Last week I spent some time in Hackney talking to Eye4Eye label boss and artist, Danny Yorke aka Altered Natives, ahead of his upcoming appearance at Hyponik’s bash this Friday at Birthdays in Dalston. The prospect of meeting up was made ever more appealing as Danny has recently been working on alias character ‘Dr Cockbloctopus‘; an exciting, sample heavy outlet for the Altered Native to express another side – a topic I’d been wanting some more information on over the last couple of months. A top chap and as genuine and up front as they come, we spoke about the year ahead, the years behind and what have you in between.
So Danny, what’s new for 2013?
Obviously I ended the Tenement Yard series in October, so for me, it’s not like the end of that style of production or anything. I’m still obviously writing dancefloor, housey shit or whatever you want to call it. This year I’ve been working on this Dr Cockbloctopus alias, which has been taking up a lot of good time that I’ve enjoyed. The idea behind this project was totally non 4×4 but kind of going back to hip-hop, without being overly in the classical hip-hop format.
Were you one to start on hip-hop initially and move on from there with your music?
Originally it’s how I got into music, especially in terms of production, that was through hip-hop. I was fascinated by how samples were used in dance music as well, especially the reflection of dance music and hip-hop in the sample based world. I’ve always been into sampling and found it fascinating.
Could you explain a bit about the label, Eye4Eye?
Originally it was a digital platform for me and a few mates to release the music we were making at the time and back then we were making broken beat which was shit, not that our shit was shit, but the timing of us doing that stuff was shit. What we were doing was against the jazzy, musical-ness of that scene, we made a dirty equivalent; it was all drum and bass, bass heavy and a bit more grimy, but we weren’t getting no love because our sound was so aggressive – everyone else was so like ‘la la la happy happy’. We’d still have the musicality but also the ‘dirtiness’.
We didn’t get no love till way later when the shit fell apart. I’ve never been a fixed person and music has always been expressive – it’s like art for me – before I was making music I was creative artistically.
Was it Graffiti you used to do?
Yeah… not very well. But like after that, got into painting back drops and a bit of flyer design, all very low key.
Can you see any similarities in the way in which you created Graffiti and how you make music? Is it a case of jumping right in?
There is that whole mapping out process, the same as with graffiti. Mentally, the way I approach music is very much the same as graffiti – I don’t walk in, turn on the shit and ‘whomp’ there it is. I genuinely know where everything is already or how its gonna look and the ‘shape’ of it.
So back to the label, how did you form a relationship with the Italian artists you’ve signed? Was it through Bosconi by any chance?
I’ve been talking to a few guys for a while and their problem over there was that they felt there was no real petition for them to make what we’re doing, over here, in Italy. Over there its all very much fixed house and they were kinda having a problem with that. Obviously where I’d joined Bosconi and their crew, that kind of established the link more but it was a totally separate affair. I’ll always try to devote my time to give younger producers and artists who need a ‘push’, rather than spend my time faffing around, chatting to dudes I don’t really need to chat to just because ‘you’re big in the game’ or whatever, I’d rather give my time to someone who needs it. Like the guys who featured on the GOS have really been working on their sound and I’ve been pushing them slowly, not viciously pushing them, that’s one thing I try not to do. I try to just tend to them so they grow naturally.
The next stage is then, potentially, as much as about your output as it is planting seeds so to speak?
Yeah, totally. That’s kind of like why I picked certain guys to bring on the label, I can see something there… there’s something in them, enough that if people like my shit I don’t see why people won’t like their shit. I’m not trying to mould anyone in to my image but trying to help them grow and give them enough confidence, which I think a lot of young producers lack, naturally.
Helping them learn from your mistakes almost?
I tell them they need to make mistakes. A lot of great, beautiful things have been made by mistake. Whole scenes have been made by mistake. The way we use technology, the whole kind of purpose of it was to abuse it to further the expansion of dance music.
Looking forward to Friday then, you’re playing at our night at Birthdays, what can we expect and how do you typically formulate a set?
Basically, I’m a consistent in the sense that I make a lot of music. If I’m booked to play an hour, you’ll be hearing an hours worth of all the latest shit I’ve just made from like yesterday. At the moment, depending on the gig, I’ve been playing half Altered Natives, half Dr. Cockbloctopus stuff, which has been good. I’ve enjoyed switching into the Cockbloctopus side of things.
