Living In The Laser: Appleblim Talks
Laurie Osbourne, better known as Appleblim, is a hard man to pin down, both geographically and professionally. His output serves as a microcosm of UK bass music’s trajectory over the past 15 years; a veritable encyclopaedia of genres and subgenera that have had a lasting influence on each other and on the wider world of electronic music.
On his labels Skull Disco, Apple Pips and Pipped, he’s demonstrated not so much a deft ability for capturing the cutting edge of electronic music as a seer-like knack for anticipating vogues of the future. To put it simply, if it’s bass heavy and British, the chances are Appleblim did it before anyone else did.
Now, 13 years after his debut release on his and Shackleton’s Skull Disco imprint, his first album ‘Life In A Laser’ is fast approaching, set for release on Jamie Russell’s Sneaker Social Club in March. The Ransom Note caught up with him to talk unlikely beginnings, staying ahead of the present and what’s to come in the future.
Hey Laurie, how’s it going?
It’s alright mate, it’s a Sunny day in Berlin which is rare!
Convenient you should say that, because it’s hard to tell where in the world you are at any given moment!
[Laughs] Yeah I’ve been a bit under the radar to be honest, just keeping my head down, writing music. But I’ve been over here… maybe a year and a half now? Doing some music teaching out here as well which has been interesting, just trying to get away from distractions and get projects finished, and it’s been reasonably successful.
Glad to hear it’s been reasonably successful at least! Whereabouts are you teaching?
It’s a college called DBS.
Oh weird, they’ve got one of those in Plymouth where I’m from.
Indeed! Well funnily enough, I know one of the guys that started it from down that way because, well, I’m not actually from Plymouth but I lived in Plymouth when I was a teenager.
That’s right, I remember reading you had a band back then called The Monsoon Bassoon that NME picked up on…
Yeah, we met in Plymouth and started our stuff down there but moved to London really quickly, but I was in various indie bands in and around Plymouth from ’91 to ’94, something like that, and then moved up to London.
How did you make the transition from playing in bands in an indie heyday? Because it’s quite a leap to make from that to the music you make now.
I didn’t attempt to put that sort of stuff into my music until later, but while I was in those bands we were always dabbling with electronic stuff with different friends, though I never really had my own equipment so I always had to try and jump in on a couple mates’. Funnily enough, a chap I worked with very early on at DBS is one of my best mates; he was very good with the tech side of things. He had a lot of equipment and we always used to bash about on that, but it wasn’t until later when it was affordable – computers and software and stuff – that I actually started making. Back then in Plymouth it was just what you did, you’d go to indie gigs and you’d go to the clubs as well. There was a good house club there called Cultural Vibes which was the big house night for the South West. Plymouth also had a big rave scene in terms of hardcore. There was a real mixture of stuff, and it’s all in my blood now.
It’s fascinating to hear you talk about that, because when I was at school we used to go to Plymouth on the weekends, and in terms of nightlife, I found it a little bleak.
I think the club scene has changed a lot, like it has across England. Shit loads of venues have closed, and back down there they used to have massive, massive raves at several clubs. The Warehouse had a load of big raves like Wasp Factory and Essence. They had everybody that was playing anywhere else around the UK, and they had it from ’89 onwards… yeah, there was a lot going on! Even up to Exeter and down to Cornwall as well.
Having missed that, that’s amazing. So you went from Plymouth to London with the band, then at some point you found yourself back in the westcountry.
So the band broke up and I went and studied music technology in Bath, that’s where I met a bunch of good friends. Also, that was at the exact time that stuff like grime and then not-even- dubstep, before it was called that; the garage and the breakstep, that was just starting to happen. We were Bath’s fans of that. We’d put on nights and travel up to London.
Back in those days, you were associated with dubstep before it meandered. Your output’s so varied that that always seemed to be mainly a place and time thing. Was that ever frustrating?
Oh yeah at points, definitely. I mean it’s such a weird situation anyway… We were just fans, we were the super fanboys of FWD>> and DMZ, dabbling in doing our own thing but obviously very inspired by people like Digital Mystikz, Skream and Benga. But, because we started a label at around the same time, we were hanging out in these places and knew these people just as fans. We were mainly involved in the scene as people who were dancers, first of all. Then it was like, ‘Oh, you make tunes, maybe you fancy spinning a few here and there.’ But it was never something that was planned, and as that kind of music blew up, it was fascinating to watch it happen and be involved in some way. I suppose it did occasionally become frustrating to be associated with a certain sound, because when I started playing FWD>>, I was trying to play a mixture of stuff. That was sometimes met with hostile reactions from audiences in different countries. When I’d be booked for a dubstep thing and I played anything but straight up 140 people used to get quite pissed off.
Now, you recently announced your first album, Life In A Laser, and if I’m not mistaken it’s coming 13 years after your first release, back on Skull Disco.
Yeah, so I never really thought I was capable of doing an album as it were, I definitely always just saw myself as someone who was experimenting, making tracks. I don’t really put myself in the same bracket as many producers who I look up to. But then after while I figured I’ve got loads more in the clip, as it were, why not see if anyone’s up for it? And for a while no one really was up for it, but then I sent them to my friend Jamie who I’ve known a long time now, and he was just really buzzing off them! He thought there was definitely an album in there, and it was nice to have his A&R-like input, a bit of guidance.
That’s Jamie from Sneaker Social Club that you’re talking about right? Because that seems like a very natural home for the album.
