GET TO KNOW: BADGER
Creating a unique and hard to pinpoint sound is Bristol-based producer, Badger, and after a transition of aliases and a redesign of sound, we caught up with him to discuss his background and style in production, the changes in processes and motions in this digital era and what’s been going on behind the sounds
Known primarily for drum and bass bits under the name Marsh, the switch to Badger last year saw a smooth transition in sound design and genre direction. Alex's productions now see a more ambient and atmospheric UKG sound being brought through, with a fervent display in approaching each track with a constant unique and uncategorizable wave crashing down on each one.
Although before that, he used to grace microphones on drum and bass sets: “It was partly laziness, I was kinda too lazy to learn to DJ cos it seemed really hard to me. So I’d just jump on as an MC, it was kinda a jokey thing to start, just a joke with mates, have a drink have a smoke and spit some bars. Then it was like, there were a few mates that had sets, I was drunk and I’d just kinda jump on, and it seemed to go really well. First year of Bristol it was kinda like Blue Mountain and Lakota. Actually did Motion at the end of the year, two hour set at Motion. Main room as well. A two hour jump up set MCing, so that was me at like 19 doing that.
“Start of second year I was like okay, I need to learn to DJ now. I'm making my own music, I wanna be able to play it. There’s only so far you can go with shouting down a mic to jump up, I don’t know. So I kinda sacked that off, learnt to DJ and that went quite well. First year of uni was like drum and bass MC, second year of uni was drum and bass DJ/MC and producer, and then third year came.
“I realised I didn’t really wanna pursue drum and bass as my only thing full time. Coming from a bit of a musical background, singing and playing guitar and a few other instruments, I wanted to try and incorporate that into productions and then DJ that, cos it felt a bit more fulfilling.”
IT'S KIND OF A COMPLIMENT BUT KIND OF NOT
Now Badger has come to the forefront and garage swamps the monitors. Through social connections and internet-derived relationships, his newer releases began to gain more coverage and appearances across the channels : “I had been chatting to Bitr8, he’s a resident at Switch, he’d been doing bits for a while. I used to send him my drum and bass and other tunes just for feedback, and then there was this one garage tune that I’d sent him. He was like, this is sick, I’ve got a few contacts that I can send this to, I know some people who might like this to play out. Then a couple weeks later I got a phone call by Gavin Ford.
“He was like, I heard this garage tune, I really like this, just started up a garage label. Obviously he’d been doing Yosh for a while, said he was just starting a subsidiary label called Garage Shared. I’d like to sign this track, and maybe start working with you a bit more if you have more stuff, and it kinda went from there really.”
A peculiar thing is the production process. Not one size fits all. Alex seems to let the natural motions take the wheel: “It’s normally if I’ve not been able to sit down on my computer and work on a tune for a bit. So say if I go back to Brighton for like a week or two, obviously my monitors are here in Bristol, so if I go back to Brighton, I can mess around with stuff but only really through headphones. I won’t put too much effort into anything cos I don’t actually know how it sounds properly.
“So I’ll be in Brighton like catching up with mates, not really producing and I’ll come back after a couple weeks, sit down, and it’s almost like my mind kinda switches off. It’s really weird, I’ll sit down and I’ll just be messing around with some samples or messing around with my keyboard, maybe guitar, trying to just play some shit. Get a weird little thing I can loop or turn it into a drop or a section or whatever. Say it’s midday on a Saturday, and then I’ll blink a few times and it’s like 8 in the evening, haven’t eaten anything or drank any water and it's like oh shit, I’ve actually got something quite mad here I think. I need to eat some food now.
“It is the ones where I don’t really know what I'm gonna make, I'm gonna chuck some ideas down, and sounds a bit airy fairy but like let the tune take me in the direction, follow it where it feels right, where it should go and see what happens. Sometimes it’ll be some really weird niche thing that no one wants to sign because it's not even really a genre, but then sometimes it's like, oh shit, it’s quite marketable. Such and such might play this in a club, that kinda thing, it really varies.”
I FEEL QUITE BLESSED TO HAVE SOMETHING THAT I REALLY KNOW I WANT TO DO
Badger’s approach comes as a refreshing outlook amongst the saturation of the digital music market. A different motivation is required to kickstart a new alias: “In terms of the world seeing Badger, the first actual release as Badger was the 26th of July 2019. So I’m almost a year in as Badger. I’ve had my head down, I’ve been obsessively focused and driven. Working part time, and other than that I’m just churning out tunes really, it seems to be working so far, I hope my motivation doesn’t stop.
“You have to have that vision. I guess envision yourself being there before it’s even come close to happening, just work towards it and fucking try make it happen. I feel quite blessed to have something that I really know I want to do, cos I’ve got a lot of mates who kind of like, they wanna do something but they don’t know what yet. I think the people that have realised that, especially ones that are striving towards creative things, we’re all very lucky.”
Striving for something that essentially forms a genre-less pool of sounds, seems to not be a product of a planned motive, but more the result of the natural processes that are drawn from his brain: “Not to blow my own trumpet, but some of that stuff I've sent to labels, have essentially said it’s too original to sign. It’s kind of a compliment but kind of not. I sent it to a few labels, and they were like, well we’re a garage based and grime label and you’ve sent me a bunch of tracks that are a little bit like those but they’re also not a genre. The guy said it like, it’s more just experimental dance music.
