After an exciting self-titled album debut, Outboxx are surely no longer a Bristol secret. Releasing tunes on mostly local labels (BRSTL, Idle Hands, Immerse), their sound seems rooted in the autonomous currents of the city. Whether it’s hip hop loops or jamming in funk bands, Jacob Martin and Matthew Lambert have made good use of their prior experiences, merging into a recognizable duo full of gleaming bass and blissed-out melodies. Their bold versatility is on shining display on the aforementioned album, delving into darker alleys, joining a fresh wave of UK producers examining the swung low end of the spectrum. Outboxx also signify one of interesting recent shifts in the loose Bristol underground, where house/techno seem to be the sound where most people’s ears are pointed toward. In anticipation of their performance at Echo Festival this weekend, LWE corresponded with the duo via email about their work methods, their influences, and their ever-changing live set.
Musically speaking, you guys come from quite different backgrounds. Matt, you’ve been playing keys for years in several funk bands, and Jake’s first foray into music production was making hip-hop beats. How did you two meet up and get the idea of Outboxx as a common project?
Jake: We met through Naomi Jeremy. I was making some music by myself and was really getting more and more into house but lacked the musical ability to be able to actually write the kinda music I wanted to. So when I met Matt and found out he played keys it made sense to have a jam and see what happened.
Matt: Yeah it was kinda by chance but we started jamming together and making house music I guess, first thing we did (“Kate Libby”) was in our first session and it got signed to Immerse the same day… so it kinda started up from there!
These two backgrounds have shown to be crucial in your musical expression, as well. How much of it is pure improvization and how much of it is strict song-writing, with a clear formal goal in mind?
Matt: I’d say we never really have a goal in mind, we just take it where we see fit.
Jake: Yeah, if we ever plan to have a session to write a certain thing it never works out. We always end up writing the opposite to the plan or something.
Matt: I guess it depends on mood as well, and the weather. Obviously there is an element of structure but not at all rigid, to be honest Jake usually deals with that side of it.
Jake: I basically start out playing with some field recordings, samples, and hardware, etc., getting a beat together and then Matt jams over the top at the same time until we hit a loop we are both feeling. In that way I guess it’s all improvisational at the start but obviously to finish a tune you need to start thinking about the structure after the initial idea is down.
On your self-titled album, there are many gentle textures in the background, dusty vinyl crackles and looped field recordings. But it’s all really quieted down. Is this a part of a certain aesthetic of yours or just a side-effect of your production process?
Matt: I’d say a bit of both really. We’re both drawn to that low-fi crunchy sound but also try and use as much outboard equipment as possible to keep with that warm sound we’re trying to create. If you start out with a bunch of field recordings and textures it gives you like a platform to build.
Jake: Yeah, I hate starting a project from silence so it’s nice to start with some hiss in the background or some looped sounds. We have always used field recordings in our music, random recordings from around Bristol etc. It adds character and kinda humanizes the music if that makes sense.
Now the Bristol question. Dub and a bass-heavy heritage have become synonymous with the city, it’s certainly difficult not to draw influences from them. Even you yourselves have released music mostly through Bristol outlets. But how much did this latest incarnation of soundsystem culture really affect you guys, musically?
Matt: I’d say it changed my perception of music in a way, like I suppose dubstep was some of the first electronic music that I really got into and realized that you can do a lot with a little. You can create sounds and atmospherics rather than just melodies and rhythms, and I guess I was looking at it from more of a musician’s background. You can’t help but be influenced by the sounds you hear around you; me and Jake both have good mates who are really into the dub/dubstep music.
Jake: Personally it changed everything for me. When I first got to Bristol I got really into the dubstep scene, it was exciting. Dubstep was like the genre that brought every other scene together: house, techno, drum ‘n’ bass, whatever background people had were now making this new kind of music. So it had a real nice community vibe which I think has never really left Bristol since. I can’t really comment on before that as I wasn’t here but what I saw affected me musically in a really positive way. The friendly atmosphere surrounding sound system culture makes it really enjoyable to actually get involved in the music scene.
