Batu on Bristol

The Bristol producer talks about his unique sound, inspired by the city he calls home

Each week, RBMA Radio’s First Floor explores the newest releases in world of house and techno. On the most recent episode, young Bristol producer Batu joined the show to talk about his new EP and Timedance label, which unleashed a torrent of releases in 2016, all of them exploring a unique hybrid of techno and the UK’s famed hardcore continuum. Read an excerpt below and listen to First Floor on RBMA Radio here every Thursday at 1 PM EDT.

Alex Digard

When it comes to your music, both your own stuff and the things you release from other artists on Timedance, people seem to have a hard time describing exactly what it is. When I look at reviews and interviews, journalists like myself tend to use a lot of awkward descriptions and explanations. But, in your mind, what is this music?

The way I see it, it’s producers from quite a similar background growing up in the UK at the same time. We all had an interest in genres very much defined by the UK, whether that be drum & bass or dubstep or garage. And we all kind of came through that kind of world and followed labels like Hessle Audio and Swamp 81 and this kind of movement into lower tempos, eventually ending up in techno for the most part.

I think we all kind of followed that kind of route, but then maybe felt that some of the music that we grew up with that is so ingrained in our musical heritage wasn’t shining through into some of the music we were listening to. So, I feel like we all kind of want to add certain elements of our musical past into something that feels quite new and current, fitting somewhere in between techno and bass music and those kinds of styles.

But I think what’s kind of interesting is I feel like there’s a little vacuum that’s going on, where we’re trying to write music with quite individual styles, but it’s all kind of falling together under a certain mood or tempo or style. And I think we all feel quite free to do what we want, people involved in the label. Nothing’s too formulated, but equally there is a continuity to it.

You mentioned that the music has this relationship with techno, but UK techno can mean a lot of different things. I feel like usually when people talk about UK techno, they’re referring to artists like Blawan and Surgeon where the genre intersects more with industrial and noise sounds. So, how do you feel like the music you make relates to techno? What’s your relationship like with techno as a genre?

I find a lot of techno interesting and also quite frustrating I guess. I find the straightness and lack of room to maneuver quite stifling. I think one interesting aspect to that is playing more gigs in Europe, where people are expecting very straight sets rhythmically. And it’s something that, while I enjoy a challenge, I also find it sometimes frustrating how the crowd really kind of dictates the rhythm that they want. But I find the sounds using techno, the kind of futuristic aspect of the music, really exciting and interesting.

So, I like aspects of techno, but ultimately I don’t think I would ever be a true techno producer. I remember a few years ago, when I was kind of first finding my sound, trying to write Berghain-style techno tracks and just getting incredibly annoyed at myself and frustrated. I couldn’t make them in the way that I wanted to. But after a while, I learned that was actually what was going to set me apart from other producers. I had to find my own way to make music I was happy with, rather than following a path that was already laid out.

Listening to the new EP and a lot of the Timedance stuff in general, I hear a lot of low end, and I hear a lot of percussion. But there isn’t much in the way of melody. And I was wondering if that’s intentional.

I do really like melody in dance music, but I also feel like it’s most impactful when it’s used more sparingly. You can kind of be overwhelmed with melody if there’s too much, and I think essentially dance music revolves around drums and bass. Every scene or music I was ever interested in within dance music revolved around those two elements and how you could move people physically with them.

I’ve never really been someone who’s liked music with a maximalist attitude or anything like that. I tend to like stuff that revolves around some good rhythms and maybe a couple of hooks and not too much else. I also feel like the other artists on the label feel the same, generally. We like stuff that is pretty stripped back and quite simple in a sense, but when it’s well-executed, it can be intricate within that.

Every scene I was ever interested in within dance music revolved around drums and bass.

So you live in Bristol, but you’re not originally from there. What made you move to the city instead of, say, going to London?

I think there’s a mixture of different things. London, for most young people, especially young creative people at the moment, is prohibitively expensive. I think I would have very little time to write music or to develop ideas if I was living in London. And I’ve also always felt very supported by the people in Bristol. My first two releases, in fact: One came out with Pinch and then the one after came out with Peverelist. They’re the two most important people within dance music in probably the last ten years in terms of how things have developed here in Bristol. They always felt incredibly approachable and supportive of me.

Also, just the music that came from Bristol when I was growing up was something that felt very exciting. If you think of the kind of 2008-2009 period of dubstep: Bristol, for me, really felt like it really took the reigns over from London. The mix of styles with the kind of hybrid dubstep-techno crossover stuff is something that, especially as I look back, is something that was really important to the way I saw music.

If you look back at the last decade or so of electronic music coming out of Bristol, with things like Skull Disco up through the Young Echo collective and Livity Sound, all of it is colored by a certain darkness. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on why so much of the electronic music coming out of Bristol feels dark and ominous or foreboding or whatever adjective you want use to describe it?

I think probably the thread running through all those labels you mentioned is dub. That kind of aesthetic of production really lends itself to a kind of darkness. I don’t think we’re necessarily a people that are particularly dark in our outlook on things, but I think we’re all very much informed by the process and the influences. That dub aesthetic and that process of writing music around big basslines and delays, that’s something that runs through all of it and makes it end up with a certain dread aesthetic.

By Shawn Reynaldo on February 16, 2017

On a different note