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Big in Japan: Submerse

Rob Orme aka Submerse began making waves back in 2009, with releases on L2S Recordings capturing his distinctive take on the emergent ‘future garage’ sound. In the two years that followed he rapidly became one of the fastest rising stars in the scene, commanding mainstream attention from BBC Radio 1, The Guardian and DJ Mag, and underground favour with labels such as Slime, Well Rounded, Off Me Nut, Fortified Audio, Frijsfo Beats and Mutant Bass. Having demonstrated a knack for churning out stunning 2-step material and balls-to-the-wall 4×4 in equal measures, both in his tracks and DJ sets, Hyponik enlisted the young producer’s talents, where he showed an advanced grasp of all things bass on Hyp Mix 023.

The past 18 months have seen Submerse step away from the garage domain, coinciding with his move from the UK to Tokyo, and focusing on a slower, more ambient and textured approach to beats. After last year’s signing to esteemed Berlin imprint Project: Mooncircle and R&S offshoot Apollo Records, Rob kicks off 2013 with the 7-track EP ‘Algorithms and Ghosts’, dropping March 15th on PMC. We had a chat with him to get some insight on the release, his ever-evolving sound, hip-hop influences, and life in Japan.  He was also kind enough to give us an exclusive stream of his forthcoming remix for Japanese producer Emufucka.

 

You’ve been a Tokyo resident for a while now. Tell us a bit about the electronic scene there and how you feel it compares with the UK.

The scene over here is something really quite special. It seems that electronic music is a lot more underground than the UK as far as mainstream coverage goes, but the following it has is amazingly strong. There’s an overwhelming amount of events happening every week all across Tokyo’s districts, and they’re very diverse in terms of style. Each sub-genre has a thriving scene, but they all seem really connected through the organisers and DJs – almost like everyone is pushing in the same direction and helping each other out along the way. I’ve never seen any trouble at the clubs I’ve been to and it’s rare to even see security or bouncers. The atmosphere is very positive and the energy people have is something else. Some of the bigger clubs feel similar to the UK, with big bar queues and taking 10 minutes to get from one room to another, but even then there is a real politeness to it all. The smaller clubs in places like Akihabara (the place famous for anime, electronics and otaku culture) are very personal and have a family-like atmosphere. I’ve seen people dancing at 5am completely sober with a Macbook under their arm so they can tweet about each track that gets played. As you would imagine technology in clubs here is very prominent – most clubs Ustream every event and the DJ booths are like space stations, filled with all sorts of hardware, laptops, effects, controllers, lasers etc.

There’s a definite correlation between the change in your location and the change and development in your sound. How has Japan influenced your music?

Yeah I think Japan has had a really big influence on me musically. I’ve been very influenced by a lot of the sounds I hear and a lot of really innovative producers. My overall mindset when going to work on a new track is just really different. My inspiration and setting have changed so drastically that it’s hard not to be influenced by it – from TV adverts to jingles you hear at train stations, it’s all really captivating. There’s also a lot less focus on the big room drop and 3am-let’s-go-crazy vibe. I’ve played some really good ambient style nights and get just as big a kick from that than dropping some huge bassline when the club is full. So I guess it just seems more relaxed.

As an artist you’ve gone through several shifts in your output, moving through “future garage” and the tougher end of the bassline spectrum, and now you’re working with a more ambient, less definable sound. What stimulates these changes? Do you see your music as a constant progression or is it more a case of searching for an identity that feels right?

From a young age I’ve loved all kinds of music. I think I started with the Power Rangers Soundtrack then went onto the Beastie Boys and hip-hop cassettes my uncle used to make for me as a kid. When I started to produce music the first kind of things I was making were really ambient, soft and headphone-oriented music. Then it changed as I got older and was experimenting with sounds more and more – it just changed over time. I feel like I’ve been searching for something that I really feel at home doing and something that I hope is unique. I’ve always tried to keep my underlying tone and the way I chop things similar, but I feel like it’s just been one big progression. I’m not quite sure what makes some of the changes happen, sometimes it can just be the way I’m feeling at that moment in time, or what kind of things are inspiring me. It’s very difficult sometimes because people will like one type of track that I make then really dislike another, but the journey of progression I have been on is something that I felt I needed to do. Now I feel like I’m starting to settle down and really take all the things I have learnt and use them to push forward.

How did you become involved with Apollo Records and Project: Mooncircle?

