WORDS

No Messin: A frank chat with Sam Binga

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Fresh from heisting a bunch of golden bananas in 1930s Manchester for City Hack’s No Messin with Chimpo, Sam Binga is about next lev the Dickens out of the dance with his debut album Wasted Days.

With over a decade of myriad beats and styles and various guises and alter egos under his belt, Wasted Days showcases how Critical-signed Sam Simpson has really found his sound and made it his own. Poking and prodding the darkest corners of dancehall, jungle and hip-hop, shredding up the tempos like parking tickets, his take on the fractured fringes of bass and beats is refreshing, unique and timeless. From iced-out tribal rollers like his collaboration with Hyroglifics Dark Day to his rapid fire stampy gem Pound 4 Pound, it’s the most honest reflection of his creativity to date…

We caught up with him ahead of the release to discuss where music is at right now, why it’s actually good to hate on things and the importance of being humble. Get to know:

Understanding why you hate something is just as important as understanding why you love something. Plus I always remind myself that when I first heard some of the melodies and harmonies that Joker used when he blew up, my initial reaction was to think ‘nah that’s too close to trance vibes for me’ – but I realised that was just my conditioning and in-built expectations talking. Once I got past that, I realised how sick his music was – and it was BECAUSE of the very elements I would have worried about using!

Seems like this has been your busiest year ever…

Definitely. I’ve been full time in the music game for 10 years now, but it certainly feels like the best year I’ve had. It feels like the first time in my life I’ve made the right music at the right time. I’m working with some incredible, inspiring people and playing some of the most interesting and exciting shows I’ve ever done.

What’s been the maddest show you’ve done, then? Like the biggest culture shock…

You know what? It’s actually my first Critical party at Fabric! They’ve got the best people in drum & bass and their fans really know their shit. But I don’t just play drum & bass. I play a lot of 160 stuff, a lot of footwork, bits of grime and so on. So when you’re playing alongside people like Ed Rush and Kasra who are at the pinnacle of ‘proper’ drum & bass it’s quite daunting knowing you’re going to totally play something different. But the reaction was immense, which is testament to Critical’s fanbase and how open minded they are.

I think that’s testament to drum & bass culture right now. We’re no longer boxed in by boundaries as much…

Yeah definitely. The internet has broken down boundaries; we can listen to, support and play everything and it doesn’t affect people’s expectations of you. I share all sorts of links to different kinds of music on my Facebook, for example, and people are really into it and discuss it. Back in the day you’d maybe be worried that people would be moaning and saying ‘why do you like this rubbish?’ – I remember the hate that D&B purists felt towards garage way back when…

A really interesting comment of yours I read earlier was that there is no name for the type of music you and people like Om Unit at writing right now. Are we getting past the point where we need strict categories?

I hope so. The moment something becomes too codified you lose that sense of excitement. Right now we’re still at the point where there’s no formula; there’s a logic behind each track but it’s not predictable which is really exciting for me. I remember the first time I heard Om Unit play, it blew my mind. I was like ‘I have never heard this before! What is it?’ That’s a special feeling… It’s like the first time I heard jungle when I was like ‘how am I meant to interpret this? This is mental!’

Yes! Any other sounds you’ve heard recently that have made you feel that way?

Not in such a strong way but I really think we’re going through another golden age in hip-hop. The level of experimentation and weirdness in the production of southern hip-hop is crazy! Young Thug, for example; whether you hate him or love him, his style would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. I love the experimentation in lyrics and voices; it can be really quite out there but it’s somehow also massively commercially successful. I love that, it inspires me. I’m also really inspired by footwork and the ability to play around 160 tempo – plus the fact it’s not production for production’s sake; it’s weird rhythms, weird sounds and really raw grooves. It’s not just ‘okay I’m going to spend the next three days making the loudest mixdown possible out of musically dull tune’. Although fair play to the people with the patience and skills to do that!

With these references in mind, it feels like the Sam Binga project – over every other guise you’ve had over the years – is your most honest. Would you agree?

Without a doubt and I can only hope that comes across. I’ve always sought a way to convey what I love about a whole range of music in my productions and it feels like I’m perhaps succeeding in that more than in the past. I love the swagger of dancehall, the loose live drums of disco, the heavy 808s of hip-hop, the mad drum programming of jungle, the lo-fi vibe of grime… All of that is in my work but it’s not been forced. I think sometimes in the past I’ve shoe-horned square pegs in round holes but this feels a lot more natural.

Do you feel you had to go through your previous guises and sounds to get to this, though?

