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Young Echo is the signature of an 11-strong collective of producers, vocalists and poets based in and around Bristol. Its members, including Kahn and Neek, and Peng Sound label owner Ossia, are all independently making waves on the underground with releases between them on Deep Medi, Tectonic and Fabric, to name a few.
Now, they’re putting their best foot forward as a group, for the first time since loosely forming in 2010. They’ve just launched their own label, debuting in November last year with Rider Shafique’s outstanding I-Dentity, and are poised to release their second Young Echo album this year.
We managed to get seven of the crew together to chat about the new label, the new album and expanding their regular Young Echo parties. Joining Kahn, Neek, Rider Shafique, Chester Giles, Alex Rendell and Amos Childs (who record together as Jabu), and Ishan Sound in their Old Market studio; we opened some beers and got started with a few questions about I-Dentity.
It hasn’t gone unnoticed that their first track – introducing the fledgling label – bears a strong political message. Originally written as a social education piece and toured around schools and community groups, I-Dentity and its B-side Freedom Call deal with themes of cultural identity and racism. Forgoing his usual MC style, Rider Shafique delivers two powerful spoken word soliloquies, set to dark, atmospheric soundscapes.
It hasn’t gone unnoticed that their first track – introducing the fledgling label – bears a strong political message
‘Reggae music has always had a political message, hip hop as well,’ Rider explains. ‘That’s where I’m coming from. A lot of what I know about my identity and myself, I got through reggae and hip hop music. I-Dentity is something new because I’d never really written spoken word or poetry like that, I’ve always been beat driven, but it’s just the same.’
‘When discussing what the first release should be, it stood out massively,’ says Amos. ‘Part of the reason I-Dentity is such a strong track is because of its political message, but I don’t think that the idea is to have an emphasis on a political agenda. A lot of us come from musical backgrounds that are inherently political – Chester grew up with punk, me and Alex used to listen to hip hop, so it’s maybe not explicit a lot of the time, but it runs through a lot of the music that we all really like.’
As a group, the collective have a shared hunger for experimental, sometimes challenging production (their first album opens with a six-minute drone meditation), especially within the Young Echo setting, which seems to nurture a punk-ish attitude of doing whatever the hell you want.
Kahn says: ‘It was important to us starting the label to be completely in control of it and not have to answer to anyone else about how we want to present it or what order you should do things, for example, that you sometimes come across with other labels.’
While the anti-establishment sentiment comes through crystal clear in Rider’s I-Dentity, it’s an attitude that transcends lyricism alone and seeps deep into the group’s productions as a whole.
‘As a producer I find that there’s a lot you can do with how your mindset is when you’re producing a track,’ says Ishan Sound. ‘But also the conversation you have with the vocalist you’re collaborating with. In that creative process together, there might be a context that you set with themes you are discussing.’
Ishan’s steppas might, on the surface, be very different to Kahn and Neek’s dark, dubby grime, but there’s no question of a common ground between Young Echo’s 11 members.
‘We work off in our different groups and different variations,’ says Kahn. ‘But it’s still very free and open. I think there’s just a naturally occurring something that binds it all together – in quite a loose way.’
Alex says, ‘I think it’s also a love of being creative and respecting each other’s creativity. That’s it for me, I just really up what everyone does.’
Ishan’s steppas might, on the surface, be very different to Kahn and Neek’s dark, dubby grime, but there’s no question of a common ground between Young Echo’s 11 members
Kahn continues: ‘Young Echo is kind of about challenging ourselves. We’re not all necessarily into the same music – there are areas where we cross over – but that’s what’s been interesting. Young Echo, certainly for me, has felt like a place to be experimental and free, aside from club music or any other things that we’re involved with individually. And it’s important to us to try and keep it as open as we can. It can be chaotic, but it’s also very creative as well.’
