‘…I really felt like an outsider, even from within the group.’
‘[laughs] I think we all do, coz there’s too many of us…’
On a Saturday evening, in a quiet Bristolian pub, I meet three members of the Young Echo collective, Amos, Chester and Joe to discuss the group’s second album. Numbering at eleven, the collective is comprised of old school friends as well as newcomers. As a group their allure lies not only in the concentration of talented producers, but in their unified attitude towards music, which is refreshing in its selfless, unpretentious freedom. Individually they have made their niches that dance between dub and grime to punk and ambient. Yet, like everything, these have become pigeon holed to genre and scenes. I came to find out where there new album sits amidst their identity as a collective.
Since their debut album Nexus, the most notable change is the addition of vocalists Chester, Rider, Jack, Jasmine and Alex. Being one half of Jabu, Alex was part of the group during Nexus yet the album focused on the instrumental rather than the vocal. In the new album, as Bogues, he is brought to the fore alongside the other vocalists. For the others, their absorption into the group is testament to Young Echo’s permeable borders, dating back to their early radio shows.
These early days of the radio show are remembered fondly by Amos as ‘precious memories’, even in spite of its unpredictable nature with the odd incident of people stealing equipment. Listen to one of their radio shows and it is this looseness that will have you sitting there with a grin, as if you were in on the joke that caused a cacophonous cackle in the background.
The club night followed almost out of a sense of duty and awareness at what the radio show was becoming, ‘I’d like to think that Young Echo has been a platform for a few people, just a bastion that there’s something going on,’ Joe informs me.
‘Even for me,’ continues Chester, ‘before I was even in the group, I’d come to shows and it definitely was that. I wrote poetry and would do spoken word performances on the side all the time and then I thought – I can touch mic here, it’s not a problem, you get that, you understand it. It opened a thing. It created it.’ It created an atmosphere and an attitude where music is simply shared and appreciated, not always judged.
Laughing about past experiences of the club night involving wide-eyed students being struck with a barrage of happy hardcore and industrial, to even friends of friends only lasting two minutes before having to bow out. Joe relishes it, ‘that’s what I want from a club night some people who fucking hate it and some people who actually it’s their favourite thing.’ For someone like Joe, with his widely known project as Kahn, it serves an important purpose. ‘It’s funny,’ Chester tells me, ‘when you see all the wannabe roadmen come in coz they want to see a Kahn and Neek set and it’s really great to show them Kahn and Neek not being what they perceive it to be. It’s just funny coz that challenges something.’
Isolated, impersonal or serious. Too often electronic music comes with an unwelcoming stigma. At first glance, Young Echo is nothing new. Posters portray a sense of impending doom – obscure black and white cut-outs of saints juxtaposed with hearts, hands and a mismatch of prophetic phrases. ‘I think sometimes people perceive us to be very dark and serious, but a lot of that is just tongue in cheek,’ Chester assures me, ‘so even the horror imagery and all that, it’s just coz we think it’s jokes.’ To which Amos then elaborates, ‘Yeah, me and Sam do a lot of the posters and a lot of it’s just me and him trying to prank each other by cutting out the stupidest image and gluing it down. Then I’m like “Ah fuck you glued on this hairy ape arm, but it’s stuck now so we can’t take it off…”
‘Quite a lot of the music is made like that as well,’ laughs Chester. ‘People putting some stupid sample on a track just to be like, “Aha, what are you gonna do?”’
For the established producers on the album, there is a letting go of their typical styles that we might define them by in order to create an open atmosphere, allowing those on the mic to flourish. Yet with a hive mind that bends and moulds to suit their neighbour, how do you build a concrete work of art? ‘There’s not one leading voice going right this is what we’re doing,’ admits Joe, ‘[It’s] a completely democratic experiment which doesn’t always work and art doesn’t always thrive without one guiding voice.’ To which Chester chuckles in agreement.
