INTERVIEW: GREY TAPES | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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If you’re a fan of electronic music, you’ll have likely heard of Grey Tapes, or at least the band’s components. Formed in 2012 and based in Newcastle, the beat-making producer-led collective comprises of Mr Blazey, Bert Verso, Calum Howard and _Bain_, with Dan Potter on live drums. As witnesses to their thrilling live show will attest, they aren’t your typical electronic outfit – the group opts for real musical instrumentals and live samples over sequencers or backing tracks.

“A few years ago we were all churning out music and uploading it to Soundcloud and we’d get a few likes and a few followers, but after a while the songs just sit there unheard.” The group explain. “Playing the songs live is the best way to get them to new audiences, and every time we play them they get tighter, parts evolve, things kick off. It’s nice not to think of the recordings as definitive.”

Balancing on a tightrope over hip-hop, trip-hop, jazz, electronica, ambient and lo-fi experimental pop genres, there’s a lot going on in Grey Tapes’ music. With the performers all being regular contributors to the region’s music scene over the years across a variety of other projects, they reiterate that their collective experience has contributed to the band’s varied musical styles. “We all bring our own taste and playing styles to the mix and it’s always exciting to see how the music grows when you share ideas with the rest of the band.”

Their versatility of sound is due in some part to their production techniques, as well as a desire to stay ‘in the moment’ when performing live. “The main difference is that we can easily change our whole sound from track to track: we take our studio-constructed sound-worlds and chop them into pieces that can be triggered and manipulated with as much freedom and expression as you could with any other instrument. In our previous bands with more standard instrumental line-ups, there was always an element of freedom to play with tempo and dynamics, extending jam sections or throwing in solos in response to audience reaction or how much we were enjoying a gig. We didn’t want to sacrifice any of that just because computers and electronics were involved.”

we take our studio-constructed sound-worlds and chop them into pieces that can be triggered and manipulated with as much freedom and expression as you could with any other instrument

With an EP already under their belts, the collective have finally made the step to release their self-titled debut album on vinyl. “We had a bunch of tracks that were sounding really tight from playing them live regularly, so it felt like a good time to get them recorded and produced nicely. At the same time we had some new ones that were the first collectively written tracks that we were really happy with, so we ended up with an album that nicely sums up what we’ve done so far and hints at what’s next for us.” Despite having considerable experience themselves, the band decided to step up the recording quality from their EP, and so drafted in Blank Studios’ John Martindale in the studio. “A lot more attention to detail has gone into the album and it’s ended up taking way longer than expected, but that’s resulted in an end product that we’re all really happy with.”

With a sound which brings together disparate elements and sentiments to “create something more than the sum of its parts”, Grey Tapes’ album manages to be an incredibly cohesive record, taking the listener on a journey through the collective’s musical passions. “Just like the 90s hip-hop and visual collage we love, we’re trying to be reverential towards a kind of idealised, curated history, cherry-picking musical and cultural fragments and crafting them into something new.” They explain. “Although the themes and styles do shift quite a lot throughout the ten tracks, it is intended as a traditional album listening experience, with a lot of segues and interludes tying everything together, made from chopped up parts of the main tracks, found sounds, number station recordings, mysterious samples – the overall effect is hopefully like some kind of stumbled-upon space transmission.”

The band officially launch their album at Newcastle’s Star & Shadow Cinema on Saturday 8th December, and it’s clear the audience are in for a treat. “Expect lots of opportunities for dancing, interspersed with dreamy soundscapes and a few massive drum solos. There’s no frontman, different people sing or play lead depending on the track, the familiar rhythm section of drums and bass still underpins everything like most bands, it’s just a different flavour icing on top. One thing people really seem to like is that you can see which noise is coming from which person – a common criticism of electronic music is that whoever is behind the laptop screen might as well be checking their emails or playing solitaire for all the crowd knows, which is something we really wanted to get away from. We have a huge amount of fun playing our stuff on stage, it’s our favourite place to be and hopefully this comes across.”


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