Photo by Alida Bea.
Having contributed our fifth ever mix all the way back in 2011, it’s been rather special to see Zak Brashill, aka Etch’s career unfold. The mix provided an insightful look at the history of hardcore and jungle, featuring tunes plenty of seasoned ravers would struggle to list, let alone a first year uni student. But Zak’s knowledge of music always seemed to have defied his years. Perhaps this is due to the fact he inherited his uncle’s entire record collection in his early teens, the magic of labels like Moving Shadow and Reinforced instilled during his formative years.
It is this which may have set him apart in an era where many are resurrecting Amen, Apache and Think samples. His early releases on Soundman Chronicles and Keysound could easily have been freshly unearthed gems from the mid-90s – twisted sci-fi samples, spliced and filtered breaks and staggered blasts of sub, meshed together with deft ability. Fast forward to 2018 and we were treated to Brashill’s debut album, Ups & Downs on Sneaker Social Club. Crafting a dreamlike narrative somewhere between the club and the inebriated late night bus ride home, the album references a number of classic jungle and hardcore tropes with subtlety, calling to mind stripped-back Photek classics like ‘UFO’ or ‘Ni Ten Ichi Ryu’.
With the album out for a few months, we caught up with Zak to discuss its development, playing Brighton’s notorious Volks on Valentine’s Day and the crossover between breakcore and metal.
I really enjoyed last year’s Ups and Downs LP. I know it spans a few years in terms of productions – how did you approach putting it together and what was the process like in terms of making it an album rather than what you’d put out on an EP?
It was mainly with the assistance of Donga [Ashley Marlowe]. He was the one that initially wanted to do an album with me on his label Gully, all the way back in 2014. He had been a fan of the 12”s I’d already put out and I’d been going to lots of the Well Rounded nights. He asked if I wanted to do an album and I thought fuck it, might as well! It went through lots of iterations – he’s notoriously indecisive about picking things out. It got to last year, and that was when Jamie – who runs Hypercolour, Space Hardware and Sneaker Social Club – kind of stepped in to help.
Ash is such a figure in the Brighton music scene.
Yeah he is, he’s somewhat of an unsung hero. He’s one of the best fucking DJs ever and half of my record collection I’ve bought or have come from him in some way. He’s great.
“I realised all this music I really liked had been around me already.”
On a Brighton-related note, I saw you were been booked to play Volks this Valentines Day and wanted to ask about some of your early experiences going out in the city…
What a place to be on Valentine’s Day [laughs]. My friends and I got fake IDs when we were about 15, and just wanted to go out and cause havoc. But I was always the one that was selecting the nights that we would go to. The main one I would get excited about was Super Dub Pressure at Concorde 2, which was run by Unlikely, who now runs Rye Wax in London. They were incredible – they used to bring in a huge rig. I remember seeing Loefah do a three hour straight dubstep set. Some of those nights were just incredible. There was another night called Beat Redemption which was focused on the beat scene at the time. They used to have Kode9, Samiyam and Rafferty – people like that.
I probably went to Volks around the same time. Volks was always a strictly drum and bass, jungle and breakcore club. It’s just the most extreme – I fucking love the Volks. It’s got a really bad reputation, but because it does have that reputation, it keeps away certain people and crowds that you don’t really want there. The only people that go there are weirdos and it adds to the atmosphere. I really like that.
It’s not in much danger of being Shoreditch-ified. It’s the sort of club where you see nights there advertised exclusively on dual-carriageway lampposts.
One of the main promoters – Voytek – is a good friend of mine. He’s had a drum and bass night there for like 20 years now. I was talking to him recently – he went to Berghain in Berlin and I was like “OK give me your honest opinion…” He was like “mate it’s just like a giant Volks” [laughs]. I wasn’t actually surprised.
You mentioned breakcore – Brighton has had quite a big scene for breakcore with Wrong Music, DJ Scotch Egg and Shitmat etc. You’ve become known for working with breaks but how much does that scene feed into it as well?
When I was in year seven at school I was a goth and was proper into Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson and that kind of shit. I realised it was kind of corny and I was looking for something just dark and hard. That was when I stumbled on breakcore on the internet. The first tune I heard was ‘Childkiller’ by Venetian Snares. I was hooked and pretty much all I listened to for the next few years was breakcore. That was how I found my way into drum and bass and jungle as well.
There’s kind of an unlikely link between metal and breakcore.
Yeah, that’s true. There’s a breakcore artist called Aaron Spectre who did a project called Drumcorps. He’d sample doom metal and put amen breaks over the top.
What films and video-games fed into the album too?