What can you tell us about the Dr. Cockbloctopus project?
Dr. C is an alias character. I’ve allowed myself to fall in to this weird fucking doctor role – because the project is made out of mad chopped up samples etc. When you hear it you’ll get it, there’s nothing that’ll freak you out like ‘ahh my brain hurts!’. I’m sure your head will be nodding all the way through it. It is still artistic but I’ve tried to keep it humorous at the same time, without it going up its own arse and I kinda find music does that now. It’s always got to be ultra cool, no ones willing to be human about their music anymore…
Fit to fit type thing?
Yeah, no ones willing to have a laugh about music or make music to make you smile. That was the thing about the name, it’s a stupid name – Dr. Cockblocktopus – like when you say it you’ll genuinely laugh like, ‘what the fuck did you just make me say!?’.
Has it been a good feeling to start something new? Have you found yourself being more experimental at all? If that’s possible!
I find this whole association I’ve got with making 4×4 house, techno-ey stuff has been much more experimental for me than when I was making broken beat and being really kind of anal in a lot of ways back then about the way it was all put together – it was so technical you couldn’t even get in to it …unless you were mad speng! Ha ha. ‘Yeah i’m a fucking nerd, I’m feeling this shit’. And it’s like what, you and all the other two people? [laughs].
So its been experimental for me, as I’ve always been a fan of techno and I’ve always liked house. I can’t say I’ve ever been part of the whole garage movement. Actually, one of my mixes once got to the top of one UK garage chart and it’s like, I’ve never done it! It’s the same with this whole association with UK funky, never done it. It’s the beauty of it all I suppose, but maybe if I’d stayed in one thing it’d have more of an effect on my wallet instead of diversely putting my finger in every pie.
Judging by your music, I’d of said you played drums. Do you? Or any other musical instrument?
Growing up I was the least musical person! I played trumpet when I was a teenager but that was about it. My brother was the one who played music, loads of instruments, but he’s now some mad accountant. I was always into art and that was my way of expressing shit.
Do you think playing an instrument/more music when you were young would of had an effect on your music?
Nah, because even though I wasn’t musical, I was doing stuff back when I was a kid with double cassette tape decks and making loops etc. I guess that’s where it’s stemmed from.
Perhaps your variety in what you play and produce has come from not being tied to one instrument?
It will always be the thing that will keep me afloat in a way, at the same time though I’ve put in enough time that people are slowly recognising I am consistent enough with what I do. Like each booking, every DJ set will be unique and you’ll always be hearing something brand new and for me, playing something new to an audience has always been important and I get a buzz out of that.
It’s a really credible thing to be able to play out what you’ve ‘made that week’ so to speak…
That’s always stemmed from my love of drum and bass. When I was trying to make drum and bass tracks, it was the way that you went and got your shit cut, on dub plate. I think where I’ve been doing my time and people have heard me, they’re slowly realising there’s a large separation between what I do with everyone else in terms of playing solely production based sets.
I wanted to ask you about your smoking habits and whether you use it primarily to make your music?
Yeah, totally. I’ll smoke socially but generally weed is always part of the medium when I’m writing. I’m not like, if I don’t have any weed I can’t write, I just find I flow in a different direction and unlock different things. People say, ‘when you get stoned you’re so slow’, but it doesn’t work like that for me. It helps me do the maths on certain things and plus because I now work solely on software, it means I can jump in and out rather than having to reset the whole desk, do all your module parameters and all that bullshit. Which is shit when your high.
Your work ethic seems so natural, you don’t seem to struggle to get up and get going…
Yeah, to be honest I want to slow down a bit. Not slow down but do other shit. I’m not saying I’m bored of music at all but i spend too much time doing it. Like I was saying before, being productive and getting something out is what I’m good at but it takes up a lot of time. Music just dominates everything for me, if I’m eating dinner I’m still listening to stuff – I go til I sleep kinda thing.
I suppose it takes a toll after a while…
Yeah, I guess you just get tired spending so much time doing it and I’m sitting on a mad catalogue at the minute so I can actually afford to take time off. It’s something I’ve been planning to do – have a break, take a holiday or something.
It’s good that you’ve built up enough to allow yourself to do that…
It is easy to burn out, I’ve burnt out once and it was the worst feeling of my life. I was battered man. I couldn’t come up with anything… lost my ‘Mojo’…Austin Powers type shit!
