Sunday, February 13, 2011

The late hours of the city night: [nakedlunch]'s twilight trawls through the bad parts of town

[nakedlunch] is one of the more mysterious and quite frankly fascinating labels to emerge in the post-structural era of 'bass music.'  The Irish imprint sets itself apart not through exclusive signings or big, hyped-up releases but rather through an uncompromising aesthetic that lies dormant in each stunning record.  The sound of [nakedlunch] is definitively nocturnal, somnambulant, bloodshot, and edgy; there's a profound restlessness at the heart of each twelve, where the most aggressive and masculinized moments are treated with crippling paralysis or the prettiest moments are coloured by a sense of cornering, overwhelming dread.  The label's aesthetic and forward-looking ideology is explored in an interview and exclusive mix full of unreleased material from the label's owner, Micky.

The label started in fine style with one of TRG's darkest tracks, "Generations," also one of the very last tracks released while he still made what could be considered 'dubstep.'  It was memorably reduced and remixed by Breakage, who provided the label with its second release in the aptly named "Late Night."  That twelve -- NL002 -- was in a sense the defining [nakedlunch] release, not only for its coincidentally descriptive title ("Futurist" / "Late Night," doesn't get any more encompassing than that), but particularly for the Instra:mental contribution on the other side, an electro-influenced track loaded with electrified-barbedwire percussion and mournful pads.  It's this particular sound that has come to define the label, a sound that comes through in all the styles it explores, and one that -- no doubt due to its close relationship with Instra:mental -- finds itself curiously aligned to the Autonomic movement, an enviable position to be in for an upstart label still in the process of establishing itself.  It's a sound that, in its wee-hours-of-the-morning cocktail of paranoia, reflection, and nostalgia, perfectly assumes the one-eye-on-the-future-one-hand-in-the-past ideology of Futureproofing.

The label's last three releases have been particularly incredible.  I still rate NL004, Scuba's "Speak" / "Negative," as the best release of his entire career, finding a perfect middle ground between his albums A Mutual Antipathy and Triangulation and nicely predicting the atmospheric mastery that would emerge on the latter.  "Speak" is a marvel of engineering, chain-gang breakbeats and rushing aquatic synths working against ominous pads that echo like terrifying monochrome obelisks, towering over everything else and carving out an impossibly vast atmosphere for each element to ring out into.

NL005 was the label's biggest left turn yet, Instra:mental's stunning sewer crawl "Let's Talk," a deep house track built with elements taken from the deepest and foulest realms of Autonomia, pitched-down vocal and all, backed with the deflated sonority of "Vicodin," a track built entirely out of amber-encased elements, the kind of drug haze where everything feels so close yet so entirely untouchable.  Immediately following was the debut from Boddika, one half of Instra:mental, two tracks of shuddering electro that I described as "grinding concrete on concrete."  The label's next salvo has been a long time coming and is the debut release from Toronto's Kevin McPhee, a dubstep/house producer who makes exhaustingly beautiful ghostly incantations out of makeshift breakbeats and haunting vocals.  You can expect to see a lot more about him here, but for now, the focus is on Micky, the label's enigmatic head and founder.

As a label head with a formidable network of friends, Micky has, as they say, connections.  His regular series of mixes posted on dubstepforum have always been the go-to source to see how Autonomic could collide with other sounds, and to see how the spectrum of borderless bass music could relate to its antecedents and ancestors.  If it wasn't obvious already, I'm quite an admirer of Micky and his label, so I've asked him to do a mix for Futureproofing, and the utterly amazing piece he's provided the blog with is so far in the future it's practically in 2012.  Loaded with new tracks from Instra:mental, Addison Groove, Kevin McPhee, Boddika (remixing Photek), Joy Orbison, Scuba, Peverelist remixing Emptyset, and the world premiere of a just-finished Skudge remix of Instra:mental, it's a mix that even manages to transcend the considerable value of its exclusivity, simply an hour and twenty minutes of captivatingly futuristic dance music.  Notable moments include the stunning open track -- one of my favourite dubs of Kevin's, featuring a rather prominent sample wonderfully retooled and flipped on its head -- and the way Shackleton's Fabric 55 leftover "International Fires" crashes into the mix "jungle style," as Micky himself calls it... this is simply a not miss.  If you want to hear the big tracks of the next 10 months or so, you'd do well to listen to this one.  Highly, highly recommended.

