Next Steps: Bloom Talks
It’s the year 2012. The one hundred and forty bpm template that has served grime so well is becoming rigid and dry. Enter Bloom.
Belfast isn’t the first city that comes to mind when epochal instrumental grime enters the conversation, yet it’s were ‘Quartz’, a forward looking, format evolving and quite brilliant piece of composing, was created by experimental producer Bloom. Since then the artist has dipped in and out of the electronic waters, only really showing himself when there’s something of peak curiosity.
Since ‘Quartz’, Bloom has gone on to be handpicked by Icelandic queen Bjork to remix her own work, and has released on the incredible (and sadly deceased) Lost Codes and Bristol based imprint Crazylegs, which is where his most recent project, ‘Sfumato’, has landed.
The title lends itself to an Italian painting technique, most importantly practiced by Leonardo da Vinci. It is implemented to soften the transition between colours, in order to blur what the human eye may be focusing on. The Mona Lisa is, of course, the most famous example of this.
It’s entirely appropriate for the sound that echoes from the record within. If you couldn’t guess from the artwork, ‘Sfumato’ is a piece of raw romanticism, robotic emotionalism and vibrant sound design. It’s without a doubt the producer’s most impactful record to date, uniting gun metal, overwhelming atmospherics and epic synths that crash, shunt and explode.
I caught up with Bloom himself to talk about creating one of grimes most influential tracks, throwing 2-step parties in Belfast and the inspiration behind his most extensive release yet.
When did you first start getting into experimental music and grime? There is virtually no scene for those forms of music in Belfast, though it is changing slowly with crews like RESIST and Topia making themselves known. What was it that sparked your interest in these forms of music?
"I used to be into house and techno years ago, as you would be, growing up [in Belfast]. More things started popping up on the internet. I’d be finding stuff like Rinse which introduced to more experimental music, the likes of grime and other bits and bobs. It was a gradual process, you know what I mean? It didn’t happen overnight. Your taste slowly changes, and then you start being influenced by other things."
Quartz came out on Mr Mitch’s Gobstopper Records. How did that come around?
"There was one before Quartz (smiles). It was influenced by Joker and Hudson Mohawke’s kind of sound. He was making this really colourful mixture of r&b and grime. I tried to do a bit of that, it wasn’t great. It was a really cool sound; I just wasn’t very good at it! I think that’s actually how Quartz came about. I was still into that grimey stuff, but it went a bit darker.
I just tried my hand at making something like grime; not even because I was massively into it. I was just hearing certain tracks and shows on rinse, like Bok Bok’s, where they were mixing techno with grime, and some people were doing more experimental UK stuff like Logos. I was influenced by all of that and decided to give it a go myself."
What’s it like working with Mitch? I’ve heard he’s something of a genius…
"I just stuck the track up on Soundcloud and got some really decent feedback on it. I didn’t think much of it, but Mr. Mitch messaged me asking if he could release it straight away. I was like “aye, go ahead”. The buzz was happening now, may as well get it out there."
Quartz has been categorised as the defining track that incited a wave of new, forward thinking artists to abandon the current grime template and widening up the possibilities. When you were making the track did you have any idea at the time how massive an influence it would become on others? Did it FEEL different to other stuff you’d heard?
"I’m not going to lie, there as one point I stepped back and went 'fuck me, that’s mental', but even then I was thinking that I was the only one that was going to enjoy it. It sonically blew my ears off a wee bit. I thought I’ll stick this on Soundcloud and it’ll get a couple of plays.
There’s really not much to it when you think about it. It’s just sparse and grimey with weird sound effects and synths. I don’t think it’s that forward thinking, really."
It’s of course the track that led to Bjork commissioning remixes. What was going through your mind when the footage emerged of her playing the original mix in New York?
"I knew she was in with Robin from Tri Angle. I think she did a guest mix on his Rinse show or something like that. That video… That was a nice moment. It completely blew me away. I’d released Hydraulics and the Lost Codes record also. This was 2014/2015. She was playing my track from 2012 which was pretty cool. That led to her emailing me asking me to do a remix for her. I was like 'no way, this is one of my mates winding me up!'"
What is your creative process like when developing a track? I’ve read that you use grime as a loose template for yourself to experiment.
"You’d be lying if you said you aren’t influenced by anyone. I like to think I bounce off people that are making similar sounding stuff to me. The likes of Rabit’s label and Lee Gamble. Mumdance’s stuff as well. You get the jist. There’s people doing really interesting stuff and it makes you want to be a part of it. You want to have your own little stamp on it. It’s hard to describe this type of music these days.
I’m not some sort of experimental connoisseur, to be honest with you. I listen to loads of rap and even pop. When it comes to making music I like to go a little bit mad. I’m not really happy until I’ve made something completely weird. It’s a lot more fun to see where you can go."
You released an EP on Lost Codes. What happened with that label? I remember they put out some incredible stuff from Dark0, too.
