Interest in the off-beat: DJ Polo’s globally-inspired club music pays tribute to percussive pioneers

today30/06/2023 8

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You just released ‘Lab Rat‘ alongside fellow Bristol percussion head NKC, can you tell us about the process of creating the EP?

It was always on the cards to get back into the studio together, and we wrote these tracks over a few months. We approached this collaboration in person, so all three tracks were made in the same room. To be honest, we both tend to work on headphones – NKC might start on the beat and I would try to come up with a bass, groove or melody, or the other way round and send stems back and forth. Once we got to a stage where we were happy with the tracks, we moved them onto monitors to finish them off. We’re both quite particular with small changes, so we did a lot of sessions on these tracks. It was great to have Bok Bok on the remix of ‘Fonkeh’ as well – he had actually reached out to us to do a remix on a forthcoming Night Slugs release so it was nice to tie both together. He smashed the remix too!

What do you think it is that attracts you to deep, percussive sounds?

I think for me, it’s the rhythms that come from the drums and percussion that attracts me to a track — when it’s done right it hits HARD on a system. The more offbeat and syncopated the percussion section is, the more it interests me. I think the love for the deep sound comes from early dubstep, sub heavy music where the bassline leads the melody on the track.

You helped bring the pioneers of UK Funky to Bristol as part of Sprung‘s Day parties — Can you tell us about when your love for UK funky started? Maybe also how Sprung connected to that for you?

Yeah, so the funky parties came from our mutual love of funky. I think we (Max, Jenny, Luke & Ferris) had all just come back from Dimensions one year and we were like ‘no one puts on funky parties anymore, we should do one?’ The idea was to book artists that we hadn’t seen on a lineup for a few years and bring them to Bristol. Our first funky party we did was with Supa D and Brackles and it went off.. We held them annually after that for the next five years bringing down names like – Apple, Crazy Cousinz, Funkystepz, D Malice, Greyman, Hardhouse Banton etc. Being part of running these parties spurred me on to start producing funky. Before the funky parties I had only really heard the top shelf classic funky tracks – but everyone we booked was bringing through all the dubs and it just made me want to deep dive into the genre. I met a lot of my peers through these events that I have since worked with and I’ve learned alot from them musically.

UK funky never really got its moment in the spotlight, neither did most of its pioneers. Is it important to you to highlight them now? And give them the credit they deserve?

It’s definitely been really important to me, yeah. There has been some spotlight thrown on funky in the last five years, but it’s very sporadic – usually an article or a podcast and the narrative is usually “why is funky dead” or “bring back funky.” I think that funky has just been going the whole time, it’s just rare that you will hear someone do a full set of funky, but you always hear tracks being played out. I don’t think it’s ever “died” though people like Roska have been producing and pushing UK funky for the whole time. I think a lot of it is seasonal, soon as the sun comes out it’s what people wanna hear. I will always try to push the classic UK funky when/where I can because I love the sound – but also the directions it has taken since are really interesting too.

Read this next: The importance of getting lit: Club Djembe supplies feel-good beats for dancers who love to get down

Is that the mission on your Rinse FM show? Katy B, Roska, Funkystepz, Ramzee… an impressive list of guests!

I would say for the first couple of years it was the mission, yeah. It’s my fourth year on the station this month so the format of my shows has changed a bit and I tend to do more solo shows now. But definitely in the earlier days of Rinse this was the mission! It was really humbling for me to have so many artists join the show who have heavily influenced my musical journey — Roska, Scratcha, KG, Greyman, Funkystepz, Katy, Apple, Naughty to name a few. It’s been really good to link up with Ramzee in the last couple of years cause we’ve done a few bits now with a heap of funky MCs including ‘Nostalgia’ EP and a Keep Hush.

Likewise when playing in front of a crowd, do you feel a lot of responsibility when playing music within UK funky, Ampiano, Afro house that the crowd might have never heard before? Or just in general in playing music from the African Diaspora?

100%. I think the influence that the African Diaspora has had in UK club music is so big that people don’t even realise, house, techno, UK garage, jungle, dubstep. I think what’s important is to put a spotlight on the pioneers and the originators, take influences and credit where they came from. For me, I don’t change my sound too much to suit a crowd — maybe a couple of UK funky classics to get the crowd going at festivals and day parties, but really I’m always looking to bring out tracks that people might not have before. I play tracks because they are good tracks, and I want people to hear them and think the same too. With Club Djembe, we’ve always tried to represent genres like UK funky, amapiano and Afro house as best and as authentically as possible. We’ve consistently represented these, and other genres, especially in Bristol since 2016 — and have at times been the only people in Bristol booking artists, DJs and sounds outside of the Bristol Bubble… so naturally we will have people who turn up to our parties not knowing the sound. What’s important to us, is to have those people leave our parties, go home and listen to music from the artists on the lineup, become fans of them, and looking at us as someone they can trust for booking good artists.

Written by: Tim Hopkins

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