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Blocks : Interview & Mix

Kam Sandhu

Fresh from a break to complete his World Music Masters, Blocks (aka Phil Smith) stops by with a special mix for us, and shares his wisdom with Organic about where to get inspired, what’s coming up and how it all started. Time to get learning…

Within two years, you’ve become a key figure in the world of drum & bass, at the forefront of experimental sounds and forward thinking music. Your first singles went straight to vinyl on Horizons and Inside Recordings, and now you’ve also worked with Digital Soundboy. Tell us how it all happened so quickly, and a bit more about your background to the scene.

Well that’s very flattering but I’m not sure about being called a key figure! With regards to it all coming together quickly, I’m undecided if that’s true also. I started writing, or at least trying to write drum & bass, about 10 years ago progressing from an Akai s2000 through to different Emu samplers.

I remember the amazement I felt at being able to use zip drives rather than loading up a million floppy disks! It sounds a bit cliché but really, music was the only thing I was interested in as a kid (well apart from recreational smoking activities but I must add that those days are behind me). Having left school with nothing, it was really a desire to get into production that eventually got me back on the straight and narrow, or with education at least.

Roll on a few years, and it was in about 2006 that I was finding my feet making music again, with software mainly (thanks to Logistics for a helping hand along the way). I started to send stuff out to people under an array of aliases. It’s safe to say that I have never been really prolific. This is probably due in part to being a bit fickle with ideas, but also I’d still like to think there is an art even in drum & bass; so it’s not about just bashing out track after track but creating something emotive, however long it takes. I think it was Rockwell who summed it up really well to me recently, “you can take your time, this game isn’t a race.” As you say though, it has been the last couple of years where things have been picking up and I must thank people like Fabio, Flight and Intalex who supported me from the start.

I think it was after linking with Escher and collaborating that I started to become more comfortable with the sound and direction of the music I was making. We both share similar tastes in drum & bass and other forms of music, so suddenly it didn’t seem wrong to want to take inspiration from early Headz, listen to far too much Photek or look to The Cure, Depeche Mode or labels like 4AD for ideas of sounds and textures!

You’ve recently completed your masters in World Music and culture while releasing tunes. That’s some amount of work ethic. Do you draw any inspiration from what you studied and are you doing anything at the moment in that field? What are your other sources of insight?

I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t taken inspiration from my course and World Music (such a horrible term) in general. Some of it is quite apparent in my music (through samples, track names etc) and to be honest, having spent the last two years completing the Masters it was quite hard to avoid having it on my mind when making music! Having completed that, I have considered a PHD or publishing papers later down the line, but for the moment it’s refreshing to have a bit of freedom and I have a niggling desire to go travelling again pretty soon. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Far East, South America and North Africa (all great melting pots for music, if anyone wants to go digging) and can feel a year or so in Japan or the Middle East coming up…..

You’ve worked a lot with Escher. Are going to be working together again soon? And what makes for a good collaboration team?

Yeah the collaborations continue with Escher, in fact, more so than ever at the moment. You should finally start to see a lot more of our efforts coming out one way or another over the next year, in fact the most important ‘collaboration’ we are working on at the moment is our label, which will be kicking off in the new year. More on that later… With regards to collaboration teams, I’m not too sure really; everyone is different. Pretty much all the collaborations I do are across the internet.

Will Escher and I have only sat in the studio together a couple of times! Generally we just bounce ideas back and forth online until we are in something. It also gives the space and time for us to both work our elements in, without feeling rushed or pressured. Haha to be honest it probably works for us as we are both really long winded when writing music!

What have you got lined up for us to look out for?

Well yeah busy times ahead, as I said previously I’ve just finished my studies for a while so it’s back on the beats and DJing again. More importantly we are finally launching our label in the New Year - Narratives Music. It’s basically a chance for Escher and I to take control of our music again and even from the initial idea, it’s been massively motivational for us. It will be a label just for our tunes alongside a few penned collaborations and our solo stuff. We also have a couple of remixes lined up on the label with two of our favourite artists, ASC and Rockwell, choosing tracks to mix.

The name ‘Narratives’ came about for a few reasons, but for me it stems from the idea that music should always be left open for interpretation. I love the fact people build their own interpretations, narratives and draw upon connotations with music; they find their own attachment and reflect on sound differently because of personal emotion, experience or their environment. Maybe that all sounds a little pretentious but there you go…..

It’s really exciting to be building it up from scratch and being able to link ideas of the audio visual through the art and website. I’ve always been massively into photography and abstract art so having the chance to incorporate this alongside our music is really inspiring. I suppose you’ll just have to wait to see what is in store but we have the first few releases sorted and we’re just tying up the aesthetic side now…

Also before the end of the year I have an EP coming out on Horizons Music which sees the first efforts from another collaboration, this time with Linden. Linden and I had spoken about writing some music for ages when we finally got round to swapping some ideas. I’d been a fan of his stuff for ages, constantly surprised he wasn’t getting the attention he deserved. Our EP is called “Empires” and presents a range of sounds we were just having fun making, maybe in response to a lot of the ‘minimal’ stuff we were hearing at the time but ultimately a chance to try some new sounds etc. I’ve been chuffed with the support the tracks have had with peeps like Teebee, SPY, Doc Scott and Loxy spinning them; there’s a taste of the EP on my mix with the track “Lights over io” by Linden, Escher and I rounding things up. Furthermore I’m still writing solo bits for other labels, as is Escher. We are also working on bits with ASC which may see the light of day at some point.

With the mix I just tried to put across a set I would play in a club, ranging in styles with a few older bits flung in. I always use Serato now, and have done for a year or so. Though serato has had its critics (and I must admit I was a bit sceptical about all this digital dj stuff at first), I love it. I’ve had CDJs in the past but Serato just seems right for me. It also allows me to keep a big space in my record bag for just old tunes which I seem to constantly reach for still. Anyway I hope you enjoy…

Keep a look out for more on Narratives Music and keep up-to-date by adding my Facebook page.

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Blocks Organic Guest Mix Track Listing

  1. ASC - Spectrum
  2. Vaccine - Radiate (170 mix)
  3. Morphy – Backpack
  4. Amit - Immortal
  5. Rockwell - Everything (& u)
  6. Stray – The Pursuit
  7. Shogun - Together (John B remix)
  8. DBR and Mad Rabbit - Radiation
  9. Ulterior Motive and FD - All that we are
  10. Andy Skopes and Mr Joseph – Stalker
  11. ASC - Brainscan
  12. Ram Trilogy – Mind Scan (Ed Rush & Optical mix)
  13. Linden, Blocks and Escher – Lights over Io