A genre is at its healthiest when it’s reflecting what its protagonists listen to and vibe off outside of the music they make. And not what’s happening within it.
It’s that phase that happens in every genre cycle and it’s guaranteed to be looked back on as a golden era; it happens just before and after the points when a genre starts to reference itself and eat its own tail. The point where artists feel free to throw whatever they feel and love into the melting pot and know it’s going to pop.
Such is the case with bassline right now (and for the last two years, let’s be fair). You’ve got guys like Bushbaby and Freddie Martin referencing their love for neuro sound design, Pavv is heavy on the two-step elements while both Flava D and DJ Q have discussed how they’re bringing back soul and melody into their new productions on this site in the last three months.
Then there’s KSO. A man who’s just released an album that’s effectively a love letter to everything that made him musically. Most notably mid to late 90s drum & bass.
“It’s the first time I’ve worn my heart on my sleeve and really represented the music I love which has formed me as a music fan,” explains KSO AKA Tommy Bisdee, although you might know him best as Kissy Sell Out. “It’s ended up with a process that has left me just as inspired by other people’s music as I am the music I’m making personally.”
It’s been a very personal process for KSO full stop. Written over the course of nine months (during which time he became a father) Style From The Westside is the sound of an established artist dropping every habit, signature and trait he’s developed over the last 12 years and five albums, digging deep into his persy musical roots (both past and present) and creating an album from fresh that reflects where he’s at, where he’s been and what he’s feeling.
The result is a trip that’s layered with cheeky references, wry nods and sly hat tips to the last 30 years of bass music, written with some of the most respected and motivated artists in bassline from totems such as DJ Q and Wideboys to highly rated new-gen b-line riffsmiths Darkzy and Pavv (to name but a few). It’s detailed, it’s honest, it’s bold and, most importantly, it’s got potential to slap dancefloors silly. We called up the Stepper Man to find out more…
This kinda feels like a second chance at a debut album…
Yeah it does actually. I’d thought of it more like I was dropping the baggage, but the excitement and the idea of feeling like ‘I can do anything with this’ is definitely similar to my first album. If anything it’s better; instead of the fear I had with the first one, I now know how to spot a good idea or know when an idea isn’t very good.
I’ve had five albums out as Kissy Sell Out and it does become this conundrum; you want to advance on what you’ve done. But at the same time people are interested in your music because of certain ways you sound, so I have always felt the pressure to include certain signature elements no matter how many bad habits I’d developed or wanted to move away from.
Then I had this lightbulb moment and thought ‘let’s do this properly and make a first album again without all the Kissy Sell Out stuff.’ I asked myself what excites me about music the most? What excites me about what’s happening right now in the scene? What would be a core idea for the production style that would step it away from what I’ve done in the past?
So that’s where the strong references to drum & bass come in…
Yeah. Specifically Micky Finn and Aphrodite, and even more specifically those filter sweep rolls they used to do. Those signature sounds that slide in and out. It’s such a cool sound that captures the essence of that time in drum & bass which inspired me so much.
Classic Urban Takeover signature!
Right! So I thought about that sound more and more and started to try and create it from memory. Rather than go back over the records and work out the production technique that way, I wanted to find my own way of doing it. As I was getting into it I realised this technique has never really been applied at slower tempo bass music. Not in a way I wanted to hear it anyway.
Maybe because it was such a strong signature sound for them?
Maybe at the time yeah. But for me it was the missing piece in the puzzle. It created a context that I’d been looking for ever since I first started the KSO project. Before then I didn’t have a framework or a starting point, but that small element gave me something to work with.
It’s something that maybe I wouldn’t have done before, but I’ve reached a point in my life where I don’t give a monkeys; I’m just celebrating something I have profound respect for. For me it’s such a fulfilling feeling to incorporate an element from some of my favourite records. I could listen to Micky Finn and Aphrodite records b2b for weeks on end.
You’ve always struck me as someone who’s never given a monkeys, though. No? The very name Kissy Sell Out and brazenness of your arrangements and ability to throw anything into the melting pot has always suggested that to me…
Actually yeah, that’s cool when you put it in that way. I certainly haven’t given a monkeys about big money or stratospheric success musically and have always followed my heart. For instance; I watched some videos from Tomorrowland the other day, and have you actually heard some of the nonsense that is played on the mainstage?
It’s not really my cup of tea
No. It’s not the music itself, I’m not being a snob, it’s the feeling that a lot of the people playing it aren’t really into it. Not the big big big EDM boys, they’re millionaires, they’re doing their thing and more power to them. What I’m questioning is the motives of some of the other guys playing it. I reckon there’s an 80 even 90 percent chance those people don’t have the passion for the music they make at all, and are involved for completely different reasons. And that’s one thing I’ve held on to throughout my career, my passion for the music I’m making.
Surely you need that for longevity and maintain your inspiration?
Yeah. Here’s an example… My life was turned upside down when I went from being a designer in college to suddenly being a global artist with a major record deal. I had very low self-esteem, I was unsure of everything and everything was very new and unknown but I knew I could hold on to some very specific things in dance music that inspired me. I trusted my instincts, which make my sets and my radio shows different. Idiosyncrasies of mine, I guess, that are like ‘trust me, I know about this. I know about the history of this sound and what it’s spawned. This is the roots of what’s inspired me’.
I’ve stuck to my guns and followed my heart and that’s lead to better set curation and identifying new talent. It’s dangerous ground to just make something because it’s cool, not least because you probably aren’t that excited about it in the first place. And second of all there’s a strong chance that it will stop being cool immediately and you’ve pinned everything around a sound that doesn’t work for you.