"There was a really good string of releases on there, with Dark0 and Acre and stuff. Visionist maybe just started doing his own personal stuff a bit more. I think Codes and PAN linked up to create a sub-label, didn’t they? I think they did a few releases. That happens, doesn’t it though? Curating an experimental record label is tough."
Hydraulics came out on Crazylegs in 2014. There’s a track on there dedicated to one of Belfast’s most beloved independent venues – The Menagerie. Can you talk me through your love affair with the place, and how important you feel it is for independent venues to be supported, especially here in Belfast where licensing is so tough.
"I bloody love that place. We ran parties there for years, running a party called Ecker in 2008. We brought over Brackles, who was playing loads of 2-step and garage at the time. We were all massively into that. There weren’t a lot of people in Belfast doing that, especially at that time."
There still aren’t a lot of people doing it now, with the exception of local DJs like Jamie Nelson.
"There were really good parties. Packed out. We had, like, Terror Danjah and stuff as well. The venue itself, The Menagerie, just seems like a local to me. It’s the place to go, even if you’re not massively into the music that’s going on, there’s always something happening. Andy and Chad, who look after the place since it re-opened, are two really good lads. In terms of support for independent venues, are there enough people? There are plenty of independent nights. I think it’s kind of balanced out. As someone who doesn’t really go out much, I can’t really comment too much. What do you think, as someone who goes out more than me?"
I don’t really think it’s a lack of support; it’s more of a licensing issue. There aren’t many venues in Belfast that can now run until after 1am.
"Yeah, that’s true. I look at London and I think wow, look how many venues have closed down there over the years. Like, actually been shut down. It’s a bit nuts. We seem to be doing OK here in terms of actually keeping places open, albeit only until 1am."
Do you keep an eye on the experimental music scene in Belfast? What do you make of it at the moment? There’s been some great stuff put out on RESIST recently, with Son Zept’s debut EP and Shiva Feshareki’s debut album being released, but I still feel there’s more to be done. I guess it’s hard when the city is so small.
"Yeah, I’ve played for both RESIST and Topia."
Did you listen to THAT Son Zept EP?
"Oh aye. One of my mates got in touch with me to ask if I’d heard it, I was like yeah mate, I know the guy! I really hope the label [RESIST] itself does really well. The people they’ve brought over are fantastic too; a lot of the kind of people I’d be listening to. Like, that Aisha Devi gig. The amount of effort that was put into the visual side of things was immense. It’s great to see people doing things like that in Belfast. It’s so important to have that option here."
Can you talk me through the title and artwork? I believe the title is taken from an old painting method?
"I was just trying to come up with something half interesting. I’m not really into putting out political stuff. If people do, fair play, but, for me, I was trying to find an interesting avenue to go down.
I’ve got this Leonardo da Vinci book in the house, and a load of other art books, that I look at from time to time for inspiration. It’s nice to sometimes physically turn pages and look at visual stuff as opposed to just sitting on a laptop.
The artwork was created by Sam Rolfes. He’s an incredible artist. Look at his Instagram page, it’s nuts. I really wish, before doing the EP, that I had looked into doing some sort of visual show. His ties perfectly to the sound of the release."
The EP is quite cinematic. It beautifully blends raw emotionalism and concrete slabs of impact. It’s something I could imagine accompanied by visuals. Are there any plans for you to develop a visual show?
"I’ve been chatting about it with Andy from Crazylegs. I think it’s a really important way of presenting this type of music to people. It’s not club music; you need something to run alongside it – something to actually bring it to people. It’s hard to get around just releasing these types of records on their own. Maybe it’s time to do something like that. Let’s get Christmas out of the way first! I work in a restaurant too, so I need to balance it with that."
Do you find that difficult? Balancing a day job with music?
"Not really, to be honest. I think it’s important, for me anyway, to only do music when I really feel like I want to. If I was doing stuff all the time it would lose the fun element."
What if music became your full time job? Would it make or break you? I’ve seen a few artists and writers mention recently that they wish they had any other job in the world, and were doing what they love on the side. It’s an interesting concept, and one that only occurred to me quite recently.
"If there were loads of really good opportunities presented in front of you, then yeah, it’d be great. For me though, I have to work. I need to live. It sorts your head out sometimes, do you not think so? Instead of sitting in front of a laptop all day, melting my head. I’d need to go for a walk or something. When the work starts to out-balance the fun, that’s when you need to ask yourself, are you happy? That’s the most important thing at the end of the day."
The EP has been described as your most “transportive expression” to date. Was this what you were going for when creating it? Or was this something that came about naturally?
"I wanted to create a little more melody in there. All the other stuff has been pretty dark and sparse. I mean, the new record is still, at times, dark, but it’s definitely got a bit more melody than my previous work."
You have a reputation for long hiatus’ between work. Is there anything you’re currently working on or any shows coming up that you would like to tell people about?
"I want to make more music in 2019, for sure. Well, I’ve made things already, but they’re not finished. I did a thing for David Holmes there. I remixed for his project that was part of the Killing Eve soundtrack. That should be out next year. I’ve been talking to a few people about putting on a night, a bit more regularly. It’s not set it in stone, but we’ll see."
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