Known collectively as Bandulu Gang; Kahn, Neek, Boofy and Hi5ghost have played a huge part in building an important hub for instrumental UK grime in Bristol.
As well as releasing between them on key labels like Deep Medi and Innamind, and operating under a number of aliases, including Young Echo, Wu Yen, O$VMV$M and Gorgon Sound, they all also run their own record labels. Kahn and Neek head up Bandulu Records and Young Echo, while Boofy runs Sector 7 Sounds alongside Lemzley Dale, and Hi5ghost runs PaperCranes.
Keeping things strictly DIY, Bandulu and a network of friends have built a healthy micro industry for underground music in Bristol
Keeping things strictly DIY, Bandulu and a network of friends have built a healthy micro industry for underground music in Bristol. Their own labels combined with friends’ imprints, such as Hotline, Pearly Whites and NoCorner, make up a network of truly underground labels who have been working together for the best part of a decade to drive the Bristol scene forward. Now, eyes are turned west from London for current movements in instrumental grime.
eyes are turned west from London for current movements in instrumental grime
Not only are Bandulu influencing a younger generation of producers, who frequently cite them as a major inspiration, they are using their now well-established platform to help bring younger artists through. They regularly cut tracks from unknown producers to dubplate, and recently invited up-and-coming local producers Drone, LUCY, Sir Hiss and Bengal Sound to play a Bandulu Records takeover at Trinity.
Not only are Bandulu influencing a younger generation of producers (…) they are using their now well-established platform to help bring younger artists through
‘We have a bit of a platform now to help promote other artists and I think we’re conscious to try and use that as much as we can,’ says Kahn. ‘We’re playing their tunes in sets, so if we’re pushing them through in that way, what’s the point in just playing their tracks?’
‘We shouldn’t just be playing their songs,’ Neek agrees, ‘we should be giving them an opportunity to play their own music. It’s not conceited, it’s an organic thing of we like their music and we wanted to give them the opportunity to play at a venue that not many people get to play from out of nowhere.’
‘It was about recognising what we’ve got here for the younger generation,’ says Boofy. ‘They’re all good producers and sick DJs. Not many people that young have the opportunity to play at Trinity. It’s a massive venue and it takes certain nights to be able to fill it out enough. For me, first time I played Trinity was amazing.’
While putting on regular events isn’t a route that Bandulu want to go down, they host a couple of special events a year that aim to encourage the community vibe that Bristol has quite famously lost since the days of Subloaded – the Pinch-run Bristol alternative to London’s legendary FWD>> nights.
While Bristol is rife with excellent small and big venues, relentless venue closures over the years has left us with a lack of something in between. This has made it hard for nights to sustainably grow to the point of a musical movement, as dubstep was able to 10 years ago.
‘Even though there are a lot of good people coming to Bristol’ says Hi5ghost, ‘No one wants to go to Motion every weekend, despite how good of a lineup it is.’
‘When I was growing up, there were good medium sized clubs and I think they were a good starting point for people,’ says Boofy. ‘Obviously we do have great small venues, but there’s no in between for that kind of thing anymore. It’s either a really small club that gets packed within five minutes, or too big of a space that is painful if it’s not full.
If we’ve got the capacity to put on these nights, I’d rather do that than let everything go to fucking flats
‘I think in a way if we didn’t put on the Bandulu nights, there wouldn’t be much for that kind of sound. If we’ve got the capacity to put on these nights, I’d rather do that than let everything go to fucking flats to be honest.’
However, Bandulu do have plenty of praise for several nights across various genres going on in Bristol at the moment, big and small. They also aren’t willing to blame the growing student masses as the sole threat Bristol’s music scene, as people often do.
It’s been really important in Bristol’s history to allow the meeting of both locals and students
‘It’s been really important in Bristol’s history to allow the meeting of both locals and students,’ says Kahn. ‘If you look at artists like Pinch, Peverelist or Appleblim, for example, they didn’t actually grow up in Bristol. They were here as students or otherwise but they integrated themselves with what was going on in the city and now they’re identified as classic Bristol artists. It’s about integrating students with the local scene. You can’t let it go too much either way, because if it’s just Bristol people it kind of gets stale and peters out because there are not enough people in the city to sustain it. You need the student crowd and the interest from that community, but at the same time, if it’s too student-y, it puts off people like us who have been going to those nights for years.’
‘It’s a weird knock on effect of having such a healthy scene at one point that everyone wants to suddenly move to Bristol,’ says Boofy. ‘That’s when you see housing going up and venues getting shut down, because they need space for all these people wanting to come to the city.
