A conversation with Bristol producer Guido, about his latest creative movements: his State of Joy label, his city's 'purple' sound, the controversy caused by the word 'dubstep', and how he learned to write orchestrations with the music from the “Final Fantasy” video game.
When the latest generation of dance music producers came out of Bristol in the late 00s, led by the overly colourful sounds of Joker, the excitement and anticipation was palpable both on dance-floors and on paper. Riding high on the rising popularity of dubstep and the temporary mainstream acceptance of grime, young producers such as Joker, Gemmy and Guido were giving the public and pundits alike a refreshing take on sounds that were still relatively new yet already mutating, one of many early signs of just how fast the internet would make the music world turn by the 2010’s.
Five years on – or less in the case of Gemmy and Guido – and this new generation has come of age, maturing and diverging from their original cohesion, which had earned the trio the nickname of ‘Purple’ ( see Joker’s interviews circa 2009). Joker is now signed to 4AD and has found popular acclaim while Gemmy and Guido have continued to work in and around the dubstep scene, pulling at the genre’s seams in their own ways, following their respective official debuts on Peverelist’s Punch Drunk label.
Coming of age as an artist in an incredibly noisy and fast moving music world has the potential to be difficult. What marks these three producers apart from many in that regard is how they capitalised, in their own way, on what made their sound originally so appealing – the melodies and their colourful qualities. In the case of Guido he first showed this potential via his debut album, 2010’s “ Anidea”, on which he displayed melodic flair and writing that could sustain a full dance music album without sounding tired, no mean feat considering how watered down the genre was becoming at that point. Since then he has quietly but steadily continued to refine a more personal sound and after a quiet 2011 has released two new singles this year on his own State of Joy label. Part of the Multiverse music group, State of Joy – alongside Gemmy’s own World of Wonder label – is the latest sign that this new generation is moving ahead on its own terms and forging its own path, with help from friends of course.
While a degree of attention in Bristol is currently focused more – for some – towards slower tempos and productions that live somewhere between house, techno and dubstep, Guido has already released two of the more solid dubstep-flavoured 12” singles this year, including “Flow” with Jay Wilcox (which this writer feels deserved to be a pop crossover success in the charts). He has also been hard at work transferring his music to a live stage, sans the knob twiddling and pad bashing, but with a full band. As such, PlayGround decided to catch up with the man over the phone to find out a bit more about where he came from and where he’s going - including the live band, being tagged as this or that genre and learning to play melodies thanks to the best role playing franchise in video game history.
We originally tried to get a mix from Guido to go along with this piece but it wasn't possible. As we got the piece together however Guido got in touch to say that a video for his new live project, which we discussed in the interview, was being finished. So to go along with this “introduction to Guido” you can now watch exclusively the first video of the live band performing “Anidea”, the title track from Guido's debut album. The band features Guido on keys, Typesun on drums, Will from A Future Without on bass and Marcus on guitar. Venues and bookers, you know what to do: these guys need to spread their gospel far and wide!
So who’s Guido, where does he come from and how did he get started in music?
I started making music as a hobby during secondary school. I used Fruity Loops, and started making beats on that. A lot of my friends were into making music at the time, people like Joker and others, and we basically went from there. We went to a few places around Bristol to do this. There was a place called The Basement Studio where you could go and use a computer to make beats. I’ve been at it since then really.
What year was that?
It would have been 2003 or 2004 onwards. That’s basically how I discovered music-making programs on computers; I can’t specifically remember why I downloaded FL Studio though.
Well it was the program of choice for many people at the time, especially when you were getting started.
Yeah and also it was tiny, not even 10mb so you could download it easily.
So are you Bristol born and bred?
Sort of. I was born in Redhill, which is in Surrey, and moved to Bristol when I was three years old and I’ve been there since.
Do you have any classical training in terms of music?
Not really. I had piano lessons when I was young. I had two different teachers over a period of a few years, with breaks in between. One was more classical and one was more jazz. I used to download sheet music online, Final Fantasy sheet music, and would take it to them and they’d teach me how to play it. I then continued to do that but teaching myself how to play it.
"The music I was influenced by when I started was mainly grime"
Which Final Fantasy game did you download the sheet music for?
All of them I think. I’m a big fan. I think the reason I really liked the music from that series is that the guy who originally wrote it had no musical training whatsoever, he was self-taught [ed note: the composer in question is Nobuo Uematsu]. I only found out later on that he was self-taught but I always thought it was interesting, this idea of not being classically trained and so approaching music from a different angle. You bring your own formula to it, it’s quite romantic. You just write the music without thinking too much about it.
