The relaunch of legendary label, Liquid Sound Design [LSD] coincides with next month’s London event, Elixir of Life. With label architect, Youth [aka Martin Glover] at the helm, the city braces itself for a chill-out revival, long-overdue.
The invisible man behind countless productions, Youth has cross-pollinated worlds; working seamlessly from the depths of the underground to the highest echelons of the music business.
He broke new ground with the launch of Liquid Sound Design back in 1998: a successful outlet for releasing soundscapes by artists like Dub Trees (feat. Greg Hunter), Alex Paterson, Ott, Youth himself and many others that later included Suns of Arqa, Brother Culture and Tripswitch.
Those dubtastic soundscapes crossed alternating dimensions and ruled the city’s chill out rooms and post club vibe. LSD members became part of the furniture at shenanigans like Return to the Source, inspiring the formation of the label, which gave the underground a vibrant surge of colour as it stormed to the peak of its time.
This was the beginning of something beautiful. So as Youth swung open the doors to his Brixton-based Butterfly Studios, in swarmed half of London’s squat party scene. It became the chrysalis from which many respected luminaries have emerged.
LSD has been through its incarnations since: rebranding, and now re-surging as it goes back to its roots. Talking to Youth about the relaunch of LSD triggered a trip down memory lane too. He spoke to Anu Shukla of times past, present, future – including unique collaborations and production of the new Pink Floyd album, out next month.
So let’s dive straight in and talk about LSD. Tell us about the artists and projects on the label – and what inspired the relaunch…
Okay, so the decision to relaunch has been brewing for a year or so. Serendipity and cosmic coincidence convinced me that the time is now. We’re ready to unleash some seriously beautiful, mind-altering music with beats and bass to blow your mind into unknown dimensions.
We’ve been unearthing and attracting some young blood to the label and felt the time was right to share this. Right now, we’re working on an up-coming compilation of new and established talent and material. Tentatively titled, ‘Phoenixity,” will be released early next year. To launch the relaunch, we’ve got a special release collaboration between Suns of Arqa, Youth, Raja Ram and The Orb. The album’s called “All is not Lost but Where is it?” and features special guest, John Cooper Clarke.
The direction will be down tempo, pushing the boundaries of genre and redefining the art of chill. Albums in production include a collaboration between Mixmaster Morris, Youth and various other luminaries.
We hope to have some older LSD illuminii collaborating on a few dub plates. We really do realise it’s a crazy time to be relaunching a label when most are shutting down but we have confidence in this team and collective of artists.
Now let’s talk about the line-up that you’ve curated for the Chill Room at next month’s Elixir… Which LSD artists do you have in store for us sir?
We’ll have a stellar line up on the night including the legendary Suns of Arqa! There’ll also be another legend, Mixmaster Morris who I’m collaborating with on a new album for LSD, myself DJing and new young bucks, Cosmic Trigger who will be doing an interactive DJ performance. They’re also working on some upcoming releases for LSD…
We know that dub is something that’s always been very close to your heart. Killing Joke in Dub recites the story well. It’s very exciting to hear you’ll bring the project to Elixir. Tell us more about this dubtastic revival.
Dub has been the centre of gravity for my production work since I was 17. Dub still provides inspiration and informs all my production work whether its the Verve or the Orb. I always start with a bass line and a great beat. Releasing Killing Joke in Dub this year has seen the completion on an epic dub song cycle that spans from the first Killing Joke single, Turn to Red in ’78, right through to 2014. It’s over three CDs worth of classic and new dub remixes and spans our entire career. It was very satisfying to work on and fulfilling to see it unleashed to great acclaim this year.
When we think LSD – we also think Butterfly Studios Brixton!!! You opened up a whole new world of music production to the ‘underground community’ back in the day: Simon Posford, Joti Sidhu, the Orb and countless other luminaries would visit the studios to hone their production skills. Tell us about that time and why it was so important.
It has been a great privilege to become a pioneer in the formation of these now well-established genres.The dream then, back in the early 90s, of being able to have the technology to record an album on a laptop half-way up a mountain, or even having an iPod (we used to joke that one day you’d be able to carry 50 albums in your pocket on chips!) – has all been realised long ago now… So we really are living the dream in the sense that technology has really allowed us to make these dreams a reality.
Unfortunately this has also coincided with the demise of big studios and people not buying music which, has been really tough in just making ends meet for most artists but has resulted in some fantastic creative new models of engagement. I have called this a cultural shift towards a “consumer-less market” which may indeed be a greater good, but I have found I still like stuff like vinyl and CDs and I sense many other people do too… And this is where we will still keep our focus: on how we move forward as a label as well as with live events – hence making beautiful music available in various formats.
Butterfly studios was an epic experiment, ambitious with a revolutionary agenda. Inspired by The Beatles Apple label, shop and studio where we had an open-house philosophy towards creating a community of artists and a Hermann Hesse-like ambition of creating an academy of illumini working within music, art and culture.
