There are countless definitions for grime, but it is – in essence – a lonely music, one born of alienation, of being shunted away from the centre, towards the outskirts. This can result in rage, and in anger, it can result in melancholy, and in depression – but the common theme is alienation.
There's certainly a sense of alienation in the work of New York-based producer The Range. Noted for his work with Donky Pitch, the beat makers fusion of off centre hip-hop, jungle, and grime lingers forlornly around the 140 BPM mark. Now snapped up by Domino, rather excellent new album 'Potential' bears the influence of grime, but heard from a distance – like the glistening mark left by a footprint in the rain.
As the producer – real name James Hinton – admits, there aren't many grime shows in his home city. “Unless Skepta or Stormzy come and play, there's not going to be a grime night in New York, ever,” he insists. “My experience of grime is pretty different, because it's had these three distinct waves over my lifetime that have bubbled up, and everyone gets excited, but it fades away.”
“It never, for me, really faded away. I was very enamoured of the way the phrasing happened in grime, it was a huge departure from American hip-hop. Which is also love to death. But I was writing a lot and I was finding that grime phrasing has huge implications for the instrumentation. I was very deep in recording and I was finding that it was something that I was just very excited about. I really grabbed on to that for the record.”
It's odd in a way for a New York producer to take such inspiration in grime. For many, the genre – much like jungle, much like drum 'n' bass – is a London sound, one that is prompted by the city's unique temperature. It's something James relates to sonically, but the sounds are refracted through his own experiences. “Brooklyn is so much more laid back than London, where the tempos are way up, everyone is raving,” he says. “I do feel the same intensity, but it's much more like a grit to it. The energy level that is expressed because of city life is just so much higher. I don't know if that's because everyone was used to the high tempo of drum 'n' bass, or what it is, but it ends up really dramatically changing how the phrasing goes. Brooklyn – or at least my neighbourhood – is this pretty tranquil area. I don't necessarily feel too much stress day to day.”
- - -
- - -
Working on his own, The Range would absorb electronic music in a solitary fashion, swapping soundsystem bedlam for a rather more introverted listening experience. “I think, especially when I get pretty deep and have quite a lot of the songs for a record, and I'm ready to really going into a finishing stage, I kind of shut down listening to other music, as well. It ends up being a pretty introverted thing where I'm just waking up, working in a studio. There's really no room.”
“Hopefully it generates something unique and interesting, but also it's going to be pretty introverted. It was a headphone experience from day one. And I value that. I wouldn't really do it any other way. And then I think you're also going to be re-interpreting everything that I found at varying points in time, if you're alone then you're going to end up channelling those moments and those memories and trying to get them back a little when you're finishing them. And I think that's also useful, when you remember the place and time when you found a future sample, or the musical idea and be able to channel that in a nice way, because you're not super distracted in the studio or you're not put under pressure, in terms of people having input. I like that process a lot.”
Casting his net for potential samples, The Range would input specific search terms in YouTube, and peer through countless home made clips. Gathering voices, these would form the crux of what would become 'Potential'. The results are curiously affecting – the switch between hi-tech and gleeful amateurism matches the digital to the humane in a manner that recalls the emotional lexicon of mid 90s IDM, but with a distinctly 21st century twist.
“Well, you can't really go on YouTube – most people can't – without, like, falling into a YouTube hole,” he says. “They're going to head down it. I tried to restrict where I started from, I guess, because otherwise you're just going to be all over the place, the search terms were something I was being pretty specific about. And then trying different strategies about filtering them, basically.”
“I ran out of two of the search terms by the end of recording,” he continues. “I had gone through everything, but I think that it was completely structured, I was being pretty regimented.”
The visual impact of YouTube, he insists, makes it a completely distinct area for sampling. “The one difference between traditional sampling and YouTube is that you see someone's face. Yes, you can hear the audio, but that's a radical difference – it's not just a purely auditory experience, you can see if someone is going through something, or feeling emotions.”
“I think that's probably pretty intangible, I can't describe what that means, I think it's just that humans are pretty good at empathising that way. At the end of the day I'm loathe to be too specific, because it's something that is combining the musical, as well as the words that people are saying. And going from there.”
- - -
I think we're all part of the story...
- - -
Falling in love with countless voices from the other side of the Atlantic, James also felt free to experiment vastly with the recordings themselves, utilising them as he saw fit. “At the end of the day, it was always a musical decision, for sure,” he says. “But I think I did feel some sort of obligation because of the original context that I was trying to preserve.”
“I think that was part of the magic of why I came to the samples in the first place – you can't escape the fact that the people who made the YouTube video, or the song, are probably going to hear what I've combined it with. And I think you don't have to pitch a vocal very far before it changes gender, you don't have to chop someone's phrasing up too much before it starts to mean something radically different from what they meant. And I think that was very important to me, to do right by them was my original intention.”
This method of working – with its limitations, and innate poetry – seemed to push the producer's music in a fresh direction. “I don't think it was restrictive, I definitely found myself curious about that process. OK, it's not necessarily the traditional editing techniques that you can do, to chip a sample, it's more like a restorative editing technique – something that can boost some qualities that are already there. Without really going mad with it and pitching it all over the place. So that's a particular way of saying 'no' – I was happy and pleased to keep the samples relatively clearly from where they were.”
The work within 'Potential' is set to be expanded in a new documentary pieced together by Daniel Kaufman. Utilising new interviews with the artists sampled on the record, the film also uses dynamic new imagery to expand on the universe of The Range. “I think we're all part of the story,” he says. “Originally, the whole emphasis was: who are these people? I don't these people, I think they're amazing on their performances, but what are they like in real life? But then as it's evolved, and as those stories have been told, there's also an interesting narrative that's emerging. Why do people go on YouTube? Why do people record themselves and put that out there, despite maybe not getting a lot of views to start? What makes someone keep going? And I think that's been an interesting story, to collaborate with Daniel.”
“It's been interesting to tease it out, because it's been like one of these little cloudy things that you can't quite get your head around, but eventually it becomes something that... oh, there is this interesting linkage, despite the fact that these people don't know each other, they're all tied in by this particular quality which I think is exciting to tell.”
It's this quality that makes 'Potential' such an absorbing, addictive, perplexing listen. Something insubstantial that draws us to one another, to social media, to music, a story that drifts outwards, absorbing new elements and – perhaps – even you.
- - -
- - -
'Potential' is out now. Catch The Range online.