L-Vis 1990′s Night Slugs mix for Resident Advisor (right click save)
You’re no longer feeling your local music scene. Do you a) bitch about it, or b) do something about it? “We wanted to bring on a new era and that is what we were saying from the get go,” says Alex Sushon, AKA Bok Bok, on the inception of the Night Slugs parties back in early 2008. Sushon and partner James Connolly, AKA L-Vis 1990, have since translated a sense of personal disquiet into one of London’s freshest sounding parties and 2010′s most celebrated labels.
The revolutionary aims Sushon refers to were, in his case, a reaction to the London grime scene. Having played, produced and partied to the music since discovering a DJ Slimzee mix in 2003, he had grown disenchanted with grime’s apparent shift away from the dance floor. In terms of UK dance strands, he fell back on the nascent bassline scene but was simultaneously getting kicks from much further afield. “I was interested in grime from a socio-economic point of view and I started looking around the world to see if there was anything similar happening,” he remembers. “I got into a lot of the US localised ghetto genres. I got really into the Baltimore club sound, the Chicago ghetto house sound and in Detroit, ghetto tech. I checked out what was going on in Africa and really got into the South African stuff.”
Connolly’s grounding, meanwhile, was as a promoter, DJ and producer in his hometown of Brighton. He co-ran drum & bass and breakstep night Fallout with locals Mumdance and High Rankin during his teens, then, after gradually losing interest in the genres, started the party that would prove pivotal. So Loud! became indicative of Connolly’s more electro-fied tastes. He credits the booking of Drop the Lime (and the ensuing party) for setting him on the musical path he now finds himself—and for the inspiration behind his 2008 breakout track, “Change the Game.” Its speed garage inflections and crafty US hip-hop samples caught the ear of the London-based Sushon, who contacted Connolly through MySpace. The pair began a dialogue based on uncannily similar tastes, while a still Brighton-based Connolly booked Sushon for a party he was throwing up in London.
“It took James to move to London for us to really get going,” recalls Sushon on his partner’s eventual relocation north, “but from an early point when we started to talk about music we said that the status quo in the clubs at that point was basically shit and we weren’t feeling it.” The first Night Slugs party was staged at the Redstar in south London’s Camberwell, March 2008. (The venue now boasts a small chapter in bass music folklore having provided an early platform for artists such as Oneman, Ben UFO, Shackleton and Ramadanman.) The initial party was a smash success, followed by a dip in numbers at subsequent gigs as they experimented with bookings and found their feet. There was also a sense that people were unwilling to venture south of the river for a night out, and the event shifted to the more centrally located East Village.
The array of DJs booked for those early forays—Oneman, Zomby, Rekless, Lil Silva, Kode9, Jackmaster, Crazy Cousinz, DJ Zinc—cultivated a fertile patch of ambiguity surrounding the party; their “4×4/Heavy Bass/Gutter House” descriptor at the foot of flyers was similarly nebulous. Sushon and Connolly had come good on their freewheeling aims. And from the melting pot something new began to form. “After a while it just made a lot of sense,” says Sushon. “What we found was that as DJs in our own right as well as [those playing at] the night, a certain sound was starting to come together around it. There was ourselves, and other people around us started to make tracks that just fit together and fit in our DJ sets.”
The lesser known Girl Unit, Egyptrixx and Kingdom were at the core of this colourful collective—although their sound world continued to reside only within the confines of their club nights. “After a while we found that a lot of the tracks weren’t getting a home and were just sitting around not getting released,” explains Sushon. “In particular some of the early Kingdom stuff was a big motivation. James and I said to each other, ‘Why is this stuff just sitting there? Why aren’t labels picking this stuff up?’ Six months might go past and the same tracks might still not be signed and it was quite frustrating so we thought, ‘Why not just do it?’”
