Seppa on UK’s rave scene, dubstep in America, Slug Wife’s future, & formidable second studio LP, ‘Split’ [Album Review + Interview]
With the wave of deadly coronavirus outbreaks currently reshaping the world, there remains a ripple of positivity coming from the music world. Even in the midst of widespread panic, sobering statistical trends, and unnerving economic uncertainty, artists from across the dance music spectrum are turning to new ways to engage their fan communities and tap into their creativity. When the live music industry experienced a mass shutdown, artists turned inward to write and compose. When festival and tour cancellations began stretching into summer, artists turned to social media streams to collaborate on virtual festivals and host solo sets.
Although the end is hardly within sight, and the worst of COVID-19 has yet to come, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. When the world does come back from this, when businesses reopen and the earth regains its balance, there will be a tidal wave of new music from this period of relearning that all life is interconnected. “I strongly believe there are other layers to the human experience that we’re barely aware of,” Seppa tells CE in an exclusive interview, hinting at how tidal waves can begin as a ripple. “The interconnectedness of all of us has been ignored for far too long.”
For Seppa, the bass music outfit of Sandy Finlayson, he’d already been hunkering down in the studio all winter polishing his latest creative full-length, Split. The mastering was in full effect, the interviews and premieres were being locked in, the date was set. Unbeknownst to him at the time, Seppa would be releasing his sophomore project in the midst of the worst global health pandemic since the 1918 flu epidemic that claimed over 50 million lives.
Like so many other artists, he must have been feeling the let down of the virus co-opting his release. “I suppose it’s insignificant in relation to what’s going on globally. I just hope it can bring people joy and give them an enriching and emotional experience at a time when we all need it,” says the Bristol-based producer, speaking to unveiling his 12-track journey during this unprecedented moment.
“I try and do my best to focus on silver linings and positive outcomes,” he continues, “There’s an opportunity here for people to become more human again, by which I mean more compassionate and generous. I feel like I’ve witnessed so much greed and separation, in ever-increasing quantities. This reminds us we’re all humans and we’re all in this together, first and foremost. It’s sad that it takes such an extreme event to bring people back to reality, but that’s just human nature in a nutshell.”
Perhaps the current historical moment of hysteria, though, was setting the perfect stage for Finlayson’s high-octane beats, high-intensity rhythms, and dark, ominous tones. It’s true that all art is a response to cultural conditions. So, in some ways, Split can be read as a prophetic listening journey to help cope with the times. Whether that argument is a stretch is neither here nor there, but what Seppa has managed to build in this seminal sophomore work is a sonic journey from start to finish. He calls the journey a “full listening experience” that he subconsciously began back in 2018 with his debut album, More.
“I felt like with ‘‘More’ I touched on the idea of curating a full listening experience, from start to finish. I really love this idea of always wanting to stick it on from the first track and let it transport you. I guess I’ve been planning it in an abstract way since the end of 2018.”– Seppa
In many ways, Seppa’s full album mix (which he opts for over individual tracks on Soundcloud or Spotify) allows one to see that journey take full shape. During the first couple of tracks, there is little distinction as to where the jump-off track, “Elk,” leaves off and “OLVO” begins. On the other hand, when the LP’s third record, “Haim,” comes in with its moody tones and flighty helicopter synths, there’s a definitive stylistic shift that feels jarring.
While the shift feels deliberate and intentional, Seppa says, “I don’t want to try and dictate what people should be feeling too much, art is in the eye of the beholder. I wanted to really try and encapsulate a broad spectrum of emotions though, and really give the emotional content some depth.” This is the journey Seppa is referring to.
It’s a journey whose course is focused on moving listeners beyond this world and into his world of rich atmospheres, daring experimentation, and otherworldly soundscapes. One of the goals of Split was to urge fans to fully embrace the psychedelia that has always laced Seppa’s music. “Yeah my music is absolutely informed by psychedelia and the experiences that come with it,” he says. “The process of making it for me is as much about existing in a flow state as it is creating end results. It’s a special place, and I always feel better for having been there.”
