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The In-Betweeners: Welcome To The Weevil Neighbourhood

James Manning joins the dots between drum and bass, dubstep and techno with Martin Heinze in The Weevil Neighbourhood.

“Katsunori Sawa for example is an in-betweener,” Martin Heinze says. “He doesn’t really do straight noise, or straight ambient, or straight techno, he doesn’t really do anything straight, what he does is something in between.” Heinze is talking about Yuji Kondo’s partner in the arcane collaboration Steven Porter. It was the duo’s LR debut of 2011, described by German magazine De:Bug as “A Masterpiece” that opened a wormhole into an unidentified field of music called The Weevil Neighbourhood, a fluctuating schism of paranormal sound design lurking within a free divide of techno, drum and bass, and dubstep.

“I don’t think I fully understand Leipzig and the music in general but the interesting thing about this city is it has an approach of anything leftfield,” Heinze says. His Berlin-based label, The Weevil Neighbourhood, continues an aesthetic Heinze recognises as an east German thing. Minor and Alphacut are operations central to what could be described as a Leipzig sound, with the 2001 established Minor supporting ‘noiz’ music, while Alphacut is Germany’s biggest exponent of drum and bass. Should wanderlust send you further into the uncharted world of the city’s experimental enclave, Flop Beat Disk is a semi-active, MS-DOS-themed alternative “dedicated to dirty formats and the worst genres inside the wide fields of electronic trash music.”

For strains of dub-inspired beat design allied with Heinze’s label however, 45 Seven, and more to the point Alpha Cutauri, are Alphacut sub-labels tapping into a current fissure of abstract club music derivative of drum and bass free of form, tempo and ultimately classification. Adding populous to this network are labels like Felix K’s Hidden Hawaii and Geoff Presha’s Samurai Horo to ASC’s Auxiliary, and individual as each label’s aesthetics are, all inhabit a ballpark space of similarly cross-fertilized club music that each call their own.

The Weevil Neighbourhood however hatched from the Weevil Series; three records introducing a conceptual theme of spatial relations, or topology, into Heinze’s project. “Basically it’s the three development stages of the weevil; there’s the larva stage, the pupa stage, the adult stage,” Heinze says. German engineered dubstep, snarling half-time drum and bass, and tear out rave mechanics possess Larva and Pupa 12”s. The Adult record, moreover, ultimately represents The Weevil Neighbourhood’s attitudes today through its rhythmic noise element, which, alongside two other uncanny lurches of syncopated ‘bass’ music saw Heinze for the first time embrace elements of freeform techno.

“At the point where the adult stage was reached I basically had enough contacts and distributors and shops and direct customers to be able to start a label project that wouldn’t collapse on itself,” Heinze says. It’s here the development stage takes on additional meaning. In 2011, with the year-long metamorphose of Weevil Series complete, Heinze created The Weevil Neighbourhood. “I had this website,” he says, “it was built up of single dots in different colours and different connections; I had green dots for the artists that worked for the label and black dots for the releases.” It’s the second time on the record I’m speaking with Heinze, and this time over the phone he furthers the concept. “You could say this is a map of certain dots that are connected through certain characteristics, being music-wise or artist-wise or even time-wise.”

“It’s something of an image that helps me focus on the whole characteristics of the label itself,” he says, then, as if peeling away from a conversation too focused on artistic rationale, Heinze jokes, “anyway, most of the stuff I’ve said tonight is esoteric bullshit.” What Heinze’s conceptual paradigm aimed to signify, though, was connectivity through dispersion, be it artists and their respective locales, genre cross-pollination, physical formats for the music, to artwork and design. “In the beginning I always wanted half of the label more open, not focused on sound carriers for example, but also being able to branch out into different territories,” Heinze explains.

The Weevil Neighbourhood catalogues its releases by name not number, and as Heinze points out, it diffuses the label. “I like the image of something evolving from a less linear but more roomy kind of environment,” he says. “The releases, in the best way, can breathe freely because they are not limited to linear development.” With catalogue names like AIR, DOTS and GRIDS to BLINDFOLD, PICNIC and COMPASS, comes added conceptual nuance, but more importantly it frees the label of a typical 001, 002, 003 inventory.

