Earlier this year I spoke with B+ while in L.A. The discussion lasted a good few hours, zipping along lines of thoughts as they came to us or as we drove and moved around the city between the Dublab studio, his studio and home, a lovely spot called The Kitchen for dinner and finally the Airliner. Of all the things we discussed two ideas have continued to gestate in my mind, one in relation to the book’s narrative and the other in relation to the history of what I’m looking at. Which isn’t to say there aren’t more ideas worth exploring from our chat, just that these two felt particularly important and so have continued to occupy my thoughts on this, coming up in other interviews as a good way to accumulate further perspectives on it all.
The idea that relates to the book’s narrative is that of the bedroom. We were talking about B’s own book, It’s Not About A Salary, and he was telling me how one of his professors at the time – the book came out of his undergraduate work – had asked him what the framing shot was for his story. From that we came to discuss what the framing shot for this story of mine could be, a story that he’s also been an active participant in for years now. His answer was: the bedroom is the framing shot. That’s where it all begins. If you have even the most basic understanding of the book’s subject matter – producers within hip hop – then you will understand what he meant, and the power that underlies this idea. The bedroom is where it all begins. For so many anyways, though I’m sure there are exceptions as always.
It’s not new either. It’s not like modern producers, those so often referred as the bedroom generation, are the first. Stories of Marley Marl’s early beginnings refer to the studio in his house. Bedroom, living room, kitchen, garage. It’s all the same.
So that idea has been in my head for a while now. Bouncing around the walls of my cranium. I kept thinking back to that photo book of producers and their studios, Behind The Beat, and how it told precisely that story with images. Because it’s a powerful story, it’s a story any devout hip hop fan, any devout production fan, must understand.
I don’t know how yet but I know that this is how I’m going to start my story. From the bedroom. Because it’s the framing shot.
I’ve been reading David Toop’s Ocean of Sound, which I heartily recommend – it’s a fascinating read. You may think that on the surface a book about ambient music would have little interest to the research I’m conducting – and I held that suspicion myself at first – but that couldn’t be further from the truth in this case. The book’s been an engrossing read, with occasional crossovers with my own ideas, my own narrative strands (which are mainly currently dangling from my brain and slowly finding their way onto paper once their value is ascertained). Today I was reaching the end of chapter ten when the following quote, from Aphex Twin, cropped up:
They’ve all got these strange personalities you’ve never seen in the pop stardom world, people in their bedrooms all day long. They make four tracks a day. People like me, bedroom bores, coming into the public eye. That’s quite amusing.
Richard was, of course, referring to what was then the growing body of modern electronic musicians, of which he was a leading light. The chapter continues to deal with the idea, talking with Mike Paradinas – founder of Planet Mu and the artist known as musiq – about the differences between producing in the bedroom and producing in a professional studio. To people like Paradinas – and others like LFO – the idea of going to a professional studio filled them with dread at the time (the book was published in the mid 90s, so these guys were at the beginning of their careers at that point).
I discussed exactly the same idea with B. Talking about Madlib he mentioned how early on his career the producer would feel fear, apprehension at the thought of having to sit in a professional studio – which in California would have also equated having a rock engineer at the tie most likely. Because doing so would have meant letting someone else touch the music he’d made in his bedroom, someone who most likely didn’t understand it. And in the process the music may have lost part of what made it so unique, so personal, so Madlib.
As an aside Stones Throw found a solution to that problem, which was to work with mainly one engineer and mastering go-to-guy. Check your liner notes. More on him in the future.
So I got to thinking. There are no differences between the bedroom bores of Richard’s coining, the electronic pioneers of the 90s, and the bedroom nerds that begun to redefine hip hop in the 90s. They are one and the same, in terms of modern musical entities. Everyone starts in the bedroom. Everyone had to understand where their music sat between the bedroom and the professional studio. Everyone had to deal with the same issues of how to keep the music sounding a certain way when the inevitable transfer from the bedroom to a recording studio happened.
Even better this all ties into the wider introduction for the book which I’ve been refining, and which I was discussing with Danny Breaks the other week when it kinda hit me. For a while now, as my research and field/interview work increases, I’ve become aware that while the book will focus on the past decade it will need a solid grounding in the 90s. Without this the story just won’t have as much impact, won’t make as much sense. The 90s weren’t as exciting or full of happenings as the 00s, but the 00s wouldn’t have been anywhere near as exciting, wouldn’t have been worthy of a book, without everything that happened in the 90s. And what happened in the 90s isn’t just about hip hop, it’s also about electronic music. And so Toop’s stories of bedroom producers, and their similarities to my own, further convinced me that the best way to open this book will be to anchor the story in the 90s, twice: once in the hip hop world, and once in the electronic world. These anchoring chapters will of course also feature personal stories from those who were there. And from there I can start to try and tell this story of mine…
As for the other idea, the one that relates to the bigger-picture history of what I’m looking at, for now let’s just say that I’ve been summarising it as Tubby’s shadow.