The whole album has samples from video-games and films throughout. It’s something I really gravitate towards. Especially with UK hardcore, they were all sampling old films at the time, like Predator 2 and Bladerunner. I wanted to bring it up to speed with the times. The things you can take out of video games – you just wouldn’t expect how much you can do with them. Like pitching down the menu selection theme in Rayman - you can do so much with sampling. Games fed into that album a huge amount.
It’s interesting because some of the first, weird electronic music I heard was in video-games. They felt much more underground in the early-2000s and before.
Absolutely. Infact there’s this really weird game - I think it only came out in Japan - it’s called LSD Dream Emulator. It came out on Playstation 1. There’s a remix album with it, and it has remixes from Luke Vibert and Mike Paradinas and all those kind of people on it. There’s definitely a big connection there.
I remember you telling me once how you’d inherited lots of jungle and hardcore records from your uncle.
My uncle, mum and my auntie were big ravers in the ’90s. Even when I wasn’t really paying attention to music, that music was around me all the time. Like I said when I was a goth at the beginning of school, that was an image thing. I just wanted to rebel. But as soon as I sacked that off, I realised all this music I really liked had been around me already. Stuff like Altern8, Manix and 2 Bad Mice. When my uncle moved to America, which I think was in 2005, I would have been 13. He left me all of his records and hard-drives full of tunes as well. It was just so much to go through.
He did record art for a few labels too right?
He started out as a graffiti artist in Brighton, and then he got a job working for a comic strip in Brighton called 2000AD. He got tapped up to do artwork for Ninja Tune. I think he did some stuff for Mo Wax, and he also did stuff for the TV series Spaced. He did all of the drawings that Simon Pegg’s character does. He also spray painted the backdrop for The Prodigy’s Fat of The Land Tour, he’s been involved in a lot of shit.
On the subject of having that music around you growing up – what’s like being in a position where you’re mixing in the same circles as those people?
It’s weird. They are so fucking old school, they don’t even talk to you on the internet. They’re like “what’s your phone number bruv?” It’s just like I can’t believe I’m sitting there talking to Foul Play, or Simon from 2 Bad Mice, telling me stories about the ’90s and raves. I DJ’d with 2 Bad Mice in Berlin two years ago now. It was just surreal. They’ve got stories for days man.
And you even had a tune played by Aphex Twin.
I didn’t believe that at first. I remember one of my friends – Darwin – she’s a DJ in Berlin. She was going to the Aphex Twin night and messaged me saying she thought she heard my tune. I was just going to bed and thought she was high and went to bed. The next day it blew up and everyone was messaging me [laughs]. That’s my least favourite tune on the album too! I made that tune in about 40 minutes in the back of a car on my laptop. What the fuck.
What’s it been like for your uncle seeing you enter the same sort of scene he was working in?
He’s been really supportive and is really into my music. I always send my music to him before I send it to anyone else. He’s always been into the newest, most-cutting edge music. At the moment, he’s really into all the stuff that’s coming out of L.A ‘cause he lives in Seattle now. Do you know Tsuruda? It’s basically like a progression from Flying Lotus and the beats scene and all that. He’s really into that so I feel like I’m lagging a bit!
I wanted to ask about Bun the Grid and how that started. Did you have serious intentions for it when you began it?
I mean I’ve kind of taken a step back from it. It’s mainly Dom [Bulu]’s label. It kind of was a bit of a joke in the first place, even the name. It started ‘cause I made this track on my lunch break at work, which was ‘Yo Yo Riddim’. Dom was asking how I made it because the beat is a bit skew-whiff. I had turned the grid invisible and just sort of put the beats wherever. He was like “oh what, so you bunned the grid?” and that was what he called the label. The first release on that was sort of my doing. I wanted to get Gantz and Moresounds to do the remix, and then the second release was more his doing. Me and Deft did the remixes for that.
We still discuss stuff and he runs things past me but it’s definitely his thing at the moment. He’s more into the bangers and stuff that’s hard, and he’s good at sourcing it.
What are your plans for 2019? I heard you might be working on something for the WNCL Toolkit series?
That’s gone through so many different iterations already. I can’t really make my mind up on what I want to do with it. The most recent one was just hardcore loops. It didn’t really fit well… I’m kind of confused where to take it to be honest but I’ll get there eventually. I need to be in the right sort of headspace as I have so much other shit going on. But I’m really enjoying working with Bob [Bhamra] because he’s fucking wicked. When I had a show on Radar Radio he submitted this incredible psychedelic rock mix.
I’m also continuing to work with Jamie on stuff for Sneaker Social Club. I’ve got a grime record coming out with Nico Lindsay on Sneaker Social Club, and am also on a compilation they are doing. The track I just put up on Soundcloud also caught his attention and he’s basically just asked for three more of those! It’s basically the tune I’ve been trying to make since I was 15. I don’t know how I did it. It made itself!