Hyponik

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Ossia: Make A Statement

It’s a Young Echo night at the Exchange in Bristol. The music has ground to a halt and in front of a once bustling, now bewildered crowd, Cris Ebdon (Ishan Sound) takes the mic and turns to Dan ‘Ossia’ Davies. “It was almost like a marriage proposal” embarrassed at the memory of it, he laughs and continues the story – ‘”We’ve got something to say [says Cris]…Do you want to join?”’ “Yeh, cool…” [I reply], now please get off the mic”’. Dan was now officially part of the Bristol collective that currently numbers ten, including Kahn, Neek, Jabu (Alex Rendell & Amos Childs), Rider Shafique, Manonmars, El Kid, Vessel and Ishan Sound. Although a defining moment in his career, he has been tirelessly working behind the scenes alongside Tape Echo founder Alex Digard for years. Together they run the Peng Sound and No Corner labels, a specialist online record store Rewind Forward, and an uncouth voicemail service.

We meet at Dan’s local in Stokes Croft – The Bell. Quiet, but the stickers plastering the front wall, the DJ booth in the corner and the graffiti in the toilets leave me to believe it’s got more of a story behind it than just another pub. With a coveted release now out on Blackest Ever Black and another on the horizon for Berceuse Heroique, Dan too has more of a story to tell.

Back in 2009, at a similar unassuming venue as The Bell, Dan took it upon himself to give people more of the Dubwise music he loved. The venue would be the Take 5 café, the name: Peng Sound. Crammed into the café’s basement you felt like you were at a mate’s house party, which was half the charm -“it was in an unusual venue so you get people coming in that thought it looked interesting and were up for the vibe.” As it grew in popularity it attracted the attention of other Bristol heads. Gorgon Sound, keen to be booked for one of the nights, handed Dan their first demo CD. “It had ‘Find Jah Way’ on it, and I think it might’ve had ‘Backchat'”, he remembers excitedly. Both are now timeless releases for Peng Sound and Hotline. While Sean Kelly – part of the Kelly Twins and owner of Happy Skull – encouraged Dan to turn Peng Sound into a label one day while in (Bristol record shop) Idle Hands. “He’s the sort of person who’d be blunt and straight forward with things like that. I don’t know why he thought that,” he pauses, “I think he knew I was friends with the Gorgon Sound guys and Bristol lot pushing that side of music.”

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Around this time he approached Alex Digard who was running his blog, Tape-Echo, as well as working for a number of other labels. Alex began helping with the artwork and marketing for Peng Sound, and together they did a couple of radio shows on what is now known as Sub FM. No Corner was then born from a live recording on one of these shows. Jabu were invited in to do a live show, with Kahn also coming in to sing. They streamed it and recorded it. “Amos said we should put some of these out on tape and then it was like ‘yeh alright.'” Killing Sound then provided the b-side. “It was gonna be a mixtape I guess, then it got turned into No Corner and it was like ‘ok, so now we’ve got a cassette label'” he says resignedly, for a label isn’t simply a name for them. “Me and Alex like the idea of running a label and giving it that bit of perspective and presenting the music in a certain way, certain labels have different ways of presenting.” It’s a proper D.I.Y job, both Dan and Alex do all the design and marketing themselves with Alex doing the majority of the artwork. “I think someone looking at it as a career to make money from would probably laugh at the amount of money we make from it after all the work we put in.”

Running two labels and a night, the music began to spill over into his daytime job at the local café. “I’d be on my phone answering emails in between serving customers. I was actually close to getting fired so I was like you know what I’ll just leave. I was quite good friends with him [the boss].” He said ‘it might be good if you focused on what you really want to do’. “It felt like a risky step but also kind of natural.”

Once they had their first presses ready they opened up a Big Cartel site. They had ‘Find Jah Way’, a ZamZam 7”, and a Tapes 7”. Dan is very supportive of the ZamZam couple, Ezra and Tracy, who are based in Portland and run their label in similar D.I.Y fashion. “The wife does all the screen printing,” he tells me, “and the husband does more of the A&R”. Through chatting to other people starting out like themselves, their stock had “organically grown” he states, “from a couple of boxes to a couple of shelves full of records”, from a Big Cartel to a full website – RewindForward (RwdFwd).