But before you get to the aural goodies, I conducted a brief but informative interview with Micky:

Andrew: What made you want to start a record label, when did you start it, and why '[nakedlunch]'?

Micky: I felt after so many years of sitting on the sidelines complaining that it was time to make a positive contribution. Plus I had a lot of help, support, and advice from Martyn, which made it easier. [NAKEDLUNCH] came when I was trying to think of a name and I was looking around my living room and I saw the DVD 'Naked Lunch' and went with that. I had some complaints from people who already used the name, so I put some square brackets around it and told them to piss off.

How long have you been doing this music 'thing'? Have you had any previous roles in the past?

I have been buying vinyl since I was a kid and I started mixing records back in 1988. I didn't start djing seriously until 1994; I moved to Amsterdam around then and started doing a weekly DNB night in club Mazzo with my friend and work colleague Andy. The night turned out to be a success, which at that point was a big look because Mazzo was one of Europe's techno hotspots. While doing the DNB night I met Martyn who himself was promoting his a night in Eindhoven called Redzone with Nymfo. We became close friends and I started a residency at Redzone, which lasted until we got jaded by DNB and its lack of progression, and the sound being dominated by wobbles... which is basically what is happening to dubstep at the moment.

What's different about running this kind of record label being so cut off from the outside world? Are there any particularly advantages, or, conversely challenges?

Not particularly. It would be easier to do A&R face-to-face but there is a lot that can be achieved via AIM and email, and with the exception of Jus Wan & Kevin McPhee, most of the people who have appeared on the label I have had previous 'working' relationships with, so sorting tunes was fairly straightforward.

Have you been surprised with the level of success so far? Is there anything you'd like to do differently, or would have done differently at the beginning?

I'm not so surprised by the success. I knew from the offset that what I had in mind would work. What I would have done differently: from the beginning, I would have started out with a proper distributor. The first release was handled by a crap distributor who eventually folded and I didn't get paid in full. Martyn gave me 5 tips and since then I stuck with them, and things have been on an upward ascent. I would advise anyone starting out to follow these tips religiously:

5 Tips For People Wanting To Start Labels

1) Think hard and honestly about whether or not you feel that your contribution to the already saturated market is going to make a difference.

2) Think hard about the reasons for starting a label. If your reason is to get DJ gigs or status then don't bother. If your reason is to get music heard that you truly believe in, regardless of who made it, then go ahead and work as hard as you can to get it realized.

3) Make sure you have your paperwork in order, register with MCPS, find a distributor that's good and trusted, PAY everyone you involve (artists and graphic designers) so that people know you're serious. Relying on favours always ends up in disappointment.

4) Communicate with your distributor, they know much more about the real numbers and the market, so have them advise you about release dates, and provide them with your plans for the future, press or DJ reactions, because they can utilize that when talking to their customers.

5) Try and understand the dynamic of promoting your record - creating interest in your upcoming release does not necessarily mean you have to give unreleased music to everyone with an Internet radio show or with lots of DJ gigs. Remember, in a small market many of these people are also your customers! Less is more - if a few key figures are supporting your music it will look better on you, your label, and also on those key figures.

You've had, across eight releases, so much diversity: sleek dubstep, vintage electro, and downtrodden house music. What's the common thread across all these releases? 

The common thread is that all the releases have the same kind of moody vibe to them regardless of tempo. I like moody music, and tunes with an ominous foreboding style that don't resort to cheap tricks to get a reaction.I would put out any style; I don't think there is anything that I would turn my nose up at, but I try to avoid tribute band-style producers. there is all ready a Joy Orbison and a Mala and a Skream and regardless of quality of production for me its not bringing anything new to the table by putting out music like this.

You seem to be rather close with Instra:mental and more generally the Autonomic community. Would you consider [nakedlunch] to be a sort of loose offshoot of the Autonomic sound? Similar ideas, structures, etc. How do you think the label fits in with that scene? 

Well it's more a case of guilt-by-association. [nakedlunch] predates the whole Autonomic movement. That said, the Autonomic sound has had a huge influence on what I do, and it has also opened up a lot of people's ears to different sounds, and it has made being diverse and trying new things as a label a whole lot easier.

Your mixes and sets tend to include a lot of older and established material in addition to brand new dubs: is the discourse between the distant past and the near future something you're interested in? Do you feel like it's necessary to maintain a connection with the past, particularly a musical past, to provide perspective on the present and future?

