Night Slugs inspired a generation of globally-minded club producers
The landscape of cutting edge dance music today is global. Rhythms and structures from opposite sides of the world collide, with interpretations often feeding back to their points of origin for more mutation. Labels like Nervous Horizon in the UK, Nyege Nyege in Uganda and SVBKVLT in Shanghai represent the globe-spanning sounds that define what’s being called ‘club.’ This cross-pollination is so ubiquitous today that it’s easy to forget how groundbreaking a label like Night Slugs seemed just a decade ago.
As the internet connected the world these shifts were likely just a matter of time, but in the UK at least Night Slugs is a crucial link in the chain leading to today’s club sounds. Run by Bok Bok and L-Vis 1990, it emerged in the late 2000s after grime and dubstep had begun to splinter and captured the burst of inspiration and possibility inherent in sounds like UK funky. A slew of mind-bending releases by the likes of Mosca, Lil Silva and the label-heads dropped in quick succession. When Jam City’s Classical Curves was released in 2012 the label’s status was undeniable.
Night Slugs’ output has slowed since but, along with sister label Fade to Mind, it continues to contribute to the swirling metamorphosis of dance music. In February we announced Night Slugs’ crackaud.io residency with a mix from Leonce, followed at the end of March by Hysterics (aka Girl Unit). At this halfway point in the run, we spoke with Bok Bok to dig a little deeper into the label’s history and look to the future.
Firstly, thanks for being involved. Let’s start with some obvious ones – how did the label start?
In ’08-’09, me and James (L-Vis 1990 / Dancesystem) were already throwing raves under the name Night Slugs. The name was a homage to London bassline label Northernline Records’ series of track titles, ones such as Club Slugs, Arabian Slugs, Salt Slugs, Wifey Slugs and many more. Flukes & Paleface from Northernline went on to become Crazy Cousinz!
During that period a lot of new music started being made by our ourselves and our friends, inspired by the spirit of the dubplate culture we grew up with but combined with all these new influences from outside the UK. The obvious move was to start releasing it.
What are the aims of the label?
Everything happened really organically and kind of by accident. It was just the right energy and it got hot enough and ignited. So there were no aims really except to create a platform for all the new material.
How would you summarise the label’s sound?
After 12 years it feels multidimensional but still club-orientated, intense, atmospheric and emotional.
The Night Slugs Allstars compilations introduced the world to a generation of forward thinking club producers.
Can you walk me through the trajectory of Night Slugs’ existence? Were there any turning points in terms of the evolution of sound?
There have been many splinter points and mutations along the way. In ’08-’09 we were playing bassline, grime, stuff from blogs like Palms Out Sounds and T&B. By the end of 2009, funky had popped off hugely in the UK and I had released my first 12”s.
The earliest Night Slugs releases continued in this vein, with Mosca’s Square One/Nike drawing on funky, bashment, house and dub; Lil Silva’s Night Skanker was classic UKF; Girl Unit’s IRL was eight-bar ghettotech painted fluorescent. Kingdom brought fractured R&B flavours on That Mystic EP; Girl Unit’s anthem Wut was sort of proto-trap. Jam City’s debut 12” cut up Scottish ’80s funk into relentless eight-bar grime, and later EP Magic Drops came with low-slung beats informed by Bay Area rap production. By the end of 2010, the palette was complete.
2012 saw the release of Jam City’s debut LP Classical Curves with its inventive club/funk aesthetics, tenderness, minimalism and unique sense of humour. Jam City created a whole world for the record to live in.
In 2014, Kelela released Cut 4 Me with production by Night Slugs and Fade To Mind members. This was our first time really applying our work to proper song form. Soon after I did Melba’s Call with Kelela, which I like to think of as a sort of R&G ballad.
"Jam City created a whole world for the record to live in and people were mostly confused and captivated."
Is there one release or moment, in particular, you can remember that made you feel like you’d really tapped into something?
I felt it a few times – with Wut, DAT Oven’s Icy Lake re-release and the doc L-Vis made around that record. When Silo Pass started doing the rounds in grime sets. The wave of producers inspired by Classical Curves. When EDM DJs started playing Bring In The Katz. And as soon as I met Kelela.
I can’t think of many labels that appeared with such a fully realised aesthetic, musically and visually. Was that something you were trying to do?
It’s just that I had a graphic design background and a lot of energy, with a tendency towards uniformity and repetition. So I basically couldn’t help it.
In that first year the label released a pretty staggering amount of music, where did all come from? Had you been planning on releasing?
No there was never a plan, it just all kept coming. By the time I’d schedule a release, two more would take shape from the demos people were sending me.
This has slowed a fair bit, and obviously there’s now Fade to Mind as well. How has your approach to running the label changed over time?
These days Night Slugs exists as a platform but I’m not actively working on releases. Lvis and I are both into doing our own thing these days so I can’t put as much time into developing things as I used to. Night Slugs is more there to drop finished projects when the time is right.
Would you agree that Night Slugs was instrumental in championing a worldwide crossover in club music? Can you detect the legacy and influence of the label elsewhere today?
Sure, I think together with our peers we helped to shape some of that direction and it’s really amazing to see where the ideas go and what a whole new generation is doing now. For me, Night Slugs was just a continuation of what had come before us, “channelling the past into the future” has been sort of a motto. So I see it as more a link in the chain.
What are you hoping to do with Night Slugs’ crackaud.io residency?
I want to show where the label is at now, with all the diversity and quality that the artists bring.
What’s in store for the future?
A steady trajectory. More releases, more raves.