Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Interview // Bok Bok for Complex UK

I spoke to Bok Bok for Complex UK about his new mix series Essentials, live radio and what is next for the 'Slugs - we also included an update on Essentials Vol 2 that was cut so you can read the original piece below or edited over here :)
Flicker your brain back over the last five years of daring underground dance music, and Night Slugs upfront brand of architectural club beats and made-for-the-basement bass will undoubtedly ignite a spark. With co-heads Bok Bok and L-Vis 1990 growing the imprint from late-00s London parties with the context of the club still central to its operation today, Night Slugs remains as original as it was when first created. Releasing seminal screamers from K W Griff's "Bring In The Katz" to Jam City's "Classical Curves"—as well as a whole slither of now-propelled names including Egyptrixx and Lil Silva—their LA-based sister label, Fade To Mind, has also left a lasting mark not only across the pond, but globally too.
 Not forgetting who we can also thank for a stunning introduction to Kelela via her "CUT 4 ME" mixtape, with production duties stemming from both collectives, what's next for one of the slugs that started this whole movement? Never one to stick to convention, Bok Bok announced his next foray in the form of a new mix series aptly named Essentials. Straddling US-driven pop and R&B influences with straight-up dancefloor originals, that remain cohesive to one vision belonging unapologetically to him, we sat down to talk next chapters, live radio, and why he's taking things Nyce & Slo. I’m really into the Essentials series so far! Where did the idea come from to do this as a sequence, rather than a stand-alone mix? 
Do you know what it is, it's because I feel like there are several aspects to the kind of music that I play and I guess I wanted to play it all out for people so it was really clear, you know? I always spend my time mixing it all up in a way, so for once I just thought - even though the last mix you can see there is a lot of variety in there - I just want each of these [installments] to be its own little world.

How does putting together something like this compare to the likes of compiling tracks for your show on Rinse, because it may seem obvious that radio is a lot more off the cuff - 
Definitely definitely! That's the nice thing about a studio mix, you can really take your time planning out every blend and thinking about how the whole thing flows, it’s like making a little album in a way. You know as a DJ that's the closest thing you can do to a make a good album, make a good studio mix. Compared to that radio is just like a jumper, you just arrive and most times there's no plan, you just get on with it! Two hours is a long time to fill in a way so if you plan and think about it too much, it's gonna go by really slowly and it'll be stress, but you should relax, play music and let yourself make mistakes. It's like a lot of my younger DJ friends or whatever that are getting into Radar Radio, things like that, they stress out about their shows being perfect or edited with this and that - whilst that’s fine and there is a time and a place for that, you've gotta relax man.

It seems like mistakes as necessary, even formative to the radio process. 
Exactly, that’s why it's all live you know, it's supposed to be exciting. I've been listening to a lot of old rips and radio shows on my iPod and those old Rinse and pirate sessions, they had all these amazing DJs’ making mistakes or tripping up live on air - being daring and trying shit out, that's how it should be.

Coming back to the mix, you’ve also said that Volume 1 is “…how to rave in the cold tropics” but how do you think the mix coveys this to the listener? Would you say it’s the process of your mixing, the running order, or something completely different? 
It’s more like that vibe, you know when you take a walk on a wintery day and its freezing but it's so bright the sun is out? There is that edge keeping you on your toes - it's difficult to say in words the exact feeling that I was trying to convey as, you know, it's a solid tempo but it feels like it races forward in the way UK music kind of does. That’s how it feels to me, that kind of wintery sunshine and we get that more times in this country don't we? Cos we don't even get a proper Summer anyway.

That is literally the epitome of the weather today.
 I was just out there enjoying it! You've got to get it while you can basically! So yeah it's kinda like that, that’s how it is right now with music for me too.

Well, how did you approach curating which tracks you picked for the first edition as you’ve got everything from Erykah Badu cuts, to new Night Slugs stuff and “Truffle Butter” edits?
It's basically all the stuff I wanted at a slightly slower tempo but as I said, what it all has in common is this feeling of rolling drums - the vibe is that it feels like a house mix to me. Even though a lot of the stuff on there clearly isn't house music, it's about trying to find a similar flow at this tempo that something like house music has. This one, the first volume, was all about trying to find that momentum slightly slowed down and you know, I think I found it...
I definitely get what you mean by keeping up that tempo because the flow of various genres across the mix is almost blurred, rather than sticking to straight-up house or just Jersey club stuff for example.
Yeah, hopefully it should all feel like one single piece of work, even though it is a lot of different stuff. You know there is a house track on there from Lil Louis called “Nyce & Slo” and that was really the ethos for the whole mix, where you take that kind of house groove, slow it right down and then there's room for all this r&b and hip hop.

