As acolytes of electronic dance music, we tend to consider ourselves a fairly fortunate bunch. Within the panoply of different styles, genres and sub-strands, it's possible to identify a wild and diverse array of sounds and tempos suggesting a hugely innovative musical nerve centre, fuelled by constantly shifting technology advances.
But what if we're wrong? What if the creative templates we call house, techno, dubstep, drum & bass, trance and breakbeat are really cages which stop musicians from expressing themselves to the full level of their abilities? What if the very rules which help define the nature of these musical sub-genres are also responsible for rendering them bland and bankrupt?
Sometimes it takes a few artists to shake things up and switch everybody's expectations. In the last few years we've seen dBridge's sonic experimentalism drive drum & bass into new forms, while the likes of Martyn fuse dubstep with housier sounds for a deep and forthright lesson in cool unorthodoxy. Now Bristol's Redlight (Hugh Pescod), the artist formerly known as Clipz, has stepped up to the oche with the aim of taking things to the next level. His sound? Well, imagine a parallel universe where early rave failed to speed up into drum & bass around '93, or where dubstep arrived on the scene without its trademark half-time snares. Neither description quite prepares you for the sonic assault that is Redlight, because this is a vibe that's almost impossible to pin down.
There's a strong garage feel throughout, but more in the producer's use of vocals than anything else. Party starter ‘Feels So Good (Wine Up Your Body)’ from his essential ‘Lobster Boy EP’ sounds like the bastard son of breakbeat pioneers Shut Up and Dance and Skream, while new single ‘Stupid’, featuring Roses Gabor, is like super-futuristic MJ Cole. Forthcoming joint ‘MDMA’ is even more off the planet, rocking a synthy, percussive, experimental vibe that somehow still manages to translate to the dancefloor. On the flip, ‘Robot Chopsticks’ is an almost bhangra-like slice of searing bass, pizzicato oriental-sounding keys and airy atmospherics. What's most impressive is that each track is distinctively Redlight, and would fit easily into a variety of sets by DJs pushing a number of diverse styles.
At London's underground bass music mecca, Corsica Studios, our man has just finished the DJmag photo shoot. With his dark, close-cropped hair, pale skinny limbs and slight west country accent, he could be any one of a hundred Bristolian junglists, but spend a few minutes in his company, and it's clear this is a man who prides himself on the ability to think outside the box and throw down in new arenas. Even so, DJmag asks him what exactly compelled him to make the move from drum & bass.
"I've been making experimental music for a few years, since 2005 in fact, between 120 and 135bpm," says Redlight. "Kind of what I'm doing now but I didn't really know what I was doing. I was enjoying it more and more and I was enjoying drum and bass less and less, really. I'd reached a point where I couldn't do any more at that tempo and in that genre, and I thought it would be stupid to carry on doing something that you don't want to do any more just for the sake of it and because you've built up a name and a brand.
"For me, it's about being happy and being an artist: producing to me is like art, you know what I mean? I'm passionate about it. It's not just about collecting money or being seen as this or that. I'm not interested in that bollocks - I like making music."
But there must have been some hairy moments, nonetheless. With a hugely successful 1Xtra run - now completed - on the In New DJs We Trust slot, as well as spectacular press hype for his new material, and festival appearances planned for Glastonbury (26th June), Glade (18th July), and The Big Chill (7th August) the shift from being Clipz now looks like a smart move. But Redlight tells me he's 30 years old - often an age where responsibilities start to get in the way of dreams. Wasn't dropping a successful moniker - and the well-paid weekly DJ gigs which accompanied it - for something completely new and unheard of frankly terrifying? How did he pay the bills?
"I like struggle. I like a challenge," he grins. "I like fighting for a cause that I think is worth fighting for, and that's what makes good music. If you're sitting pretty and ain’t got nothing to worry about, you're not going to go into a studio and create something good. That's what I believe. It's about trying to go against the grain and do something different, and a lot of the people I've looked up to in my musical career have done the same thing, believed in what they believed in and gone for it."
