Bok Bok, the London-based DJ, producer, engineer, and Night Slugs director launched a new label this year, AP Life. With three essential releases so far, including a new double EP ‘Zodiac Beats Vol 1 & 2’ as One Bok, we caught up with him in a chat online. Transcript below.
So in March you launched AP Life with a new album by Nammy Wams, followed really fast with a Kid D EP. Congrats! We’ll come back to the releases in a bit, but to kick things off, an obvious question - what made you refresh with a brand new label instead of rebooting Night Slugs, and why now, here in 2021?
So Night Slugs is getting a bit more energy - wouldn’t say reboot seeing as we been doing bits all along but defo picking up pace this year with club music releases. I didn’t wanna do club music at first during the pandemic, not just because it didn’t suit the collective atmosphere since we couldn’t party, but also just cos I had no energy for it myself. But that’s changed now.
But to answer your question - I had started cooking beats that were more akin to the Silo Pass lineage but taking influence from a more modern palette. It didn’t feel euphoric enough for NS, or not escapist enough or something. Moreover it just felt like a new type of mood, more about solitude, more angst and darkness there. I decided to put them under the alias One Bok to create a bit of mental separation, for myself first and foremost. I also just didn’t want to release these beats alongside the usual Bok material.
Originally I wanted to give the material a home away from NS and around the same time heard Nammy’s beats, and the unique way they were positioned between grime, drill & something of his own really resonated with me. I realised I wanted to try to support the emergence of more of a community around instrumentals in this field, and reintroduce some of that DJ/dubplate culture from the early days of my come up in grime to a new skool / generation of beats. So that’s how AP emerged basically.
An obvious question next: where does the name AP Life come from?
Me and Nammy came up with it together. It’s got some internal meaning and stands for a few different things but we’d rather not reveal what those are!
It’s interesting as it feels like you kind of foreshadowed your interest in this sound on your (very sick) ‘Salvage’ EP back in 2017. The idea to focus on instrumentals with the label makes a lot of sense, as it’s easy to overlook the production when rap is the ‘main event’ or focal point in Drill, yet there’s so much going on in every one of those beats floating around out there. Was there anything that surprised you about the reception of ‘Salvage’, and do you think it’d be looked at differently if it came out now?
Yes 100%, I was searching for something / reaching for a sound on that one for sure tho i was still trying to make my version of grime at that point or that’s how i thought of it at the time. I agree there’s a few proto-AP tracks on there, as well as things like “Wreck” instrumental by Girl Unit and a few other NS tunes that were in this vein. I feel salvage mostly slipped between the cracks tbh which is fine by me as it was just me experimenting with no expectations. I like the ETS vocal that happened over Island Hopping.
Yeah it really felt like a palpable vibe shift in your discography from kind of airy, HD, and dry, to humid, lo-fi, and dank, but still fully connected somehow, attitude-wise. Almost like reshuffling a deck of cards into a new configuration. But even down to the graphics, there’s for sure the first flashes of AP Life held within that release. What stimulated that reshuffle when you could’ve just ridden the wave you had created. Were you just like ‘OK, it’s time to change it up’ one day, or was it a slower process? So basically, what led to that shift? Also, did your setup and production methods mutate to accommodate the ideas, or was it the other way around, with the ideas coming out of a more open searching through making?
A lot of the lo-finess on Salvage was a result of getting obsessed with the Oberheim Prommer which I originally got hold of to burn modern sounds to PROMs to use inside my Drumtraks instead of the Linn soundkit I had installed in there. I did make a lot of kits that way but also got really into using the Prommer itself as a sampler, I’d sample a single bass note from a Moog i had on loan and play midi into the Prommer like a keyboard. It felt a bit like how Dizzee’s basses from Go / Ho being broadcast on De Ja and recorded to tape sounded.
So that’s one part of it. I guess the shift was also down to stuff happening in my life. It was maybe the start of a darker period that snapped me out of the escapism and euphoria of the early NS phase. I think if I’m honest I’m really less of a beat maker and more of a emo and process-driven practitioner and I can only really make what comes out – I’m really bad at setting out to make something with an outcome in mind ahead of the process.
