Despite its more recent ties with guitar bands, Sheffield’s love-in with electronic music goes back as far as the late 1970s, when the likes of Cabaret Voltaire pioneered the industrial dance sound by experimenting with vocal samples, dark beats and analogue synths. The city was then at the forefront of Yorkshire’s ‘Bleeps and Bass’ scene during the 80s, the first ever bass revolution in the UK, and later became the spiritual home of bassline and niche in the noughties.
During more recent years, a series of MCs and hip-hop artists have risen to prominence across the north of England, and flying the flag for the Steel City’s burgeoning underground scene are Jamie Shield and Andy Nicholson of Sticky Blood. Since forming in 2014, the production duo have released a number of innovative tracks collaborating with up-and-coming artists across a range of genres. With the lads scheduled to join Toddla T and an array of local talent at the O2 Academy this Tramlines, we invited the duo to treat us to a couple of tunes for our next Exposed In Session.
So you’ve recently released a track, ‘Hop in the Place’, with Sheffield MC LDizz. Is he one for the future?
JS: Yeah, we’ve known him for a bit. It just felt like it was the right time to really push him through now that he’s at the right age. We’re doing a full mixtape with him now; he’s really quick with his writing and it’s consistently good stuff. I think a lot of grimeheads will really rate him.
The urban scene seems to have really taken off again in the city. Do you predict that the next act to “make it” from Sheffield could be a grime or hip/hop artist?
AN: I think so. I’ll be honest, we’ve not really got our fingers on the pulse with the band scene in the city so we can’t really say what will be next.
Do you think the city is beginning to move away from its indie music reputation?
JS: I think everyone has moved away from that a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I first got into music by picking up a guitar and listening to bands like Limp Bizkit combining rock and rap – but those were different times. I think nowadays people want things more instantaneously, and you can create a great grime track in one night. Maybe some people don’t get as excited by guitar music anymore – I’ve not really found anything that’s excited me much since I first heard the Arctic Monkeys.
The general grime/hip-hop scene in the UK has exploded over the last two years or so, with a new generation of artists coming through. What do you think has influenced that?
AN: I think, as you say, things come back around and new artists come through for people to get excited about. There might not be many great bands around at the moment, but I’m sure that will come back around too. But I do think that urban music evolves better and is always different when it does make a comeback.
JS: The technology changes it. New sounds are constantly introduced. Dubstep sounds, for example, came out of nowhere and so did grime sounds. I think it’s more difficult to be truly innovative with a guitar and drum kit.
There are probably not too many bands out there at the minute that can whip up a crowd like Stormzy can.
AN: There are only the big established rock bands that seem able to do that on a big scale. But some of these raves are led by young MCs and it’s like the equivalent of an old punk gig – loads of kids moshing and going wild.
JS: It’s the whole culture shift too. I’m always having these sort of conversations with myself, but people just seem to want something more…
More of a raw sound?
AN: It’s just like punk music. It’s a grime or hip/hop MCs basically saying: “Fuck it. This is what I’ve got to say and this is what it’s gonna sound like.” You can look at The Sex Pistols and Skepta in the same sort of way.
Sticky Blood have worked on a range of genres – drum & bass, grime, hip-hop, etc – is there a place where you feel most at home?
AN: It’s a hard one because we always tell people that just because you like a certain artist or genre it doesn’t mean you have to try and emulate that. I think as you get older you become more aware of doing your own thing. But yeah, we’ve produced everything from piano singer/songwriters, band stuff, hip-hop and music heavily influenced by grime. Personally, I feel most comfortable when producing urban music.
JS: Same, because I’ve figured out that’s where I want to be. I think it’s the palette of sounds that comes most naturally to us.
AN: But we mix it all together anyway. We’ll chuck some big guitar riffs and drums on a grime track, for example, and look to mash things up a bit.
Sheffield’s always been a pioneering city when it comes to innovative styles of bass music. Do you think that gets overlooked at times?
AN: It’s a bit strange because when I was part of the band scene in the early 2000s [as bassist in the Arctic Monkeys] the niche/bassline scene was taking off, but we weren’t really aware of them and I don’t think they were really aware of us. Some people didn’t really discover it.
Maybe because it didn’t go as mainstream nationwide as the indie music did?
JS: I think that’s probably it. But we’ve been working with people like Shinobi, who is like an older statesman of the Sheffield grime scene, and he’s DJing with Coco at Glastonbury this year so it shows these things can come back around.
AN: Yeah, it’s good having someone like Shinobi who’s happy to pass on experience to the young’uns and share what he’s learnt.
Then you’re there to give younger artists a strong platform with proper production and professional music videos. Before that, a lot of young MCs in Sheffield only had things like FidzCam to get their name out there.
AN: Exactly. The people who produce our music videos, Oliver Brian Productions, were behind FidzCam and they’re also trying to take things to another level. Everyone we’ve been working with are pulling in the same direction and upping their game to take things higher.
Finally, let’s talk Tramlines. You’re playing the O2 Academy on alongside Toddla T and a number of other Sheffield acts. What can we expect?
AN: We’ve been getting into DJing a lot more and it will be a mix of a DJ set and some of our tracks played live with the artists. It will be a bit of everything thrown in but it should be a big night.