The clue is in the title… Ink is an architect. An artist who designs, maps and draws out the future.
Inspired by the original jungle forefathers, Ink first began making his name in the mid 90s with friends J Dub and Kwest as part The Architex. A North London crew who specialised in the deeper, more cosmic side of drum & bass that effective sowed the seeds for liquid years later, this led him to be resident at Bukem & Fabio’s Speed, a seminal weekly London night which had a huge influence on jungle drum & bass.
This would be the blueprint for everything that followed. A residency at Metalheadz equally influential Blue Note Sunday sessions; a long-standing influence within the Renegade Hardware camp; various crews and collectives such as the hip-hop inspired crew The Fifth Element and his frequent collaborations with fellow North Londoner Loxy and badass Finnish producer Resound; not to mention his own label Architecture – an imprint that’s consistently operated since 97 and blessed the world with artists like Kemal, Stranjah and Gremlinz.
Architecture is the home of one of various key releases he’s dropped in 2021: The History Collection Vol 1. A deep trip into his soulful, jazzy foundations with tracks like Altitude (which was a major weapon for LTJ Bukem at the time) and Feel Da Heat taking us back 20 years but remaining timeless and, thanks to the great wave of remarkable deep and melodic D&B that’s out right now, arguably more relevant now than they have been for a very long time.
But it’s certainly not all deep business; Ink designs in many shades and other releases this year include a remix on Hospital, several Metalheadz releases and a landmark EP for the massively influential R&S imprint – a label that’s inspired generations of artists in techno, house, jungle and beyond. Written and produced with long-time partner in crime Loxy, Manifested Visions is lead by a hip-hop track rapped on by the men themselves. It’s backed with four more exceptional cuts that flex the duo’s entire range and will land as the summer creeps closer.
We called him for a long overdue catch-up. With all these current activities and 30 years of history to cover, it’s safe to say this one goes deep. Enjoy…
I think we need to start with Manifested Visions. Huge! Is this one of those types of tracks you wanted to do forever?
Yeah I think that’s fair to say. I’ve been a fan of hip-hop forever so it came very naturally. Obviously initially we’ve made a name for ourselves in jungle drum & bass but as part of Architex, we were very eclectic from the beginning. We never showed the hip-hop side of things in full, but you always heard bits of lyrics and me doing dub-overs on some D&B tracks and sourcing hip-hop elements. The first time we truly went for it and showed that side was as The Fifth Element.
You’re known as Marbles for those bits weren’t you?
That’s right. I liked the idea of doing things under different names; like ‘this stuff is our jungle, drum & bass material’ and ‘this stuff is our contribution to hip-hop’. So that was all under Marbles, yeah.
Do write lyrics, bars or thoughts down a lot anyway?
I’ve been studying the masters all the time. Rakim, Wu Tang, Nas, Big Daddy Kane, KRS One. The essence of hip-hop, you know? As a kid the breakdance and hip-hop thing sat well with me, so when I came into jungle and DJ culture, I actually began as an MC.
Oh no way!
Yeah, believe it or not I actually called myself GIQ, which was a play on my own name Giles Mensah – with the Mensah foundation and all that – but when I found out about GQ I obviously deaded that pretty quickly and learnt how to mix instead. So the MC side has always been there. We set up an MC crew with MC Rage, MC AD, MC Verse, Budda Q (who’s now in Thailand), obviously Loxy, J Dub and a few others called the School Of Mad Thoughts. We wanted more hip-hop fusion in the drum & bass realm. After that we galvanised what we wanted to do and created Fifth Element. So there’s always been a lyrical and written element in what we do but not as directly as it is in Manifested Visions.
Always been an ingredient but never the main flavour…
There you go. Cut a long story short, that’s it.
The cultural and creative parallels are massive. Jungle is UK’s answer to hip-hop…
Most definitely. Coming up, watching the scene develop, jungle and the dubplate culture and raving culture has been a UK thing. And not just London or the bigger cities but the whole of the nation.
What was your first taste of it outside of London?
Well my first booking outside of London was international! It was in Sweden. I got to the airport all happy and amped, opened the door and it was -12c! My trousers froze instantly I was like ‘What is this?!?!’ It freaked me out a bit, but that was the moment I realised drum & bass had travelled a lot further than I’d imagined. Seeing guys like Fabio & Grooverider going to all these places around the world and being in Music House seeing people come from the world over – I already knew, but seeing it myself made me realise how global it was.