I’m just expressing myself using the only artistic language I know which is beats.
What shape did the darker time take, if you don’t mind me asking? What was going down?
I prob won’t go into too much specifics but I’ll just say a lot of life changes and health issues, a real comedown from a life between tours and studio for years on end. Having to actually pick myself up & learning to take care of my body and mind properly.
Do you consider going even further down that emo & process road? Especially rn when the club, even though slowly reopening, seems like a different thing to before the c-19 era kicked off. Any idea where it would take you?
tbh I feel I’ve gone the other way, like something did change, where I figured out a few things and know what I want more before it’s made, so I’m being a bit more intentional now than on previous releases that were more experimental. I’m trying to work faster and leave less to chance. Although in terms of writing melodies it’s still quite an experimental and chaotic process.
That sounds positive. Glad you’ve come out the other side even stronger. Do you feel a different relationship with the new tracks that have come out of that more intentional process?
You know, not being funny but it’s the first time I’ve actually continued to like a release after it came out (re: Zodiac Beats).
That’s interesting! What do you like about ZB, & can you recall any of the things that bugged you about releases looking back?
Yea on previous ones it’s just been niggling about everything from drum programming to hearing edits I missed, occasional mix regrets - I mostly put it down to fatigue and losing perspective and with ZB I just didn’t really have them feelings. I think partly they feel more ‘complete’ than some of my older releases, and partly there’s an honesty there that I’ve learnt to be ok with. They are what they are and I like them for that.
Yeah, it’s an odd thing, switching out of that mindset with a track where nothing is fixed, to suddenly just turning that bit of your brain off once it’s done. It sounds like you’re clearly in a fresh new phase and it definitely shines through on ZB. If there’s was anything you could bring back from your mindset and process from a while back, what would it be?
I’d want to make some dance music again. It’s been a while - I think I found it much easier when I had no idea what I was doing.
I guess it’d be cool to see what came out of that now you’re in a different zone. A forthcoming AP maybe : )
tbh I decided to do some today as it goes. Probably more for Night Slugs which I’m making all about club again. Maybe try and connect with the Pure Shores energy.
Timing! Can’t wait to hear it. On an AP/NS connect tip, it’s been really a thing to see how the visual world for AP has played such a role in the releases so far. This seems to have been the case with both the labels. Really laser sharp, precision engineered imagery. Basically inseparable from the sonics. How important is the visual aspect to you in what you do, and where do you see that all going next with music and imagery?
I think it’s just a part of how I think about communicating ideas cos that’s my background creatively, in visuals. Especially important for AP, since its instrumentals, I want them to really tell stories, it was important for me to focus and be quite specific. Me and Jose (joh000_) had a lot of conversations about what we wanted to stand for and communicate, as I did with Nammy as well. With NS I’m quite relaxed about the continuity nowadays and every project kinda lives in its own world.
Did you study art or graphics or something along those lines?
Yea graphic design.
Do you have any mental touchstones that you return to in envisioning your work? Like artists, labels, or designers whose approach you admire from when you were first discovering your relationship to visual language?
Yea for sure, I have definitely been reconnecting with a certain era of my early design education. I was referencing Sixtoo a lot, you might notice if you look at some of his old covers from like 2001 there’s some influence! Also dug out a lot of issues of Graphotism and some of the DIY books and zines I had from that kind of time, and definitely thinking about the skate and punk zine culture from when I was younger.
That makes total sense. There was something very specific about how all of those things came together in the late 90s/early 2000s. Because the internet wasn’t what it is now, that interaction with some graphics on record shop racks or a magazine ad was key. Mo’ Wax doesn’t get spoken about too much rn, but they really nailed that massively with Futura 2000 & James Lavelle feeling like a perfect duet.
Spot on tho I’d say that’s the bougie side of it. For AP I had the strong urge to reconnect w the more chaotic and scrawled side of it, and definitely wanted to get away from anything too polished. Me and Jose had loads of conversations about wanting to avoid ‘print porn’ aesthetics, which we both can be prone to.
