Bristol producer Courtney Beckford is best known as Hi5ghost, although he also operates under more secretive alias Wu Yen. Both have been making waves on the underground scene in Bristol and further afield, with regular appearances on Rinse FM as Hi5ghost – his grime and dubstep leaning moniker. Plus a lot of love for his Noire EP released last year under the more experimental Wu Yen on his own PaperCranes label.
He first appeared on our radar in 2014 with his breakthrough track Kung Fu Kick on Bandulu Records, and now he’s back with another release on the fan-worshiped vinyl-only label. His 4-track EP Holy I$$h, released at the end of October, features three original compositions and a fierce Lemzly Dale remix of the title track.
Holy I$$h, released at the end of October, features three original compositions and a fierce Lemzly Dale remix of the title track
Although Holy I$$h has been on dubplate rotation for a while now and Scorpion’s Mask came out with Kahn and Neek’s Fabriclive 90 last year, the final track Death Con 5 is new and unheard, created especially for this EP.
‘It was something we had in the pipeline for a while,’ explains Courtney. ‘It was just waiting for the right time to put it out. Scorpion’s Mask, at the time, was going to be the A-side, until Lemzly Dale did the Holy I$$h remix. Some people will have heard some of those tunes before – that’s why I made the last tune, Death Con, just for this EP.’
The EP closely follows a release on Ossia’s Hotline last July, as well as a significant increase in SoundSloud activity from the producer. Although Courtney says that this is the sum of a couple of years of hard work, rather than a major increase in studio time or reaching a point where he is able to finish tunes more speedily.
I’m trying to make sure I am a little bit more consistent, but I’m still sitting on some tunes that are ready to go
‘I’ve been trying to be more active – I’m not making any music any quicker! With the recent releases, that’s stuff that’s been in the pipeline for maybe a year or two. I’m trying to make sure I am a little bit more consistent, but I’m still sitting on some tunes that are ready to go. I’m trying not to put something out straight away, I want to give things a bit more shelf life.’
If you think you are noticing the same names cropping up across the darker, bass-driven electronic music scene in Bristol, you’re not wrong. Courtney and a large circle of friends have created a much-welcomed monopoly of DIY labels, which have been successfully competing with the majors in Bristol for years. Members of this network can easily sell out the same size venue as a major label artist, record releases are marked in people’s diaries and crash websites, and fans are generally shared across the spectrum.
Courtney and a large circle of friends have created a much-welcomed monopoly of DIY labels, which have been successfully competing with the majors in Bristol for years
Courtney is an original member of Bandulu Gang, along with Kahn, Neek and Boofy. Extended family includes Lemzly Dale, OH91, Breen, Gemmy and Oats – and more recently, Sheffield native Commodo, who provided a remix of Kahn’s Fierce on Bandulu 008. There are also crossovers with the Young Echo collective, with a growing family tree of labels, brands and offshoots between them.
While Courtney heads up his PaperCranes label, Boofy and Lemzly Dale run Sector 7 Sounds, as well as Lemzly Dale running his own Pearly Whites; Kahn and Neek oversee Bandulu Records as well as being part of an 11-strong joint effort on Young Echo Records, and Ossia is pulling some significant weight with No Corner, Lava Lava, Peng Sound and FuckPunk, as well as Hotline Recordings.
This not only provides them all with ongoing business, but also creates a larger platform for fans to find their music. While each of them takes a unique approach to making music, they are united in a shared ethos on the kinds of music they put out, with influences generally evolving out of the dubstep and grime scenes. This means that if you like the sounds one is making, there’s a good chance you’ll appreciate those of the extended network.
Because we’re all really close friends, it was to help build the Bristol scene a little bit
‘Because we’re all really close friends, it was to help build the Bristol scene a little bit. We all release on each other’s labels, so we’re all providing each other with work and it’s making it easier for gigs and bookings and stuff.
‘Creating my own label was also a little bit of a challenge to myself to try and be organised and do something I’ve never done before. It was good to step into the other side of music, speaking to mastering companies and speaking to distributors – seeing how that side of music works instead of just tapping on a keyboard.’
