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Night Slugs is Future Without Even Trying

We talk to Bok Bok and Helix about video games sounds, visual aesthetic and the label's effortless swagger.

by Josh Baines
Nov 8 2014, 12:47am

Perpetually at the forefront of UK dance music, the Night Slugs crew have been ruling raves for years now. The beauty of both the material they release and the parties they throw stems from sheer unpredictability. Their oeuvre spans everything from the onomatopoeic squirms and squirts of Mosca's "Square One" to bona fide decade-defining bangers like Girl Unit's still huger-than-hell "Wut" via Jam City's creepily hi-fi Sakamoto-does-grime shtick and the slinky sophistication of Velour's "She Wore Velour".
 
Bok Bok and L-Vis 1990's label isn't one whose happy to just churn out club ready 12"s that get a few spins before dropping into the dusty bins down at MVE, after that initial burst of flavor turns into the spit worn dullness of a Wrigley's Extra. How many other labels running out of the UK have a legitimate manifesto that dictates their releases? Who else can throw nights where Bmore house can rub against techno, trap and the low-end reality of grime without sounding like a set of shit Soundcloud DJs? Where else are you going to find releases from the likes of Lil Silva, Pearson Sound and Kingdom? 

Night Slugs has been a global operation since the get go. This weekend they throw one of a series of sixth anniversary Allstar parties that brings together NS names old and new. One of the artists joining the core crew is Beau Thigpen, AKA Helix, AKA DJ Vague. The Georgia boy was recuited to the team after Girl Unit and Bok Bok stumbled across his Soundcloud. That stumbling eventually saw his "Drum Track" released by the label. The rest, as they say, is history.

So, ahead of Night Slugs Allstars this Saturday in London, we caught up with Helix to chat about video game engines as sequencers and the correct condiment for Morley's wings before catching up with Bok Bok to get the inside info on the label's incredibly individualistic aesthetic.

 

HELIX

You record and release as both Helix and DJ Vague – is it a case of a split persona or just an aural delineation?

DJ Vague isn't another persona necessarily but he's another part of me, like a different voice I have. Plus, people think "Helix" sounds a certain way and it's a way of getting around that.
 
What's been more influential: the Night Slugs sonic aesthetic or the visual one?

What happens is I'll go to Slug raves then I hear somebody play some shit and I go home and make a track that sounds how that other one made me feel. Or Bok Bok goes 'nah this sucks you can do better' and I gotta do better. So I guess it's...a sonic thing?
 
You tweeted recently about making music with the Unreal Engine - the software used to create games like BioShock, Borderlands, and Gears of War - is that a genuine possibility? It seems like a weirdly Night Slugs-y idea.

Maybe I'm giving away a crazy secret here, but it's annoying and nerdy and will take too long for most people to follow through with it (I hope). 

I make beats in Renoise, a tracker program similar to what people used to make jungle and breakcore or whatever. They used to run trackers on Amigas and Commodores and shit, but I just use a Lenovo with Windows 8 cause I'm that guy...When you play Unreal Engine games, the music is actually running off an internal tracker, since mp3 files take up more space than a tracker file. Essentially your game plays the file live for you, like a MIDI file. Except instead of general MIDI sounds, it's whatever instruments they want to use. These tracker files are called .umx files and I found out I can open them with the Modplug tracker, convert them into impulse tracker files and open *those* in Renoise. Since all the instruments are just samples, I basically can just run it like a project file in Renoise, which lets me snatch up all the samples.
 
I honestly don't know what's actually going to come from it but I'm excited regardless. I know Rizzla and Groundislava are down for these sounds so that's like... something, I guess? There are probably copyright issues so I don't know if anything could be released ever, unfortunately. 
 
Do you have a favourite video game sound?

Yes, this...

 

 
How does a touring Helix spend his down time?
 
I like to get real fucking high and I like to sit down and write as many beats as I can. I like to eat food that I can't get at home, and I like to cook shit for people.
 
Talking of good food, you like your wings, right? Where do you hit up in London? And why are you so against putting ketchup on them?
 
I really liked Morley's when I had it; nice and crispy breading, good chicken, no broken bones. I haven't gotten wings at Nando's yet but it's going to happen. If you have to ask why not to put ketchup on the wings, then I don't even know what to say to you. That's a job for hot sauce, lemon pepper, sweet chilli, honey garlic, or maybe hotlemonyaki if you can find it.

BOK BOK

What interested you visually when growing up - and have those interests become adult influences?
 
OK I haven't talked about this before but as a youth I ran round doing a bit of graffiti didn't I. I think to some extent the influence did carry over; if you look at the Night Slugs logo or our 2010 cover art, there was always some element of 3D type going on. It definitely let onto a proper interest in typography. I also got into Modernist design and especially Brutalist architecture in my early years studying, and that's an influence that's carried over big-time. Although as I get older my interest in it becomes more nuanced, as nowadays I read more into the politics that came with the designs and finding some of them is more problematic... 

What drives the Night Slugs visual aesthetic?

It's not trying to go against anything other than the boring world of plain type labels and artwork as an afterthought for music. At first my obsession was continuity, I just wanted everything to feel like it was part of the same universe. Now I'm a bit more open to each project finding its own way, directed more by the artist's ideas of what went into making their music. 
 
How important is forward-thinking to you?

You mean like "being future" or "being progressive"? Not very, although I try and be original. Forward planning of artwork so that it develops alongside the music it's going to accompany IS important to me though; as I said above I'm not a big fan of music artwork as an afterthought. We've done a few projects, like Egyptrixx "A/B Til Infinity" and my own "Melba's Call" and "Your Charizmatic Self", where the music and art were being developed simultaneously and affected each other in the process. 
  
In an age where the download is more and more prevalent, how do ensure that the NS image still stands out?

Yea, absolutely, because artwork embedded in an mp3 has a lot less impact than if you're holding a full-sleeve print 12" in your hands. But it's just about finding new and interesting ways to get around that. We've tried to get around that and keep things immersive – look at how we animated the spaces in which art takes place into our videos ("Melba's Call", "Club Rez", "Ballads") or the Glide microsite, or even the YouTube game we did with Jam City before Classical Curves came out.
 
Night Slug Allstars with Bok Bok, L-Vis 1990, Helix, Hysterics and Deamonds takes place tomorrow at The Laundry, E8.  

You can follow Josh on twitter: @bain3z