How would you say this mix fits into the current landscape of the label?
I mean it does relate to it because there are a few things on there that we're about to be releasing, for example one of the tracks we dropped as a freebie called "Sands Tool", so with things like that it's nice to be able to showcase all the things coming out and forthcoming on the label. Yeah as I say, this whole Essentials series is gonna be all about representing one aspect at a time of the label, or what I do with my music.

But is there a certain aesthetic of creating something strictly not to be played out in the club, which you think influences the material?
Yeah, there is, because a lot of what I listen to now is a lot of stuff from US radio - you know r&b, rap, pop - whatever is really popping on the radio, especially at the kind of tempo that Volume 1 was at. There is so much stuff out there at the moment that is like pop music at that tempo and that has a similar production aesthetic, so yeah big influence from the radio world, big influence from the pop world, but it is still all stuff you can play in the club man. I still play that sound out and it definitely bangs - it's just a different groove. 

How would you say the running of the label from A&R’ing to signing releases and designing, has informed your own productions?
I'm lucky to have all these guys involved around me that are all so talented, you know? I do take influence from what they do, so that's been really good but to be honest with you, it can be quite distracting too! I try and keep my time on my own studio stuff and running the label does take up a lot, but it feels like a really good resource that teaches me so many things, I've basically learnt from the people that I work with cos they're all so talented. 

I get you, that's the best way to be productive, take inspiration from the people around you.
Absolutely yeah but it's a great crew to be part of, I'm lucky to have these friends and that we're able to do this together - you couldn't do this with strangers, it's a family thing.

So with what is sort of the next wave, tell us a bit about the Club Constructions series that you guys have been doing, how is it continuing on now? 
Yeah it's been a little quiet for a while actually but we're bringing it back, resurrecting it this year, hopefully we're gonna see the results. You know we put it out there for people to be able to contribute some tracks and that? Hopefully that will start to make its way out in the next few months. Also, a recent Club Constructions we released was a DJ C one - I previewed a couple of those tracks on Volume 1 as you said earlier - so yeah, it's starting to pick up pace again. Hopefully we're gonna show people that it's not just all about 4/4 or techno or whatever else is packaged as what club music is, the DJ tool is something that's a beat, it can take a lot of different forms and I think we're gonna start showing that with this next series.
And you've also been back in the studio doing production work for Kelela?
Yes and hopefully it's gonna come out soon! It's been a lot of work, it's been many months, probably more even and it's been really good, I've learnt so much from her. Again, you know saying that working around talented people and how much that can help you? Working with her has allowed me to consider song writing. Like, I'd never done that before and now that's become part of what I do and as a producer, I come from this with a completely outward prospective -

Approaching the whole process from a different angle, I love that!
You know what I mean! That's it, I'd never done anything like that before so being able to work with Kelela - like I'd met insane people that have written for crazy artists that I really respect, you know mad shit like that, working with writers that are really talented but working with her - she's a crazy inspiration to me. You know she's not trained musically and it's crazy because you've got this raw talent, she's really owned it to this record. You know the mixtape Fade To Mind released? That was all basically her jumping on beats that more or less already existed, whereas this is all stuff we're crafting from scratch - they're real songs, true pop songs so yeah I'm really excited about it, I can't wait for it to come out!

So you’ve just dropped Volume 2 featuring lesser known edits from DANNN on Tink’s “Treat Me Like Somebody”, over to Night Slugs originals dotted throughout – how does it differ from Volume 1 on the surface?
The first volume was all a bit slower at 105bpm, this second volume is at a more hectic 142 - more of a roll and less of a glide this time.

And when the listener digs a little deeper? 
Hopefully a world of cyborg romance, human emotions refracted through machines and made ecstatic.

With the previous mix you referenced listening to a lot of US radio and old school UK podcasts - what was your inspiration when you jumped in the studio to make this one?
To be honest, more of the same! I realised I stopped listening to music while out and about due to my phone being always full to the brim with crap - mostly bants and studio vids, ha! So I got a new MP3 player and have been revisiting a lot of my favourite radio pirate sets from across the years.

Yeah – like you said it rolls! Aside from the series, what else are you working on at the moment?
So basically I'm working on a lot of label stuff at the moment but as per usual, I kind of don't like to really talk about it until it's done. So let's just say that the thing with Night Slugs is that we'll have one strong year, then spend a while touring and living, working shit out, then we'll come back again. So, this should be another year where hopefully  that happens because there is quite a lot of nice things planned and yeah, again, I don't wanna talk it all up, I just wanna let it roll and for people to enjoy the surprise...

Bok Bok’s Essentials: Volume 1 and Volume 2 are both available for streaming and free download at

Words by Yours Truly X

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