Fortunately for long-time fans, the creation of a Young Echo label doesn’t mean that the group is trying to converge their sounds – they recognise that these differences are in many ways their strengths. For instance, you might go to a Young Echo night to see Jabu and be introduced to something new entirely from the unseen Kahn catalogues, whether that’s a tune he’s working on or something he’s currently listening to.
To put that into context – recent Young Echo nights have seen Alex playing Alexander O’Neal, Kahn has been spinning 50s middle eastern music and Bollywood soundtracks from Nigeria, Amos has been known to put on Barry White at 33RPM, and Ishan reveals he has a ‘secret alias’ which he uses to make grungy electronic music.
‘Often labels and collectives have a common output,’ says Ishan. ‘Which I don’t think we have in terms of a genre or an audience we’re each individually trying to reach with our own projects or our group projects. The common element is the input that we have, listening to each other, and the respect everyone shows each other. Which is why we couldn’t run a house label or a dubstep label… it just wouldn’t work.’
Chester adds: ‘I think it’s a much more realistic representation of a scene. We are all peers, we go to the same shows, we go to the same dances, and we did that before Young Echo. You go to any group of people, and they’re not all interested in the same thing. We are a group of friends and our output is different, so it becomes interesting because it’s varied.’
‘We take a lot from each other, it is still a feedback loop between us all,’ says Amos. ‘There are different starting points for us – it’s not like we’re all making house tracks – but people might not realise what we’ve taken from each other.’
Historically, one of the most notable things about the Bristol music scene is its strong collaborative spirit; from the days of Fresh 4 to now, it’s much more commonplace to see an artist working across a number of different styles, projects and collectives, than to see someone pigeonholed into one genre.
‘There’s so much interesting stuff going on, you want to get involved in it even if you don’t necessarily want to make it the focus of your work,’ says Chester. ‘It’s so stimulating.’
‘Bristol is a small place – everyone calls it a big village,’ says Kahn. ‘A lot of us grew up together, and as Chester said, we’re a peer group first. Bristol is not as dog-eat-dog as somewhere like London is on the surface. You see the same faces around, so it’s naturally a friendly atmosphere.’
‘If someone builds something good in Bristol, it doesn’t seem like anyone has ever held onto that and made it exclusive or made themselves get rich off it,’ says Ishan.
‘We’re happy to see each other do well in general,’ says Kahn. ‘There’s no bad feelings. Or if you are like that, you get exposed quite quickly because everyone else is so chilled out.’
En masse, Young Echo could be seen as the poster boys for Bristol’s thriving DIY scene, where an independent artist can sell out the same size venue a major label-signed act does. Relying on pure hard work and word of mouth reputation, these boys are part a culture of booking, promoting and running your own shows.
‘You know if you’re going to start something in Bristol, it’s going to be supported,’ says Chester. ‘That’s what it’s all about – not just Young Echo, all of the other crews as well.’
‘I think it helps that there is more than just people making music here,’ adds Rider. ‘There’s somewhere they can play their music, there are record stores, there are different creatives around. Where I live, in Gloucester, it’s much more difficult. There are lots of people, for example, who are MCs or vocalists, but it ends there – there are no real producers, there’s no club and there’s nowhere to perform, so you have to branch out.’
‘Here, there are people that are making videos, people who are making beats, there are lots of vocalists, photographers… People who are doing things,’ says Amos. ‘And they’re all trying to do it themselves as well.
‘You want your friend who is a photographer to do well, so if you can give him photography work you give him work; you want your friend who is a graphic designer to do well so you give them work. Everyone is doing that all across the board, so it’s back and forth and it makes it a lot easier to do it yourself.’
‘The whole point of it is to just make cool shit, put it out and bypass the bullshit,’ says Kahn. ‘And I think as Rider said, not everywhere is like that and that’s what makes Bristol so special.’
‘Bristol’s beautiful because people gravitate towards it,’ says Ishan. ‘And so that kind of gives it a self-fulfilling prophecy.’
