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“Chase the feeling, not the end product…”: A deep chat with Quartz

For an artist named after one of the most ubiquitous minerals on the planet, Quartz is a rare voice in bass music.

An artist that’s on a mission to create music with zero compromise and zero pretence. An artist that consistently treads a path wondering where you’ll end up next. He’s one of the most remarkable and innovative outsiders currently emerging in this field.

He seldom does interviews, he doesn’t sell sample packs, he doesn’t do tutorials, he doesn’t give any of his studio secrets away and you are far more like to find him digging deep through a pile of old B-movie horror scores than you will on social media. For Cardiff-based artist Elliot Garvey, integrity, authenticity and the pursuit of a sound that’s genuinely unique and true to him are much more important.

Best known for his relatively recent work on labels such as Metalheadz and Samurai, he’s actually been sculpting his stark, often brutalist bass vision and ethos for 12 years now – often during times of acute hardship and tragic heartbreak. Now, with forthcoming releases ranging from cut-throat jungle choppage to system-melting 140 on labels ranging from Rupture and Utopia to V.I.V.E.K’s System, plus work on a soundtrack and a forthcoming Metalheadz album, the fruits of his diligence are beginning to pay off in a major way.

For a taste of what’s to come and what the Welsh artist is all about check his recent RA Podcast. Weighing in at almost three hours, and running the full range of his flavours, tempos and textures, it captures exactly what Quartz is all about and why he’s such a rare voice. We called him up to talk timing, narratives and the careful innovation he creates inside the genre to keep the template moving and find out more…

Have you DJ’d yet since raves came back in the UK? 

I have man, it was good. I played at XOYO for Goldie and played all of my own material and a couple of Mako tunes. It was vibing. I got some great responses. It’s obviously a bit of a tilt with Covid still being a thing, but I know I’m not alone feeling weird with that and it’s nice to be playing out again. Playing out is the charge. It’s good and well being in the studio, but there’s nothing to charge you up. It feeds the inspiration to write more music.

It’s finding the balance. Too many gigs can cloud your vision and make you focus on things that strictly bang in the club…

I’m not booked that often, so it makes it special when I do get booked. I don’t think I necessarily make stuff that’s hitting the levels of what you might call popular. I’m just doing me. If people like it, great. If they don’t, that’s great too. I don’t personally think what I do aligns with the ‘business’ side of things and I’m comfortable with that.

I disagree. You wouldn’t be on Metalheadz and Rupture and many other things. Double O played your music in the last set of Rupture and that set was pure science. It was from the Gods. But the thing you don’t align with is the internet and social media. You don’t play that game.

That’s true. We come from an era when social media didn’t exist and now it’s much more of a tool that artists are expected to use. For me, social media doesn’t represent my value or my worth. I respect everyone who uses it the way it’s designed to be used, but it’s not for me. I don’t want to use it for the sake of keeping myself relevant. I’ll do it when it’s right. If I had it my way I wouldn’t need to have social media accounts.

Social media can lead to quicker hype but maintaining any level of hype is another thing. When you’re being you, and not looking at what other people are doing in the other lanes, then your music and actions speak for themselves. Finding your own sound is more important than building a social media following isn’t it?

I think so, for me it is anyway. I think people underestimate how hard it is to have your own unique sound in a genre. There are a few people who you can say ‘this sounds like this person,’ but a lot of that feeds down a similar path which bottlenecks into one main sound. I’m trying to find a way to escape the bottleneck but still contribute to it. I want someone to be able to say, ‘That’s Quartz’.

Yeah it’s incredibly hard to do…

It’s not something you can try and do in a contrived way, either. It has to come naturally and it comes over an extended period of time writing lots of music. I’ve been doing this for 12 years now.

What were you like when you were 20?

I was a very angry young man. I came from a broken upbringing and had nothing. I was going to say when we spoke about social media – comparison is the thief of joy, which is something social media really encourages and it’s toxic. Back in my early days I would experience that every day. Not just in music but in life. Why has he got a place to stay and I’m homeless? Why is my family life broken and theirs is stable? I was broke mentally, financially and my morals were broken. Whatever. But you learn over time that if you’ve got bad malice in you then you have to get away from that. Everyone is dealt a hand in life, it is what it is.

Did music help you do that?

If anything it was like a plaster. Because I never had anything financially, or any type of support network, the easiest thing was to bury myself in music. I was never working on the man, I was just focused on the goal of wanting to write the music I wanted. Because of that the music and my ambitions for it suffered. I didn’t know what I was battling at the time, I was just trying to keep my head above the water; I had a goal but I wasn’t working on myself so I didn’t achieve, aspire or enjoy the fruits of my work. These things weren’t marrying up.

Can I guess where we can hear harmony in your self and your art? Was it the Hall Of Mirrors EP?

