2008, Hackney-based Spatial began releasing distinctive minimalist
missives at the margins of dubstep, each identified by a five-digit
title, via on his own Infrasonics label. He’s since gone on to
release music by other artists and worked with a variety of other
labels. The following is an updated version of an interview
originally conducted by John Eden for Woofah
wrote of music as being ‘spatial’, ‘sound set free, yet
Kevin Martin, Macro Dub Infection (1995)
holding a square white object in my hands. Inside the square white
object is circular black object. The circular black object can be
manipulated to make the air vibrate in a particularly pleasing way.
I have previously described these vibrations as “glassy”,
“brittle”, “cavernous”, “deceptively simple”, “dubbed
out minimal sounds”, “an orchestra stripped of most of its
instruments trying to get in” and “a stoned cosmonaut
trying to reconnect to the mothership”. These objects, and the
vibrations associated with them, have been created by someone called
Spatial, who is now sitting on my sofa.
music did you grow up with?
guess the most significant part was the whole rave lineage really.
The first record I ever bought was Adamski’s ‘Killer’!
that because you’d seen him on Top of the Pops?
was a bit of that, but also I think there was a connection with where
I was living at the time – out in the ‘burbs near Gravesend.
There were a lot of raves happening there. It was a Sunrise or a
Biology – a huge, huge big one that took over the whole area. I
remember getting up on a Sunday morning and there were cars all over
the roads, up and down the pavements, everywhere else. There were a
lot of kids, maybe a few years older than me that were really into
this stuff. I think there was a tenuous connection, maybe someone’s
sister had hung out with Adamski or something.
you part of that whole rave movement then?
really, I was a little bit too young – it was mates’ older
brothers. I started a bit later, but I’d be all wide-eyed as they
went off to these things. I’d smoke a joint in a local car park
instead and listen to pirate radio. For me it was more coming to
raves up here [Hackney, innit!]. Labrynth, the Tasco Warehouse in
was breakbeat, early nineties?
that was Hardcore… but we went to stuff locally before then, when
it was all a lot less defined. It was still just house music really.
I remember saying I was into soulful stuff – it was all just mashed
about producing, when did that start?
13, 14 years ago.
did any of it get released before Spatial?
nothing! I did send bits and bobs out, but it was done so naively…
were a proper bedroom boffin, learning the skills?
don’t think it’s fair to say that I wasn’t interested in
releasing stuff. It was more the amount of time it took to get a
decent set-up. It wasn’t like you could just download a full studio
which was good enough to produce tracks. I was still paying off my
Technics 1210s three or four years after I bought them. I managed to
get an Akai S2000 sampler and that was the same, a loan from the old
man. And then I got a compressor one day – it sounds so quaint now,
that’s how you get some fatness in your beats!”
the process took a lot longer.
those constraints help you?
having one thing to focus on and play with rather than having
everything laid on?
hard to say, I’d love it if when I’d started I was given a stack
like everyone’s getting now. But I do limit myself as well. It’s
quite a ridiculous limitation, but I only use one piece of software
for everything I do now. And until just recently I didn’t use any
external plug-ins – it was Ableton all the way through. It sounds
like a ridiculous thing to say because Ableton is so open-ended, but
there’s still a notion of trying to get one thing and learn it well
and learn its intricacies and quirks, rather than looking for the
next sound or the next bit of magic gold dust that you can sprinkle
over it. That comes from that gradual build up which happened over
did you know it was time to push Spatial productions out into the
was going back to being happy that there was enough in dance music
that was interesting. I used to go to Smallfish
[electronica/dance/experimental record shop formerly in Old Street].
They used to laugh a bit because I’d go in there and say “Pick
me out anything that’s caught your ear – I don’t care what it’s
from, a noise record or a piece of reggae or an electronic record.