Wicked. What was that Sweden gig like?
I loved it. It reminded me of a miniature Blue Note. Everyone there was into their beats in a big way. People were cheering every time you pulled out a dubplate. Very intimate but everyone completely into it. It was amazing. It had a stadium like feel in a very small place. It’s one I always mention in any list of favourite gigs to play.
Amazing. So you mentioned Blue Note which we’ll get to but you were also resident at Speed and I wanted to highlight how much of an influence jazz and soul were on you. Especially with the Architex releases…
Yeah 100% I always loved jazz and grew up on Motown and the rhythm and blues stuff, my dad was a big fan of the early jazz coming out of America at the time. That was my first introduction to selecting and DJing; my dad would get me selecting the records for him to listen to. That’s been a mainstay for me and I’ve always tried to approach a lot of my drum & bass with a similar approach no matter which style I’m exploring.
I think that ability to flex so vividly between the shades and contrasts is unique to this music…
That’s the beauty of it isn’t it? From the moment I heard it, I’ve stuck with it the whole time. No other genre has that dynamic range. You can do it in hip-hop to a degree, but you find artists stay in their own realm when they’re known for it. But with jungle it’s very easy to navigate between every flavour.
You navigate us through a lot on your History Collection EP. Was it hard to reduce that down to five tracks?
Initially I wanted to capture that early Architex sound and my early influences. Bukem was such a grand advocate of Altitude, so it wasn’t hard for me to pick that one. Then for me, I needed to go to my next strongest release on Architecture at the time was Feel Da Heat. DJs like Marky and Rider were very supportive of that track. So it was easy for me to pick these tracks in that realm and I also wanted to keep other things for future volumes.
Wicked. Was the History Collection a lockdown idea?
It was something I’d been speaking to my friend Khan about. He does a lot of promotion and management and we’d spoken about doing this for a long time. I want to highlight what I’ve done, remaster the tracks and let people know where we’re at and what we’ve done. A lot of people know me for the Renegade sound and not the Architex stuff so that was important for me.
You know, I’m jealous of people who are coming into D&B now. They got this 30 year old trove to explore!
That’s it yeah! It really is a treasure trove. You find an artist, you look them up and find a wealth of material to hear. It’s like discovering new oceans. It gets deeper and deeper the more you dig. You know, like finding out about labels like Basement Records, which was pivotal to us just as much as Goodlooking and Metalheadz. They inspired me to launch Architecture.
Basement Records was huge for so many artists and also Phil Wells and Vinyl Distribution gave a lot of artists the tools they needed to launch labels. I think even Photek’s debut was on Basement?
I think it was, under one of his many aliases. A lot of his material came out through that Vinyl Distribution network. Rupert’s a good friend from back in the day and I’ve always loved his stuff. That was a massive inspiration to me.
Speaking of friends of yours, Architex members J Dub and Kwest need a shout don’t they?
They do! We’ve been friends since school and we learnt the ropes together. Our first decks, our first gigs, our first studio sessions. All done together. I went on to DJ with Kwest on Defection FM as well. The pirate stations were a huge driver for all of this and would tell people where the dances were and play the latest music so I have very fond memories of those times. That’s where we started building our story.
They were the social networks of the time in a way. Even as far as Wales we’d be getting tapes sent from friends in London
It really was the social media. You’d have your shout outs, you’d be listing the names of tunes you’d heard and would run to the record shop and see if they had it. They were in the information centres!
Did you ever have trouble with the DTI?
There were a few madnesses, but luckily I never lost any records. A few times we’d have to pull the plug and get out of the building quickly. We were just kids trying to push this music and we all knew there was this big monster called the DTI chasing us but most of us never actually saw what it looked like – we just knew it existed. Luckily I never saw its teeth but it wasn’t without a few intense moments.
Haha. Music House and weekly regular events like Speed and Blue Note were also big information centres weren’t they? Take to me Blue Note…
It was such an intricate club and a pinnacle situation in the design of this music in general. Artists were specifically making productions for the environment so we defined a lifestyle around this. I was lucky to be hanging around the Kemistry & Storm who basically put all of this together along with Goldie and Doc Scott. They said ‘We’re going to do a club and there’s a space for you and Kwest’. I was down for it completely but quite nervous. I hadn’t found my sound by that point. I was still learning the music and hearing Kemi & Storm mix and Randall mix. I was so inspired by them and eventually found my own sound within all of that. By then I’d gone solo and I joined Blue Note with Clarky, Bailey, Loxy and Marly Marl. We were all known as the new breed. We’d play the first and second sets then you had the third and finishing sets with guys like Rider, Goldie, Doc Scott and other guests. So that was the initial stages and, after that, I was going into the studio much more often because I was so inspired. You couldn’t not be inspired by it all.