‘When all the dubstep nights were popping and it was still quite fresh, Bristol had a mad hold on that. We had Punch Drunk, and Tectonic was bashing out release after release, which were all classics all at once.’
that was such a fertile period. There was so much stuff going on and it wasn’t basic copies of things, it was interesting boundary-pushing stuff
‘It’s mad to think,’ says Kahn. ‘Even earlier when I was packing my records for a set, looking at all the different stuff from 2008 and 2009, that period, it makes you realise. At the time you just feel like that’s what’s happening, but when you look back now, it’s like, fucking hell that was such a fertile period. There was so much stuff going on and it wasn’t basic copies of things, it was interesting boundary-pushing stuff.’
It’s not hard to imagine that in ten years, we’ll be looking back at this as another golden era for Bristol grime and dubstep, or possibly even the beginnings of an evolved sound that doesn’t differentiate between the two. All four producers are associated with both 140bpm genres and much of the music coming out of the Bandulu camp seems to fall somewhere between the two.
All four producers are associated with both 140bpm genres and much of the music coming out of the Bandulu camp seems to fall somewhere between the two
It’s appropriate then that Bandulu are returning to bass-heavy one-dayer Sequences Festival at Motion this month for a stage take over, but this time alongside dubstep institution Deep Medi. Between the two labels, they’re bringing in the likes of Commodo, Egoless, Dubkasm and Mungo’s HiFi; with, of course, sets from all of Bandulu and Medi label boss Mala.
‘We’re combining the two brands and bringing together our friends and people on our labels at Sequences,’ says Neek.
‘The fact that we’re all playing on the same sound system is a translation of how both sounds go together. It’s the same spectrum of sound,’ says Boofy.
‘When we first started out DJing and buying records,’ says Neek, ‘we didn’t necessarily differentiate between grime and dubstep as two separate things. Playing a grime record and a dubstep record next to each other wasn’t out of the ordinary. And the first DJs that I saw and responded to the most were doing that and mixing those things together.’
When we first started out DJing and buying records, we didn’t necessarily differentiate between grime and dubstep
‘If you think about the early FWD>> nights, some of the most legendary sessions were when artists like Skepta would turn up and people would be mixing grime alongside the early dubstep tunes’ says Kahn.
‘It wasn’t so defined as these are the traits of dubstep and these are the traits of grime,’ says Neek. ‘When they started to brand it and give it formulas, the music lost a lot. But when dubstep disappeared and became a bit of a bad word, it allowed the music to go back into a creative zone rather than people trying to make money out of it. So that combined with grime getting popular again, means we’re now in a fertile place and there is interesting music coming out.
‘Whatever you want to call it, whether it is grime or dubstep, I don’t think we’re conscious of it having to be either. If we can mix it and we can play it in our sets, then we’ll put it out.’
Whatever you want to call it, whether it is grime or dubstep, I don’t think we’re conscious of it having to be either. If we can mix it and we can play it in our sets, then we’ll put it out
‘It’s a product of our inspiration and our influences,’ says Hi5ghost. ‘From years of listening to grime and dubstep and not really separating either, then making your own thing from that, it falls somewhere in between.’
‘It’s not necessarily a new sound,’ says Neek. ‘It’s more of an evolution of where dubstep and grime is at now. The lines are blurred again, which is the interesting bit. What was so exciting when we first got into it is that these are two genres that are the same speed but are quite different. But they blurred together when you mix them, producers from both genres worked with each other, or a dubstep producer worked with a grime MC… And it seems to have gone back to that.’
‘It’s a new sound for Bristol,’ says Boofy. ‘We were never really taken seriously by anyone else before that, London was the hub for grime – that’s where it started and that’s where everyone focussed on. When we started making grime a bit more wide and records were actually starting to go, that’s when people started taking it seriously. And I don’t want to say it’s just us, but at the time I can’t remember many other people making grime outside of our circle in Bristol.
Bristol grime hit the nail on the head. By the first or second Bandulu record, people were paying attention
‘I don’t think it’s been a completely new concept, because the sounds are all inspired by old sublow sounds, before grime was called grime. If you go anywhere throughout England – Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield; everyone has got their own kind of thing. It’s just that Bristol grime hit the nail on the head. By the first or second Bandulu record, people were paying attention.
In terms of what’s coming next on Bandulu, they remain typically tight lipped about what’s in the pipeline due to contract issues, although they hint at something big on its way after summer, and Neek promises more Bandulu releases before the end of the year.
‘It’s never been about rushing records out for us,’ says Neek. ‘We’re not trying to churn out records. We might have an idea and sit on it for six months or a year before we even start to get it going. It’s just when we have tunes that we really feel need to be out there.’
It’s never been about rushing records out for us
Photos by Dominika Scheibinger