Soapy Hands And Field Recordings With Edinburgh’s Rising Grime Prospect
Joe Powers, aka 21-year-old producer Proc Fiskal, is whiling away the hours before work when we speak. He’s just started as a kitchen porter, which was one of my first jobs, so we spend the first few minutes of the call swapping stories about how knackering it is, how the soap gives you “old man hands” – in short, how “fucking miserable” the whole thing can be.
Ideally, he’d like to be making music full-time, but for now, there are bills to pay. Is playing more shows an option? He’d like to, but at the same time is wary of too much travelling. “I don’t mind being places,” he explains, “but travelling’s a bastard.”
He’s also not interested in having his own radio show at the moment. I raise the topic of the collapse of Radar Radio, following allegations that staff were sexually assaulted and suffered poor working conditions. Did the speed at which it was effectively dismantled surprise him? “I was impressed,” he says, adding that he hopes the momentum will now be directed at even more powerful institutions. “It’d be really beautiful if people talking out could fuck up something a bit more meaningful than radio but – obviously it’s meaningful. The way that it came down was quite impressive.”
Musically, what Powers is most excited about is the release of his debut album, Insula, on Hyperdub, which is finally complete. “I think I made about three or four versions of it,” he tells me. “Initially it was really melodic shit; then I just started adding drums.” The releases 16 tracks explore an intricate, ravey, percussive 160 BPM sound – a form of high-octane sino-grime, with shadows of the 90s genres that pre-figured it. “It seems like the natural tempo I’m functioning at,” he explains, “and I like when I DJ to have tunes at that speed – the various sounds sort of join at that speed. It’s not too fast, it’s not too slow. I find 140 really slow these days, my brain’s just sort of adapted.”
The tracks are also a nod to Hyperdub’s transatlantic footwork connection, I suggest. “I don’t listen to [footwork] a lot these days, but I really like RP Boo and DJ Rashad and all that sort of stuff. I quite like RP Boo’s stuff because it’s rhythmically really fuckin’ scatty. It challenges you a wee bit. I like the rhythmic confusion – and it sounds really good in a club as well.”
Besides the tempo, one of the other aspects reminiscent of that style (as well as early Dizzee Rascal productions) is the way in which Powers weaves snatched vocal samples in, but while his Chicago peers draw primarily on American hip-hop, Powers uses his own recordings of daily life in Edinburgh, be it down the pub, or just walking around.
“I quite like to put words in tunes. Not necessarily in a lyrical way, but just putting even one word on its own adds a little something. I have all these samples saved, samples of my friends and that, and when I’m makin’ a tune I’ll almost pick at random. If it works, it works, if it doesn’t work, I’ll go through a lot. Sometimes I’ll have one and I’ll build it around that, I just sort of do it on the fly.”
They sound almost accidental, like voicemails recorded unintentionally, so what makes him press record? “I’ve left it on by accident quite a few times and just recorded three hours of me walkin’ about, and you get little snippets from that. I like that level of chance – not really controlled – and the shittiness of phone recordings, there’s something kinda nice about it. I can’t afford a good level recorder so it’s what I’ve got. I like the idea of using what’s around you.”
What these recordings also do is locate his music in a twilight space, simultaneously close to his everyday life, but also non-specific and distant. “I was kinda concerned about making it too personal,” he explains, “referencing shit only I’m doing, but I like that in music – when I don’t know what they’re talking about. Especially with all that London shit, I had no idea what they’re on about, but you gradually get into that matrix, the same with Wu Tang. You get your own image.”
And where many London producers grew up around soundsystems and dubplates, Powers came from a more traditional musical background. “My family all played instruments; at weddings they’ll play the bagpipes. I found out recently I’m vaguely related to The Singing Kettle. It might be a purely Scottish thing – it’s an old 80s childhood musical act.”
While he says that didn’t impact on his sound, he acknowledges there are some parallels. “You could say grime is folk music – it’s the music of the people.” Instead, he discovered garage and grime via the internet, around the age of 14, though he was already knocking out hip-hop beats before that. “I’ve been making music for as long as I can remember – I played guitar and piano since I was pretty young. Then I had a wee drum machine when I was maybe like 11.
So what is he most drawn to in music? “At the moment I’ve been listening to old stuff. I’ve been listening to a lot of Public Enemy’s second album. Public Enemy’s tunes just sound fucking noisy, all these samples everywhere, and I try and picture that in the context of when it came out.
“I like the idea of a future rush, where the meanness of it gives you a rush. I don’t know how applicable that is – I don’t wanna be like ‘oh my music is the future yeah’ – but I like the idea of that. I don’t like anything that’s just bizarre – well maybe it’s good – but I like having shit grounded a little bit as well, in reality. If it’s just madness it gets boring.”
Insula is out June 8 via Hyperdub.
Words: Alex Mcfadyen
Image: Stevie Powers