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Beatnik catches up with a garage pioneer
words Chinwe OjieloArtful Dodger: Outrageous
Artful, who was born Mark Hill and forms one half of dance duo Artful Dodger, has a wealth of experience in the music industry. Beatnik caught up with the man who co-produced Craig David’s Born to Do It, has sold ten million records worldwide and just released ‘Could Just Be the Bassline’ as a solo single.
If you were raving on the UK dance floors of the late 90’s–early noughties, chances are you were shouting ‘Booo!’ to the sound of UK Garage. Whether it was speed garage or 2-step garage didn’t really matter. Up in the club, you’d find ladies wearing sexy tight-fitting clothes and guys observing the no hats, no hoods, no trainers policy; everyone dressed to impress.
This uniquely British sound could also be heard on council estates, booming on pirate radio stations through the bedroom walls of many wannabe emcees. The hottest dubplates and bootlegs had Sunday morning listeners drop calling the DJ, a signal to reload the tune.
It wasn’t long before the charts were seduced by UK Garage’s feel-good, female-friendly sound. Production duo Artful Dodger saw their debut album It’s All About The Stragglers shift 10 million records, and their single “Re Re-wind” receive critical acclaim. Soon, a garage remix—much like today’s Dubstep production—was highly in demand.
Elements of UK Garage later evolved to a more gritty form in the shape of Grime, where the involvement of the emcee was more pronounced than in UK Garage’s other off shoots. Like its name, Bassline concerns itself with the bass of the beat, as does the mostly instrumental Dubstep. UK Funky took from UK Garage its feel-good energy.
Fast-forward to 2011, and we have Artful, aka Mark Hill, one half of Artful Dodger, releasing a new single, “Could Just Be The Bassline”. Beatnik jumped on the opportunity to reminisce about all things old skool garage.
Beatnik: Your album It’s All About The Stragglers helped pioneer the sound of UK Garage. When you were creating it, did you have any idea that the 2-step sound would have as huge an impact on the dance music scene as it did?
Artful: Absolutely no idea at all. I’d love to say it was all planned but the fact of the matter was I really wanted to make club tracks, but was just bored with the simplicity of the 4-to-the-floor drum programming, and wanted to make the beats a bit more funky. I think that stems from starting out as a drummer and percussionist.
What were your aims for the album?
I wanted the album to have continuity, but also some light and shade like a proper artist album; I didn’t want it to just feel like a dance compilation. That was the reasoning behind tracks like “Think About Me” and “Twenty Four 7″. I didn’t want to cram the album full of obvious dance floor tunes. The main aim was to create a body of work that I was proud of, and would hopefully stand the test of time. I had no idea whether I had achieved that or not.
Whenever I hear a UK Garage track, my mind immediately transports back to the dance floors of the late 90′s/early noughties. What feelings or thoughts come to you when you hear a great 2-step production?
I have always associated the music with partying and the summer. They were very good times and the crowds we used to get into the gigs were very cosmopolitan and always up for it! That made it all worthwhile and I have tons of fond memories as a result. I still listen to tracks like MJ Cole’s “Sincere” and Sunship’s productions, and they immediately take me back; they have a real positive vibe to them.MJ Cole: Sincere
In your opinion, how has the dance music landscape changed since the late 1990’s?
I think the main ethos is the same, and it is still very much driven by the independents. But of course the process is now very different. It’s much easier to make the music and sell it, and also to promote it. Unfortunately it’s also much harder to sell it! But the idea of promoting through DJs, pirate (Internet), radio and clubs is still the same.
Coming onto your new single, “Could Just Be The Bassline”, I hear that it was co-written with Ed Sheeran. How did you both meet and can you describe your collaborative process?
I had seen some of Ed’s work on YouTube and suchlike, and when my manager at the time, Rob Adamson, had been in touch with Ed’s management, they suggested we get together for a writing session; I jumped at the chance.
He was fabulous to work with. He was very focused and confident but also humble with it; I could tell he was destined for great things. It was the same sort of passion I saw in Craig David and Corinne Bailey Rae. It was Ed’s idea to try something that had that old Artful Dodger flavour and the song came together really nicely.
Your previous singles were huge successes. How much pressure do you feel now to emulate those achievements?
Honestly, I don’t feel any pressure at all; the fun was always in the challenge for me. I started on this new project with the idea of setting up independently with my partner Matt, and we realised straight away that this would be a long process.
The important thing for us is that it stays fun, and music driven. It’s very hard to compete with the might of the majors so I don’t want to play that game. Radio space is very crowded these days so I’ll be happy with whatever we achieve. The reaction so far has been awesome, that’s enough for me!
Aside from Ed Sheeran and Kal Lavelle, who else can we expect to hear on the album and does it have a title yet?
Nope, no title yet I’m afraid, ha! That’s a tough one. I have been working with some amazing talent, Shean Williams for starters, also Daniel De Bourg and a young singer called Hannah Evans who I think has massive potential.
And finally, what other types of genres can we expect to find on the album?
The album was finished months ago but I keep adding stuff to it, and changing stuff! There are some straight up house tracks, more midtempo stuff and more UK Garage influenced tracks, but the whole thing is infused with touches of electro, breaks, dubstep, funky… It’s a real mish mash but at the heart of all the tracks are good vocals and proper songs.Artful Dodger: Re-Rewind