Accelerated Culture: Pinch Interviewed
It’s three thirty on a sunny Wednesday afternoon and I’m doing, well... nothing really.
In the midst of the lockdown many of us are finding out that having too much time can be just as bad as too little. We can find ourselves craving human interaction, so much so that an unsuspecting Deliveroo driver can suddenly find themselves – like a naïve, curious fish bewitched by an Angler’s bulb - knee deep in an un-escapable twenty minute conversation.
Imagine my delight when I realise I’ll be speaking with sound system musical innovator Pinch today.
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Pinch, real name Rob Ellis, has had his finger on the pulse of most of the UK’s electronic music innovations, from experimental techno hybrids with Mumdance to the christening of one of the country’s most inventive movements – dubstep. His label – Tectonic Recordings – has acted as a unique space for sound system culture, uniting established names and those breaking through under an umbrella of pioneering sounds and large wubs.
But before we get into all that, there’s really only one place to start. Covid-19 has effectively stalled many artists careers. With so many dependent on the money brought in from gigs this period of uncertainty can become very anxious – so what has Pinch been doing to keep his mind off things?
“I’ve felt busy,” he tells me. “Although if it was this time four months ago, I probably wouldn’t feel very busy at all. Time is moving very differently now. I have coped with the pandemic in a sense of oscillating states that range from ‘I’m very grateful that I’m ok when there are many people out there who are not’, to ‘everything is fucked and I’m sick of it’ (laughs).”
“That general oscillation has been slowing down a little bit as time has gone on. In terms of how it’s affected the label and things – well, the majority of my income comes from the gig side of the business and it’ll be no surprise to anyone that that has currently dried up, and probably for much longer than we imagine. The flip side is that I have re-focused the attention back towards Tectonic content, Bandcamp, even hustling a quick buck. It took a little while to get my head around it, as it is for everyone venturing into the unknown. You never know how long you’re going to be wading around the landscape. With things like Bandcamp and their commission free days and little situations that have been around I’ve found a lot of encouragement, and a stronger support for the music that I’m involved with than I thought I’d find.”
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Bandcamp’s recent commission free days have become something of an event, something to look forward to, and a sense of community is spawned because of it. Pinch tells me of a special moment when putting a selection of ‘15 Years of Tectonic’ t-shirts up for sale.
“Taking a moment to look at some of the names on the back of the tee from over the years was quite a touching sentiment,” he says. “This is probably the only space where you would find the likes of Digital Mystikz, Loefah and Skream alongside Mumdance, Shed, Photek, Scientist and even Flying Lotus. I think that sense of being responsible in some way for bringing those people together in one space is a good feeling of achievement.”
Rewinding from the current day to 2004, I’m keen to hear of the introduction of dubstep to Bristol. When I think of dubstep – modern day – Bristol is one of the first cities that enters my mind. Sixteen years ago, that wasn’t the case. Dubstep only existed within the confidants of one space – FWD>> - the dubstep and grime championing night that has gone down in clubbing lore.
Pearson Sound has described the night as “an incubator of new ideas”, a blank slate. When Pinch travelled to London to attend, it was the first time he experienced the music. The sound then was meditative, highly percussive, cinematic and minimal. He was hooked.
On his return to Bristol, Pinch started Bristol’s first dubstep based night, and the first dubstep event to be based outside of London – Context. So, what was the Bristol community’s reaction to this alien sound?
“It was microscopic scene wise,” he tells me, “and almost non-existent in Bristol. At that time there was probably less than a dozen dubstep records available – you couldn’t even do an hour long set of the stuff without cutting dubs or playing grime and other related sounds.”
“It was a very small and slow start. I did events for the best part of nine months or something before any kind of numbers were coming through the door – it was all done on a shoestring. For me it was a very special time. It reflected the beginning opening chapters of what became a very exciting electronic music movement and far exceeded any expectations I could have ever attached to it at the time.”
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Pinch recalls one night in particular, when a younger Mala travelled up to Bristol to check it out.
“There was one night we had Loefah and Cyrus playing and that was a fairly pivotal, notable occasion. Mala actually drove up from London to check it out, in a sense of ‘fucking hell, there’s something else happening that isn’t FWD>>.”
“Having that initial interest was great. I’ll never forget that night because Mala passed out. He bashed his head badly on the floor. He hadn’t drunk anything and wasn’t high, he just, like, fainted or something. What little money I made I saved and was able to put on the first Subloaded event, which was a fairly big affair. That was really the first milestone event that the Bristol dubstep community sort of formed around. Context was something of a primer.”
