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Blawan interview: "I always start with the drums". A chat over coffee with the R&S/Hessle Audio-affiliated producer.
The Costa Coffee near Kings Cross Station on a Sunday evening is packed. Families, businessmen, friends, meeting up and talking loudly over each other, while mugs and teaspoons chink and clatter, and the coffee machine whirrs on and off. Myself, Blawan (or Jamie Roberts), and his accompanying friend, manage to wedge ourselves onto a table without spilling too much of our americanos, and try to hold a conversation over the transport hub and coffee shop clamour.
In a few hours, he’ll DJ at The Alibi in Dalston. “I always get people coming up to me and saying, ‘Oh I thought you’d be playing some of that future garage stuff’,” he says, “and I’m like nah, I don’t play anything like that really! I try and mix it up if it’s what people want to hear, but I can’t, I just stay away and essentially just DJ house… And techno, stuff like Ben Klock and, you know, like Marcel Dettmann and stuff like that.” He’s relaxed, conversation upbeat and open. I catch some of his set later, which plays out with a kind of coiled spring energy, his own tunes unfurling giddily.
Blawan – Fram
I became aware of Blawan through keenly following Hessle Audio’s releases schedule. The label put out the aforementioned ‘Fram/Iddy’ last year in May. It’s a release that came about through Jamie being at the end of his university degree and not sure what to do. He had Fram on his computer. “I was too scared to send my stuff out because I thought it was crap and I wasn’t happy with it. I thought you know what? I’ll just send it. And I sent it to Jack (Untold) and within two hours I got a phone call from Ramadanman, which was just like insane! I was shaking on the phone! Just like ‘Oh my god!‘” Appropriate considering he describes one of the main starting points for the track as hearing Pangaea’s ‘You And I’ Hessle release, which subsequently stunned him into making something along similar lines.
It’s late January and a youtube rip of new track Bohla off his soon-to-be released R&S EP has been doing the internet rounds. The sound is thicker than his previous Hessle Audio release ‘Fram/Iddy’, a tense 303 richochet, the grooves are slower, tunnel deeper. It was written last August, during a period listening to a lot of acid house. He sent the track on to R&S, they liked what they heard, and he wrote two more to keep it company. Kaz is a fizzing catherine wheel of a track, while Lavender marches purposefully, jacking and twitching beguilingly. “It’s one of the first tunes I dropped down to 130, to like a sort of house tempo,” he says of Bohla “but I still wanted to keep that like swung, garage-y feel to it. I think that EP works well as a progression because, there’s only three tracks on it but as you sort of get to the last track it gets more of a 4/4 house feel. And I think it’s a good lead into some of the stuff I’m going to eventually release.”
Blawan – Bohla
Static is definitely not on the agenda. There’s a playful vigor to his music, hopping through styles and moods, incorporating whatever he wants into his own aesthetic. At the same time, it’s a tight, stripped down, highly percussive form. Rhythm is primary. “A lot of my really early stuff is like laden with synths and really layered… I hated it. I just wanted to strip it back, and I made a few tunes and that’s when I made Fram. One synth track, one drum track, one bass track, and some like vocals. And that’s it.”
It’s an idea he links back to his time spent drumming in post-punk bands back in South Yorkshire before the whole dub-step-and-all-its-off-shoots sound became the primary source of listening. “ JOE’s a drummer as well. Yeah it’s like, when I talk to him, we sort of come from things at the same angle. Like when I’m making a song I always start with the drums. The drums have to be the main thing. Has to be right up front. So, I guess everything else just comes… yeah. It ends up being a really rhythmic mix. I don’t really sit down and think right, I’m going to right something really rhythmic, it’s just how I work.” Two Sundays before we meet up I was listening to Ben UFO covering for Oneman on Rinse FM. He played Blawan’s ‘Getting Me Down’ – a youtube rip of which is currently doing the internet rounds. It stood out. Rotating around a (rather famous) R&B accapella Blawan had on his computer, it adds a fluid, warm, buoyant, slant; different again to the almost cyborg-like grooves of his R&S release.
Blawan – Getting Me Down
He seems prepared to steadily pull away from the sound of his early music. “I guess you could say the early stuff I wrote, I was kind of jumping on the bandwagon a bit. Like the whole garage thing, like the 2-step beats and stuff like that. But as I’ve sort of gained my roots a little bit I’ve been bringing it back to the stuff I really want to make, rather than just 140 garage… I’m probably going to write some faster stuff later on in the future. But at this moment in time, like, keeping it around house tempos is where I’m at. It’s just that, I play out, and I never really go above 132 in my DJ sets. I found myself DJing and not actually playing any of my own tunes!” There’s something fresh about listening to Blawan, someone who’s still feeling for their comfort zone, and yet at the same time very aware of not getting stuck in one.
His songs point left of centre, but it’s very much about club music. The sounds, the energy of his tracks. It’s meant to be DJed and moved to. He talks about picking out elements of music he’ll hear on a night out and then putting his own spin on it, the raw, stripped back approach to songwriting is also in part influenced by this being good working material for a DJ. “Yeah, it’s all dance-floor stuff. I always sit there and try and write stuff that’s maybe a bit more headphone, but it just never happens, I always end up like, I’m sat at my computer, and if it’s not got a groove to it or a strong bass presence or something like that, I just tend not to finish it off. Everything I finish off tends to very dance-floor. I think maybe later on, if I ever get to do something a bit bigger like with a bigger tracklist, I might mix it up a bit. But at this moment in time I am focusing on dance music.” The energy, the coiled rhythm. Ears open for where things might spring next.