With album #2 about to drop, we catch up with one of bass music's fastest-rising stars
The most enduring artists are the ones who fall between the defined genre cracks. The unclassifiables, the producers and DJs who are impossible to pin down in any one box. Their sets are frothing pots of different flavours, their beats could be described as one of several styles depending on who’s playing them and the context they're being played in. They’re the DJs whose sets can join the dots between acid and dub. They’re the producers who shapeshift so smoothly their records are supported by cross-spectrum selectors from Mumdance & Logos to Giles Peterson, Slimzee to Laurel Halo.
Such is the case with young Manchester artist Sam Walton. He's been certified unclassifiable since his debut releases on Hyperdub hit us seven years ago, such as the woozy 23rd Century funk of All Night, or the militant technoid R&B of Baby. Since then, not only has he weaved and bobbed his way from a house-rooted style to a much more experimental, beat-based aesthetic, he’s also navigated the ranks of some of the most innovative bass labels around, from Hyperdub (with whom he released his debut album Beyond in 2013), to his local kindred unclassifiable spirits Kaizen, to Tectonic, where he’s appeared the most consistently since 2015 and will be releasing his second album Black Lotus on 6 July.
Walton puts that illustrious label roll-call down to luck, but one listen to Black Lotus suggests much more than luck. From the militant rhythmic trippiness of Mad Zapper to the roomy, percussive space funk of Vectors via the arresting Oriental charm of White Lotus, this is the sound of a man who can craft some devilishly stark designs. It’s the sound of an artist who leaps between the peaks and explores the deepest troughs of all contemporary bass styles while digging deep into his own signature and defining what his style is all about.
Talk to him and you’ll find it’s the sound of a man who wanted every track on the album to be club-primed, too. But then when you’re dealing with an artist who cooks up genre-melting mixes of this calibre, you wouldn’t really expect anything less. We called him up to find out more. And yes, that's his vintage Beamer in the pic. We’ll let him explain…
Let’s go back to your first album for a second…
"I was experimenting quite a lot back then. I was young and hadn’t developed a pathway quite yet. I was still putting together different ideas and playing around."
Fair to say it was a lot housier?
"Yeah. At the time I was listening to a lot of Detroit techno, which I’d not really listened to that much of before, and it left a big impression on me. I was experimenting up and down the tempo as well. Looking back, it was quite a mash up of ideas."
It must have been great to have that opportunity on a platform like Hyperdub so early on in your career!
"Yeah, it worked out so nicely. I was a big fan of dubstep and UK funky, and Hyperdub were one of the labels who were great at both. I got on with Marcus the label’s PR, sent him tunes, he liked them and it went from there."
So what took you down a darker path as Black Lotus developed?
"I went back to my roots. I was into grime from a young age, then into dubstep. They’re my most inspirational genres. So going back to them, and doing the 130 thing, incorporating it all together has been a really interesting pathway for me."
As a grime kid, working with Riko Dan must be a touch?
"Oh, for sure, but we’ve not actually been in the studio together yet. It’s all been back and forth online, but hopefully we’ll get in the studio one day."
What did you want to achieve with Black Lotus?
"One of the things was that I wanted to play every tune in there in a club set. Which I do, so that’s cool. But I also wanted it to run smoothly as a listening experience, like a proper album. So I made sure there’s a lot of melody and musical elements in there as well."
In a way it sums up where we’re at with bass music right now. It feels like anything goes now between 128-140. Back to the melting pot.
"It’s how dubstep was when it started. A mix-up of all your influences and everyone doing their own thing. It’s kinda not a genre."
It’s just good soundsystem music!
"Yeah, and you don’t have to pigeonhole yourself to any one genre. There’s a lot of music being made right now that could just as easily fit in a house or techno set. They help bring things together."
That’s got to be the holy grail, right - to not be pigeonholed?
"Yeah man. That’s one question I hate being asked; what do you call your music? Especially when they really don’t know anything about this type of music - like aunties and that."
So any difficult second album clichés with Black Lotus?
"I actually found it easier. There was no pressure of it being a massive first album. I’d developed the style and ideas and sounds I wanted and it came together a lot easier to be honest. Pinch was really relaxed about it, too. He asked me about the album around two years ago and just left me to it - no deadline or pressure. A year or so later I just sent him a load of music, suggested the direction and it took a life of its own."
You seem to only work with labels who have that attitude. Tectonic, Hyperdub, Kaizen…
"I’m lucky to be honest! I got some nice attention at the start of my career and the right advice and support off people, and that led to working with other labels. After my first album, when I started making darker music, I don’t think Kode9 was into it as much so I sent stuff out to other people."
"Then I was listening to Pinch play on Rinse and he played some tracks I’d forgotten I’d sent to him! So I sent him more and he got back saying ‘Let’s do an EP’, so I got lucky there."
How about Kaizen. They’re local to you, right?
"Yeah Madam X is smashing it with that. She started it as a compilation, then Biome got on board, then Silas & Snare, then she asked me to do one. There’s another EP coming up soon."
Is there a growing Manchester community around this type of sound, like there is with drum & bass?
"Not massively. There’s myself, Biome, Silas & Snare, obvious Madam X. There aren’t that many of us doing this kind of sound here. Kaizen’s brought us together but there’s not a massive scene or community of us."
What’s in store for the future?
"We’ve got some Kaizen nights, there’s an EP on Tectonic later this year, then another EP with Kaizen."
How about beyond that? Already thinking about album number three?
"Not quite yet, but never say never. But for me this just a hobby. I was doing it full time for a bit but I was making nowhere near as much music as I do now I’m working full time. There’s a different mindset because you have to make money from it. But I’ve been working and not been thinking of it as a career and I feel a lot more creative. Like I can do what I like and just have fun with it. And if it does go mad and I make money, then that will be cool as well!"
What's your day job, then?
"I work at a TV production company in the accounts department."
"Nah, not that much. Maybe a bit. It’s how I got my car."
The old BMW? Nice.
"Yeah, man. That’s my day-to-day drive around. It's from 1987, and it was a prop on a TV show that was no longer needed. I was in the right place at the right time and picked it up super cheap."
Is this the latest in a long line of classic motors or just the start?
"This is the start but I’m enjoying it. They’re a lot easier to maintain than new ones. It could be the start of something…"
Words: Dave Jenkins
Black Lotus is out on Tectonic on 6 July. Order it here