Alex Coulton‘s name first crossed my radar a couple of months ago, when his track ‘Bounce’ appeared in Peverelist’s mix for this very site (SR Mix #114). A lithe, shuffly, drum-heavy house bomb, it segued beautifully into tracks of a similar nature from the Bristolian likes of Pev himself, Kowton, Bass Clef and Asusu. Its tempo and swung momentum immediately suggested that Coulton was part of the current explosion of UK producers currently drawing house, techno and dubstep influences into something that references each without landing too firmly in any camp. However, with melody largely implicit, suggested only by the friction of percussive elements against one another, it felt far more in line with the current Bristol school or the Hessle Audio camp than any number of the Joy Orbison acolytes currently soaking dancefloors in thick, drizzly synth-work.
So it made sense that only a few weeks later Coulton, who hails from Manchester, was announced as the latest signing to the city’s Idle Hands label, which over the past couple of years has established itself as something of an institution for UK-borne takes on subby house music. In the interim period some research had revealed that Coulton was also behind 2010’s ‘Thirteen Step’, a track released alongside Szare’s venomous ‘Snake Cave’ on Manchester’s Horizontal Ground label, as well as a recent EP through new Glasgow label All Caps. Across those releases his sound has already traversed a great deal of ground – the All Caps Representations EP was a set of punchy, relatively straight-up house whose slinky, slightly off-kilter feel nodded to its UK roots, where ‘Thirteen Step’ veered closer to techno, albeit mediated through the swung prism of dubstep and UK funky. In fact, the way that track’s percussion skated gently across a buoyant cushion of sub-bass was rather reminiscent of some of the techno-leaning dubstep coming out of Bristol circa Appleblim’s now-seminal Dubstep Allstars Volume 6. A later track, ‘Baraki’, released again as a B-side alongside Szare’s ‘Mendeleev’ pulled a similar trick, but its stumbling percussive syncopations were cast in monochrome, jutting away at odd angles from the roiling kick drums beneath.
The same sort of rolling sensibility underpins Coulton’s first 12″ for Idle Hands. Across both ‘Candy Flip’ and ‘Brooklyn’ his production summons the grimey spirit of those legendary early UK funky 12″s (think Roska, Ill Blu, Lil Silva, Apple) but pares away their harsh, trebly edges in favour of a rather more muffled overall sound. They’re driven forward by the delicate chatter of cymbals and snares higher up in the mix, but both are all about the bass: its sub that owns and defines these tracks, again drawing connections with the deeper, more meditational end of dubstep.
We dropped Alex a line to find out a little bit more about the influences and ideas that inform his music, and in return he very kindly dropped us a killer half-hour mix that showcases his sound (and draws connections backward – Roska’s 2009 anthem ‘Boxed In’ makes a welcome appearance around 8 minutes in).
Sonic Router: So for those who don’t know you, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Alex Coulton: I’m currently 19 years old and have lived in Manchester my whole life. Sometimes I like to make beats on the computer. I’ve had releases on Idle Hands, Horizontal Ground, All Caps and Syndrome Z so far.
How did you first start getting into making music? How long have you been doing it for? And what brought you through to the sounds you’re making now?
I’ve been making tunes for about 3 years now; initially I was just messing around with Ableton as a hobby. I’ve always had a passion for music but I never really put the time aside to learn an instrument, so once I found out I could make beats on the computer I was quickly hooked. There’s a certain eureka moment when you put different sounds together and they mesh perfectly – speak to any producer and they’ll know what you mean. It’s that creative spark which makes creating beats so enjoyable. Sometimes I’ll finish a tune and be dancing around my room for hours, haha.
I’ve been through a lot of phases with my music and I’m still trying to find a truly unique style which I can call my own, but I don’t think that is particularly uncommon. One thing I do know is that I love big basslines and a nice percussive swing, and for the most part I try to stay within the 120-130 BPM range.
What’s your set-up like for production? And is it something that’s changed over the period of time you’ve been doing it?
My setup is very simple, just a computer with Ableton and a pair of monitors. I’ve played around with Logic before and it seems very nice, however my computer is a Windows PC so I think Ableton is the way to go.
You make music that’s ostensibly somewhere around the regions of house/techno but there’s a definite bounce and fluidity that feels rather more UK in nature. Have you been much of a fan of dubstep and other UK-borne genres, do you think they’ve been things that have informed your sound?
Well, it was around the time that I first started going to clubs that dubstep was picking up pace and rapidly becoming the new thing that everyone was listening to. All of my first experiences raving were at dubstep nights, so it was only natural that I would want to make those kinds of tunes. I was listening to a lot of Skream and Digital Mystikz when I started producing; I was very much into the whole dark and moody vibe that was going on with early dubstep. Then at some point it started to get saturated and wobble basslines began to dominate everything, which is when I decided to broaden my tastes in terms of dance music.