I first met Heinze in Berlin. It was early 2013 and The Weevil Neighbourhood, no longer adolescent but not yet fully formed, could be found comfortably holed-up in the experimental underground of German electronic music. Growing tired of the state Heinze found drum and bass, he expressed his aversion to the over-saturation of ‘up-tempo breaks’. “Too fast, too intense,” he said. “I found it hard to be surprised, either by the music, the events, the parties: the whole drum and bass scene,” Heinze told me. “I guess I was trying to find something that kept me fascinated, or interested, music-wise.”

Heinze is a respected drum and bass producer. As Martsman he’s released records for Alphacut, Hidden Hawaii and Texan label Pushing Red, with straight up drum and bass coming through Breakin, Offshore and Warm Communications. Since my first meeting with Heinze he’s stopped making music under that alias, and, he says, “I identify more with the label now.” During that first interview, Heinze, a well-spoken, well-mannered German, appeared hesitant to reveal too much about his own music, but over the phone 18 months later when asked if he, admittedly, still felt cagey talking about Martsman, he said, “when we met the last time, I was, on a personal level, between two phases, which was a sort of solo career in music, as well as running a label, which were two very different kind of things.” As a producer, Heinze believes it can be “more about putting yourself in front.” Now the artist formally known as Martsman takes sanctuary in The Weevil Neighbourhood where he can “keep in the background.” Furthermore, he adds, “it’s not that I work in that kind of field of music any more.”

Where does Heinze find himself then? “I’m not sure there are any particular words or genres I want to closely connect to the label but obviously there are certain influences in there,” Heinze begins. Attempting to put the sound of The Weevil Neighbourhood into words, he elaborates, “there’s obviously a lot of, let’s call it dubstep-influenced sounds in there, but there’s also jazzy, organic, almost rocky attitudes.” Heinze relates this to his website of before. “If you put three or four spots on a map for example, and say: this is techno, this is dubstep, and that is industrial and this is noise, then Katsunori Sawa or Anthone or Repetition/Distract, and all the other guys, are somewhat like in-betweeners,” he says. “They’re kind of where the lines connect between the dots.”

“Drum and bass was always something I was trying to reconfigure in a way that wouldn’t sound like drum and bass at all anymore,” Heinze reveals. He’s not alone. In 2011 Geoff ‘Presha’ Wright of Samurai Music set up the Horo sub-label for a similar purpose. “Classification is the problem,” Wright says about the music he and the likes of Heinze, Horo artists Fis, Ena and Inigo, to labels Auxiliary, Hidden Hawaii and Alpha Cutauri are releasing. Earlier this year I find myself in Berlin again, this time with Wright, trying to understand more about this drum and bass metamorphosis. “That’s the point,” he says, “when you do listen to it you are like, ‘I don’t know what BPM this is and I don’t care because it has its own groove and flow, and that’s what’s so cool about it.’” Wright adds, “it’s unclassifiable…or it’s…techno…you know?”

“Drum ‘n’ bass has always been a hybrid anti-essentialist style,” music writer and author of Energy Flash, Simon Reynolds, wrote in his 1995 essay for The Wire, “The State Of Drum ‘n’ Bass”. Using Photek (Rupert Parkes) as an example, Reynolds believes, “Parkes’s reputation resides in having made Jungle sound more like ‘proper’ Techno and less like its own baaad self.” Reynolds, however, continues: “Straddling both genres without innovating in either, he’s infected Jungle with Trance’s funkless frigidity and pseudo-conceptual portentousness.” Manoeuvres labels like The Weevil Neighbourhood and Samurai Horo are currently making don’t always sit well with the staunch drum and bass faithful – terms like ‘armchair hardcore’ were thrown around as a result – but as Reynolds points out, “Parkes actually admitted in i-D that he and his posse “have more in common with Carl Craig’s music than we do with the majority of Jungle.”

“I think foremost the artists around dBridge and Instra:mental, Consequence, guys like that, are trying to break up the two-step thing, even though they wouldn’t totally leave it behind,” Heinze told me after I asked why tempo is referenced so much when explaining this music. This was also the case with Wright who used Yu Asaeda’s recent Binaural LP to explain how the lines, and tempos, between drum and bass and techno can blur. “When you listen to Ena’s album there’s a tune on it which is 120-130 or something, but if you listen to it in the whole context of the album you don’t notice there’s a difference in speed.”

