In Conversation: Etch
For our latest In Conversation feature we got together with genre-bending intergalactic soundsmith Zak Brashill, commonly known as Etch. Raised with fine-tuned musical influences from his mum, aunt, and uncle, Etch came up with an eclectic knowledge and an enviable record collection. Now he can’t be pinned down, rightfully taking up space in hardcore, hiphop, jungle, dnb, techno & garage scenes without belonging solely to any. His DJ sets are as comprehensive as the tunes he makes, taking people out of their comfort zones since 2011. An unstoppable force in producing music, Zak has a forthcoming LP on Sneaker Social Club as well as multiple EPs in the works under his usual moniker, and undoubtedly more under pseudonyms he may never reveal to us.
Jodanabel: Hi Zak! What are you up to day to day?
Zak: So, up until recently I worked for a mental health company linked to the NHS called Brighton and Hove Wellbeing Service. I just helped get patients booked in, and did some low level help with people who rang in with crises. I don’t work there anymore because I wanna move to London just to get closer to the scene again. Musically speaking, I’m working on my next album for Sneaker Social Club. I’ve got about 5 finished records that have yet to come out just because of the vinyl and manufacturing delay, Brexit, and all that.
J: Yeah. Cool, we’ll definitely talk more about that. Did I hear you teach production in the community?
Z: Yeah – I’m gonna start doing that. I did it a little bit the other day. There’s a studio space in Brighton, and it’s also like a youth centre where they teach kids production. The guy who runs the place was like ‘would you wanna do this on a regular basis?’ And I was like, ‘yeah I’m down, until I move to London.’ So hopefully I’ll start doing that more often. I’ve had a little bit of experience teaching production; I was a guest at one of E.M.M.A’s Producer Girls workshops with Ikonika, P Jam, and Dexplicit. Yeah I do like teaching, it’s fun.
J: What inspires you to make music?
Z: Curiosity really. I’ve always been a computer nerd, and music properly started catching my ear when I was about 7. When you’re at that age, you’re not picking things out, that’s that genre, that’s that tempo, or whatever. I was just like ‘this sounds good, that sounds good.’ So from my auntie I was listening to mainly east and west coast hip hop. Then through my mum, she was listening to psychedelic rock, and UK dance music; the Prodigy, and the Chemical Brothers, and also Roni Size & Reprazent. Then from my uncle, he was listening to drum & bass and jungle. So I already had a bit of a confused musical identity. Then when I went to school – I used to live in a council flat, and our family was considered ‘at risk’. We got moved to a house sort of quite far away in the suburbs, I had to change schools, and instantly I didn’t fit in. I didn’t play sports, and I was into video games, and music, and stuff like that. So I just took on the uh, the look, and I became a goth. I grew my hair long, wore black, painted my nails black, and I started listening to metal and stuff to fit in with that. While I was already listening to electronic music, then I heard Nine Inch Nails, and through listening to them I was like, oh wow Trent Reznor’s doing loads of stuff that’s really intense, not just guitars and drums and bass. So I went on a quest to find out how he did it. I saw photos of him in the studio and I was like ‘oh my god, what? He’s using computers and stuff.’ At the same time, when I was 13 one of my friends sent me Fruity Loops 3 over MSN messenger, and it took overnight to send. Just hilarious to think that it was only like a 90MB file, (laughs) so yeah that’s when it began.
J: How did you come up with the name Etch?
Z: Ah that question. It’s weird, it’s got two parts. So I started calling myself Etch in like 2007, which is the year that Untrue by Burial came out – and I’m like a Burial superfan. He had a tune on that album called Etched Headplate, so there’s that. And around that time I started taking production a lot more seriously – not technically, but my ideas were getting sort of bigger. I would layer loads of samples on top of each other, weird stuff like Tom Waits, and Elliot Smith, with Jazz and Soul, then hip hop, and then my own beats over the top. Where I knew nothing about mixing and stuff, people would describe my sound as sounding like Etchy.
J: Do you have any guilty pleasures in music?
Z: You know what, the guilty pleasure thing, I used to be such an elitist, and I look back on myself and shudder sometimes. Because you’d be into underground music and shut off certain genres, but as I’ve grown up I’m not really particularly guilty about anything I like. I suppose a few of the things people laugh at me for liking are Sky Ferreira, Lana Del Rey –
J: Ayy Lana’s my guilty pleasure
Z: Yeah, mate I’ve got Ultraviolence the vinyl up there. Yeah, people laugh at me for liking an eighties band called Bananarama. But you know what, if people laugh at me for liking something it’s gotten to the point where I’m like fuck off (laughs).
J: Got to let people enjoy things, definitely.
Z: Yeah, for sure.
J: Have you played anywhere on the other side of restrictions, or done anything fun musically?
Z: I’ve been doing my Balamii radio show monthly since May, and I did a sit down gig in Brighton, which was fucking – like bless ‘em for doing it and trying, but it was horrible, it was horrible I absolutely hated it (laughs).
J: Same, it was a weird time. I did that for my birthday last year, a sit down club night.
Z: Yeah, I can’t even imagine how it feels being part of the audience, but as a DJ part of it is you’re vibing off of people’s reactions. Yeah you would get the occasional gunfinger from somebody sitting down, but it’s like ugh…
J: Tell me more about what you’ve got in the works for the future, you’ve got your album coming out on Sneaker Social Club, what else?
