That dubstep is a scene in flux is one of the truisms of dance music, like saying 'music sounds better loud' or 'Sven Väth enjoys a party'. While fratboy wobstep mercifully remains a largely Stateside phenomenon, British artists have been pushing dub sonics into ever more innovative areas, with a plethora of ludicrous genre tags to boot. From the 'nightbus-step' of James Blake to Blawan's descent into techno's machine-filled engine rooms, out of the sound that burst out of Croydon almost 10 years ago has grown a beast that even its mum wouldn't recognise.
But while the UK's bass music is still very much associated with London and Bristol, up in the north-west a group of Mancunians have been fashioning their own brand of dub-inflected house and techno. At its heart stands Liam Blackburn, better known as Indigo, and his Manchester-based imprint Mindset Records. As the label that pressed the first releases from Kowton, Synkro, xxxy and AnD onto wax, he's been instrumental in driving dubstep into darker and more muscular territory, and after four years bubbling under, it seems that 2012 might just be the year that Mindset, and Indigo, push things up a gear. With releases lined up for Hypercolour, an album for R&S offshoot Apollo and the launch of a Mindset sub-label in the works, Indigo is a very busy man indeed. DJ Mag tracked him down to his Manchester studio to talk about his new mix CD for WeSC, rain and how you can heal wounds with didgeridoos…
How did Mindset come about?
“I started the label in 2008 just through frustration that there wasn't that music knocking about. I was really into dubstep, but making stuff on more of a techno vibe, and I wanted to cater for that market. Because we're up here in Manchester, it's really hard to meet people in the scene — obviously it's a London and Bristol-based sound — so I decided to start it up with the intention of just self-releasing really. Alongside your own records, Mindset's put out early releases from people who have gone on to make pretty big waves in the bass and techno scene — Kowton, xxxy, AnD for example."
How did the A&R work in the early days?
“The first few releases were by friends, really. Kowton — he was called Narcossist back then — was the second release. Synkro, me and him were very good friends. I just used it as an outlet for other artists who I think should be getting more props. Pretty much every single release has been a debut from an artist and they've all gone on to release on pretty big labels across a multitude of genres. And I still keep in touch with all the guys, we're quite a close-knit unit.”
Was there a particular aesthetic for the label when it launched?
“When I started Mindset it was a bit more dark, ambient style, whereas more recently, releases eight and nine were summery, more upbeat in feel. And now we've gone back in the other direction, quite dark again. But I do think the label has a consistent sound to it, a kind of northern sound, cold and wet. It's always raining up here and it's kind of a dark, depressing place in a way. I'm from a really working class background too, so that's probably where all the industrial influence comes from.”
So did you feel isolated up in Manchester, cut off from the hubs of where this music was coming from?
“Yeah definitely, that's it. And that's why a lot of the artists are Mancunian. Up here, we're so far removed and we're all skint — it costs a fortune to get down to Bristol and London every week. So I got overlooked for many years, Synkro got overlooked for many years, xxxy did, everybody did.”?
What first got you into dubstep?
“Kowton used to live up here and me and him used to go into a shop called Pelican Neck [the physical shop that became Boomkat] and we all used to go in there and hang out. That was when the first dubstep was coming out — Burial and Digital Mystikz and Kode9. It was all brand-new music, coming up from London, and we were getting the first dibs on it in Manchester. I was coming from breakbeat, the really dark, broken beat stuff and that sat perfectly with dubstep, it was a natural transition.”
And that's what inspired you to start making your own music?
“Yeah, but I wanted to do something different. I had so much respect for the dubstep that I was buying, that I didn't want to copy it. It was a taboo to do that in the dubstep scene, you had to do your own thing. At the time, it was really heavy and it was getting a bit noisier, but look at where it is now, you know?”
?Is that why your releases as Indigo and through the label have always had that techno undercurrent, rather than being straight dubstep? With the bass and dubstep scene moving more towards clubbier sounds, do you feel you've been almost ahead of the curve?
“I'd like to think so. It's kind of come full circle but I've just stuck to my guns. I knew what I liked back then and the roots from that time are still heavily with me now, deeper probably. To be honest, I don't really listen to much music anymore — it's not out of choice, but because I'm working so hard on my own sound and researching into sonics. Not the music side, but the actual fundamental physics behind it.”
“Yeah, I'm quite geeky with all that kind of stuff and it really interests me. There's frequencies that train your brain into a certain thought pattern. Or something physical, like a didgeridoo, they used to use that to heal broken bones. So I've started to try and integrate all these different psychological things into the music, just for experimentation. It makes sense to use it, there's no point limiting yourself, and it gives the music a depth, too. It's really interesting.”
How did the WeSC mix come about?
“They approached us a few years ago and suggested Synkro and me put a mix together to give out free with anything purchased on the WeSC store. So it was an exclusive mix, quite a lot of Mindset-related artists, and almost all Manchester-based artists. They also got involved with a party we did in an old abandoned barn in Anglesey — we put on dBridge and Consequence — and our relationship with them's really good. Further down the line, we got talking, and it got suggested that we do a series of CDs, so obviously mine's come along and hopefully we're gonna get Troy Gunner to do one, and Stickmen and Szare, all the Mindset guys.”
What was your thinking behind the mix?
“At the time I was doing this mix CD, there was a lot of 130bpm stuff that was being sent to me, that was just what me and my mates were making. Just getting this vibe and inspiring each other around this tempo. So predominantly, the whole CD has been based around that period for Mindset, that specific sound. Since then, I've been making all sorts of mad stuff, but it's just that package of tunes that I had at the time and I was playing out. Give it a year and I won't be playing anything like that (laughs). It's just a phase, it sums up a specific moment in time where we were all in it together. Every single artist on there I know personally, and they're all really inspiring to me.”
Indigo's mix CD is available now, free with any WeSC purchase from their London Carnaby Street store or online through Urban Industries. Indigo's ‘Wake EP’ is released on Hypercolour on 30th July.
Words: TOM BANHAM