Why Manchester is the new creative epicentre of neo-soul and hip-hop
It was only in September last year that Paul Lynch aka Slackk, the DJ, producer, and co-chair of instrumental grime night Boxed (alongside Mr. Mitch, Logos, and Oil Gang), released his debut album 'Palm Tree Fire' through Local Action. Now he's back with six new tracks that push his sounds forward in new and sometimes unexpected directions.
That Lynch is maintaining a rapid workrate isn't a major surprise. What is more surprising is that the 'Backward Light' EP is finding its home on R&S Records. Since the rave label's revival at the tail end of the '00s, they've worked on a diverse set of releases – earth-shattering club tracks by Tessela, Alex Smoke, and Paula Temple have been offset by softer sounds from Vondelpark, James Blake, and Paul White – but even so, signing a Slackk EP came out the blue.
But it's a natural fit: 'Backwards Light' feels both very Slackk and very R&S. There's still the sharp, synthetic sound design, black-key melodies, and abstract shapes, but Lynch continues to experiment, working in elements of dystopian sci-fi soundtracks (Sleeper Carriage), acid (Posrednik), and – if you squint – a sort of inverted take on house rhythms (Saigon).
Lynch took a bit of time out to speak to us over email to talk about the EP and how his relationship with R&S came to be.
How did Boxed's second birthday party go down?
Slackk: "Yeah, I felt it went really well. Bloc is a much bigger venue than we'd ran before, so there was obviously that sense of trepidation leading up to it – Have we overstretched, and are we going to lose a load of dough? – so when it ended up rammed, I was over the moon. Every set was great, the energy inside was incredible, and it felt like we managed to replicate that small room atmosphere inside the much bigger space too.
"That's my favourite thing about Boxed, really – there's never any beef, everyone's just there for the music and that. No posing because there's no cameras, it's dark as shit, and everyone's off their heads. I'm romanticising things here aren't I? Sorry."
In a lot of ways, this EP feels almost like an R&S-ified version of Slackk – take that acid bass in Posrednik, for example. Had you already started these tracks when the label approached you, or did you make them with the R&S release in mind?
Slackk: "Er, that's somewhat accurate, although not with Posrednik – that's been knocking about since the end of last year. That one was an experiment though, to see if you can utilise that acid style into an 8-bar structure, and I think I got away with it.
"Off the EP, I think Monument is really the one that I started making with the concept of 'R&S' in mind. I'm not really a deep historian in terms of techno and that – I know a lot about acid house and that through my dad, but it's more the London sound that I'm attached to – but when you say 'R&S' and this tune, I think of these monolithic riffs and industrial spaces, for some reason. Synths that feel like dying stars. So the opening salvo to Monument is an attempt at alluding to that, and probably a lot more teutonic than most things I've made.
"Of course, it becomes something else entirely with the drop of sorts, but I feel like I contradict my initial instincts when I make a beat quite a lot. I feel like Sleeper Carriage has a bit of that vibe too, but in reality it's probably closer to a stoned but menacing Axe FM cypher tune than anything else, with a numbers station on the intro."
"That's my favourite thing about Boxed – there's never any beef, everyone's just there for the music and that. No posing because there's no cameras, it's dark as shit, and everyone's off their heads. I'm romanticising things here aren't I? Sorry." – Slackk
How did you end up working with R&S, anyway? And how do you see yourself fitting in with what they're doing?
Slackk: "Andy and Lewis [from the label] just got in touch after the album dropped and said they liked what I was doing – that was it really. We went for a few drinks and they seemed sound, so that was that, we got to work.
"As for fitting in, fuck knows. I never feel like I fit in anywhere. You just make your music and sometimes the stars align and you're in sync with a load of people following similar routes. I guess in terms of their ideas and mine, it works because they're not necessarily looking for functional music, and I don't really try to make that. There's a lot of it about in terms of electronic music and although I play a bit of it, and there's obviously a time and place for those sounds, [but] I try and express more obtuse and abstract things with my releases, even if they are vaguely rooted in the ideas of directness at times.
"I think you could say that about Boxed as well. A lot of our music is two things at once, about finding abstracted headspaces in dark rooms while trying to maintain that energy that allows you to throw yourself about when you're all kinds of fucked up. I'm going off on a bit of a tangent here, sorry."
It wasn't too long ago that you released 'Palm Tree Fire', all things considered – how do you see this EP fitting in relation to that album? Do you feel it makes sense in context with the album, or do you consider it totally new ground?
Slackk: "I don't really think of EPs and albums and progress, to be honest. Each release tends to be its own mood and energy, and that's something I've tried to embrace since 'Raw Missions', I guess. I think Backwards Light has a lot in common with the stuff that ended up on 'Palm Tree Fire' – that slightly faded desert energy, the sprawling feel to it – but I guess it depends on what you draw from the album. I view that almost as a suite, like jazz albums can be.
"Sleeper Carriage has a bit of that Blue Sleet or Jackpines vibe to it, I guess you could say that, and Saigon could allude to Minor Triads or Three Kingdoms. I just feel like it's important to just build a body of work that you're satisfied with. Since I started taking my music a bit more seriously – which I definitely wasn't doing to start with – I guess I view releases more as individual structures as opposed to a linear progression."
"I guess in terms of their [R&S Records'] ideas and mine, it works because they're not necessarily looking for functional music, and I don't really try to make that." – Slackk
With so much focus on your involvement with Boxed, often it feels like the discussion around your production work comes second. How has your production process, or your musical focus, changed in recent months? Can you think of anything that might have brought about those changes?
Slackk: "I can understand why that'd be the case really, as I do view it as really important, Boxed. The DJ side of things is a separate art to production and I think it's important to try and cultivate our own space when a lot of things are very stagnant in London. I love the energy that a good club space brings, so I guess our devotion to that can lead to people thinking less about the music. That's fine though – it's not always about recognition, it's about the work that you commit to it. In 10 years time, I'll hopefully have a discography that will show all that work, but now it's important that we create these moments in our lives that you can look back on as testaments to our music and the community around it. That's what Boxed is to me, although I might be being dramatic.
"In terms of the actual question – sorry, tangents again – I think there's probably been a bit of a change in my listening habits where I've kind of pushed all the jazz stuff that dominated a lot of last year to one side and tried to focus more on shorter, more direct patterns and tracks. Attempting to make things a little less freeform and possibly more traditional in terms of length and structure has been a big part of my music lately, so hopefully I've achieved that. 'Palm Tree Fire' was partially an attempt at introducing more obtuse and arcane elements to what I do. I think I achieved that to a degree, and I'll try and return to it down the line, but that's not my attention at the moment."
What's been exciting you recently?
Slackk: "Well you can buy loads of American IPAs over here now so I'm well into that, I found Lagunitas in Marks & Spencer the other day! The newest James Ellroy book is really good, Joey Diaz podcasts, the 150 rap stuff coming out of London, loads of stuff. Parco PI! I've been trying to perfect my hot sauce recipe too, it's getting there."
R&S Records release the 'Backwards Light' EP on June 1st 2015 (pre-order).