“You’ve opened the door, what does the landscape look like (or sound like) on the other side? An inherent part of this is that it is ultimately very personal and also quite unknowable in many respects. The whole point is you can’t expect it, it’s outside of your perception until you experience it, and then it becomes part of you forever. I just wanted to try and capture some of that feeling in my music.”– Seppa
It’s this psychedelia, mixed with a love for sonic experimentation, that Seppa feels makes the US music market more fully embrace his underground sound than at home across the pond. “Split is heavily inspired by the realization that a lot of my audience in the states is open to be taken to new soundscapes, and want something to dive deep in to,” Finlayson said, while also alluding to America’s hip-hop embedded culture as another huge factor that his style is more widely celebrated over here more so than abroad.
When asked why Slugwife‘s music, under the helm of Seppa and label co-founders Kursa and FFINN, has infiltrated the stateside underground bass movement, Seppa cites a few reasons. “Firstly the strong hip-hop elements within what we make hold stronger appeal in the USA, with hip-hop being far more culturally ingrained,” he said. “Secondly, the fact that the US bass music scene is a psychedelic scene fits much better with our obsessive genre hybridization, people will take the time to see where the journey goes and deal better with it going a bit off the beaten track. Creatively that’s opened a lot of doors.”
Take the album’s heavy reliance on breaks, hip-hop sampling, and 808 beat structures to see hip-hop’s huge influence on Seppa. Whether it’s the urban vocal chops and snare kicks on “Yalla,” or another strong favorite of his, “Uaom,” which marks Seppa’s first time laying down some of his saxophone playing on the track. It’s not hard to see how influentially they are informed by hip-hop.
When looking to the US’s thriving underground bass culture, Seppa also credits Sub.mission and their celebrated underground hotspot, The Black Box. He says we should “[c]herish venues like this, there’s only a few of them around.” The venue sits in Denver, a city touted as the “bass music capital” of the United States. It’s here where the psychedelic and experimental bass music lives, although San Fransisco, Michigan, Atlanta, and Florida certainly rival it. These are the places that really show out for Seppa’s free-form, experimental sound.
Split certainly shows out with this sound as well. From the sludge-filled bass lines on “Partly Mown,” which Seppa admits “was the trickiest to nail to an arrangement that felt fluid and logical,” to the title track, “Split,” which he says “pushed him over the edge a few times,” this is an album that pushes the boundaries of form. Seppa is a master of bridging a wide variety of tempos and moods that lands where you would never anticipate, but always where you wanted to go.
All in all, Split is the perfect encapsulation of something we like to call “conscious bass music,” or music that is intelligent, mind-altering, meditative, amorphous, and makes you think. However, Seppa challenges this label: “I’m not a huge fan of branding anything ‘Intelligent’ as I think it makes judgments on people who perhaps just don’t like it based on taste, and it also ignores the beauty of simple ideas which are often the hardest to realize.”
Rather, for Seppa, music is about much more than attempting to put it into words. It’s about the feelings it digs up, about presence, about turning inwards and seeing yourself, and about embracing the catharsis and pain—even if others may tell you that what you enjoy as music “isn’t music.”
Bass heads know perhaps better than anyone that music, like all art, is an extremely subjective experience. It’s not just “head thrashing noise,” but finding beauty in the noise and listening for the low-end frequencies that others might not be attuned to hearing just yet. At the of the day, whether one agrees with your musical tastes, rejects them, or just accepts them, is a moot point. Looking to “label” a genres is also looking too small, according to Seppa: “Everything is vibration when you get down to the smallest level, you can see it permeate everything, and that’s perhaps why we love music so much, it makes the fabric of the universe dance.”
When asked what he does for spiritual or conscious fulfillment, Seppa explains, “music is my meditation. At the same time, he says he has “become increasingly aware of how much control can be gained over feelings, emotions, and experiences by digging a little deeper.” If you dug up a dictionary right now, you’d find this very outlook is the spitting definition of emotional intelligence.
