Anthoney J. Hart’s productions span the broad spectrum of underground British electronic music; from the abstract noise of his former project Imaginary Forces and the deconstructed jungle/hardcore mutations of Basic Rhythm to his latest brainchild East Man. As East Man, Anthoney is pushing hi-tek, a style of angular and technical rhythm provoking the same kind of screw-faced reactions that early Black Opps productions did when dropped on your favourite local pirate station.
Not that Hart’s latest inception is an exercise in pure nostalgia, nor is it a shallow attempt to ride grime’s resurgence under another banner, rather it is an honest and sincere exploration of the culture and scene Hart has inhabited throughout his career, alongside an engagement with the social issues that shaped that scene. We were lucky to chat with him about his latest Project Red, White & Zero, the definition of hi-tek, pirate radio and identity politics.
Although labelling your sound feels slightly reductive, it does seem to fit comfortably into what has been termed “The Hardcore Continuum”. You have dubbed your take on this heritage “Hi Tek”. What does this mean to you, and how do you articulate it as East Man?
It started off as a joke. A play on the slang term “tekkerz”. Tekkerz means you are skilful at something; you have tekkerz. That combined with the techno element of the sonic vocabulary, and I started jokingly referring to it as hi-tek music, but now people have started using it. I think the music itself is very sleek and angular and quite technical, and the name seems to fit. I was also a little wary of coming out of the blue and claiming grime, as I have come from a tangential background and didn’t want to be seen as someone jumping on the bandwagon. I would say my sound is hugely influenced by grime, and it is a privilege for me to be working with so many talented MCs from the grime scene.
Electronic music is arguably more explicitly linked to its material context than other genres. Even on purely instrumental releases, the representation of space is palpable; the city, tower blocks, claustrophobia. In your earlier work as Imaginary Forces, these motifs were in play, albeit in a more deconstructed fashion. Red, White & Zero feels more direct in its expression. Was this an intentional move and if so how was it accomplished?
Yes, it was definitely intentional. I think it was a natural evolution of my exploration of those themes or motifs, but it has now coalesced into a much more coherent whole. The seemingly disparate influences are now integrated in a very fluid way, and a big part of that was the introduction of the MCs which meant I had to strip away the unnecessary layers, the sonic obfuscation that was getting in the way. I also think that a large part of it was a coming to terms with, and feeling more comfortable with, putting my own identity and experiences into my work more explicitly than before.
It’s very apt that you are working with the eminent Paul Gilroy, an accomplished academic and postcolonial scholar whose work addresses issues surrounding racial identity amongst diaspora communities, on an equally vital research topic: “representations of working class and mixed-race families”. How did this connection with Paul come about? Could you tell us about your research and how it impacts your work as East Man?
At the time I first got in touch with Paul I was in the process of getting ready to leave the UK, at that time for good, and had started to reflect on my own identity and family background. During the course of this reflection, I had started to do some research on representations in the media of what I consider to be a fairly average working class British family; single parent, mine and my younger brother’s father was originally from Canada and my older brother and sister’s father was originally from Jamaica. But all I could find were the usual cliches of white working class identity or mixed-race couples.
However, during the course of my research more often than not the points of contact that I could find any sense of a reflection of an identity I recognised was in the work of Afro-Caribbean authors and filmmakers such as CLR James, James Baldwin, Horace Ove, and Stuart Hall. It was upon discovering Hall’s work that I found Paul’s work, as well as Les Back, and reached out to them both asking if they knew of any academic or research work along the lines of what I was looking for. My friendship with Paul grew from there. As for how my own research impacts upon the project, it is hard to quantify. I guess when dealing with certain aspects of personal experience and identity it will naturally filter down into whatever you create, but how to quantify that I don’t know. I mean… how exactly does a kick drum symbolise a life of economic frustration and limited opportunities, for example? Ha!
You cut your teeth mixing on pirates, playing hardcore, jungle and drum ‘n’ bass tunes. Those genres have a particular emotional resonance; piano loops elicit a kind of euphoric nostalgia, whilst rapidly stuttering Amen breaks act as a release valve for social frustrations. How do your earlier experiences in the scene influence your current work? Is there still an emotional connection to that time and those tunes?
Well, that question is loaded with your own personal interpretations. At the time, the pianos weren’t laden with nostalgia. They were new and exciting, and yes, euphoric. I am not quite sure that anyone thought of a chopped Amen breakbeat as a release valve for whatever social frustrations we may have had at the time either. But, yeah, I still love all that. I tend to channel that much more overtly into my other project, Basic Rhythm.
You can now look back at pirate radio as this great political act, but I don’t think anyone really thought that much about it at the time, not in my experience anyway, we just did it because we wanted to play the music. Yeah, no one wanted to get arrested, but you didn’t even really think about that much, other than the routines for getting in and out of a station without drawing unwanted attention. It is only now you can reflect upon that time and draw lines connecting up the dots, but I wonder how true any of that is in a real sense. It’s open to interpretation, and a very personal lived experience.
Despite your radio heritage, Red, White And Zero is your first release featuring MCs. Stylistically, there is a broad selection of MCs on the album; from scene veterans like Killa P, to newer, but equally talented individuals such as Saint P and Lyrical Strally of YGG. How did you select the artists you wanted to work with and what attracted you to them?
It is quite simple really. I approached the MCs I found exciting and interesting. Some turned me down for a multitude of reasons – that my beats are weird, that they don’t know who I am, etc. But a lot were open to working with me on something a bit different. I am very lucky that I get to work with some of the most talented MCs out there at the moment from all over London, and the age range is great too. You get a breadth of experiences and styles on this album that I find really exciting.
Again, without trying to pigeonhole your sound, the MCs you are working with are all part of the currently thriving grime scene. What was your experience of the early years of the genre and what are your thoughts on its current status?
In all honesty, back in the day, grime was a peripheral thing for me as I was still playing DnB on pirate radio under another name. I was aware of it, but in my experience pirate radio was very territorial at the time so you tended to be dismissive of other stations and genres. So, when I came to grime I was already pretty late to the party.
Personally, I prefer the earlier production on tracks as it takes much more risks, but the same can be said of any genre of music once it starts to develop particular traits and rules it always settles into a pattern. Just look at drum & bass as a perfect example. That said, I think there are some great MCs about now across grime, drill etc. There are loads that I want to work with on the next album. Production-wise though, I tend to draw much more influence from current dancehall than current grime.
What’s next for Anthony J. Hart? Can we expect more from East Man, Basic Rhythm or even Imaginary Forces?
Imaginary Forces is dead. That is over. It was a necessary process for me to get to this project, but I have drawn a line under that now. I am currently working on the next Basic Rhythm LP and there is also a Basic Rhythm 12″ due on Arcola soon. I am always working on new tracks, so there is plenty in store for the future with both projects.
Red, White And Zero is out now on Planet Mu, purchase here.
Words: Jobe Moakes