Clubs | Interview – Om Unit
Ahead of another date for long-serving Leeds establishment Central Beatz, on Friday May 23, we caught up with the man topping the bill, Om Unit. The night, run by a team including Submotion Orchestra head honcho, Ruckspin, has long been a fixture on the Leeds drum & bass scene. On this occasion they’ve opted for Jim Coles, aka Om Unit, as headliner.
Coles made waves back in 2012 working with Machinedrum under the Dream Continuum moniker to produce influential fusions of jungle with Chicago footwork, as well as through his own edits under the Phillip D Kick alias. He’s since moved on from that work, now producing an open-ended range of breakbeat music, as well as releasing music by likeminded producers on his own Cosmic Bridge label.
How would you describe the music you make to anyone who’s not familiar with what you do?
I have a hard time explaining to people, really. I suppose I’m exploring the drum & bass end of things at the moment, but it changes. I explore different things and take them with me as I go.
I’d say electronic music, lots of sub-bass. A vibe, really – it’s hard to describe!
You’ve said before in an interview on RBMA that you think the jungle/footwork thing has run its course. Do you still think that’s the case?
It’s easy for me to say, as I kind of started the thing – started the fusion of it, with myself and Machinedrum together. And it’s kind of… I think it’s becoming a thing, it’s almost a scene in itself. And there’s good and bad sides to it. What I think has run its course is making edits of jungle tracks, and stuff like that. Basically what I did – I can kind of take the blame, really. A few people warned me and said, “Look, bootleg culture’s not a good look”, and it’s not something I really thought of, as the Phillip D. Kick thing was a bit of an experiment.
Coming away from it, I realise now that it’s not really all about that. Thankfully, though, there’s still a lot of original stuff going on as well; it’s fertile times for that sort of thing. As to how it pans out, we’ll see… You’ve got Beatport and Juno, who’ve now got footwork categories, which is great for the guys that make footwork music.
“I definitely appeal to the sort of producer types – a lot of people who make music themselves come and listen to me play.”
People have talked about that music you made revitalising drum & bass – do you think that’s fair?
No, it’s not fair. I think that drum & bass has always had a fresh angle. A lot of people in drum & bass moan about this and that, but if you take the longview there’s always something innovative going on. Perhaps it’s had an influence, which has helped to feed new ideas into stuff, and that’s kind of where I see myself, very much on the outside.
It’s nice to hear that I’ve inspired people like Sam Binga, Fracture, Stray and a lot of the Exit camp. We’re all trying different things, and I don’t think that we’re better or worse than anybody else. So it’s an exciting fusion of things going on.
With the music you make being quite open, has it ever been a problem getting booked for nights where people aren’t very receptive?
I have had that problem. I’ve played Hospitality a few times, which is hilarious. Because what those guys do, for me, is just straight down the middle, no-frills. It’s not necessarily that tech-y or weird, it’s just uplifting, big room drum & bass music. They booked me to play room two, and I’m very grateful, but I don’t think that those kind of crowds really fit with what I do. I definitely appeal to the sort of producer types – a lot of people who make music themselves come and listen to me play, which I don’t mind actually, it’s fine.
It’s been challenging, but thankfully my agent knows what’s up. Like I’ve been offered to play in Ibiza… there’s a night with Excision and people like that, and I’m just like what?
“Goldie likes to stick his hand in and put his vision into it too, which I’m happy for him to do, because I respect where he comes from – he’s a veteran.”
How would you describe the music you release on your Cosmic Bridge label?
It’s my pocket label, so if I come across something I feel strongly about I’ll release it. So the focus, I suppose, is within the realms of music I would play right now. So reaching out to contemporaries, friends of friends.
We’ve got a few things lined up for this year, which I can’t say too much about. We have a compilation coming soon, from people that are already on the label and a couple of new faces as well. It’s really for first releases, people that are doing interesting stuff, in the kind of BPM range that I work with.
How has it been releasing on Metalheadz – what’s it been like to work with Goldie?
It’s good to be part of the family, really. Goldie likes to encourage and give ideas, and have a lot of input into tracks that I’ll send him. He’ll suggest ideas, and he even executively produces a little bit. He likes to stick his hand in and put his vision into it too, which I’m happy for him to do, because I respect where he comes from – he’s a veteran. He’s a character, and I think he’s got a lot to share, as is evident by his sort of omnipresence.
“I respect hip hop culture, but I want to be able to do “me” and to me what I grew up with was hardcore, jungle – that’s what got me, so I kind of feel more comfortable here.”
Prior to making music as Om Unit, your main work was as a turntablist and hip hop producer under the 2tall moniker. How do you view hip hop music and culture at this current moment?
I think hip hop’s informed every part of modern life, personally. It’s part of the fabric of most people’s day-to-day life, whether they even know it or not. In terms of the state of hip hop, there’s such a wide range of stuff you could choose to get into. If you like obscure, abstract stuff, it’s a little harder to find, but that’s always been the way. A lot of people complain that there’s a lot of crap, but there’s always been a lot of crap, in every genre of music.
People get very precious as if it’s one singular entity, which somehow is being marred by some kind of failing thing. To a certain extent, there is some bad stuff which plays on stereotypes, which re-affirms a lot of societal issues. I think, right now, a lot of people rap ironically along to music which, for them, is just voyeuristic. But then, each to their own, I’m kind of over trying to complain.
But you’ve not been tempted to make any moves back into hip hop?
No, never. I’m done with that. I’m basically just enjoying making my own music, which I think to a certain extent has more of an element of originality. Ultimately, I grew up in a village in Berkshire, I’ve really got no place standing on a stage playing music from Brooklyn from 20 years ago.
I respect that culture and whatnot, but I want to be able to do “me” and to me what I grew up with was hardcore, jungle – that’s what got me, so I kind of feel more comfortable here.
You can buy tickets here for Central Beatz at The Faversham on May 23 with Om Unit and Jon 1st.