You guys sit here and listen to this stuff all day long…”
they know what’s going on…
I think one day someone passed me the first Hyperdub 10″, ‘Sign
of the Dub”. Looking at what I know now, that was a fair way down
the line, so I wasn’t tuned into it right at the start. But then it
snowballed and I went down to FWD>>.
was that a big deal for you?
it was like a rediscovery. It’s easy to dismiss stuff, but if you
get back in front of a sound system then it all makes sense.
productions are quite hard to describe, I think. Was it a conscious
decision to make something a bit off-kilter?
my cantankerous nature really. If I hear a beat and think it sounds a
bit like an Untold one, I just throw it away. Nothing exists in
isolation, but if it sounds too much like something else then it
tends to get ditched. But then obviously there’s a whole history of
stuff I’ve been listening to and that comes through.
don’t want to be too process based, but I’m not happy just
cutting up breaks. So, that has a sound in itself – the tightness
of the drums when you’re making your own breaks. There’s a
balance there, of it becoming like work. I have to vibe off what I’m
doing, but I want to put a certain amount into it, and everyone’s
level of that is different. Sometimes you’ve got to have a lot of
a weird tension where making dance music is a pretty anti-social
process, but it’s obviously aimed at somewhere very social. Do you
have the dancefloor in mind when you’re producing or does it just
definitely got steered more towards the environment than it was at
the start. I thought I was doing that before, but when I listened
back to the early stuff it was fairly angular. When I started DJ-ing
again I wasn’t reaching for my own tunes… because they disrupted
the flow! I’m quite happy to do that, but you don’t want whole
sets which are too angular, it trips people up a bit. It’s quite
hard to play experimental stuff to a crowd.
Photo by Richard Stow & Dizqo, generative processing by Spatial.
played some pretty impressive places though, like Dub War in
was probably one of the best gigs, it was intense. I played after
Headhunter which was a bit of a worry, but he got them nicely oiled
and then I just… slammed it really!
does the minimalist feel of your Infrasonics label come from?
like minimalism generally, especially digital art, sonic art. Someone
asked me recently “Is
it Raster-Noton, Snd stuff, or like Basic Channel?”
it is more the techno than the sonic art, but it’s probably
somewhere between the two. The aesthetic had to be quite strong. I
play digitally when I play out, so I’m quite aware that it’s a
bit odd to put out records in some ways. But I’m also aware that I
like the idea of the object and there has to be a reason to have the
object as well. The music is one part of the physical nature of it.
very strong. Do you have a background in visual arts?
it’s just something I picked up along the way.
thought about doing some things with the 10”s that have been out so
far [they were compiled on the 2011 CD Infra001-4],
each of those have been hybrid releases, [a fact] which has largely
been ignored. The first release was four tracks, with two tracks on
the 10″ and two tracks that were released digitally under Creative
Commons. Every release of mine has been the same, there’s been at
least one Creative Commons track that’s gone with it. But because
they aren’t on the vinyl they don’t get reviewed by the shops and
then people who buy it don’t tend to pay attention to those tracks.
And [Infra004] has this [Holds up insert from the release]. Hopefully
the curious reader will see the url here. When they hit the url
they’ll follow the instructions about what to do. If you hold this
up in front of a webcam it’s effectively a key and a lock system –
it recognises that shape and unlocks it. It unlocks some animation
and plays you back a track and you can get to the secret link to
download the track as well. That’s part of the release in my book.
You have to try and make it a bit more enticing for people to engage
is that important to you?
the cantankerous side again I guess! There’s room to challenge what
a release actually is: Whether it’s an object, or something
slightly more nebulous, a digital thing. Or whether it’s somewhere
between the two. I hope that one would feed off the other, but it’s
quite difficult to make that the case.
making the process of getting digital tracks a bit more interesting,
giving them that quest – of having to go somewhere and do
a blessing and a curse. To turn people’s heads you have to make a
bit of an effort to do something different. But maybe there’s
another part of me that just wishes I could make club bangers and
just put it out there. Massive Attack once said that they tried to
make a club track and it sounded like a death march.
Spatial 10″ releases are your own distinct thing, but you’ve
released other artists as well. Paul Meme [aka Grievous Angel] was
most insistent that I ask you about Jamie Grind, how did you hook up
exist quite a lot in the virtual world these days, so I find quite a
lot of things that way. Or things find me. I think he just hit me up,
same as Xxxy, same with Hot City.
just sent stuff through. Clearly he’s got a touch – it’s more
on the pop side than anything else. He writes songs in a way, or
melodic song structures: hooks. It was quite clear straight away that
the production is very clear, very nice – it just hit me straight
away. He very rarely sends me anything which isn’t good. We’ve
got an EP coming out now which is four tracks of his.
me about Gon.
