In conversation with dubstep don Pinch (Kruger music interview)

Below is a fairly early interview with dubstep DJ, producer and label owner Pinch, which I originally wrote for Kruger magazine in 2006.

I was chatting about the still emerging dubstep genre with Mike Williams the magazine’s editor in some Cardiff bar. We decided to do an interview with Rob Ellis alias Pinch.

I’d originally met Rob in December 2004 at Moloko club, Mill Lane in Cardiff. He’d travelled from Bristol to my Machine Meadow night (which I ran with Lee Underpass) in order to catch Kode9 playing dubplates of grime and dubstep.

Rob mentioned he was a dubstep enthusiast who made his own tunes – so far so typical for a random guy in a club.

By July 2006 and this interview, Pinch had just recently released his first 12″ for Planet Mu and a handful of things on his own labels. He’d toured a bit but at the time it still wasn’t at all inevitable he’d be the dubstep scene stalwart he is today. The accompanying photo in the magazine, taken by Michaeljohn Day, showed Pinch grappling with a stack of ringing telephones which turned out to be very fitting.

“There was a factory somewhere in the States where workers were complaining about seeing ghosts – not just feeling them but actually seeing them.” says Pinch.

“They sent some people to investigate and eventually found that the cooling system was emitting a low frequency of 19 hertz. They turned it off and it was fine… You see, around 19 hertz is the resonant frequency of your eyeballs. It makes your eyeballs vibrate. It affects the way they deal with the information in front of you. Everything’s got a resonant frequency.”

Pinch could fill several magazines with weird and chilling tales about sound. As a devotee and champion of what’s become known as DUBSTEP – arguably the first bona fide new musical movement to emerge from the UK in a while – his fascination with bass and its spooky Fortean properties long ago become an obsession.

As any likeminded follower of bass-driven music may know, dubstep as a genre has been bubbling away contentedly for some time now. Sounding like some lazier, hazier cousin of the grime scene, with roots in the 2-step garage sound, the common factors in any dubstep tune are a large and seductive cushion of bass with sparse yet swinging drum rhythms. Unlike grime, it is mainly instrumental and there are few MCs to speak of. Melodies and vocal snatches appear, often quite subtly, then vanish. But always the bass.

Pinch is our guide to this new and thrilling world. He recalls the initial confusion: “a lot of people listen to it and think it’s two kicks, a snare and a hi-hat – ‘what else is going on?’ (they say)… But there’s all this 40 hertz sub-bass which is moving and gives it a groove but it just won’t pick up on your hi-fi so you won’t even know it’s there really. Undeniably you have to have at least heard it once on a big soundsystem to really get it. Then you can come back and listen to it in a different way. Once you’ve had your belly shaken a bit you can kind of get why it’s like that!”.

At first a distinct trickle of vinyl releases from pioneering London-based artists on the very fringes of garage such as Zed Bias, El-B and Horsepower Productions, now a healthy surge of tunes from artists such as Digital Mystikz, Kode9, Benga, Skream, Loefah, Burial and Pinch himself have signalled its growth to the wider world.

Pinch again: “it sounds a bit condescending but a lot of people wouldn’t listen to garage or allow themselves to listen to it because it has this cultural association with the bling, smart shoes, shirts and bottles of Moet. Which is a side of it which I don’t like but I still LIKE the music. There’s a lot of garage tunes which people could listen to if you call it dubstep that allow a certain group of people to like it because it doesn’t have this cultural reference attached to it.”

It is most definitely a do-it-yourself movement; a punk movement, in the less guitar-specific sense of the word. As such it gathered its initial hardcore following with zero interest or support from established or major labels. The best ways to discover the sound have been underground pirate radio such as Rinse FM and online mixes on blogs and online forums. And the clubnights…

Now based in Bristol, Pinch is a key catalyst in the city’s adoption of the sound, having been the founder of some notable clubnights (Subloaded, Context) and record labels (Earwax for “drop-heavy” tunes, Tectonic for deeper stuff). He’s also working on his debut album for the Planet Mu label, to be among only a handful of artist albums in dubstep and preceded by the follow-up 12″ single to his debut Qawwali. He’s one of the most laidback-sounding artists on the label, traditionally a home for earbleeding electronica, joining the more abrasive dubstep-mangling of Vex’d on the roster.

How did that come about? “Jamie from Vex’d told Mike (Paradinas, label boss) about it and said Rob (Pinch) has got a tune… I sent him an MP3, didn’t really think anything of it. He rang me up about a month later asking if he could put it out. To be honest I didn’t really think it was good enough to put out! But I thought if he thinks it is then wicked.”