‘Bristol is very welcoming,’ says Kahn. ‘In week or so, you can get into things in the city if you just go to the clubs or the record stores. There’s ways to get into the scene if you want to, it’s not very cliquey.’
Alex adds: ‘Bristol has a long standing tradition of people making music and putting themselves on and creating a scene that’s been here long before any of us.’
The beginnings of the Young Echo collective can be traced pretty cleanly back to the monthly radio shows they started streaming in November 2010. Original Young Echo members Kahn, Ishan Sound, Amos Childs, Vessel and El Kid had previously just been swapping tracks on MySpace, until Neek, who has run the popular Sureskank nights since 2006, put on a night at Crash Mansion with all five of them on the bill. A week later, the first Young Echo radio show aired.
‘The radio show was about having somewhere – without the pressure of putting a club night on – to showcase all the different music we were working on. We didn’t know what it was going to be like, but it worked out really well,’ says Kahn.
‘Now that we’re older and have different commitments, they’re not very regular, but when we do get together to do them, it’s the same vibe – it’s just showcasing stuff that we’ve been working on and not really had a platform to play it on. I think we’re all writing music that the general people listening to us wouldn’t know about. Certainly for me and Sam (Neek), we get so known for just one type of thing that it’s quite refreshing and fun for us to go completely in a different direction and play completely different stuff.’
The monthly radio shows naturally grew into the Young Echo club nights we know today, Neek explains: ‘It evolved from being at Joe’s studio. We used to have a crowd there – it was on a Sunday but anyone could come. Ossia, who at the time wasn’t actually in the group, said he wanted to start a night where we were playing more experimental music. It fit in with the same vibe as the radio show, so we just took the name and used it.’
Many years on and with the group swollen in size, Young Echo are once again taking their sound outside the confines of the studio or club night, and finally putting out a second album.
‘We sleep on a lot of really good music,’ says Rider. ‘We do so much music together and a lot of it never gets released. Now that we have the label, we can release tracks that the world hasn’t heard. The second release is going to be an album.’
Their debut 2013 album Nexus, while still a strong and coherent record, was more of a compilation of work from the individual members. However, this time round, they’ve created tracks especially for the new album. In fact, some of the tracks came from a trip a few years ago to Wales, in a Frank-esque tale, which saw the group shut away from the world with nothing but their music for a week. Rider explains: ‘There was a few different houses, and we all stayed on the farm – away from the world so to speak – and made music for a week.’ He laughs: ‘And then didn’t do anything with it.’
‘A large majority of the music was made for the record,’ says Ishan. ‘I think that shows in the fact that I’ve never released any music with Neek, but there are bits that me and him have done together on there, and other link ups that haven’t happened before – not necessarily with the express: “It’s going to be on the record.”’
‘It’s all part of the creative process,’ says Kahn. ‘As you can imagine, with a crew of this size and trying to keep it completely democratic and everyone of equal status and everyone having the same input, it’s tough to make sense of sometimes. But those different studio combinations and people testing the limits of what they’ve tried doing creatively before – it’s all a process to the eventual product, which will be the album. So even if there’s a lot of material that doesn’t make it out in this package, it will all be part of a journey toward getting more of a set sound for this record. I think it’s definitely a massive step up from the first album. I’m excited about it.’
With the album due for release some time this year (‘hopefully soon’, says Kahn), the crew aren’t going to leave us completely hanging and have planned some bumper Young Echo nights over the next few months. Starting with a party at The Island on 24 February and with something planned every three months thereafter in May and August.
‘They’re going to be similar to the usual nights, but there will be an announced lineup, special guests and a bit more of a show,’ says Neek.
‘They’re going to be sick,’ says Ishan. ‘Bigger, more capacity, everyone’s going to come with special bits, special guests and a bit more of a live element – everyone bringing their full A game, basically.’
Article originally published in Nitelife February 2017