WORDS

Meet Vacant: The sound of innercity isolation

South east London’s Jake Mckinson makes music to enshroud you.

Headphone heaven. For lovers of the deeper side of bass music, it’s the musical equivalent of what the Danish call hygge; his rich ambient textures swirl senses, crackling and creaking to allow beats and shards of light through. It’s a woozy, grainy aesthetic that sits somewhere between the sounds of Macabre Unit Digital, Hyperdub and Deep Heads. It’s deeper than a sesh with Hawkin. It usually flexes around the UKG axis.

Or at least it did. Early Vacant cuts were based around a spacious two-step, a drum pattern that will forever mirror the sound of London, a city he’s called home his entire life and draws unquantified amounts of inspiration from. But as time has progressed and Jake has grown into his music and personal state of mind via a series of self-released single tracks, he’s gradually found his own introspective signature where the drums are much looser and the melting pot much deeper.

His recent releases broaden this ever-developing sonic city skyline the most; the abyssal ambience of his Nocturnal EP on the consistent Fent Plates (ZHA’s label that has since given us the evergreen White Peach imprint) and the more driven, heavier Let Off on Kareful’s wave machine Liquid Ritual hint at a new level for Vacant.

The soul-stirring, palpitating atmospheres and textures he’s always had continue to take the forefront. But there seems to be more momentum and focus behind them, both musically and in terms of delivery. Intrigued, we called him to learn how environment plays a huge role in his productions, that his photography is as arresting as his sounds, how he’s bigger in Russia than he is in the UK and more. 

You’ve been on this for a while now….

Yeah around four years under this name.

Under this name?

I was making a lot of hip-hop beats before I got into electronic music. I grew up listening to grime and garage but didn’t actually make this type of music until four years ago.

Was there a trigger point for this?

I rediscovered it during a weird part in my life. I felt I connected with it a lot more. It echoed how I was I feeling. It’s got that nostalgia to it as well – my older brother would play garage a lot and had turntables. It all made a lot more sense. My music’s changed and developed a lot since I started. It’s become a lot deeper as I’ve worked out more about myself as a producer.

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It’s pretty bleak too – what motivated these soundscapes?

My surrounding area. A large estate in south east London. It has a big impact on my music.

A rough place to grow up?

I’ve never been in any trouble. You see things but that’s growing up in a city. It’s referenced in my music with samples about gangs. It’s all part of what makes me. I’m a product of my environment.

Do you DJ as deep as your productions go?

It depends where I play. In London I have to go a bit tougher, a bit darker but places like Russia really encourage the deeper sounds. They love it out there. A lot of the producers who inspire me are Russian – Volor Flex, Ghostek, L own, Pensees – guys like that have had an impact on my sound.

Do you play out there a lot?

I’ve been out there quite a few times now, yeah.

Okay to say you’re bigger in Russia than you are in the UK?

It feels like that yeah. It’s a big country. Quite gloomy in places.

So much space, too… Hours and hours between cities.

Yeah and that fits me nicely because I love making music when I travel. Headphones on, laptop on and I’m away. I find it easier to write in that circumstance – I’m getting out of the studio and inspired by new things.

Captured by @feverkin

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I’m wondering if your track Wanderer was made on the road?

Not on the road but it was inspired by getting out of the studio. I went for long walk one night, came back and wrote it in two days.

You self-released a lot of releases between your first and recent EPs… Was that a tactical or conscious decision?

Not really. I just didn’t have much of a clue about how the industry works so put them out myself and leant how to do things. It’s only now I’ve started working with labels again. Fent Plates have always been inspiring as a label and I’ve been feeling the wave sound a lot so Liquid Ritual were great to work with. I was quite surprised when they took Let Off because it’s a bit clubbier, tougher than the wave music I’ve heard from them. Jude Kareful was playing it and eventually signed it. It’s cool, I’ve enjoyed a lot of the wave music I’m hearing so to contribute to the sound has been interesting.

Jude once told me how he would be happy to make people cry on the dancefloor with his music… Can you relate to that?

For sure man. Especially in Russia – where it’s very intense and close and you can see people close to tears. I get anxious before I play but I feel comfortable with crowds like that because I know they understand the vibe and where I’m coming from a bit.

Where else are you coming from, what makes you tick?

I love photography. I take a lot of pictures where I live and take a lot of inspiration from my area

You use a lot of these for your release artwork don’t you?

The majority of my self releases are my own photos. I’ve lived here all my life and take a lot of inspiration from here and I’m beginning to film it as well on VHS tape to get that texture.

What came first; music or photography?

Music. I got into photography when I got into making music as Vacant.

You seem really attached to environment as an inspiration…

I am. Every time I make something I always have a place in my head. Random places in my head – from my past, somewhere I’ve been, I can never explain why. I’ll be making something and the place will come up in my mind. I don’t know why but the memory attaches itself and guides the creative process.

And could eventually become part of a video as well, like Southbound?  

Yeah that was filmed around my area. We used a drone and I saw the whole area from above. You don’t see the area from that perspective. So yeah I’d love to develop this more and bring more of what I see into things. It’s an old grey, moody area. It’s mean. I don’t know why I’m so attached to it, it’s my life.

When you’re out with your camera do people know what you’re up to?

No! I’d look like a weirdo walking the streets. I go out when no one’s around or if there’s someone else around with me. It doesn’t look so odd when you’re with someone.

So can we expect more EPs after the Liquid Ritual and Fent Plates releases this year or will you return to self-releases?

I’m not sure. I’d like to do more substantial releases. The big gap between releases on other labels was because I needed more time to develop my sound a lot more. I had a lot of things going on in my life.

Can I ask what?

A lot of different things, really, but it all boils down to depression.

Badly?

It can be pretty bad, yeah. I go through phases where I simply can’t write music. People say to me that because my music is bleak I must make the best when I’m depressed but it’s the opposite.

You can’t do anything when it hits hard.

Exactly. You wake up late, you can’t do anything, it’s so oppressive and it does really get every bit of your body down.

Has the increased awareness and talk about it in the industry and media helped?  

Of course. It’s definitely helped that people are more aware and people can talk about it. This has in turn helped me to understand that people can relate to my music and what I experience.

The music comes from the light?

Yeah because the music is dark or bleak it doesn’t mean it’s been written in a depressed state. It’s a release of thoughts and feelings that are usually as I’m beginning to see a different perspective.

Vacant – Let Off is out now on Liquid Ritual

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