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What makes RwdFwd special, from a customer’s perspective, is its personality. “It’s a reflection of music we’re into”. In an intimate piece on Resident Advisor with Jon Clare of the legendary Honest Jon’s, Jon reflects on the difficulties of trying to always please others. ‘Because why sell music you don’t like?’ he asks. Each record on RwdFwd is given an in-depth review that shows Dan and Alex are clearly passionate about what they are selling. “It’s never gonna beat the experience of going to an actual record shop and having a good chat with someone that works there,” he humbly confesses, “but I guess it’s as close as it’s gonna get to putting a bit of personality to something that’s faceless from the outside. It’s important to us to keep it personal, tactile, to maintain a bit of humanity so it’s not some operation that’s automated.”

Idle Hands, run by Chris Farrell, has been going for roughly 5 years now, which gives Dan and Alex hope for a future store. “We’ve definitely thought about it, not out of the question, we’ll see how everything goes with the climate”. In the meantime, the two continue to push new things on the site – digital downloads and pre-orders being some of the most recent updates.

From Dub classics to new wave Diagonal, the store’s eclectic glow is a tease for any collector and DJ. “I’m finding it hard to DJ a set of just one music recently” Dan remarks, although he’s not complaining – “I’m kind of jumping between styles but I think I quite enjoy that, it’s nice to do something that I’m into and hopefully other people are into. Rather than trying to conform to one BPM, and you know, not just mixing but blending as well.” He brings up the name DJ Sotofett as an inspiration to him in that respect – “It’s nice to keep people listening, keep them on their toes a bit. I guess in a way, the Young Echo nights, what their charm is, is that you can’t get too comfortable before the next thing happens.”

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Dan had been playing at their nights since the start, before being ceremoniously asked to join. He was friends with most of them since Kahn & Neek’s Sureskank nights, and went to school with Sam Kidel (El Kid). Although well known in the underground music circles, Young Echo’s Bristol shows still retain an unspoilt and unexpected air about them: “It’s a platform not specifically for club music, but in a club setting,” he explains. “It’s mid week which frees up the whole pressure to have a rave or a big party but having said that, it’s always a good vibe and the people are eclectic because they know that’s what it’s about.”

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To paint you a picture, I took a friend along to one of the nights. One moment we were listening to London based Hip-Hop producer Drae Da Skimask rap, the next an electric cello played by a man called Salope. “Most people seem to actually be into it all,” he says, pleasantly surprised, “but you’re always gonna see someone who’s looking a bit confused or someone who’s like ‘not another Grime track. I wanna hear some more Noise.’ So we’ve got both sides of it, it’s nice to mix it up, to get people out of their comfort zone, I think people appreciate that.” ‘Confused’ suitably describes the expression on my friend’s face. That’s not to say he didn’t enjoy it, and he won’t forget it in a hurry.

DJing came before producing for Dan but he had been producing music from a young age, getting to grips with production software Reason back in his early teens at the Youth Studio in Bristol. Yet only now does he play his own tunes out: “I think Amos said to me once that’s part of the reason we wanted you to get involved because we knew you had some really good tunes and just wanted you to get them out there.” Whilst saying that, a proud smile crept across his face. Joining Young Echo had given him the incentive he needed to share his music.

Dan released ‘Red X’ on Kiran Sande’s Blackest Ever Black label. Although his second official release, following a FuckPunk one, it’s his first under the Ossia alias and his fullest. Instead of putting it out on one of his own labels he approached Kiran “as a way of finding reassurance in the fact that they were good enough to release, especially as a first solo release.” And to have him support the release Dan remarks was “really humbling”. Its atmosphere is engulfing and its narrative intriguing. Samples from disturbed Wailers member Peter Tosh are dropped in like pebbles on an unperturbed lake before live instrumentation, most notably the spring reverb, sends ripples across its eerie surface.

