Bass Clef Interview

A one-man hurricane of hertz
Bass Clef playing the trombone
Men with no teeth. Windy Blackpool piers. Cymbals strapped to ricket ridden knees. Kick drums carried like crosses. The image conjured of the one-man-band is grim to say the least.

However, Bass Clef, AKA Ralph Cumbers, is a one-man hurricane of hertz. And he’s fighting back.

Playing over home-brewed dubstep beats and bass Ralph conjures a carnival cacophony made of drum machine, sampler, theremin, cowbell, cabasa, wood block, claves, samba whistle, swanee whistle, and the weapon of choice: his trusty trombone.

Having released his debut album ‘A Smile Is A Curve That Straightens Most Things’ on Blank Tapes in 2006 Ralph has been fervently ripping up his unique blend of dub, 2-step, garage and twisted carnival everywhere from Sonar festival to Stockholm cellars.

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This is an excerpt from an article that appears in the April issue of Clash Magazine. Pick it up in stores from March 4th. You can read the full issue online HERE and subscribe to Clash Magazine HERE.

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His music is straight from the haunted dancehall, full of shattered brass and dark percussion, and perhaps is the best example of what The Specials would have sounded like had Jerry Dammers and Terri Hall not fallen out so badly. But what drove his desire for the trombone? It’s a little bit Johnny Briggs. Ahem.

“It’s a love/hate thing. I started when I was nine - at my school they had run out of trumpets. My teacher said, ‘Well, we’ve got a trombone’, and I was like, ‘Whatever!’ But then I just fucking hated being taught it as a teenager. Now I love playing it and I get some interesting sounds out of it, but if I’m ever on the same bill as a trombone player I’m like, ‘Fuck!’ They show me up invariably.”

His new album has an equally long title as his first. ‘May The Bridges I Burn Light The Way’ sees his sound bulge with more club orientated tracks. Written for dance floors as opposed to idle heads, it represents his place among dubstep’s best and most captivating artists, a fast filling pool of characters terminally reliant of bass, the lower the frequencies the better.

It’s a wanky male domain and one we often engage in, however Bass Clef gets some seriously low sounds and subs. Mainly, it seems, when he’s on the old trombone: “Well, it is a microtonal instrument so there’s all sorts of crazy stuff you can do with it. I use a pitch-shifter up and down octaves. However, because the trombone is a processed acoustic instrument it’s capable of notes that a pre-recorded soft synth cannot attain. When I play live there’s a resonant frequency in every room and sometimes you reach that, by mistake or on purpose.” In slightly sexier terms, he can hit the room’s bass G-spot with his thrusting.

So, whilst the more conventional artists from dubstep, garage, drum and bass, funky and house all keep peering into each other’s record boxes, Ralph Cumbers will be off ploughing his own sonic furrow. He’s a figure that’s continually drifting away from the generic pack and conventional music - but delightfully not giving a fuck. In his own humble words: “If anyone wants me to play the Johnny Briggs theme tune then I’m fucked, but if you want me to do some enormous bass drone, then I’m great!”

Words by Matthew Bennett

He’s a DJ too! To download Bass Clef’s exclusive DJ mix for ClashMusic.com go to: www.ClashMusic.com/feature/dj-mix-podcast-series-bass-clef

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