This year, Bristol-born label Livity Sound turns ten.
In the decade since its launch, Livity Sound has steadily become synonymous with an adventurous strain of dark-room UK dance music. Early releases from founding trio Peverelist (or just Pev), Kowton and Asusu pulled from the sound system culture and dub roots of its Bristol hometown, plus a broader palette of cavernous sounds and genre-blurring rhythmic experiments.
Over the years, the label (and indeed its sister imprint Dnuos Ytivil) has been praised for its forward-facing output, particularly within the realms of UK techno, and other heads down, club-driven styles. However, this signature, of sorts, isn’t something its founders ever really set out to achieve. Instead, it’s simply a by-product of their own ethos’ both as artists and label heads, plus the calibre of its now globe-spanning roster, which has grown to include the likes of Hodge, Batu, Simo Cell, Forest Drive West, Surgeons Girl, Ido Plumes, Bakongo, Laurel Halo, Azu Tiwaline and many, many more. Tess Redburn’s distinctive artwork plays a lead role here, too, providing the label with a strong and identifiable visual identity that aligns with the exciting music released via the imprint.
Next week, Livity Sound will release a sprawling compilation album to celebrate its tenth anniversary. The project, entitled Molten Mirrors – A Decade of Livity Sound, showcases an array of core members, newcomers to the label and, of course, its co-founders, offering a snapshot of where the label stands a decade on from its launch. Ahead of its release, we asked a selection of artists featured on the compilation to run us through their favourite tracks and label memories spanning the last ten years.
BatuAsusu – Velez (2013)
In 2013 I was at university in Bath, just down the road from Bristol. I was starting to build some really solid friendships with Ploy, Bruce and other like-minded producers who were starting out. Livity Sound was one of the labels we were looking up to.
Asusu had done our [university] course in Bath previously. Through trips to Bristol, I got to know him, Pev, Lurka, Hodge, Pinch, Kowton and the rest of the Bristol scene. I started to transition from a fan of the label to someone who was sending music to these people and participating a bit. It was a formative time, and there were some great parties around then. I remember sending Asusu some demos of mine over email – they were all unfinished sketches – and he sent me back something he was trying to finish, which was Velez. My demos sounded absolutely awful in comparison! I couldn’t believe how good it sounded and how simple but effective the idea was.
It still sounds perfect to me; perfectly-formed beat science. I dread to think how many times I’ve played it out – it works with everything and always bangs…I might have to start playing it again, to be honest. The AMUS remixes were killer too.
Tess Redburn (Designer and Art Director, Livity Sound)Pev & Kowton – Signal 3 (2015)
Signal 3 by Pev and Kowton was the track they opened the Livity Sound live set with for a while. I travelled with them a fair bit and so those opening bars take me all over, but my memories of Tokyo are particularly vivid. It brings back quite physical memories of pre-set nerves, hanging out with the three of them beforehand.
DJ PleadI-iii – Bun So Nude (2017)
Livity Sound has had an influence on me from even before I’d ever listened to a Livity Sound release. Artists I looked up to when I started making dance music were drawing from Livity and passing that inspiration on to me. Once I started DJing and discovering the Livity catalogue, it was simultaneously a sensation of wonder and familiarity. That’s a testament to how important they’ve been in the dance music ecosystem. Listening to the Molten Mirrors compilation has helped me feel a part of the Livity Sound story, despite being over on the other side of the world. This is a cliché, but it’s surreal to see my name next to all the legends.
It’s an impossible task to pick a single, standout track from the Livity Sound catalogue. [However], if I was forced to sort the catalogue by influence on how I make music, Bun So Nude by I-iii would be top-ranked. This track haunts me every time I’m choosing sounds, adding texture, or arranging. It’s so perfectly balanced; the sound design appears complex, but the groove is confidently simple.
BakongoPeverelist – Beneath Radar (Kowton mix) (2011)
One of a few favourites from the Livity catalogue. I’m a big fan of low sub basslines and minimal drums worked into a danceable groove. This is one of many in the discography that has it all. The last time I played this was early 2020, just before the pandemic hit, in Minneapolis club called Honey. It’s an amazing club – low ceilings and very dark.
Al WoottonAzu Tiwaline – Magnetic Service ft. Cinna Peyghamy (2020)
Choosing just one track from the Livity Sound catalogue is impossible – there is so much, and it’s all so good. I’ve gone for Magnetic Service by Azu Tiwaline as it’s a recent favourite. There are very few labels with the consistent high quality and inventive output of Livity Sound, and I was really honoured to be asked to contribute a release to the label. The way that Pev is always supporting new and underexposed artists while maintaining the highest levels of quality is a real inspiration.
Surgeons GirlLaurel Halo & Hodge – Tru (2018)
Hearing Tru by Laurel Halo and Hodge always brings back good memories. It was released around the time I bought my first hardware synth – a Juno-106. I’d been producing for a while, mostly to accompany songwriting in a previous band, but I had started to take my own solo production work more seriously. I got into learning synthesis and production deeper than I ever had before. After not writing anything for over a year, it was the refresh I needed to take my music in a different direction.
