Question: what do minimal drum and bass, 140s, and UKG enthusiasts all have in common?
Answer: A Cesco (pronounced ‘Chesco’) production which they are guaranteed to love. Never one to limit himself to a particular genre, Cesco has established a name for himself in the spheres of drum and bass, dubstep, and UKG.
Cesco’s multi-genre approach has certainly paid off. In 2022 alone, he has performed up and down the UK (including a set at Alix Perez’s XOYO residency) and released EPs on 1985 Music, and Pineapple Records.
We recently spoke with Cesco about his recent releases, straddling genres, and the benefits of minimalism…
You recently released your Rattler EP on 1985. I saw you drop a few tracks from it at a Mukes event in Manchester a couple months ago and they went down really well. How have the reactions been elsewhere?
Cesco: I’m very fortunate in that even though I don’t have a huge fanbase, the fans I do have are very dedicated which is enormously appreciated. I get sent a lot of videos of my tunes being played etc, so I tend to receive a lot more external feedback than I find for myself. I’m a bit fearful of paying too much attention to how my stuff is received; otherwise, I would end up trying to recreate my more popular tracks rather than just having fun with it and seeing what happens after. All that being said, the reactions I saw were thankfully really positive!
How was the general feedback from other artists?
Cesco: I actually checked the promo feedback form for the first time on En:vy’s recommendation. There were a lot of artists reacting positively who I wouldn’t necessarily expect, which was a pleasant surprise. From what I saw, people seemed to enjoy the variety across the EP. I remember Rich Reason (of Hit and Run fame) wrote something like ‘what range!’, which gave me a chuckle. But yeah, it was way more positive than what I was expecting, which is great!
It’s always good to keep an eye on the horizon! Not comparing yourself to other people is also a great approach and can stop you feeling disheartened, too.
Cesco: Historically, I’ve found that when I compare myself to other producers I’ve never measured up. I’ve been producing for around twelve years now, but the first five years was just me setting very specific, unrealistic goals and never achieving them. Wanting to sound like a certain guy, wanting to sign to that certain label, wanting to make specific basses – never worked out. Since then, I’ve tried to sort of work without a specific focus and avoid comparing myself to others whether technically or creatively, and things are definitely going better than before.
Speaking about ending up on specific labels, let’s talk about 1985. That’s a great label to release on! How did that link come about?
Cesco: So I basically managed to get on 1985 kind of through the back door. I’ve only actually sent original demos to a label once, and that was Binga’s label Pineapple at the end of last year. With 1985, I saw Foreign Beggars at an event in Swansea years back, and PAV4N was hanging out by the bar after their set. Me and my mates went up to him, told him we were huge fans, I asked for his email address and he was kind enough to give it. I didn’t actually have any beats so a couple of days later I wrote Stalker Skit (which is available to buy via my Bandcamp – all profits are donated to Black Minds Matter UK, a mental health charity), and sent it over. Pav said they considered it for their album 2 2 Karma, and even though it didn’t make the cut he said his brother was keen on hearing some tunes. Turns out his brother Pravan (PENGSHUi) was the label manager for 1985 at the time, and I sent through an early version of Drones which he liked! The imposter syndrome was strong and I was convinced that he and Alix wouldn’t rate the final premaster, so I ended up taking something like six months to actually send it through. Fortunately Alix and Pravan liked it, the track made it onto Edition 2, and here we are!
So, you accidentally made a big career milestone?
Cesco: Haha I guess! When they announced in 2016 that they were starting as a label, their ‘we are now accepting demos’ graphic was my phone screen background for the three years I was at uni. Even though setting ambitious goals hadn’t gone well for me before, as soon as I saw they were taking music I just needed to get on there. Alix has been a huge source of inspiration for me for years with his own output, and now what he’s building with the label both sonically and visually is amazing – I’m blessed to be involved.
Absolutely! Having a cohesive aesthetic which unites visuals, music, and events spaces is really important and something which a lot of people appreciate whether they realise it or not.
Cesco: At some level, it will all tie in together! You see Alix’s artwork and you immediately know it’s 1985. I don’t know if building a brand was his primary objective from when he started doing graphic design, but his artistic vision is so strong that it all ties together in a very natural way.
You’ve also released on Pineapple recently. What led you to put out your UKG bits on that label?
Cesco: So, I was making a tune with Bakey (Lights In The Crowd), and while that was happening I wrote Move Too Slow. I started that tune more or less because I thought that if I only made one UKG tune and it was with Bakey, everyone would assume he did all the work and I just put a hi-hat in at the end or something. I had the drums and was tinkering with them for a few days on and off, then as soon as I made the wobbly bass patch the tune pretty much finished itself in 3 hours. From my perspective, neither of the tunes felt like they would fit on 1985, so those were the two I sent through as demos to Binga. Then, he suggested making something together with him and Redders so we could get a little EP going, which I was obviously gassed about! I fuck with Pineapple big time, the whole crew, the whole multi-genre vibe…
For someone who works with as many genres as yourself, Pineapple seems like a great fit!
