Photo: Press (ETCH)
“I live and breathe music,” says Zak Brashill and judging from his recent output under the moniker ETCH, he has been hyperventilating these past few years. Besides two albums on Sneaker Social Club and Seagrave, the Brighton-based producer – who, it should be noted, is also producing music under other and yet-to-be-disclosed pseudonyms – put out a slew of EPs on imprints like Ilian Tape while also contributing to the odd compilation, remixing other people’s music and always seeking out collaborations with boundary-pushing producers. His mix for our Groove podcast focuses heavily on both the international communities he is affiliated with and his taste for futuristic, unconventional dance music.
First off, how have you been doing these past one and a half years – and how do you feel about the so-called “Freedom Day,” the reopening process in the UK?
I’ve been doing absolutely terribly, I feel like I’ve been cursed! (laughs) It feels like one thing after another. Fortunately, this has fed largely into my creative process and I’ve been making tonnes of tunes, every now and again I’ll have a month off and just play videogames and watch films, always sampling of course. I’ve hit a few illegal raves, felt both guilty and unfulfilled – but yeah, it’s really been a shit couple years and it’s ramped up these past few months. I’m really at a peak right now I’m trying to get away from. “Freedom Day” – how do I feel about it … I still find it hard to believe, I think maybe we’ll be free momentarily and then we’ll roll back into lockdown. I haven’t been booked to perform at anything for reasons i’m still trying to figure out. I’m bad at playing “the game,” I don’t know. Everything in the UK is so political and weird and arselick-y and cliquey – which is probably why a majority of my bookings in the past were abroad – and I’m really not into it. I just feel like people who work hard and constantly put out quality music should be given opportunities. I don’t wanna work a day job, but I have to, in mental health, ironically, considering that mine is in tatters. I have so much music from so many people and myself to tear down clubs with too, I’m happy I have my Balamii radio show to at least get my DJ side out there. But “Freedom Day” …. We’ll see, I’m just trying to cram as much in before we potentially enter another lock down…
You’ve grown up amongst ravers – your mother and uncle for example were fans of electronic dance music. What do they think about your music?
It’s weird. I’m very insular and very bad at taking compliments, I suffer from severe social anxiety, which sometimes appears to be rudeness but it’s just me struggling how to react. My mum is a huge fan of my music, whenever I finish tracks and me and my mum go take the dog for a walk in the countryside, I’ll always do the car test on my tunes and she loses it to them. (laughs) She loves bass, she loves breakbeats – she loves it when I whack on old rave tunes as well, always reminisces about when she heard it in the day, Future Sounds Of London’s “Papua New Guinea” is one of her faves and so is T99’s “Anastasia.” As for my uncle, he works for Valve in America – no I know nothing about any Half-Life conspiracies, do not DM me – we occasionally WhatsApp tunes back and forth. He especially was a fan of the remix I did for REQ on Seagrave because him and REQ used to be part of a graffiti crew in the late 90’s in Brighton called TDK, The Dusty Knights, and TFU, The Fuckest Uppest, which was referenced in the classic British comedy Spaced, Edgar Wright’s first TV show before he moved into Hollywood with Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz, Babydriver and the upcoming Anya Taylor Joy film. My uncle did a lot of artwork for that show and also illustrated the Shaun Of The Dead comic series. He has been totally into the work I did on Seagrave especially, he’s very into this type of cutting edge technical music, a big fan of the LA Beats scene, especially guys like Tsuruda, Eprom and stuff like that. He also introduced me to and was part of hip-hop, acid house, UK hardcore, jungle, drum’n’bass and early grime and dubstep – much like how he approaches his own creativity working in VR tech and all those other Valve secrets, he loves that cutting edge mad music and I think my Seagrave stuff has been the best example of that so far. Whereas my mum is a lot more into my more jungle, breaks and hip-hop type stuff.
You have a long history with hip-hop. After MF Doom died, you made a two-part mix dedicated to what he represented in your eyes: “the use of the alter-ego; to tell different stories or the same stories from different perspectives.” What makes this such an important feat?
