Audio:

Pinch: Bloc09 set

Underwater Dancehall

When it comes to modern British bass music, the West country city of Bristol has had an enigmatic grip. For trip-hop read Massive Attack, Tricky and Portishead. For drum & bass look no further than Roni Size, Krust and the Mercury Music Award winning Full Cycle crew. And for dubstep, it’s fair to say that Rob Ellis, aka Pinch, is the main spiritual successor to such Westerly sublow figureheads. Curator of the consistently quality Tectonic label and auteur of arguably dubstep’s first essential, vocal-lead long player in 2007’s ‘Underwater Dancehall’, Pinch has become an enduring champion of dubstep at its most experimental, honest and unaffected.

 

With his recent track ‘Croydon House’ getting rave reviews, we let out our recording of the dubstep’s futurist’s 2009 set from Bloc and snag him for a few questions on past influences and future projects.

 

You’re obviously best known as a dubstep champion, but what were your earliest musical influences?

 

Everything from Guns n Roses, Jimi Hendrix and early 90s ‘rave’ to On-U Sound-related dub, Colorbox (latter two both courtesy of my older brother) and probably a lot of less cool shite that I’ve

repressed from my memory now! As a teen I was hugely into the likes of Massive Attack, Tricky and Portishead and by about 15 I started listening to jungle and later techno and house. All sorts really.

 

When did the obsessions with all things bass begin?

 

I dunno exactly but probably from going to shows as a teenager – I remember seeing Leftfield live in 1995 and also Goldie, Doc Scot and Peshay later the same year. Those gigs made a big impression on me at the time.

 

When you released Underwater Dancehall in 2007 it was one of the first artist albums in the dubstep scene to embrace vocals in a big way. If you could pick three vocalists to work with, who would they be and why?

 

It would be an honour if I got to work with Beth Gibbons from Portishead – I love her fragile emotive voice. I’ve not really thought about this much before (all seems so out of reach!) but I’m generally really into great, unique sounding female vocalists so maybe someone like Sade or Bjork (although everyone says Bjork). Sod it…lets go for Beyonce. She’s got a great voice and it would make for a nice fat pay cheque at the end of the day too…

 

Are there any plans to release a follow-up to the album?

 

I’ve been tinkering with some ideas and getting my production as tight as possible with the idea of starting work on a new album early next year. I’ve got a bunch of collaborative projects and a couple of remixes I need to finish up first and that’ll keep me busy till the end of the year now. It’s going to be very different from the first one.

 

A lot gets made of the Bristol scene and any bass-heavy act that comes from the city seems to get tagged as a spiritual extension of ‘the Bristol sound’. How much has living in the city influenced you? And, as an artist, what’s the best thing about living in the city?

 

I don’t know exactly, I get asked this a lot and the truth is I just like it in Bristol. It’s a comfortable pace of life and I have a lot of good friends here too. There’s always been a soundsystem culture in the city and this is best exemplified by St Paul’s Carnival which happens the first Saturday of July each year. Every front yard in St Paul’s is set up with sounds, jerk chicken stalls and make shift bars. DIY dub-wise carnival vibes Bristol style… beats the living daylights out of Notting Hill Carnival if you ask me.

 

Tectonic, to my ears, has always felt like a label where even established producers are encouraged to push their own boundaries and come up with something different. What is the driving ethos of the label? Are there any labels that have influenced you?

 

I don’t know if it would be honest of me to say that there is a clear ethos of the label beyond the fact that it’s a reflection of what I like in dubstep and related sounds. I guess it’s generally on the deeper and darker or more experimental side of things but not always. As far as influential labels go, I always loved the anonymity of the Basic Channel imprint – it just feels totally uncompromising in every way. I also like the way Metalheadz always had a certain vibe and that producers releasing on the label would often lean towards that sound in the tracks that they released on there.

 

This year the awesome Pursuit Grooves took a lot of people by surprise. Do you have any other hidden talents/new producers up your sleeve? What’s coming up on the label?

 

Ambush style! After the enormous Scientist Launches Dubstep Into Outer Space project (released Nov 2010) [legendary dub pioneer Scientist takes on 12 exclusive, unreleased tracks from modern dubstep producers] we’ll be launching next year with a wicked 12″ from Illumsphere and looking towards a full length LP with Mz Grooves herself. Busy times…

 

What do you make of dubstep’s current commercial takeoever? Is it still a scene that you feel totally part of?

 

I’m not really involved with the more commercial side of dubstep. I’m also not a fan of most of the stuff that fits into a predictable wobble/half-step dubstep template. It’s nice the current generation of kids have embraced dubstep so much but when it gets watered down too much or has to fit a worn out formula then it just sounds hollow and pointless to me. I’m not against being successful though. I have full respect for music that maintains integrity yet reaches a lot of people – that’s much harder to pull off. Who would have thought Burial would reach so many people for example – ‘Untrue’ was easily the biggest selling dubstep/related LP but there’s absolutely no compromises in the music.

 

Your latest track is called ‘The Boxer’. What’s your favourite fight of all time?

 

Oh probably Lennox Lewis vs Mike Tyson in 2002. In fact, definitely… I stayed up all night drinking beer with a couple of friends waiting to watch Lewis take him apart! Which he did in fine style.

 

As well as being a brain-bustingly good selection of the best electronic music around, Bloc is generally known as, well, a jolly good smash-up. Do you still get out and about to check out other acts from the other side of the decks?

 

I’ve really enjoyed Bloc every year and after the work is done you know I’m getting involved too!! It’s a genuine highlight of the year for me – all the festival fun without any of the hassles (weatherproof/no tents to deal with etc). Plus the music is excellent throughout and I always stumble in on something unexpected but pleasantly surprising when I’m not pumping 10p’s into the one-armed bandits! 10am Monday morning comes around fast and hard though…

 

- Pinch was sparring in a cage with Allan McGrath