I’ve benefited from those other projects, for sure. The more different things you try, the more you appreciate the broader picture. My production has developed through everything I’ve done and learnt. I guess to answer that properly I’d need a time machine and go through it all over again differently. But essentially, whatever genre anyone’s making, we’re all doing this for the same reason: we’re trying to express ourselves, and we’re trying to make people dance. There are millions of ways to do that but if you focus on just one approach, then you’ll miss out on so many other ideas.

Let’s chat about No Messin now… Chimpo’s the man!

To know Chimpo is to love him. I’m really happy he’s a mate and a colleague of mine. His music is very honest, again it’s not forced or contrived; it’s a great reflection who he is and I think people can hear that and relate to that.

Did you get to keep one of those golden bananas?

No and I’m gutted! I was touring when they made that video. It looked that they had a ball making it. Shame I missed it… I didn’t get to swan around in the vintage Roller, and I’d have definitely kept one of those bananas!

Fair bit of snobbery about the track being on UKF… Fans of yours who don’t think UKF is the right place for it. Fans of UKF who don’t think your music is right on the channel. What do you make of musical snobbery?

Firstly, I love reading all comments! I think they’re hilarious. People have certain expectations and generally, as humans, none of us like change. But really who cares where the track is featured as long as it’s out there and people are supporting it?

Without a doubt…

I know we all have tastes, but something I hate, I know other people love. So who are we to judge? Some of the stuff I love, I know people hate. You can’t get precious. There’s loads of stuff I hate, actually, but I try not to get too preachy about it. In fact I think it’s important for me to listen to music I don’t initially like, so I’m analysing and working out in my head what I don’t like about it. And of course, stuff that doesn’t appeal to you at first often ends up being the music you love the most. Understanding why you hate something is just as important as understanding why you love something. Plus I always remind myself that when I first heard some of the melodies and harmonies that Joker used when he blew up, my initial reaction was to think ‘nah that’s too close to trance vibes for me’ – but I realised that was just my conditioning and in-built expectations talking. Once I got past that, I realised how sick his music was – and it was BECAUSE of the very elements I would have worried about using!

Working with vocalists is always about being humble; you have to leave space for them and remember it’s a vehicle for their vocals. You can’t stifle their creativity by taking up all the room in the track.

Right on. So now… We’ve finally got to your album. I feel the album is just as much about the featured vocalists as it is yourself, right?

Yeah definitely. I’m so glad I know these super talented guys like Redders and Rider Shafique and Chimpo and Fox. I’ve always loved hip-hop and dancehall so to be able to make music and play with vocals in that way, making music with the right amount of space for vocalists, is really exciting. Whether I’m getting a mad vocal in my inbox or we’re in the studio and vibing together; it opens up a different angle to your creative flow. Like the track Greatest Distance with Romaine. I’d never met him before but he came down the studio one night, I played it to him and we built it up really naturally. We’d caught a vibe and there was an energy in the studio that you couldn’t manufacture. The end result massively exceeded my initial expectations for that track, but even more than that, getting to experience those little moments of magic are priceless.

Was that the same with Warrior Queen?

She was one of the only ones I didn’t get in the studio. Her and TT The Artist – those were beats that I sent away. I knew with Warrior Queen she’d come back with some mad energy because that’s her style, and she definitely smashed it. We sent lots of files back and forth while she was in Kingston and she had loads of great ideas and input. Then with TT The Artist, she was out in Baltimore, I sent her an existing instrumental – I think it might have been the Lef Dem beat – but what she came back with was so sick that I knew I had to write her a whole new track… And this was was a week before mastering! Proper last minute but her vocals were so sick that it wasn’t a problem building something to complement them. So even the internet collaborations that were done long distance were still very much based around catching a vibe and going where it takes you.

Must be quite daunting waiting for a vocal to arrive… You have no idea what it’s going to be like or whether they’ve understood your own vibe.

There’s always the risk but these guys know what they’re doing… You know they’re going to do something good, but you just have to accept that you may have to write a different beat to fit what they’ve done. Working with vocalists is always about being humble; you have to leave space for them and remember it’s a vehicle for their vocals. You can’t stifle their creativity by taking up all the room in the track.

Nice. So what’s happening now the album is done? Touring? Time off?

Right now I’m upgrading the studio. The album is finished, so I’m finally stepping up with some new kit. Then I fly to the Far East the day the album is released for a few shows, and there’s a bunch of dates beyond that. Exciting times!

Sam Binga – Wasted Days is out September 11 on Critical Music