Don’t be too amused by Slugabed’s goofy, borderline irreverent personality, even though it’s evident in the marketing and promotions of his releases. For instance, while he gave away towels for his Coolest EP, listening to his tracks would reveal a depth and production prowess that exceed any preconceived notions about his body of work. Ahead of his second show in Kuala Lumpur this Friday, JUICE got onto Skype to chat with Sluga about creating a space for a particular music and visual with his label Activia Benz, the importance of humour and being real, and how he slowly slipped into the strangeness of his music.
Hey Greg! How are you finding your stay at The Dusun?
It’s amazing… too hot most of the time (laughs). The view is amazing, everything is very relaxing.
Can you talk a bit about Activia Benz? It’s a label, but could people refer to it as a collective as well?
Yeah, sort of. There’s a tight-knit crew of us that are quite good friends. We also put out [music] by a broader range of people through the Singles Club and all that. It’s a little bit of both, we have that tight group of family, but we also branch out to people we like too.
You have a hand in creating the art or visual identity for the label, yeah? Where do you get the inspiration to concoct the odd artwork?
Yeah, I have a hand in it, but I’m not the one that does the clever stuff. So, there are three of us; me, Jake [Slee], and Steve [Smith]. Steve does most of the art, but we all have control over every aspect of it. It sorta gradually developed in the few years that we’ve done it to become this sort of stylised, recognisable thing. We like this mixture of goofiness and beauty, I guess, both in our music and our art. I think we try to strike a balance between those two to create something amazing.
Night Slugs has a sort of dystopian identity about its sound and look. With Activia Benz, are you guys trying to create that sort of all-rounded experience, both sonically and visually as well?
Yeah, I think that’s a pretty good description of what we’re trying to do… not so specific as Night Slugs perhaps, because I don’t think we have a vision of a particular world or whatever. It’s obviously not dystopian, what we do, but I also couldn’t tell you what we do – it’s just very Activia Benz… to synchronise the atmosphere between music and visuals has always been important to us.
Throughout your career, you were attached to labels such as Stuff Records, Planet Mu, Ramp, and Ninja Tune. How has being with all these different labels affected your career?
It’s quite fun, it’s nice to work with different people and get their different take on what I do. I first started releasing when I was 18, so it’s always nice to have labels there as guidance. I didn’t have much of an idea of what I was doing. But yeah, each individual relationship with the labels has been quite unique and has offered me something different from the others. So, I’m really glad for the experience.
And has it influenced the way you operate Activia Benz?
If anything, I think it made me want to do Activia Benz in a slightly different way. Seeing people running a label, it takes a lot of work. In a strange way, running a label is not a number one goal of mine – it’s just something I started doing as a little hobby. I think for that reason, Activia Benz [operates] quite differently because a lot of what we put out is free and web-based. Anything that we’ve done is not done in the scope of making a profit. If we’ve got profit, then we might put it into merch or a product to go into the EP. So, it remains very much a flight of fancy. I just saw how much work [needs to be done] day in, day out [with those previous labels]… when it becomes like your day job, it loses its charm, really.
You grew up on hip hop. How has the genre influenced your current left-field production?
I started making music when I was 14 and I’ve been listening to hip hop for a while. I sorta took the elements of hip hop – I was completely experimenting – so in a way, I never produced proper hip hop. Once I started, I was influenced by my own music, which sorta pushed me down the rabbit hole; it just got stranger and stranger. So, I think with some of my music, you can definitely hear the influence, but to anyone else, you wouldn’t ever guess that I listen to hip hop. I’m inspired by a lot of different stuff and hip hop slots right into it – it’s not one of the main forces. But musically, I like slower music; boom bap drums, trap drums, so some of the tracks, it’ll shine through.
Do you like performing live or do you prefer to stay in your studio and make beats?
My absolute favourite is being in the studio. That’s why I started, that’s the main fun part; to try to make something that lasts. The live performing is like a thrill, but momentary. I like creating – generally – something permanent when you finish a track. It’s something to feel proud of, like having a trophy on your wall or whatever. Performing live is great fun, but it doesn’t have a [permanence] to it, and also the solitary focus that you have in a studio – it’s meditative and nice.
You don’t seem to take things too seriously, like you write weird stuff for your press releases and have weird merch for your releases. Why is that? Do you find the DJ-producer scene is a bit too self-serious?
I think the world can be a bit self-serious, but I’m sure that applies to certain DJs and producers as well. I find writing press releases and stuff to be pointless and a bit pretentious because I really like the idea that the music can speak for itself. I think my slightly difficult, weird press releases are a bit of a rebellion… [other press releases are] really trying to sell the music to you like it’s so up its own arse – when you are reading it, you feel like you’re being talked to like an idiot. My press releases are honest and joke-y, because that’s how I talk to my friends, so I thought why not talk to my fans like that? Joking’s fun and being chilled out is cool, it’s weird to me that people bring it up quite a lot, like, “Oh, you seem really joke-y, your public persona.” That’s me, why can’t I be the way that I am?
That’s true, you’re right. Do you think humour is important in dance and electronic music?
Sort of. When you break down what humour really is, it’s surprising people in a way that brings them joy, that’s also what good electronic music does in my opinion. Sometimes, the first time you hear it, you’ll just kinda laugh because it’s just so different but then, it’s exciting to me, rather than playing it safe. I think it shouldn’t be funny, joke-y music, obviously, like you’re not taking it seriously. Yeah, there are certain elements that make people go, “Is this right?” or “Is this how it’s supposed to be?” I think that’s a really positive thing in music because it pushes people’s perception and pushes the boundaries a bit further of what’s acceptable.
Are you currently working on your second LP?
Yeah, I’m pretty much almost finished with it, that’s what I’ve been doing for the past year, along with running Activia Benz. Yeah, I’ve got a lot of tracks, I’m trying to dwindle it down to a sensible length. I don’t think it will be released on Ninja Tune for a number of reasons, [but] it’s also not going to be self-released. I’m in talks with some people, but I can’t really tell you too much… but I’m really pleased with it. I think it’s my best stuff yet and I’m really keen on getting it out there, but we’ll see how long the process takes.
Cool. Okay, so to wrap up the interview, what can people expect from your set this Friday?
It’s gonna be loud and danceable, but it’s gonna be quite strange (laughs). I hope to confuse a couple of people, but generally, I think it’s gonna be really fun. It’s quite varied when I DJ, so there will be bits where it’s gonna go dark and some bits that will be lighthearted. I’m gonna play for a while, I think, like 90 minutes or two hours… I think that’s what I decided (laughs). It’s not gonna be a techno set where there’s a slow build, there’s gonna be a lot of changing my mind, but I’m doing it smoothly (laughs). I’m going to play some of my new stuff and a lot of new Activia Benz stuff.
Slugabed will perform at Pisco Bar tomorrow with Reesh9000 and CEE as support, and The Tomoe on visuals. More information on the event here.