Life At 140: Madam X And Her Kaizen Movements

Manchester grime in focus…

Compilations can often be hit-and-miss exercises, but Madam X’s ‘Kaizen Movements Vol. I’ not only showcases a rich and diverse array of emergent UK underground talent, but packs plenty of raw, homegrown charm too.

A vociferous advocate of her adopted home city of Manchester, Madam X (aka Christiana Vassilakis) has championed local names like Fox, G.S.ONE and Marcx louder than most over the past few years. Alongside her BPM (Big People Music) label crew, she has played a key role in the expansion of the city’s network of experimental, grime-centric producers.

With that in mind, in the first of a new series of label-focused Life At 140 features, I caught up with Madam X about the compilation, her BPM club night and label, and got her to pick out some of defining moments.

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Tell us about ‘Kaizen Movements’ – what were the aims behind it?

There’s so much diversity in the underground, so I really wanted to showcase all the interesting, abstract producers who’ve been pushing the boundaries and experimenting. There’s a massive network of artists taking influences from grime, tech, funky, cross-pollinating sounds, flipping genres, redefining club music; the compilation was the perfect excuse for me to showcase the people doing it best.

Why ‘Kaizen’?

The word ‘Kaizen’ stems from the Japanese for ‘continuous improvement’, and it’s been engrained in the BPM ethos since our inception as a record label. It was important to showcase new, up-and-coming artists like T Man, Timbah and Trap Door, as well as those you might already be familiar with like Murlo, Dark0 or Sudanim. Their sounds compliment each other, but can also stand alone in their own right too, which is what feels special about the compilation.

Could you pick out three tracks from ‘Kaizen Movements’ that you think everybody should listen to?

Benjha – ‘Lighthouse Blues’

One of the reviews I read dubbed ‘Lighthouse Blues’ as the “wild card selection”, which I felt was pretty fitting as it’s hard to compare it to anything else. Benjha’s someone I discovered on one of my SoundCloud journeys, rummaging for new material, and I was taken aback by his music. Somehow he manages to paint pictures with his productions, exploring space and textures with classical instruments. His music’s the kind of thing you want to listen to on a wind down, when you’ve just come back from a rough night. In fact, he’s the only one off the compilation who doesn’t live in the UK. His Greek heritage totally shines through and I could totally see Gilles Peterson supporting his music one day.

G.S.ONE – ‘You Should’ve Known’

G.S.ONE has been with us since day one and released his debut EP, ‘Lucid Dreams’, on BPM in March. He’s influenced by all sorts: R&B, soul, jazz, purple music, UK funky. He’s a really diverse producer. What I love about ‘You Should’ve Known’ is the simple beautifulness to it. The way the summery chords cut through the piano line, alongside the samba-influenced drums, is really pretty. Since the compilation dropped, the track’s seen support from Butterz on Rinse and might even see a cheeky second release on ‘Kaizen Movements Vol. II’ with a certain Manchester vocalist!

Marcx – ‘Caged’

Marcx, like G.S.ONE, is Manchester based, juggling music and university commitments. I’d actually had ‘Caged’ with me since 2013, when Oneman and a couple others were spinning it, and I’d been really keen to get Marcx aboard the project. He’s definitely one to watch this year – his productions lie in that experimental, grimy landscape. Definitely check more of his stuff out when you get a chance, it bangs.

Could you pick out five moments that have helped define where BPM is today?

One: Taking the club night to The Roadhouse in 2012 was a real turning point for us. Before The Roadhouse, we’d been holding monthly resident parties at The Corner in Fallowfield, and you could only squeeze about 50 people in there. Now we can showcase more artists to a wider audience, while maintaining that intimate environment we associate with our nights.

Two: In 2012, DJ Darka and I had The BPM Showcase on Manchester Community Radio. We had free rein to play whatever we wanted, which was really fun, and it gave us a platform to push the music we loved. It was actually the work we were doing on the radio show that prompted us to develop BPM into the record label, because we were playing so many tunes that weren’t seeing releases.

Three: In October 2012, we were approached by the Contact Theatre to curate their Black Sound Series event, in light of Black History Month. This was the first time we’d ever worked on a big-scale project, that wasn’t just a club night, and it was a really fulfilling experience. We hired Manchester’s Kaleidoscope Orchestra to work with Flowdan, Elisabeth Troy and MC Fox to flip their own tunes into classical pieces of music. Within a day of the event going being announced, it sold out – there was so much talent in that room. (Watch in on YouTube.) 

Four: Earlier in 2014, G.S.ONE’s ‘Lucid Dreams’ EP launches our label. G.S.ONE was an artist we’d been championing for years and wanted to give others a chance to hear his amazing work. His sound is a sort of futuristic interpretation of RnG, filled with ambient spaces, emotional ad-libs, and spoken-word. Even now I have trouble defining the sound of the EP because it’s so abstract, but “gully romance at its finest” is one of my favourite descriptions from reviews it got.

Five: The fifth moment isn’t so much a moment, but rather the people that make up BPM. Dj Darka, Phaze One and T.Dot built it from the beginning, before I arrived in Manchester, and remain crucial to the running of the label, the club nights and the ethos. Our resident DJs and MCs, like Sleepy, Faro, G.S.ONE and Mac Real, are also massively important to the BPM movement, as well as our behind-the-scenes characters: Fred Velody (videographer) and David Sinclair Smith (photographer). I can’t forget producers affiliated with us either: T Vish, Dark0, and Philly&Jazz.

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Words: Tomas Fraser

Related: more Life At 140 features

Find BPM online here

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