It’s essentially bass music’s calling card. It’s also a reason so many are drawn to Seppa’s musical catalog on a broader level and the open-ended experiences that Split digs up. It can be felt in Split‘s ethereal structures, high-intensity rhythms, low-end movements, and so much more.
Split is just a journey-filled continuation of his 2018 debut album, it’s a strong step forward. In many ways, it also cements Seppa’s position as an artist to watch in the future. This is an album that one will be simultaneously perplexing and fulfilling for the listener by way of its open-ended twists and turns. More than anything else, Split is a meditative experience that plays out much like how Seppa describes music as his meditative practice: “Consciousness expansion is also hugely important, whatever your approach.”
“It helps you break out of unhealthy patterns and realize what’s you, what’s culturally ingrained and what’s just part of being human! There’s so much more going on than our base perception and it’s worth trying to cast the net wider for everyone’s benefit. Anything that promotes that idea is a good thing in my book.”– Seppa
To read on about the many issues Seppa touched on — from growing up in the UK rave/dubstep scenes and going to school for music production, to what’s on the horizon for both Seppa and for Slugwife, to reflecting on philosophy, spiritually, and life — check out the full interview below.
Also, be sure to listen to the full album journey below, with visuals curated by Truffulatreez, and support Seppa by buying Split on Bandcamp.
CE: Crazy “unprecedented” times we’re all living in. What’s your take on this coronavirus pandemic? Certainly, the music industry is taking a hard hit like so many other industries. Beyond finance/economics – beyond the material, in fact – what are your personal thoughts about COVID-19 and the widespread panic on a larger level? Also, how do you feel about the virus kind of co-opting the context of your latest release?
S: That’s a pretty big question. I try and do my best to focus on silver linings and positive outcomes, though panic got to me like everyone else for a bit. There’s an opportunity here for people to become more human again, by which I mean more compassionate and generous. I feel like I’ve witnessed so much greed and separation, in ever-increasing quantities. This reminds us we’re all humans and we’re all in this together, first and foremost. It’s sad that it takes such an extreme event to bring people back to reality, but that’s just human nature in a nutshell.
Everyone is struggling right now so I want to send lots of love and support to the people I’ve met over the years, through music and otherwise. Right now there are lots of opportunities for kindness, which is a creative act in itself. If we all pull together and help each other we can make it through safely, and be stronger for it!
In regards to the release, I suppose it’s insignificant in relation to what’s going on globally. I just hope it can bring people joy and give them an enriching and emotional experience at a time when we all need it.
CE: So onto your music, generally. Your sound gleans more “free form” — if we have to call it something — with elements of hip-hop, glitch, bass, halftime DnB, and more. Tell us how you got here from your teenage days of playing sax, guitar, and writing music.
S: I’d been playing instruments since a young age, and when I started my A Levels (equivalent to high school in the states I think), they had just started a Music Tech course at my school. I fell in love with the idea of being able to build whole compositions on my own and started experimenting. I then went to London to study a course called Creative Music & Technology, and got introduced more to electronic music (I’ve got to give a special mention to my boy Max Peake/Hurtdeer for blasting Venetian Snares into my ears in a beer garden one sunny day).
The rave scene in London at that time was really varied – Dubstep was coagulating into a defined genre but still quite free, and the Breakcore scene was going strong. Thinking back on it, it’s Breakcore that really had the most impact. A genre built around throwing shit together and seeing what happens, combinations of genres nobody expected (or wanted, sometimes haha) and a total DIY punk attitude on every level of its organization as “scene.” That scene showed me that genres are just like color palettes – you can stick to one that’s tried and tested, or you can choose your favorite bits and build your own.
CE: You’ve got this label, Slug Wife, with Kursa and FFINN, which I feel our readers are deeply familiar with. But tell them something they may not know about the brand. What moves are you all making once this global quarantine is over?
