Track By Track: Low End Activist
With a name like Low End Activist, you know exactly what weighty treats you’re in for.
Manoeuvring in the worlds of bass and grime, the Berlin-based artist is synonymous (literally) with crafting sub-heavy, fractured rhythms, rife with crisp percussion and deftly sourced samples.
These instrumentals have formed the perfect soundbed for collaborations with some of the most exciting MCs about – the likes of Flowdan, Trim and Razor, to name a few – which have been housed on singles and EPs for Seagrave, Earful Of Wax and his own imprints, Low End Activism and Sneaker Social Club.
It’s the latter label that is the home for his latest release, and first ever album, Hostile Utopia. A distinctly UK record, there’s nods to the rich history of hardcore, jungle, dubstep and grime in the forceful fractured rhythms, contorted bass lines and moody tones across its 15 tracks.
Following the release last week, LEA takes us through the LP, via tracks made using completely hometown exclusive source samples, a hefty injection of the Gliding Squares preset, as well as infectious collaborations with Mez, Emz, Killa P and Cadence Weapon…
If I remember correctly, I was listening to a lot of T++ at the time and was always intrigued by how his found sounds made there way into his grooves, always wonky and close to dysfunctional. So this was my attempt at making something lopsided but with a typical soundsystem sub rhythm trying to centre the track. All layered up with wisps of sampled MC vocal cuts.
All of the source samples of this track are hometown exclusives! MC cuts are taken from old 2G recordings, who were a young Grime crew on the estate I grew up on, Blackbird Leys. Shouts to Cando for hooking me up with those, the car screeches and sirens are from old ITV news footage documenting the riots that were happening at the time. ‘Joyriders’ would steal high powered motors from off the estate and bring them back home to display, they would have given Colin McRae a run for his money tbf – we used to gather at the top shops and cheer on the ‘hotters’. This was our entertainment as there was f’all else to do tbh.
Mercenary feat. Mez
More car screeches here skidding about, simple Eski bassline backed up by some 808 perc. I’d been chatting to Mez for a while about working together, and sent him over a bunch of instrumentals and this was the one he picked out. He nailed it. For the record IG’ers are Instagramers lol
I picked up a Korg Triton rack mount a few years ago from my good friend Haider, and of course this includes the hallowed Gliding Squares preset made famous by Wiley and his Eski sound. Apparently he just latched on to it cos N.E.R.D/ Neptunes used it in all their productions. It’s an amazing bit of kit and I will never get rid of it. So the bass in this track was created using that, i’ve had days where i’ll just sit and record loads of basslines and riffs. So many that i’ve not used yet are just sat on my hard drive, i’ll never tired of that sound. These basslines just seemed to work well with the drums I happened to make during this particular studio session.
Get Get feat. Emz
I recorded this at my mate Charlie’s (Cocktail Party Effect) studio, he’s got loads of amazing gear and I think we used his Benidub delay here on all the background vocal samples. A typical UKG beat with a heavy and infectious bassline if I may say so myself? The whirring riff gliding throughout was a heavily FX’d sample taken from the soundtrack of the underrated Channel 4 series ‘Utopia’. My link up with Emz was thanks to Sam Binga who also recorded the vocal session and mixed the record. Big team effort on this one =)
This beats a homage to Jon E Cash. Simple Grime drums driven by the snares. I still play a lot of Jon E’s records out, timeless stuff. Drums are reinforced in this tune by a driving Reese bassline and MC samples are from endless hours of digging through old pirate radio documentaries on Youtube.
The album overall is mostly in the 130-140 tempo range, this one’s a bit pacier. The bass is put through my EMU6400 Ultra hence the raspy sound. The drums are stripped and tweaked with a load of reverb and delay using the Vahalla plugins (which I use extensively in all my tracks) and the string sounds at the end are sampled from an old Ed Rush record. It’s a very simple track!
Signal To Noise (Tek Remix)
I think I had the idea of an album coming together by this point and started thinking about where this was all coming from, looking back on influences and trying to inspire more ideas for further tracks. I was listening back to my first LEA record and the original source sample I used on that. I decided to have a go at remixing it and merged the ‘Nuff man Tek Charlie…’ vocal sample from the original track with Cutty Rank’s classic ‘The Going is Rough’. For a good while i’d set myself the challenge of making tracks and resisting the urge to throw a break in it, but I just couldn’t help myself here, that said it was teased in and wasn’t rinsed. Lots of heavy distortion too.
DFRNT STYLE feat. Killa P
The main sliding synth line here is a sample ripped from Thomas Bangalter’s ‘Irrerversible’ OST. Literally any beats I chucked under this sounded heavy AF!! But I ended up with this simple Kick, Kick, Clap beat. Subs spat out of the EMU again and the simplicity of it was an obvious choice for an MC to have a go on. I sent over a pack of instrumentals to Patrick (Killa) and this was the one he went for. DFRNT style for him perhaps?
A hollow, deep stepper. Pads and synth sounds sequenced using the Hydrasynth, which was fresh out the box. This was literally the first play around on it. Fed back through my Memory Man pedal.
Super Highway feat. Cadence Weapon
Gliding Squares doing their thing again here. Underpinned by some subs. Super simple track once more, I purposely set out to make tracks that are stripped to begin with. Bass + Drums and take it from there, this one seemed a logical choice again for an MC. I found Cadence Weapon’s music through Bandcamp and his track ‘Lisa’s Spider’ was in a playlist I would regularly listen to whilst out running, his embracing of experimental beats in his own music resonated with me massively, kinda reminded me of Antipop Consortium so I just reached out on Twitter and we got chatting.
‘Cold’ was a result of an understanding of what I felt the album was missing once it started coming together. I wanted the project to convey different feelings across the overall listen, not just full of my usual darkside stuff. This is on a similar tip to the LEA004 EP I put out, tough beats but overlayed with melody. Hard but sombre. The album is a love letter to back home, growing up learning to take the rough with the smooth. That juxtaposition of beauty and the beast is somewhat the output here?
The title is a reference to the use of a fairly classic sample here, it was important to not just stick a break under it out of respect. I’m not a sample purist tbh, I take from what’s within my recent peripheral view and that can be anything from what film I’ve just watched or an old record i’ve stuck on the turntable. I tend to just file stuff away as I spot it and every couple of weeks I’ve got some strong starting points for new tracks. The drums were programmed on my Elektron Analog 4. R-R-R-Rush safely yeah?
Tough time in my life, I’ll say no more. I was writing a lot of sad music, it’s a cliché but music really is escapism/ therapy. This was one I later came back to and tweaked, added some drums using the Elektron A4 again. Seemed quite fitting to see out the home straight with.
The vocal sample is Loreena McKennitt singing ‘Bushes & Briars’ it’s an old English folk song that many artists have covered over the last century. The earliest cover of this is a phonograph recording supposedly made in 1904 by Mrs Humphreys of Ingrave!
I found a rare live demo online after a deep dive traced back from DJ Seduction’s ‘Sub Dub’ – who sampled it from Bumble’s ‘West in Motion’ (that also featured a Andrew Weatherall remix on the 12”). Quite simply, I played in a simple layered hoover + sub bassline, and I put through a low bed of crowd noise (sampled from a Saxon vid) through the memory man. Basically, still keeping it UK innit? =)
Hostile Utopia is out now on Sneaker Social Club.