Future Sounds of ... Clapton
- Published on Tuesday, 31 December 2013 11:25
How much influence does a city have on the music that comes out of it? Few would argue against the the heavy, mechanised motor history and urban meltdown of Detroit on shaping the machine funk of techno. Similarly, how the post-industrial landscape of Sheffield stamped its hallmark on the early futuristic bleeps of Warp. But what about in the past 20 years? Is it possible to hear the ugly sprawl of Croydon, for instance, inside the wonky bass of 90s tech house or the angry rumbles of dubstep? Maybe, but there's no denying that the area will be forever linked with both.
Right now, a little corner of London is having something of creative growing spurt. Up, in and around the postal district of E5 – Clapton – musical output is, perhaps inexplicably, exceptionally high within a tiny square-acreage. Coming out of this grubby corner of north-east London, made, played and released by a handful of local residents, is music that isn't afraid to push the edges of house and techno. Tune in and it could well be the audible representation of what was once known as the Murder Mile? Or it may be nothing more than the rumbles of a few individual producers, DJs and labels, like-minded only in where they just happen to live?
Pic - Clapton Pond, E5. Apr 2006
Whatever the answer, there is a high concentration of music coming out of Clapton, so it's worth meeting its most prolific musical residents anyway. All of whom have, tellingly, migrated to the area anywhere in the past ten years, rather than grown up there. Whether they are running labels, making beats, playing records, putting on nights, or all of the above, they are all putting Clapton on the music map. And more than any other corner of London right now, they are doing it at the same time and in the same place – which is enough for us to call it a scene, no matter how reluctant its protagonists might be to be part of it.
Whether or not there is a clearly detectable Clapton sound, or just a Clapton postcode on the back of the records, is kind of irrelevant. But the music of producers Semtek, Arnaldo, Marco Shuttle, and labels Don't Be Afraid, Third Ear, Until My Heart Stops and Boe Recordings, definitely has a Clapton accent. Although you couldn't really call the labels, producers and DJs a tight crew, there is already some crossover, and some firm friendships here. So they might be soon.
A producer and DJ with an ear for restrained deepness and scant regard for some house facists approved tempos, William Arnaldo Smith has established his talent the past couple of years with sturdy 12s for Smallville, Blank Slate and Greta Cottage Workshop. He moved to Clapton for one main reason: it was cheap.
“I would be lying if I said the price of rent did not turn me on to the idea of the area,” he says. “But I really liked the feeling it gave me too.” What he’s since discovered is somewhere affordable, a bit run down, and multicultural. It's an area with kindred spirits. “Since moving here I've met so many people and it is truly crazy how we are similar but also so very different. I think there are still so many people I have not met and that makes me very excited.” One such is Ben Parkinson, owner of Boe Recordings (see below), who lives on the same street, so it was inevitable that that the two would pair up – the producer has a track on the latest Halal Prepared EP on Boe, another solid missive from the five-year-old label. It's not his only local collab.
" I've a track then a full EP coming on Until My Heart Stops which is co-run by Leif, who lives in the borough. A radio show starting on NTS Radio and my first DJ residency at Dance Tunnel, both nearby in Dalston. I would love to say there is a movement or something in the lime-heavy water round here but I think it's a bit of coincidence - brought together by cheaper rent. I am a party of a local scene in as much to say these guys are cool and thats nice that we do the same stuff " But he sights Dalston's Kristina Records as his main local influence. "The guys in there are great. (through them) I am listening to and playing some ofthe broadest range of music, I think ever in my life"
Guy McCreery has been running his Third Ear Recordings label out of Clapton since 2002. As much a home for Detroit, European as well as homegrown talents such as Wbeeza, the current strand flowing through the label is edgy, highly musical house, techno and electronica. Recent highlights include releases from Benjamin Brunn, Patrick Skoog and Sarass – outsider names that play by their own rules – something that echoes the style of Clapton's current musical residents. Rather like Arnaldo, its the cheapness and open-mindedness of the area and the freedom that brings that have been the area's direct inflence on McCreery's endeavors.
“It allows me to be myself and focus on what I do,” he says. Considering he's been in the area over ten years, it's only recently that McCreery has discovered his more creative neighbours. “I only found out Marco Shuttle was around here because my mate Rabih Beani aka Morphosis was staying with Marco when I booked Rabih to do a night a Corsica Studios. It makes sense that there are more than a few around here. But we're not a band of brothers and sisters who have come out of the neighbourhood. We're a bunch of similar-minded people who have zoned in on the area because it allows us to do what we're trying to do. I'm wary of scenes. But I would not distance myself from other Clapton artists and labels. It's always good to hang out and share experiences. That makes us stronger.”
McCreery's noticed that Clapton's musical infrastructure has some oddly local hubs. “I knew the development would move up from Shoreditch and Hoxton. That wasn't too much of a surprise. Although the manner in which the entrepreneurial Turkish property owners opened up their basements to bar and club culture was. I think the Palm 2 grocery store was a big factor in drawing people to the area too. I've been in Fabric overhearing people describe where they live in relation to that store!” He's also keen to see the area's local landmarks embrace its musical development. “It won't be long before we have an electronic arts festival in The Round Chapel. I've considered curating one there. It's such a beautiful building inside.” He could be right. Biosphere, Nils Frahm and Perc are among the artists who have already appeared, last year, at St John Sessions, a live concert series based just down the road at a church on Lower Clapton Road.
