Photo: Peter Wolff (Henry Greenleaf)
“Rhythm is the simplest and most infinitely complex part of music,” says Henry Greenleaf and in fact the simple and the complex form exactly the intersection at which the – at least currently – Bristol-based producer and DJ has been working for the past few years. His releases for the label Par Avion, co-founded by him together with Agrippa and Meta, or lately Berlin’s Version, offer a take on bass-heavy dance music that is immediately exciting and energising, but will also reveal its complexity with every further listen. His mix for our Groove podcast is chock-full of new and upcoming material by Greenleaf himself, but also dedicated to the sound of friends in Bristol and London.
First off, how have you been doing these past year and a half?
I feel a little guilty to say I’ve been doing great! It was a dream to be able to spend so much time purely producing – I’ve missed DJing and going to shows so much but fixating on what I’d like to hear and play once I’m back club nights has been a huge motivation.
How do you feel about the reopening process in the UK, how was your experience playing before a crowd again so far?
It feels amazing to be back surrounded by the buzz of friendly people who come to dance, listen and to meet each other! It’s been very strange watching everything slowly re-open and frustrating that clubs were opening last. The positive being that it feels enormously special to be back inside a club now! I’m actually on the way back from my first show now. It was in London’s Venue MOT for Mid Air with Lurka, Two Shell, Truska and Marcy – big up all! I played a very fast and FX-heavy mix including tracks from A Made Up Sound and Dan Habarnam for the most part – the tracks of my own that I played are due to come out on Redstone Press and Yuku next year. It felt great to test them in a club environment.
You were introduced to electronic music by your father, who took you to the Big Chill festival, and mentioned seeing Benga & Coki’s “Night” as a formative track that you tried to copy. How did you get seriously into producing music from there?
Yes! My dad Richard is huge music fan. Growing up I was surrounded by his favourites King Tubby, Lee “Scratch” Perry (RIP), Kraftwerk, New Order and more. My parents met studying at Manchester University where they’d frequent The Hacienda in the early eighties, just as the idea of the big DJ was emerging. Hearing Benga play “Night” at the Big Chill when I was around 11 years old and had just started using Garageband at home. I didn’t have a video of the moment – I had no phone! – I just had a very strong memory of the experience with a lot of sub, a lot of gun fingers and a lot of very happy people. I knew that that was where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do immediately. When I finally found Skream and Benga it all clicked – there were names, faces, a look and a developing sound. I’ve not stopped at all since being 11 so I have no idea when I started to take producing seriously. In all honesty it might’ve been from the very start. Apologies to everyone that’s had to listen to those early tunes though!
You have studied Creative Music Technology. What did you learn during your studies and how did that influence your own productions?
Going in I thought the course would focus entirely on production and be very practice focused. The best thing about the course was talking to the lecturers and learning to develop ideas and projects. Not to pass up a genre or sound because it’s different but to appreciate everything equally and find something of merit in everything. That’s the biggest reason I’d recommend the course to anyone – I’m eternally grateful to Andy Keep, Paul Jebanasam, Jan Meinema, Ben Ramsey and Joe Hyde at Bath Spa University.
Together with Agrippa and Meta, you run the label Par Avion and have released two solo EPs there, whereas other entries include a compilation with tracks by the three of you and another EP by Agrippa. What was your motivation to start your own imprint so relatively early in your careers and do you plan on exclusively releasing your own music through it?
Will (Hart, a.k.a. Agrippa) is very much the bossman! I’m so happy with how the project has gone so far. I came up with the Par Avion name and created all the artwork which is based on international postage clearance designs. Will wanted to start the label because between Agrippa, Meta and Henry Greenleaf the three of us were sitting on a lot of unreleased music. There will be a Passed for Transmission Vol. 2 arriving next year, but next up is Par Avion’s first “international delivery” from a wonderful guy in New Zealand – but that’s all I can say for now :)
A track like “Rumble”, released through Par Avion, with its almost Gamelan-esque qualities showcases your interest in unconventional and non-Western approaches to rhythm. Why do you like to experiment with such different rhythms within the frame of dance music?
I love rhythm to a very cheesy and over-the-top degree. I draw out beat-grids in notebooks or on my phone to remember exciting rhythms or beats from the music I’m currently listening to so that I can refer to them later. The music I’m passionate about has similar rhythms flowing through it. You can see this in the samples and inspiration taken from jazz, soul and funk in to hip hop, jungle, techno and beyond. Before jazz, these rhythms existed in non-Western cultures. It’s the development of these rhythms by the likes of Clyde Stubblefield, Joe Morello, Billy Cobham, Ari Hoenig, Paleman, A Made Up Sound, Blawan, to name very few, that inspires me. As these artists have an unbelievable skill for dissecting popular rhythms in their respective styles or spheres and reassembling them in a never-before-heard fashion. Rhythm is the simplest and most infinitely complex part of music and I really do think these people are rhythmic geniuses. I love the idea of reassembling the rhythms I’ve heard into new beats – they gain a familiarity and total alien quality through this process. The rhythms I use are incredibly purposeful and never constructed by accident.
