Graded Variations: How Gage Became the Most Exciting Producer in the UK
Following the release of a new EP on Crazylegs, we spoke to the 'Mercury' man about his journey from the playground to the club.
All photos by Tyler Ritchie
Gage feels like a real producer now. How do I know that he feels like a real producer? Because he's recently been to Ikea. "I moved to Manchester three months ago now," he tells me over Skype, "and I've finally got myself sorted. I've got a desk. I've got a spinny chair. I'm sorted."
You'd feel sorted too if your last release was an EP as alluringly assured as Mercury, his latest blast of white-hot, disorienting, punishingly avant-garde club-friendly experimentation for Bristol based label Crazylegs. It's the Londoner's third release for the label and arguably his strongest work as a producer to date. The EP explores a recklessly harsh and abrasive sonic pallete—all jagged, acid rotten metallic clank and warped. Waterlogged chirrups seemingly recorded in the slime-infested hull of Ellen Ripley's doomed starship the Nostromo. It's a ruthlessly forward thinking record, and one that's set to cement Gage's place as one of the UK's most gifted producers.
Gage came to most people's attention after sending for Gang Fatale's Neana back in 2013 with "Yoshimitsu," a hyperkinetic melange of grime's angular awkwardness and the rough edged clatter of UK club music. Follow up "Telo" then became an anthem at Boxed and Gage became a (sort of) household name. Since then he's smashed Just Jam, DJ'd all over the place, and low-key become one of the most exciting producers working today.
Mercury is 21 minutes long, so being the wanker I am, I decided to speak to Gage for exactly 21 minutes. We decided to trace his progress as an artist from the playground to the club, taking in MSN Messenger, Logan Sama, and flatpack furniture along the way.
THUMP: Let's work backwards. Where were you exactly ten years ago?
I was fucking about at school, listening to and making quite a lot of grime at the time, under a different name. It was school playground stuff. Some of us would make music, other people had lyrics. I was trying to make stuff on FruityLoops.
When were you first introduced to FL?
I wanted to write lyrics from the age of nine or ten really, and that slowly started happening, just not in a very stylised way. And then grime hit the playground and there was something to shape words around. Then you wanted tracks to play for playground freestyles. At school we had a very early version of Cubase which I loved. I was learning a bit of jazz piano at the time so kind of knew my way around the keyboard. I found a cracked version of FruityLoops on Limewire soon after, and that was that. At school I went through the standard demo beat on a Casio keyboard bumped up to 200BPM fucking about with mates stuff. I enjoyed it though, and did a GCSE.
Was music a social thing or more of a solitary post-school pursuit?
It was a mixture of both really. You wanted to have the best lyric on the playground or the beat that the older kids wanted to MC on, so there was that level of communality to it. There was a competitive element too, and we were spurned on by each other. Most of us were influenced by MTV Base and Channel U. The older kids were the same and were good at what they did, but we got better than them. There were seven or eight of us who kind of work collaboratively. There was a studio in Plumstead called SP Studios, and I'd save up my lunch money and you'd pay the guy there a few quid for an hour in the studio. We'd go down there every day after school. In terms of producers I really liked Ratchet, and Rapid. Rapid was my favourite producer as a teenager, definitely. He had this energy to his beats. Every Monday night there'd be 30 of us on MSN Messenger in the group chat listening to Logan Sama's show together.
Do you remember the first tune you were really proud of?
I made this on FruityLoops [plays grime-meets-Ginuwine banger he made when he was 14]. I found a Wiley sample pack, and that was the basis of that tune. My tunes were dead though. My tunes were never banging on the playground.
How did you go from the playground to becoming a name on the club scene?
There was lots of awful music in between, basically. I dropped out of my sixth form and I took a year out, and then went to college to do music technology. I was in an indie-ish band for a bit in college. We were using Logic, which I still use today. I started off making solo tracks which were pretty awful, but the whole thing's slowly developed. Friends started throwing dubstep nights so I went to a few of those. Then in 2010 I moved to Bristol and started discovering some real music basically. It's been said before but I went to a Crazylegs party in 2011, and basically at the time there were a few times I'd hear songs and have to go home and find them straight away. One of them being "Battle For Middle You". I started looking into the history of house and techno. Carried on experimenting with Logic. I wanted to make house and techno bangers back then but it never quite clicked. What you can't do, you work around. I'd started DJing around then too and was a resident at a night called 5127 in Bristol and I wanted to make tracks to make the crowd move.
Do you see yourself as fitting in any kind of scene?
I feel like i'm part of a community of producers, and I'm happy to be part of that. You can be unique and still think like that. As long as you're not seeking to fit into anything, it's fine. That's what I'm doing. So, the term "club music" for example. That's warped massively in recent years. It's been Europeanised. It's similar to the way my stuff used to be described as grime a while back. I don't particularly see my stuff as club music. It's not a description I'd use personally, even if others would.
To me, your music feels ruthlessly experimental and avant-garde. Do you want to make difficult music?
No. It's not intentional to do that. But it's a product of me experimenting with my sound. I don't think that's an unfair description of my work, but I've actively decided against describing my own work. Essentially, other people tell people what your record sounds like, so I can see why some artists like to describe themselves to avoid that. I think if you start a project with something very specific in mind you sort of box it off before it's begun. My music taste, and me as a person, have changed massively over the decade I've described to you. I don't know what I'll be like and into in a few years. So it's hard to be black and white about where you're going as an artist. Things aren't black and white: they exist on a gradient.
Gage's most recent EP, Mercury, is out now on Crazylegs