Speaking with...El-B

There's few artists out there in dance music that I can truly say are my favourite. To be honest, most producers have a few bangers but over the space of 10 or so tracks you'd only end up really liking about 3 or 4. Not so with UK garage legend El-B. There isn't a single track of his that won't get you gun fingering and bass face-ing, with his signature sound of stripped back sub bass and crisp, crunchy percussion tearing down many a rave since the late 90's. 

From his early days creating absolute classics as a part of the seminal Groove Chronicles duo, to his own spin on the UKG sound with his 'Ghost' style, El-B has always been incredibly influential. His sound low key laid the groundwork for newer garage spin offs like dubstep and bassline, yet he never fully got or still gets the props he deserves for that in my opinion.

Basically, nearly all kinds of bass heavy music coming out the UK in the last two decades or so was influenced by El-B, and if you think that's an exaggeration then just look at how many people wet their pants about Burial (who is still great btw), then realise that he basically catted his whole rhythmic style from El-B, or listen to early dubstep from the likes of Hatcha and Youngsta and see just how much they took from El-B's darker 2 step style.

With him returning to this years Outlook Festival, alongside a frankly outrageously good line up, I thought it a good time to sit down and chat with this UKG living legend. 

WG: How did you get started in music? 
El-B: By relentlessly handing out demo cassettes and bagging myself a part time job working a very popular dance record shop in the west end of London. 
What sounds were you influenced by when you were starting out that made you think of shifting it to the UKG sound? 
I was tempted out of only listening to hip hop by the Rave & Acid that was playing from the pirate stations & all the house music (mostly Chicago & Detroit) that my mum would leave playing on the radio back in the late 80's. But the foundation to it all would be without a doubt, all the Jazz Funk, Salsa & Rare Groove that was played daily by both parents throughout my whole childhood.

What was the British dance music scene like when you started out? 
Active...as it is now. But in a slightly different way, considering the difference in format. Although there was a rise in the amount of producers, with the introduction of the MacBook Pro & Logic. Still only the same small amount continue with consistency.  
How aware were you at the time that your sound was groundbreaking? 
I was totally aware that the Ghost style hadn't been done before and that the actual style hadn't been properly executed before. Also after the first few tracks were created, I knew that what I was sitting on was something powerful or possibly even special...but who knows until you try it out on the public.

I feel like Groove Chronicles as a duo with you and Noodles made some of the best and most underrated garage tracks ever, do you feel like you get enough credit for that? 
'Credits' - I may have lost a few of those but credit...no.
Some of your tracks like Buck N Bury, In The Club, and old Groove Chronicles tracks like Stone Cold were not just revolutionary but also timeless. Do you look back at these and feel like you accomplished something with them or are you always thinking about the next track you're making? 
Always and only looking forward to another project, track or remix...yet the respect given by all that hear my music is a constant reminder of the reason why I'm still here and still as active today as ever before.
What are your thoughts on the recent spin offs from the classic UKG sound, firstly dubstep, then later on bassline? Your sound especially seems to have influenced both of these genres a lot.
I stay fully in touch with all the new spin-offs of any genre I can find out about. I find it very interesting to see them evolve, as that’s exactly how I came to be. Though I have noticed that with most of them, I tend to get bored once I’ve had a stomach load, which is the same as everybody I suppose. 

What do you think about the modern UKG scene as it stands today? 
We need the best 'New Gen' UKG producers to push themselves & release all they can...to grow & continue to present to the world. We also need to group up into a few clicks only that have their own quality control cause right now, as you read this, UKG is being murdered by the 'higher profiling DJs' making no effort or showing no ability whatsoever to educate the crowd or play anything we haven't heard the last guy play or that was fucking made after 1999. If it continues, I fear that those responsible will sink their ship and when they go, they will take a large chunk of the UKG club scene down with them. So for me it’s all about the smaller event promoters that have a forward thinking mentality. If it weren't for them, it may have died already.
I was going to say, I think a lot of UKG nights these days just seem to trade of nostalgia, playing old crowd pleasers that everybody knows and loves. So do you feel that's having a detrimental effect on new garage being accepted and listened to?
Yes totally. Everybody is sick of the same old pop garage tracks getting spun again and again by the higher profiling UKG DJs. They all sound like their selecting from the same box. If it weren't for the fact that they can't do much better or that they just haven't got the selection, I would say their taking the crowd for idiots. The crowd might be young, but they are never idiots. They will get bored soon enough and levitate elsewhere if promoters are not careful. We all like the rinsed out classics but we also love being educated. Isn't that what DJ's are supposed to do?

So would you say your sound changed over time or have you always stayed the same? 
My style of writing remains the same. The original sound must also remain but new styles have materialised along the years also.

Saying that though, what's your favourite classic track to play out that always get's a reaction? 
There are so freakin' many for different crowds but Chris Mac & Steve Gurley tracks tend to be our favourite.
Are there any producers and DJs making UKG at the moment that you think are being slept on? 
Yes! Look out for the Good4Ya label & club nights - plenty of authentic south London garage vinyl is being cut again. DJ Perception is opening a record shop in Peckham a little later in the year. Myself & DJ Perception are also supporting and assisting a number of producer DJs' from various places in and even outside of the UK at the moment and hope to see them grow. DWARDE, DEE CYPHER, DUB JAMZ, YOUNG MIX are just some of the names to go check out.
Tough question but what are your top 5 (off the top of your head) garage tracks of all time? 
Can’t give specific track names but the five producer names in there would be tracks from Steve Gurley, Chris Mac, Ghost, Karl Brown (TuffJam) & El-B.

On that note, is this recent clamouring back to the classic UKG sound is a fad you think, or do you reckon that it’s now embedded in UK culture forever? 
Yes...fully. Just as House music is obviously going nowhere. Even if in different formats - UKG will remain.
Do you look back at what you've achieved in the dance music scene and feel pride or are you always looking forward?
Yes I’m aware of my contributions and am very proud. I stay humble but am a very blunt talking person and like to tell it like it is as much as possible. The love my fans have for what I do is real, not just a phase they're going through - it's respect for good music that’s written with passion.

What do you listen to when you're not banging out UKG?
All kinds of live music from around the world, mostly South American & African genres, but if it’s not that, it’s probably some really trashy trap or drill stuff from the States.

Are you looking forward to playing Outlook this year? 
Yes I am looking forward to returning. The last time I played Outlook was 2011 I believe. I did 2 sets - Mungos HiFi and a Vagabonds boat b2b with Zed Bias - and both were smashers. This year’s sets will be special.

Cheers El-B.

You can buy tickets to this years Outlook Festival here. 
Written by: Tom Usher


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