While Courtney is now known almost exclusively for his production skills, he actually entered the music scene as an MC. His uncle is Smith & Mighty’s Peter D. Rose, who played a significant part in the sound that was coming out of Bristol in the 90s, which is what sparked Courtney’s initial interest in music and writing lyrics.
‘My uncle was definitely a big inspiration – being around him all the time. He used to make drum and bass and trip hop. But on the production side it was more being around some of my peers, like Kahn. I was trying to make an EP with him at the time when I was still MCing, but because of the time it was taking, I decided to write my own instrumentals.
‘The whole intention at the time was to write my own instrumentals and spray bars on top of them, but I never got to writing them. As soon as I started making tunes that I was happy with, I stopped writing lyrics.’
As soon as I started making tunes that I was happy with, I stopped writing lyrics
As well as pushing his own projects, Courtney is currently studying for a degree in Music Production and Engineering at dBs Music Bristol to help hone his skills even further. Beat making holds his complete attention at the moment, which means we’re unlikely to see him cropping up as a guest MC any time soon. In fact, Courtney is so enamored with that side of things now that he struggles to work with vocals at all.
‘Maybe on a drunken night if a mic falls in my hand I’ll MC, but not intentionally. I do think about it every now and then – the whole idea behind the Wu Yen project was so that I could start rapping again, but once I finish making beats, I’m so attached to them that I just can’t get myself round to writing lyrics for them.
The way I like to work with vocals is to write the instrumental around it, instead of making the beat first, because I feel like I fill up all that space where the vocals would be
‘There are loads of MCs that I respect and there are loads of MCs that I would love to work with, but the way I like to work with vocals is to write the instrumental around it, instead of making the beat first, because I feel like I fill up all that space where the vocals would be.
‘That makes it harder for me to approach MCs or vice versa. If they get in touch with me, I never really have anything ready or it just doesn’t fit together.’
However, the idea is not entirely out the window. Courtney tells us that one of the end goals for his Wu Yen project is to work with more abstract vocalists like singers and spoken word artists.
‘Wu Yen for me is more experimental. There are no rules. When I first started, it was trying to be a little bit trappy, a little bit hip hop, but the more I’ve been shown different types of music – everything from hardcore rock to electronic sirens and all that kind of stuff, it’s making me want to take all those elements which I find interesting and do something slightly different.
Wu Yen for me is more experimental. There are no rules
‘I don’t feel pressured to do a certain thing, whereas with Hi5ghost, I feel like I’ve been pigeon holed a little bit to only producing grime or dubstep, and if I do anything outside of that the people who like that sound might not be into it. So it’s easier to separate them than try and do it all under the same name.
‘If I could get away with wearing a mask, I would, and keep it even more secretive. But I definitely want to try and keep Hi5ghost and Wu Yen as separate as possible. The reason for it is because I want people to listen to either music with unbiased opinion, and not like one because they know me from one style, or dislike one because they know me from one style.’
If I could get away with wearing a mask, I would
Fans of both Wu Yen and Hi5ghost can rest easy, because Courtney doesn’t have any intention of retiring either alias any time soon.
‘As you get a bit older, your taste matures a bit more and the way I approach every song changes. I do want to try and keep the whole grime thing going – I’ve grown up with grime since I was 12 years old and it’s something I’ve always wanted to be a part of. I still want to write club music, but at the same time, I want to make some stuff that my parents can listen to on a Sunday, or you can listen to in the car and not feel like you have to go out to a club straight after.’
I still want to write club music, but at the same time, I want to make some stuff that my parents can listen to on a Sunday
This upwards trajectory for Courtney looks pretty solidly set to continue, with another new release in the pipeline for 2018. Although he can’t say yet which label is releasing it, you can probably guess between a few.
‘It’s a slightly different take on what I’ve been writing lately. I’ve been playing the tunes out a lot anyway, so when the time does come, some people might recognise them.
‘I feel like it’s not a typical track I would make. It’s almost a kind of hybrid between the Wu Yen stuff and the Hi5ghost bits, just at a faster tempo. The EP isn’t finished, I’ve still got to knock out another two tunes for it, but it’s halfway there.’
Words by Rachel Morris
Photography by Dominika Scheibinger