He pauses for a moment to mull this over, before looking DJmag straight in the eye.
"But maybe I'm saying that because I'm coming back up and I'm doing an interview with you. Maybe if I was still struggling to pay the rent on my house I would see things differently. You know, life's too short to be unhappy.
"I'll admit that there were a few dodgy moments, like when I stopped doing the d&b. You see people on Twitter going: 'Yeah, just going to a club to smash it', and you're thinking: 'Shit! Fuck! I'm reverting back to doing things the way I did when I was 20. I'm skint, and I've got to do this and that to get by.' But it makes you stronger, and makes you realise what it's all about.
"I fell out of love with what I was doing because I was so engrossed in it, and the music had got so one-track minded for me. Part of that is because I was DJing so much: I was making tunes for the weekend, making tunes for the weekend, making tunes for the weekend, and before you know it, you're producing tracks by numbers. When I came off that, it was like going to rehab. It was like getting drugs out of your system and getting clean. I had no money, no one knew me any more and it was like having a clean slate. It's like being institutionalised, when you're so fixated on a scene. You lose that slowly but surely, and suddenly you've got a blank canvas again and can start painting and mixing colours."
Creating an entirely new spectrum of sounds must have taken a serious amount of time and energy - space to think and conceive fresh visions. What did he do for cash? Move in with his mum? Go on the dole?
"There was a lot of change in my life at that time, personally," he says. "I've got a lot of good friends around me, good people who would help me out if I needed it. I'm not going to lie, it was hard, but it was worth it. It's still hard now - independent music is hard and there's no light at the end of the tunnel for a lot of people. If you want that you've got to graft your arse off, but that's all part of it - I love it."
Remarkably, the final paradigm shift, the moment when Redlight was truly born, came in the same room at Corsica where we are now chatting. For the DJ walking up to the decks to showcase his new sound for the first time, it was a daunting experience.
"In d&b, you're darting around the country on a Friday or Saturday night and you bump into the same people all the time, and you have a little chat and a hug because you know each other and you all do the same thing and you've got quite a strong connection," he says. "When I walked in here for the first time to play for Trouble Vision - it was in this room here - I was expecting to see a few people I knew or something. I looked around: no one I know. Everyone's looking at me, like: 'Who's this dude?' That was the reality moment where I realised I was starting again from scratch. It was scary for a minute, but it was a damn good thing."
Unlike many of his drum & bass peers who have shifted down to a slower tempo, he has avoided the temptation to rock a dubstep vibe. Redlight music has the same emphasis on bass and swing, but few would deny that it's an altogether different style. There's not much of a DJ Zinc thing going on, either, despite the two producers having similar backgrounds - on the rare occasions when Redlight does plump for a four to the floor drum pattern, he's following a smoother, more percussive template that's a long way from the dirty soundclash of crack house. But for him, the easy choice of leapfrogging onto another genre was not an option.
"I don't want to jump from one genre straight into someone else's genre," says Redlight, earnestly. "I've spent 13 years sat in a room making beats, which is like your college of music, learning how to produce. Now, I've got nothing to lose and I want to make something new. I love it that those dubstep boys play my tunes and how some of the funky boys have picked up on ‘Stupid’. Carl Cox played one of my tunes. It's just like, wow, loads of different people, and I want it to be cross genre - that's really important to me.
"I've always been original as a person and in music, and honest. I don't want to jump on someone else's bandwagon. But then other people might listen to that and say: 'Bullshit, he is jumping on our thing.' I'm inspired by all of it: funky, house, dubstep, all of it. I'll take parts, but I don't want to rip no one, you know? If I have, then I'm sorry, but I don't think I have.
"With this tempo and genre (or not-genre as the case may be) you don't have to pigeonhole yourself. There's so much music within the 130 to 140bpm field and you don't have to say you're this or you're that: you can play everything, if it takes your fancy, from full vocal tunes to just real sparse kick, snare and a bit of sub or something. That's great for me, because everything's getting pushed into the mix, like the beginning of the rave scene. I draw so much inspiration from that, from acid house."
