UKG legend Artful is back and he's got a big year planned
A genuine legend of Production, of Dance Music and of UK Urban Culture, we caught-up with Artful of Artful Dodger fame, the writer and producer, whose return to the industry last year sparked a scramble among the top up and coming artists for his services; to discuss his comeback, his hunger, his collaborations and his new single Could Just Be The Bassline.
What inspired your comeback this summer?
It was kind of a coincidence that it’s happened this summer, I think the beginning of last year, the beginning of 2010 I kind of got back into producing after taking a few years out to get married and have kids and all that sort of stuff so I’ve got two little girls now, one’s three, one’s five and I kind of wanted to be around for them. Money wasn’t too much of a problem after the success of the early stuff and the work with Craig [David]. I kind of just got back into it really, I got management and thought Oh, you know I can’t get away with not working forever [laughs] and since music is all I can do I’ll kind of test the waters and I looked at management, chatted to a few people about management and then started doing some writing sessions again and some production sessions for people like Encore, Scorcher, Mz Bratt and stuff like that but mainly just working as a producer for majors to brief. I really, really enjoyed being back in the studio, I kind of felt bizarre to be back in the studio again, I’d really missed it and I missed the vibes, going back and forth to London and that sort of stuff, so I got the bug back, which was a big breakthrough but to be honest I was just really frustrated by the industry, because the industry had changed so much from ten years ago, there was no budget spent, everything was done on spend and people were getting dropped left-right-and-centre and the stuff I enjoyed doing the most was when I was given a bit more free-reign with people like Ed Sheeran, who’s just a fabulous talent and is really creative and there wasn’t really a brief, when I was playing with Ed there was no a brief and we were just kind of having a laugh and then I realised that my strengths have always been finding a new artist and working on something a little bit different, not just something that necessary had to fit into that kind of Pop bracket and I got excited by it again, I got excited working with Ed and a lot of the other people I was working with, I did a lot of work with Davinche, we did some Soul productions and I just really enjoyed that fresh blood coming through and it just became in the last12-18 months a really exciting time again for British music, so I kind of just got swept up in it all and decided to make another record.
Were you surprised by how in-demand you were and how in-demand you’ve become already?
Yeah! Completely! Because you sort of never expect that really. I thought there would be a little bit of love for the old stuff but it’s sort of a bizarre coincidence that there’s a sort of a UKG resurgence after the sort of Dubstep stuff and there’s obviously a lot of urban music, House kind of uses Drum and Bass, Speed Garage and UKG anyway, so yeah, there was a shock, but I kind of imagined myself, when I decided to start working again, I kind of imagined that I’d just be this old fuck working on acts for major labels and stuff but I didn’t realise I’d get that excited about making new music again and you sort of fall right back into it, then I realised that the business is a lot of more exciting for independents because you’ve got so much, you’re utilising Twitter and all the social media stuff, it just kind of blew my mind. I was quite into it anyway but I’m sort of throwing myself in at the deep end and utilising it as much as possible and using people like Ed Sheeran and Deadmau5 as examples of how to do it really, to be able to share your music and put your music out, not being too precious about the pay-off and the brand and at the moment I’m just enjoying it, I think it’s great. It’s in a completely different spirit because I’m a bit more responsible because I’ve got kids and I’ve been in the business a long time and I’ve learned the pitfalls of who to work with, who not to work with and stuff but yeah, it was a complete shock to be honest.
You mentioned Dubstep, do you see similarities between the success of Dubstep and the success of Garage 10-11 years ago?
Yeah, I think so. But I think Dubstep is much more on a global scale because that sort of music is far less localised these days now, you’re not relying on London, big city pirate radio because the only access we had to that sort of stuff back in the day was when we came to London and put pirates on and there were a few local community stations who could play that sort of stuff and now it’s amazing, you see how far it’s reached like there’s a huge market for it in the US and Australia and places like that, it’s interesting but it’s still got that sort of same Pirate, underground feel to it, even though it’s on a much bigger scale but it’s coming straight from the acts and straight from the promoters over the internet. It means that, the way they’re promoting the record, the music, is not that different, it’s just that your means of doing it has switched to a digital format, it’s still getting it to the hands of DJs and plugging it and all that sort of stuff so it’s an interesting time I think.
On the subject of Dance music’s popularity worldwide at the moment, what do you think of the American embraced of David Guetta et al?
To begin with, the Black Eyed Peas stuff, I was really into it but unfortunately when that kind of thing gets too commercial they do tend to find the formula and stick with it until they bleed it dry. It’s the same with the autotune thing, once they’d had a few tracks with big success, everybody kind of jumped on the trend and they all replicated the same thing, so it’s become a little bit over the top even though it was really exciting at the time that they embraced that Club culture.
