One of the good things about music journalism is being sent new music for free.
From bootlegs and demos, to albums and EPs; raw home spun productions that you may otherwise never hear.
One of the better things is when these independent releases turn out to be good. Or really good. So good that you listen to it twice, then again, then again the next day – eventually laying it to rest in your iTunes account next to polished purchases from the majors.
Beta Birmingham’s latest album, ‘Council Pop’, was one of the latter; I think the response I penned was ‘spanked’. But ‘really good’ will do just as well.
A ten track mash up melange of Roots, Dub and Hip Hop, featuring a range of Birmingham based artists, including Automaton, Feva, Sam Redmore, DJ Switch and Redi Knightz – to cite but a few.
So, enthused by production values and a B fronted postcode, Birmingham Review went on the hunt – tracking down Beta Birmingham’s founder, Harley Davies (aka Terrorbyte), in his Hockley studio.
“I always want it to be a Birmingham thing,” says Davies, explaining the ‘Council Pop’ album. “A lot of people were getting exposure through producing bootlegs, or remixes in general, and I knew so many people in Birmingham who were doing that, it just seemed right to make it into a release.”
And how was that coordinated, was it difficult to pull in so many collaborators? “I started off thinking ‘I’ll make an EP – with four tracks’. Then I ended up with six tracks. Then eight tracks. Then I thought, ‘now I’ve got to get ten tracks and make a full album’. It became a question of where to stop.”
Birmingham Review was impressed by the production value of ‘Council Pop’. And although each track is underpinned by samples, including The Specials, Bob Marley & The Wailers, Ludacris, Royce Da 5’ 9” and even The Beatles, it felt each contributor maintains an identity, whilst feeding into the overall feel of the album.
Was it hard to compile something old, new and borrowed (the cover is a light blue)?
“There were times where I had to go back and say ‘that doesn’t fit into the style of the release’, but once you start to pull the tunes together you get an idea of what the whole album will sound like.”
So did anything not make the final cut?
“No… well, I remember one tune was a bit too Gangster Rap. Not that it was a bad tune, it just didn’t fit in with the Roots and Hip Hop feel of the rest of the album. So that didn’t get included.”
Roots, Hip Hop, Dub, Gangster Rap. And now Glitch Hop. Which Davies and his label are proud purveyors of, having recently come back from a UK Glitch Hop Tour. A tour which took them the several cities, but not Birmingham.
“I think maybe I’ve got home town blues,” admits Davies, “but I’ve put so many parties on in Birmingham where they can be really hit or miss; sometimes they’re brilliant, sometime they’re utterly terrible. And it’s not just our own events; if it’s not easily commercial I think you can struggle as a promoter in Birmingham.”
But you run a label with Birmingham in the name? “I wanted to galvanise what I saw as a fractured scene in Birmingham,” explains Davies, “and I hoped by setting up the label, and calling it Beta Birmingham, that people from Birmingham would present it. That it could only be positive.”
Has that happened? “In some ways it has, and then… in a lot of ways it’s put the people who are on the label…” I sense creative, entrepreneurial, or civic, frustration, “how to explain it.
None of our artists are ‘up and coming’, they’re all established in Birmingham – in their own right, but I feel they’re now better known outside of Birmingham because of it (Beta Birmingham), which is interesting. But I think in Birmingham it hasn’t changed much at all.”
I’ve heard this before. And I remember Davies telling me about two punters at their Bristol gig, proudly explaining to him and Tom Dunstan (aka Automaton) how they had travelled from Edinburgh to see them. Maybe its “home town blues’” as Davies reiterates, but there’s no denying Birmingham can expose a provincial mentality.
So what’s next? ‘Council Pop’ is gathering momentum, Beta Birmingham are hosting a stage at the Drop Beats Not Bombs 10th Anniversary; what’s the next move for Davies?
“We’re getting much more into the Glitch Hop scene, so that’s led me to the next stage of the label – Beta Test.”
“Beta Birmingham is just Midlands based producers, and through doing the mash ups (Council Pop) I’ve realised the scope of genres we can put out in that label can be anything really, and I like that. Whereas the new label, Beta Test, will be just Glitch Hop releases”.
And why Glitch Hop?
“There’s a freedom with it that I’m excited to work with. And from putting various events we’ve got to know some solid producers from all over the country, and are now we’re affiliated with UK Glitch Hop (the widely regarded pioneers of the subgenre). So now that ‘Council Pop’ has been released, my attention is on the new label – Beta Test.”
And Glitch Hop. Which is what, exactly?
Davies grins, “…I would hate to define what it is,” Try? “Well, to me its stuttered edits, accidental glitches, wobbly basslines, all on a Hip Hop tempo. But it can be anything. It can encompass so many genres, from straight out Hip Hop, scratching, to more funky inspired stuff.
It gives you the freedom to make anything. That’s what I love about Glitch Hop.”
Beta Test broadcast a monthly show on Glitch.FM, the online radio station devoted to the subgenre, so you can describe it yourself.
To listen in, visit http://glitch.fm/relevant-tags/beta-test
For more on Beta Birmingham, visit http://www.betabirmingham.co.uk/