There were five studios at Butterfly, which facilitated many artists around the Dragon Fly label and beyond. This quickly mushroomed (no pun intended!) into the various other labels such as Twisted, Tip and Flying Rhino splintering off on their own. We had an inclusive policy and a free vegetarian meal was provided everyday by our cooks Mr and Mrs Chan and resident in-house guru, Baba Jeff to whoever wanted it. Sometimes we had over 30 people a day.
A multi-racial staff and women running it all, this was revolutionary in itself at the time as you would rarely, if ever, see anything other than white faces working labels or professional studios back then. This worked great for about six years and then the studio began losing a lot of money… Up to £20k a month(!) – largely due to a large operating staff of label managers, studio managers and engineers, assistants… It took me six weeks of expensive therapy to get the confidence and clarity to shut it down. Luckily I was making a lot of money at the time producing and mixing many hits, so could roll with it, but it was the sense of failure that made it so hard to do.
Twenty years later, Butterfly has morphed into Space Mountain/ El Mirador Studios, which I designed and built in Granada Spain. Half of the funding came from the sale of Butterfly Brixton. Like a phoenix rising, this has now become one of the best studios I’ve ever been in, and I’ve been in a few I can tell you! With state of the art design and technology and 30 mile views down the valley towards the high sierras, set within 40 acres of verdant wilderness, so we cant disturb anyone for about a mile…
And in London with the rise of technology and home recording I now train up a small army of potential illuminii at my home studio on their laptops. It’s a strange place to find myself but I love it and there’s some incredible young talent hungry to achieve something out there in the world today and very few producers or writers do it… It’s also passing on the knowledge in the tradition of the old masters.
Random question: By the way, what’s the secret to fighting procrastination and keeping up the creative flow?
Discipline unlocks creativity… Unfortunately, we think music and art will set our creativity free on a fast track without boundaries – and sometimes it does… However, to sustain it, or to even get it off the ground requires vast amounts of dedication, devotion and discipline. The artist’s visionary path is fraught with massive challenges, always has been… Your determination, resilience and vision are tested to their limits. Only discipline, focus and positivity will get you through it.
Also, keeping inspiration flowing is a 24/7 gig, which requires you to absorb vast amounts of art, music, literature and all the other stuff that keeps you challenged and motivated to create. It’s the best and worst of jobs… You have to be uncompromising and selfish to achieve this, and it’s very tough on partners.
So we hear you’ve been in the studio with Alex working on another project… Exciting stuff. What do we have to look forward to?
Well the next Orb project I’m involved with is actually a film… Top secret at the moment but very exciting. I’m always popping in and out of the studio with Alex so it’s an on-going journey. Really looking forward to Killing Joke in Dub gigs with him. His deck skills are getting ridiculously good – he’s up to four turntables now I think!
You’ve also been busy producing the latest Pink Floyd album, which is out next month. An incredible collaboration. How were you approached for this project and did you challenge the band members with any crazy antics a la Crowded House?
Pink Floyd is a lifetime high for me as far as production goes and again I’m very privileged and honoured to be able to work with such incredible artists and at that level. They approached me as production is generally a party you have to be invited to…
Yes I’m always open, honest and challenging with the artists I work with. Hopefully I’ve learned some tact and diplomacy, especially when working with artists of that caliber. David Gilmour is frank, brutally honest, uncompromising and super focused… He’s also used to getting his own way… A lot! So whatever suggestions I made, they had to be good, even if we didn’t use them. There were some radical suggestions that got through and I’m pleased to say the album is incredible: everything I would want from a new Floyd release… And i learnt so much from just being in the room… Floyd’s production criteria is the benchmark. Its unbelievably high… So no pressure really… Intense!
So from high-profile commercial projects to the depths of the underground (and vice-versa): did you at any point sense a conflict between these two worlds? How did you keep the balance and the symbiosis intact without ‘selling out’ so to speak?
Well I have my own criteria for keeping it real and that has stood me in good stead over the years… It’s actually the dynamic shifts between genres and different bands that keeps me fresh and constantly challenged. I’ve always resisted being typecast and I’m very wilful when it comes to realising my own vision and others’. From the off I’ve worked at breaking down stereotypes and cliches and do it the way I see it…. I take it ( the work) very seriously but try hard not to take myself too seriously – a good dry sense of humour helps – and staying positive. Defining boundaries always helps as does smashing them down, its all cup and sword, push or pull, surfing the subtle currents that flow… Calibrating your intuition, going deep, raising your awareness, Sometimes making it happen other times letting it happen… It’s magic.
Keeping it real is no easy feat – yet you’ve kept a foot in two very different worlds: opened opportunities for artists of the underground while continued to work with high-ranking talents in the commercial sphere. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt from the intense journey you’ve traveled over the last three decades?
Really simple: let nature be your guide. Create little eco systems that feed into each other both internally and externally, create dynamics, go outside your comfort zone, don’t borrow, steal but only from the best. Help people, always, don’t judge but be discerning. Above all challenge yourself and the status quo. Be fearless, take chances, find your courage… What you fear draw it near, so that you can overcome it… Follow the sun and let the shadows fall behind you.