Julio Bashmore is all about contradiction. He’s been championed and attacked by the underground and the mainstream in equal measures, his hooky, earworm melodies drawing praise and condemnation from beard scratching hipsters and v-necked shufflers alike. Even his name is a set-up, a deliberate conflict that suggests a Hispanic New Yorker, rather than the pale, ginger haired producer who was born Mat Walker.
“I’ve always been interested in something that is a contrast with where I am, and that’s part of the reason behind my name,” he says, speaking slowly and choosing words carefully.
“All this soulful funky house couldn’t be further from South Bristol — I’m from Knoll, it’s a predominantly white working class area, it’s not what you think of when you think of Bristol — you think of Bristol and you think of this diverse rich, beautiful, amazing music scene, and I’ve always been very detached from that. I think that’s how I found it so easy to introduce house music into my sets about five years ago, when no one else really was.”
Over the last half decade, that soulful, funky house music has taken Walker far from South Bristol — he’s been around the world, into the charts and onto the cover of magazines, one of the biggest names in the UK's reignited love affair with house.
Today he’s sitting in a café on the New Cross Rd, five minutes away from the flat he’s recently bought (“Even with me doing pretty well, it was hard to afford a place...”), ready to finally talk about 'Knockin’ Boots', a debut album that has been four years in the making. And, first off, he wants to explain the lengthy gestation of this heavily anticipated record.
“It’s almost impossible to get an album right in dance music,” he starts. “There’s people who make albums who probably shouldn’t. If you’re someone who’s a wicked DJ, and you make amazing hard tunes, but they’re all purely for the dancefloor and all around the same tempo, when it comes to doing an album you’re going to have to showcase something more than that.
And for a lot of people that is the pitfall, they only do one thing throughout the album, one tempo. So, a year-and-a-half ago, when the album was supposed to come out, it was all just a bit too flat for me. It didn’t change enough and I thought, ‘This doesn’t represent what I’m about’.
There are quite sharp contrasts in my music, there are two sides of me; even five years ago, I was working with Jessie Ware making stripped-back pop records. I was always going to have to tread this path between underground and more mainstream music, and going down the middle can be quite a tough road, but I really believe there is a way to do that.
That’s what I’ve been trying to do on the album, so I had to go back, and put in more of those stripped-back, poppier moments, because I listen to as much pop music as I do underground — I don’t really see a boundary between those things.”
‘Pop’ is a fairly nebulous term though, and it can be applied as easily to the credible as to the crap. Bashmore is very specific on what he considers good, inspiring pop. “Michael Jackson, Prince, all these guys. Biggie, hip-hop, going up to Justin Timberlake.
I respect how amazing people are at crafting that kind of music. It’s very hard. It’s a craft. I don’t understand people from the underground snubbing their noses at Pharrell or someone like that — it’s no different to someone who only listens to pop music saying ‘underground music is so boring, nothing happens’.”
In practice this means 'Knockin’ Boots' runs across tempos and styles, travelling from the lush mid-paced disco vocals of 'Holding On' to the jacking minimalism of 130bpm werk out 'Berk'. On standout track 'Let Me Be Your Weakness', Bashmore carves out a slab of electronic funk that sits somewhere between the sleaze of Prince and the nervy synth burbles of classic Detroit techno.
Regular collaborator Bixby provides yowling, soulful vocals, and the effect is perhaps the closest to Bashmore’s stated intent; resolutely innovative, clearly underground, but touched with a pop sensibility that would make perfect sense on daytime radio.
“'Let Me Be Your Weakness' came about after I’d done a couple of sessions with Bixby. I’m not the kind of guy who’ll just do one session with someone and then bam! See you later!
It’s nice to build a relationship and jam with people over a period of time, so I get to feel what a vocalist or an artist is about. So we were just comfortable and chilling — I did the drums, then he came up with the main riff of the track, and I came up with the hook and wrote most of the lyrics, and we figured out the final details together — it’s an amazing way for things to fall together.
“So when I say that the album was supposed to come out, but it felt a bit flat, it’s because it didn’t have those moments, those 'Let Me Be Your Weakness' moments, I felt I had to go back and draw for those slower, poppier sounds as well as the harder dance tracks.
It’s fun for me to tread that line — like where it’s nearly waaay too much, but you just keep it on the line — I’m conscious of that. It’s what I love about Roulé Records, like on 'Berk' I was trying to recreate something like a DJ Falcon style thing where it’s so nearly too much, but he just pulls it back.”