Rush, your latest EP which came out on Version is a stylistically diverse record – what ties the four tracks together?
The first three tracks on the EP were originally only sent to my close producer friends and no one else. I was very surprised when Orson, who runs Version, became so confident in them! It’s a great question as Orson and I found it hard to tie “Pan Strings,” “Borrow” and “Gem” together. We decided a fourth track should be made out of elements from the first three. The cold digital drums of “Pan Strings,” the borrowed drum performances of “Borrow” and the simplistic Arp-like synths from “Gem” all returned to create the final track – “Rush”. Which made that track feel deserving of the EP title!
You’ve repeatedly cited Paleman, himself a jazz drummer, as a key inspiration. What is it about his work that you value most?
Calum (Lee, a.k.a. Paleman) is a rhythm idea machine! I first heard of him through Agrippa and would constantly try to get him and another Calum, Lamont, to play our music on their Swamp 81 Rinse FM shows. Paleman’s evolution from wooden, sparse and smoked-out tracks – many of which were in constant Swamp 81/Rinse FM circulation but never came out – through to his tough, textural modular techno on his PLMN, Nonplus and Zehnin releases. He is a never ending source of textural and rhythmic inspiration! A track off the forthcoming PLMN005 release is included in this Groove podcast mix!
You host a regular show on Noods. How do you go about programming the episodes?
I’ve been on Noods one Friday per month for four years now – and need to think of something big for the fifth anniversary! It’s a live show broadcast from the Noodio here in Bristol where I invite a friendly face, new or old, each month to see what they’ve got. Like everything else, the focus of the show is on the new music and ideas from my producer friends and myself. The programming is very simple and always great fun. The guest(s) and I take it in turns to play three tracks each for the first hour or so, then two, and finally one towards the end. This gets us very comfortable playing together and always leads somewhere unique.
What was the idea behind your mix for our Groove podcast?
I’m about to move from Bristol back home to London and I’ve just started playing gigs and going to live shows again. So to me the mix has a very strong sense of returning home. I’ve used this opportunity to play mostly new music that Bristol and London friends – and of course myself – have been making. I’m so excited for everyone to hear it!
Last but not least: What are your plans for the future?
I’ve got a four track EP coming very soon on Redstone Press – shout out to Lewis and Ethan! – which will be closely followed by a double 12″ EP on Yuku – further shouts to Jef and Ilda! Outside of releases I have further gigs coming up in Manchester, Bristol and London. I’m also very happy to say that I am now represented by Tom at the LittleBig booking agency.
Stream: Henry Greenleaf – Groove Podcast 309
01. Dorisburg – Mantis90 (Forthcoming km4.5)
02. Sister Zo – What Day Is It? (Unreleased)
03. Mercy Sytstem – MPH (Forthcoming Miracle Drug Recordings)
04. Bolam – Hype Shifter (Al Wootton Remix) (Forthcoming Breaks ‘N’ Pieces)
05. Betas – One Thats (Forthcoming Vista Recordings)
06. Henry Greenleaf – Kirkstone (Forthcoming Redstone Press)
07. Palitra – Outsteppers (Unreleased)
08. Coe – Radial (Forthcoming Woozy)
09. Cando – Ambivalence (Forthcoming Le Chatroom)
10. Paleman – Conduit (Forthcoming PLMN)
11. Henry Greenleaf – ????? (Unreleased)
12. Henry Greenleaf – ????? (Unreleased)
13. Agrippa – Space Razor Shuffle (Unreleased)
14. Henry Greenleaf – Stopper Knot (Unreleased)
15. Henry Greenleaf – ????? (Forthcoming ?????)
16. Henry Greenleaf – Why Not (Unreleased)
17. Henry Greenleaf – ????? (Forthcoming ?????)
18. Henry Greenleaf & Delay Grounds – Calpohol (Mix 1) (Forthcoming ?????)
19. Yak – Emry (Forthcoming ?????)
20. Katatonic Silentio – Static Whip (Forthcoming Noods)
21. Ebb & Loom – Blue Energy Drink (Forthcoming Par Avion)
22. San – ????? (Forthcoming Rua Sound)
23. Bruce & Lurka – It Lives (Forthcoming XRA)
24. Glass – (High) Reptile Shit (Forthcoming Comic Sans Records)
25. Nothus – Dirty Indi Internet (Forthcoming Midnight Shift)
26. Yak – Celestial (Forthcoming ?????)
27. Goosey – Talladega (Unreleased)
28. Henry Greenleaf – ????? (Forthcoming ?????)