At the same time, it’s known that Bristol has always been more than just bass hub. It seems to me your music partially echoes some of the early purveyors of the Bristol sound, known for including many different genres, with a focus on slower rhythms. Do you think this renewed interest in house is a part of a natural breathing cycle in the city?
Matt: I think what’s popular in underground music always seems to change at an ever increasing rate. Bristol has loads of micro scenes or something so yeah it definitely has more to it than just a bass hub. I suppose house has always been there too and it’s interesting with people coming back to the template and making their own stamp. I guess it could be part of cycle, it’s too hard to tell really.
Jake: I think that renewed interests are really important in terms of the movement of music in a city, it helps keep things exciting — a new group focus for individual producers to draw from. So in that respect I guess any change in musical focus and output of a city is part of the natural breathing cycle, yeah.
Now that people’s ears are bent more towards house and techno, do you think it’s easier to present your formative influences when DJing? What does your DJing sound like?
Matt: It depends what crowd you play to and what time you are playing. I guess a lot of my personal influences are probably too deep to play out for most nights so it’s always really special when presented with an opportunity to do that. I’d also say that my formative influences stretch further than purely house and techno.
Jake: Recently we played in London for a Don’t Be Afraid party which was an amazing night. We played quite early so got a chance to dig deep and play a wider variety of music and everyone seemed to really enjoy it. It’s hard to say if that’s due to people’s ears being bent towards house and techno because that was a real room of heads who have probably been listening to house and techno for a long time. As the house scene gets more and more popular it kinda works in both ways. Some parties you have a crowd loving everything you play and another time a crowd just wants a sound that we’re not feeling. We just turn up, play some records we love and hope people enjoy it too.
I heard you also started with live shows, and there’s a short clip of Naomi Jeremy performing with you on Boiler Room. Tell us more about your set-up and how it works.
Jake: The live set is constantly building. It started out as a live PA with us DJing and Naomi singing and then we introduced keys, samplers, etc. The plan is to be constantly changing and building the set. I’d hate to have one set we do everywhere over and over again. I’d get bored. Hopefully each time people see the live set there will be something new. Also Naomi is amazing; it’s great to be able to get her on stage with us. I think she really brings a lot to the live performance, she has her own delay and effects units which she runs her vocals through and dubs her own vocals live. It’s cool.
Matt: I think the live set gives us more of a chance to go deeper at the start and build from there. It’s an amazing opportunity for me to actually jam on the keyboard and give some live character to the set.
Naomi appears on the new album, too. There are two songs, on which she accompanies your arrangements with discernable lyrics. Is this approach to song-writing something you’ll continue in the future?
Matt: I think you can’t really make a “song” without a vocalist, and Naomi really adds meaning to our stuff. We’re looking forward to collaborating more in the future and hopefully making a solo EP for Naomi.
The tunes at the end of Outboxx are sometimes slow and very spacious, even for house music standards. Is it a reaction to a contemporary current of people making music at a slower tempo, with a dark edge and more bass?
Matt: I wouldn’t say it’s a reaction to any contemporary current; I’d say we have always looked to the past for inspiriation.
Jake: The album was really a chance for us to experiment a bit more. I love music with space so I guess it make sense that that has come through in our music. I think current music is obviously going to be an inspiration to what we do as that’s what we are surrounded by.
There’s a Pev & Hodge 12″ out on Punch Drunk that’s indicative of some of those uncharted bass/techno hybrids. Do you intend to expand in those territories as Outboxx, as well?
Matt: I guess we’ll wait and see what comes out of the studio in the future. I really like that release though.
Jake: No idea, I guess see what happens when we get in there. We haven’t had an opportunity to get into the studio recently which is frustrating. When we do I think the focus right now should be to get some more music done with Naomi and some new versions and edits of released tunes to do in the live set.
Do you have any more releases in the pipeline this year?
Yeah, We’ve got a Futureboogie release coming up and a couple of remixes to do which we’re both excited about. We love doing remixes — it’s like taking apart a puzzle and inventing a new one.
Last message to LWE readers?
Matt: Check out Outboxx.co.uk for more info and thanks for reading/listening.