Hip-hop was sort of my first love and the dark side of hip-hop beats and Mo’ Wax lead me into metal and stuff like Nine Inch Nails and then it all just ended up going full circle. MF Doom dying absolutely broke my heart. He was one of the greatest of all time. My two favourite MC’s of all time are probably Kool Keith and Big Daddy Kane – in the US anyway – and I feel like Doom sort of embodied both of them in different ways. He was a true once-in-a-generation genius artist, I’m so gassed I got to shake his hand once. (laughs) As for the alter-ego thing, it’s recently been revealed that I have bi-polar disorder, which is something I’m still coming to terms with and explains a lot of my behaviours I haven’t been able to explain over the years. But that in itself lends itself to the notion of the alter-ego. I’m a big daydreamer, I get lost in my own made-up worlds, I have done ever since I was a young child and getting to explore different stories and narratives from different perspectives with music is something that’s always been hugely alluring to me. I have a few different aliases with different comical and eccentric back stories – they’ll probably reveal themselves more over the years as labels let me expand these ideas. The main one is The Cosmic B-Boy, who’s an astronaut from the 70’s who got sucked through a wormhole and landed in my bedroom and was like “Hey, wanna make some music?” Vol. 2 of Cosmic B-Boy is out very soon. There’s also a character that explores my interest in the occult and demonology which we’ll be hearing more from; and The Slice Provider who actually predates ETCH as a hip-hop producer from back when I was at school just loop-digging basically. There’s a few more who will come out to play, too – I love so much music and I learn something new I love every day so it can be endless.
You seem to be quite a fan of cinema and video games. Would you say that this in some way informs your music production – aesthetically, narratively?
Yeah, hugely. Before I got into making music as my creative hobby I wanted to direct films, but I realised how difficult it is to have complete control of every aspect of the film production process as a director. This bothers me, I want complete creative control. (laughs) So when I started to get expressively good at making music I could finally create these worlds, the characters and scenarios that inhabit them and was also to add a dose of my own reality into them, which is how I deal with a lot of my personal issues. I sample heaps of films and I love old hardcore and jungle tunes that sample films and you spot it and its like “AHHH!!!” David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, Alejandro Jodorowski, Gaspar Noé, Ben Wheatley, Lynne Rhamsey, Ridley Scott, Sofia Coppola, John Carpenter … I could go on about directors I love, let alone films. I’m a complete fanatic. Video games came into my life when I was five years old and I was at my uncle’s watching him play Tomb Raider and Tekken on Playstation. I begged for one for my birthday and it’s been a complete love affair since then. I’ve gone through all the phases, the PC Gamer, Xbox, Gamecube, all the Playstations. Similarly to film, they are huge bases for sampling and also creatively the worlds these game developers create give so much to me as a creative. I’m not even going get into my favourite games, there are too many. I’m not really biased towards genre, though I find survival horrors to be my favourites often. Though I stand by Final Fantasy 7 and Final Fantasy 8 being the greatest stories ever told in that fantasy realm. I love Lord Of The Rings, Star Wars, the MCU – Harry Potter can get fucked – but Final Fantasy 7 and Final Fantasy 8, the beauty of their storytelling and character development; just everything sends chills down my spine. I wish everyone knew how great they were but to most modern gamers I guess they are dated, but a brilliant story has no sell-by date. Again this all feeds into my cycle of creativity when it comes to making music and curating projects.
What was the idea behind your mix for our Groove podcast?
The mix features the most twisted insane futuristic mad tracks I have at my fingertips at the moment. I feel the compilations on Bare Recordings very much represent that style of futurism and there are so many producers out there pushing synthesis and interesting innovative percussion to its current extremes. Just when I think I’ve heard everything possible, someone does something that just makes my jaw drop. So much music in Istanbul at the moment is crazy – Gantz, Iskeletor, Granul, etc., there are the Indian guys like Spryk, Chrms, Potter, Film and then of course in the USA you got Tsuruda, Great Dane, Little Snake, Bleep Bloop and so many more. The UK feels a bit lacking with stuff like this, there’s def some crazy stuff floating about in Europe, but in the UK you got J Shadow, Low End Activist, even though he’s based in Berlin now. You got Mosca doing crazy crazy stuff at the moment, Walton and a lot of drum’n’bass stuff is getting really innovative and forward thinking in that aspect, Ivy Lab is obviously sort of at the helm and guys like Tim Parker and Jon 1st are pushing it, so it is about but it feels like the UK is trapped in its typical nostalgia loop of garage and jungle – which is great and there’s some featured in the mix but a lot of it is going in circles! So yeah, the mix has a bit of everything and is very international. It is sure to take you on a futuristic psychedelic trip through beats and bass and at times maybe even overwhelming. Which in my opinion is great, I miss that about nights like FWD, AKAKAROAR, Beat Redemption, Donky Pitch, 20/20, Rupture – shit would just melt your brain, you’d get kicked in the face with confusion, but in the best way possible.