Was there any particular music that inspired or influenced you to start making your own? Bristol in the 90s and 00s had quite a popular and healthy music scene, especially dance music wise.
The music I was influenced by when I started was mainly grime. Which I think doesn’t really have a unified style. Depending on the producer you could have lots of different styles and approaches. You had Dizzee, DaVinche, Rapid, Ruff Squad, they all had melodic styles that I felt were quite individual and appealed to me back then. It was all simplistic in the melodies and I liked that.
It was always a really direct music.
And also the energy of the vocals was really appealing. I originally started working with lots of MCs in Bristol and made a mix CD which had about 15 different MCs from all over Bristol. So originally that was the music I was making and focusing on.
Did what happen in Bristol from 04 to 06/07, in terms of the city establishing itself as a counterpoint to London’s dubstep centre, have any influence at all on your sound evolving towards what would become your first few releases?
Well what was going on at the time around me was different. I wasn’t really paying too much attention to dubstep to be honest, in terms of stuff like Skream and DMZ. I used to go to nights in Bristol where these guys would play before they became huge worldwide names, back when they would come to Bristol and play the smaller clubs with not much capacity. I wasn’t too influenced by dubstep at the time though; I just kept on evolving from what I was originally doing with grime and melodies and my own influences.
How did you feel about being pigeonholed into dubstep then, seeing as that’s how you and your music were put forward once it started coming out?
At the time, when Peverelist put out my first release, I was new to the whole thing. I didn’t know what putting music out entailed and when people started tagging it as dubstep, or even after that when it was called purple, I just thought it was part and parcel of people wanting and needing to label stuff. I didn’t really have too much of a problem with people calling it dubstep, if people really listened to it and liked it I always thought it would be because of the music, not what it was called or filed under. As for the purple tag, some of the songs from Gemmy and Joker referenced that in the titles and then Joker mentioned it in an interview, which I thought was cool but ultimately I feel that it didn’t necessarily have too much to do with what I was making music wise despite what people were saying.
"I’ve been thinking recently about going to university and actually studying music and getting a degree"
So you didn’t necessarily associate your music with colours or synaesthesia?
No, I wasn’t thinking or seeing colours when I made music.
To go back to the melodies in your music, I was wondering if the melodic aspect is what interests you the most; it seems to be a recurring, and evolving, point of focus in your music?
Melodies have always been important. I’ve been thinking recently about going to university and actually studying music and getting a degree and combining it with something else, like maybe learning Japanese [ laughs]. When I start making music I always go for the melodies first and work from there. I always try and do something I’ve never done and use that as the starting point. Sometimes when I do drums first and then try and put melodies on top it feels limiting. I try to get the feeling I want from the music first by writing the melodies. With drums I find that if they’re loud and punchy then that’s already creating a vibe and so you’re going to need to adapt the melody to it rather than the other way around. I like building the drums around the melody basically. I find chords a good place to start… Recently I’ve been thinking a lot that it can be hard to come up with original ideas, so if I like something I hear somewhere I’ll play it on the piano to myself and if it’s something I’m then sure I like, I’ll try and flip it, twist it, change the melody. I’m not saying I’ll straight bite it, but find inspiration from it especially if it resonates with me.
It’s not dissimilar to the hip hop approach of flipping samples. You set up your own label recently, State of Joy, and I was wondering where the idea for it came from?
It was actually Pinch who put it forward to me. Originally the idea was to have a label for both Gemmy and I to put music out on, together. Gemmy and I both felt that maybe that wasn’t the best as both of our music was being put into this same category and it wasn’t ideal. So Gemmy started his own label [ed note: World of Wonder] and I took some time to think about what I wanted to do with this label idea and State of Joy was born earlier this year.
Artist labels seems to me to be a trend that’s becoming more ‘normal’, giving artists perhaps greater control over their music and its public delivery, but also giving you the chance to put out other people’s music using your own name as a seal of approval/quality. What are the main benefits of running your own label for you?
One thing is the creative control for sure. Being able to put out anything you want almost, though obviously there’s some degree of quality control that’s still needed. If you’re releasing via someone else’s label they have to like the music first. That’s definitely one of the benefits, being in charge of whether or not it’s good enough to go out in a sense. Another benefit is creating a story of releases, a story with the music, which I’m trying to do with the first few releases.
As you mentioned earlier, when you first put out a record in ‘09 you had no idea how the business of releasing records worked - and now, a few years later, you’ve got your own label. All of this is happening at a time of change for the music industry where things are still in flux and we’ve moved from one established system of creation, delivery and consumption to a current system where nothing is quite fixed yet. Have you ever thought it might have been better if you’d been able to do this back when things were different and perhaps more controllable or do you think that today’s open world is better for what you want to do?