I was contacted by Renaat from Apollo/R&S about a track I uploaded in 2011 I think. From there we got talking, with me sending more stuff and then arranging a release. The first person I met from PMC was Jinna Morocha – we were due to play a show together in Berlin and she had expressed interest in my music. I received an offer from PMC then took it from there. I’m a huge fan of both labels so it’s an honour to be a part of them. I’ve been listening to them both for years and I feel they give me the freedom to make things that can be quite different, so that’s really important to me.

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It’s an enviable roster of artists to be connected with. How has this affected your creative approach? Is there an element of pressure or healthy competition?

Both! I get really excited, as I always have, when I hear another artist’s releases, but I love the drive it gives me when I hear something that’s really next level. It makes want to stay up for 3 nights in a row just trying to make a breakthrough and up my game.

Moving on to your latest release ‘Algorithms and Ghosts’ – at seven tracks it’s much longer than your average EP, so I’m guessing it took a while to accomplish? Tell us about the process you went through making it.

I wrote the whole thing over 5-6 months. It’s the only thing I have put out that’s been completely made in Japan so the process on a whole has been completely different. From the journey to the studio, the equipment, to the kinds of sounds I was hearing whilst navigating the city. I rent a studio here in Tokyo and keep my home setup quite basic. I’d make loops, ideas and stuff in a few different places then take them into the studio to work on. I took more time on this release than I’ve ever spent on anything else (apart from maybe Final Fantasy 6). So hopefully some of the tiny details stick out and people can hear more layers in the new tracks than my previous works.

Looking back at that process, what do you feel were the main inspirations and influences behind it?

I went into the release with an idea of how I wanted the finished thing to sound. I wanted it to sound like Tokyo sounds in my head. I’ve gone from a pretty small town in England to living in one of the most heavily populated cities in the world so I really tried to reflect that. There are a lot of artists here who have really influenced me too – I think I’ve picked up more music in the past year than ever in my life. Every day I hear something new, from extremely experimental drone music to 10-piece Japanese pop idol groups. It’s always swirling around my head.

The EP has a real warmth, almost analogue sounding in parts. How did you achieve this?

I tried a different approach with this release. I tried to stay away from things I normally do and give something else a try – like the way I build drums and using an extra silly amount of layers. I recorded a fair amount of analogue sounds from synths and samples, then spent hours manipulating, warping and chopping things until I was happy. I took on a hip-hop approach with some tracks, recording vinyl and flipping, chopping and layering beats and bass over the top. I wanted to give everything a tape feel and tried not to get too worried about how clean things were.

Speaking of hip-hop, there’s a definite influence in the sounds of your recent output. Are you a big fan?

Yeah I’m a huge hip-hop fan – that’s what I started with when I was about 12 years old. I think the first live show I ever went to was the Beastie Boys when I was maybe 13. I kept saying all night that I could smell something funny and fruity! It’s always been an influence on my music in some way, through the way the drums are constructed, to inspiring lyrics. The hip-hop scene in Japan is really, really strong too, so that reminds me how much I love it.

Which Japanese artists are you feeling? Any tips?

Ah there are so many, off the top of my head: Daisuke Tanabe, RLP, sauce81, Quarta330, Emufucka, Go-Quailia, Punpee. I could go on but I recommend checking out labels like Jazzy Sport, Summit, Maltine, Bunkai Kei and Day Tripper.

Tell us a bit about the remix you’ve given us to stream.

The remix is for Japanese producer Emufucka’s release on Loveless Records, coming at the end of March. Pretty different one for myself as the original is cosmic-esque but still quite hard. I wanted to take it a bit more into a 8-bit era style space thing but keep it driving and something I could play a bit later on in the night. I’ve been a fan of Emufucka’s music for a while now – definately someone not to sleep on.

What does the rest of 2013 hold for Submerse? Any plans to return to the UK?

I’ll be in Japan until mid-summer working on my next release for Apollo Records, playing more shows and eating sashimi. I’m playing at SonarSound Tokyo in April and have a few other things in the pipeline while I’m here. Then moving back to the UK around August time to play as many shows as I possibly can and catch up on 18 months of no Nandos.

Ed Oliver

‘Algorithms and Ghosts’ is released March 15th on Project: Mooncircle, available to buy digitally here, and pre-order the limited 12″ vinyl here.

Submerse’s remix of Emufucka – Xanadu is released March 28th on Loveless Records.