You’d already collaborated a lot before
Yeah but I was diving in deep on my own and it was intense. It was all hardware based, you’d have wires everywhere, you’d have to get your soldering iron out, there were no tutorials or anything like that because no one had internet then. There was a lot of working out equipment and trying to use it in the craziest way you could.
That’s the spirit of electronic music isn’t it? The acid sound was never meant to come from the 303 for example!
Exactly. That approach and mindset is the best thing about junglists and drum & bass: we’ve always been number one for pushing the limitations. You still hear it now; it’s a tradition of creating these exciting, unheard soundscapes.
Do you think it was easier to find your own unique sound back then because of that?
I think the learning process had to be different. If I pick up my outboard, it might be different to the next producer’s outboard machine. But now most artists will have similar set-ups on computers with similar plug-ins. It was easier to find a unique sound but harder to learn how to make your sounds make sense. Also spending lots of time in different studios and seeing how different people worked, you learnt in a different way. I think you could hear the IDs much easier and identify artists more than you can now.
I guess that’s something you look for as an A&R for on Architecture. It’s quite an achievement for the label to have been around for 25 years now…
It was one of the early ones! I’d been on Basement with Architex and Phil asked if I wanted my own label which was a no brainer. It was Kemistry who named our first tune on Basement. She asked ‘what does an architect do first?’ And it was like, well… He draws the blueprint. So Blueprint was the first release we did. I liked the concept of building the sound using the palette as my spectrum. Ink being the palette and colours, Architecture is the blueprints and designs.
That’s been consistent all the way through…
It has. A lot of people didn’t get it. They didn’t see the connection between the DJing and our production. I guess we were still learning and ID’ing ourselves and finding our sound. You had guys like Dillinja and Photek making tunes at the time so the levels were intensely high! A lot of people missed those early releases because of that and picked up on Architecture a few years later around the 2000s.
By then you’d already had one of Kemal’s earliest releases. And around that time you also signed guys like Gremlinz and Stranjah – both very early on in their careers. That’s testament to the label and also the fact there’s not been a year when you haven’t released at least one release…
That’s right. I never wanted to saturate the scene and that’s why we’re only on something like release 63 and it’s been over 20 years. For me it’s about carving our sound and introducing new artists. It’s great those guys’ early work is in our catalogue. If you look at our discography you’ll find a lot of artists who’ve gone on to great things have been on Architecture first. I’ve never been afraid to experiment with the sound or invest in new talent.
You need risk takers. The music is kinda founded on that!
Yeah, that’s how I came up in the scene. These producers would go into the studio fearlessly and come out with these crazy soundscapes. They weren’t thinking about markets or units or audiences; they were just pushing something incredibly fresh and exciting and had never been done before. You’d make something, you’d cut it to dub and test it on the dancefloor. That’s it.
The minute you think about markets etc you jeopardise creativity…
You do and I’ve been guilty of it before. Around 10-15 years ago we were doing a lot of stuff for Outbreak Records and had a lot of commitments to fill with different labels and everything. It was getting closer and closer to becoming a 9 – 5 for me, which isn’t how I want to write music.
You’ve got to be feeling it
Yeah. More organic. You might hear a sound in the day, have a sudden idea or a thought and you want to act on it there and then.
Reacting to an idea whenever you want, basically…
I like that, it is like that. Once you’ve got a studio at home you can do exactly that. Travelling to studios which are quite expensive, you’d feel that pressure to get something done and maybe explore paths that you wouldn’t do if you were just listening to yourself and your own creative vision.
Were a lot of those classic Renegade Hardware tracks you made done in those situations? You all seemed like a well-oiled machine!
The beauty of that whole era was that it was coupled with that club. The End was a world class venue and we had the opportunity to go into the studio, make records and test them on that system to that crowd. That was priceless. And also Renegade Hardware had their own studio so we weren’t pressured by expense. But we had pressure in the sense that Konflict were coming in after us or Usual Suspects were coming after us and that would put us on our toes. You had to be constructive with your time. We had to be a well-oiled machine in that sense, but it was in more of an efficient way and not in a commercial type of way. It was a very industrious time though!