“I love echo and delay, I think being a Dub fan, that’s been quite engrained in me.” The spring reverb, Dan tells me, is a traditional Dub instrument once used by famous artists such as King Tubby, Lee Scratch Perry and Scientist who “used to take it out of a Hammond organ which had a reverb built in it so you’d take it out and abuse it.” A signal is passed through some loose metal wiring which is then dropped on a metal housing creating a thundery echo. “I think that’s kind of a lot of the time what Dub music is, overuse of general machinery made for music but usually applied in less exaggerated ways, and pushing it a bit further. I’m interested in that definitely”. Having recently invested in an old 80s analog mixing desk, Dan goes on to talk about his preference for hardware over software. “Some people enjoy making something in the computer and not having to work their way around any electronic equipment, no fuss. I get inspired seeing what happens, and the little mistakes that come from something that’s a lot more tactile and not as perfect. It changes the way you make music. It definitely has for me.”

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He started ‘Red X’ last winter but kept coming back to it, never quite happy. He then came across some footage that would be the last piece in the jigsaw – ‘Stepping Razor: Red X’: “It’s quite a dark documentary, a lot darker than a lot of Reggae documentaries”. Since the breakup of the Wailers, Peter Tosh became bitter about life, in particular the influence of Western city rule. “I liked the fear and anger it has and it has a political side to it which I’m happy to push. I like the idea of throwing a thought out there, and making a statement, it’s not always so important these days.” And he knows more than one way to make a statement.

Smashing up turntables, handing out cassettes in loo roll, remixing ABBA’s ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’ as a Record Store Day spoof. Enter stage left, FuckPunk. Not simply a gimmick, FuckPunk is the collaboration between Seb ‘Vessel’ Gainsborough and Dan. “His idea was to put out music that goes against the stream a bit and to not take ourselves too seriously, but also throw a few obstacles in the way of certain linearities in music, Pop music and maybe even mainstream underground”. Dan had this name for a while but a label with the criteria to fit it had never manifested. Its debut was a whole 50 seconds of two seminal Bob Marley tracks reduced to 8kbps and put on record, its second bastardized the ‘Under Me Sleng Teng’ bassline with distortion and raw analog freestyle. “You could see it as a statement for the copycat culture that exists in music, which I’m not going to fully slate because Reggae is a lot of the time all about reproducing a rhythm and using a bassline, which I think is great but I think there can be a lazy culture [in music] of using stuff that already exists and making something that’s basically the same.”

At the birth of FuckPunk, Tape-Echo published a manuscript that announced FuckPunk’s arrival along with a list of upcoming releases which, following the first two, seems to have gone out of the window. “If there was one label who could give out wrong information on their initial release sheet it’s probably FuckPunk.” Their third release did include Vessel as stated but instead of partnering with Black Rain’s Stuart Argabright, and Pete Swanson, it was with a new South West prodigy, Chester Giles. “[He’s] a good friend of mine and a really talented poet and writer”. ‘asda’ is their collective name and ‘three tracks’ their debut release. “We’re still doing the Giant Swan and the MX LX” he confirms, along with a re-release from a Punk band called The Bots – “it’s really lo-fi grubby D.I.Y. Punk and that should be coming out in the next couple of months on some cassettes in loo roll, and then some 10” dubplates that were cut all here in Bristol at a studio called Dub Studio”.

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As for what’s next for Dan, October is shaping up to be a busy month. He and Vessel will be taking FuckPunk to the Villamanuela festival in Madrid supported by Giant Swan, another group that Dan is keen on. “They’re making waves in the underground Noise/Techno scene at the moment. It’s two guys who do a live set, a load of drum machines, and delay pedals and microphones – really good.” While back home at the store, a gang of releases are on the way in October from Peng Sound, Hotline, No Corner and FuckPunk. Production wise, he’s currently pulling together a record for KEMAΛ’s Berceuse Heroique and following a Too Lava set for a Rinse FM Hotline Takeover he assures me that him and Ben (Lurka) will get something out by early next year.

When we’ve left the pub and parted ways Dan heads up the road to record a radio show with Dubkasm. Dan’s life in music is centred around meeting and chatting to people. It is not rushed or forced. He spends time with the music. At a time when digital streaming can often alienate listeners and producers alike – who are constantly battling to keep up with the next fad – it’s refreshing to have a story like Dan’s that is relatable, real, and now deservedly, revered.

Words: Joe Mills