I was like a sponge at this time and soaking up all the productions I loved – this EP being one of them. In this opening track, I loved the gated static chord at the start layered with a second, then third, coming in higher; all with this lush rhythmic pulsing feel and that crazy ascending, descending melodic glidey line coming in and out – such a hook! You can imagine all the instruments jamming out the track with that descending melodic line almost being played in by hand, [as if] improvised, almost. It could be one take, which is what I love.
This track is uplifting but has a sense of nostalgia. It got me hooked on Livity Sound as a label – although I was a fan already of Pev and his album Tessellations, and Forest Drive West. I started to follow the label more closely after this, with each release bringing something interesting to feed my own ideas for sound, textures and rhythm.
JurangoAlex Coulton – Bounce (2012)
There are too many to choose from, but this track immediately sprung to mind. It has the perfect mix of tension, rounded low-end weight and gliding dub wash. It was a huge deal for me the first time I heard it – big sound system energy, as always! Many happy returns to Livity Sound and here’s to ten more years.
Azu TiwalineLivity Sound (in general)
What I really love about Livity Sound is the spirit, the vibe and this incredible bridge from bass music to UK techno music, with cutting-edge music and artists. I’ve been listening to Peverelist since the Skull Disco days. Like Shackleton, he’s someone who inspired me a lot in the early 2000s with dubstep.
When my Magnetic Service EP was finished, I decided to send it as a demo. I haven’t done this for many years, and the first label I thought about was Livity. I sent an email and the day after I had an answer. It was just unbelievable. It means a lot for me to be able to work with Tom. Passion and real love for music has guided Livity Sound since the beginning, and it’s also really important for me to share that. I feel so grateful to be on this fantastic label. As an artist, and moreover a female one, this fills me with a huge amount of love, joy and pride.
After thinking for a long time, it’s just impossible to pick my favourite track on Livity Sound. I enjoy so many tracks, records and artists on this label, and so I can’t choose only one. Sorry!
HodgePev & Kowton – End Point (Stenny & Andrea Remix) (2014)
I could pick so many Livity tracks for a favourite – which is great, there aren’t many labels where I love every release that comes out. My favourite track changes daily, but my choice for today, at least, is Pev and Kowton’s End Point. It’s such a great tune that followed with this huge remix from Stenny and Andrea. The melody is amazing, it’s got a killer groove on the drums and the moment it comes in on a dancefloor the reaction is always great. It’s a great example of the Livity sound, and I still play it out now.
A bonus pick: Tru with Laurel Halo. I’ve loved Laurel’s music for a long time and to end up writing music together was exciting. When we were writing the tracks I was in her studio in Berlin. We had a beat rolling and she jumped on the keyboard and played that lead synth in Tru. I couldn’t believe it, I’m so musically untalented that it just knocked my head off seeing her nail a melody like that so fast.
The tracks all took a while to come together with many versions being made. The whole experience was great for me in general, a real practice in patience and intention – things I’ve never been very good at. I’m happy the tracks are on Livity, we had been playing some back-to-backs together [at the time] and the sound Laurel played out aligned so well with the music being released, making it the perfect fit.
PeverelistForest Drive West – Scanners (2017)
So much has happened over the last ten years – from the first releases to the first live show and then how things grew from there – so it’s hard to piece it all together in my head. If I had to pick one track and one moment it would be playing Forest Drive West’s Scanners to an 8am Berghain [crowd] and hearing it thunder through the system, feeling like this is a perfect Livity Sound tune. Joe makes the tunes I can only wish I could make.
I also remember playing a live show at Liquid Rooms in Tokyo and feeling like everything had finally really gelled when playing Asusu’s track Sister. It was one of the best sets we ever played live. Everything just fell into place that night. I can clearly recall playing End Point in the hazy evening sunshine at Dekmantel as well. We played just before Lee Scratch Perry and Adrian Sherwood, and so that was definitely a personal moment too.
(A slightly more anxiety-inducing memory – I still have flashbacks to someone leaning on the tempo button of the controller during our first live set in fabric Room 1, instantly sending the tempo of all our machines to 999bpm. An exciting moment for the crowd, [however] waves of panic for us as we tried to work out what the hell just happened.)
Thinking about clubs generally over the last decade, when we were first trying to do our thing it felt like we were the oddballs trying to fit in, especially when we played in Europe. More conventional house and techno sounds were very dominant and a lot of our UK peers had moved to an almost exclusively house and techno sound. We’d find ourselves trying to fit our curveballs into that, whereas now, a more UK-focused sound, or a more non genre-specific approach, is more accepted and even expected.
It’s hard to put a finger on what we’re looking for in the artists that we work with. I know pretty quickly if someone sends me something that shows potential. I’m usually looking for artists who are forging their own sound with their own ideas and have a strong musical identity. Most often it’s people I’ve met through music in some shape or form already.
In terms of how the label’s sound has changed over time, well, I’m not sure it has. There’s just more of it now, and the jigsaw of the Livity Sound musical vision is only just starting to take shape. When it comes to what I’m most proud of, I’d say the tunes – obviously – but I’m also proud of building something positive out of nothing; something that people want to get involved in, and [something that] brings people together. Hopefully we’re flying the flag a little bit for Bristol as well, and contributing to its reputation as a great city for music.
Molten Mirrors – A Decade of Livity Sound is out on 24 September