Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
Astral Black recently launched a series of low-run beat tape cassette releases, and today they're sharing their latest release from Opal Block, a Manchester-based producer who uses analogue synthesizers and very old 8-bit MIDI programming software to make his beats.
Given the remit of Astral Black's project (to shine a light on "supremely talented and criminally overlooked" artists, to quote label head Jon Phonics in our recent feature on the series), we asked Opal Block to introduce himself so that Dummy readers could get a feel for what he's all about.
You can watch a trailer for his 'Tyson' tape above, listen to one of its cuts, Kickin The Moon Across The Sky, here on Dummy (and download it free here), and get to know the man behind the music with this short Q&A below.
Hi, Opal Block! Please tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
Opal Block: "Hello there. Well, If I had to tell you just a little bit about myself, I would have to run these basic points past you first: I've seen every episode of Seinfeld, I was born by the seaside, I bloody hate oven chips, I'm a fan of cycling shorts, and I sometimes cry to Pink Floyd. In addition, I usually get complimented on my hair. I produce under the alias Opal Block. Astral Black is the label, Jon Phonics runs it. Straight up and down Jon is a don and I've known him for years on the hip hop scene. I like him because he looks a little bit like me and we both own Korg Poly-61 synthesizers. I help Jon a little with the label, mainly through mixing and mastering. I mastered the last release by Jaisu, which you should all check out because it's ace!"
'Tyson' has been described as a statement of intent. If you could put that statement into words, what would it be?
Opal Block: "Illumination through audible violence, but of course with a bizarre subsidiary. I guess the intent of the statement is that, if you couldn't tell from my first answer, I don't piss about, but this is generally when it comes to music, I guess. People know me as an obstreperous-yet-whimsical chap, and if I'm not seen drinking the bar dry, I'm usually talking to ladies about their favourite moisturiser. But when we get in the studio, leave your jokes at the door lad, 'cause we working out here! With regards to the music, I've always been a fan of hard hitting, driving stuff. Basically, I'm a warthog in a kitten's dress. A small footnote to add here would be that my dad also used to fly pigeons, he's Glaswegian, and his favourite one he used to call Tyson. It won all the races."
"People know me as an obstreperous-yet-whimsical chap, and if I'm not seen drinking the bar dry, I'm usually talking to ladies about their favourite moisturiser." – Opal Block
What were the main influences you drew from while making this cassette?
Opal Block: "I live up north in England where we love tea. Tea is important and the catalyst to most things. We have great water pressure, and basically if you want one of the best Earl Greys, you should come to my house! The day starts with tea and new music from all the blogs. Of recent, I have been going back to classic bands from the '70s for inspiration, but anything with synths, emotion and bollocks, really.
I use a lot of outboard gear, like the old Moogs, the Sequential Circuits, old effects, the Amiga 1200. In these oversaturated binary VST days, I like my bass to at least start as voltage and not a series of numbers. I also enjoy drumming, it gets you reet fired up. I like to have a lot of energy in the studio so it comes through in the music. I have an old '70s kit and even if I only want to lay a rhythm into the DAW these days I can use Abelton and convert the audio to MIDI straight off the bat. Oh and of course, Morrissey for words, music, fashion and hair."
Can we look forward to hearing more from you in 2014?
Opal Block: "Oh hells yeah. Astral Black has several releases ready in the pipeline which I shall be mixing. With me, I will be working with [Bristol record label] Prism – I'm getting my release ready for them. We plan to have more Astral Black parties up and down the country. If you see a flyer you should come along, buy me a drink and explain yourself. I do hope you enjoy the music."
Astral Black will release 'Tyson' on November 25th 2013, with screen-printed cassettes available exclusively via Bleep.com. A wider digital release will follow on December 2nd 2013