Picture from Wikimedia Commons
Italian producer and DJ Marco Shuttle has been a Clapton local for a few years – using his hub to make an advanced, hypnotic strain of house that isn't afraid to experiment, for Clone, Farden and his own suitably named Eerie label. It's what Clapton has in store for its residents that has drawn so many like-minded music heads to the area.
“I like the mix of people in the area – locals, hipsters, professionals, weirdos, crackheads and more, living in the same place and doing their business without bothering the others. I like the fact that there is not a kind of artificial sugary community feeling, it’s just a very effortless honest, silent respect for the diverse.” Shuttle is aware he's got similar neighbours too, and having music in common has made for some solid friendships among them. “I know a few people that do their thing with a very genuine and passionate way that I like and I've became good friends with, Benjamin Semtek, Arnaldo, Guy from Third Ear Records, the Kristina Records crew.” But name-checks aside, he's unconvinced that being a fellow local artist can be heard in his music. “I wouldn’t say my location right now has much of an influence… Ilike to live here, thats all. Definitely East London more generally in all these years influenced me more from a wide perspective. I met many people that have been really crucial in my growth as a creative person.”
Benji Lehman aka Semtek, has a keen ear for fresh talent and is no schmuck in the studio either; his Don't Be Afraid imprint introduced us to Mr Beatnik, MGUN, as well as his own-name 12s. This year the label has diversified into side labels DBA Dubs and Special Editions, and he also set up the spirited Spargel Trax – that has presented anonymous tracks by well-known producers wearing vaguely asparagus-themed disguises. Living in Clapton, cheaply, has given Semtek the freedom to run his labels and time to meet up with similarly minded mates. Although he says that much of what he releases is “in some sense motivated by communion and friendship”, he has had mixed success in forging musical connections in the area.
“I have come across very few musicians from the area of whom I was not aware before. That is sad for me, because were there a local record shop or a local club those musicians might be in a position to meet people like me who run record labels. The internet is much more daunting than a club or a record shop for many people.” But the connections he has made have been vital. “My boy Marco Shuttle lives across the road from me and I would not have gotten to know him so well were he not in the area. He is one of the most talented producers I have ever come across. The Thick As Thieves guys live down the road and having them around has also been great as they are a constant source of encouragement and inspiration.”
Boe Recordings has been Ben Boe's labour of love for the past five years. Similar to Third Ear, you'll find UK producers such as Arnaldo, alongside upcoming Europeans Gaetano Battista or Anaxander on its releases, and on For Those That Knoe, Boe's recently launched reissue label, forgotten 12s get a new lease of life, from both sides of the pond. Ben's convinced he'd be releasing, playing and making something different if he lived somewhere else.
“My outlook on music and the records that I purchase have totally been influenced by my surroundings. Just being here I found myself being far more adventurous in the record shops, keen to avoid specific trends. I think this is hopefully reflected in the music that I put out on my labels. It’s not just the physical location that influences me but the people who reside here. So many people who are involved in music and the party scene live locally. Chatting about music is really important for me. Having like-minded friends around me and being involved in a scene of sorts has helped me cement my ideals on what I want to get out of and put back into music. The area and the people around me influence me and challenge me in a good way. They’re all amazing DJs with great record collections and knowledge. If I lived anywhere else I would never be able to absorb myself in my music as I can do now.”
He too name-checks Kristina Records as a vital neighborhood hub, a place where you'll often bump into any number of local or producer residents, either scanning the racks, chatting at the counter, or slugging back a red stripe when the shop hosts its regular DJ in-stores. And he's able to hand-deliver releases to sell there too.
“Three or four years ago no one would have said that a boutique record shop that mainly focuses on new house and techno would open up in East London. But it’s a go-to shop as well so folks will drop by and visit from out of town to listen to stuff they can’t get elsewhere.”
Ask Ben if he thinks theres some kind of genuine movement coming out Clapton and he is in no doubt. “It’s there for sure. [Yet] only recently are the people involved starting to realise it. It’s very small; everyone knows one another but in an honest way - it isn’t a clique. I’m talking about parties, artists, music, the whole thing. It’s there but its members don’t think that it’s an entity in itself. It can’t be marketed; it can’t be bought or sold. It just IS. That’s what makes it so great. We just do what we love and extend the friendship to individuals who share the common interest. We go to each other’s parties, play each other’s records, do radio shows together. It’s incestuous, but in a good way, there’s no pretense. Its underground, it’s with real people, not fashionable with trend hoppers. It’s weird that I know pretty much all the people that I admire musically as we live close to one another and we’ve all come together through mutual connections over the last few years. It’s safe to say that as a group we are definitely not a cool (however it is defined) set of people and I’m sure without speaking for everyone I think most would agree.”
Something in the water? Maybe – other DJs, producers and label owners within in touching distance of Clapton.
Straddling the streams of house and techno, Ethyl has settled on the south edge of Clapton, built a new studio and is forging a rawer, trippier sound as he matures for label such as Secretsundaze and Appian Sounds. DJ wise, always on the money.
Five minutes across the border in Stoke Newington, the Welshman had a fine 2013, releasing singles on Ornate (owned by local James Thomson, of Jonno & Tommo), and a cracking debut album on Fear Of Flying. Also co-owner of dark-seamed underground house label Until My Heart Stops.
Jonno and Tommo
Although more Dalston than Clapton, Tommo's Ornate label is always worth keeping an eye on – the 2013 12 by local boy Leif was a significant release for the label. As a production duo, think straightforward house rather than the dubbier, dirtier releases coming out of Clapton.
By Jane Fitz