“I can see that the drums are a bit like garage but it’s just experimental dance music, and we’re a garage grime and bass label, so sorry [laughs]. It’s kinda a compliment but it’s kinda like shit, I don’t know where to go with that.”
Now with the platform of live streaming being more prevalent than ever, the pros and cons of this new digital era seem to be put on display for us all: “It’s negative and positive. I mean, back in the day it’s like, I don’t even know just word of mouth and posters. In terms of releases, you’d have to go into record shops, listen to the radio and fish it out and kinda decipher yourself and listen.
“I guess chat to the guys who worked at the record shop, and if there was a good gig you'd actually have to stop and look at the all the posters and be like, that looks cool. Whereas now people will be drinking in, I don’t know, student halls or a flat or whatever until like 11, then go on Facebook events, drum and bass, going, buy a ticket for a fiver and then you go. It’s definitely a different world now.”
What comes with a saturation of any type of scene or community is the need to stand out from the rest, whilst what is popular at the time might not what you want to be producing: “I remember my first couple years at uni, in terms of thinking about what scene I wanted to
be a part of and how I might get into it, it did all seem very one dimensional. It’s like you made bassline with a 4x4 kick, or you made jump up. I feel like garage and this whole rollers thing, whatever that is, genre or not, it wasn’t really there.
“It kinda got a bit more mixed especially in terms of like the ‘main’ thing that was getting put out, in terms of like the younger community, Lengoland, Off Me Nut type thing, but now it seems much more open. If you go to a set and you know exactly what you’re gonna get, say the 4x4 kick, load of mid range wubs made on Massive for like an hour, that’s boring innit, but if there’s a little bit of that, then it’s gonna switch up and that kinda thing, it’s good. Literally now, you have bassline artists putting out tech house tunes.”
One platform that is encouraging producers to step out of their comfort zone is U K, G?, a brand that Alex shows full support for: “He’s really trying to push producers going out of their comfort zone, making something a bit different type thing. He’s got a music series starting soon, basically I sent him demos of an EP just to say like, have a listen, it’s kinda weird like gimme your feedback. So then one of those tracks on there actually inspired him to make this music series he’s starting soon, like a YouTube branch off from the clothing brand and all the Instagram stuff. It’s tunes from artists that you wouldn’t expect, it’s tunes that their production or the genre is well out of their comfort zone.
“I think I'm going to be the first release on that. There’s a bunch of artists much bigger than me that have done tunes way what you wouldn’t expect, which is really cool. I feel like he’s definitely helping to pioneer things and keep things really fresh and different, in terms of setting up this platform for artists, cos it’s like I was saying with tunes that’d I’d send to labels and they’re like, this is basically too weird or too original. He’s actually saying yeah I want that, I welcome that. If you’re a big artist and you know you’ve got a tune that if you’d put it out, say that they’re expecting some foghorn or they’re expecting a bassline lenger from you, and if you put it out and they wouldn’t really get it, like come to me. Let’s put it on this platform and kinda see what happens. So shout out Morgan for that, that’s fucking sick.”
I'D MADE SO MUCH NEW AND DIFFERENT SHIT
The production game and the music industry as more of an umbrella term are constantly evolving and changing fields. Lessons are to be learned and the progression will come soon after: “I’ve learnt that there’s no real rush to put tunes out as well. I used to be very, very impatient. I’d make a tune, this tune is finished now, this needs to come out tonight. I wanna see the likes roll in, all this shit that basically means nothing. It’s like, no, wait until the times right, put it out, when you know it’s right and it really feels right, and I think those are the ones that kinda do the best.
“Another example of that actually is with, ‘I Can’t Breath’, that tune that came out with Garage Shared in December. I had that finished about, I wanna say about five months before it came out, ready and finished for master, and I was so impatient. I really, really wanted it out and I didn’t really understand why they wanted to wait, but the label boys just said like, I don't think it’s quite right, let’s wait a little bit, honestly don't worry when the time is right, it will feel right. I didn’t really get that, and then it did come out and it had almost got to the point where I was almost over the tune. In five months I’d made so much new and different shit, my production to me sounds shit on that now. Obviously, it’s constantly evolving, like I didn’t compress the hi hat properly, it’s just random little shit like that.”
Seeing tracks reach little milestones and achievements can be a big confidence boost, or a motivator to keep it going: “Then it (I Can’t Breath) came out and went to 14 on the Beatport garage charts and then fucking Toddla T played it on Radio One which is fucking nuts. Never would have expected that, I really didn’t expect that for my second single, that really confirmed to me like yeah, you definitely made the right choice in changing to Badger and just changing the sound. Second single to have out and have that kinda result fucking blew my mind. I remember I was on a train back to Brighton actually, it was an Instagram story from a label and it was like shout out to Toddla T for spinning two tracks that have been released on our label. I was like hang on, I paused the Instagram story, I was like wait my tune has been ID’d in this track list for Toddla T and Radio 1. I was like what the fuck, jumped on and checked, I listened to it four or five times and double checked the name was right and was like, are you sure you’re not just on some Soundcloud mix?
“I didn’t get it, I double checked cos I was so sure I was wrong. I was like, oh my god, I think I can actually announce that now. I just wanna keep trying to get that result again I guess, hopefully I've not peaked and I’m now on my way down. We’ll see, we’ll see.”
July 3rd 2020