that’s how I got into dubstep, basically, because someone said my tune sounded like dubstep before l’d ever even heard of the thing. I still love grime, I’m more into the grime instrumental stuff, I find some of them just incredibly forward thinking and completely out-there.
Participant: I got to work with Danny Weed a couple of years ago, and I feel like he’s really overlooked in the UK – he’s like the Dr Dre of the UK and no one really knows about it.
Pearson Sound: Yeah, there’s loads of grime producers that have maybe made one or two records who then disappeared off the face of the earth, or gave up on music, who made some incredible stuff. People like Musical Mob or Agent X, or even Dizzee Rascal’s early beats are completely bonkers, basically, and there's not enough recognition. There’s a site called Grime Tapes, which has collated loads of important pirate radio recordings, because a lot of these instrumentals were never released, they only exist as a two-minute freestyle on some pirate station, and lucky enough to be recorded maybe. So if you’re interested in that, have a look at Grime Tapes, they’ve got some really interesting stuff.
Participant: We were talking about music cycles and the UK music scene. Do you think that in a couple of years people will ask you to play bass music?
Pearson Sound: I think genre names have always been a bit stupid. Like, drum ‘n’ bass is funny because so much other music has drums and bass. I mean, even dubstep’s a stupid name because it doesn’t have anything to do with dub, as in dub reggae, it’s dub as in instrumental, so even a name like that is really misunderstood. I quite like the name brostep, I think that’s quite good, but in terms of genre names, I don’t really know. Things like bass music, UK bass, future bass, have stuck more than other genre terms, and I don’t mind them so much because they’re quite ambiguous, and they emphasise the whole bass aspect which is cool. So yeah, if something like that came on the label, I wouldn’t mind too much, really.
Participant: What do you think is going to happen? Do you think that it will be the same cycle, like the music gets nosier, or more intelligent things will come from it?
Pearson Sound: I think you can see it in a different way; like with this 808 stuff, there’s a lot of really boring 808, or even when the 2-step stuff got popular and people started putting chopped vocals and nice pads over things that became rinsed and rinsed and it got to a stage where it got really boring. So maybe there won’t be loads of wobbles over it, but I don’t really know to be honest. I think there will always be people doing really interesting stuff. People like Richard Russell, who runs XL Recordings, he said recently on Twitter something like, people are always hungry for new music, people might always assume that the mainstream content is the lowest common denominator kind of stuff, but I think innately, people have a hunger for new stuff and progression. I don’t think it’s anything to worry about, particularly.
RBMA: Any more questions?
Participant: I would just like to elaborate on the question on genres, because it’s interesting to me, who has never lived in the UK or the US. But when I look at the UK, it’s interesting because it has so many sub-genres and when I look at a place like LA, for example, which is pretty much the LA beat scene, there’s not really much else in terms of labelling. I know you have a problem with certain names like dubstep or future bass and so on, but I was wondering if you have a problem with names, or with the labelling process itself – do you think it should be more condensed?
Pearson Sound: I don’t really have a problem with the genre names. They might be stupid, but to a certain extent you need it. If you walk in to a record shop, and there were no dividers in the records, and it was all ‘Music’, like when record shops have sections called 'Electronic Music', that’s just not helping anyone. So you do need these labels, but unfortunately, they have a side effect often of defining a genre, or coming to represent something which is not necessarily the music. So in that sense, I have a problem with the labelling process, but I also accept that it’s necessary in order to just make life a bit easier, I think. Everything’s all house anyway, basically (laughs).
Participant: Just because we’re on this theme of progression of cycles or whatever, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Last week Francisco Lopez was talking about how a lot of his records sound the same, in a sense and there’s no aesthetic progression sometimes. What he was saying is that you wouldn’t expect other artforms to progress at all from one year to the next…
Pearson Sound: What you mean, like a Picasso painting always looks like a Picasso painting?
Participant: Or that a painter would have periods, which may take them like, 20 paintings that are all of a piece, whereas with music it’s sort of assumed that people want to progress. So the question is that do you think that there can be something almost harmful in that, in the quest for novelty? Because the idea that a nice chopped vocal on a pad does get rinsed, you’re right, but maybe musically, the great song hasn’t happened yet.
