Untold interview: "I wanted to document my change." The London producer and label-head discusses his three-part EP series and why they are important in the current musical climate.
Untold, real name is Jack Dunning, has carved out an important spot for himself in the dubstep scene and whatever you call your interpretation of its current manifestation. The north Londoner’s music, as well as the label that he co-runs with Andy Spencer, injected a bit of left-field eclecticism into a scene that was in need of revitalisation at the time. His debut release, Kingdom, came out in March of 2008 on another label that’s re-invigorated dubstep over the last few years, Hessle Audio. Drawing on elements that were found in bass music at the time, Kingdom also had an originality and sense of musicality that quickly set him apart from a lot of his contemporaries.
Since then, Untold has released music on R&S Records, Clone, Scuba’s Hotflush, and of course his own Hemlock Recordings. He has also remixed an eclectic array of musicians from Moderat to The xx to even Ke$ha. His sound has grown up and changed over the years, which has always kept him at the forefront of the constantly changing landscape of British electronic music.
His current project is a three-part series of EPs entitled ‘Change In A Dynamic Environment’ and marks his first release on Hemlock since his collaboration with LV, entitled Beacon, in early 2010. The first EP came out in April and the second part comes out this week, following an exclusive premiere of it that went up on Dummy earlier this month. Both EPs are testament to Untold’s continuous evolution as a producer and draw from influences that go well beyond the scope of bass music and dubstep. I have been continuously impressed by both his record label and musical output for years, so it was a joy to ask him questions about the ‘Change In A Dynamic Environment’ trilogy and how it ties into his past, present, and future as an artist, businessman and innovator.
How’s it going?
Untold: It’s going well thanks. You caught me at a good time. I just wrapped up the third EP of the series this week, and the second one gets released Monday June 25th. It’s what I’ve been focusing on in terms of writing for the last few months so it’s nice to finally draw the line on that.
So these three EPs weren’t written at the same time then?
Untold: Well, the sketches and main ideas have been lying about since the beginning, but then they each developed individually over the last few months. The third one should hopefully be out digitally in a month anyway and they were sort of deliberately staggered.
How was playing at Sonar the other week?
Untold: It was amazing and I really enjoyed it. I’ve been to off-Sonar for the last couple of years, but this was my first extended stay there so I had a chance to see a lot of the festival itself. It’s really well organised, the punters are great, and I think that something like it could only happen in Barcelona! I played on the Friday night in-between Richie Hawtin and Squarepusher to a pretty big crowd in a vast room. I’d like to think I represented where I was at. I’m sitting on so much good music right now from stuff on my own Hemlock label to all of the stuff coming out right now on Hessle Audio, a lot of the Bristol guys, and in general all of the exciting music coming out in this sort of undefined time. It was great to play some of these tunes to a bigger audience.
“Writing-wise I think it makes for an interesting time where music is coming out so quickly that’s it’s almost impossible to pin down.” – Untold
Can you tell us about “Change In A Dynamic Environment” and your return to Hemlock?
Untold: Well I guess it’s my first release back on Hemlock in a couple of years after having worked with R&S, Clone, and labels like that. I wanted to come back and make a statement. I think the timing’s worked out as it’s an amazing time in music right now. It’s all gone quite label-less and whatever terms you try to describe the music with that’s coming out of the embers of the dubstep scene…there’s not a single one that completely nails it. It can make things tricky when you’re playing, but writing-wise I think it makes for an interesting time where music is coming out so quickly that’s it’s almost impossible to pin down. I guess I wanted to document my change from being associated as being a dubstep producer and going into the next chapter. Now my sound is loosely based more around a techno grounding, but as always I’m forever looking to bring in other influences and make it mine since the last thing the world needs is another techno producer. [Laughs.]
It’s been a fun and a good documentation process. I think now the plan will be to get lots of white-labels out, focus on being less statement-like from now on, and just keep things moving really.
With all of these influences and labels flying around do you still think your sound is definitively British?
Although you could say these EPs are equal parts 8 bar grime and big-room Berghain kicks, I’m definitely not trying to make Berlin techno. I’m not trying to fit into one particular already established scene.
There is something about the way that London producers represent an amalgamation of sounds and influences…
I think that’s what we’ve always been good at. Taking things and bolting them together in a way that hasn’t been done before. For me the goal is to try and hit that… something that reminds people of things, but still manages to sound contemporary.
What else is coming up on Hemlock Recordings?