Right now, dance music does indeed seem to be diversifying faster than at any stage since the early ’90s. DJmag wonders whether things had just reached a point where producers had nowhere left to go within established boundaries.
Redlight has his own theory as to why it’s taken so long to break down the genre barriers.
"I think it's a tribal thing: in the ’90s you fitted into one tribe. You're into techno, you're into hip-hop, you're into garage. But that's not so relevant to young people any more," he says. "You can be into this, you can be into that. You can be into all of it together. I think people have just come together a bit more. There has always been cross-genre stuff but a lot more people are willing to work with other people now where before they stayed within their little circles. You are seeing a lot more collaborations between artists that you wouldn't have seen seven years ago. I can't tell you why that's happened - maybe it's just evolution - but I think it's a good thing, whatever it is."
Indeed, Redlight reckons this is just the start, and that dance music will continue to develop and become more experimental, transcend the ubiquitous 4/4.
"If it's all Ableton in the future and no one has to sit there and actually beat count, it could go that way. I try to use a lot of different rhythms. I think music will continue to evolve according to the technology. It's so much easier to manipulate vocals to different tempos now and to get a good sound on a smaller system with less money, at your mum's house. You don't need all this equipment and all these people around to make music. You can go on YouTube and learn how to play the piano, mic up a drum-kit - all the things that you had to get taught professionally or sit in a sweaty room somewhere for 10 years to do you can do easily now. Back in the day, a lot of people wouldn't tell anyone their secrets, and that's not conducive. That holds people back, and holds everything back. If you've got more people who know how to do it, you're going to push on.
"I'm so inspired right now by people like Skream and Joker, Toddla T, to people like MJ Cole and people in drum & bass like TC. Everyone's trying different things: loads of the house guys too. I was really into minimal a couple of years ago because my girlfriend was and I was hearing it all the time, it got in my head. Ragga too, which I try and put a bit of in my music, though I don't want to put too much in."
Whenever a well-known artist within a musical scene shifts into something new, there is an inevitable backlash from those who feel betrayed, but Redlight tells me he's experienced very little of this from the drum & bass scene. I suggest to him that this may be because unlike some other artists, he is doing something genuinely fresh, rather than simply hitching a ride on a more lucrative musical gravy train at an opportune moment.
"That's it, and why would I stay doing something that's not giving me pleasure, because it's going to sound like that on my tunes," he says. "Not mentioning any names, but I see people... who look bored, who look miserable, who don't talk to anyone because they're doing something they don't want to be doing any more. And I don't want to be up there, being portrayed as a figurehead, when I'm pissed off, when I don't even want to be there. I'd rather be at home with my kid or smoking weed and watching TV. I don't want to be that person. I'd rather be skint, do whatever, but know that I'm happy and fulfilled inside.
"I'm sure there's a lot of people out there who don't like what I've done, but it doesn't bother me. I'll do what I fucking want, you know?"
This fearless attitude is apparent in everything which Redlight puts his name to, and given the props he's currently getting, it's going to be tremendously exciting to see where he goes next. Further innovation would appear to be essential, if only to avoid the one prospect which does seem to scare him: getting pigeonholed.
"At some point it will get characterised - someone will put a stupid name on what I do," he says, looking a little pensive for the first time in the interview. "I don't want to be known for a certain genre, because genres have their day. They are in the limelight for two years and then all of a sudden everyone's like: 'Nerrr, I'm not into that any more, I'm into this.' I want to be a chameleon. I don't want to be someone who ends up being a passing fad."
Listening to the spectacular array of music that has emerged under the Redlight name in a pretty short amount of time, we'd venture that there's little to no chance of that happening. Ever since the dawn of DJ culture, the UK has been at the centre of new innovations in electronic music. Redlight may be about to take his place in that grand pantheon of pioneers. And if he fails ... well, he'd be the first to say that life's too short to worry about it.
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