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Sam Yates

Q&A

No Lack of Substance on Channell’s first TNQ EP

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No Lack of Substance on Channell’s first TNQ EP

At 25 years young, Alfie Channell brings style and prowess beyond the number. He gets it from a variety of sources, both externally influenced, and from the heart. 

His mother and father’s eclectic tastes had him hooked at an early age. Growing up in South London between two households, each of his parents indulged him in everything from soulful 4-4 to indie-rock. On top of being surrounded by tasteful rhythms, he’s inherited a natural feel for them too – picking up the bass in his young teens and playing licks without any lessons. That funk and melody you hear in his productions today comes almost effortlessly from within.  

Moving up to Manchester to sharpen his musical edge was the catalyst for a focus on drum & bass. Encountering new friends on the same journey, having formidable moments in nightclubs, and starting to get serious about digital production. Here, he started releasing on labels like Fokuz, Celcius, and Inform – his 2021 track ‘Imagination Runnin’’ with 2b.Frank providing an early highlight of the soulful D&B to come. Later that year came ‘An Untitled Summer / Less Talk’ on Innerground – a milestone for any producer – releasing one of the very labels that had a major influence on him at the outset.

After many nights standing in awe of musical geniuses like dBridge, Calibre, and The North Quarter roster, he decided this was his sound. It turned out that Lenzman agreed after hearing ‘Intrigue’, and inking it for release on his label. Channell fits the NQ sound like a glove: soulful, energetic, melodic music that’s appreciative of 2000s liquid funk. 

With Channell’s debut NQ EP next up, it’s a pivotal moment. ‘Full Circle’ is the title – a nod to it all coming together, and the spectrum of sounds and tempos he’s included on the 6 track release. We sat down with this bright, young talent to discuss his journey towards finding such a distinctive sound, and how he’s keeping liquid D&B moving in an exciting direction. 

Let’s start from the top. Do you remember when you first became interested in music?

Well it was way back now. I actually feel old when I think about it, but I guess 25 is not that old. It started with my parents. My mum and dad split up when I was young – so I sort of see them separately – and they’ve each got music tastes that are different in some ways, and similar in others. 

My mum comes from a real soul background. She loves her neo-soul, soulful house, deep house. Artists like Incognito, Reel People, Tortured Soul, Giles Peterson – she had a lot of Giles Peterson compilation CDs that we’d listen to in the car. I feel like as a kid, the soundtrack to your childhood is whatever CDs you’ve got in the car – and my Mum was always playing that deep, soul music. So that’s my Mum. 

And how about your dad?

Well my dad’s probably the main reason for getting me into music. 

I was a big indie alternative kid at school. I loved Arctic Monkeys, The Horrors, Franz Ferdinand, Kasabian, Gorillaz – all those sorts of bands growing up between the ages of like 6 to 12. My dad would be just thumping those tunes, and as a kid I just loved it. 

I was also never taught music or anything either. I just taught myself. I got my bass guitar for my 13th birthday, and all I used to do was play basslines to my CD player in my room – and that’s how I taught myself!

No lessons, no books, no YouTube?

No, I just felt it I guess, as cringe as that sounds. Playing with friends really helped too. When you play with people that are better than you, you kind of rise to it. I always had good friends who were really into their music and we’d always play together.

But then at around 14 or 15 years old I started to listen to a lot of dance music. My dad has always been playing dance music – he was a record producer in the 90’s, him and his friend. They were called Mau Mau. He always claimed to me that they could’ve been like Chemical Brothers or Basement Jaxx – but I would always tell him to do one! 

He’s had a load of productions, pressed to vinyl. Only in my later years did I appreciate it. Because when you’re a kid, you don’t get the dance music explosion sort of thing until you’re old enough to start going out. 

And this is all going down as you grew up in Kingston?

Yeah – and we were so close to town [London], which was massive really. We had the chance to go to so many gigs. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been to Brixton Academy with my dad and with my friends, seeing my favourite bands – Massive Attack, Primal Scream, Cypress Hill…

When did digital production come into the fold for you?