Even taking a break though, I’ll still be working. Basically my time at the moment revolves around music and my kids.
Do you think your kids will take the same musical route you’ve taken?
My youngest is interested, but I think she only shows interest when she thinks she’s done something wrong like, ‘daddy, play me some music!’ and it’s like ‘yeah, yeah what you done?’ [laughs]. My eldest daughter, who’s ten, has just started taking interest in what I’m doing. It peaked a couple months back when we played Birthday’s (in Dalston, East London) and Harry Styles had his birthday there and she was like ‘really?!’. [Laughs] she’s like “Little Mix, I wanna meet little mix!” and I’m like [laughs], who’s Lil’ Mick?
[Laughs], Lil’ Mick! Musically, it’s going to be a lot different for your kids growing up though, right? They’ll surely be listening to your stuff!
They were born into a world of dance music and it’s pretty amazing, that blows me away. Another thing, because I’m making so much, a lot of it won’t get released, but I’d like to leave a legacy behind – a legacy of consistency, to be appreciated and acknowledged.
Not fancy the 9-5 then?
Doing a 9-5 is death for me man, I could do it if it involved something active, semi creative but sitting behind a desk is like BANG! Gimme the shotgun. I’ve tried it before and it’s hard to balance time for music.
The only thing I ever felt any kind of reward for was when I was helping run this youth training scheme. It was a while back now – 10 years in fact – with Westminster Council and People Records..
A workshop type thing?
Yeah, I was pulled in as a mentor, mainly because I’d grown up in a similar way to most of the kids. Westminster referred to these kids as the ‘disenfranchised youth’. People Records were just there put their names to it and provided the studio.
It was rewarding but it was tough. The kids were local, from the Ladbroke Grove area, but they all had to fit this ‘disenfranchised youth’ label so we couldn’t be like hello ‘nice John’, it was like ‘fuck off ‘nice John’, we want stabby Dave!’. So there was a bit of risk involved. There was one incident after we’d broken for lunch and I get a call asking me to come back because ‘one of your kids is going to stab another student!’ So I go back and the kids there with a fucking butter knife [laughs], so you had to deal with some of that bullshit.
I was talking earlier about how its weird that, a lot of the time, the people who benefit the most make the worst (chart) music…
Yeah I suppose so – chart music is something I only really get to experience when I eat in a cafe [laughs]. If I’m hungry and I go grab a fry up I might hear a bit of Rihanna – that’s the only time I really know about shit – but from that I can hear where they’re pulling in shit and I’ve heard some stuff and thought, that’s ok, but the majority it’s like wow…just wow! Almost indescribable.
There’s a disposable nature to music now wouldn’t you say?
It’s like going back to what you were saying about going out and getting a lot of event invites. There’s no excitement anymore because there’s no focus on anything because everything is so instant and dispensable. 10/15 years ago you’d be excited about going out. You’d pick out the flyer and actually get excited about that shit. I think my problem is that I’m a generation behind everyone. I came into things when vinyl was dying and now we’re doing this.
So your view is quite ‘set back’ and objective..
To me back then, to get your name known you had to be like… good [laughs]. Back then, you just had to be good and get a lucky break from someone who had belief in you. That’s what I’ve tried to do with Eye4Eye, make the artists feel confident about what they’re doing. Spend a bit of time developing rather than this instant Nescafe coffee shit.
And I don’t begrudge the instantaneousness of it all now because there are some amazing people that wouldn’t have been noticed if it wasn’t for them being able to buy an affordable software studio etc. Not everyone went through the same trials and tribulations of working in a hardware studio. Now you just get Ableton and yeah it’s cool. I’m just from a different school I guess.
It’s nice talking to someone who’s looking at this and coming in with prior experience!
Yeah, its like, this shit, like the ‘House revival’, what the fuck? House revival? What did you revive? House was never dead. It’s like all things, they go forwards, reverse then go full circle. House revival my arse!
House is a pretty umbrella term now as well, a lot more can be classified as house it seems…
Well it annoys me when certain tracks of mine aren’t tagged as House. Tenement Yard tagged as fucking Dubstep! It’s like cheeeeers mate! I actually played a gig and some kids came up to me afterward and were like ‘that Dubstep was amazing, we’ve never heard it like that before!’ and I was like ‘err, thanks man! [laughs].