“(Afterwards) I wrote the VIP remix because I thought he might be interested and he was cool with putting it on the flip. Since then I thought well, wicked, someone wants to put my tune out. Maybe I should put a little bit more effort in! Maybe try and get my head around production. I took a bit of an anti-production stance. I thought ‘it’s not really about production and super fine tuning your beats, it’s just having the material and having good ideas’… But I’ve actually come round and realised it’s somewhere between the two, a balance between art and science…”

These are surprising words from Pinch if you’ve heard his insidious and addictive Qawwali tune. High standards are good and particularly welcome in dance music right now.

“I like sounds that don’t sound like they belong in this world. That’s the thing I’m really drawn to and those kind of melodies as well. It’s other-worldly, that’s where it works. It takes you outside of your everyday existence and allows you to step outside of yourself. I think that’s why dance music is suffering now because eventually it did penetrate into mainstream culture. It was being hammered on radio and adverts, you could hear it all around you… but before that it was an ESCAPE from everyday life.”

“That’s the power of dubstep. I had a sensation of total disillusionment with what was going on. I used to love jungle and drum’n’bass and just got sick of it because it was boring and it wasn’t innovative. It was about compressing a wall of sound and an urrrrrr delivery (he mimics hardcore bassline). People have kind of sussed it out and spelled it out and understand what’s accepted, the boundaries. And as soon as you have boundaries it’s no longer something that exists out of the world.”

“One of the greatest things about dubstep is the wild variety of stuff coming from the scene that’s completely experimental and people trying to do things in a really different way. It hasn’t got a definition that you can lock on to very easily.”

“I don’t think it’s possible for it to go and be accepted by a commercial environment. It’s very much about bass frequencies which don’t get picked up by apparatus for commercial use like your telly or little radio. People won’t be able to use it in that way. Take a Skream tune, often it’s got a catchy melody and you can use that bit of it. But you’ll never be able to use – and abuse – the chunk of the bass weight that’s underneath it that gives it the ride. Fingers crossed, it’s going to be immune to that dilution process.”

Pinch was raised in Newport, musically significant but perhaps not the world’s epicentre for any form of dance music. Were you part of the revolution when elements of rave music mutated into jungle around a decade ago? “I was never really taken by it until I’d heard Goldie’s Timeless (album) and I fell in love with that. I remember going to see Goldie in Cardiff… in ’95 with Doc Scott and supporting DJs. That was wicked, mind blowing, really. I hadn’t really heard that kind of darker, techier, deeper side of jungle… With the breaks and the focus on rhythm and different sounds and even hoover sound effects and all these things.”

“That and Leftfield, before I left Newport – same year, ’95 – were amazing live. Completely different variations on their tunes. I’d been along to indie concerts with my mates. And (then at Leftfield) I was like, hold on, people are not squashing up to be at the front. You could walk around and have a little dance. People were evenly spread out and it wasn’t this kind of pointless waste of energy. It just suddenly occured to me… The crowd was different… People were more interested in dancing than squashing up to get as close to the front as they could and jumping up and down. I loved that. That’s the path I went down.”

Now Pinch’s passport bears testimony to his global adventures in bass – Berlin, Budapest, London, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Minneapolis have all been submerged. It’s an exciting time.

More Kruger stuff on this blog.

John Baker – The John Baker Tapes (Kruger music review)

Music review of two John Baker albums, originally written for Kruger magazine in July 2008.

Artist: John Baker
Albums: The John Baker Tapes Volume 1 and Volume 2
Label: Trunk Records

In the old days, the BBC could source its own original music and jingles at the Radiophonic Workshop, housed in Maida Vale Studios, London. Beginning in 1958 the workshop went on, most famously, to produce the score and sound effects for Doctor Who. Visionary though it was, that job has a tendency to overshadow their litany of other soundtrack projects. The workshop has now alas gone, as has its most prolific sound architect John Baker. But thanks to curator Jonny Trunk we now have these curious, weird and downright fun collections of restored workshop tapes and other archive material to enjoy. This is the sound of eccentric Britain in the 50s, 60s and 70s, often childlike and playful and strangely familiar even to younger listeners. Woman’s Hour, Dial M For Murder and BBC Cymru are among the many programmes featured, as are dusty library relics with titles like Piano Concrete MQ LP48/5. Much of this quality music is low budget, pre-Roland and most definitely pre-digital editing with Pro Tools etc. Baker would press the record button, pluck rulers and uncork bottles (three decades before the revered Matthew Herbert and other found sound magicians!) then painstakingly splice the tapes to produce rhythms, melodies and off-kilter incidentals. As a listening experience you may prefer to dip in and out. Volume 1 is the better starting point, while volume 2 rounds up the non-BBC material like obscure library stuff and home recordings. Both volumes have copious sleevenotes to satisfy the budding anthologist in you.