In December, you released a track on Mumbai’s Bare Recordings inaugural compilation Mental Movie Theatre. How did that come about?
Potter brought up the idea when I was on tour in India in 2019. I had such a great time out there, they were so devoted to sound, looked after me so well … there was no way I could say no. Funnily enough, almost the entire tune was made sitting in a train station in Milan just before Christmas after playing an incredible B2B there with Facta, definitely one of my fave sets I’ve played, especially because Facta and I have many similar interests but very different DJ styles. Somehow it came together and worked amazingly, I loved it, would do it again in a heartbeat. The basis of that track was made not too long after the compilation idea was mentioned, I spent most of the time on programming the synths in Reaktor and FM8 with a lot of re-sampling and actually doing the beats and breaks last which is kind of working in reverse to the usual. But shout out to Potter, Chrms, Rehan – all the crew out there, awesome times, I want to go back – maybe not via Dubai this time, it didn’t go well for me in that airport.
Your latest release was a 12″ for Sneaker Social Club, with whom you have a long-running working relationship. It also features a track made together with Luo. How did you end up collaborating?
Sneaker Social Club and just Jamie Russell – any label he runs or is involved in I am entirely devout to. He picked me up after my fallout from Keysound and I was confused and drifting, sort of like “Shit, is this the end, have I decided to sack off what I’m supposed to do and do what I want to do and now I’m not part of this clique by rebelling and not sticking to this format that was almost pressured into us?” Everyone else eventually saw sense but myself and E.m.m.a were the first to take the leap. As I said the UK music scene is very cliquey and quite snarky, so going alone against the grain is terrifying, really. I started playing mainly 160bpm music in early 2014, way before it really really kicked off like it has now with queens of the movement like Sherelle for example and guys like Tim Reaper really taking it out there innovatively and it’s exciting. When I started pushing the bpm’s back up and mixing footwork with jungle and hip hop pitched to 80bpm, then played at half time – a lot of people weren’t ready and were confused by it. I wasn’t doing myself any favours really. But Jamie came along and started playing some tracks off my first EP Rise on Soundman Chronicles and I remember that at the time there was the first “Jungle War Dub” thing happening on Soundcloud, which was actually started by myself, Sully and Epoch and grew so fast it was being reported by everyone from Vice to Resident Advisor. Jamie was well aware of that, too. He reached out and I made that first EP for him in a week, Untitled Hardcore. I had just split up with my long-term girlfriend, it was the week after New Years Eve 2015 and, yeah, I will bait myself out, I had been – very unsuccessfully – selling pills on NYE and had some left over, so I basically just did them and stayed up for a week and made that record. (laughs) I couldn’t believe it, it caught the attention of 2 Bad Mice, Altern8, Foul Play – these guys were beyond heroes to me, they were gods, they still are. When Si from 2 Bad Mice rings me up I always hang the phone up and think “What the fuck, my mum went into labour with me at a rave where your tunes were playing!” (laughs) But none of this would have happened if it weren’t for Jamie and he has always let me have complete creative control in my projects. I know what Sneaker Social Club kind of represents, which is vague in itself, which is always a great thing but I really put my all into projects for Jamie. My debut LP Ups & Downs was a mad experience putting together and of course as mentioned for my most recent EP Anachronism I pushed myself to my absolute limits. I acquired an EMU 6400 Ultra off Toasty along with an old Mackie mixer, a bunch of drum break vinyls and sampled video games and films, really did it as vintage as I could, but also as futuristic as possible. I tried to evoke the spirit of Photek, Hidden Agenda, Source Direct, Peshay, DJ Trace, et al. I was also following on from an insane record by Paradox, so I was a bag of nerves, but the EP was so well-received particularly by my heroes. I did a secret little