NS001 dropped in January 2010 and sent out a picture-perfect postcard of not only the Night Slugs parties, but the smorgasbord of London bass music. Square One also represented Mosca’s debut release. In its digital form the EP collected eight tracks, including “Nike”—a ten-minute meander through boulevards of bleeps and broken beats—an uproarious remix of “Square One” from Bristol talent Julio Bashmore, and further re-rubs from Roska, Greena, Bok Bok and L-Vis 1990. The EP’s artwork also couldn’t fail to be noticed. Sushon has been behind all of Night Slugs’ incandescent presentation (he has a professional background in design) and agrees that the sounds feed directly into the sights: “There is a lot of neon going on in the music in general I think especially with those really bright analogue synths. I am really obsessed with Tron and that kind of luminescence.”
The world seemed ready and willing to embrace the Night Slugs label from the off. A certain youthful zest and fluorescent brilliance endeared UK sympathetic media outlets to their releases and cast a thematic shaft of light across their discography. It’s best then to think in terms of colours when attempting to delineate the Night Slugs sound: how else to group the nocturnal juke of Girl Unit’s “IRL,” the 8-bit Funky of Lil Silva’s Night Skanker EP, and the mutant R&B of Kingdom’s That Mystic? Connolly is also swift to dismiss any suggested associations between UK Funky and the label. “I wouldn’t want any genre name applied to the label at all,” he says sharply. “UK funky is something totally different. It was Crazy Cousinz, Roska and all those dudes back then. I think that UK funky as a genre is pretty much obsolete now. I think it has turned into a big soup of different sounds.”
Shadowing the imprint proper has been the Night Slugs white label series which began with a re-release of L-Vis 1990′s Compass / Zahonda. “That was one for the heads really,” comments Connolly on their pseudo sub-label. “Getting tracks out that we didn’t want to put on the label to be a statement. It was more getting out tracks for the dance floor and bootlegs as well that we can’t really put out for legal reasons.” On that last point Jam City’s “Ecstasy (Refix)” comes immediately to mind. Endgame’s 1983-released “Ecstasy” was given a sub-bass makeover and has proved to be the imprint’s most coveted 12-inch. A sense of anticipation had been built over Jam City’s debut, but Sushon says that, generally speaking, they favour speed over secrecy: “I learnt lessons from dubstep where in the early-to-mid days of the scene people like DMZ would leave tracks floating around for a year before they would put them out and I saw people getting really frustrated at that. As much as I’m into the dubplate culture, I didn’t want it to be an elitist thing that drives people mad.”
“Brand” is a frowned upon term in certain music circles, although it would be fair to say that Night Slugs is pushing hard on multiple fronts. The pair toured the United States in late 2009—before the imprint was even formed—and the same can be said about their regular show on London’s Rinse FM which began around the same time period. In terms of the label, their first compilation, Night Slugs Allstars Volume One, will drop in November and will be followed by albums from Jam City, Egyptrixx and L-Vis 1990. Connolly has recently spent time in New York feeling out the vibe of his classic house-indebted LP. “It’s like Night Slugs but made in Chicago in 1988,” he says, again illustrating his and the imprint’s resolutely forward momentum.
Night Slugs is flourishing within in an unprecedented climate of creative endeavour that has recently gripped UK bass music; innovation is a word that both Sushon and Connolly use liberally. “That is something that we have always had to a greater or lesser extent and that’s why our music scene is cool,” concludes Sushon when asked why the UK scene is in the midst of such a purple patch. “There is constantly a side of our music scene that doesn’t give a shit and is trying to do something new at the expense of any kind of a rule book. I think that’s what the UK has that some places don’t at the moment. Currently there are two things going on: Firstly, because of the internet and the fact that people have started to pay attention to the UK… it seems like there is a new thing when there might not necessarily be a new thing. Secondly, amongst us guys and maybe our peers, there is a reaction against the more formulaic genres that dominate most of the clubs around the Western world. Formulas are shit and we don’t want them, so that’s why we don’t do them.”
Words: Ryan Keeling