More Kruger stuff on this blog.

Recloose – Perfect Timing (Kruger music review)

This music review was written for Kruger magazine in July 2008. I loved Recloose’s early stuff and was disappointed by the Perfect Timing album. I wanted to communicate this in a way that didn’t sound too snarky. In hindsight I think I failed…

Artist: Recloose
Album: Perfect Timing
Label: Sonar Kollektiv

Close your eyes and imagine you’re an underground dance music producer. You are a master in the studio and can play it like it’s your instrument. You also do pretty mean jazz saxophone, thanks very much. You’ve been honing your craft for years, and after meeting digital soul legend Carl Craig for lunch in Detroit circa 1997, you get hooked up with Planet E records and become the toast of the underground. Later, Gilles Peterson and other “heads” rush up to shake your hand at tastemaker club gigs as you notch up sweet little records like Cardiology (hey, nice one on that Isolee version!). Later still you truly arrive – in a strictly underground sense – with the dancefloor-conquering deep house anthem Dust. BUT! After years of performing and DJing in trendsetter clubs, mere low level success is getting a bit… trying. For instance you dearly love Prince and long to make classic hit albums like him. As you’ve no doubt twigged by now, you are Recloose. Full marks if you read this far with your eyes still closed. Anyway, your career. You’ve reached the same crossroads as many talented people before you. It’s almost textbook stuff! What to do to get wider acclaim? You know, take it to the next level? Just get some nagging pop hooks, in this case scat soul vocals. Form an 8-piece band who are impossibly tight live. Rid yourself of anything resembling DEEPNESS – in other words, lose the subtle quirks and dark little innovations (that made you so special in the first place). It’s the way of the world – as one promising artist moves on, we can look for another to spring up in the gap. Recloose is making a serious play for the coffee table market here. We can only wish him all the best.

More Kruger stuff on this blog.

Prod – The Artworks Formerly Known As Prints (Kruger music review)

Music review written in July 2008 for Kruger magazine.

Artist: Prod
Album: The Artworks Formerly Known As Prints
Label: Pollinate Records

New artist, new album, new label. Prod could potentially be lumped in with multi-talented producer-soul singer peeps like Jamie Lidell, Mocky, maybe Hot Chip at times… Prod is a street geek who’s mastered skittery 2-step beats and rude bass hiccups. Full marks for the beat science which is tight – and club-friendly in that the rhythms are all quantised. In other words, a DJ might play it and you could dance to it and it’s not really the kind of thing you expect from a trained saxophonist called Duncan. So he knows his way around a small studio. Against the peers mentioned above, it’s the glitch jazz element that’s his unique selling point. And you know, it kind of works too. Despite the busyness of an hour of cut-up breakbeats, live instrumentation, cheeky bleeps and boy-girl soul duets, the whole suite comes over surprisingly focused and accomplished. That said, the quirk factor is high and your reaction to this album will depend on whether you can deal with the earnest whispery blue-eyed soul vocals (see also: Lidell, again). The titular reference to the purple one is no mistake – this is possibly the kind of experimental pop album that Prince himself should be making if he weren’t busy wading through cash and suing YouTube.

More Kruger stuff on this blog.

The sad demise of Kruger magazine

It’s sad to see the end of Kruger magazine.

I’ve been away for a while in the USA recently but intended to mark the event in a fitting manner. The next few posts on this blog will be some of my occasional Kruger writings from the archives, originally published in the magazine.

The first issue of Kruger came out not long after I’d co-founded a record label – also based in Cardiff – and it’s hard to say which of the two enterprises was the more ambitious (or maybe foolhardy). But such things are not born merely of pragmatism of course, but of exuberance.

The offices for the magazine were originally based at a house in Elm Street, Cardiff which led to its name. (Hint: horror movies.)

At the time it was typical to see new self-funded DIY magazine projects being announced and lasting for only one issue or even zero issues. By contrast Kruger magazine maintained good standards of music journalism and good design over a six-and-a-half year lifespan. Its remit was broad but with enough emphasis on undiscovered music from around the world – and an appropriate spotlight on Cardiff and Wales – to make it genuinely distinctive.

Every issue was free of charge and covered by advertising from record labels, gig promoters and the like from around the UK. In 2010 anyone would hesitate to start off with such a model for distributing music writing of course – but I’m not really striving to make that point today. Those discussions can take place elsewhere, at least for now.

