I don’t believe that it should ever be easy to write about the work of someone you knew and respected after they’ve passed away. And I’ve learned that the simple fact of the matter is, even a few years after the fact, it’s not.
I only really met Ewan Robertson a handful of times in person (one of which I can’t fully remember because we were both at Sonar and that whole night is another one of those compounded blurs of loud music, vivid neon and bumper cars) but he always acted like a pretty gentile and genuine guy – the polar opposite of his hard punching, grime influenced music, really. A softly spoken and rather looming Aberdonian (he was a very tall guy) we talked a lot about his music, his art and his dayjob as a designer and I’d like to think I supported his music as much as I could have at the time.
First dropping an eponymous EP on the short lived Glaswegian label Stuff Records, it was Robertson’s subsequent relationship with London label Big Dada that came to define his visual style – he worked as a designer for the label and helped produce the iconic artwork for Wiley’s Playtime Is Over and Roots Manuva’s Slime And Reason album – as well as his musical output as Offshore. Even now, in a much more saturated climate, his early music still resonates. It’ll forever be ahead of the curve of producers who are just now using celebrated grime tropes to create new forms of bass heavy music. But Ewan’s music always had something way more unique to it – it wasn’t straight saw wave low ends or cut price eski-beat translations – he managed to extrapolate that basic and, at times, harsh sense of simplistic layering from grime whilst sticking true to the mantra that hey, if a bizarre snare sample fits then just fucking run with it.
The mixes he made have always managed to better illustrate that point, like the one he made for this site, which blended cuts from Three 6 Mafia, Gucci Mane and Big Boi acapellas with lesser known tunes from JME and Dexplicit, a Wiley freestyle and the crop of upcoming ‘dubstep’ focused producers of the time like Ikonika, Rustie and Joker. With the blessing of hindsight, it’s obvious from this type of framing that Ewan was well aware of where he wanted his music to sit and it’s undoubtedly from those types of influences he was pulling from when he was writing his later EP title tracks like ‘Pacer’ – which sounds like an emphatic, shaker heavy, UK borne update of Clipse’s ‘Grindin’ – and the fantastically catchy ‘Aneurysm’.
Unfortunately Bake Haus would come to be the only full length album Robertson released before he died suddenly in December 2012 whilst undergoing heart surgery to treat the Marfan Syndrome from which he suffered. The LP was a widely well-received longer form interpretation of what he was doing over his EP releases – it’s chocked full of short tracks, nutty switches and innovative ideas that’ll continue to remind you of the scope of his talent as they unfurl and surprise you every time you listen. It’s also a record that I’ll admit, I had to really grow into. I remember joking with him at the time that his album was pretty guarded, like people on a first date and how he’d written this weird suite of music that wanted to decide who you really were before it let you into it’s world completely.
And that’s pretty much the exact same point that this new posthumous album (also simply called Offshore) launches off from. Put together lovingly by Robertson’s partner, his family and his friends at Big Dada, the record has been sculpted as close to his initial intentions as it could be – the cover is even a blend of some of Ewan’s screenprinted works in progress. But oddly enough, considering the emotive context of the release, it’s not painful to hear or a chore to listen to. There’s actually something inherently comforting about hearing a selection of his nearly finished beats and rough sketches; as if the lack of polish and their relative simplicity should serve as a reminder that one needn’t obsess over minutiae. You don’t need to polish every last detail to make something that can affect and direct people. Just crack on and get it done.
And there’s a wonderful irony in that last statement too, because, for the longest of times, I’ve found this whole topic pretty much impossible to broach – I remember trying to write something at the time, when news of his death was just breaking and it was incredibly hard to find the right line. Simply taking this new music on face value would be doing Ewan an incredible disservice as a person but because I knew him, it’s been really fucking hard to create the kind of distance necessary to listen to the record without feeling something like a pang of regret. Tracks like ‘Olympian’ make me miss Robertson’s stylistically stabby sense of melody and hearing him start to merge his jagged and jangly Akron/Family-esque guitar playing into his beat making just makes me wonder at the scope of what else he might have created. It’s the oddest thing. Like, I don’t ever really want to look at this record as a full stop for Offshore because I keep going back to remixes Ewan made or listening to tracks and mixtapes I’d forgotten about and I really can feel the same sort of excitement I had in me when I played my blend of Young L and Ewan’s remix of Nino’s ‘Buio Omega’ on the radio for the first time all those years ago.
And I also remember the first time I really felt the impact of a death or the loss of someone back when I was a teenager: my girlfriend at the time’s father passed away peacefully in his sleep and although I was a little numb to the emotional pain of it myself, I saw first hand how it completely ripped her world apart. The difficult truth is that yes, losing someone you love probably does end up hurting more and more over time, but being able to pay tribute to a life and to a person in a manner such as this new record – and to have it directly benefit people who’re suffering the same illness – is a very poignant, admirable, beautiful and necessary thing.
I don’t believe that it should ever be easy to write about the work of someone you knew and respected after they’ve passed away. And I’ve learned, after sitting down to write this, that the simple fact of the matter is, even a few years after the fact, it’s not.
Offshore – Off Peak
“This clip is an ode to one of many conversations that I had the pleasure to enjoy with Ewan. It could have been on a rooftop in Hackney Wick or between games at Efes, either way sometimes our digression would touch this subject which we both enjoyed, it was about the mass of available and “editable” footage on You Tube. We would enjoy sharing ideas about how to cut/edit/copy/and paste and re-use such raw pure material. I remember his reaction to one of my ongoing projects www.ennetv.com that triggered all that talking… This clip has many of those discussions in it but mostly has one simple start one simple idea. I wanted to enhance the perception that I have always had of Ewan’s way to make music. He always had this dimension of rawness combined with almost an orchestral structure. To respond to these two aspects I wanted to pick a natural subject almost like a BBC documentary (the lava), but find it in its most raw and pure form.
Many cuts of the footages are picked from a series of almost a 100 documentaries and amateur videos that I have selected and edited from youtube. All that with a solemn beginning by Carl Sagan.”
Offshore – Start
Director: Nico Chavez:
“Ewan and I met at St Martins about 12 years ago. It was tough not to befriend such a nice man and he was a true inspiration throughout our friendship and still is today. I’m really stoked to be part of the album launch of such a talented artist and friend. Miss you, big man.
The video is made up of close to 600 hand-painted frames of 35mm film which were later scanned and edited together at different frame rates. There was just something about the pace and intensity of this track and I felt like the video would need a lot of things going on at the same time to match it.”
Offshore – Turn That Down Upside Frown
Director: Lali Cienfuegos:
“The first time I met Ewan was up on a council estate with some random rappers in Forest Hill, South London. He didn’t quite fit in: tall lanky, ruffled up hair, and that unmistakable well-to-do Scottish accent. He was busy making beats using Fruity Loops while I was among the random rappers loving the sound of my voice. We struck a chord, on what was the beginning of a friendship that much later crossed oceans. He was still sending me beats and jokes a couple of weeks before he died. This is where I start croaking…
Offshore preferred minimalistic often static one-shot videos. I broke his rule this time by moving, but I hope you like it Ewan. RIP.”
Stream the full Offshore album over on THUMP.
The album will be out on the 4th September through Big Dada.