Young Echo are a collective who take a different tack to the ever more sleek, polished club tracks that dominate electronic music, instead creating music that teems with life. Vessel, the pseudonym of 22 year old Sebastian Gainsborough, is a member of this group of young UK producers, and his album, Order of Noise, released last week on Tri Angle, refutes this impersonal artificiality, expressing a beguiling and very human resonance.
Squeezed closely together to try and fit as many of them as possible into the webcam’s view for our Skype conversation, it’s obvious that the five assembled members of the Young Echo collective have known each other for some time. Chris, the sixth, is absent, but the rest are here – a gang of Bristolian guys in their early twenties, formed from “two friendship groups that came together”, from a background of performing in bands and listening to each other’s home productions online. Nowadays, their projects are manifold: Seb, as well as being Vessel, as is also Flexible Ape, or Rei; Joe McGann is Kahn. Together, the two work as Baba Yaga. Amos Childs works with vocalist Alex Rendall as Jabu, or with Chris Ebdon as Zhou. Sam Kidel is El Kid.
Their latest project, Killing Sound, fluctuates between them; Seb explains; “Killing Sound is any and all of us. For me it’s a fluid thing which can involve any members. It seems to have developed into something with a strong soundsystem bias – and also quite a poppy element to it as well, in some respects.” “Dread pop”, it could be called, they joke together. On the other hand, they describe the project’s debut release as “20 minutes of really, really raw sampling, synthesis – modular stuff – which was improvised. So it really is a kind of catch-all for any stuff that we all feel like doing together.”
Vessel – Court of Lions
It’s obvious that there’s a lot going on. It’s their radio show though, that forms the nucleus of their operations, having been conceived “as a platform to show this music that we were making that people weren’t hearing in other contexts”. As a spectacle in itself, streamed over the internet from a studio and attended live by increasing numbers of friends and fans, it comes as a welcome antidote to the internet age’s extravaganzas of hype that don’t have the substance or the passion to back up the blaring PR. Streaming sessions have at times become a point for all the empty showiness of DJ culture to betray itself, but the Young Echo radio shows are not about that.
Dan Davies, local label head and promoter of the Peng Sound parties, enthuses to me about the “pure and undiluted DIY vibe” of the sessions. “It’s just like a social between them but they invite friends along to join the fun and test out their new sounds. There’s no pretentiousness in it; it’s all very honest and done out of a shared love and openness towards music. You will hear absolutely anything, from contact mic recordings of traffic recorded through a bedroom wall, to disturbing punk, through to grime and dancehall – absolutely anything.” Luke Owen, founder of Astro:Dynamics recordings and also a recent Young Echo guest himself under his production alias, Rekordah, similarly believes Young Echo to be an important part of pushing “the spirit of collaboration and experimentation that seems to be developing more and more”, along with other local institutions such as Idle Hands and Qu Junktions. “Musicians and also punters themselves seem to be getting more and more open-minded – for the most part.”
Alex Randall and El Kid – Young Echo radio December 2011
An open mind seems to be the instrumental thing here. “No one ever knows what the next person’s gonna play”, says Joe of the ethos of their open door shows. Having moved from bedroom to bedroom, ending up generally taking place in his inner city Bristol studio where I’m listening to them talk. The radio show now has multiple functions: as well as being a point of contact with their favourite producers and DJs who come to play – including Peverelist, Appleblim, Hyetal, Pinch and Haxan Cloak – it’s a testing ground for new material from the various projects united under the banner of Young Echo. It’s even accidentally gathered momentum to become a party in itself, laughs Amos: “each show gets more and more people turn up to watch, and it’s like a miniature club night”. More seriously though, Sam points out, it is a space free from the ties of resolutely club orientated music; “we started the radio show to have a platform to show this music that we were making that people weren’t hearing in other contexts”. “90% of what we make isn’t dance music,” Amos emphasizes. “Sticking to our guns, doing literally whatever we want”, Joe continues, “that freedom is attractive to people. We’re not trying to play anything that is like, ‘oh, this is really cool’. We play Barry White and shit.”
“I rip Joe off, Seb rips me off, and then by the time that Sam’s ripped Seb off it just sounds like something completely different. It’s like Chinese whispers.” – Amos Childs (Jabu/Zhou)
Though they all have their own projects, and nothing is created under the banner of Young Echo itself, their collective doesn’t just exist for the sake of friendship; it’s an important part of informing their productions, being “an inward facing thing”, Amos insists. “I rip Joe off, Seb rips me off, and then by the time that Sam’s ripped Seb off it just sounds like something completely different. It’s like Chinese whispers.” The group’s relaxed closeness is obviously important to the atmosphere of freedom and interaction that has allowed them to produce such a varied body of material between them, and allowed each of them to express their ideas in whatever way fits, however unprecedented. Joe, for instance – until now something of an anomaly within the group, due to his production of sometimes quite straight-laced dancefloor track – will be “doing much more singing”, he says, deadpan.
A certain diversity of ideas within the group is palpable from our conversation, not to mention the productions of the group. One example is the output of Young Echo project Jabu, and how it’s seen by its two creators. Amos considers it pointless to try and classify their music concretely as one thing or the other, bristling at the suggestion of the term ‘ambient’ – “it would be misleading; a lot of the time Alex’s lyrics are quite confrontational and aggressive”. Amos’ beatless orchestrations of bass and burnished analogue synths are the machine accompaniment to Alex’s introspective and impressionistic urban rhymes. To Alex himself it’s pretty simple; “I’ve always thought of it as hip hop and I still do. No matter how drum-less the tracks become, there’ll be a little hiss or a crackle or some sort of weird noise in there – that’s the snare!”
