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In Conversation With Dubstep Pioneer & Tectonic Head Honcho Pinch

Rob ‘Pinch’ Ellis’s reputation precedes him. He has a relentless approach to anything he sets his mind to.

Whether it’s DJing, producing or running his now legendary imprint Tectonic – one of the boldest, most uncompromising labels in the world that despite mutations and variations, still remains uncompromisingly dubstep 11 years down the line. The label’s been pushing the likes of Loefah, RSD, Peverelist, Addison Groove and Illum Sphere far before the rest of the world caught on.

Pinch has often been cited as an initiator and champion of the genre in its early days and took dubstep from London to his home-town in Bristol after watching Kode9 play at a FWD>> night.

His own production combines deep, visceral sub-bass and meditative, slow building unease with more unusual elements outside the genre - including vocalisation and lush, thunderous soundscapes (particularly on 2007’s masterpiece 'Underwater Dancehall', which has an almost cinematic feel to it). His landmark 2010 release ‘Croydon House’ on Swamp 81 also marked a movement into Metalheadz inspired mutated and unconventional house and techno.

It’s inventive and sometimes atypical - yet any informed punter could listen in and immediately recognise his music as dubstep.

The Tectonic head-honcho will be performing in India at Magnetic Fields later this week at the Red Bull Music Academy North Stage and we got in touch to have a little chat about his upcoming trip and a lot more.

Ellis was at his home in Bristol, sitting at the dining table going through emails and drinking a mug of tea when he got back to us. Our first question had to be about dubstep – how it’s changed over the years and how much the word itself has been bastardised to include music that has nothing to do with the genre as it was meant to be. Despite having lamented the loss of authority on the genre in multiple interviews he’s given in the past, Pinch now has a much more optimistic approach to it – “I see a new generation of young clubbers falling in love with this music and that’s always a positive thing. Lots of new producers are getting involved too, some who are exploring exciting new spaces - others who maybe missed dubstep/grime the first time round and are refining existing ideas or crossbreeding with different influences.”

“Bristol’s Boofy & Hi5 Ghost are making some great dubstep/grime cross over” he tells us about the artists on his radar right now. “Via Maris is making some really interesting deep broken-techno influenced sounds, guys like Lokane are making dynamic club tracks that take influence from Mumdance and Logos to a degree. It’s a productive time, there’s so many directions to look, that's barely scratching the surface.”

Ellis goes on to tell us a little bit about the birth of Tectonic back in 2005. “At the time it launched, there were only a handful of dubstep releases available anywhere but lots of exciting music sitting on doublet (ie. unreleased). The motivations to start Tectonic were driven by a simple love for the original dubstep sound - and a desire to be more involved with it. It was a very simple vision to begin with.”

It was the physicality of the genre that first brought Ellis in – the strange, immersive, loudness of it all and of course that primal, chest shattering sub bass. In fact he’s always had a keen interest about the physiological effects of sound, dropping fascinating and sometimes pretty weird factoids in his interviews. His favourite is one about a factory somewhere in the Unites States where the workers were complaining about seeing ghosts. Turns out the cooling system was releasing a low frequency of 19 hertz, which is the resonant frequency of human eyeballs; causing them to vibrate and see these apparitions. “I love the idea that soundwaves can impact and influence us as they pass through our bodies. Sound has the potential to be manipulated to yield invigorating experiences - and we are only just starting to explore this field. Bass is the part that comes alive the most when amplified and that’s even more true for subsonic and infrasonic frequencies.”

“I did also meet someone a few years ago who was working in the field of healing frequencies - they told me that if you brake a bone in your body, a purring cat will emit frequencies that have been shown to help heal bones more quickly! I also love that blue whales communicate with each other by means of infrasonic frequencies that travel across thousands of miles in the ocean, that’s a seriously heavy bass weight transmission!”

Despite ballooning from a relatively tiny label to one of dubsteps' foremost imprints, Tectonic has never really lost its vision. The biggest reward of it all to Pinch is offering that support for musicians: “It’s always great when you can get behind an artist you believe in and assist them on their journey in some way”. The only thing he can’t seem to get behind is streaming and digital services. “I just find it hard to get excited about.”

Pinch plays for all you bass heads at Magnetic Fields this weekend. This is his first ever trip to India – “I’ve never been to India before so really looking forward to taking in the culture, the cuisine (big fan of curry!), the sights and senses. Really looking forward to the festival itself too, I've only heard great things about it, and the beautiful location. Hope to avoid any “Delhi-belly” experiences…”

Pinch's advice to the industry (specifically labels) here is a simple one – expect to be dynamic in your approach as time moves and don’t rest on past laurels – there’s always going to be something bigger. “Stay connected and build a solid community, everything grows on that foundation.”

And young producers should just stick to the age-old adage – make music that you like, and you’d enjoy yourselves – “Make music that excites or engages you. Be active and engage with the wider musical community online and around you, go to nights, support your local scene - get involved! And keep in mind that you’re always winning if you are enjoying what you’re doing.”

Words: Diya Gupta

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05 December 2016

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