Rob Ellis is synonymous with his hometown of Bristol, England. As Pinch, Ellis is a revered label head, DJ, and producer as well as a fervent promoter of new talent both local and afar. In the early 2000s, Ellis was blending what would become the foundational elements of dubstep in DJ sets and soon enough found himself at the forefront of Bristol’s (and England’s) nascent dubstep scene with the Subloaded parties and, a year later in 2005, Tectonic Recordings.
Ten years later, Tectonic has grown into a respected home for the many variations and ideas that make up ‘bass music’ and Pinch has continued to evolve with the music taking a slower turn towards house, techno, and jungle influences with releases on Swamp81 and his recently founded Cold label as well as collaborations with Mumdance and Adrian Sherwood.
Ahead of a show in NYC on August 18, Pinch sat down by email for a quick q&a about sound system history, Bristol and memories of America.
What are your earliest memories and experiences of sound system culture?
From going to gigs and shows in my early teens. Some standout memories are seeing Leftfield play live when I was 15 and Goldie on his Timeless tour alongside Doc Scott and Peshay the same year. Both shows had weighty sound systems and it really made an impression on me – hearing the music, not just loud, but physically powerful.
For you, what separates Bristol from other British cities in terms of sound system culture and history? What is it, if anything, that Bristol had (and maybe still has) which other cities didn’t?
There’s a number of possible contributing factors to this phenomenon. Bristol has long been home to a number of families who relocated here from Jamaica in the ’60s and ’70s, bringing many aspects of sound system culture along with them. I think that this, coupled with an open-minded musical perspective and the creative cultural backdrop that Bristol provides, has kept sound system culture alive and kicking here. Over the years it’s been further cemented by events like the annual St Paul’s Carnival – where dozens of sound systems are plonked in yards and small car parks and thrashed accordingly for many thousands to skank out to.
What originally led you to create Subloaded and what are some of the best memories you have from it over the years?
Subloaded started back in 2004 when the only other regular dubstep night in the world was FWD>>, at London’s Plastic People. I just wanted to get the scene moving in Bristol and I knew we needed a key night here to make that possible. I had no intentions of carrying it on but I soon saw how important it became for other people here in Bristol so that drove me keep it going. Loads of great memories from that event over the years, like when Skepta just turned up with Plastician unannounced and murked the dance!
How important is a physical space like Subloaded in helping to shape a scene?
Essential in helping to build a community. Having a space that people can all feel equally a part of can help to grow a scene – and that only becomes stronger and more grounded as a result.
What is the health/status of sound system culture in Bristol today?
It’s still pretty good I’d say, there’s lot’s of well tuned and powerful sound systems around ready to bang it out. Biggest problem, like in most cities I guess, is noise complaints for venues and sound limitations for festivals and outdoor events.
What are some of your fondest memories of touring/playing in the US?
There’s always good times to be had in the USA! I’ve met a lot of great people with genuine passion and the confidence to pursue them. One of the more inspirational places I’ve played in the States was in Detroit – where I felt a real sense of strength and humour in the face of adversity. California is always great of course – the weather there definitely helps boosts the mood. And of course I’ve never had a dull moment in New York which I think is one of the most electric/alive cities in the world.
A couple years ago you talked about the importance of “the dark rush on the dancefloor” in the music that attracted you. What are some of the releases or artists that have continued to exemplify that for you in the past year or so?
Have a look back over the releases on my Cold Recordings imprint by the likes of Kinzy, W3C and Batu and much of what’s been released on Tectonic over the last few years. Some of my own stuff too like the Cold release and collaborations I’ve done with Mumdance and Riko Dan. It’s quite open really though, it could be anything dark/moody that makes you feel empowered somehow when you listen to and connect with the music.
For those in the NYC area, Pinch will be playing at Trans-Pecos Thursday, August 18th