Pearson Sound: I tell you what, I’ll play you a quick clip of a tune that came out on my label, which is kind of a period of time when I was talking about experimentalism in places like FWD>> and places like that. There’s this guy called Untold who we released, and he released an EP called It’s Gonna Work Out Fine, which was this six-track EP of incredibly out there ideas. This is a tune called "Anaconda" which you would drop in a club, and people would sort of laugh. There can be a danger with trying to make something so new and out-there that it just becomes really unlistenable and very self-indulgent and a bit arsey. But if it’s done correctly, I think you can get stuff like this. This is a tune called "Anaconda" which came out on Hessle, and I remember playing this in clubs, and people would just look really confused, which was quite funny.
(music: Untold – Anaconda)
As long as it doesn’t disappear so far into its own backside, I think its OK, you know, as long as it retains that sense. People will still dance to that, it might take people a little while to pick it up. But I do see what you’re saying, if people are always feeling like they have to progress, it doesn’t become club music anymore, it becomes installation music, or whatever.
Participant: I think if someone wants to do something that different, that’s got to be a good thing. I think it’s less about the positive side of it and more about the negative side, which is that if somebody makes a good tune, but nobody wants to hear it. It’s not that I think progression is bad, it’s the mindset of the listener.
Pearson Sound: You mean if someone made a massive record, but it came out a year later than a record which kind of did the same thing, does that mean that record is no longer a massive record?
Participant: Yeah, or someone does something, and it’s like: “Oh, that would have been an amazing tune if it had come out a year ago.” And you’re thinking, ‘Well, it is or it isn’t’. There’s definitely something about the mindset of progression, and in other genres you don’t get that. Like, how many people who were into funk, who made an amazing funk tune, would go: “Well, it would be good if it came out in the 70s”?
Pearson Sound: That’s a really good point, actually, I’ve never really heard anyone think about it like that. The way I see my own music, is a tune like "Work Them", for example, I could try and make it again, or use similar drum sounds, and you were talking about painters having periods, and I write in that way. You know, I write a block of tunes in a similar style before progressing and doing something different. I’m a believer that there’s no point trying to make a tune you’ve already made – the one that came first is generally the best one, and you’d end up just wasting your time to try and clone something. The way I see it is that you spend ages working on a style, and then you release a tune that sort of encompasses all of that, and everything you wanted to do. That’s a really interesting point actually, I think a lot of it, is what came first. Why would someone give this record the time of day, when someone has done it a lot better a year ago? It’s just people’s mindset I think. It’s just about who came first, or who did it first.
Participant: I’m from the south-east US, that’s where I grew up, and we’re not really known for our club scene…
Pearson Sound: Where about in the US?
Participant: North Carolina and I went to school in Tennessee. We’re not really known for our club scene – we have guys with big beards playing instruments instead. You’re from London, you grew up with that, I only started listening to proper dance music, or club music in the last couple of years, really, and I just wanted to go back to that question of genres and progression.
Pearson Sound: Are you thinking that by the time it gets over to the south-east of America that it’s already changed?
Participant: No, actually I was wondering more about the creative angle. Do you know anyone that makes music to be played in a club who doesn’t listen to club music, if that makes sense? You know, who doesn’t follow the constant stream of that?
Pearson Sound: I think there are a few people who make club bangers, without realising it. A club track will get picked up, and ends up really being big. I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head, but there have certainly been tracks in the last couple of years that have been picked up by a certain scene, when they were made. I played this African house record the other day and I started playing it, and it’s a South African house record and I doubt that it would have ever been thought that a south London future bass/dubsteppy DJ is gonna be playing that. I definitely find it interesting when music is designed for one thing, or one environment, and then it ends up being completely recontextualised, either by the way it’s mixed or the environment it’s played in. I find that very interesting.
Participant: Yeah, because for me, like when I heard something like James Blake, I thought that was pretty different, but I guess he’s still following those trends in club music and stuff.