If you’re wondering what happened to Kruger, in their own words:

We’d like to really apologise for being so quiet recently and generally pretty tough to get hold of. Things have been difficult at Kruger for some time, and while we’ve struggled to work out ways to keep making the magazine, we’ve buried our heads in the hope that things would work out okay.

Sadly, things haven’t worked out okay, and it’s with heavy hearts that we tell you that Kruger Magazine is dead, and will no longer be produced. Our business model has become completely untenable, and the financial strain, without any sign of any long or short term improvement, means that we are unable to continue bearing the burden.

It’s been six and a half years since we first launched the magazine, and in that time it’s changed beyond recognition into one of the best written, most beautifully designed and lovingly crafted magazines in the UK, and that’s all down to the people who have helped us by giving up their time and lending their talent as much as they could along the way.

Whether it was working on the magazine itself, or one of our many spin-offs such as our website, Singles Club, Ivy League Sessions or club nights, everyone that we worked with offered such enthusiasm and dedication that we were often left moved and bemused as to why anyone would care as much as they did about what essentially started out as a vanity project for three friends from Cardiff.

But everyone did care, and that’s why we’re so gutted about having to finally call it a day. Yes, we’re going to miss the excitement of delivery day, and the ball-ache of distribution day, and the feel and smell of a brand new issue, but more than that we’re going to miss plotting features and photoshoots with you guys, and having the most fun ever executing them in the way we all have for so long.

Kruger as a business is not dead, and we’ll be in touch about new ideas and projects.

I’m told is the place for info on their future projects. There will also be a fuller archive of older content from the magazine.

Some of my Kruger writings re-published on this blog.

Welsh language music TV performances, 1973 to 1979

“Welsh language music TV performances, 1973 to 1979. Some awful, some classic” meddai’r aelod YouTube.


  • Edward H. Dafis (cantwr yn edrych fel Noddy Holder yma)
  • Sidan (dw i dal yn chwilio am eu halbwm cyntaf)
  • Crysbas
  • Huw Jones (cyd-sefydlydd Recordiau Sain. “Dŵr” / “Dwi isho bod yn Sais”)
  • Rhiannon Tomos a’r Band
  • Endaf Emlyn (gwefan)
  • Angylion Stanli
  • Shwn
  • Tecwyn Ifan
  • Mwg
  • Meic Stevens (“canwr dadleuol Meic Stevens”)
  • Clustiau Cŵn (hen band Gareth Potter cyn Tŷ Gwydr)
  • Geraint Jarman a’r Cynganeddwyr (Myspace. Gyda Heather Jones yma. Gweler hefyd: Bara Menyn gyda Meic Stevens.)
  • Eliffant
  • Y Trwynau Coch
  • Hergest (hen aelodau Galwad Y Mynydd)
  • Brân (Gwych!)
  • Louis a’r Rocers
  • Mynediad Am Ddim (gwefan)


The tune Gabriel by cosmic disco band Kindness is probably among the more intriguing musical releases from 2009. (You should be able to play the whole track above. If not, try Kindness on Myspace or the Pitchfork blog post where I found it.)

Although lyrically apt, it’s not a Christmas song as such. But this is the year we were reminded that seemingly any tune has the potential to be picked up, redefined and – without touching the contents – “remixed” into a Christmas tune, purely by presenting it in a different context.

So there goes. It sounds wintery and ultimately it’s a Christmas song to me because I’m listening to it and posting it here.

The festival of Christmas itself is a remix anyway – of older winter festivals… Enjoy it and make sure your version is a righteous one.

Back to the music. If the song sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a cover version of the original Gabriel, the classic 2-step garage tune by Roy Davis Jnr and Peven Everett (Spotify / YouTube). The original’s gospel roots are a lot more obvious. Like a lot of good gospel music it sounds like it’s caught between Saturday night, in the club, and Sunday morning – in church.

Nadolig Llawen! Merry Christmas!

Underpass makes tunes

Underpass is a Cardiff-based musician and DJ. Above is a video for a new tune from his new album. It reminds me of home.

He and I have a long history as colleagues and friends, including running a club night called Machine Meadow. It was 2004 and we wanted to DJ and book people we wanted to see, like Werk label, Adverse Camber collective and Kode9 (first dubstep night in Cardiff?). Among other things, I also promoted Multistorey EP and plugged it to radio – with some degree of success!

Ability as an electronic musician is partly about songwriting and partly about the art and science of studio production, both of which Lee has been carefully honing for a long time. So here’s to him and his new tunes! The early mixes I’ve been hearing have been splendid indeed, including a tune with multi-instrumentalist and former Placid Casual artist Rhodri Viney (alias Broken Leaf).

Read the Underpass biography or follow him.