In Fritz Lang’s silent film Woman in the Moon, the characters position themselves inside a rocket ship, ready for the countdown to launch. It was a first for the audience, because this had never been dramatized in film before, but it was also a first because it pre-dated the Sputnik satellite launch by 28 years, and the Apollo 11 mission by 40 years. In 1929, Lang created the now universally familiar rocket launch countdown for a world that didn’t know what a V2 rocket sounded like just before it hit your roof. Yet even in Woman in the Moon’s soft-focus melodrama, where technology was not yet consumed by the industrialised dread of global war, Lang was still wary of its potential to isolate and destroy us. Simply put, the fiction informed the science. As a fan of Lang, it’s a subject that Bristol-based producer Batu often thinks of: how our ideas of the future can be shaped by the art of the past.
The curtains are drawn, but it’s clear that Batu’s room in Bristol is decorated with club night posters and the insert sheets of limited 12-inch releases. There’s the howling dog of Loefah’s “Midnight”/“Woman,” two dubstep tracks so long lost that they were verging on folk tales but were finally pressed up last year. Surrounding it are designs for labels like No Symbols and Timedance: the former run by U.K. producer and brother-in-sound Beneath, and the latter Batu’s own; operating as a testing ground for his and others’ productions. In the dim light, Batu explains his attraction to Lang: how his 1927 magnum opus Metropolis sketched a city of monolithic skyscrapers and interconnected underworlds, the inspiration it took from the ancient Tower of Babel and the recent echoes that appeared in films like Demolition Man and The Matrix.
“I find it most interesting when it’s not explicitly about being futuristic,” he says, “but how you can re-work the past into what you think you want the future to be.” The atmosphere that’s created from that process is what he thinks about in his music: that “trippy and uncertain feeling that’s not necessarily in your face, but instead leaves a space where things can be implied.” His music is his way of working through his ideas of the future. “I think it’s more about taking in and considering everything that’s happened and is going on, gradually, and working from there,” he says. “There are people who are taking ideas of accelerated internet culture and making ‘the music of now,’ but I think that there’s so much great music from the past, and that’s more accessible to us than ever before, that I want to reference what I like of it within a framework that questions what works now, and why.”
Outside of this room, in Bristol’s record shops and clubs, Batu is becoming a familiar face. He moved there from the countryside around Oxford – “some people call it sleepy, I call it dull” – where he spent his teens listening to Rinse podcasts and radio rips uploaded to original dubstep sharing site Barefiles. Having grown up with reggae and dub music, the low-end melodies and echoing space around them felt familiar – even though he was removed from the tight-knit geography of the culture. “I found dubstep deeply introspective but also very social music,” he explains.
I want to listen to techno that captures me in the way that dubstep did – with that meditative atmosphere, and space for the bass.
“I could listen to the finer details within the sound and understand how it was designed for a specific context – and I could do both at once, which I never felt up until that point.” After attending the same music production course at Bath Spa University as some of the bass experimentalists that came just before him, like Appleblim, Gatekeeper and Headhunter, he moved to Bristol and became close to this new movement of bass-laced techno: buying records in Chris Farrell’s Idle Hands store and befriending Peverelist and Kowton of the Livity Sound label.
Batu wasn’t sure about the convergence of dubstep and techno, but he moved to Bristol at a time when the former was at a stylistic crossroads, and was being folded into the latter. “When I’d listen to Skull Disco records, I could hear jungle, techno, house and dubstep coming together in ways that felt genuinely endless,” he says. “Dub and techno could have the same loops; be ‘difficult,’ but still grabbing.” More precisely, it was when he heard Tectonic boss Pinch’s 2010 track “Croydon House” that the rhythms licked his brain right. “That track is seminal for me,” he says. “I liked techno, but coming from a dub background I found techno to be too happy, almost. 4x4 rhythms felt quite jarring, and keeping people in a groove in a purely functional sense felt like a blessing and a curse. ‘Croydon House’ helped me to get my head around it, though, and discover that so much techno doesn’t have to fall into clichéd tropes.”
He enthusiastically points out the No Symbols artwork behind him. He met label boss Beneath at Fabric after they’d been speaking online for some time. At the club, Beneath introduced him to Pinch. Batu’s first release was on Pinch’s Cold Recordings imprint, and after becoming familiar with the family-like ways of working within the Bristol scene, he realised that releasing his material himself wasn’t as arduous as he once thought it was supposed to be. After the “Cardinal”/“Domino Theory” 12-inch in 2015, he decided to create a social context for it, too, and started his bi-monthly Timedance parties in the basement-level arts space of an old police station, called The Island.
“I can make it super dark, bring in a loud soundsystem, and create a space that allows you to be free to act however you want to act. It’s social, but not in the sense that you would find it by accident, like other parties might rely on,” he says. “It’s social in that you know what you’re getting into, and that it helps to push a group of people into a space that I want them to experience and enjoy.” He sees the label and the party working within a geographically aware context, too: of a U.K.-centric style of techno performed with a dub soundsystem mentality. “The term ‘U.K. techno’ is a broad one,” he says, “but what I find interesting about it is that it deliberately doesn’t fit in other places: it’s not like going to Berghain, and hearing an 15-hour variation on a kick drum.”
Timedance, then, has an intrusive approach: taking risks in order to inject shock into functionality, and be clear about their references without being shackled by them. “I want to listen to techno that captures me in the way that dubstep did – with that meditative atmosphere, and space for the bass.” Right now, Batu lives with the producer Bruce, whose recent work for the Hessle Audio label he finds a kinship with. He’s also written a collaborative EP with Lurka – the first of their limited white label releases, White Fringe, is out April 27th, 2016 – who’s set to release on Timedance in the near future, too. “We’re trying to find different ways to put our ideas together in ways that challenge what we’ve both done individually so far,” Batu says. “I want you to hear what we do on a dancefloor, and stop in your tracks.”
Listen to Batu’s Choice Mix on RBMA Radio here.