Asa and Sorrow should need no introduction to anyone into instrumental grime. Having carved a distinct niche for themselves with their hectic sound, they are distinctly recognisable at the same time as being persistently innovative.
2014 saw the release of their Legendary EP on Joker’s label Kapsize, and while 2015 was a quiet year in terms of releases, 2016 promises to be quite the opposite for both as a duo and as individuals.
It starts this month with their new EP, Knights of Ren, released last Friday, we caught up with Asa to have a chat about this EP, grime and his switch-flipping artist album that’s due later this year. Get acquainted…
Knights of Ren – what’s behind the name of the EP? Are you just massive Star Wars fans or is there something else to it?
I’m definitely a big fan, Sorrow is into it as well of course but the name just fit the energy of the tune and there are some subtle Star Wars references.
Do you see a big divide between your ambient stuff and your grime? Both you and Sorrow produce chilled stuff as well as hype tunes… are the two related in any way, do you think?
Each type of music has its own discipline for sure, grime is a lot of fun to roll those tunes out relatively quick without too much thought; we’re the same age so we grew up on the same music, share the same points of reference etc. I think certain traits & aesthetics of your sound are bound to spill over into whatever you do but both of us are involved in a lot on a lot of different types of music so it was never really planned, we just work on the tunes we want to work on because that attitude keeps things exciting and over time a sound has developed between us.
I hope you won’t mind me saying a lot of your grime tunes sound almost disjointed – what’s the thought process behind making tunes that go all over the place? Is there method behind the madness?
The tunes tend to be pretty manic but we try not to have things loop too much. The attention to detail and variation across the arrangements is important but we do have a lot of 8 bar structures, so you will get two alternating eight bar sections that contrast heavily from one another. But that’s just eight bar grime; stuff that’s built for the MCs. As said though, not too much thought goes into it & the tunes are put together pretty quick so that plays a big part in the the way they turn out.
In a lot of your tunes you have recurring samples, or a sort of audial graffiti – like ‘nah fam’, ‘run for the safety’ etc, what can you tell me about that?
Once again it’s just a grime thing, for us it stems from the producers who we grew up on that were getting a lot of tunes on radio and I guess wanted a signature sample to signify that it was one of their productions, when we were younger there was no real social media or anything so sometimes you had no idea who was actually making a lot of the tunes we would hear, ya know?
Do you ever design your grime to be spat over? Are there any MCs you’d love to work with?
We want to work with more MCs and have been making moves with more people recently but the focus has predominantly been on our instrumentals up until now. We’ve got a few bits on the way, It would be fun to try & craft something seriously next level with any of the greats and it’s easy to rally off names of great MCs but we would be just as interested in working with someone young like Mez, he’s got a mad energy/rawness to his delivery which would be fun to explore. Mez is so sick. On the digital release there is a track with Trim & we’ve just been working on some stuff with Foreign Beggars which has been fun.
Your sound with Sorrow in particular gains a lot from juxtaposing orchestral strings with intense basslines and percussion… how did that come about?
There is a strong focus on melodies in most of our tunes which our background in the more chilled out stuff definitely contributes to, but the main thing to mention would just be producers like Maniac, Dot Rotten, Kid D, Wiley, Iron soul, Joker.. the list could go on for a long time but there is a lot of sick melodic grime that gets overlooked a lot of the time; we’re both really into producers that would have both a strong harmonic sensibility; as well as being able to make some next level darkside tune.
And what do you think about the resurgence of the grime scene at the moment? Would you place the music you’re making within that context, or more so within the revival of deeper dubstep, or something else entirely?
It’s good to see people interested in it, and I think it’s something that’s identity is so deeply rooted in this country that it’s been able to maintain its integrity and can’t be culturally proliferated in the States as easily as other genres.
It’s been great to see certain tunes cross over & have more success abroad, which is sick. But more importantly I think that whilst London is still at its heart, the amount of producers furthering the sound and MCs coming from other parts of the country is a really clear indication of the state of Grime; it’s inspiring kids & building smaller scenes more than ever.