Putting aside their necessary difference and diversity, there is definitely a quality to the producers’ output that spans all their work. “It’s a vibe,” insists Amos, “there’s a vibe to it, whether it’s a dubstep track or a beatless thing, whatever. It’s about space. It can still be heavy, but it’s just… getting out of the whole dance music confines; that’s important.” Seb believes what they have in common most is “an attitude towards music and the experience of music,” much like his connection with Tri Angle, the label on which his debut album as Vessel was released last week, home to similarly un-placeable artists like How To Dress Well. “When I meet those [Tri Angle] guys and talk to them about music, and feel their personalities coming through in their music, I see a very strong similarity there. Not in any sonic traits or anything, just an attitude.”
“When you make electronic music…you’re participating in a dialogue with not only your own creative self, but also a machine, and for me a lot of the pure fucking staleness of most of dance music is the fact that it’s totally seamless and pristine and polished and digital and shiny. And it’s sterile, to me.” – Vessel
One attitude Young Echo definitely share is the desire for a certain rawness and authenticity, in dance and electronic music at the moment. Whether you’re listening to Zhou, Kahn, Vessel, El Kid, J a b u, or Killing Sound – they always have a certain dilapidated, mechanical character to their sound, which bears the hallmarks of the apparatus involved in its genesis. “When you make electronic music,” Seb asserts, “you’re participating in a dialogue with not only your own creative self, but also a machine, and for me a lot of the pure fucking staleness of most of dance music is the fact that it’s totally seamless and pristine and polished and digital and shiny. And it’s sterile, to me.” I’m taken aback at the force and self-assurance with which he spits out these words – there seems to be an righteous anger behind it – but these traits go some way to making sense of the confidence and the purity of his album’s aesthetic, sounding like the work of an artist well aware of the strength of his intentions and abilities, as well as his responsibilities.
“Electronic music’s quite inhuman already so I don’t think it needs to be made any less human by being completely ultra-perfect”, adds Amos, causing Seb to continue, still with that fiery conviction: “Everything has its blemishes and without those imperfections you don’t get the true sense of what you’re listening to – it just sounds like some manufactured, annoying thing – it isn’t very real. And I think we all really like saying, ‘this is something I’ve made – it’s not perfect – but it’s got my vibe in it.’”. And he’s right; its textures are worn, crafted. There is an almost physical, human, weight to the material making up ‘Order of Noise’, anchoring it in reality. The ghostly forms of dub and techno infest its ramshackle constructions of tattered bass, rust-eroded drum machine rhythms, almost-human tones, and the spiraling echoes of almost forgotten melodies, but ‘Order of Noise’ belongs to no particular genre.
Vessel – Scarletta
So it’s about honesty, I ask? “A lot of people’s fear comes from fear of being unpopular, so it’s a great thing when any artist, regardless of what they’re doing, steps out from that and says, well ‘fuck you, I’m gonna do what I want’” Seb contends. “That was one of the reasons that we started a group, was that we looked at Skull Disco with admiration for what they were doing,” Sam nods, “they were making brave music”. They all agree on the aesthetic oddity of that brand’s output in the previous decade as a definite influence, smiling reverentially at the memory of Appleblim and Shackleton’s gritty and otherworldly 2007 release entitled Soundboy’s Nuts Get Ground Up Proper – it sounded like nothing else ever.
Shackleton – Hypno Angel
Like Skull Disco, a lackadaisical attitude to audience expectation is something that Young Echo are obviously imbued with, and which carries over into their performances. At See No Evil – Bristol’s newly founded annual street art festival, also comprising a street party and late night celebrations of the rich sonic milieu of the city, Young Echo performed straight after a house set, and started off with “a sort of just crackle-and-sub track”. They admit to enjoy “killing the vibe”, as they put it, and the tension between drunken dancing and intriguing sonic experience is something that they like exploring. “We have fun creating those spaces in which people get pissed off because we’re playing stuff that they weren’t expecting to hear,” Sam remarks earnestly. We fondly recall a performance by Ekoplekz in a popular bar, where within a quarter of an hour of his set beginning, from behind a table arrayed with effects pedals and wiring, the intense, cavernous noise had transformed the dancefloor into a makeshift auditorium, with the crowd dragging chairs into rows to sit and become absorbed. Sam puts it beautifully, believing that, while dance music and experimental music need their separate environments, it’s possible to create the right conditions for coexistence. “There’s a bleed between the two channels,” he says, in the language of machines.
The honesty they see as important, almost part of their manifesto, relates to all aspects of their conduct. “We haven’t really gone out of our way to try and publicize ourselves,” insists Sam; “we never look at how many people are listening to the show or whatever. I don’t really care – it’s just doing it for the sake of doing it. It’s kind of a moment in time of stuff we’re into at that moment.” In a perverse way, that kind of anti-hype is appealing to people in the current electronic music scene. To Young Echo, a genuine desire to do what they want, regardless of precedents, comes naturally. “It’s like, how much can we push the dancefloor,” Joe wonders, “how much can we push people?”