I don't purposefully try to play older material, but it's become more of the case over the last two years that I can find that sound I love in almost every genre. With the autonomic sound being so prevalent, it's become possible while DJing to play some old house/techno/electro without people looking at you in disgust. There's obviously a split in the dubstep scene, with a lot of producers going directly down the dancefloor route and other producers drawing on influences from other scenes and music they love, and for me this is where the future of dubstep lies. As regards playing a lot of old tunes, lots of tunes are timeless and still sound as fresh and relevant today as they did 20+ years ago, so why not play them? I would rather turn up to a gig and play music I can really stand behind and be a true representation of what I love, as opposed to turning up and playing 90 minutes of relentless noise just to get props from a bunch of bros.

You're releasing the first record by Kevin McPhee, a new dubstep/house producer out of Toronto whose stuff, to me personally, feels quite special. How did you first hear Kevin McPhee's stuff and what makes it suitable for the label?

I heard Distance play one of his tunes on his radio show one day, and coincidentally I was chatting to TMSV and he happened to send me the same tune via AIM. I got some contact info for Kevin and took it from there. The guy has a huge output, and all of his stuff is above par, so it was just a case of getting the right tunes for the EP. Like most upcoming producers he is very eager to get his music out, but I had to convince him to hold stuff back and wait for the right labels. In the long run it's better as an upcoming producer to go the long, slow road and get your music on an established label where people will pay more attention, as opposed to going the fast route, sticking your music on some random digital label where it fades into obscurity because no one really gives a shite.

If you had to pick a favourite release, what would it be? Which one screams [nakedlunch]?

This is a hard question to answer , it's like asking a parent which of their children is their favourite :) But if i had to choose it would be Instra:mental's "Vicodin" / "Let's Talk," that release is everything I love about music on one 10". [Ed. note - I'd have to agree]

Judging from your SoundCloud, you have a busy-looking schedule for future releases. So what's next for [nakedlunch]?

Next up is a 12" by Kevin McPhee, which features am LV remix of Kevin's "Get In With You." Following that will be a 12" from Kowton. I have always wanted to release something from Joe (Kowton), and when I heard these two tunes I had to have them. For the tenth [nakedlunch] release, Skudge have remixed Instra:mental's "Vicodin" and turned it into an 8-minute epic; on the flip of that will be a new tune from Boddika. Further down the line there will be more from Stingray313, Boddika, and Jon Convex. At some point there will be a [nakedlunch] compilation.

Anyone who you're dying to release? 
Yes, but I'm not going to say who as I will probably jinx it!

Finally, because why not, what's your favorite record ever?
Joy Division - Decades
Sharevari - A Number Of Names
Tubeway Army - Are Friends Electric

This was the music I grew up with. It was the soundtrack to growing up on a council estate in the eighties.  I remember playing these on vinyl back to back for days on end, I don't think I ever felt more passionate about anything while growing up: only electronic music.

Micky's [nakedlunch] mix for Futureproofing:

Kevin McPhee - It's What She Wants [Dub]
Kowton - Killer 10 [Dub]
Tevo Howard - Out The Projects [Beautiful Granville]
Instra:mental - Pyramids [3024]
Cosmin TRG - Separat [50Weapons]
Scuba - Future Unknown [Aus Music]
Armando - Confusion [Trax]
Photek - 101 (Boddika Remix) [Dub]
Addison Groove - 5 Minutes of Funk [Dub]
Boddika - Soul What [Swamp81]
Shackleton - International Fires [Fabric]
Armando - Morse Code [Trax]
Instra:mental - Vicodin (Skudge Warehouse Mix) [nakedlunch]
Unknown [NonPlus+]
Emptyset feat. Cornelius Harris - Altogether Lost (Peverelist Remix) [Dub]
Boddika - Basement [Swamp81]
Skudge - Below [Skudge]
A Made Up Sound - Rear Window [Delsin]
Joy Orbison - Unknown [Dub]
Tony Senghore - If You Came Here (Shir Khan Remix) [Horehaus]
Unknown - Untitled [Dub]
Phuture - The Creator [Trax]
Unknown - Untitled [Dub]
The Other People Place - You Said You Want Me [Clone/Warp]


Kevin McPhee's "Get In With You" EP will be released in the next month or so on [nakedlunch].  You can hear clips of the label's past and future releases at its SoundCloud.


  1. Big fan of Micky..ever since his dnb days...and that's a long time ago! Great words, great mix thanks.

  2. lovely interview Andrew. And mix, Micky.

    best wishes