attended mastering session with Beau Thomas who was part of the legendary Intense from the 90’s and the brains behind the legendary Durban Poison by Babylon Timewarp with that classic sample Burial and countless other people ended up using. I love Beau so much, he’s been a bit of a mentor to me since my first-ever record and doing that session with him, I pushed for it so hard. I didn’t even have the money to get to London, I was literally jumping over railway tracks and hiding in train toilets and when I got to his studio I had to run across a roof and slide down a drain pipe! (laughs) I had to get there. But again he loved the record, which means so much to me because he masters for everyone from Aphex Twin to Hudson Mohawke, Burial – just everyone, so to impress him and have a personal friendship is really a mad thing for me. As for the collaboration with Luo a.k.a. Josh Trinnaman: Josh has been one of my closest friends since we were four years old, he tripped me up on the playground in year one and broke my nose and we’ve been friends since. (laughs) I actually owe a lot to him for introducing me to a lot of breakcore and electronic music back when we were 13. We both went in quite different directions musically, he’s very much on his highly complicated math rock/IDM-styled stuff but all performed live, whereas I gravitated towards the more club sounds and intricacies and legacy of that stuff. Funnily enough we made a few tracks way back in 2008/2009 that actually haven’t aged too badly. Alby Daniels, ahighly underrated producer and vocalist from Black Acre, did a remix of one of those from back in the early Soundcloud days when everyone was really connected and supportive and it felt like a little community. I really wish I still had that remix, it was incredible. But yeah, one day I was just building breaks, mangling bits together and blending them in my EMU and putting different hits and effects into them and I ended up with a bunch of really cool grooves I sent over to Josh on Facebook and within 30 minutes he sent back the chords and bassline, then within another 30 minutes I did the arrangement, then sent it back and he added some extra percussion, then back to me again to add the vocals and the sort of Boards Of Canada-esque keys from my Roland D50 before I did the final arrangement and then sent that back to Josh for his final mixdown – definitely his strong point, especially as I mainly produce on just headphones and a subpac. That was it, in one day back and forth the whole track was done. It’s like 8mins long too!
Next up is a release on Rotterdam’s Tempo called Dodgy Acid Trax. How did the record come together?
That came about through Frodo, who runs the label, hitting me up asking for some tracks and I was sitting on a bunch of tracks as I always am. I had recently acquired a Behringer TD-3, which is a really great TB-303 replica. I was very proud of getting the acid house yellow version with the smiley face, so I had spent a week making acid and acid breaks tunes and also running the device into some interesting FX modules I had got from the Reaktor community. So I had these tracks and sent them to Frodo and initially there was a whole LP planned but eventually we narrowed it down to a Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 – Dodgy Acid Trax is part one and is a lot slower and features a collab between myself and the king of the kick drum, Deapmash, who really did most of that track. I just did a lot of the arrangement and all the chords, synths – sampled and edited from the 80’s classic vampire film The Lost Boys – and some break editing. The first one should be out next month on crystal vinyl and the second one will much much much darker and is essentially a straight up drum’n’bass record, but a bit more percussively different – highly influenced by nights at Rupture and the Brighton night Carbon. I’m excited to see the reaction to that one because I kind of prefer it. I’m hoping the proper drum’n’bass DJ’s will pick it up, Mantra has played a couple of tracks off it which is an absolute honour of course. She is truly the queen, the empress, the goddess of modern drum’n’bass and jungle. But yeah, expect pure darkness from that record, gonna see if we can get it in a dark sleeve and have the colour a dark blood red transparent rather than the crystal see-through.
Last but not least: What are your plans for the future?