Is this something that you are looking to expand on in the live arena, the visual element? What would a Bok Bok AV show look and feel like?
No tbh I dont like club visuals, I’m against them on the whole. I think it’s nice to have some spaces not be visually stimulating. It lets u rly explore time with music. The darker the better.
Do you not see the environment of your shows as another potential arena for that symbiosis that you enact elsewhere?
We take in so much visuals in every arena of our lives. I’m quite happy to have a rest from that while dancing and I think it helps ppl get in rhythm w their body. Strobes are good and lasers! But not imagery
That thing from before about being on the cusp of that offline and online cultures is mad for our generation tho I think about this a lot.
It’s true - we saw so much change, it’s unreal. An example I have is that I’m often floored nowadays realising I’m seeing an image of an artist I’ve loved my whole life for the first time after searching their stuff. So strange how that’d be nearly impossible now.
So is an image-free Bok Bok live show in the works?
Yea 100% after all the lockdowns and being away from clubs for 18 months all I want to rly do is get back to basics and dj dark rooms! I haven’t revisited live since me and Girl Unit were dragging our whole studio around doing a joint all/hardware live show in like ’15.
So we can’t ignore it - C-19, yesterday’s UK rule shift, and the clubs reopening… where do you stand on all of that?
Hmm well I can’t wait to dj obviously, and also BEEN needing to rave! I was raring in spring back when things were looking kinda optimistic but right now it does all feel mad. The anxiety is definitely there around whether we’re going to get shut down again and what the winter holds. Definitely trying to just maintain the optimism and get some shows in but it doesn’t feel all peachy.
Related - obviously, just before all of this kicked off, we were coming out of the Brexit years into a dark looking present and future for the UK in a lot of ways. As someone who has a very particular relationship with the movement of people between countries, personally and professionally, how are you feeling about that currently? Also, what role (if any), does your heritage play in your work as a cultural producer?
Yea it’s grim. Like many immigrants my parents and I held the UK in such high esteem and it’s mad to have that systematically fall apart as time goes on, events unfold, and as I learn more about this country’s past and present. I’m definitely concerned about becoming isolated on this island, which with the govt’s current COVID strategy is looking literally imminent, that’s not even mentioning Br***t
In terms of what role my ethnicity plays, I always felt like kind of an alien here. I’d say me making tracks and mixes was always about reaching out for a community, trying to find connections.
I feel like that might resonate a lot with quite a few ppl. The position of ‘misfit’ or ‘alien’ as a kind of ground zero. That desire to connect too. To connect across boundaries.
It’s crazy that we don’t have free movement, that we can’t roam this Earth. Down with borders!
In a more general sense, sticking in that reflective mode, you set up NS in 2010, and here we are in 2021, with AP up and running… a lot has changed. In terms of the music industry, what do you miss, and would you like to see happen next? What changes would you like to see?
I miss releases having more space to breathe and a longer lifespan (although I do believe if you release music that resonates for people it does stick around, just not for the industry). I miss good, big soundsystems in small clubs, miss feeling low end in my chest and belly. That shit is therapeutic. I miss regular club nights with a specialist focus and music policy.
Going fwd I would want to see lineups continue to diversify, I’m sick of the same big acts getting platformed. I want to see the conversations around diversity and inclusion lead to more than tokenistic gestures from the industry. I would love to see all the middle people get out of the way to let artists earn for a change, something that definitely didn’t happen during the pandemic. A lot of PRs need to permanently lose their jobs instead of artists. This shit is a mess.
For new artists, collectives and labels coming through, what advice would you give them?
I dunno if I’m a great person to be taking advice from but FWIW just stick to your passion, don’t rush to monetize it because that will make it way harder to keep sight of, ignore naysayers and do exactly what you want and you will carve a niche / find your place organically. And watch out for shitty managers, PRs and other hangers on.
One last one… the name Bok Bok… does it have a particular meaning?
It was literally just stupid onomatopoeia, however it is you spell that word.
That’s so spot on. So the name is literally sound in written language. Pure Shores.
One Bok ‘Zodiac Beats Vol 1 & 2’ is out now on AP Life.