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The halftime don goes full circle

2018 Feb 20     
2 Bit Thugs

From supporting Sonic Youth to working with Massive Attack, via running his own music school, this is the story of one of bass music’s most singular and respected individuals.

Things have come full circle for Slough-based dubsmith Amit - in more ways than one. Before breaking through with some of the earliest halftime D&B records on labels such as L-Plates, Commercial Suicide and Metalheadz in the early 2000s, Amit ran a production school. And that's something he’s just taken up again, with the launch of his new school Audio Science Online.

He’s also just dropped a walloping 12-inch on Doc Scott’s 31 Recordings label: Red Flag/Form & Dictate. His first release on a label other than his own impeccable AMAR imprint since Acid Trip on Tempa in 2013, this is a dream-come-true release for the artist who grew up on seminal 31 offerings by the likes of Doc Scott and Marcus Intalex, and once again completes a neat circle in his career.

Whether he’s releasing on 31, AMAR or any of the other forward-thinking labels he’s worked with, one thing that’s less of a circle and more of a constancy is his sound and attitude. You can spot an Amit record within seconds: the thundering kicks, the cavernous dub space, the dense atmospheres, the sudden twists, turns and tenacious basslines. Whether it’s his fine line in halftime, straight-up jungle or dubstep, for Amit it’s not about the tempo or genre, it’s about having his own sound and staying true to it.

So, a full 18 years after he launched his first music school, this is how he found his sound, how it’s taken him to some incredible places and how he wants to make sure it helps others in the future. Time to go full circle…

I heard you were a music teacher before you released any beats? Take us back to the start…

"Yeah, I used to have a music school - Innov8 Music - and a recording studio where I’d host music technology workshops for young people in the area. I ran that for seven years and it gave me time to really find my sound. I had so much time to focus on my art and what I wanted to do."

So you were biding your time?

"Absolutely. I studied music tech at university and all I really wanted to do was make drum & bass. I learnt all the rules in terms of how to arrange and make things sound big and all the rest of it, but what I was making had no identity. I knew I needed to stand out and find my voice if I was going to have any chance of making this a profession. So yeah, I took my time and started the school instead of rushing in. I kept it running until 2009, and would have carried on, but when the recession happened a lot of funding for youth education projects dried up."

By that time you were releasing on some of the most exciting labels possible. Commercial Suicide, Bingo Beats, Metalheadz... that must have been an exciting time for you?

"It was! What really solidified it for me, at the time, was being on Mary Anne Hobbs’ Warrior Dubz album. She was playing my stuff alongside Skream and Benga and Burial. I was making D&B, albeit halftime D&B, but the dubstep crowd gravitated towards what I was doing, too. It put me in this really interesting place where I’d be called for some very unusual gigs, such as supporting Sonic Youth and working with Bill Laswell."

How did that work out?

"He was recording these lavish compositions with different artists around the world, like members of Faith No More and Herbie Hancock. They were really interesting, avant-garde acoustic pieces that were very exciting and surreal to be involved with.

"Another unique experience around that time was working with Massive Attack’s Neil Davidge. I was invited to take part in a scheme where 12 artists were selected to realise a vision that they didn’t have the resources to do. I wanted to convert my track Pirates into an orchestral piece, and Neil mentored me through the process. I performed the end result at London’s ICA. It was a very inspiring period in my life and career."

Amazing! This isn’t the standard artist-makes-way-up-ranks story...

"I really think everything you make and release has to say something about you. I put so much pressure on myself to do something that’s true to me and me alone. You’re more likely to attract attention when you’re not trapped in a genre and following rules. Originality creates a unique identity and I think people will gravitate towards that."

Like Skream writing Amity Step as a salute to you?

"I’ve only ever been told this by others. I’ve never asked Oliver himself. That would be too weird - to ask someone if their track is named after me!"

A lot of drum & bass artists turned to dubstep for a while, but you seemed to traverse the two worlds more naturally than most...

"Dub has been the biggest influence within my music. Everything we know about bass music comes from dub and soundsystem culture. I remember trying 128bpm, 135bpm, and whenever I put my sound onto those BPMs I wasn’t thinking ‘This could be associated as dubstep,’ it was just me working at different tempos.

