Dusk + Blackdown’s Keysound imprint has become synonymous with London’s underground, surrounding the history of pirate radio and the capital’s intimate subculture in a veneer of myth and smoke. Sat in the centre of this bubble is LHF, a shadowy and anonymous collective who revel in a unique concoction of musical identities, swallowing up an entire spectrum of music and spitting it back out in their own image.
2012’s Keepers of The Light was a mission statement for the collective’s talents, exploding into existence after a long period of germination and enlisting a large following of devoted fans. This year’s For The Thrown, however, sees a much more focused effort and one which took half the time to come into fruition. Produced solely by Amen Ra, the album is drenched in spiritualism, personality and a stronger sense of cohesion. I caught up with him to talk Wu-Tang, the hundreds of songs that never see the light of day, and freedom.
For The Thrown captures a spirituality that perhaps wasn’t as present on Keepers Of The Light. How did that develop from the record’s initial germination?
Our music has always had spiritual aspects, and that was definitely represented on Keepers of the Light, but it may have been missed given how much music was on there. All tracks on Keepers of the Light were made between around 2007 - 2011, a much longer time period than For The Thrown which the bulk of was made between 2013-2014. This was a reflective, quiet time for me and a time of change. It was also a time of healing up and reaching up and this is reflected in a lot of the music on the album.
For all intents and purposes, For The Thrown is an Amen Ra solo record, but I understand it began as another collaborative effort. How important was it to project your own identity on this, separated from Keepers Of The Light?
What i thought was important, was that the LHF sound continues to evolve. Keepers of the Light was an explosion of sounds and styles, and it needed to happen like that because we had 7-8 years worth of music behind us. Keepers of the Light was an ocean, and For The Thrown is one of the streams that has come out of that. There are more. There are unknown corners in our stack, and lots of tracks that can create more layers to the narrative we’ve already established. LHF is a multi-dimensional entity.
At any given time one of the projects will take the reins, or maybe a few will, but the idea is to keep moving and exploring the space we operate in, redefining and revising, and sometimes even revisiting. We’re trying to avoid the pitfalls of the creative process and stay as fresh and clean as possible so if it means a particular sound has to takeover, then so be it, it’s a flexible entity and bigger than any one sound.
How has that unbridled freedom developed you personally and creatively?
In my Fact mag interview I wanted to put the record straight and free LHF of the labels that people had put on us- an impossible task! I spoke about freedom a lot but it’s a lot more complicated than what I said.
Everyday freedom is very difficult to achieve. A lot of people feel free because they ‘do what they want’, but I don’t define that as freedom. To me freedom is about being free enough to do what’s necessary at any given moment. For example, can you be angry when it is absolutely necessary to be and then let go of it as soon as it is no longer necessary? Or submissive etc. Because if it’s something that just happens randomly and something you have no control over then you cannot say you are free. It’s a difficult thing to come to terms with. The internal world is always more real and if you were to put a magnifying glass up to that world you’d see that ‘actions’ taken are all due to some external influence, that we simply react to. I clear my mind as much as possible and don’t think about emulating anything past or current but I am infected by these impressions and they will find their way into the music there is no doubt. But my interpretation of these impressions is unique, just like yours is. It’s all about openness, having an ear open to who you are in amongst all that and allowing that to come through.
In my experience a lot of what I do creatively just kind of ‘happens’, it’s all quite unconscious and I don’t know how or why, it just happens. Trying to ‘control outcomes’ results in sterile music, which lacks the vibrancy and unpredictability of our inner lives. When I am truly creating, things are happening beyond my control but I am present with the happening, that’s about as much as my ‘will’ can do, just keep me there. FIS touched on a similar idea in his recent interview with Dummy and it really resonated with me. The best tracks for me have always had this feeling of ‘writing themselves’. One step leads to the other without any real choice or decision making process on my part, I’m simply present enough to follow the thread and connect the dots. Its a very deep and ‘active’ listening that is occurring when I write. The tunes are already within me, and it’s up to me to find these tunes and allow them to come out, same with anyone producing. I’m just the observer/reader/listener, looking for clues and trying to find the way home.
LHF as a collective is full of such individual voices, how do you go about finding cohesion?
When I do an LHF mix, especially studio mixes which tend to be quite broad, I find there are lots of ‘crossover’ tracks that sit in-between the projects and provide a bridge between sounds. But the thing that really unifies the tracks is this rough quality they all have, we love roughin’ it up, even the beautiful tracks have a kind of jagged edge to them. The recent mixes show how much more refined our stuff is now, but it still has that rawness. If people really want to get a sense of how deep the rabbit hole goes, they should head over to our mixcloud and check out the LHF Chronicles mixes. So many inexplicable vibes in those mixes but you know it’s us throughout.
There’s that famous Wu-Tang interview circa 93/94 where they talk about going off into different tangents because they all have such different styles, but still belonging to a clan and that’s what made them so good. I guess having such different voices in the collective means, as a whole, you have a pliable diversity. On a brief fan-boy diversion; your favourite Wu-Tang solo and/or collaborative output and why?
