Moving forward with XXXY

XXXY (Rupert Taylor) came to prominence in amongst the last original musical movement, Dubstep. Hailing from Manchester with early musical pursuits in the world of Indie rock, Taylor found in the community of Dubstep a musical voice that first took the form of Forensix [mcr] ten years ago.

After a mere two tracks and three years on, he would establish the XXXY moniker, which would see Taylor re-invent himself in an echo of Dubstep’s own dissolution into the something unfamiliar and schlocky, a genre diluted to a tawdry wobble bass-line and a R&B vocal. In the wake of Dubstep’s demise, Taylor, like so many of his peers, moved into the opaque dimensions of electronic music finding a space between genres for a new creative voice. Between House, Techno, Bass and Electro XXXY exists as a unique entity, honouring his UK roots, through the rhythms of Bass music, while forging a new sonic dialect from the vast expanse of the dance floor.

His music has found favour with labels Ten Thousand Yen and Rinse, through whom he’s released tracks like “Goldfish”, “Thinkin Bout” and” No Matter”. Referencing everything from Electro to Garage, XXXY has found an engaging electronic voice where melodic refrains bounce enthusiastically amongst vivacious beats through concise musical structures.

There’s a playful dexterity to his musical creations which inform and extend into his DJ sets. It goes some way to subjugate a serious musical talent behind the craft, leaving an access port for the listener to engage with the music without any sense of trepidation. XXXY coaxes feeling out of a detached electronic world, avoiding banal functionality in favour of something a little more immersive than a simple dance floor cut.

The producer then channels this into his DJ sets, where he finds connections to the music of others through his own, bringing pieces together in sets that reflect the eclecticism of his productions. He’ll be in our basement Friday, the 27th and before he arrives we got to ask him some questions about finding a voice through Dubstep, his eclectic production qualities and how a XXXY sets come together.

Happy new year Rupert, and thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions for us.

Happy New Year to you and no problem.

What’s on the cards this year for XXXY that you can share with us today?

Well I am just finishing up a few records that will be out this year. The first will be on Ten Thousand Yen, which should be being pressed up imminently.

Last year marked the tenth anniversary of your first release as Forensix [mcr]. Looking back on that, what have you taken away from the entire experience?

Wow ten years? Does this make me veteran now? I think looking back, it’s always important, as a producer, to make music for yourself first. There have been occasions when I think I have been trying to live up to other people’s expectations with regards to my musical output. I now realize that it’s much easier just to make the music I want to make and to not worry too much about what anyone else thinks.

We know that you went from playing in a band (indie I believe) into electronic music. What was that catalyst for you, musically or otherwise, that turned you to electronic club music?

Well the transition was being able to make songs on my own. When I left school and went to university my music tastes changed and I wasn’t so into being in a band or making band music. I was going out to clubs a lot more and immersing myself in dance music but I still wanted to write songs so it was logical for me to make music on a computer and be able to control the complete output, initially unsuccessfully, all by myself.

What instruments did you play in the band, and what did you take from your early musical experiences into your production work as Forensix [mcr] and XXXY?

I was a guitarist and vocalist. I was always a songwriter so arrangement came quite easy to me in the beginning as I was making electronic music.

You grew up in Manchester, which has this huge legacy that comes with it, but what was it like for you and your generation growing up and making music?

When I was growing up I felt like the history of music in Manchester was a curse, you had all these people making great music but people just wanted to go out to shite nostalgia nights. For a few years the club scene was awful, it felt like there were about 2 good clubs (Sankeys and the Music Box (RIP to both)) and a handful of OK clubs. The rest were filled with students drinking 50pence Vodka Red Bull and listening to Happy Mondays, Stone Roses and Oasis. It was like the history of music in Manchester was an albatross around the neck of anyone trying to do something different with music in the City. Thankfully things are much better now in Manchester.

You rose to prominence around Dubstep, which today seems like the last original musical style. What sticks out for you of that time that made it so special?

It felt like a proper movement, you had all these producers who knew each other and were making music and the people buying and going out to this music at the beginning mainly knew each other so it felt like something you were invested in with other people.