S: Honestly this has thrown us all for a loop, but Slug Wife has always been about pushing the music we’re passionate about and that’s what we’ll keep doing. When Fiona, Oska and I created the label we’d been knocking the idea around for a while and to see it come this far has been a real dream! When we began, there was no touring stateside for us and we always kept the label independent of that to a certain extent (whilst still doing some branded tours last year), so in many ways it’s business a usual. It’s always music first for us, so we’ll just keep walking down that road. We have so much awesome material from the crew to put out, that it’s getting difficult to fit it all in! But certainly now we have more time, with less touring, we’ll be putting more energy in to getting as much of that out as we can.
CE: Seppa and Kursa have definitely become the go-to names for UK’s infiltration into the stateside underground bass movement. Tell us about what draws you over here often and where you think Slug Wife’s place is in the growing US underground bass market.
S: We’re in the states so much because that’s where most of the audience is for what we’re doing! I think there’s a few reasons for that. Firstly the strong hip-hop elements within what we make hold stronger appeal in the USA, with hip-hop being far more culturally ingrained. Secondly, the fact that the US bass music scene is a psychedelic scene fits much better with our obsessive genre hybridization, people will take the time to see where the journey goes and deal better with it going a bit off the beaten track. Creatively that’s opened a lot of doors. Split is heavily inspired by the realization that a lot of my audience in the states is open to be taken to new soundscapes, and want something to dive deep in to. I’ve tried to create an album that really explores that concept.
I do feel it’s super important here to mention how integral Sub.mission have been in making it happen the USA! Nicole and the crew have been endlessly supportive and understood our angle from the jump. Also, The Black Box deserves a massive shout for being the home of the US underground right now. Cherish venues like this, there’s only a few of them around, so if you’ve ever enjoyed your time there make sure you support them through this difficult time. Nowhere is invincible right now, and I’ve seen too many great underground venues disappear over the years.
CE: What about the UK rave/dance music scene in which you came of age? Tell us about what a typical one of those parties looked and felt like.
S: I was lucky that when I first got into parties in London there was quite a few people doing multi-genre events, it seems a bit less of the case now (not impossible to find though!). I have strong memories of Bang Face, Yardcore, Planet Mu and a bunch of other parties where you’d get everything from industrial techno to dubstep to 220bpm distorted who-knows-what. Generally, those parties attracted a very open crowd who were avid music fans first and foremost, and in a lot of respects carried on the UK rave spirit that started in the late 80s, and took it as far forward into the future as they could. The first time I saw Broken Note was at a Yardcore party actually, and I remember walking through the room and thinking, “what the hell even is this, I never would have thought of putting these things together.” It was a very inspirational time. I did go to quite a few Dubstep events too, like DMZ when they still did it in Brixton Mass and FWD, they had a big impact too. Dubstep at that time was much more like a proper Dub (reggae) session. Big rig, lights down, trance into the music.
CE: So let’s shift to Split. You’ve released your latest listening journey, which will officially be your second full-length. Tell us about it.
S: I felt like with “More” I touched on the idea of curating a full listening experience, from start to finish. I really love this idea of always wanting to stick it on from the first track and let it transport you. I guess I’ve been planning it in an abstract way since the end of 2018. I really wanted to create a psychedelic experience with bass music, but without falling into the usual sounds and tropes that have stagnated a lot of the “Psy” side of things. I’ve always felt like psychedelia is more about the way ideas fit together, rather than a particular visual or sonic style. It’s about making art that can fully make use of your expanded mind, and potentially enhance it too. You’ve opened the door, what does the landscape look like (or sound like) on the other side? An inherent part of this is that it is ultimately very personal and also quite unknowable in many respects. The whole point is you can’t expect it, it’s outside of your perception until you experience it, and then it becomes part of you forever. I just wanted to try and capture some of that feeling in my music.
CE: What’s your favorite track on the album? What was the hardest to make?
