Hot on the heels of his game-changing Spatial EP for the newly minted Inflect Audio imprint, Coleco (aka Alex Shailer) delivers a heavyweight guest mix for Kmag readers that plumbs the depths of his inimitable and yet ever-evolving signature sound.
Best known for his role as co-founder of the Inflect club night and blog of the same name, Coleco seems to have found his true calling in the 160-170 bpm range, crisscrossing genre influences into a sweet stew of trap, d&b, footwork, dubstep and deep dark atmospheres that are all his own.
Already hard at work in his Bristol-based studio, we check in for a quick conversation about the past, present, and future of bass music Coleco-style.
You’ve made a name for yourself in the dubstep/breakstep scene with releases on imprints like Soul Motive and Orientis but seem to have found your true calling in the 160-170 bpm range. Talk a bit about the ways in which you see your sound evolving this past year.
I think this has been the year of getting closer to where I want to be in terms of production quality. I didn’t care too much about production levels in the past, all I wanted to do was ‘make music’, so I just whacked in sounds and instruments and often kept layering melody over melody until it sounded exciting.
Perhaps to a certain extent I was covering up for unrefined production. I think that was an era of exploring what I could do ‘musically’. I had always been heavily into break engineering, but over time I have become more and more interested in refining overall production levels, stripping everything back, and trying to make it all sound ‘big’ on a sound system.
I see that as a completely musical endeavor too. To me it’s like the difference between a flowing, organic impressionist painting, and something more ridged, defined and minimal, they’re both an art form in their own right.
Before I made stuff at 140, I used to make drum & bass anyway, so my more recent output is slightly revisiting where I started in terms of tempo. Dubstep always had that stripped back and subby ‘dark, lights off warehouse’ feel to it right from the start, so I guess I tried to bring my own, more melodic flavours to it.
I’m now interested in bringing that stripped back darker edge into my own take on multi-genre influenced uptempo music, whilst including some of what I learnt exploring melody and instruments.
I imagine Inflect was born out of this same creative, experimental space. Talk a bit about your role as co-founder of Inflect, especially the philosophy, vibe, and culture that you see the blog, club night, and now imprint, coming to represent.
I started Inflect in the summer on 2012 with my partner Lorna. We initially just wanted to bring some of the new exciting music to Bristol we felt we were not seeing enough of. Stuff with footwork influences, ‘trap’/hip-hop influences, just any music from people we were feeling that were (and still are) drawing ideas from a range of genres and inspiring fresh sounds.
So we started putting on the odd club night. After a while it became apparent that the brand could extend into other areas, plus, we don’t have the time to constantly bang out club nights every other week, book every international artist, and keep the brand on the map solely that way.
With the website (on which Lorna writes most of the articles), and now the label, we can just focus on what we want to focus on at that point in time. There’s nothing strict about it, we don’t have any timetables, we just like to let things happen naturally when they come.
It’s an attempt to catalogue multi-genre influenced music with a current (but not exclusive) emphasis on the higher tempo ranges.
At what point does the idea of an imprint come together, and more specifically, deciding on you as the primary artist to kick things off with your own EP?
The possibility of starting a label had been on my mind for a while. More recently I had what I thought could be an EP sitting on my computer, which was getting good DJ support, and a few people asking when the tracks were going to come out. I sent it out to quite a few people, but didn’t get any solid commitment to release it.
Whilst not always being completely happy with every track I make, this bunch I quite liked and thought could kick off things with Inflect putting out music. I guess I feel to a certain extent it starts to represent what we’re about.
We now want to put out tracks from other artists, it’s just about reaching out there, being sent the right tunes, and releases will happen when the time is right.
In many ways, this EP sets the perfect foundation for what the “Inflect” project seems to be about and represent. It resists all genre limitations and yet feels influenced by everything from footwork and trap to techstep and minimal drum & bass – talk a bit about the process of creation behind the EP and in particular how tunes like “Spatial” or “Expanded Awareness” draw upon your roots in dubstep but emerge as something uniquely new.