[ Laughs] No, like I said I never knew what it was like before anyways so I think the way it’s happened was always going to be the case for me. It was always going to be the internet for me. To me it’s been a way to learn stuff, find out what’s happening and be connected since the beginning. That’s an incredible benefit for me; the connectivity is something I like. I’m not disappointed that this is the way now, it’s harder to make a living perhaps but I feel good about it.
Do you feel particularly opinionated about things like piracy and digital vs physical?
Whatever works, works I think. It’s weird to me that music is something that is owned. Obviously if you make music you should have some degree of rights to it and you should be credited and earn from it.
Going back to your new single, I really liked the pop element of it and it reminded me of this tradition in the UK of underground dance crossover hits. It feels like it has that potential too. Were the pop elements of the song something you went for specifically or did it just come out naturally?
It just came out naturally. It was one of many songs sitting on my hard drive which I played to Jay [ed note: Wilcox, the vocalist] and he wrote his lyrics to it and I thought that it was quirky and had potential. I don’t want people to think that it’s been taken too seriously either, some of the lyrics reflect that hopefully. I’m not taking it too seriously, I liked the vocal and felt it was catchy – found myself and other people saying some of the lyrics. It also probably has the most "I am"s in a song ever [ laughs].
What about the flip, that’s also quite an interesting one.
It’s different to a lot of the music that I’ve made so far. Again I started with the melody, really liked it and then I was listening to a lot of African music at the time, feeling very influenced by Africa, so I tried to channel that. Also we’ve got a live version of it which I’m really happy with. Once the band thing takes off I think it’ll do well. I want to get some videos of us playing live so we can show promoters and people what the show is about.
"We didn’t sound incredibly tight but it didn’t sound shit either"
Actually the live band was the next thing I wanted to ask you about. Why did you choose to start a live project?
There’s a guy in Bristol I’ve known for a while, Luke also known as Typesun, and he basically started playing with an artist known as Javan Mc Carthy and they used to play the stuff I made with Jay Wilcox live, for his show. So you could go out and hear some of my music live and I really liked it. I spoke to him and thought I’d like to get involved and start playing my music live. Luke was really supportive, he’s the drummer in the band, and he helps to arrange the music and organise the whole thing. I met the other musicians and we went from there. I just thought it’d be a fun thing to do and it really is. Playing live is great.
So it’s a collaborative effort then?
What originally happened is that I showed the band the tunes I wanted us to play, and everyone’s been very pro-active. Marcus, who plays guitar, made patches for us to use, experimenting with different sounds that we can add for example. We’ve been rehearsing for a few months now, coming up with new ideas for how the sound can come across.
What’s been the biggest challenge in carrying the music over to the live environment?
Probably working with four people [ laughs]. Sorting out rehearsal times has been a headache too. We’ve played two gigs now. The first one was in Madrid, after I’d told my agent about the band all of a sudden we got an offer to do something in Madrid a few weeks later and we definitely weren’t ready to play that soon. Luke was also getting married the week before the gig, so he couldn’t make rehearsals and Marcus had a university deadline. So I just thought it wouldn’t work. We all sat down, decided to do it and it went all right. We didn’t sound incredibly tight but it didn’t sound shit either. We then did another show in Bristol, which was also good.
Is the band the main focus for now then?
Yeah, for the moment, we’ve been working on it every week. I think I need to write more music for us to play live, which I’ve not done yet. And I also think we could collaborate more in the studio, to bring individual member’s influences into the music. Things are quiet for me at the moment so I’m now realising I need to keep putting music out first to try and generate interest for the band. It’s a weird one actually: some people say to wait for bookings before writing more, some say the other way round, so it’s a dilemma. I really want the band to go far, play festivals, live events, even a concert hall.
Wrapping things up, what is it about Bristol that makes it such an exciting place for music do you think?
I don’t know what it is about this city to be honest. Maybe it’s the fact that it is a very community-minded city, people are always helping one another and they work together well. It’s not business comes first in Bristol. There’s lots of things here too, events that foster this. St Paul’s Carnival for example, back when I didn’t know Joker I saw him playing on a stage at the carnival, all his own music and he was 15. There was a feeling back then already that people from this city could have a big potential.
Outside of your close circle, is there anyone you’re checking out at the moment?
There’s a guy called Submerse whose music I really like. There’s something about the music, the textures and melodies. He’s great. His track “They Always Come Back” is one I really like.
OK, so closing, which is your favourite Final Fantasy episode?
Oh that’s hard… VII, VIII and IX all come as one for me – they were all out on Playstation 1 and I played them all when I was at school and they all had amazing music and good stories. They were the ones I discovered first so…