Cesco: 100% man! To me the label has a fun, carefree, party vibe which is carried through their whole back catalogue, artwork (shouts to Sanja aka BastardShark) and music videos – even though it’s early days, the identity is super strong. But yeah, of course the music on there is just really good and I wanted to get involved.
Care to tell us about any other projects you are working on?
Cesco: My default state now is working on more music for 1985, and I’m finishing up the third EP at the minute. A tune of mine is on a 1985 VA which I think is coming out towards the end of the year, and I’ve just finished up a garagey bit which should drop some time next year. I have a collaborative two-tracker coming out on Dr. Dubplate’s label, ec2a, alongside Van Wilkins at some point as well which just needs some finishing touches. Dr. Dubplate was a heavy supporter of Move Too Slow in the clubs and we ended up chatting on Insta a bit, so when he asked if I’d want to release some stuff on the label I was obviously down. Aside from that, I’m slowly working my way through a tonne of collabs and throwing some ideas around with Binga about another Pineapple thing.
We love to see it! You also moved to Bristol recently. Was that for music-related reasons?
Cesco: Pretty much! There are so many people based across loads of genres. Of course, you have the whole Bristol Funk scene; DLR, Break, Kyrist, War and that lot. You also have Pineapple with loads of flavours, a sick rap scene, 140 dons like Drone and Boofy, and multigenre peeps like Notion. So many different genres and different styles going around! I live in St. Paul’s too, so usually you can hear a system running a dancehall clash somewhere nearby. There’s also the opportunity to live with other producers of course, and I’m gassed to be living with Jean (En:vy) and Aidan (Azifm) when they move in. It feels like you can do so much more here than in a lot of other cities in the UK. There’s always something going on, or a sick artist to collab with.
That’s wonderful to hear, especially as you’ve touched on 140s, UKG, and drum and bass… are there any other styles you want to dabble with?
Cesco: Yeah, man! I don’t come from any set musical scene really; I don’t have any cool stories of breaking into Fabric or going to raves when I was twelve, I don’t have a brother who gave me tapes to listen to or any of that. I was born and raised in a village full of old white farmers so there wasn’t too much D&B popping off. My first exposure to bass music specifically was a guy in secondary school showing me Scatta by Skrillex, Bare Noize, and Foreign Beggars through phone speakers. Then at some point after I heard ILL by Chasing Shadows on much bigger speakers and I found out what sub bass was. Then the first D&B tune I heard was Shellshock by Noisia and Foreign Beggars which made my jaw drop – hearing the percussion in that tune back when it was released fully redefined what I thought was possible with production. But yeah, I don’t have a built-in musical reference point so I’ve always just sort of floated about as a listener, and now as a producer.
Genre-wise, I am planning on starting a secret alias which will focus on 4×4 tunes; a combination of NUKG, UK funky, bass house, tech house… There’s a lot of fun to be had with slower tempos and different grooves down there. Then there’s Stolen Methods which is an existing alias I have for weird lo-fi beats, boom-bap and nufunk sort of stuff. Been quiet on that front for a while but myself and Chris from Onyx are working on getting a label going which will feature a few Stolen Methods tunes early on! As for Cesco, at the moment I’m working on mostly 140, UKG, and some weird halftimey footworky bits.
How come you have chosen to start different aliases given that Cesco already contains lots of musical variety?
Cesco: This whole alias separation thing has plagued my brain for years, to be honest. I think you can have multi-genre artists who operate within a certain sonic spectrum; SP:MC with 140 and UKG, Alix with 140, halftime, and drum and bass, and Binga with everything he does. If I were to make a Cesco 4×4 bass house tune, even though it’s still bass music it just wouldn’t fit on an EP, in a show, or whatever… it wouldn’t fit at all!
What are the musical boundaries for the Cesco project, then?
Cesco: With Cesco, I’m just trying to use as few elements as possible to make proper stripped back, hopefully original sounding bass music at whatever BPM I feel like on the day. If it’s minimal, focuses on rhythm, and has its roots in the club, it will be a Cesco tune – unless it’s 4×4. On the flipside, with Stolen Methods, I will sample some old tune I like, use very little processing on it, add some basic groovy drums, sidechain it really hard and that’s the tune! None of the same technical objectives or dancefloor orientation as Cesco. Then the 4×4 project will encapsulate the genres I don’t feel right releasing on either of the existing aliases. I’m hoping to keep it to just those aliases for now, but we’ll see.