Z: Yep, so, I mean aside from the album, the labels that I’ve already released on, I’m always in the talks with them. Particularly Burnski who runs like Instinct and all those labels. I’m always gonna be sending him tunes. The same with the Zenker Brothers for Ilian Tape. Yeah, basically all the labels I’ve built a good relationship with I’ll always send them tracks so hopefully there’ll be stuff from there in the future. My next release is Cosmic B-Boy part 2, which is coming out on Purple City. There’s a few half-time 160 bits, but it’s basically a hip-hop record; it’s got an MC on three of the tracks. Then I’ve got a fully drum & bass record coming out on Tempo who just put out my most recent record. I’ve got like a housey techno record coming out on Hypercolour. I’ve got another record that’s a mishmash of a lot of things, on a label called LMD. Aaaand, I’ve got my 12 inch on Overshadow, the new Moving Shadow label that I need to, that I actually need to do (laughs). There’s so much pressure for me on that one, because Moving Shadow is like my favourite label of all time. The Sully release that’s just come out on it has blown up so much. The amount of videos I’ve seen, and actually been at raves where that tune has dropped, it’s insane. I’ve just heard the next release they’re doing and that is equally insane. I was talking to Si from 2 Bad Mice, and he was like ‘yeah try and have yours ready by like March next year,’ and I was just like aw I don’t even know if I can do that, (laughs) but I’ll do it, I’ll come through, I have to – it’s my destiny to release on that label.
J: Did you really jump the queue at the pressing plant because you knew someone who was a freemason?
Z: (proper laughs) That… I think it’s a bit of a pisstake between me and the guy who’s putting out my next record, the Purple City one. I only finished that record three months ago, and we were like we’re not gonna get that out until like next year at least. He was asking around all the pressing plants and distribution places, and he managed to find one that no one knows about, which – and I’m not even gonna say what it is – and mate, he’s managed to get like a four month turnaround, which is ridiculous. And it’s coming out on pink vinyl, and it’s all special and shit. The freemason joke thing came up because this isn’t the first time he’s made a phone call and sorted something out for me.
J: Can you tell me anything more about your characters and alter egos? I know the Cosmic B-Boy is the 70s astronaut who somehow found himself in your yard. I wanna know more about the demonological occultist, and anyone else.
Z: Haha so the demonology one, there’s no point in pretending it’s not me. I tried to do an illusive thing for a while; I released a record under the alias of Amduscias. It came out on Space Hardware, which is one of Jamie who runs Sneaker Social Club’s labels. I stayed anonymous for a while because I was tryna be all shadowy with it, which was annoying because it got played by like Ben UFO, The Blessed Madonna, Mumdance, like bare people, and I couldn’t really say anything. The initial idea for that was I was gonna do a record on Berceuse Heroique, then Jamie was gonna put out an EP and cassette, but it ended up not happening, so I am still sitting on Amduscias tunes. I might do more releases in the future, cause I liked doing that, like the whole idea of Amduscias was- I’m really curious about the occult, I’ve got a book on demonology from the 70s, it’s just really weird and really interesting. Obviously I love horror films and stuff like that. And Amduscias, it’s the name of the demon that conducts Satan’s orchestra. So all the music was just gonna be like dark, and sample horror films, and stuff like that. Then I have two other aliases that are basically just straight up house and techno, but I’m not gonna say the names… yet.
J:I’m gonna ask now, who have you enjoyed live the most, or what’s the best live music event you’ve ever been to? It can just be because of vibe. Some people just know how to throw a party that brings a tear to your eye.
Z: Wow, yeah, so many, so so many
J: Most recent then?
Z: Most recent… It was the first weekend that clubs had opened and I went to Rupture at Fold. There were loads of really good DJs playing, but Bryan Gee did an entire like ‘94 to ‘97 dubplate and vinyl set. He was playing like Dillinja tunes that no-one had ever heard before, I dunno if they turned the system up for him, or if it was just ‘cause his dubplates were mastered really well, but the sound that came out of his set was ridiculous. In recent memory, that’s the best thing I’ve seen.
J: Cool. Is there anyone you’d like to collab with, or collab with again?
Z: Ah the list is endless! I’m collabing with a few heroes actually on my Sneaker Social Club album, which will reveal themselves eventually. There’s one that we’re sort of in the talks about that almost seems impossible, but almost so impossible it might happen, and if that does happen I’ve completed life – but I’m not gonna say who that is! But other than that, I’d love to collaborate with Lana Del Rey (laughs) I dunno how that would work, I’d also love to collaborate with Tom Waits, I don’t know how that would work. There’s loads of rappers I’d love to collaborate with, Tyler the Creator I think is incredible. JID is another rapper I really like. There’s a lot of UK MCs I really like, like V9 and KO who are part of the whole Homerton thing. Yeah, loads of people. I really wanna work with Skee Mask and ZULI, and I think that might be on the verge of happening soon, but I don’t want to jinx it.
J: Touch wood. Okay, so my last question is just, what are you looking forward to the most, just in general.
Z: (Smiling widely) God, I’m like the most like unoptimistic person ever (laughs) I just literally live like each day as it comes and if that day was a good day, then in the words of Ice Cube, ‘today was a good day’.
J: No that’s good, that’s realistic.
Z: It is, it’s totally, I think it’s realistic. I do get a lot of shit for being pessimistic, and not forward looking I suppose. But I’m looking forward to getting out and DJing again for sure. Also I’m really looking forward to, and nervous about getting my Overshadow release out because again that’s another like bucket list thing complete. Also finishing this big album, because it’s, it’s so ambitious, and it’s… like nothing I’ve ever done before. The people that I’m collaborating with on it, like, I can’t think of anybody else that would’ve thought to have brought these people together on one record, and it’s either gonna be successful like, ‘oh wow, he did that and pulled it off,’ or they’re gonna be like, what the fuck is this? So I’m excited about seeing how that’s gonna, you know, transpire.
Etch – Polarity is out now on Ilian Tape
Photographs: Alida Beavis
Words: Jodanabel Villain