Many of us Americans know the name Awkward for his collaborative work with Machina Muerte artists like Isaiah Toothtaker and his work with Open Mike Eagle, particularly his handling of production on 4NML HSPTL. If you happen to know of his work prior to the past three years of output, well, truly nothing gets past your stealthy radar.
Bristol, UK-based producer, Awkward dropped his new record, The Metal at The Core, today on Machina Muerte. On paper the record, with its Stateside collaborations, reads as a product of the Internet, the expansion of local scenes into global communities, but Awkward's sound is just as much about hanging out at a record store as it is message boards. The record is an extension into a sound he's been honing since '04 and to an extent, the 90s. He's got the rich trip hop history in his backyard, but it was the Los Angeles beat music sound, popularized by Low End Theory and various beatmaker workshops that caught his ear in the early Aughts and shaped his blend of production. The Metal at The Core is a solo record first and foremost, while a supporting cast of Zackey Force Funk, Civilian, Open Mike Eagle, Sole, Mat Gamin, N8 NoFace, Benjamin One, and Cadalack Ron make appearances.
Stream the record in full below and read on for an interview with Awkward.
A lot of the artists you collaborate with are Americans. How did you link up with them, begin making music, and have you ever met any of them or had the opportunity to work together in the same room on a project?
Around 2001 I met a producer called Snuf One in a local Bristol hip hop record shop who was from San Jose. He brought with him a load of CD rips of his underground tape collection, 3 Eyed Cows, CVE, Bored Stiff, Shapeshifters, etc. He became part of our crew which at the time was called Vertebrae. When he went back to the States he made copies of my demo at the time and passed them out at shows and a few shops. One of the dudes he gave a copy to at that time was Rheteric Ramirez.
So a few years later, in '04-ish, when MySpace was in effect, I searched Rheteric down and started building with him online. I was also talking to Gajah from Acid Reign who in turn recommended I get in touch with Open Mike Eagle. So really it was all pretty organic and about mutual respect of each other's music.
As well at this time I wasn't really hearing much fresh, boundary pushing hip hop in the UK as I was from LA, so I really gravitated towards what I was feeling.
In winter '09 I spent a month in LA to build with Rheteric, Alex Pathetic, and Mike. Machina Muerte had just formed and as I was already making tracks with Alex and Rhet. Mestizo put me down with the crew and I accepted the invite. I recorded some tracks with Alex, Existstereo, Barfly and Hazard while I was there and in fact “Possibles” with Mike from the new LP was recorded at his house in the same room.
Besides the record being book-ended with tracks “The Core” and “The Metal”, what does the title “The Metal at the Core” mean and how does it relate to the compositions?
The Metal At The Core is the root of all mysteries, the origin of the tale, the truth at the end of the rabbit hole, the elusive goal. How it relates to the music though is for the listener to interpret.
You get on the mic with long-time collaborator Open Mike Eagle on “Possibles". Is this a hint of more Awkward raps to come?
Well most of the music I made up to 2008 (I started rapping and deejaying around 1991) pretty much was me doing all the beats, raps and scratches. When I started making beats for other people it really felt like I could free things up, try different avenues, and not be too concerned with going down one path musically. I feel there is more longevity to my beat making, I think I'm having more fun concentrating on the music. I'm definitely still rapping though, you may see more of that this year.
Infact, all the vocoder work on the LP is by me. I sort of rap on it.
Are there any Bristol artists you're digging? Any plans to collaborate locally?
Oh yes. On the LP I have two long time collaborators, Benjamin One and Civilian (Gee from the band Malachai) lending a hand. There's a few heads here doing less straight up rap more exploratory music. Definitely feeling Printers Devil, FonoVeins, Sirplus. There's a bunch of people doing cool stuff here. Bristol is very active.
You've been producing since at least 1997 how has your style and approach evolved in those years?
Well I really started making beats with sampling in 1996. Before that I was rhyming in a few bands and deejaying regular nights, scratching a lot. Around 2004, I lost a whole hard drive of music from '97 onwards. So with not having enough money to replace my PC I bought an old Yamaha keyboard, a bass effects peddle and borrowed a digital 4-track and made music that way for a couple of years. When I replaced my PC in I really started to merge more keyboard playing and sampled myself rather than relying on digging for beats. Playing sounds really opened things up for me, taking tracks into new areas with progressions. It's hard to do that when you only have samples. Sampling is 20% of my process these days. I still can't play the keyboard properly though.
Who were some of your early production influences and what are some cues you took from their work and infused it in your work?
Definitely Mantronix, Hashim, Ced Gee, Towa Tei, Paul C, Bomb Squad: Edits and layering, interesting sample and drum machine work. Rock solid excitement and dynamics. The Wild Style soundtrack. A lot of early Electro music too. Parliament/Funkadelic. I'm really into contrasts, light and dark. Things that shouldn't really go together but do. Mantronik was incredible to me, hard drums and elusive bass and melody. His sample work was groundbreaking. 99% of trap 'rolls' owe debt to him and the Latin Rascals.