Throughout most of school, I just wanted to play guitar and bass, be in bands, and perform. I wasn’t too bothered about the…. mathematics of the subject, or the whole theory side of it. I never really learned theory until I chose music for my GCSEs. This is where production took over. 

We had this room of computers at school where I discovered Logic 9, and I learnt how to use it during the rest of school. I bought my own laptop, and I just started making music in my bedroom. I had this silly little 15 watt bass-amp which I used to plug my laptop into. Looking back on it, I can’t believe I used to make tunes on that – it was a horrible little thing. 

Who were your influences at the time?

It was a mixture between hip-hop, electronica and indie. I was really into Jagwar Ma, King Krule, early Joey Bada$$. And because my dad was big into all that progressive house stuff – Andy Weatherall, Leftfiield, Orbital – that rubbed off on me. So that was what I was making at the start – ambient, boom-bappy, experimental type of stuff. 

I started to DJ, learning on my Dad’s 1210s with his records. Then I got a cheap Numark Mixtrack Pro [DJ Controller] when I was 14. I bought a load of music, including those D&BA compilations, and one of the first tunes that I really got into was ‘Yellow Shoes’ by DJ Marky. Along with that, High Contrast was another – High Society was big in introducing me to the genre at that age. What an album! 

Later on when I had finished school, I moved up to Manchester to study music production. The first person I met in my class was Jonny Porter (Motiv). He was in my class and had been making drum & bass for years – and it was after class one day I went back to his house, and he was showing me what he’d been making. I thought it was really cool – and that I could get into it. 

Building a friendship with him, I was really into what he was doing, and I was inspired to do it too. That’s how I started producing and releasing music under Channell. 

With TNQ – how did that relationship kick off?

It was just before summer 2021, and I was really loving what those guys were doing. Everyone on TNQ is a great artist and they’ve all got their own path – when you hear Zero T, you know it’s him, same with FD, Lenzman, Redeyes, all of them. They’ve all got their distinctive sound, I was just obsessed with that. 

So I started sending music to Julien, before he had Five Alley, and he was really supportive and positive, and just gave great feedback.

Then he played one of them on a Hit & Run livestream. Lenzman was tuned in, and he apparently asked what one of the tracks Julien played. It happened to be ‘Intrigue’ which then came out on the NQ State of Mind compilation. So that’s how it all started with TNQ. 

I like what you said about how every artist has a distinctive sound on TNQ. Totally agree. Do you think that you’re getting towards that level of distinction, or an established sound?

Yeah… I’d like to think so! I feel that what I’m doing is fresh. I’m still working everyday, developing my craft and sound and over the next few releases, so I hope people can recognise it. 

When we discussed you having a musical background and learning the ‘analogue’ way to a large extent – I feel like I can hear that in your music…

Oh definitely. I mean I’m listening and creating all sorts … deep house, techno, disco, indie and other things all the time. And I feel like with the stuff we’re [TNQ] making, it’s like… BPM doesn’t define the style. 

Some of the tunes I make, if you took out the drum and put it to 120 bpm, it’s probably just a straight house tune. So that’s where I draw a lot of influence from. And obviously I have a huge appreciation for drum & bass as well – my favourite era is probably about 2000 to 2008. That to me is the pinnacle of why I love this genre so much. 

TNQ definitely gets a lot of influence from that era. 

It’s the more funky, deep sort of liquid tunes that would go off in a club. I feel like when you say ‘liquid’ to someone, people often think more mellow, listening at home, more emotional sort of thing. But what we love is high energy – we love to dance to high energy with melody and harmony. And a prime example of one of the greatest to ever do it is Random Movement, in my opinion. You can probably hear a lot of his influence on my tunes. 

‘Substance’ – the first single on this EP – is another perfect example of a high-energy liquid track…

That’s it, man. It’s rolling, and it’s got melody and harmony, but it’s also got that grit to it – it goes from sections where everything drops out and gets a bit dark, then it brings it back to the melody and harmony side of things – that’s just the best. It’s all about the groove. 

So that’s out today [as we do this interview]. How’s the response been?