I do feel like there was a period recently in which people producers were getting a bit lost in the nostalgia of some of the older productions… But at this point what is important is that people concentrate on making good music, building upon what existed before but trying to further the sound.
To us our stuff is just grime, no other thought went into it other than that. After four years of working on these types of tunes together i do think we are trying to further the sound in our own own way & have been able to find our own lane in a sense but it wasn’t really intentional; we just make these tunes because we enjoy it.
Asa is also hard at work putting the finishing touches on his first album, a solo project funded, by fans, through Indiegogo. He raised the money in 2014, and the album is set to come out this year.
The album is more in the vein of his ambient work, a far cry from the tear-out grime of the current EP. But on this he has spent considerably more time, and it promises to be something to look out for.
So you’re currently working on your debut album – how much can you tell me about the theme behind it?
The idea behind the album was to concentrate on composition first and foremost. If the parts of a tune sound strong on a handful of instruments then I know it’s worth finishing and that we will be able to recreate it live in some shape or form. The focus is just on the music, a lot of albums that i perceive as being timeless have great compositions at their centres.
And the actual content of the tunes – are you drawing on the more ambient side of your previous work, or would you say there’s an upbeat influence as well? What’s your target audience?
The album isn’t really club music, but at the same time it will be mixed in a way that will ensure it comes across well to a decent sound system; it still feels like a very ’UK’ record to me. The album has its uplifting moments but ended up becoming much darker than I originally intended. Whilst it will still distinctly be my sound the most notable difference about the content is that it’s all been recorded from the ground up which has been an approach to writing I’ve been moving over to in recent years; to get out of working ‘in the box’ as much as possible. My hope is that the approach to the instrumentation and the arrangements should alienate less people and make it more palatable to a much wider audience than the one that I have had up until now; I want my music to transcend the tag of just been referred to as avant garde electronic music.
That’s really interesting – the first part sounds a lot like what Burial has said about making Untrue, but while that record is very insular / ‘loner’ music, you sound like you’d like to maybe take some of those influences and translate them to a wider audience… would you say that’s accurate?
Yeah, I mean when you put it that way I guess that is a part of what I’m going for, I believe that my sound has the potential to translate to open air environments as a band of sorts, working in cinema and a bunch of other mediums that apply to a much wider and varied demographic. I think people can relate to this type of music in some capacity, but the vast majority of people who make a lot of stuff with an emphasis on ambience and emotion in this niche don’t have any real intention to bring it to a bigger platform and that’s totally cool, but i think there is a distinct lack of artists making this stuff who want to do it on a bigger scale and further their music in that direction, ya know? I really believe in what I’m doing but at the same time I’m not chasing anything, I just think I have a strong sense as to what I want to do with my music and the work that goes into pursuing that so I’m still just fully focused on the process; making tunes.
And leading on from that – what do you think is ‘UK’ about your record? Are you talking genre influence, or more sort of feel / spirit? Or both?
The spirit of it I guess, but there are definitely tunes that have some semblance of / reference to the hardcore continuum and I do think there is a certain quality that producers & musicians who emerge out of this culture will always carry on through their music wherever they’re aware of it or not. Although on the whole my tunes have never been one specific tempo or style and that’s a big thing for me because I don’t think I’m constrained by having an audience that has grown to expect just one particular thing from me all the time; it affords me room to freely put out whatever I want.
If you had to give two or three examples of your biggest musical influences, who would they be?
Just three is gonna be tricky but a few names off of the top of my head would be Sigur Ros, Aphex Twin, D’Angelo, Burial… it might sound kinda corny but my mates here in Bristol probably have the biggest influence on me, The likes of KOAN Sound, Culprate, Sorrow and Joker; they’re all dons.
Can you give us an idea of when the album’s going to be finished?
Aiming to have everything finished in April, currently in the process of working out the logistics of its release so things are really coming together now.