It’s widely accepted that perception is a key element of any listening experience, however in the case of dubstep, preconception often stands in the way of any listening experience occurring at all. But while dubstep mutated under the searing heat of the mainstream and the high production strobes that came with it, the roots of the genre dug its heels in deep and refused to be pulled up from the underground.
Leading the charge for wholesome UK bass music was Mala’s Deep Medi, whose fruits included the likes of Kahn, Coki, Jack Sparrow and Skream. Another Deep Medi affiliate who fell in line with the label’s creative ethos but opted to tick ‘other’ when categorising his own productions is Commodo. A musical architect specialising in growling bass lines, crashing percussion and hair-raising piano stabs, Commodo humbly find himself regarded as one of the scene’s leading producers and DJs. Ahead of two appearances at Motion Bristol in the coming weeks (Deep Medi 30th Apr & Sequences Festival 29th July), we caught up with Commodo to talk genre boundaries, the second coming of grime and the importance of Deep Medi.
You’ve been a fixture of the UK’s underground bass scene for the best part of the last decade now, with your early days as a producer spent in Sheffield – a city at the epicentre of the bassline explosion in the mid 2000s. Given these surroundings in your formative days as a producer, what sparked the interest in producing tracks around 140pm?
Certainly a lot of the homegrown niche/bassline and grime stuff. I found it inspiring and fascinating that someone down the road had made a track that everyone had on their phone.
Since breaking through you’ve been reluctant to file your music under the tag of dubstep. Is this due to finding genre boundaries restrictive, or because you feel ‘dubstep’, and all that comes with the term, doesn’t compliment your music in the way you would like it to be perceived?
I think it’s mostly due to the timing of my early releases. I’d started releasing music in 2010 at a time where dubstep was fast becoming a dirty word and the worst aspects of it were being shoehorned into commercial music. I don’t worry about the dubstep label anymore. My only slight concern would be that maybe someone who could enjoy my music might never find it due to their dislike of what their understanding of ‘dubstep’ is.
To what extent do you focus on producing music that traverses genres boundaries?
I don’t focus too hard on it for fear of it sounding contrived. To let it occur honestly and naturally is the best policy in my opinion.
Alongside your signature protruding bass, some of your releases are fused with oriental string samples which create a juxtaposing mental image akin to a pensive Japanese cherry blossom guarded by a vigilant warrior. Do you consciously aim to paint an interpretive narrative through your productions?
Ahaha certainly not to that level of detail. There are a few times where I’ve tried to incorporate a vague theme though, even if it only makes sense to me. A more recent track, unreleased at the moment, was loosely based on different levels of Mario 64.
From listening to your productions it’s quite easy to pinpoint your interest in grime, so I’d like to hear your take on the genre’s mainstream resurgence in recent years.
Sure, some people will be bitter about its newfound popularity, but previously the only way grime artists really got a taste of mainstream attention was by doing lame features and shallow attempts at club/chart hits. At least with this newer wave there is less of a need to water it down - the new fans can accept a level of hardness that would have made the music unmarketable to mainstream audiences of the past. This is definitely beneficial for people like me and everyone at labels like Deep Medi. Hard, bass driven music is familiar to a huge amount of people now and the leap from modern grime and rap productions to the kind of stuff we are making is really not that big.
In terms of what helped grime return to mainstream culture, do you think this was down to development in the genre itself, or changes to its audience and listenership?
I think there was a move away from trying to make the music popular by diluting and instead pushing a sound and image similar to the earlier days of the music. Presenting the music as authentic and honest - which was probably what most original grime fans found so appealing about it in the first place. Obviously the audience has changed massively as well, but for working class, underground music, commercial success was always going to have that effect.
On 30th April you’ll be heading South West to Motion Bristol for a Deep Medi showcase with Mala, Kahn, Jack Sparrow, Goth Trad and many more. Personally, how pivotal a role has Deep Medi played in sustaining underground UK bass music and providing a platform for originality?
Trends come and go and I feel like Deep Medi kept doing its thing when other people might have packed it in or changed directions with what’s popular. I think there’s a lot to be said for weathering the storm while fashions change and the label has come out of the other side stronger and with a reinvigorated fan base in my opinion.
As a DJ are you equally explorative as you are as a producer? If so, are there any genres people would be surprised to find cropping up in your sets?
To tell the truth my DJ sets tend to comprise of my own productions more and more, simply because it allows me to play stuff that no one else has. If I’m playing longer than usual or am playing really early I might find some time for some dusty rap.
To finish on some music: has there been a recent Deep Medi release that you’ve been reluctant not to play out of late?
The Kahn & Neek remix of Sir Spyro’s ‘Topper Top’ has been a regular fixture for a good while now.
Photo courtesy of Commodo