Surprisingly though, against the mentality of the herd, there was a concerted effort to make this album happen. ‘We all went away to a little farm in Wales that Rider organised,’ informs Amos, ‘And a good half of the songs I reckon were formed in some vague way while we were on that trip.’
‘It was interesting as well because we split off into two groups,’ explains Chester, ‘There were two houses, and in one house there was much more composition, structured recording and production, and in the other house just loads of live equipment. We’d all be in there late into the night just jamming and making loads of noise. The ideas would come out of the live thing and then we could take them away and hone them.’
By the sound of it, the process closely resembled that of their radio or nights where, due to the nature of having eleven experimental artists in one room, any detailed plan at a narrative was left far away amidst the clouds of Celtic sheep.
‘It was more sort of trial and error,’ Amos tells me, ‘you’ve got like some thirty minute jam rendition of You’ve Got To Show Me Love.’
‘…There was a lot of shit,’ quickly mutters Joe before Chester sits up, ‘Nah, that’s so hard!’.
‘Every now and again something great would happen…I think a few of the tracks [that] did make it onto the record were ignited there.’ secedes Joe.
‘The twenty five minute live jam of Nightclubbing…I think that could still be something,’ Amos says without a hint of irony as if to quell Chester’s fervent gestures. Despite the trip to Wales these endless reels of late night jams resulted in no semblance of an album as the group then dispersed once more to carry on their day jobs and individual projects.
‘What we tried to do on that trip was just chaos,’ Amos resigns.
‘I think we were all just daunted because we came back from a week away and we just had so much material.’ says Chester. It was put on the back burner and another effort to get everyone together in Bristol was made, but life got in the way once again.
‘It’s the constant balance isn’t it of how do I keep the electric on and make music…’
‘…[laughs] and make really obscure music…’
‘…that no one cares about or buys.’
A flickering of intrigue in the project meant that before long however, everyone began submitting pieces again, and fortunately someone was there to pick them up.
‘It’s down to Joe really the fact that [the album] even exists I reckon,’
‘You’re the only one that had the patience,’ say Chester and Amos before Joe explains, ‘The reason I wanted to persevere with it so much, and [to] make something even when other people weren’t feeling so into it, was I could just see what everyone was doing individually. I didn’t even have that much music on the album, but I could hear what everyone else was doing. It just felt really important to me. I just couldn’t let that go, even though I was busy doing my own stuff. It was like, this whole thing needs to be captured in some way because in five years or whatever our dynamic won’t be the same as a group of people and friends.’
It’s a dynamic that exists and encompasses a hub of people all of whom are wired to explore sound. Their infectious dynamic, evident in their many offshoot projects with other artists, is felt throughout Bristol and beyond. It’s hard to know where Young Echo starts and where it finishes. ‘[It] might seem like quite a grandiose thing to say,’ continues Joe, ‘but I think because there are so many of us we are kind of our own little micro scene of people and artists of a certain generation. I think it would be an interesting thing to listen back to. It’s not a pop record. It’s not like it’s going to be immediately understood by people I don’t think, but it’s really truthful and raw.’
‘[It’s] this weird sort of hinterland between all of us,’ says Amos.
Being so used to experimenting with one another, it is important that in the album they created something unifying. Something more true to themselves than a compilation comprised of neat collaborations wrapped in a glossy seal. ‘I think it comes down to respect at the end of the day.’ Amos says, propping himself up from his slump to take a swig of Guinness, ‘If I make a song with Chester, because I respect what he does, I’m not going to get him to do his spoken word stuff on a song that I would make for myself. So I try and make something that will work with Chester’s artwork, and I think that was the same with all our collaborations. There’s, to some extent, a letting go of our egos like, “I’m going to put my personal stamp on this track.” I think that’s why it works as an album because we all did that whenever we worked together.’
‘To me, I hear it as a collective effort. It’s nothing any of us would articulate individually. It is only an articulation of us as a group,’ Chester poignantly adds.