S: In terms of favorite, probably “Partly Mown,” there’s just something about the sludge of it that gets me every time. “Uaom” is a strong favorite as well. That was the last one written, and I was keen to get some saxophone playing of mine on a solo record for the first time. Hardest to make – they all had their own battles, though mixing the title track pushed me over the edge a couple of times. Despite being my favorite, “Partly Mown” was the trickiest to nail to an arrangement of the whole track in a way that felt fluid and logical.
CE: I call Split a journey because that’s what it listens like. What kind of journey are you trying to take your listeners on? What are some feelings you’re trying to bring out?
S: Really art is in the eyes and ears of the beholder, so I don’t want to try and dictate what people should be feeling too much. I wanted to really try and encapsulate a broad spectrum of emotions though, and really give the emotional content some depth. That feeling when you can feel passion swelling up in your chest, I wanted there to be as much of that in the album as I could. I really enjoy making dance floor melting bangers too (and there’s a good few on there), but I mostly wanted it to be a more emotional experience than that. Whilst you can’t really predict how sounds will make people feel, I wanted to make sure there was as much dynamic and variety of feeling as I could, whilst still keeping a homogeneous vibe throughout. I also wanted to make sure it really justified multiple listens and intensive listening, whilst being immediately interesting and accessible on the first listen too.
CE: We’ve long touted this “label” for certain kinds of bass music in the underground bass movement. It’s called intelligent (or conscious) bass music; or music that is experimental, mind-altering, meditative, future-forward, etc. The album (and your broader catalogue) seems to fall into this territory. Is there a deeper, more spiritual motivation behind all of this? Or are we reading too much into it? 😀
S: Yeah my music is absolutely informed by psychedelia and the experiences that come with it. Music has the power to really affect people in a positive way, and the way it does it is so abstract and barely understood it might as well be magic. The process of making it for me is as much about existing in a flow state as it is creating end results. I think most people who are passionate about making music are in reality passionate about accessing that kind of flow state trance. It’s a special place, and I always feel better for having been there. I’m not a huge fan of branding anything “Intelligent” as I think it makes judgments on people who perhaps just don’t like it based on taste, and it also ignores the beauty of simple ideas which are often the hardest to realize. I’ve always been inspired by music that becomes part of my soul, like actually part of who you are at a fundamental level, and if I can create that same experience for someone else than I’m very happy.
CE: Finally, because we’re attempting to be a “conscious” outlet, we have to ask: What sort of things, if any, interest you in the realm of this new age lifestyle? Whether it’s readings, teachers, lifestyle practices. It seems music itself is the ultimate conscious medium that brings people out of the material world and into this spiritual realm of feeling, togetherness, ascendence from “real life” pressures, etc. Thoughts?
S: Honestly I’ve been exposed to a good amount over the years, especially through my wonderful partner who has really opened me up to the depth of the human experience. For the most part, music is my meditation, but I have become increasingly aware of how much control can be gained over feelings, emotions, and experiences by digging a little deeper. I strongly believe there are other layers to the human experience that we’re barely aware of, the interconnectedness of all of us has been ignored for far too long. Consciousness expansion is also hugely important, whatever your approach. It helps you break out of unhealthy patterns and realize what’s you, what’s culturally ingrained and what’s just part of being human! There’s so much more going on than our base perception and it’s worth trying to cast the net wider for everyone’s benefit. Anything that promotes that idea is a good thing in my book. Everything is vibration when you get down to the smallest level, you can see it permeate everything, and that’s perhaps why we love music so much, it makes the fabric of the universe dance.
CE: Anything you have that we may have missed? Any noteworthy collabs on the horizon? Inspirations?
S: I’ve got another album with Chalky which is in the finishing stages, which definitely steps in to a more abstract space. Inspirations are too numerous to mention, but I did make a Spotify playlist of some key bits a few weeks ago. Other than that – be kind to one another, be generous, be compassionate and stay safe!
Information seeker. Dog lover. Ph.D. drop out. Avid collector of pashminas, plants, and experiences. College professor by day, EDM photographer by night.