Tell us about your new single Could Just Be The Bassline and its guest vocalist Kal Lavelle…
I set up a session through management after seeing Ed Sheeran on YouTube a couple of times in the middle of last year, August last year and I decided that he was amazingly talented and our managers knew each other so we set-up a session. It turned out that a few people at the time had compared Ed to Craig in as much that he’s got a kind of sunken soulful vocal and he was doing the urban stuff and working with Grime artists so a few people were comparing his style and he was a big fan of Craig back in day and the Artful Dodger stuff so it we just set up a session and thought ‘We’ll see where it goes really’, at that point he had no kind of clear direction and we just had a couple of days down in my studio in Southampton and it all just happened really. I think Ed, in the back of his mind wanted to do something that was typically Artful Dodger sounding and I think he was afraid to say that, so we were just throwing around ideas and in the end were were kind of just like Look, should we just chill out a little bit and see if that mix of styles works and he really got into it and he really got into it and he convinced me more than anything else to give it that Two-Step flavour because the other stuff I was doing at the time was very four on the floor, very big, almost sort of like electronic breakbeat kind of stuff. So it was kind of weird that we were experimenting with that and he end result just came out great. Just afterwards, he was doing so well, he got signed to Atlantic and Atlantic were really funny about him doing any more collaborations, because I think he’d done a lot by then and they basically just drew a line in the sand and said No more collaborations! We’d already intended to release the song as a collaboration and I was going to put it out on my own label so I was sort of stuck which was really frustrating, so Ed and I started talking and we were both gutted that he couldn’t be on it but we didn’t want to muck about with it, he’d just signed a major deal and he’s destined for big things so I didn’t want push too hard for it, so we just sort of chatted really and Kal [Lavelle] was a good friend of Ed’s and I think they’d done a few gigs together, not headlining, they’d both been on the bill at these gigs and had become friends and Ed was just about to organise his solo tour and he asked Kal to come and be the warm-up act, so he loved her voice and I think he sang once or twice and she sang along with it, because she’s got quite a big female voice compared to Ed who I think’s got a higher rang, we gave her an opportunity to record it and she absolutely nailed-it and lyrically and melodically it suits the female vocal a lot better but I was dubious to start with but when she laid it down it was obvious that we were both incredibly happy with how it sounded.
You’ve mentioned a few buzzing and bigger name acts that you’ve been working with, is there anybody out that you particularly want to work with?
There’s loads! You know what? In the last year, in the last couple of years there have been so many amazing acts to come out of the UK and I’ve always said I’d love to work with Ms Dynamite because we both go way back and she’s done great stuff lately there’s loads though, Wretch  is really good, Cleo Sol, I love working with Davinche so we’re going to do some more stuff, Emeli Sande, it’s really a thriving time for British urban music.
What’s the plan after you release Could Just Be The Bassline?
We’ve got another potential single lined-up but in the world we live in things evolve and I’m not necessarily thinking about an album in the traditional sense of the word because I’ve got an album of stuff ready which we’ve been working at over the last couple of years but it’s kind of changing all the time. Everyone I work with, stuff comes along and tracks come along so three or four of the tracks we’ve already got for the album might get superseded there’ll be better stuff and quite a few people have been interested in coming in to collabs and we might do something that might be shite [laughs] and some of them might be amazing, so I’m trying remain pretty flexible but I’d like to have an album’s worth of stuff out just before, maybe just after Christmas but as far as I’m concerned I’m just going to keep putting out tunes and I’m going to try and find some new artists, maybe some youngsters like Craig or Ed again and once we’ve got a few tracks under our belt at my label, the idea is to take it and start developing acts in their own right as well and I’ll sort of A&R and Produce those so it’s exciting times! The plan is just to not spend another ten years sitting in my house not really doing anything, at all really [laughs].
Are you ready to do the Chase & Status, Nero thing of actually taking these records on the road and turning it into a live show?
That was the intention really. After seeing the success of Deadmau5 and the guys in Magnetic Man…the kind of music I do really lends itself to being quite flexible because we can do it solely as a DJ Set, a DJ and PA or a full live-band. The idea has always been to tour it, take the music out, that’s always been my first love.
That’s something you’ve missed?
Yeah. I think I’ve been in the studio long enough, I’ve perfected my DJ set, but it’s quite a frustrating thing for a producer, not actually interacting and seeing the response to your music apart from messages on Twitter and stuff like that, so the plan is to start looking at live stuff and some of the tracks work really well acoustically, which is really nice.
I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by without asking you about Craig David’s Born To Do It album, I heard you on Trevor Nelson’s radio show talking about an MTV poll a few years ago that ranked it behind Thriller as the second most important Urban album of all time and you said you thought it probably wouldn’t be there on your list, do you ever try to put that album in context of how important it has proved to be?
It’s hard when it’s your own stuff. I’m obviously immensely proud of it and the proof is in the pudding because a lot of people bought it. It’s hard because when I listen to a lot people’s music as a fan it’s very different, because I’m very self-critical [laughs] so there are tracks on the Born To Do It album that I know we could have done better. It’s almost impossible for me to be objective about it. I’m really proud of it and I still listen to it on occasion [laughs], I’m still really pleased with it but I maintain there are probably still better albums out there.
Keep up to date with Artful via his Twitter page @artful_official and listen to the Exclusive Summer Mix he did for RWDmag.com earlier this month.