You were quite hands-on with the label weren’t you?
Yeah I was. I helped with admin a lot, just before Yoko, God rest her soul, passed away. It was me, Clayton, Yoko and Scott doing a lot of work bringing through the new artists, doing the gigs as well. A lot of people thought I’d disappeared from D&B for a bit but I just needed to focus on that job for a while. I still had Architecture and was still in the studio, but it was in the background. My last work with Renegade Hardware was the Final Chapter album which was 100 tracks deep and two years in the making. It was huge.
I loved how that album ushered in a lot of new breed artists and give them that Hardware stamp of authority. The label never rested on its laurels right until the end…
You’re right and I’m glad that was the final album. I personally had to step away from that anyway because it was such a big job it took a lot out of me. Sometimes you think you’re boxing with the same speed you did but you’re actually not. Hardware had such a legacy in terms of the music we made and pushed and I never wanted to spoil that. It was a perfect time to bow out. A good two strong decades. We had our ups and downs with sales and the change of mediums from vinyl to MP3s and all that. It’s funny seeing it come back to vinyl now.
I started working in music during the digital switch. It was volatile and a lot of people lost their businesses. It was a shame as vinyl sustained everyone in the chain…
A whole structure was fed off that vinyl spine. When that transition happened there were so many massive cuts and changes and it changed the whole direction of the music. There was a lot of uncertainty at the time but drum & bass jungle stayed strong and continues to do so.
It’s the only time the genre held onto the past. Usually it’s steps ahead, but because of dubplate culture vinyl was still very strong. I’ll always remember Clipz’s Download tune and at the time he said why would he take CDs to rave if his product was on vinyl? How can you sell a format you don’t even support?
Exactly! Just like Clipz I found it hard to turn up to a club without a record bag. I’d still put my vinyl on decks and would always play them if the decks were set up okay. If you have a label and you DJ then ultimately you are selling your products as you DJ. I had to tell a lot of the artists at the time. They asked if there’d be a vinyl release and I said – there will be if you rep the vinyl in your sets. Then after MP3s USBs came along and changed things again and it’s nice to see things come back round again.
Yeah it’s no standard or uniform – people can choose
For me options are the key to life. To have choices and diversity is the reason why I’ve been able to do this for so long. I’ve had moments when it’s like ‘am I done now? Are my contributions over?’ Then I’ll hear a tune from someone and it’ll hit me or inspire me and I’ll be like ‘Oh hell no, I’m not done yet!’
YES! I can’t think of a point when you ever sounded tired musically. At which point in your career were you closest to leaving?
Renegade Hardware’s Final Chapter was a turning point for me in terms of how I worked in drum & bass. And my album Last Scroll was written very much as the last scroll. I did feel then, after four albums, that I’d said what I wanted to say in drum & bass. My love for production still stayed though – I was doing a lot of house music, tech house, collabs with Gremlinz and stuff. So yeah, I never fell out of love with the studio but more for drum & bass.
Wow okay. Interesting re: Last Scroll. You got more albums in you, surely?
Well… Coming off the back of Manifested Vision there’s talk of an album after the EP. So yes, there’s more than one album left in me. But will it be 100% D&B? No, we’re bringing a lot more influences and not just staying within the realm of any genre…
Awesome. Why limit yourself?
Yeah. From our first Architex album, Incision, we had everything on there and approached it as a musical base rather than a D&B album. That’s always been my ethos, so it’s nice to go back to that.
Really looking forward to hearing it all. So what else is coming up? We haven’t even mentioned I.L.R Studios!
That came about through a question I put on social media. Do you want to hear more from me and Loxy? The response was crazy so we spent a summer in the studio and it was only natural to bring Resound in again and it came together very naturally.
Different collabs bring out different shades of Ink…
Yes! I am currently working on a lot of new material with Gremlinz, and our new Dispatch Blueprints release forthcoming is a testament to that concept. The release focuses on both the light and dark elements in my sound. But yeah, in terms of things coming out, there’s plenty in store on IRL, there’s the album on R&S, we’ve had our Metalheadz releases just land, another Metalheadz release come out, we’ve had our Hospital remix come out and I’m sure there’ll be more with them in the future as we’ve signed with Clinic Talent. And of course loads of Architecture stuff, championing new artists and old new artists. Loads to come…