Untold: We’ve just signed all of our Autumn and Winter releases in the last few weeks. We’re really pleased with how we’re growing as a label and are bringing on both new and established artists. In particular there’s some incredible music from Joe that sounds like music only he could write. There’s also some amazing bits coming up from Randomer, whose music we’ve put out before. We’re just trying to steer the original vision of the label and keep it on track while not getting tied down to any one particular style. For example, the new Joe stuff is completely different to my EPs, and it’s the same with Randomer. There are certain vibes that fit well within Hemlock, but they are all very different musically. I’m also going to be mixing a back-catalogue compilation CD that will be coming out around October. I want to try and stitch up the best bits on the label into a cohesive listening experience. It’s going to be hard with all the styles and tempos, but I think we’re going to figure out the tracklist first and then write some new bits that bridge everything together. It won’t just be a bunch of re-issues and will be more like an hour-long mix. That’s what I’m doing next week anyway!
What originally made you and Hemlock Recordings co-founder Andy Spencer want to start the label?
Untold: We both got into dubstep around the same time and it inspired us to want to get involved in the scene. Both of our favourite labels back then were labels that you were able to trust. We definitely used them as guides to create a label that was more than just the sum of its parts, and was something that our supporters could build trust with as well. We wanted something we could be proud of and with records that could still stand up in ten years time. That is the ultimate goal to me.
Do you think your sound and vision changes depending on the label you are writing for at all?
Untold: Not that much, but there are definitely influences there. With Hemlock I feel that I get away with more so there will be a few ideas or tweaks in there that I would think twice about if I was sending it to another label. It’s just due to the two of us A&Ring it and me effectively being the A&R for my own music. There’s a bit more of a freeness that goes along with that.
I also remember when I writing “Stereo Freeze” for R&S, and I couldn’t help being influenced by their back catalogue so I deliberately wanted the sound to make a bit of a nod to that. Usually this doesn’t happen though and I try not to think about it as a finished product when I’m writing music and just let myself jam out. When you’re in the middle of the industry it is easy to get caught up in where the music is ending up. I think it’s good to forget about that and write interesting tracks.
“The last thing the world needs is another techno producer [laughs]” – Untold
How do you do get away from theoe potential mental and creative trappings?
Untold: My studio is a room in my house with a simple set-up which helps. My personal rule is to get the label and business work out of the way in the morning so that by midday I can sit back and write tunes. I’ve got a view here of a park and all of north London beyond it so it’s an inspiring space. If you try and mix the two sides of it then it can become hard to relax and forget about how to get your music to the people and the things you have to do to manage it… they’re two different headspaces.
Speaking of headspaces, you did a music degree and said it put you off music for a while. Have you made your peace with it?
Untold: Yeah I definitely have. I recently did an interview about dance music and academia talking about this. My degree was a Bsc in early electronic music – musique concrète, Stockhausen and so on. What put me off was the inability of the tutors to accept anything that was repetitive within electronic music as if it wasn’t intellectually justified. I found it crazy that they’d introduce us to Steve Reich and they’d get that, but then not things like Aphex Twin. Also we’d do tons of these aural tests where we’d have sit behind desks and have to write out piano chords being played to us, and I think the best bass lines in dance music are just bashed out. So for me it was about unlearning; getting over what almost felt like a slight brainwashing from the course while forgetting the music theory side of it on a day-to-day level. Once I did that I was able to have a fresh approach to music again. I remembered how I first got into writing music before the theory and academic side came in, which was just jamming out with a sampler and experimenting…and having fun!
“For me it was about unlearning; getting over what almost felt like a slight brainwashing from the course while forgetting the music theory side of it on a day-to-day level.” – Untold
Who were your influences growing up and what are you excited about now?
Untold: I was tunnel-vision with jungle and drum & bass growing up. I was a bit of a die-hard so, barring a few things from Warp and a touch of Detroit techno, that was about it.
At the moment I’m really getting into no-wave and the whole post-punk/electronic scene. There are some really amazing compilations out there. Maybe I’ll move onto something else in a few weeks, but that’s the current influence.
What are you most proud of so far?
Untold: I’d say Hemlock. Being able to start it and keep it going during a time when it wasn’t easy to start a new record label feels like the biggest achievement. I wouldn’t be able to pick out my favourite track, but running Hemlock and being able to survive off of music… that’s good enough for me and a goal realised so I’ll keep it at that.
What’s coming up for you over the summer?
Untold: I’m playing at Bloc in a few weeks on the R&S stage and am also excited about playing in Ibiza with Paul Woolford in a few weeks. More gigs here plus I’ll still be going over to Germany a lot and just generally, you know, spreading the word.