Palmistry on how his father’s death inspired ‘Afterlife’ and working with SOPHIE on Rihanna material
Rupert Taylor has made music for seven years, yet it’s taken him almost up to this point to see the fruits of that labour. After his busiest year as a producer in 2010, Taylor released a 10”, You Always Start It/Ordinary Things, as XXXY this January. The latter track featured chopped-up saccharine R&B vocals – five seconds snatched from 90s singer Deborah Cox’s It’s Over Now – over a driving part-house, part-funky rhythm and proved somewhat of a turning point for the Manchester-born producer.
“The snowball effect of people picking up on it was a bit surprising considering I made it in my bedroom. It’s strange, you don’t know what’s going to happen – you think it’s really good and you’re really pleased with it, but getting a good reaction off people like Pitchfork is quite humbling, I guess.”
This month sees Taylor build on that success with 12” single You Gotta Do You/Open Your Eyes (listen below). It’s his first on Orca Recordings, who have previously released Bristol producer Hyetal, and sees him move to a different plane. Specifically, a more abrasive and aggressive, bass-driven sound built on a template of rough-and-ready drum edits.
“When I started playing more gigs out, I began wanting to make stuff that was harder, more dancefloor. And that’s what [the new single] has come out of. Harder beats. I think it sounds like me, but it’s just a bit tougher and more dancefloor-ready.”
The tracks themselves are more indebted to drum & bass and jungle than the house and R&B-influenced material of earlier releases. How conscious a decision was it to make something drastically different?
“I guess it’s hazy memories of my younger days. Even when I was 18 or 19, which seems like an age away now, I was really into drum & bass; buying drum & bass, going out to drum & bass nights. I always wanted to release a drum & bass track, but I was always too rubbish at producing. I did Open Your Eyes and it just worked. And William [from Orca] is into old jungle as well and was really into it. It sounds great to me, I really enjoy playing it out.”
Like fellow Manchester producer Stephen Gomberg, aka Fantastic Mr Fox, Taylor’s recent success came about after early hype then a subsequent break under a different name: Forensix [mcr].
“2004, I think I started producing. One of the first things I wrote got released – 1st Dynasty – and I felt a bit of pressure. I had nothing to follow it up with. Everything I made, I’d listen to the mixdowns and they sounded awful to me. So I took a bit of a break to concentrate on techniques and making things sound nice. And then I came back as XXXY.”
His new identity appeared to signal a move from the bedroom to the club. While the violin samples of 1st Dynasty verge on the abstract and ambient, with the name change came a move towards a different territory of bass music. It’s something that’s most evident in his live show, premiered at the Manchester International Festival this month. In just a half-hour set, Taylor romped through a mix of the varied sounds of his numerous styles, without any of the difficulties his disparate BPM range might entail. Confidently tossing Ordinary Things in within the first five minutes, and making his current single a pulsating highlight, he struck a remarkably composed figure for someone whose only previous stage experience has been behind decks. Indeed, Taylor seems taken aback at how well his material works as a whole: “It fits in really well. It’s nice to have more vocal, emotional vocal stuff alongside harder dancefloor stuff.”
During his time as XXXY, Taylor has continued to progress and reshape his sound, with his changing style echoing his similarly fickle listening habits. How does he feel his music has developed since his first XXXY release?
“The Mindset release [the Reflections 12’’, his first as XXXY] was written maybe 6 months before it came out, in a period where I was doing techno and dubstep things. But there were a lot of people doing it, and there wasn’t a lot of good stuff around. I kind of backed away from it then, because I didn’t really want to get associated with all of that wishy-washy sort of music. Science Fiction [released February 2009 on Formant Recordings] was a similar techno sort of sound, with a dubstep template. But I kind of got less and less into dubstep, so it’s grown away from that. Rain [released in March 2010 on Pollen] was written around the same time but took an age to come out. So it sounds different to what I play out now, even though it’s only been released recently, because it was made at the same time.”
Each of these releases has come from a different label – Taylor hasn’t stuck to an imprint for more than one release, moving from the Manchester-based Mindset in June 2009 to Doc Daneeka’s Ten Thousand Yen for You Always Start It/Ordinary Things (listen below) at the start of this year, via Glasgow’s Fortified Audio and a split 12’’ with Chicago’s Ike Release on Infrasonics. While it’s fair to say his style has changed even since his ditching of the Forensix moniker, is his restlessness when it comes to labels a signal of a deeper desire not to restrict himself to a single genre?
“I think initially it was just finding people to put out my music, but now it’s more a case of finding labels who suit each release. The labels have always been supportive in different ways. Different labels have different approaches, and different budgets. So far the Ten Thousand Yen one has got the most exposure from the label itself. I thought the tunes were pretty strong, but they’ve done a lot of work to push it further.”
His label-hopping continues with releases for Well Rounded Records, Infrasonics and All City all in the pipeline: “We’re just waiting for the summer slump to be over.” His Well Rounded release consists of “two tracks reasonably similar to Ordinary Things, because they were all done in the same period – some chopped-up R&B vocals, a bit more of a DJ tool with some Baltimore breaks”, while the Infrasonics tracks “are very different. It’s got a hard use of 808s, toms. It’s quite pounding and fast. There’s also some remixes including one for The Count & Sinden, on Domino, which should be out reasonably soon I think. It’s a pretty scattergun approach to releases – they’re all pretty different.”
In terms of DJ tools, keeping his options means he’s able to play at as many different places as possible, like his upcoming gig at New York’s Museum of Modern Art as part of their Warm Up sessions alongside fellow Mancunian producer Holy Other. But it’s his restlessness and continual reinvention as a producer that really excites. After all this time XXXY has found his niche, and it’s in disregarding niches altogether.