The first time I listened to a track by Submerse is, quite probably a moment retired to a place beyond the reaches of my over-stretched memory. The first time I HEARD Submerse, though”Â¦ well”Â¦ that was something of a sucker-punch. Prostrate on a sofa, recently home from a summer festival, desperately trying to stitch together some fairly fragmented elements of my life.
A voice cut through the comedown: “Forgive me / for what I’m about to say / what I’m about to do / can’t take no more.”Â
To start with, amidst the twitching and oppressive sense of impending doom, I thought it was just the lyrics, resonating too heavily with me. But I keep coming back to it and frankly, it’s just an all-round heartbreaker. 6 months later and I can still, quite readily, shed a tear upon listening to it.
Silence in all the right places, a downtrodden shuffle, minor chords that could force a hardy heart to shatter. We’re supposed to call it future garage. I’ll just call it soul.
In nearly a decade of writing about music and interviewing musicians, I’ve never been so bereft of preconception before an interview. A not-quite faceless producer and DJ, I’d seen a photo of him whilst searching for more tunes online but hadn’t really built up any expectations of what kind of human being he may transpire to be. I just knew he was kinda young-looking and blonde. And figured that was enough for locating a stranger in a busy bar.
Deploying an ambitious degree of optimism, I decided to work on the basis that he was probably a bit arrogant and wouldn’t really want to talk. Then anything else would be a bonus.
Right. Everything else was a bonus.
I was right about the young looking (he got ID’d getting himself a beer, admitted he looks “about 12”Â and told a pretty hilarious story about getting stopped by police when he was in NYC, mistaken for a runaway child). Astoundingly wrong about the arrogance.
We’re on a blank page, so we start at the start: Submerse is from Runcorn”Â¦
“It’s the crappiest, smallest town you’ve ever seen.”Â
What’s going on there, musically?
“Nothing. There’s nothing AT all. I was just an outcast. I used to sit in my room 24 / 7, listen to music on the internet, play video games. That was it really. I think in the whole time being there, I had about 5 friends. And the only friend really I’ve got there now is Resketch, who’s also playing tonight (at Wire, in Leeds).
I have known him since I was about 12 years old. The first time I ever met him, we watched The Exorcist when we were 12. We were too scared to sleep so we slept in the same room and he had to stand outside the door when I went to the toilet.”Â
So what kind of music did you listen to as a kid?
“It was quite a weird one for me, I think the first CD I ever bought was the Power Rangers soundtrack. Wicked album. But I got heavily into, like video game soundtracks. Literally, I was like, 14 years old and I was buying J-Pop off the internet. Then I got into garage when it was, well, at its peak, but it didn’t hit up North ”Ëtil quite a bit later. So it was just me in my room, listening to stuff off the internet and off mixtapes.”Â
Was there any one moment that made you decide you wanted to make music, then?
“I think DJing came before production”Â¦ then the first few raves we went to just sort of blew my mind. Cos we’d go and see bands and it’d be sort of a younger audience, then we went to a night at the MEN. It was loads of different nights combined and it was a proper rave and I was just stood there thinking ”Ëwow, I wanna do this more than anything’.”Â
I know that he use to live in Leeds and wonder how it influenced him. It’s hard to pin the city down, musically; it doesn’t have its own sound, per se, but there’s an infectious sense of ”Ëcan-do’ about the place (he was playing at Wire, that night).
“I owe a lot to Leeds, really. If I hadn’t have come to Leeds, it wouldn’t have spurred me on to get to where I am now. I guess it was just some of the people we met around. The guys who did Ruffage, Ramadan Man, Ben UFO”Â¦ it was kind of inspiring to see them doing their own thing. In Runcorn, you’d never imagine running your own night. Never, ever, ever. To see them doing it was a real inspiration to me. Like: ”Ëyeah, I REALLY wanna do this now’.”Â
So who do you consider do be your contemporary kindred spirits?
“Obviously, I think Burial’s got a similar sound, I mean, the emotional value you get with his albums is incredible. At the moment there’s Kingthing, people like Synkro”Â¦ The great thing about this kind of music at the moment is there’s no solid template to it. If you want to make this kind of music, it doesn’t have to be like this.
It’s a bit weird because I do take a lot of influence from Japanese pop and there’s no one else really doing that and I do feel a bit on my own. People like Skream & Benga, they’ve worked at what they’ve been doing for ages and I think if some day we can be at the same level as them, that’s be amazing.”Â
It’s just being able to do what you love more than anything. Not just as a hobby but an actual job & to make a good living out of it. Hats off to them that they’ve done that. When I was in Leeds four or five years ago, I watched Rusko play to, like, 5 people. To go from that to what they’re doing now”Â¦ you can’t knock ”Ëem for it.”Â
I tell him that what drew me to his music was the emotional impact and ask if that’s something that he sets out to create (because, just maybe it isn’t and it turns out I’m just a quivering, emotional wreck, after all”Â¦)
“Ever since I was a kid, you know, a lot of J-pop music is really, really emotional music and I listened to quite a lot of ambient as well and it’s always that kind of sound and tempo: uplifting, but really sad at the same time. I think when I’m listening to music in my room, that’s the kind of music I go for, really sad, almost tear-jerking kinda music.”Â
I want to know if this something intuitive to him, or learned by rote (CTRL + S = SAD SOUND, blah blah blah”Â¦)
“I think a lot of the time, I don’t really know what I’m gonna do. I’ll just do some drums and things and it’ll start sounding really electronic and dance music-y so I think right, I need some pads and I think the chords I go for are just really”Â¦ I’m not sure. I just seem to go for that all the time.”Â
I mention that some of his newer tracks sound a bit less emotional (for ”Ëemotional,’ read ”Ëcould you sew my chest back up please, you appear to have stuck your jagged fist in and wrenched my heart out”Â¦’)
“Recently, I’ve been getting booked to play quite late sets at night; it’s not really when you wanna hear emotional slow music, so I’ve been making bassline stuff but I’ve still got that sort of soulful element to it. Just trying to show that this isn’t the only thing I can do; I can be quite diverse as well.
I think it’s just not wanting to be kinda pigeonholed. I get quite bored easy and I like making different stuff. I like being accessible for different nights & different styles. Like, over the weekend, I played at a proper hardcore rave. It’s nice just dabbling in a little bit of everything as well.
I’ll never stop making that kind of thing ”Â¦ I’ll never stop trying to make tear-jerking music.”Â
Oh, good, I’d hate to think I might actually go a week without crying.
Later on that night, waiting for company to arrive, I did something I’d not done before: went to the club alone. Danced alone and drank alone. Bouyed by Submerse’s contagious enthusiasm, I drowned in the emotion. Alone.