Yeah it’s been great. It’s got a lot of support from inspiring producers like LSB, Skeptical, FD and the big one really is, Laurent Garnier! He was playing my track with 2b.Frank ‘Where We Go’ on his radio show recently, and he said he’s really loving ‘Substance’ too. That is just… amazing. Laurent Garnier, French house legend! 

And my dad, like I said earlier, is a fanatic about this music. He knows everything about everything. And for him, Laurent Garnier is up there as one of his favourite DJs. For me to turn around say: “Oh Dad, Laurent Garnier is liking the tunes, playing them on his radio show”. He was gobsmacked. 

He must’ve been proud.

He was! Obviously, being a house producer and DJ. 

I don’t know how good he was, he always puts himself on a pedestal. There’s a funny story he always tells me that he could’ve toured the world – but he didn’t because I came along. I say “Yeah, whatever Dad… you’re talking rubbish!”. That’s the type of guy he is and how we joke around. 

Do you have aspirations to tour a lot?

I would love to. That would be amazing. But we’ve still got a long way to go. I’m here to stay though, that’s the thing. I don’t just think it’s gonna happen overnight, but I’m here to put the work in. 

I’d love to be touring every weekend, and that’s the dream really. But for now I’m just going to keep working and releasing music. 

What’s making up the rest of the EP?

The idea is to release the next single – which is another funk fuelled track, but more on an amen-roller vibe. It’s a new spin on the amen break. 

It’s one of those tracks where, when I listen at home it sounds decent. But then once you play it in a club, I don’t know what happens, but it just changes and becomes this huge track. Some tracks have the ability to change like that and tear up the dance floor in certain situations. When we were at Phonox, Lenzman played it and I thought, this doesn’t sound like it does in the studio? It has a new aspect to it. 

I feel like that about a lot of tracks. I think where DJs still hold a lot of value is being able to find those ones, and recontextualise what we thought we knew about it by putting it in the mix, or dropping it in a club… 

Exactly. It’s all about context isn’t it. You’re in a club, it’s full of people, everyone’s having a good time, there’s smoke machines and lasers, a big loud sound-system. It’s a completely new experience. 

When I was at Phonox a few years ago one of my favourite D&B tracks of all time got dropped – ‘Astral Travel’ by Bungle on Soul:r – Calibre played it and it was a religious experience, I was in another world, I couldn’t believe how it sounded in that moment!

I had the same experience, on that same night! But the track for me was ‘Steady’ – Marcus Intalex. 

Oh man – what a tune. You get goosebumps talking about it. 

Anyway – the plan is to release the next single, where there will be a feature on it, but we haven’t recorded it yet and I can’t reveal who it will be. The EP will likely be six tracks in total, four of which are drum & bass. There’s two house tunes on there as well – but more kind of soulful house. 

The house productions on the new EP and your Five Alley EP are great.  

The thing is, I just love music! I find it hard to just stick to one genre. Obviously if you look at my back catalogue it’s predominantly drum & bass, but I do make loads of other stuff – experimenting with disco, deep house, down-tempo. I want to start pushing that more and present myself as an artist. Rather than being pigeonholed in one style. 

You’re well on your way! Do you have any final thoughts before we finish up?

Yes, actually. There’s something I didn’t mention earlier when talking about how I got into D&B. 

Quite a pinnacle moment for me was going to Hit & Run nights. They would show the deeper side of bass music, and bring you things you wouldn’t usually see. One of the first things that really stood out to me, and inspired me to believe I could do this was a TNQ night in 2018. I remember being at the front the whole time. I was thinking wow. This is what I want to do. Dancing to deep, soul and melody in drum & bass was so fresh to me, and TNQ were the guys to show me that. 

There was another Hit & Run with Calibre B2B dBridge, with Tyler Daley and DRS on the mic. It just blew me away. They go deep, dark and wonderful – it’s just so forward thinking. So in terms of going out, those are the nights that are hugely influential to me. 

It’s a good reminder to go out and see artists you love or have an interest in – those moments are waiting!

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