Vocal Fusion: LV & Joshua Idehen

Interviewing LV and Joshua Idehen is alot like refereeing a battle of wits between a tight-knit group of friends who’s main focus is that of banter, point scoring and typically self-deprecating humour. The London-based trio of Will Horrocks, Si Williams and Gervase Gordon (unfortunately not present for today’s interview due to a last minute jaunt to South Africa with Rinse FM’s Scratcha DVA), plus spoken word writer/vocalist Josh Idehen produce a sprawling conversation on a Friday afternoon in an overpriced East London bar, jumping from topics frequently, with little or no regard for the mammoth transcribing job they’re creating for me.

Having released one of the years finest ‘bass music’ albums in the form of ‘Routes’, LV are in an interesting position in 2011. First breaking through in 2007 on Kode9’s now eponymous Hyperdub label, the production collective are outsiders in an increasingly busy scene, that sees them placed, creatively, leading the pack. With ‘Routes’, and it’s predecessor ‘38 EP’ – both released on Martin ‘Blackdown’ Clark’s continually developing urban commentary/record label Keysound, the South London-based group have traversed a line of instrumental house, garage, dub and experimental music, helped in no small part by Idehen’s at times comical, at other points deeply reflective, observations on life within the confines of our capital city.

Yet it would be short sighted to simply call this ‘London music’, as Will is keen to point out; [Blackdown has] been quite quick to say that he didn’t come to us and expressly ask for an album that deals with a sense of alienation in a modern city or anything like that, and we didn’t really set out to do that. We had it in mind, but we never sat down and said we’re going to do ‘a beat like what it’s like in Hoxton at 3am’ – y’know white noise and the sound of vomiting [laughs], but we just wanted to make tunes we liked, so I think the London-ness of it, you can heap that on afterwards to a certain extent.

“There is stuff about London in Josh’s lyrics, but Josh is about more than just talking about where he’s from, and to an extent as well, none of our snares are about Southwark, and none of our hi-hats are about anywhere… How far music is related to place is quite a difficult thing for me to quantify. In some ways you could say ‘wow that’s a beat that’s straight out of Croydon’, but in fact its some dude in Argentina who just happens to listen to a lot of music that’s, traditionally, been made [in Croydon].

Josh, an energetic thinker and obvious lover of words (his talk is peppered with acted out caricatures and repositioning of words – meaning I struggled to keep up) expands: “[the music is] about things I observe, it’s about people, it’s about introspection. There’s not one single thing in there, so it’s pretty much a mesh. I’ve got bits of my childhood in there, I’ve got introspection. ‘Deleted Scene’ was about watching a couple at a bus stop, ‘Northern Line’ was, shock-horror, about the Northern Line.”

This rings true on many of the strongest tracks on ‘Routes’, as tracks like ‘Murkish Delights’ explores Idehen’s view of London, whilst the cut and paste vocals of ‘I Know’ reflect a more personal take on releationships. Yet the albums biggest strength is not in being an out-and-out vocal or spoken word album, yet still retaining enough vocal work to inject each track with a narrative of human emotion.

‘Boiler Room Mix’ by LV & Joshua Idehen

So how did they go about filtering some of Josh’s lyrics in and out of their tracks? Will explains: “We basically went through it and thought ‘right – what bits do we really like in this, what bits do we really hate and what bits do we think we could make work?’ We wanted to be brutal in a way because we didn’t want poetry over everything – as you hear poetry over music and it can sound pretty wack, over an entire album.”

Josh recalls a sadly missed master of words when explaining the, at times, lyrical sparseness of the album tracks: “The Gil-Scott Heron & Jamie XX album – the reason why I love that album a lot more was because they did strip down the words y’know? I think people love that more because it’s like an exception rather than a rule. If it was an entire album [of poetry] it would just be all over it. You might appreciate technical proficiency, you might like it as a piece of art, but if you’re gonna invite you’re friends down you’re not gonna go [acts out crazy party-poetry fanboy persona] “hey let’s play this great album, yeah we’re partying, wait for this bit, this is the bit where he talks really, REALLY LOUD!”.

Vocal’s have played a huge part in the majority of LV’s productions, from their initial outings with reggae vocalists Erol Bellot and Dandelion, through last years dazzling return to Hyperdub with the Okmalumkoolkat-featuring ‘Boomslang’, to recent single ‘Explode’ with Zaki Ibrahim and Message to Bears (basically a slomo-house showcase for the South African singers soft soul tones). Releasing a body of mostly vocal-led music over the past 4 years on high quality labels like 2nd Drop, Hemlock and Soul Jazz, the LV sound has flirted with dubstep, yet never fully resorted to production motifs or out and out club-aimed tracks, instead preferring to take on a shifting approach to 2-step, reggae, dub, UK funky and other low-end forms.

“It’s alot easier to make mistakes as a vocalist, and that’s kind of what we like” says Will. “I always think that I don’t like vocal music that much, but then I look at what I listen to, and a lot of it does have vocals, they’re just not shit. I think the thing with vocals is it’s so easy for them to be trite – lyrically and melodically boring – but when a vocal is really fucking good, it absolutely smacks the shit out of anything. ‘Explode’ for example, could have had the sound of us farting into a jar behind it, and it would still sound amazing.”

That may be the case, but the fact is, when it comes to effectively turning out vocal-led tracks in the modern bass scene, LV are pretty much top of the list. For a formerly predominantly instrumental genre, the dubstep scene did once struggle with harnessing the human voice (check out Skream’s debut album for instance), LV’s achievement on the ‘38 EP’, ‘Routes’ and now ‘Explode’ is the balance in the mix. Despite Si’s admission that they may just have the bass too loud in their mixes, the 3 figures behind LV are fast developing masters of the modern studio, and with the vocal and lyrical talent of Joshua Idehen, they’ve found a worthy sparring partner.

’Routes’ is out now on Keysound Recordings.

Interview: Louis Cook
Photography: William Biggs

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