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Yo-yoing our way through time and space, we find ourselves fast forwarding the modern day once more. Although Pinch is undoubtedly one of dubstep’s finest innovators, he has found himself looking beyond it through the last decade. It is a natural for a pioneer to experiment, and experiment Pinch has done, producing a wide range of sound from cinematic UK techno to left-field leaning, otherworldly sequences.
He describes his current relationship with dubstep as “ a bit like falling out with your brother, you get too close to each other and become irritable.”
“I’m looking past dubstep, and have been for a little while, but it’s still for me the most fundamental, closely associated and most engaged aspect of electronic dance music that I’ve worked with. I’ve made very little 140 dubstep in the last ten years. I’ve found myself making stuff around that techno-y tempo - 128, 130. I think people group things often by tempo and genre, but I think mood is a better way of bringing stuff together. I’ve always been in spacious, otherworldly mood spaces when it comes to music and I think part of the experience of getting into that head state is to be surprised by something. It’s a bit of an oxymoron, you need to have things that you can’t expect to surprise you in order to step outside of your normal every day, profane space. That’s the achievement that I look for in sound-system music.”
Regarding the current dubstep landscape, Pinch finds little to be excited about. There is something about being involved from the start that will undoubtedly dilute the modern-day experience.
“Now, it feels like we’re making well produced versions of what we already understand. That’s always been my bug barer around it. The thing that drew me to dubstep was that it was an open-ended scene, it was rooted in a context that made sense to me from a lineage of dub and jungle and techno. Dubstep brought elements of those things together in a way that had never been done before.”
“There are all sorts of people making it well, but it doesn’t really excite me as much as it did sixteen years ago. There was no blueprint back then. It was exciting because we didn’t know where it was going, and we felt like it could go anywhere.”
Those that have been following Pinch’s work closely will notice this trend of exploration. It gathers an even larger sense of intrigue given the announcement of the producers first solo album for thirteen years, an album that shares a theme of importance on both personal and cultural levels. The album was inspired by the concept of ‘Reality Tunels’, originally introduced by Robert Anton Wilson in his 1983 book Prometheus Rising. I’m keen to learn when Pinch first came across the book, and how he tackled the challenge of sonically symbolizing literature.
“I read the book a few years ago,” he tells me. “Reality tunnel is basically an idea about how reality (or, at least, the perception of our environments) is experienced differently by each of us, based on the filters of perception we develop throughout our lives. How and where we place our attention/consciousness is always relative to what we are aiming to take from (or, to understand about) our environment - and our resulting ability to then navigate it. There will always be more information in the environment than we can process, so learning in life is often about learning to ignore certain aspects in our environment in order to be able to focus better on others. This, in a nutshell, is what reality tunnels refer to - the result of focusing and de-focusing of various aspects of our environment.”
“In recent years it seems to me that people are generally becoming less empathetic and more impatient of others whose opinions diverge from our own. I can see it in myself - I must make a deliberate effort to break away from that kind of thinking. I decided on the LP title as a reference to this current state of affairs.”
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The record opens with ‘Back To Beyond’ – a piece that was constructed following what Pinch describes as “a complicating experience with infinity.”
“I had this very intense experience,” he says, “which I don’t want to elaborate on too much, but essentially it felt like being stuck in one moment, forever… Like being trapped in a space that exists in between the quantum tick-tock movements of time.”
“The next day I made an early version of ‘Back To Beyond’, which was an emotional response to that experience. When I listened back to it, that’s when I knew I had an album coming - it felt like I had something to say.”
Reverting back to the subjecting of looking beyond genre, I’m keen to learn if the artist feels his latest body of sounds and listening experiences symbolize his own sonic journey through jungle, ambient, dubstep and techno. When listening back, does he feel he was in some way channeling those eras, or was he completely looking forward into the realms of the unknown, simply waiting to see what came out?
“I guess we are in a sort of post-genre phase in electronic/dance music at the moment,” he says. “With the LP tracks, I decided I didn’t want to give myself any rules. As such, I’ve done things on tracks that I’ve literally banned myself from doing in the past – like using an amen break. I don’t really care about that kind of thing any more I suppose. I’m just trying to be honest with myself and make whatever I feel like making, without worrying about where or what it should fit into, or anything like that. It’s just a taste of my own reality tunnel, really.”
“There’s one dubstep track on there, just to show I can still do it (laughs). It’s a broad range of tempos, hopefully bound together by the moods that I bring to the production table. I’ve been working on it for over four years, and I’m very proud of it. It’s definitely – in my opinion – the best thing I’ve ever done.”
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'Reality Tunnels' will be released on June 26th - order HERE.
Words: Andrew Moore
Photo Credit: Alex Digard
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