That’s a great way to approach multi-genre projects! It really questions boundaries between genres and how music is categorised by concentrating on sounds as opposed to tempo and rhythm…
Cesco: This is so cliché, but I try not to think about or consult genres when it comes to making stuff. Nowadays, my best creative sessions always come from setting the BPM to whatever I feel like and messing around, enjoying the process. The reason I took so long to make more material after the Angry Waves EP for 1985 was because I kept setting projects to 174 BPM; I thought that’s what I should do, but nothing was happening. That definitely helped me realise that I need to move around stylistically to stay inspired.
Now is a really good time for underground dance music precisely because boundaries are being reinvented and musical history is being remade. The approach you are taking is a great creative move!
Cesco: Thanks man! It’s not something I try to do consciously; I just find that when I stick to one thing for too long it starts to feel and sound forced. When I did that in the past, I ended up never finishing any music after a certain point.
At the end of the day, there are still lots of things which tie different genres together…
Cesco: Honestly, it’s an accident on my part because at the start I knew so little about music anyway, but I do think not worrying too much about genres helps to make stuff sound cohesive across styles. An approach rather than shooting for a specific target. For example, you can always tell an Alix track no-matter the tempo because of the choices he makes; I don’t think Alix looks at a genre and tries to fit himself to it, I think he fits genres around his own sound and that’s something I try to emulate. I see people consult genres as reference points for what they should be doing, but I really think the best way to do it is to just do it your way and you will find your place. Instead of perfecting how someone else does something, try mucking around experimenting a bunch. It gives you a chance to explore what you like and build your own musical taste and sound, both as a consumer and a creator. You’ll never be able to emulate someone else’s sound better than them, but on the flipside you can get to a point where nobody can emulate your own sound, and to me that would be way more satisfying.
To me, the Cesco project is really minimal. Lots of nice stripped back basslines and sparse drums…
Cesco: I don’t do shit! I’m proper lazy with it.
What draws you to the minimal aesthetic?
Cesco: I have a shit analogy for this; music is like a cake with icing. A lot of bass music I hear recently has a lot of icing and not much cake I think, so many sound effects popping off and loads of variation and switches and stuff. I lose track of what the track is meant to be. I like having obvious elements, like a bassline or a certain percussive hook or something. If you obscure those elements too much with extra noises, you can’t taste the juicy sponge any more!
The ultimate mission is to make the perfect sponge that doesn’t even need icing. I just feel that if you have to add so much ear candy to something, maybe you need to focus on making the core elements more captivating to begin with? There’s just something special to me about tunes with no fluff with that effortless swagger about them, tunes that don’t need to have constant transitions with a million unique bass shots flying everywhere to keep you interested, obvious examples being producers like Skeptical and Thematic.
My favourite tunes, both from other people and myself, are usually just the same small palette of sounds with variation across a song. Obviously, I’m not saying sound effects are universally shit because everything needs balance, but I really do try and not use them wherever possible. I’ll sort the structure and mixdown for a tune, and then I’ll add some SFX on if I feel it’s really necessary to stop the track getting dull. Half laziness, half because I think things are too busy these days. But after all, icing is delicious so you want to have at least a bit on there!
The less things there are, the more noticeable and powerful what’s there is…
Cesco: It’s a pain in the arse though because everything has to sit right, nothing can hide away behind other elements. I’m self-taught, too – I haven’t done any courses and I avoid tutorials for some reason, so I’ve really taken the long way round on that one.
Returning to the food analogy… Taking extras back allows you to reinvent and be more creative, right? Working with less lets you add more. If you take away ingredients from a pasta dish, like the sauce, you can build something new from the foundation!
Cesco: I like how you’re backing the food analogies man, and I fully agree with the taking away ingredients thing! Workforce references a phrase in his podcast quite often, something like “creativity through limitation”. If you have limited options, you’re forced into a sort of alchemy, combining stuff you wouldn’t usually combine to make something new, whereas when you’re confronted with an infinite number of options you’re sometimes too overwhelmed to even begin, or whatever you do make is overworked and vague. That definitely applies to my workflow. The less options I have, the less time I waste considering them, and the more focused the ideas tend to be.
What can the world learn from applying a minimal approach to other parts of life?
Cesco: I am a very minimal person in general! If you block out the noise and keep it simple, you can find room to focus on yourself, whether that’s creatively or personally. There’s no need to make stuff more complicated than it needs to be. Just keep it simple.
Great advice! Everyone is overworked these days. We should be able to just enjoy life more without having to worry…
Cesco: That’s what we need to hear. Go on strike, fuck the Tories!