If there’s one thing about Bristol’s Bandulu Records that has always stood out, it’s how impenetrable the whole operation seems. Hi5Ghost – a key member of the group alongside founders Kahn & Neek, Boofy and affiliates like Lemzly Dale, Gemmy and OH91 – released his iconic grime riddim Kung Fu Kick through the label in 2014. Moving into 2016, he remains vital to the collective’s continued output.
Revered for releasing everything on wax – as well as churning out some of the fiercest dubs the UK has to offer – Bandulu could be classified as grime’s proverbial outsiders. They’ve never sought acceptance, never chased artists, nor harboured ambitions to be anything other than what they are now: a humble, tight-knit community of producers pushing their own music in their own way. It is this that makes them such an exciting group.
From Kahn & Neek’s 2012 debut ‘Percy / Fierce’ – two hard-as-fuck instrumental tracks that tore through even the most solid clubs (and the wider scene at the time) to shreds, through to Hi5Ghost’s aforementioned Kung Fu Kick and Boofy’s forthcoming debut 12”, they have always looked inward for inspiration. That, in turn, has pushed the individual members to pursue their own label ambitions, all of which hark back to the same spirit amplified by Bandulu: everyone works toward the common goal.
For Hi5Ghost, that has meant the launch of physical-only imprint Paper Cranes, which he christened with brutal artillery drill Duppy Maker, alongside Trends in 2014 and a brief recent excursion (Nook Shot) to Sector 7 Sounds – the label run by Boofy and Lemzly Dale. So, with the prospect of a Bandulu Room at fabric this Friday, it felt like a good time to pick his brains about how everything came to be and, more topically speaking, how he thinks physical formats – even at a base, independent level – are crucial to preserving music as a whole.
So, taking things way back Hi5, can you tell us about your early memories of getting into music in Bristol? Were there any defining moments?
Hi5Ghost: "When I first moved to Bristol, I used to go a youth club called Basement Studio, which is where I first learned how to mix and how to make tunes using Reason. At the time, I was just focused on emceeing but I did play out with an old friend mixing rap and grime tracks now and again. It actually led me to make a vocal EP years ago with Kahn, before he’d released on Punch Drunk, but we never finished it. That was one of the main reasons why I decided to start making my own instrumental music – it just took forever getting finished versions of anything [laughs]."
Is that something that seems to happen a lot? Because there's so many of you making similar music?
Hi5Ghost: "To be fair, Bristol has such a welcoming music community so it’s hard not to be influenced by your peers and the people around you. I’d be lying if I didn't say Joe (Kahn), Sam (Neek) and Boof (Boofy) ain’t my by biggest influences. Whenever I hear anything sick from them lot, I have to go straight to the studio and try and make something better! Whether it is better or not, they push me to keep working, keep progressing."
How did you and the Bandulu crew all first meet then?
Hi5Ghost: "I remember when I first started playing out and just going out to events in general, I used to see the goth at the back (Kahn) everywhere, silently judging every tune that was getting played. I think it was at one gig I was hosting, the first time we properly met. Kahn played a set by himself and Neek was playing with two other guys. After that show, I got an offer to play a gig with Sureskank, who at the time, were putting on some of the best grime and dubstep nights in the city. After that gig, I was pretty much welcomed into the Sureskank family and hosted for every event going forward.
I used to host for Kahn before he started to get more gigs and then it wasn’t long before him and Neek decided on putting Bandulu together – they released Percy in 2013 and that was that. Off the back of it, we all started to get more bookings which made it hard to carry on the Sureskank events. Before long, whenever we played a night together it’d be around a Bandulu release or for a Bandulu party, so it just became it’s own thing."
What’s your mic alias again? I can’t quite remember it..
Hi5Ghost: "Sparkerboi – my name from back at school. Cringe moment!"
Back to Bandulu, it was all a case of meeting through Bristol nightlife? Going to the same events and seeing the same faces?
Hi5Ghost: "Yeah, geographically Bristol is small, so you’re always bound to meet everyone at least once. Anyone with the same interests going to the same music events are sure to bump into each other almost every weekend, so it’s easy to make friends."
Do you think that's what feeds into the whole Bandulu movement working so well? I mean, from the outside looking in, it does seem to be so natural and organic. You can tell you all get along..
Hi5Ghost: "Oh yeah, hands down. We’re just a bunch of lads having fun! The main thing is, we’re all friends before music."
You mentioned before that hearing music from others in the group – Kahn & Neek, Boofy, Lemzly Dale, OH91 – pushes you to keep working. is there a sense of competitiveness between you all?
Hi5Ghost: "Yeah, definitely!"