The future … So so so so much. All that’s really holding me back is obviously the COVID/Brexit/pressing plant situation with getting records released. I don’t have a problem with digital releases at all but I always like a digital and a 12″ to go hand in hand, I love holding my music physically, watching the needle go through the groove and the music I made come out. It’s so satisfying and also sort of like “Okay, that project’s done, it’s physical, it’ll be around long after I’m dead, somewhere.” It’s mad to think that, it’s why I try to etch little messages in the inner-circle of the records, so it becomes a snapshot of time. But releases I have legit mastered ready to go are The Further Adventures Of The Cosmic B Boy on Purple City, which is Pt. 2 of the Cosmic B-Boy saga, this one is a lot more grounded in proper hip-hop. It features three tracks from an amazingly talented Brighton MC, Donaghy, whom I’ve known since he was about eight years old. He’s the younger brother of, erm … Someone who used to mean a lot in my life. That’s gonna be a fun record, like the last one we gonna go for pink fluorescent vinyl, etched messages aimed at two of my fave people in my life right now and some dope artwork from Matt, who runs the label, and a poster of myself and Donaghy like last time. Also mastered and set to go is a record for LMD Recordings, a brilliant label that’s had tracks from Burnt Friedman, Ricardo Villalobos and Hieroglyphic Being on, which is … me standing on the shoulders of giants again! That record is a bit of a weird one, but in the best possible way, can’t wait to unleash it. Also ready to go is my EP for Hypercolour, Sloppy Rhythm Trax, which is me on a bit of a weird cold shuffly techno/house tip. Then of course the two records on Tempo. I’ve just put the finishing touches on a garage EP for EC2A called Venus In The Blind Spot which I’m super proud of, just waiting on some vocals on one of the tracks from the incredibly talented Ell Murphy. I’ve also left the track very sparse so she can throw down some chords or keys to match up with her vocals, but I appreciate she is in incredibly high demand, always performing, always working – bless her. She deserves the best, but I can’t wait to hear what she can do with the foundations I’ve built. Also with EC2A I’ll probably be putting out a 2-tracker before the 5-track EP of refixes, probably much like the two records I did for them last year. There’s always other labels I’ve worked with who often check in to see if I’ve got stuff, so hopefully you’ll be seeing more from me on Ilian Tape and on one of Constant Sound’s many sub-labels whether that’s Instinct or Vivid. Of course the big one for me is my Over/Shadow release – I have a hell of a lot to live up to considering that Moving Shadow is one of my favourite labels of all time and easily the most important record label in UK dance music from UK hardcore to jungle to drum’n’bass, representing every evolution and permutation of the sound in the absolute best way. So frankly I’m terrified of getting that done, but I’ll get there. (laughs) I’m buying some new equipment just for that project. Then the next big, big, big thing which I’m trying keep hush on the details for because it’s an incredibly ambitions record and will involve me working with heroes, both MC’s and producers alike. This will be my second LP for Sneaker Social Club which I’m truly aiming to make the best thing I’ve ever produced, so I’ve given myself a time limit of one to one and a half years to finish that one. (laughs) As someone who makes a few tracks a week, that’s a lot. I’m gonna make sure I’ll learn a lot and really push myself technically. And of course I have a track coming on the next Bare Recordings compilation which features in the mix! But the rate I work and the random things that occur, who knows what opportunity may pop up. I’m very much a yes man, which is actually catching up to me now! (laughs) But this is me. Outside of my day job, I live and breathe music. If I haven’t even tinkered with a synth or some samples let alone lay something down I get twitchy and can’t concentrate.
Stream: ETCH – Groove Podcast 305
01. ETCH – Seaside Delusion [Forthcoming EC2A]
02. DJ Archaea – Bandwagon Esq [Forthcoming Art-Aud]
03. Poly++ – Product Name [Forthcoming Bare Recordings]
04. ETCH – Lost Angles [Bare Recordings]
05. Skee Mask – Bustadox [Unreleased]
06. Net Gala – Shpiral (Amazondotcom Remix) [SUBCVLT]
07. J Shadow – Diffraction [Sneaker Social Club]
08. Walton – PJD [Unreleased]
09. Rassan – Untitled UKG [Unreleased]
10. Atrice – Chordata [Forthcoming Ozelot]
11. Andrea – Wired [Ilian Tape]
12. A.K.Adrix – Cóqigo De Barras [Principé]
13. Chrome Republic – Gunslingers [Chrome Republic Bandcamp]
13. leet – 4C1D R41N [leet Bandcamp]
14. Subp Yao – Mad & Mean Ft. Warrior Queen [Yuku Records]
15. Granul & Enslaved – Inter-connected [Forthcoming Yuku Records]
16. Chrizpy Chriz – Mentally Broken [Yuku Records]
17. Metro – Spoon [Pinecone Moonshine]
18. Kareem Lofty – Molten Tactics [ìrish]