Flicker your brain back over the last five years of daring underground dance music, and Night Slugs' upfront brand of architectural club beats and made-for-the-basement bass will undoubtedly ignite a spark. With co-heads Bok Bok and L-Vis 1990 growing the imprint from late-00s London parties with the context of the club still central to its operation today, Night Slugs remains as original as it was when first created. Releasing seminal screamers from K W Griff's "Bring In The Katz" to Jam City's "Classical Curves"—as well as a whole slither of now-propelled names including Egyptrixx and Lil Silva—their LA-based sister label, Fade To Mind, has also left a lasting mark not only across the pond, but globally too.
Not forgetting who we can also thank for a stunning introduction to Kelela via her CUT 4 ME mixtape, with production duties stemming from both collectives, what's next for one of the slugs that started this whole movement? Never one to stick to convention, Bok Bok announced his next foray in the form of a new mix series aptly named Essentials. Straddling US-driven pop and R&B influences with straight-up dancefloor originals, that remain cohesive to one vision belonging unapologetically to him, we sat down to talk next chapters, live radio, and why he's taking things Nyce & Slo.
So we're chatting today about your new mix series, Essentials, but I want to know where the idea came from to do this as a sequence, rather than releasing as a standalone mix?
It's because I feel like there are several aspects to the kind of music that I play and I guess I wanted to play it all out for people so it was really clear, you know? I always spend my time mixing it all up in a way, so for once I just thought—even though the last mix you can see there is a lot of variety in there—I just want each of these installments to be its own little world. The first volume was a bit slower at 105bpm, but this second volume is at a more hectic 142; more of a roll and less of a glide this time.
How does putting together something like this compare to compiling tracks for your show on Rinse?
That's the nice thing about a studio mix: you can really take your time to plan out every blend and think about how the whole thing flows. In a way, it's like making a little album. As a DJ, that's the closest thing you can do to a make a good album: make a good studio mix. Compared to that, radio is just like a jumper—you arrive, and there's never really any plan so you just get on with it. Two hours is a long time to fill, so if you plan and think about it too much, it's gonna go by really slowly and it'll be stress, but you should relax, play music and let yourself make mistakes. It's like a lot of my younger DJ friends who are getting into Radar Radio, things like that, they stress out about their shows being perfect or edited with this and that and whilst that's fine and there is a time and a place for that, you've gotta relax a bit.
It seems like mistakes are necessary, even formative to the radio process.
Exactly! That's why it's all live. It's supposed to be exciting. I've been listening to a lot of old rips and radio shows on my iPod and those old Rinse and pirate sessions, there was all these amazing DJs making mistakes or tripping up live on air. Being daring and trying shit out, that's how it should be.
Coming back to the mix, you said it's like "raving in the cold tropics"—but how do you think the mix says this to the listener? Would you say it's the process of your mixing, the running order etc, or something completely different?
It's more like the vibe. You know when you take a walk on a wintry day and its freezing, but it's so bright and the sun's out? There's that edge keeping you on your toes—it's difficult to say in words the exact feeling that I was trying to convey, as it's a solid tempo, but it feels like it races and rolls forward in the way UK music kind of does. That's how it feels to me: that kind of wintry sunshine that we get in this country. We don't even get a proper summer! [Laughs]
That is literally the epitome of the weather today.
I was just out there enjoying it! You've got to get it while you can, basically. So yeah, it's kinda like that. That's how it is right now with music for me, too.
The flow of different genres across the mixes is almost blurred, rather than sticking to straight-up house throughout or just Jersey Club stuff.
Yeah, hopefully it should all feel like one single piece of work. There's a house track on the first mix from Lil Louis called "Nyce & Slo" and that was really the ethos for the whole mix, where you take that kind of house groove, slow it right down and then there's room for all this R&B and hip-hop. That's when all these different grooves start fitting into it.
How would you say this series fits into the current landscape of the label?
Well, I mean it does relate to it because there are a few things on the mixes that we're about to be releasing. For example, one of the tracks we just dropped as a freebie was called "Sands Tool", so with things like that it's nice to be able to showcase all the things coming out and forthcoming on the label. As I say, this whole Essentials series is gonna be all about representing one aspect at a time of the label, or what I do with my music.
How would you say the running of Night Slugs, from signing releases to designing, has informed your own productions?
I'm lucky to have all these guys involved around me that are all so talented, you know? I do take influence from what they do, so that's been really good. But to be honest with you, it can be quite distracting too! I try and keep my time on my own studio stuff and running the label does take up a lot of time as well, but it feels like a really good resource that teaches me so many things and I've basically learnt from the people that I work with because they're all just so talented.
You've been back in the studio doing production work for Kelela, right?
Yes! And hopefully it's gonna come out soon. It's been a lot of work, it's been many months, but it's been really, really good. I've learnt so much from her. Again, working around talented people and how much that can help you, working with her has actually allowed me to consider songwriting. Like, I'd never done that before and now that's become part of what I do and, as a producer, I come from this with a completely outward prospective.
Approaching the whole process from a different angle—I love that.
You know what I mean! That's it. I'd never done anything like that before so being able to work with Kelela—like, I've met some insane people who have written for crazy artists that I really respect—but working with her, she's a crazy inspiration to me and she's an outsider too; she's not musically trained or anything. It's crazy, because you've got this raw talent and she's really owned it to this record. You know the mixtape Fade To Mind released [CUT 4 ME]? That was basically her jumping on beats that more or less already existed, whereas this is all stuff we're crafting from scratch—they're real songs, true pop songs, so I'm really excited about it and I can't wait for it to come out.
What else are you working on at the moment that you're looking forward to coming out?
I'm working on a lot of label stuff right now, but I don't like to really talk about it until it's done. So let's just say that the thing with Night Slugs is that we'll have one strong year and then spend a while touring and living, working shit out, then we'll come back again. This should be another year where, hopefully, that happens because there's quite a lot of nice things planned. But again, I don't wanna talk it all up. I just wanna let it roll and for people to enjoy the surprise.