Collaborations between artists we value often has the public frothing at the jowls. Yet, in a vain attempt to make sense of it, we forage for each artist’s personal stamp. Even if it’s not there, we scrutinize it as if we wanted nothing new from a fusing of ideas, but rather an opportunity to solidify what we already knew. Joe remembers it happening to him, ‘When I did that record with Gantz and Commodo years ago, anytime someone guessed who did what it was always wrong, and they just presumed, “Ah that was a Turkish sample it must be Gantz,” and it was actually me, you know what I mean?’ For the album, the identity of the artists, especially the producers, is shrouded under a collective veil forcing us to hear it as one unified sound.
Despite the album’s veil of modesty, there is one member they are visibly excited about as I talk with them – Manonmars. None more so than Chester, ‘He’s the only person I’ve heard, and I’m not just saying this because I’m in the same group as him, who actually just does it like it’s legit, it’s righteous, it’s real.’ There is a distinctive drawl to Jack’s verses that sift through clenched teeth as they plod, pause and roll. ‘I don’t want to cuss out UK Hip-Hop and UK Rap too much, but all those guys are just so far off the fucking mark it’s ridiculous. They’re too concerned with the idea that this is what it is to be an MC, this is how you MC. They’re too concerned with these preconceived notions so they all just fall into playing out a role and a ritual. Even Grime’s like that now. Grime’s just fucking played out.’
‘It was like that in Dancehall.’ Joe adds, ‘You need individuals who have a fucking style. Style is so important, and individuality. Where are the D Doubles now? Where are the fucking people who actually sound like themselves and got their own thing, completely their own thing.’
‘People are just too scared to be weird,’ mentions Amos.
‘…Which is ridiculous because it’s the weirdness that makes it interesting that makes you want to listen to it. When you first hear it you’re like, “Whaat?”’ As we talk about Jack, the album’s narrative of respect comes boldly through in their animated sincerity.
Jack’s individuality and disinterest in trend is emblematic of all the members of the group and because of this, the album’s existence is a rich realisation for the listener. It is not clean cut and the songs are often short. They are fragments that when heard together, echo something bigger. What Amos says of the club nights rings true for the purpose of the album’s sound, ‘If people get excluded by it then they get excluded. We want to bring people in closer and say, “No, look. There’s more stuff underneath someone doing a perfect set of X and Y style of music. There’s more going on.” The club nights were never put on to be difficult or challenging for the sake of it. It was to give way to others, to be open to the weirdness or the mistakes because in the end that produces something worth capturing in all its imperfect glory.
With a narrative as simple as respect alongside a body of people who are rarely in the same place at the same time, we somehow have an artefact by which to identify the group – indistinguishable and imperfect yet refreshing in its honesty – warts and all. ‘I think that’s the whole point,’ Chester concludes, ‘because of the way it’s morphed all along, the way it’s changed and expanded and grown and developed. It doesn’t have a fixed self. It’s not like we represent this thing. We all share certain values and ideas but we’re all developing as individuals and as artists. We all choose to work together though, and as long as we all choose to work together the body of what that creates is going to change. I think like you’re saying (looking at the others), it’s an experiment. When I try and look at us, what we’re up to that’s the way I see it, that’s what we’re creating, and that’s quite a truthful expression in itself because that’s what life is.’
I leave the pub perplexed. I had come expecting intricate plans and left with nothing of the sort, only an affirmation that the album continued along the group’s erratic path. It’s funny because that happens time and again in life – what we plan for never happens. Yet isn’t that what keeps us interested? Earlier, Joe had said something in passing, ‘I think what will hopefully come across is that we cared.’ Those words epitomize the album’s painfully simple place amongst all that Young Echo has achieved over the past decade, because when we take a picture of a moment in life, at that point in time, we cared.
The 24-track LP is out now on both Vinyl and digital formats.
Order it here
Words: Joseph Francis