I guess the two lead tracks do draw from the dark sounds of earlier techstep like Bad Company, Dom & Roland, Ed Rush & Optical etc., which in turn influenced some of the ‘deeper, darker’ side of dubstep, but manifested in a more spacious and drawn out form.
I wasn’t initially exposed to much of the original trap/southern hip hop sound, but I found the rhythms in its more recent incorporation with electronic music particularly exciting and energetic. I wanted to draw that into these pieces and I think the production aesthetic fell somewhere between gritty, earlier techstep, dubstep, and the more ‘refined’ sound of recent, minimal drum & bass.
There’s also a breaky track on there with influences from footwork rhythms, which is another emphasis we’re looking at going forward.
The percussive elements of your tunes feel central to the power of them. I think a misconception out there is that if it’s half-time it’s going to be a simple kick and snare but you blow that idea right out of the water and lay it down proper. Talk a bit about the way you see breaks and complex beat structures working for you even on your most atmospheric productions.
A lot of dubstep, half-time d&b, footwork, and electronic music influenced trap, reminds me on different levels that things can be half time, yet still energetic and pacey. For me it’s the feeling that you’re nodding your head, or dancing along to each beat, rather than just swaying between the kick and snare.
That each beat has an element of staccato to it, keeping you firmly locked in. For that I feel you need lots of offbeats that let you bounce between each beat, and that’s what is brought to the table by music in a lot of these genres.
Another interesting element of your work is the ways in which you combine minimalism with these monster epic atmospheres. I’m thinking here of a tune like “Prime 2” which feels cinematic in the very best sense of the word. It’s deep and yet it’s still dancefloor material – a different kind of dancefloor perhaps – less about the “drop” and wilding out than getting lost in the beats and atmospheres.
How much of this is an outgrowth of the local scene in Bristol? What is it about Bristol, a seemingly hotbed of dark and moody music, which seems to allow for this sort of development in musical culture?
Bristol’s musical influence has become such a long and complicated thing to discuss in full. Granted, it’s wide ranging and colourful musical history from dub/reggae soundsystem culture, to d&b and dubstep, is going to have had a massive effect on producers brought up here, or why producers like me have moved here. After all, I moved here partially because so many good dubstep/d&b nights were happening, and for music in general.
More recently though, the musical focus of Bristol has moved further and further away from what I’m feeling. I’m finding myself more frequently looking elsewhere for inspiration, and the overall number of club nights has been dwindling. However, there’s greater numbers of people here that are ‘doers’ and willing to help you out.
The club nights wouldn’t have happened without people willing to help us out with promo, help us on the door, VJs like ASQ, and all the DJs that have helped us create full line-ups.
Overall, as you move into the 160-170 range, do you see this as an expansion or evolution of your previous work? In other words, do you have the sense that you are pulling listeners along with you or are you finding an entirely new audience? Do you see yourself and the rest of the Inflect crew as being at the forefront of a new wave of bass music or is it something else entirely?
There will be people who aren’t feeling my new stuff; people are exclusively into my more recent output, and people who like both the old and new. I’ve made such a wide variety of stuff other the years I’m used to that anyway. I do feel there is a new wave of ‘bass music’ coming through, I’ve felt that for a while and the whole thing has only seemed to have grown over time.
I also feel a part of it and think it’s very internationally based. That’s why Inflect could never stay as a local club night and had to extend online where it can represent international producers and reach an international audience.
Before we jump into the guest mix, where does Coleco and Inflect go from here?
I’m in talks with a few labels about future releases, but nothing concrete to announce yet. Perhaps I’ll put some more output on Inflect too. The brand will hopefully grow and just move in its naturally direction without too much planning or intention. We’re planning to re-design the site fairly soon and bring it to the next level.
Thanks to Kmag for letting me do this mix and all the producers that send me tracks. Also, RIP DJ Rashad, a true inspiration.