"Stay With Me on Exit was probably the first real dubstep song I did, and even then I didn’t set out to write a dubstep tune, the BPM just happened to be 142. I was just being me at a slower BPM but still working at halftime. The two worlds are much closer at halftime: 70-85 BPM feels a lot closer than 140-170 BPM."

Yeah, it’s more about the space than the tempo...

"Space is a massive thing for me. Say very little but say it in the most powerful way. I love all types of art like that: cinema, documentaries, photography. That separation between grooves. I love work that isn’t afraid to use silence creatively."

There's the art of surprise, too - that ‘what just happened?’ factor…

"Yeah, those pauses and spaces are a chance to change or develop things. There’s a lot of ‘call and response’ in that, too. Creating communication where elements talk to each other and there’s a conversation in the piece. Otherwise it’s a bassline, lead, drums. Constant. There’s nothing to work out. I love things that are like puzzles - your brain can go somewhere with it. It’s not just linear."

What do you think about where D&B is at right now? We’ve come out of a very techy period, which is similar to when you came through in the early 2000s...

"Within any genre, at any stage, there will always be people who come in and say, ‘We’re tired of what’s going on, we want to do something different.’ As long as that attitude continues it will always be fresh. When genres get defined, things get homogenous and familiar and those rules are even more set in stone, so it’s harder for people to look beyond them."

That’s been your role with your label AMAR. The first releases were your own productions, but now it seems like you’re looking out for those rule-breakers?

"Anyone who releases on the label will be someone who has looked beyond the defined rules of the genre. At first the artists were friends such as AU, who's usually known as Gremlinz, and Shrlok. But it would be too easy to just release friends' music, so one day I went on Facebook and said I had an open release if anyone wants to fill it and for them to send me the demos. Akcept was the first to respond, and the demo he sent was brilliant. He was on Youngsta’s Sentry a little later on, too. I hope to release more of his stuff in the future.

"Labels are founded on discovery and nurturing those new acts. Look at any big label, and their first releases were from new people who grew with the label and helped to define its sound. It’s very important every now and again to look for people who have no exposure, and take those risks."

Especially within your capacity as a teacher. We’ve come full circle now as you’ve just launched a new school, Audio Science. What inspired that?

"You see a lot of tutorials based on one technique, and I find them very dry. What’s lacking is the creative process. The enjoyable part of it. The things I wanted to know when I was a kid. Not the textbook stuff but the creative process. That’s why I developed the school and the tutorials. In five minutes, you watch a tutorial and get a creative process. I’d have loved something like that when I was younger: for someone to say, ‘Forget about the EQ or the compressor, this is how you make this monstrous sound. It’s up to you what you want to do with it’.

"Education isn’t based on creativity, unfortunately, it’s based on technical know-how. But kids want to have fun and make jungle like we used to back in the day! That’s what people want to learn, as opposed to how to execute the perfect mixdown. You need to have fun in the beginning, and enjoy the process of creativity."

Give us an example to get us started?

"Okay, here's an exercise to try in your studio with a track you are making. Step 1, send your sub-bass track to an external speaker that's wrapped in tracing paper. Step 2, record the sound of the bass being played through the speaker. Step 3, tuck that underneath your original bass track. This will give your sub-bass track more harmonics and create that 'blown speaker' sound."

Wow, I'd never have thought of doing that!

"No it’s not in any textbooks! This is what Audio Science is all about: creative direction and thinking outside of the box. I encourage my students to think about who they are and what inspires them, and to use that to create their own original sound. This helps them to look beyond their influences and find their own voice as an artist."

Words: Dave Jenkins

Red Flag/Form & Dictate is out now on 31 Recordings. For more info on Audio Science Online, visit their website

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Tags: Amit, Innov8, Audio Silence Online, L-Plates, Commercial Suicide, Metalheadz, 31 Recordings, Doc Scott, AMAR, AU, Gremlinz, Shriok, Akcept, Skream, Bill Laswell, Massive Attack, Neil Davidge, Sonic Youth, Mary Anne Hobbs, Faith No More, Herbie Hancock