Pinch Underwater Dancehall

Pinch Underwater Dancehall
Bristol’s Rob Ellis, who’s been recording dubstep twelves as Pinch since 2005, has built a good deal of notoriety based on the success of his work for Mike Paradinas’ Planet Mu imprint, as well as his own Tectonic label. Unlike Kode9 and Burial, who channel the ghosts of Kingston dub through minimal dub techno and early Massive Attack, or Shackleton and the Skull Disco crew, who siphon early industrial and Muslimgauze albums for their percussive Orientalisms, Pinch tends to fall closer in line with acts like Skream, Loefah and Digital Mystiks, all of whom share an affinity for dancehall and two-step. On this debut, Pinch is ambitious in adapting dub-step to the full-length album format. Pinch verges away from the two-step dub-clack of his singles and into his most accessible territory to date, making Underwater Dancehall a soulful and unsettling listening experience. Much of this has to do with the cast of dancehall-tinged MCs he brings aboard to preside over the ten tracks, and the vocal element helps accentuate the narrative arc Ellis wants to emphasise with the production end of this album. Ellis uses the MCs pitch perfectly. For the DJ set, the package features a second disc of instrumental versions, which also make up the vinyl version of the album.

The CD version of the album comes with two discs: vocal and instrumental. The vinyl release is all-instrumental. Why the decision to deliver versions of the album like this?
It made sense to me to do it like this, to cover angles for what people might want from the tracks. Some people will prefer the vocal versions on CD one, others will prefer the instrumentals. The vinyl double pack is just instrumentals, as I assumed it would be what most dubstep DJs will want.

You’ve built quite a rep with Tectonic and your singles. Do you feel any pressures or expectations in releasing an album?
There’s always going to be pressure of sorts with releasing an album, to a degree — you put your ego on the line. I’m really happy with how Tectonic has expanded over the last couple of years and I’m pleased to be working with excellent artists such as Cyrus, 2562, as well as the more prolific producers like Skream and Loefah.

The vocalists make the album an altogether more accessible affair. What are your prerequisites for a good vocal, and how did you come across the people you’ve worked with here?
Juakali was the first to initiate the move to use vocals; he sent me a recording of "Brighter Day” (originally titled "Qawwali”) last year without me having ever met or spoken to him. When I heard it though, I realised he was switched on to my sound and I really liked the way he worked his delivery and the message he gave too, so I was more than happy to work with him on "Trauma” and then "Gangstaz.” I met Indi Kaur through fellow Bristolian Atki2; I did a remix a couple years ago for him of a track he’d done with Indi, "Guilty Pleasures.” Rudey Lee I met through my friend Stryda (with whom I now collaborate with for Subloaded parties; he organises the Teachings in Dub room where two roots/dub soundsytems clash), which was a real touch since I’ve admired the work he’s done with Smith & Mighty. Rudey has an amazing voice. I’ve known Yolanda for a few years now, through mutual friends in Bristol. She’s laid down a killer of a track on "Get Up,” some big, soulful house diva styles. It works really well on that track, I think.

Do you find the limelight has changed the direction/attitude of dubstep? How has the international attention changed the scene?
As it’s got bigger there’s more demand to deliver "to the dance floor,” which has led to more jump-up style productions, whereas it used to be far more focused on a deeper sound. The international attention has changed things by occupying more time for the bigger DJ/producers — playing gigs away on weekends. Meaning less studio time for building tracks.

I hear a rather solid drum & bass influence underlying the dubbiness of these tracks, more so than some other artists who’ve instead veered into a more minimal dub-techno realm. What kind of influences do you bring into your production booth?
I like a lot of styles of music; I think some of my tracks also take a techno reference but I’m also influenced by everything from Timberland to jungle, two-step, dub and atmospheric electronica.

How did you decide on the title Underwater Dancehall?
It came to me at one of the early DMZ nights in Brixton, at about four or five a.m. Everyone was skanking out to the beats in this slow but steady way, one UV light holding. It made me think of the dance being underwater. Stuck with me from that. (Tectonic)