“People get upset when artists who they consider drum and bass artists, who started as drum and bass artists, do something different and they don’t call it drum and bass,” Wright believes. “Then there’s this discussion you get into with them, like OK, it may be 85 BPM, but it doesn’t have a breakbeat, it has a 4/4 behind it, so why is it drum and bass? Please tell me why it’s drum and bass.”

Wright singles out ASC as an early champion of the 4/4 beat structure set to an 85 BPM, lamenting its classification as drum and bass. “That “Polemic” tune from ASC’s (Horo) single, which is basically an acid tune at 85, I sent that out to people and one very prominent drum and bass label owner actually just piped-up and said, ‘why are you sending me this, it isn’t drum and bass’,” tells Wright. “At the beginning I was a bit insulted, but then it just showed to me, he’s right, it’s not.”

It’s no longer taboo for drum and bass producers to crossover into straight up techno; Shifted, Trevino and Boddika are some high profile examples. Conversely, Manchester duo AnD, now known for their unrelenting brand of gabba-hard industrial techno, threw themselves back into drum and territory by giving music to Horo this year, and Hidden Hawaii before that. “Now people write stuff for me,” Wright says regarding the sub-label. “People are like, I’ve got a Horo for you.”

But like Reynolds warned in ’95 for the essay “Ambient Jungle”, which draws parallels with today’s hybrid exchange of dubstep, techno and drum and bass styles: “there are dangers in hardcore’s shift towards a slightly self-conscious ‘maturity’.” Reynolds expands, “it’s ironic that some of Jungle’s experimental vanguard resort to the same rhetoric once used–by evangelists for progressive house and intelligent techno–to dismiss ardkore as juvenile and anti-musical.”

“Say between the end of the ’90s till 2002, 2003,” Heinze begins, “everything was pretty much based on the two-step break, and just in the last three or four years things have changed radically for drum and bass.” Heinze explains, “this kind of experimental side of drum and bass got around pretty much, and artists these days are producing that sound which would have been considered out of prox and experimental-sounding just a few year back.” Now, he says, “they’ve reached the bigger labels and I don’t think it’s that noticeable anymore.”

“The Weevil Neighbourhood has been in the mid-tempo spectrum without being too much techno, but without being too much dub…step…or anything like that, or dub music in general,” Heinze says. “I think what really interests me is a certain framework of tempo, for example, or certain aesthetics, but these aesthetics aren’t totally replicable.” Heinze believes this perspective comes from an urge to introduce a certain vocabulary to the drum and bass frame, which, he says, “at the point I started writing drum and bass, it wasn’t that present or vogue.”

Repetition/Distract, Anthone and Katsunori Sawa make up Heinze’s weevil neighbourhood, and room for Yuji Kondo will be made should Steven Porter return. “I love working with a limited amount of artists,” Heinze says. “That personal relationship in one form or another is crucial to my approach to label work.” After hearing the track “Deed” by Steven Porter (by the way of an Electronic Explorations mix) from 10 Label’s various artist Mu EP, Heinze remembers, “I instantly felt it was something I wanted to have on the label.”

“It was rhythmic to some extent, you couldn’t really decipher what tempo it was,” Heinze says. “It didn’t matter at all,” he adds. “It was extremely intense, there was a wall of sound, there was a bit of rhythmic structure and that was basically it,” Heinze says. “I mean mind-blowing, obviously, it was extremely inspiring for me as a musician as well.” That LR record “kicked open a few doors for me,” Heinze adds, and he says, “it is really important to have these guys on board.”

One door opened to Japan, home of Sawa and secret figure Anthone. “These guys, they all know each other, they all meet and probably write music together in different combinations and what not,” Heinze says. “Steven Porter was definitely a bridge to Japan and it was definitely, for me, a possibility to reach out to other artists that kind of wrote a similar sort of music or had a certain, same, mindset when it came to music,” he says, “music creation in general.”

Anthone debuted on The Weevil Neighbourhood in 2012 with two records helping define the label’s initial sound of earthily crunch and mechanical abnormality. In 2014 the reclusive alias released Breath / Lungs, a record looking to a more spacious, broken beat dub techno aesthetic of digital-ish timbre. It’s a sound, Heinze says, the label will continue to mine, a sound he suggests is “very steady, digital… less earthy, sterile in a way.” That Anthone 12” in particular entered a grey area between drum and bass and dubbier club techno Hidden Hawaii explored with this year’s Nautil Series, three records Felix K explains as “a retrospective view on Hidden Hawaii Digital.”