Do you think that has fed into your own label pursuits outside of Bandulu too? You with Paper Cranes, Boofy and Lemzly Dale with Sector 7?
Hi5Ghost: "Not as much. With the labels, we all want to help make and release the music we enjoy. We all have slightly different tastes, so the labels help us display that and still push each other. I often think about grime labels back in the day – all the guys that ran those early imprints were all boys, good friends, and having multiple mediums to release music like they did definitely helps build a scene. It gives you a solid base to work from, rather than having to jump through hoops to impress majors or bigger independents."
So that DIY element to the music you all push is key to everything?
Hi5Ghost: "Yeah, we’re a little bit stubborn with how we present our music. There has been some gip about not having our stuff available in MP3 format…"
Why do you choose to keep everything on wax then? What are the benefits?
Hi5Ghost: "It’s a little bit of a lead by example thing. We spend a lot money cutting dubs, although admittedly I haven’t cut a dub in a minute because the student life caught me differently [laughs], but we play vinyl as our format of choice. Releasing on vinyl shows just how seriously we take all our music."
Have you always cut your own dubs?
Hi5Ghost: "Not always. I started on vinyl, then went across to CDs for a bit, before going back to vinyl when I started to cut my own dubs. Nowadays, there are loads of amazing artists starting up digital-only labels, because the services alway you to put out music really easily and with less resources. For me though, it’s always been a bit of a childhood dream to see my name on something physical. I think with how easy it is to make music and then upload it to iTunes or Bandcamp makes it harder for good music to stand out – there’s so much of it out there and it’s a shame that tracks now seem to have such a short shelf life, especially in dance music."
What challenges does that present then? Has it impacted on Bandulu, or your own label, Paper Cranes?
Hi5Ghost: "I think with online social media stuff like Vine, we've evolved as humans to have as short attention span, so the music had got to grab your attention all the way through, from start to finish. It’s not easy for anyone, so I think we try to stick to a quality-over-quantity with our labels and we’ll always push music on physical formats. I think people are going to appreciate it a bit more than a download lost on iTunes."
So in terms of Paper Cranes, you released a two track 12" with Trends last year. Can you tell us a bit more about the decision to put that record together?
Hi5Ghost: "To be honest, there wasn't much thinking when I did that. I knew for the first 12”, I wanted to use something a bit heavy and ‘Duppy Maker’ was getting a good reaction in the clubs, so I felt like it’d be the right tune for the job."
Were you ever tempted to press Kung Fu Kick?
Hi5Ghost: "Kung Fu Kick yeah, flick of the wrist remix! Nah, at the time I didn’t know all the information I know now, so I wouldn’t have known where to start."
Were you surprised at the reaction to it outside of Bristol? Obviously you're a dominant name in the city, but that was the first tune to make people really start to take notice I think..
Hi5Ghost: "It’s crazy even now – I’m still surprised at how far my music travels sometimes."
In terms of putting your music out, is that a major aim? To make sure it travels and fully establishes your name away from the city?
Hi5Ghost: "Of course, but I don't actively pursue that. Not to sound cheesy, but my main aim is just to make good music and push a scene I grew up listening to. Everything else that comes with that is a bonus."
Is that what makes it more rewarding to do things like host a Bandulu room at fabric? Taking that scene you love to iconic, dance music institutions?
Hi5Ghost: "fabric is known worldwide, so to have the opportunity to play our music there with my top boys is the biggest reward. I can’t wait, I’m gassed!"
So, just to give everyone a flavour if you like, are there any key records that define Hi5Ghost? And furthermore, Bandulu?
Hi5Ghost: "I loving spinning old white labels. With some of them, I don’t have a clue what the tunes are called or who made them, there’s just a tick. I get afraid of playing the same tunes too much, so my sets end up being pretty random – the only common thing is probably that with enough rum and magnums, I will cut everything off and just play dancehall!"
Any white labels you can reel off?
Hi5Ghost: "All I can say is I've been sent some amazing music recently that I’m looking forward to playing and I’m looking forward to seeing the reaction to some of the new bits too. I have been playing Bomb Squad a lot recently though! Actually, if I was in my studio, I’d have a look through and send some audio clips!"
Where is your studio actually? Do you all record stuff in the same space?
Hi5Ghost: "Nah, my studio is on Stokes Croft, but Kahn & Neek’s is a stone throw from mine."
Do you spend a lot of time in each other’s studios then?
Hi5Ghost: "Everyone tends to end up at mine to be honest, I have more space and more rum."
Finally, going back to fabric, if there’s one record you could play to sum up what it’ll be like next in Room 2 next Friday, what would it be?
Hi5Ghost: "Kung Fu Kick, definitely."
Bandulu play fabric on January 22nd (info).