We Need To Talk About: SB81

He was spoon-fed classic hardcore before he was 10 years old. He sounds like he uses classic machines when in fact it’s all in the box. He’s been around since 2005 breaking through as Nolige on seminal labels such as Bassbin, Renegade Hardware, Architecture and Scientific Wax. He did a fine art degree but found it inspired his music much more than it did his artwork. He’s SB81 and he’s more inspired than ever.

Last month the Wolverhampton-based artist born Shaun Bateman hit us with two mighty dispatches on both Metalheadz and Blocks & Escher’s Narratives. Four tracks on the former, two tracks on the latter, all six bump and slap with that classic timeless foundation-meets-future authenticity that only an elite force of artists can truly achieve (think Dom & Roland, Blocks & Escher, Kid Drama, Digital, Spirit, Om Unit, OneMind, Scar) and they can be traced back to a new wave of inspiration he tapped into when he remixed J Majik’s game-changing 1995 classic Your Sound.

With a whole stack more material en route, this is where Shaun is at right now.

So, about these two massive releases almost simultaneously dropping…   

Yeah it’s pretty mad, right? Labels don’t like it when they’re too close to each other, but these guys work closely anyway. The Headz release was planned months ago then the Narratives one got snapped up really quickly and the vinyl got turned around quicker than most people expected. It’s all good though and worked out nice. I think it’s safe to say they’re probably some of my best stuff. Stuff I’m happiest with anyway.

So let’s go back and just establish your roots for a second…

Well if we’re going right back then I got into hardcore in 91. Through my cousin. He was a proper music head into soul, hip-hop, hardcore and everything. He put me onto it when I wasn’t even 10 years old. It hit me man. A track by Nebula II called Atheama on Reinforced Records. It blew me away. I was like ‘what is this sound?’ From there I got into Production House records, Brain Records and just got into it more and more as the years progressed. Then 1998 I bought Ed Rush & Optical’s Wormhole and that took things to a whole new level. It switched me into more of a production mindset, Music 2000 came along and taught me to structure beats. That was a great way learning structure, arrangement and samples. A few years later I got Reason and that was it.

Your first release as Nolige was on Bassbin. That’s such an important label.

Definitely. Breakage, Digital, so many forward thinking guys on the label. Bassbin were great. I still remember sending my debut to Rohan [Bassbin founder] and him asking me about mixdowns. I had no idea about mixdowns! It came out even worse than it was in the first place. I was putting ideas down but didn’t know about the technical side at all. I was lucky to get signed but mixing down took me a long time.

There’s a lot to be said about capturing the rawness, though

Yeah back then the rawness was celebrated. There’s maybe too much focus on the technical side these days. It was a different rawness when I came through. Not the hardware rawness people reminisce about; my generation was the first to come into production to come in directly through the computer.

That’s quite mad because it sounds like you use machines….

Yeah people always seem surprised. Over the last few years I’ve borrowed a few classic synths but never got the hang of them, or didn’t have the patience to learn them. I want to get an idea down quickly and I’m very much used to manipulating samples. I don’t know what it is that creates that feeling for people but I guess it’s my ear. It’s a certain sound I’m trying to get. Or not even trying sometimes, it’s just how it comes out. I’m just inspired by drum & bass basically. This could be a bad thing because I’m not bringing in many other influences and the best times in drum & bass were when labels and artists were bringing in different elements. Like when Headz were bringing in a jazz mentality. V were bringing in a funk mentality. But for me the inspiration is drum & bass itself. And that’s the sound I’m always trying to create.

I’m experimenting a lot more again, too. Like back in the day, around the time when I was releasing on Scientific Wax, I was really experimenting and trying all types of things. Somewhere along the way I stopped doing that so much and I basically feel like I’ve gone back to that type of mindset. That type of feeling like I don’t actually know what I’m doing. I’m exploring again and I’m inspired more than ever.

Why do you think this is? What triggered it?

It’s all down to doing the J Majik remix. That got a nice reception and really inspired me.

Big remix! Quite an honour to take on such a pivotal record!

Yeah man. It came about by accident really. I was having a listen to some old records, like I do from time to time, and Goldie had suggested I go back in on any old things I liked. I came across J’s tune and broke it down and worked on it. I held onto it for a year and a half before I thought ‘fuck it, I’ll send it to Goldie and see what he says, if it’s shit I’ll get rid of it’ He came back and said he loved it. That triggered this whole new run. The new Headz EP and the Narratives release all came off the back of that remix.

A new wave of inspiration

Yeah it was. It did something to me. And that was always my original inspiration with the SB81 alias. I was just riding this new inspiration and found lots of new things were happening; I’d moved out, got a new place, joined uni to do fine art and got signed to Headz all in pretty close succession. It was a bit of a rollercoaster.

You mention fine art; you’ve done the artwork for your releases haven’t you?

I did it for Sculptures. That was actually my college work. Goldie found out I was doing art and told me to send stuff and the Sculptures EP used something I’d done. That was a picture of some screwed up paper, I took some abstract pictures of it and that was it. My work back then was focusing on light casting shadows, textures and also architecture.

You can say that about your music too

Yeah I guess. It’s got a bit of an industrial edge.

Well also the architecture. You don’t follow standard formulas

Yeah definitely, no standard formula. I get bored if I copy any element of a previous tune. Even just the drums. It’s more inspiring for me to make something I’ve never done before. If I look back over my back cat they might have the same sound and themes, but the beat structure will always have a lot of variation. I like to play around with that and I always try to do better than my old tunes. Beat pattern variations are where I first started. Hearing those early hardcore records put me onto that right back then. I always start with the beat patterns and I never like to use the same beat.

Would you say your aliases have merged a little these days?

In terms of experimentation, definitely. In some ways I’ve gone back to my breakier stuff for sure, but I’m also experimenting more now than ever on the minimal side of things; trying to strip things back to their basics and get some clarity there. With the Nolige project I got to the point where I felt I was treading over the same path a bit. I wanted to make experimental and deeper stuff again. I had these big life changes, so I thought I’d set up a new alias. It was more of a mental change and I do feel I’ve got to the point where I’ve become more experimental. It’s almost like I’m living inside my mind again. I’m thinking about things on a deeper level. I love touching on the old but putting my head in the future, that’s what really inspires me.

That’s the junglist spirit!

Yeah man. But when you think about the future you think of clinical and very efficient. For me I still cling onto the old spirit and sound an energy. It’s the same feeling I get when I listen to Blocks & Escher, also Kid Drama and Om Unit. I love their music, they’re inspiring me to do what I’m doing. And there’s a certain vibe going round at the moment. It’s good to be among it.

Once again, it’s about capturing that vibe

It is. Also I’m not sure if it’s because I’m older or because I do art as well but everything is for the experiment. It’s for the release of ideas. Purely for creation. Never to make money. It’s something I personally need to do. I need to create things. If I didn’t, I’d go mad.

Do you exhibit your art or anything?

I’d love to but to be honest studying art just made me dig my music even more! It helped me change my mindset about what I do and where I wanted to go with my music. It helped my mind grow. I haven’t made any art since leaving uni, but I have prepped some canvases and I’ve got some ideas for some paintings and future releases. But you’re definitely going to hear plenty more releases from me, that’s for sure…

Follow SB81: Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Soundcloud / Mixcloud

SB81 – Headspace / Who Are You is out now on Narratives 

SB81 – Future Point is out now on Metalheadz