Pearson Sound: Well, for James Blake, I mean, I don’t want to speak for him, but I know he had a bit of an epiphany in a similar way to me and lots of people at DMZ. When he would come to DMZ back in 2009 to hand out a few CDs – I’ve still got it somewhere. He had this epiphany with electronic music. I mean, he was into it before, but this was when it really started informing what he was making. I think that once you get into that world, you’re always going to start listening to it. I can’t really think of any example who has absolutely no interest in club music, but somehow their records get picked up by DJs. I can’t really think of any.
Pearson Sound: I think that there are definitely outsiders, which is a very interesting area that could be looked at. Someone like Burial who’s written some of the most amazing music written, but he’s completely outside of the scene. It’s the same with a lot of juke music which is less about the music and more about the dancing, but the way it’s taken in London is that no one cares about the kids dancing, they care about the music, and it’s completely flipped on its head in a way, and been recontextualised. I don’t know if it’s a negative thing, probably.
Participant: I think in a way that club music has been very professionalised and the whole process is very rigid, like all the things that you need to make it, and get your music out there, and getting into charts, and getting on labels. I mean, there are so many forums for reaching out that I think, with this progression thing, it might be about that mystical thing of that creator, who makes genius [music] and not so much about just listening to music and hanging out with friends.
Pearson Sound: I think definitely in the last few years, it’s become a lot more formalized. As in, you have a big record, you have a strategy, you have a promotion strategy, like: “Oh, shall we go with the 'pretend-he-was-found-on-MySpace thing' and market it like that?” And then there’s going right in with the: "Oh, he’s a really good looking singer, let’s push that” - angle. I think it’s definitely become a lot more formalised and streamlined in that way, like: “On the week of release, let’s do this podcast,” or: “The week of release, let’s give away this MP3 on this site.” And it can be very calculated in that respect, but it can be really refreshing. I’ve got Levon Vincent on my mind because his latest record just came out, and the way he operates is that he’ll make music and just say to his digital promoter: “Look, I’ve got a new record.” And when it comes out, there’s no press, there’s no promotion, there’s no hype, it just comes out and people would judge it on its music. That’s what happened with DMZ. DMZ would never announce their releases, you’d only find it out like, the week before it came out – it would be in your shops and it would be a complete surprise. I definitely think that’s missing in a lot of today’s music, unfortunately, this element of surprise. Without judging other producers, sometimes there’s a lot of producers that give too much information, or have ten different press shots from every angle, that cover every single pore of their face, and cover every minute detail in an interview about the street which they grew up in. I think sometimes it’s nice to just hold back a bit, and not have that inform people’s opinion of you or your music.
Participant: I was more interested in the thing of like, having a tune that sounds a lot like one that came out the year before, in that it might be equally good but you won’t be getting media attention for that because someone else did it. Because the media wants the artists to be these super-human creators, and the scene is being watched by media in a way that was not what it was maybe like back in the days of FWD>>. I kind of feel like that sometimes.
Pearson Sound: Going back to Mala, who I seem to be constantly referencing, he had this tune for about a year. He had this tune on dubplate, and there was no label on the dubplate and he’d play at every gig, and it was a complete mystery, no one knew who made it, and people were just going completely crazy trying to find out who made it. There were so many rumours of who it could be, and he held it down and didn’t tell anyone who it was. But it was actually these guys from New Zealand called Truth, and he played this record at the end of every set, and it would completely destroy it. I’m not sure if I’m misunderstanding your point, but are you sort of saying that it’s not so much about who made it, but judging the music for itself? Yeah, I guess that kind of works.
RBMA: Any more questions? Maybe you could line up a tune to send us to lunch with, just something to finish on.
Pearson Sound: Any requests? I don’t know.
RBMA: You can play anything, play something hype.
Pearson Sound: Yeah, I don’t know, one sec, just give me a moment. But thank you very much for the discussion, that was a very interesting debate. I know, I’m going to play a tune by a guy called Toasty, who is one of the unsung heroes of dubstep, who made some of the most amazing tunes and then disappeared and noone ever heard from him again. I think some people might be in touch with him, but he made some of my favourite tunes. This tune is called "Like Sun" and it was released on Hotflush.
RBMA: David Kennedy, Pearson Sound, thanks a lot for your time.
Pearson Sound: Thanks.