Some of it yeah. Some of those tracks were written when I was still in a strange place. I was finishing a degree, I had no money and I was trying to keep my head above water. I had to tell myself, I’m on my last year of my degree, I’m almost there, it doesn’t matter if I can’t put food on my plate for a few days, complete the mission.

I’ve always had the mindset: if I do something, I’m going to finish it, even if it’s really difficult. So that’s where I was when I wrote some of the tracks on Hall Of Mirrors. But other tracks were written when I came out and was in a better place. So it’s a weird EP for me that represents a very transitional period, going from mentally and financially broken to something more stable. Everyday I feel like I’m beating the odds. I want to be humble because I’m now in a position where I can tell people about these scenarios and be lucky enough to have made it work, while others might not be so fortunate. I can call up artist friends or my partner and I have a support network, but I didn’t have that for a long time so was very close to quitting a number of times.

That’s dedication. Did you get any inspiration or support from Goldie during that EP?

Getting a call from G was surreal. It made me so happy but at the same time I was dealing with something incredibly tragic. My mother passed about a week before he called. I wasn’t in a good place at all but then when Goldie called it was a sign I was beginning to succeed in what I’d set out to do. But I didn’t know I’d set out to do it like I am, just that creating music was my escape.

We had a joke over dinner the other day where Goldie said to me, “You don’t look so Full Metal Jacket, Elliot. You look very healthy and in a good place compared to the last time we met, I’m glad to see.” This sort of things makes me feel like the hard work on myself is coming off and inspires me to keep going, while laughing at the same time. Music was always me filling a hole and trying to escape the reality of being poor and having nothing, but I didn’t have the crystal-clear goal I have now, thanks to Metalheadz. I’m glad music wasn’t sustainable for me back then, because I feel like now is when my stuff has come into a place where I want it to be. Unique to me. It’s taken years of nurturing to get to this point and I’m grateful to now have had the energy to pursue it. I can be a better version of myself now artistically. If I reached this level years ago I wouldn’t know who I was from a creative perspective.

There’s confidence building elements, too. Things that only come through time and experience…

Totally. And confidence to reach out to people, too. Everything has happened at the right point and I’m glad about that. There’s a clear narrative in what I do now. Who knows? Maybe next year I’ll feel different again but after the rain comes sunshine, right? Things must rotate.

And it’s very sunny for you right now with various EPs including one on Rupture. One of my favourite Mantra sets was at Sun & Bass a few years back and she played your track with Gremlinz, Oblong Druid. I hassled her after the set to find out about that particular track! 

It’s funny because I don’t rate that EP on a body of work level, but I get some really lovely comments and feedback from people about it. For me it’s bittersweet and more so a collection of tracks spanning a certain period in my life. But Indi has been a big supporter of me for a long time. I’ve got loads of love for her and David Double O. The Coercion EP, which came after Hall Of Mirrors, was where I started manifesting what I wanted from the music, how I package it and how I deliver it to fit a narrative and paint a picture in the mind. That’s just as important to me as the music. If I’ve spent years working on a body of work then I want it to have consistency and meaning throughout the release, not just a random collection of loose ideas.

Do do you file tunes together through emotional aspects or feelings? Or through the time they’re made? Or themes and concepts?

Mainly like a theme or concept. But that said I write a lot of music, so these themes form over a greater period of time. I want it to feel like a screenplay or book. It’s got to have an underlying source. This is the picture being painted by the music. The forthcoming Rupture EP, for example, is just me exploring the more eclectic side of what I’m into. There’s a banger on there, there’s a steppy thing, two eclectic bits. I sample a lot. I’m always reaching for old film scores. There’s a lot of samples in my music but I make a lot of effort to hide it. There’s b-movie horror soundtracks and little samples from completely random youtube videos, or maybe even Netflix. Basically whatever I can get my hands on. If people find them? Wicked. If they don’t, thats cool too. Everything I like listening to is in that forthcoming Rupture EP. It comes back to making your own sound – everyone has their own way of making music.

I don’t think you’re a big fan of sharing techniques are you? I’ve never seen a Quartz tutorial…

I really like the allure and the mystery of how things were made before the internet. Like, ‘How did they do that?’ That was the charm about it and that spurred innovation, because people wanted to try and make what it was they were hearing. I feel like tutorials take that away. Music is an art-form to me. It’s like painting or dancing or writing. When it comes down to it, I don’t want to give away what I do. Because then it commodifies it. All love and power to people who do share their samples or their techniques and making a living off it, it’s just something I don’t want to do. I want to maintain some type of allure to what I do and spur more innovation into creating other types of stuff.

Just in that quote alone I completely understand why you also roll deep with Utopia. Mako has said similarly minded things to me.