Italian, but has been living in Dublin for a few years and worked at
Freebird which is the big independent record store. He’s got chops,
he’s been in amongst it for a long time. He started sending me some
wicked funky/house/hybrid/bashy type stuff. It’s solid as fuck,
he’s just moved to London actually.
it strange releasing other people’s music?
label did take a bit of a left turn. It started initially as my own
thing, but I realized that was… a bit boring! I like to make things
a bit community based, I like people around me. So it was nice to
grow something up, not just putting these stark things out and
sitting in your bedroom.
the design and everything had to be different and I thought “well
if I’m going to do this I have to challenge it a little bit”
because it annoys me that things are so pigeon-holed. Put things
out… but maybe contrast them a little bit, try and challenge it.
And it doesn’t always work! If I’d put out four tracks by Jamie
Grind on the first EP – no disrepect to Gon who was also on it, but
I think maybe we would have shifted more copies. People can get it
straight away and it goes in the right slot of the record box.
back to the old rave stuff, everything was a lot more heterogeneous
and I don’t know why things have to be so stranded off. I remember
myself in the early days going to a record shop and thinking “fuck
me, that weird Basic Channel record is amazing!” But then you
go to your record box and think…
the fuck am I going to do with this? On that note – any thoughts on
the way Dubstep is developing these days as a genre?
the people I’ve worked with take stuff from everywhere, they’re
all a bit post-whatever. The global buy-in to dubstep probably is
that half-step wobbler thing. That stuff works for me for about two
tracks. But some people listen to it all night. There are people who
are twisting all that around and putting other stuff in and making
these mutant tracks. That to me is a lot more interesting.
you had any really bizarre reactions to your stuff?
last rave we did, which let’s say wasn’t as successful as the
first one [laughs]. My mate was on the door and a bunch of kids went
out and he asked them what was up. And they said “Well,
we thought this was a dubstep rave.” But
then ask Kode9, he suffers from this most, I think.
also wanted me to ask if you if you’re “Garage ’til you
a lot.] No! The last 10”, I struggle to see the garage in it, but
people still call it “future garage” or whatever. In the early
stuff there definitely is. When I started to listen to what was on
offer I found the “dum dum dum tish” a bit pedestrian, so I
thought putting the skip in it was a lot more interesting. My mate
ran a garage night back in the day and I used to go and hang out. I
was more interested in techno parties at the time, but I liked vibing
off the grimey stuff he was playing. But there was loads of that
handbag bollocks as well, blokes wearing white Yves Saint Lauren
shirts and sipping champagne. I don’t think I’ve got any garage
you see yourself as a Hackney DJ/producer? Local or Global?
but rooted. I’m not from Hackney but I consider myself from London
even though it’s not strictly geographically true. The only place
I’ve ever really lived has been in and around this town. I’ve
spent long enough in the Four Aces to know all about the Ragga Twins
and all that stuff. But it’s funny – out of my circle of friends,
hardly any of them are English.
also quite a London thing?
is, but… it’s quite violently so! [laughs]. I probably get more
props from outside of town, I did the Unsound Festival in Poland. I
did a podcast for DJ Magazine with some Octopus stuff, Portuguese
MC-ing over garage beats, some global bass, London bass, tech, funky
Spatial at Cafe OTO, 2017, by John Eden.
been a while since we spoke… Is it fair to say that your recent
productions are less minimal? More dancefloor friendly?
I’d say that’s a pretty fair statement. I guess I’ve been
playing out a lot more so that has an effect on the type of tracks I
wanted to produce. The earlier 10”s were still very much aimed at
sound system culture but with a more singular approach. I also wanted
to have different sounds for different projects so there’s no
telling if things might take a turn.
The Infrasonics Infra001-4 CD
comp wasn’t planned to draw a line under the 10”s but it’s
naturally gone that way and I’m comfortable with it for now.
In terms of the “Deconstructivist Dubs” 12” on Well
I didn’t write those tracks for specifically for them (in fact they
were written around 2 years before) but they seemed to make most
sense for them as a label. I guess some of it is just me exposing
different aspects of my production.
releasing material on a bunch of different labels these days.
Infrasonics over now? Can you tell me about what’s in the
not over, I’m just I’m concentrating my energy on releasing on
other labels right now. There’s a 12″ double pack [Spatial
coming on Stillcold imminently
which I’m really excited about, it has a bunch of abstract
soundscapes in between the dancefloor wares that were originally
written for an interactive
produced by Raz Mesinai (aka Badawi). Then there’s another 12″ on
a new label Niche
n Bump (run
by Robn from Wifey
coming a few weeks after. A lot of decent heads have picked up on
that one which is pretty cool. I’ve also completed a 12″