Taken from a separate interview with Felix K to be published on Juno Plus in the near future, he explains, “at that time we felt the need for reduction, because music from the drum and bass genre pointed to several dead ends.” He adds, “while the mainstream seemed to be focussing on reproducing the same but louder version of different sub-genre blueprints, we headed back to the elements that made electronic music interesting to us.” For Felix K, “it was the warmth of dub chords combined with warm bass sounds,” he says. “It led us to a more universal thing than just the essence of drum and bass.”

“Think more Steven Porter and less Felix K,” Heinze says of his label’s potential sonic development, referring to Anthone’s latest record as “not too full, it’s pretty striped down,” adding, “stuff that I have in mind for the label is more dense.” Looking back and one of The Weevil Neighbourhood’s boldest records was Repetition/Distract’s Salles Des Perdus. Released in 2012, its six interlinked ‘tracks’ combine a mixture of foley recordings and gloaming ambiences with the high frequency squeak of a camera’s flash recharging, to acoustic instrumentations draped in reverb made to sound all the more sentimental. It’s a misty record which feels as though it was recorded around a creaking shipyard. “Obviously it has ambient elements in it,” Heinze says of Salles Des Perdus, “but it’s not like a fully thought through ambient album or something like that, it’s more like a very volatile, unstable kind of sculpture,” he says. “It’s almost a storytelling thing.”

Over a six-month period Repetition/Distract sent The Weevil Neighbourhood bodies of sound Heinze “chose from, but loosely chose from,” he explains. “I kinda like that part because it’s not track-based, but you know the music,” Heinze says. “It’s not that he writes tracks and I choose from them, it’s more like he’s writing music, like it’s patch-based.” Heinze continues, “so he’s recoding elements of the music, then he’s creating patches with software and hardware and whatnot, and he combines two worlds, or different elements into single pieces.”

“He’s a bit of a hermit,” Heinze adds, describing Repetition/Distract as less clandestine than Anthone. “It’s kind of funny,” Heinze says, “we both live in Germany, we’ve known each other for more than ten years now and all of our musical relationship goes through email and it works perfectly.” Repetition/Distract is another artist Heinze says is connected to Leipzig, a place on earth Heinze reaffirms: “it’s always a point of reference for me.”

Felix K agrees. “I don’t know why, but it seems that Leipzig is a good place for artists with a distinctive vision,” he says, suggesting people like Kassem Mosse add to the Leipzig phenomenon. “He is combining unique sounds and rhythms, showing an absence of mainstream influences and puts a good DIY feel to his releases.” This is something The Weevil Neighbourhood, through Heinze’s artistic vision, strongly echoes. “I think this in-between stuff is probably, but I’m not really sure about it, something for people who were close to the music scene, or even people who were producers or DJs developing something for themselves as a safe haven for good music,” Heinze believes.

“It wasn’t really important if it was deriving from techno or deriving from drum and bass or anything like that,” he says. “All of these people were sort of drawn together in the faith that every single genre has more to offer than what a broader community of people would think it could bear.”

Interview by James Manning

All imagery provided by Weevil Neighbourhood

Juno Plus Label Podcast: Weevil Neighbourhood 

1. Thomas Carnacki – Elegant Things, Distressing Things, Things Not Worth Doing (Alethiometer)
2. Repetition/Distract – Salles Des Perdus: Untitled Pt. 4 (The Weevil Neighbourhood)
3. Katsunori Sawa – NGM (The Weevil Neighbourhood)
4. Demdike Stare – A Tale Of Sand (Modern Love)
5. Shackleton – The Drawbar Organ (Woe To The Septic Heart)
6. Autechre – Stud (Warp)
7. Peder Mannerfelt – Expanding Sineways (Peder Mannerfelt Produktion)
8. Repetition/Distract – Salles Des Perdus: Untitled Pt. 5 (The Weevil Neighbourhood)
9. Shelley Parker & Paul Purgas – Chance Fracture (We Can Elude Control)
10. The End Of All Existence – The End Of All Existence (The End Of All Existence)
11. Steven Porter – Deed (10 Label)
12. Katsunori Sawa – Phenomenon (The Weevil Neighbourhood)
13. BOKEH – Void Armour (The Weevil Neighbourhood)
14. Anthone – Double Dub (The Weevil Neighbourhood)
15. Shackleton – But The Branch Is Weak (Skull Disco)