We’re talking about credibility here, really…
I guess. I know you can make a lot more money doing it that way, and I’ve had many opportunities to do that myself over the years, but whenever I was offered that stuff I was always like ‘that’s not naturally me, I wouldn’t know what I was doing’. My heart wouldn’t be in it, it wouldn’t feel natural. But if I’m working with or meeting guys who have directly inspired me; Micky Finn & Aphrodite, DJ Hype, Felix Da Housecat I’m fully into it.
Let’s add Zeds Dead to that list. You signed them, back in the day, right?
Yup – their first ever record! I actually tried to get them signed to much bigger labels. It was one of the only times I tried to use my role at BBC Radio 1 as leverage and get their demo to the top A&Rs because I thought they were so fucking talented! So talented it was intimidating. I visited them in Toronto at the time, they were living in a rough part of town and their studio equipment was in the kitchen. It was raw and you could feel that in their music. So much personality and signature sounds. You knew they were going to be big. However, for whatever reasons the other labels chose not to sign them so I signed them myself. I guess it was testament to how much I believed in them. Following my instincts.
So this was just months before before their massive Eyes On Fire remix which blew up on UKF Dubstep
Yeah they were working on that around the time I met them and that track changed everything for them. It was only a matter of time before something like that would happen. It’s great and fulfilling to see how far they’ve taken it and continue to take it.
Amen. Let’s chat bassline. Your album is a love letter to the music you love and bassline is the perfect melting pot for that. The more you throw in, the more you get back from it…
Yeah, definitely. We needed bassline to come along. Let’s be honest, it was getting a bit boring with everyone making the same deep house record wasn’t it? Things got interesting again and there’s a lot of new life and energy coming in. It’s not EDM, it’s not dubstep, it’s not something that’s been rinsed to death and it’s really exciting. What I find interesting about the current bassline scene is that everyone has their own bespoke synth sounds. They have very different signature sounds running through their music engineering. Take someone like Holy Goof or Chris Lorenzo or Skepsis and they have very distinct sounds that they keep very close to their chest. It reminds me of what myself, Hervé, Switch, Fake Blood and a lot of guys who came through back then were doing. We each had that signature sound that individually defined our music output, but collectively it united us in the scene as we encouraged each other to push the ideas further and further.
Part of that signature for you was speed garage
Now you’re talking my language!
Serious. That’s been the bedrock to your stuff since day one!
Absolutely. I love that fucking shit. It’s so exciting, the laser noises, the time-stretching, explosions, ragga samples – it’s been another consistent source of inspiration for me throughout my career. And yeah, bassline is a direct descendant from speed garage so you’re absolutely right. But for me the signature sound that gets me about bassline now is the energy levels and excitement behind their music. That’s the current atmosphere in club music and amongst the producers; things have changed and gone back the energy again.
You can feel that in the collaborations….
It was very inspiring working with people who are killing it in the sound already. They’re in on it and they’re reining me back when I need to be reined back. It’s been a humbling experience working with 22 year old DJs in Sheffield, Nottingham and Brighton and places like that. I’ve been able to learn from them but also trade some of the experiences I’ve had over the years with them too. Doing that and then going home and doing late night studio sessions to translate that inspiration. It’s been inspiring working with people so motivated. Dread MC, for example, is by far the best MC in the UK right now. So motivated, humble, ambitious and he’ll knock out an idea that night and send five stems, two are the general idea and the rest will be adlibs. That’s why he’s on the album twice.
What other things set this apart from previous albums you’ve done?
Being able to incorporate my DJ experience into the album has been unlike any other album I’ve done. For instance, on my first two albums in particular, I’d intentionally make tracks difficult for DJs to play. That was the electro mentality. We were all doing it; Switch records would do an odd amount of bars for example, or the BPM would gradually change during the intro. But this album follows the structure of a DJ set in terms of edits and arrangements. It also has a lot more references than anything I’ve done before. So like Luniz I Got Five On It, Gangster’s Paradise, or Dub For Your Speaker referencing Sim Simma. Or Truly One with DJ Q which samples the same Nixon speech Origin Unknown sampled on their tune Truly One. For me that’s amazing, a 4×4 bassline track exists that references Origin Unknown and knows where that comes from.
Just layers of references and easter eggs, basically!
Totally. Shots references Everyday Junglist by Macca, Super Tough samples Super Sharp Shooter but only the ‘super tough’ vocal clip. Just little inklings of ideas that have helped me make a record that sounds unlike anything I’ve done but also made in a different way; from the intensity of the collaborations to the humbleness and modesty I’ve adopted in approaching this. I’ve done a lot of things in my career already but I want this to be taken on its own terms and not with anything I’ve done previously attached to it. And if this is the last thing I ever make then I’m happy; it’s an idea I’ve had in my head and I’ve realised that idea exactly how I wanted it. I feel it’s the best thing I’ve ever done, I’ve moved on from bad habits I had in the past and feel I’ve developed, especially with the collaborators who’ve kept me on track and helped me create those lock-and-load DJ tracks I had in my head.
Hold up… Last thing you ever make?
Hopefully not! But it is very tempting to do nothing for a while. It’s been such a big thing and so labour and emotion intensive that some time off would be nice. But no, I’m working on the artwork for a tour around the UK at this very moment, and I want to bring some of the next generation talent who are on the album on the road with me. Watch out for tour dates very soon…