Alongside the much loved French Touch label Roulé, Bashmore mentions other '90s dance and rap as being formative, from listening to his elder brother’s copy of NWA’s 'Straight Outta Compton', to playing video games whilst blasting Prodigy’s 'Jilted Generation'.
He even confesses to a guilty pleasure — Boy George’s Ministry of Sound mix, notable for its big beat chart busters and less-than-precise mixing. With all these '90s touchstones, DJ Mag can’t help but wonder if Bashmore thinks that it matters that today’s producers look so much to the past for inspiration.
“I dunno. Almost all of my favourite records are someone trying to do something that sounds like someone else, fucking that up completely, and in the process making a new sound.
When I started out, I was trying to make everything sound like Larry Heard, and I got it completely wrong, and it sounded nothing like that, but it was something fresh. I think there was an innocence to that.”
He starts warming to his theme; “One of the things I really collect, and it’s cost me half of the money I’ve made because it’s so expensive — there’s this amazing period in early '80s Nigeria, where there were a lot of people trying to make electro and boogie, trying to emulate the American thing, and they get it all wrong, but what they make is fucking incredible, it’s something new.
I’ve also got this Indian record, where this guy is trying to bootleg Michael Jackson, using homemade synths, and whatever he’s managed to find, and the result is amazing. As long as there’s that innocence in music, and in people making music then things are gonna get pushed forward.”
He has, however, got little time for people trying to slavishly emulate the production techniques of the past. “It’s a problem at the moment, I’ve been spending a lot of time on SoundCloud listening out for people, and it seems to have got to a point where there’s so many people trying to make acid house records, and they’re doing a good job, but it’s nothing new. I joke around and call it flaccid house. It’s so stale.
“I like raw house — all these people trying to make raw house with a £15 grand studio, that’s one thing, but dudes sampling Vine, that’s amazing, that’s beautiful. I just did this Red Bull lecture on how I produce, how I make music. I told everyone how I sample, how, as well as ripping vinyl, I rip straight off YouTube.
It’s all about keeping it simple. I just think, what would Jay Dilla do if he was an 18-year-old kid today? Would he be getting on eBay to buy a late '80s sampler? I fucking doubt it. He’d be making the most of the most amazing resource; the internet. It’s the most amazing sample bank, it goes across any platform, beyond music.”
This commitment to innocence may go some way to explaining the furore around 'Duccy'. Uploaded to Bashmore’s SoundCloud a year ago, 'Duccy' was the first track he had premiered in the wake of 'Au Seve's world domination. Rather than 'Au Seve 2', 'Duccy' was a bomb of an entirely different form, a dry, driving house track that took its cues from the simplicity of early Chicago house.
In the age of EDM polish, this was a grotty brickbat of low-res samples and hissing hi-hat. When Bashmore had been dropping the track live, the response had been massive — online it generated a startling level of hate, something he can laugh about now…
“For some people it was like I’d slapped their mum. It was like I’d knocked on their door — no, I’d kicked their door down — and slapped their mum. It was crazy. When I made 'Battle for Middle You', it was the first time I’d gone from having a hundred tracks on my DAW, and stripped it right back — 'Battle for Middle You' is six tracks.
What I tried to do was absolute minimal production, but have the result as big sounding as possible. I just thought, a rock & roll band has drums, guitar, singer, bass, and the same thing applies to my favourite dance records.
Look at Dance Mania, there’s not a lot going on. And that’s the thing with 'Duccy', there’s nothing there. One of my biggest regrets is not releasing it, not giving anyone a chance to see how well it worked on the dancefloor. It’s an absolute bomb, it’s pure dancefloor — I’d be playing it, Joy Orbison was playing it, Ben UFO was playing it, and people loved it.
I just put it on SoundCloud, didn’t even make a big deal out of it and it was just like,“ and here he makes a kind of hissing deflation sound quite the opposite of a bomb. “The thing is, I was super stressed before 'Duccy', my career from the start was just hectic, and I was having trouble sleeping.
Then 'Duccy' happened and I’ve had perfect sleep ever since. How fucked up is that? It probably allowed me to make the album I have now, cos I think it just took away so many pressures that I was feeling. I think it was almost like a fresh start, a reset. Does that sound fucked up?”
The thing is, from this producer who loves to embrace contradictions, who makes pop for the underground and brings deep, sparse bangers to the mainstream, the act of taking his lowest point and flipping it into his biggest artistic statement doesn’t sound fucked up at all. It sounds just right.
words: IAN MCQUAID
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