What drew you to that genre initially and how much did that sense of community through things like dubstep forum and FWD>>> play in your induction?

It was the fusion of different styles, the kind of “anything goes” mentality of it. I was growing tired of Drum and Bass and was looking at all styles of dance music and dubstep just clicked with me. The forum was a great place, when I registered, you had the producers, DJs and promoters on there, you could just ask anyone anything. FWD was a great night but I only managed to go a few times when it was at Plastic People.

Forensix [mcr] was the first taste we got of your music, but you soon dropped that moniker and started making music as XXXY. Why the change, and did you feel it reflected a change in your music?

The Forensix record that came out was the first two songs that I finished. I was overwhelmed by having a release so soon and wasn’t able to make anything else that I liked. So in the meantime I had to get a job and I was working long hours and not having much time set aside for making music and producing. Fast forward a few years and because of the housing market crash I ended up working for Manchester City Council, the hours were shorter and so I had more time to make music again. So I have a bunch of new music and I feel like I want to make a fresh start so I sent the music to some djs and it started to get released. I think in the in between time my musical tastes had evolved and Dubstep had started to become something different than it was when I started.

Was there something particular you wanted to express that the dubstep genre couldn’t achieve for you at this time?

I think it was a conscious decision to try and make music, which was removed from the aggressive wobbly dubstep that was so popular at that time.

The shift from Dubstep into other genres is something that many of your UK peers adopted too. Was there perhaps something generally in the air that you feel might have been responsible for so many artists making the move from Dubstep?

I think the vibe changed with the music, so you had all these people who were in a similar music space and it felt as though they didn’t belong to any scene anymore so started to look towards other genres or push things in their own way.

This is where XXXY certainly appealed to me – the opaque approach to musical styles where everything is possible. What do you think is mainly responsible for this eclecticism in your music?

I am into all sorts of music and I think I would be bored making the same thing constantly and I think that it’s the same with my djing, playing only one genre all night almost at the same BPM can be a little tiresome, so I try to involve different elements into my music and different genres into my djing.

House has obviously been a cornerstone to your work, but elements of Garage, R&B and even Techno also find their way into your work much of the time. Is it something you consciously approach as such, and where does XXXY exist for you amongst these and other musical styles?

I think it’s a reflection of my influences I don’t start a track thinking “this will be an RnB thing or a Techno thing” it comes from the inspiration for the track whether it be a synth patch I have made or a sample that I have found.

Your earlier releases were very much accommodating different labels, with sounds specifically crafted for said labels, but in recent times you’ve mainly stayed on Rinse and Ten Thousand Yen. What is it about those two labels that keeps you coming back to them?

At the beginning it was just me trying to get as much of my music out as quickly as possible. Now it’s about working with people I trust will get my music out in the best way possible and getting it heard by the right people.

How do you find that your sound might be honed differently to each of those two labels?

I don’t think it is, I just make songs and send them to the labels and then they A&R as they see fit.

Has Djing ever had any effect in the way you approach music in the studio?

Naturally, if I am playing in big clubs I want some big warehouse bangers that are my own alongside other peoples’ and if I am playing in an intimate space I want to have some of my tracks that reflect that space. Even 10 Years after my first release, there’s very little that pleases me more than people reacting well in a club to one of my tracks.

Your recorded music has that eclecticism I’ve mentioned, is this something that seeps into your sets too and what usually ties a XXXY set together?

My sets are currently tied together by my record collection, I have been getting back into playing vinyl again in clubs as there seems to be a bit more respect when it comes to turntable setup now. After years of digital djing (serato and usbs) I find that a pile of records can evoke more inspiration.

I believe from older interviews, that DJing came after producing for you. How do you feel you’ve evolved in that respect since the early days?

I’m constantly evolving, I am mainly just more confident in my ability and this means that I can adapt my sets to where I am playing and take more risks sometimes.

You mentioned that your music is the thing that ties your music together. What do you look for in music from other artists in your sets?

I still play a lot of my own music in my sets but my sets now are longer I need more and more music from other people, I just look for music that would make me want to dance