I remember my brother was getting into techno and showed me a track by Sleeparchive called ‘Transposition Reverse’. The tune had all of the dubstep elements which I loved, however it was based on a 4×4 template at 130 BPM. I think from there I opened my ears to techno/house, and it seemed like the way forward if I was going to be recognised since so many people were making dubstep at the time.
You’ve previously released on Horizontal Ground, right? How did you get involved with that group? Has their resolutely about-the-music approach been something you’ve taken on yourself?
I became involved with Horizontal Ground through a good friend of mine who makes techno under the name of Szare. He forwarded one of my tunes ‘Thirteen Step’ to the label boss and it went on to become the B side for HG04. This was my first release of any kind. And yeah I think the whole anonymity thing can be cool, I’m not strictly bound to that path though, in fact I think recently HG have begun to put artist’s names on their releases.
You’ve put out an EP through All Caps, and now your new EP is coming out through Idle Hands – both labels that very adeptly bridge these house/techno and UK dance worlds without getting too stuck into issues of genre, or simplistic ideas of ‘bass music’. How did you first get in contact with those groups, and do you feel a kinship, say, with the music that’s coming out of Bristol at the moment?
I was contacted by All Caps after people like Ben UFO and Blawan started playing my tune ‘Representations’. They loved the tune and soon after this we decided to do a release together. After that I began to get a little recognition and got speaking to Chris from Idle Hands. I’m not really sure what’s going on in Bristol at the moment, there are certainly some great tunes coming from there but I don’t really feel an affiliation to any specific area. I just tend to go with the flow and listen to sounds that I find interesting, whether that be 80s disco or modern ambient, I’m not too fussy.
A tune of yours ‘Bounce’ was featured in Peverelist’s recent mix for us, and it seemed to suggest another direction for your music again – the hyper-percussive, broken edge actually felt really comfortable in the context of music by him and Bass Clef. Do you find that you’re still pushing outward and finding lots of new niches to explore with your sound?
I’m definitely still finding my sound, however if I can make a few quality tunes in the process then that’s fine by me. ‘Bounce’ is actually quite an old production of mine, I was really into using tribal percussion at that point, one day I came up with that and it turned out to be a pretty good tune! Sometimes these things just come out in the studio, I can never really predict what’s going to happen next or when I’ll be lead on a huge tangent playing with reese basslines for an hour…
What’s the scene in Manchester like for the kind of music you make? There are clearly collectives like Modern Love and Horizontal Ground, etc, but is there much of an actual close-knit scene there?
I’d say that we have quite a healthy scene in Manchester, and I think that house and techno are slowly taking a hold of the dance floor (as they are in many places around the country at the moment), which is certainly good news for me.
What have you got coming up in the near future – any new releases/major plans on the horizon?
I’ve got a few things in the works yes, however I’ll keep my lips sealed on the specifics for now.
Could you tell us a little about the mix you’ve recorded for us? Did you have any particular aims in mind for it?
I’d say the mix is quite party orientated, and is probably a good representation of the type of set I like to play at gigs. It also serves as a showcase of my own productions; there are 6 tunes of mine in there, most of which are quite recent works.
Towards the end of the mix I switch up the vibe a little and have included a recent favourite of mine, a tune called “C O” by a girl from New York called “Shadowbox”. You can check a live performance version of the tune on Youtube, it’s definitely worth a watch.
…In true Sonic Router tradition, do you have any words of wisdom for our readers?
Creativity will strike when you least expect it to.
DOWNLOAD: Alex Coulton – Sonic Router Mix #126
East Coast Connection – Summer In The Parks
Kowton – Never Liked Dancing (forthcoming Idle Hands)
Alex Coulton – Brooklyn (forthcoming Idle Hands)
Schatrax – Restless Nights (Schatrax)
Roska – Boxed In (Roska Kicks & Snares)
Szare – Pressure (Horizontal Ground)
Alex Coulton – Bounce (???)
Milton Bradley – A Sky Full Of Numbers (Do Not Resist The Beat!)
Alex Coulton – Function (???)
Alex Coulton – Candy Flip (forthcoming Idle Hands)
Marcel Dettmann – Barrier (Ostgut Ton)
Szare – Red Desert (Krill Music)
Alex Coulton – Representations (All Caps)
Alex Coulton – Fade Realization (???)
Logos – Atlanta 96 (forthcoming Keysound Recordings)
ShadowBox – C O (???)
Alex Coulton’s debut on Idle Hands, Candy Flip b/w Brooklyn, is out now.
Photo: Elliot Holbrow