Yeah it’s something Steve and I talk about a lot. For me it’s about the artform and the longevity of it. The mystery has gone once there’s a track breakdown. And honestly I think there are a lot of people who can do much better tutorials than I could do! I’d just rather not see loads of carbon copies, it’s better to be yourself and, when the right time happens, you know it’s down to your own art and not down to a mish-mash of other people’s techniques. Figure it out for yourself and do it for yourself. I’m always looking to recreate a feeling, not a sound. You’re chasing the mood rather than the techniques.

Summed it up perfectly. Interesting angle on people who make their own sound and people bite on their style. That’s a double-edged sword. You’re in pursuit of your own sound but also don’t want people jumping on that. I think of artists like Serum or Break or DLR with that…

I always think about this and when you’re looking at a trend – like foghorns for example – things start years before they become popular because it’s what influences people. So sure, the stuff I’m making now could well be more popular in five years time when you look back and join the dots but who knows? I do think that some sounds become popular a lot quicker because they’re made for big dances so they’re more accessible and more appealing for people to copy. I’m okay with not making those types of sounds and not being booked for big raves. I know that any booking I have is because people know me and my sound. I’m not being booked to get big ticket sales haha.

I’m looking forward to you playing at Rupture one day! So how about your connection with System? You’re starting to reveal some cracking 140 stuff…

V.I.V.E.K called me earlier this year. I’d hollered him six months before with some beats and he asked me to send some more. He’s been very supportive and his feedback was very complimentary so I’m working on a few things for him. I’ve always made that type of music but never had much of a plan to get it out there, but I really respect V.I.V.E.K so wanted to send him some things. Now the opportunity is there I’m going to run with it. I’m lucky enough to see the fruits of my work and now I can share my work beyond the drum & bass circles.

I don’t want to be defined by being just a drum & bass producer, or being defined by only what I’ve done in the past. I want to be defined by what I can do or what I’m about to do next. The thing that excites me about certain producers is when I don’t know what their next release is going to be. One release is a jungle record, the next is 140, the next is techno. To see people working towards not being defined by a genre is very inspiring and a long-term goal for me. What can I contribute to the culture as an artist, not just as a representative of one genre? How can I contribute to the whole picture?

I love that. But on the flip, it’s testament to the loyalty of drum & bass heads. There’s a fierce passion for it that isn’t quite as strong in other genres…

Totally and I love that too, but people are very quick to pigeonhole you and that’s very limiting for artists. I get bored quick. I want freedom. I don’t want to get stuck in one genre. I’ve done that. The goal now is to be known for making good music and the mini goals are to try as many things as possible. Jungle, 140 or fuck with some weird shit like this soundtrack project I’m working on right now. It’s all around 120-130 and is like some Chemical Brothers on acid type of sounds

Oh sick!

Yeah there’s a soundscape piece which is like an audible story to sound of dying. You actually reminded me of the very track I just mentioned. I uploaded a few years ago before we met.

It was exactly that – the last few minutes of someone’s life. You uploaded it late on soundcloud and took it down the next day…

I dug that out after you mentioned it to me and did some work on it, developed it and put it on the project. So big up for reminding me. I want to do more like this, but it’s finding the right place to deliver that type of music. There are some soundtracky bits on my forthcoming Metalheadz album but that’s a D&B label so do people want to hear those deeper things?

I think with the legacy and sound Headz has, yes I do think people would be open to that. When’s that due?

It’s done and in the pipeline, but quite a long way off. I’ve got lots of ideas on how I’d like to deliver it but there’s another EP to come before that anyway which I’m hugely proud of. The way I saw the album when I wrote it, my main thought was, ‘What don’t people expect from a Metalheadz album?’ People have ideas of what a Metalheadz album might be and I wanted to subvert that. I’m working on more stuff to follow the album too so these wont be the last you hear from me on Headz.

For me there are two poles with Headz albums. You’ve got stuff like Commix – Call To Mind, which flips the script completely. Or Blocks & Escher, who effectively wrote a love letter to Metalheadz with Something Blue.

Totally. And both of those acts I rate incredibly highly. They have a sound which you can identify and they clearly love what they do and do it with integrity. That’s what longevity comes from. Not second-guessing what people want to hear. You need to make what you want to hear, and I think people can tell when you do.

Or when you don’t!

Yeah absolutely. I’ve done it so many times, sending music to labels thinking it’s the sound they want to hear. It’s too easy to be subconsciously inspired by things. It’s why I don’t listen to much drum & bass. Otherwise, before you know it, you’re making stuff that sounds like everyone else. I’d rather listen to some old soul or funk and try and invoke the same mood and feeling because that’s the sensation that’s universal across people and time, which brings us right back to where we began. All of this, everything we’ve spoken about, is about me focusing on my sound and just being true to me. Chase the feeling, not the end product…

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