Having already written a probable fuck ton of stuff before about how it’s first hand recommendation from people that really helps to get you in to new and interesting things (we even devoted a regular feature to the process in our irregular Vouch pieces) it feels like I’m constantly repeating myself saying stuff like this, but frankly, it’s impossible not to come back to the ‘friendly introduction’ principle when discussing a new artist. After all, that’s what this whole game is about: other people selling you talent that they themselves found somewhere or in something else. And when it’s people you like tipping you off about certain things, sure it makes you pay attention because you probably trust their judgment, but it also makes the whole thing even quicker and easier to blow out of proportion. I’m not about to tell you we haven’t published articles about things our friends have released; I’d be lying through my weird, inward facing teeth. But sometimes one of the talented fuckers we know IRL spots something that really makes us listen.
And having written about the talents of Sean and Dan Kelly before (here, here and um… here) there’s kind of little else that bears repeating. As the Kelly Twins they play out a lot in their native Bristol and are directly involved with the Idle Hands shop -one of the last remaining vinyl retailers in the city. The twins started their Happy Skull label with a platter from Kowton and Hyetal who (kind of) collaborated as Systems of Desire – with each producer finishing off a track in their respective studios after working on the initial bones of an idea together – and the results were pretty fucking emphatic.
Conversely, instead of perhaps picking another of their associates’ music to press up, their second 12” comes from a brand new producer, Adjowa. Built around more of a boogie than the hard, stomp of Systems of Desire, Adjowa’s music showcases another faction of the Kelly’s far reaching tastes – alongside his own honed production processes. Simply made, Adjowa’s productions are supple and direct with ‘8 Ball’ a bit more of the moody, crunchy shuffle to ‘Red Leather’’s widescreen 80s sheen. Presented alongside a balls out, drum heavy reworking of ‘Red Leather’ from Eglo collaborator, Funkineven, the three track package is really a truly impressive one for a label so young. It’s clear – already – that the Kelly’s have a wider vision than most people might’ve expected for their Happy Skull imprint, but then, if you’ve followed them or what we’ve been writing, you’d have kinda guessed that already. Right…?
Sonic Router: So your 12” for the Kelly Twins Happy Skull label has already been announced. How did you hook up with the lads? What made you want to release it on their label?
Adowja: I met Sean & Dan through my girlfriend, who ran a boogie night with a couple of her mates in Bristol called Ghettospheric, at which the twins had played on numerous occasions. Sean dropped me a line one day and said he’d heard a few bits and pieces of mine and asked if I’d send him a few tracks. I think I met them both at a Ghettospheric night in London soon after, where I was so drunk I nearly made my girlfriend cry for kicking her off the decks and repeatedly playing Roy Ayers ‘The Third Eye’ while demanding a microphone so I could sing over the top. Not my finest hour, but a little while after that Sean got in touch and asked if I’d be up for putting something out on the soon-to-be-born Happy Skull and I didn’t think twice. When people have a deep knowledge of 80s boogie and are willing to forgive drunken idiocy, I consider them friends from the off.
How long had those tracks been in the making prior to the announcement?
I made ‘8 Ball’ and ‘Red Leather’ about two years ago now. I jacked in my decade long arts career three years ago and moved to Berlin with romantic notions of making a living through music and writing a novel. Instead of that, I ended up hanging out in the bushes of Gorlitzer Park with the skunk dealers, spending all my money on weed and generally sending myself a bit mad. I came home to London after a year with my tail between my legs, bought a bit of cheap studio time off a friend, took all my gear down there and banged out about 20 tracks in a couple of weeks.
That Funkineven remix though! You must be chuffed with how that turned out?
Yeah, absolutely. Sean put it out there straight away that he was going to ask Funkineven to do the remix and I’m really happy he did, it’s great. It’s funny because the arp that he’s based it on is this dainty little hand-played motif and he’s turned it into a fucking monster. It sounds like an elephant on steroids, and, yes, the man knows his way around a drum machine like the back of his hand.
So what’s your background as a musician/producer/DJ? I mean, I know you had a track on the Spargel Trax but outside of that, how long have you been making music? What made you want to start in the first place? Do you DJ etc etc?
I come from a musical family. My Dad’s a songwriter, my uncle’s a guitarist and producer and so on. Going back as far as the early 1900s my family on my mums side were all listed on the 1901 census as ‘profession: musician’, so it’s in the blood. I’ve been making and recording music as a hobby for over a decade, but, as I said – I decided to get more serious a couple of years ago. I’ve done a few musical scores since then, which pays the bills and keeps me in drum machines/broken tape recorders. As for DJing, I’ve been collecting vinyl and playing records for about 15 years, never with the intention of being a ‘professional DJ’, just because I love records and making people dance. For me personally, DJing and making music are very separate entities.
What are you making music on, is it hardware or all in the box? What’s your studio setup like?
Hardware. My studio looks like an elephant’s graveyard of forgotten and overlooked bits of musical kit. I’ve got a couple of cheap drum machines that I’ve specced out myself, a couple of midi sequencers, a small arsenal of budget 80s synthesizers, a 12 track analogue mixer, a couple of FX pedals, an electric guitar and god knows how many four and eight track cassette recorders.
They’re always fucking breaking down, the tape recorders – bane of my life – so I usually end up reluctantly recording everything through the soundcard into the computer at the final stage, in a take or two. The idea of making music entirely on a computer and pushing blocks of sound around Logic, agonising over EQs and frequency ranges and all that, I personally think it’s a very dry way of doing things; it loses the magic of the process for me.
The two tracks on the Happy Skull 12” kind of fit in with what Funkineven does too, to an extent. I mean they’re just driving, drum machine jams. Is this the kind of stuff you’ve been making for a while now? Where do you think your music fits? What are you trying to achieve with your music do you think?
Yeah, the tracks represent a stage in my musical development. Ten years ago, when I first began writing and recording I was making sort of weirdo R&B: vocal led, verse/chorus/middle 8, 3-4 minute songs. I’d write on a guitar and transfer it over to a synth on top of a super basic boss drum machine, record it to four track tape, no midi-no quantize. I was aspiring to be Prince but coming off more like an awful, drunk, Police tribute band – timing all over the place. I was aiming too high, too soon, so I decided to focus on the foundation until I had that down well enough to build proper songs on top of. I gradually began stripping it back, further and further until I arrived at the bare bones.
I think of the Adjowa stuff to date as a type of funk: groove based, bass orientated, instrumental synth jams. In terms of where it fits, I’m not sure, but it’s always evolving: the new stuff I’ve been making recently returns back to the original idea – proper song structures, more harmonically rich, over tough instrumental backdrops. Ultimately, I’m trying to achieve what all good music achieves – emotional resonance and longevity – and to do it in a way that stays true to who I am and not through jumping on some bandwagon. That’s the aim.
What else is coming up for you in the future?
I’ve got a couple of vinyl releases coming out after the Happy Skull release, on various labels, and a stripped down, laptop-free live hardware set ready to take on the road. I’ve done a little live improvised beat tape with a limited handful of c30 cassette tapes that’ll be knocking about soon, too. Then a full length LP on a well-established indie label next year, all being well…
Adjowa’s ‘8 Ball’ b/w ‘Red Leather’ 12″ will be out via the Happy Skull label soon.