It’s nice because I really like the music on the label, I’ve had several friends release on it, we’re all in touch with each other, it’s kind of a scene. What’s nice about Jamie is he’s simply a passionate music fan: very knowledgable, in it for the right reasons. He’s got no front, it’s not a fashion thing, he just has really good ears and loves good music. So to work with Sneaker is fun, because my mates Al Tourettes, Luke Sanger, Neil Landstrumm have done it. It sort of fits.
I’d be curious to know how you hooked up with Al Tourette’s actually, because you’ve done so much work together, as ALSO and otherwise.
We met down in Bristol. Funnily enough, a lot of us all did the same uni course down there, a bunch of producers all passed through it. Not necessarily all in the same year or at the same time, but even down to people like Batu and so on, and even Addison Groove was there for a bit when we started, then we had Wedge and Gatekeeper, Luke Sanger and Al Tourettes back then. So we just met through the Bristol club scene and became firm friends. I’m a big fan of his music, so when I needed help engineering things, because I was being asked to do these remixes… sometimes I wasn’t really capable of completing that kind of work on my own. So, I’d often sit in with other people and we’d do it as a job together, like I used to work with him and used to work with Komonazmuk, then after a while we realised we weren’t making remixes anymore, we were just making beats, and it was kind of fun.
NCI, the lead single off the new album, intrigues me in the same way as a lot of your tunes do; that is, it seems to engage with multiple eras of dance music all at once . Is appropriating facets of the past to make something futuristic a conscious decision, or have your influences just culminated in that way?
It’s just the way I do things. In terms of the kind of melodies and riffs that I write, it’s always been stab related, because that’s been how I either use synths or samples. But on this album… there’s stuff on there that’s from four years ago and there’s stuff that’s really recent, so there’s a real mixture. I’ve obviously always been a big fan of all sorts, but basically when I was sitting down to do tracks I was like right, I’m not going to worry about what they are in terms of genre, let’s just see what comes out, I’ll try a few different tempos and not get restricted. Really, other than that, there wasn’t any main theme behind them, though I did stop being scared of breakbeats! In the past I’ve always shied away from making breakbeat or jungle even if it’s probably the music I know the most about, that I was affected by most in my youth, but I didn’t ever feel confident to bring something new to that arena. Like, if you grew up in that time, that kind of breakbeat science is such an art form, I thought: ‘what have I got to add to that?’ But after a while, when you get to the point where you realise you’re not really doing this for any particular reason, not explicitly to get gigs, you just think ‘why not have a mess about?’ I found I really enjoyed it. I’m losing my fear of that, and even trying to make some stuff at that tempo for various labels, it’s a fun time to lose your fear of that.
That’s interesting, because I noticed that Lee Gamble’s been playing some stuff from your record, and I think his work does a similar thing concerning the past, the present and the future, but his seems to come from a much more academic, calculated place. I think it’s cool you’ve both arrived at a similar place for different reasons.
I think with anything, you definitely start off trying to mimic your heroes, and if I thought in my head what I wanted this album to sound or look like, it would be the music that I love. I love Reinforced Records, I love Carl Craig, I love Shut Up and Dance. But, it’s never going to really sound like that, because they did it on their equipment and I’m not trying to follow them. I just think that if there’s a bit of their vibe creeping in, that can only be a good thing.
For sure. You never got sucked into dubstep enough to be an archetypical dubstep guy, and the kind of thing you’ve released with Al Tourettes as ALSO seems very in vogue now. Do you have some crystal ball somewhere, or just never been one for trends?
Well I mean, I don’t know if our stuff really is in vogue at all to be honest, I’d love it to be! Al’s a massive fan of electro, house and techno, he’s got an incredible knowledge and an incredible passion for it, but he doesn’t want to make stuff that sounds like classic electro. He’s been playing that stuff since he was young, out in raves in Norfolk, and I think that’s sometimes the way it works with us. He’s very against making something that either sounds like something else or follows certain rules. He always wants to make something that’s really interesting rhythmically and is funky enough to make people dance, but he’s not interested in replicating a classic electro sound, even though he could go out and DJ that stuff all day because he’s got a kind of supreme knowledge of it, you know? So it’s a case of taking influences and going ‘actually, I want to do something that’s very different to that.’ We’ve got some new stuff ready as well and it’s as bonkers as the last stuff. We don’t really fit in anywhere; it’s not straight up techno, not straight up electro, perhaps you could call it electronica. Stuff that’s meant to make you dance.
Ideal. Just before we finish up, this is The Ransom Note so I have to ask, are you excited to play Houghton for the first time this Summer?
Oh, 100%! It was one of my favourite weekends of the year last year. It was an absolute lesson to other festivals – especially in England – in how to do it. Obviously, the guys behind Gottwood are helping run the structure, and Gottwood’s another one of my favourite festivals because they care, and it’s not a ripoff. They have good sound, amazing attention to detail. I’m not levelling accusations at other places, but I think it was kind of refreshing to go somewhere that was so well organised, and the sound was incredible. To think that you might not get that at other places is a depressing reality of how in England we have such restrictive laws. I was watching a really interesting documentary about Orbital and the late ‘80s rave scene, and you look at it and… that’s 20,000 people plus soundsystems where no-one was telling you what to do, and unfortunately now we’re living in a world of authorities and people have to work within those rules. Generally, people do a good job, but I think somewhere like Houghton; there’s just such a good vibe and such good music. We bumped into the Kamaal Williams trio on a sunny Sunday afternoon while Radioactive Man was playing, which goes to show there’s such a nice mixture of stuff, and all presented so well, so hats off to them, and super excited about bringing some stuff there. I might even try to get a live set together! We’ll see.
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