That’s a tough one, the first wave of Wu-Tang solo albums are untouchable, each for their own reasons. I’ve been listening to Only Built For Cuban Linx a lot in the car recently as it goes. I love the way RZA could bring out the personality of the MC’s with his beats. Such a diverse line up and yet he could lay tracks to suit each one. I would have loved to have seen him build those albums. He was asked where he got the piano for Ice Cream from and he didn’t even know, he was just going in on his own shit so single mindedly, he didn’t even stop to look around, it sounds like.
A lot of unheard material goes on in the background of LHFs output, how important is that process of whittling and relegation?
It’s really important. I think left to our own devices sometimes we struggle to get a hold of what we have and it’s good to have Martin’s input to help us. It can be overwhelming trying to piece together what would work as a release. It takes a lot of time for us because we have all these attachments to the tracks, and also, sitting down and writing an album or a release just doesn’t work for us, our music is all about spontaneity. So we can only really start to piece together releases after a significant period of creativity has passed. We’ve got to let the tracks come of their own accord without thinking about writing music to release.
Does it matter that some might never be heard? Is it rewarding just to have them there for their own existence?
No, to me it doesn’t matter, I like the sport of it. I love making tracks with no aim for people to hear them. In that little bubble, I feel comfortable enough to go deep. Also, with the releases, there has to be a more bespoke feel to them, we can’t release everything we make, we have hundreds and hundreds of tunes, and as a consequence of us doing all this for sport- most of these won’t see the light of day. I’m sure many producers have this same experience.
For The Thrown seems a lot more focused from the mission statement of Keepers Of The Light. Do you enjoy working with deeper thematic narratives?
Sometimes I may work with some vague idea of what I’m looking to make but mostly, and this goes back to my earlier point, I produce in the present and pick up on strands within me, strands that are intangible and indefinable but that I can translate into music. There are almost certainly styles in me that seem to come out at different times but I don’t try and determine what comes out. If I’m clear enough in the moment of making the track it will happen of its own accord, and afterwards I can make sense of what it is.
If you took any one of the LHF projects you will hear themes, and that’s why you hear a more focused work here, because it’s all Amen Ra. The only thing that is required of me is listening, not thinking, as soon as I start thinking about what I’m doing, the music loses its character.
You’ve spoken about the facelessness of pirate radio as being part of the allure of your own anonymity. Do you think the unequivocally over-exposing nature of the internet can be damaging for contemporary underground artists?
I guess in a way you as an individual are as much a factor in how people receive your music as the music itself these days and maybe some shit you say on twitter might make people view your music differently. So in that way it can be. You’ve seen people’s careers get shattered because of bigoted comments they’ve made on social media or wherever. The way social media is used by an artist can also be an extension of their art. If your music makes me think deeply about things and your tweets do too then I’m probably going to be even more tied into your world than I was with just the music you know? Or if I get an even stronger sense of you through your instagram as I do through your music, I will be even more engaged with your vibe. There are more tools available for people to get their message across and I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. You can totally do you now and people can have a much wider view of where your music is coming from, for better or for worse.
For The Thrown illustrates your own personal journey – does writing and expressing stuff in your own life help to consolidate and celebrate your experiences?
Yes there is always a sense of putting a line under things when I make certain tracks, like it needed to happen for me to just move onto the next step. It also gives me an outlet to lose myself in. I don’t want to ever lose contact with that realm, it’s cliché, but I would go mad.
From listening to LHF, keeping things fresh is obviously important to you. Do you find it disheartening to hear people constantly recycling the same stuff?
No I find it boring but not disheartening. I’m in this for my own reasons, and others have theirs so I’m never going to be disheartened as long as I feel that I am expressing myself from a true place. If you’re in love with a certain music form, you’re going to emulate that in some way and I don’t think any artist is free from the influences of others, and all our music in some ways is a reflection of other music, music that sparked us. Those that know will hear who I’ve been influenced by. You can’t avoid being turned on by sounds and using those sounds in your own productions but you can be brave and find your unique interpretation of those sounds, it’s deep within.
Are really new areas of exploration becoming fewer and further between?
Possibly. But I like to think there are infinite combinations of sounds out there and with the technology we now have at our disposal the boundaries seem to be getting pushed more and more. I think it all comes down to how much music you can get on with, there’s so much out there, I wonder how it’s even possible to run out of new ideas. If you can somehow quieten your mind when you listen to stuff and appreciate it for what it is, there’s something to be gained from all music. Don’t believe anyone who tells you if you enjoy one particular style of music you can’t enjoy another because they’re too different- that’s rubbish and any artist who has this attitude is not an artist. There is nothing objective in music, you give it its meaning so go ahead and embrace it all on your own terms. After all, it is invisible...
Is there anyone you find particularly fascinating to listen to at the moment?
Yes; FIS, M.E.S.H, J.G Biberkopf, Gantz. I love the Boxed show on rinse too, i get lots of inspiration listening to the new wave grime sounds on there. There’s so much stuff that i discover and am yet to discover, music will forever excite me.
Where would you like to see the next generation of young producers taking it?
With the amount of stuff at our fingertips now, I’d like to see the new generation really take it out there, to let go of past and localized ways and connect on a global scale. It’s really possible now to bring all kinds of influences into your music and even if your local community don’t get it, others will and you can reach those others easily. You’re probably hit with more information and influences than ever now, take it all in. Don’t idolise, you’ve got the chance to really do you, and you are needed!
For The Thrown is out now via Keysound Recordings