Living in a city with a long history of vinyl pressing and flourishing record stores, Bristolian wax-enthusiast Kowton has placed himself well. Along with the Livity Sound label he runs with Peverelist, Joe Cowton has also established his own Pale Fire imprint (giving a cheeky nod to Nabokov). Totally immersed in all forms of music; production, DJing and the day-to-day running of various imprints, the Lake District-raised producer has been hotly tipped as one to watch for a while.
Prior to the house, grime and techno waters that he dips into now as Kowton, the beatsmith was known as a producer of the dubstep variety, under his Narcossist guise. Now eschewing those dubstep ghosts of the past, he’s plumped for swaggering tech and shadowy vibes. And with a string of new tracks emerging, including collaborations with fellow Bristolian Julio Bashmore and Kelly Twins, the beatsmith is poised ready for great things. Clash caught up with him to ask a few questions about his work…
A lot of Bristol producers say that what causes them to flourish there is the atmosphere between them, that they all want to see each other succeed and it's not so much a meeting of musicians as much as artists in general, would you agree with that?
Yeah definitely - there's a pretty supportive attitude that runs through the whole scene. It’s ongoing too: everyone helping the people that are coming through beneath them from people who've been releasing for years right the way down to kids that have just made a few tunes but show potential already.
You grew up in the Lake District, can't imagine there's much of a music scene there?! How did you originally get into music?
Haha, no not really! There was a lot of people into music but not in the same kind of informed way you'd have in London or Manchester say, all we really had to go off was Jockey Slut and Muzik so we'd kind of know what was hot but without any real context. One of the first things we went to see was Bad Company in Morecambe dome and everyone was blown away by how loud it was, like 'ah this is what its meant to sound like!' That said when we were in our teens was a lot of speed garage and techno raves - outdoor parties in quarries or on hillsides - and me and a few other mates would maybe play a few house records before the older kids who played hardcore kicked us off. Those parties were pretty formative, there'd be fights between towns and the police would always try and shut things down but people would travel miles to get to some of them.
You originally started out on the dubstep scene under the Narcossist moniker, what do you think about the scene now? Would you ever be tempted to revisit the 140 side of things?
I think for me things have moved on to be honest - most of the people I knew from those days have moved on too so I think it would be a strange move. Obviously people like Pinch, Kahn & Neek, Lurka, Zhou and the rest of that gang do killer stuff at 140bpm but they've each got a fresh take on it. I'd have to consciously think how to bring something new to the table and I don't know how healthy an approach that would be.
I really liked your 'Bench Dog' on the Soft Rockets EP with Kelly Twins... it's got that dark, stripped back grime feel that producers like Wen and Visionist are getting out at the minute and on the Keysound compilation that's just come out… what do you think about that emerging sound?
I like what those lads are doing, Beneath too. I guess it had a lot in common with the old dubstep aesthetic but it’s at a slower tempo. Anything rough though does it for me - fuck these tunes that blend seamlessly into one bland stream of monotony. I think a good tune makes you notice its there, there's a few bits from that emerging style that do that well.
A lot of your tracks could be classed as "dark", do you think that that murky sound is depressing? Some people associate the two whereas I don't personally see it....
Nah I think its a lazy association. Nick Drake or the Smiths are depressing; something like El B or Ed Rush and Optical is dark. Obviously you can have tunes that are both but it doesn't have to be that way.
What do you think about the hybridisation of music that's going on in the dance sphere? Or do you think it’s just a transitionary period into something else...?
UK music seems to be in a permanent state of transition, where we're at now seems just another step. With dubstep it was fantastic because there was such a focus for those 2 or 3 years and the energy and ideas were continually inspiring. Now everything's so much more disparate it’s harder to sum up exactly where we're at stylistically but there's a lot of sounds with a healthy following at the moment which is no bad thing.
Your Livity Sound label with Peverelist demonstrates a clear reverence for vinyl, and vinyl sales have been growing in recent times. Do you foresee a movement back to the physical from the digital?
I feel as though we're almost at a stage where - so long as vinyl continues to sell enough to support the infrastructure of labels, shops and distributors that exist at the moment - the digital versus physical argument is becoming irrelevant. Most people I know still buy records, a lot of people I know play CD's or Serato; the two aren't mutually exclusive. I like buying records, I work in a record shop, I release records but if I see someone killing it playing of USB sticks I'm not going to think that the medium that DJ uses is detracting from the situation.
Have you got any more upcoming releases on your Pale Fire label?
Yeah, eventually. There's been a couple of logistical hold ups and now I just want to be certain whatever comes next on the label is as strong as possible. Its been so long now I don't think there's any particular rush.
You've just premiered 'Mirror Song', your new track with Julio Bashmore, which seems to nicely balance both your sounds, its got that 4x4 beat as well as a bit of raw freneticism. What was it like working with Julio on the track?
Yeah, great. I'm continually impressed by the effect Bashmore's records have on a dance floor so it was flattering to be asked to work with him. His working methods are a lot more immediate and focused than mine and I left feeling really inspired by the whole process. The collab came about after Matt said he wanted to release an abstract track of mine called 'And What' which is essentially its just a rim shot and a bass drop, the balance of that with the anthemic vibes of the a-side makes for a nice juxtaposition I think.
And have you got any more plans for collaborations with other artists or will you be concentrating more on your solo stuff?
I've got a bit coming soon that was a collaboration with Hyetal and there should be another Livity 12" with Pev if we ever finish it. Other than that I'm keen to do more solo stuff, maybe with a view to putting out a 6-tracker at some point. An album seems a little ambitious just at the moment but something beyond just 2 or 3 dancefloor tracks on a single 12" - I'm running out of different ways to arrange claps and bass sounds in a bar!
Words by Felicity Martin
- - -
Kowton is set to take his Idle Hands imprint to Fabric tomorrow (April 12th) with Alex Coulton, AnD, Rythmic Theory and The Kelly Twins set to take over Room Three. Over in Room One you can find the Hessle Audio crew, while Room Two presents the Houndstooth Label.