Swirling synths in a variety of forms take on chameleon like qualities shaping Aberdeen’s brightest rising star Lockah, aka Tom Banks’ savagely inventive sound. Humming chugs of lofty bass marry with pitched vocal loops cascading into jungle-inspired beats. This menagerie of genres and concept sounds are then swirled together in a steaming pot of thick and chunky beats ready to elevate any mood.
The stalwart label head of emerging bass outfit, Tuff Wax, and playing a large part in the emerging scene in his hometown of Aberdeen, Banks is pushing more than just a new sound in 2013. Lockah’s music unearths new territories, blending an epic movie score quality with forward thinking production and a wildly creative style, landing him on labels like Mad Decent’s Jeffrees, Skrillex’s OWSLA, and most recently, on bass music trendsetting label, Donky Pitch.
One of the fascinating aspects of Banks’ music is his ability to elicit melodies out of heavy-handed synth, sparse techno beats and trembling glistens of effects, all of which create the most strangely fantastic pop ballads. Best Fit set out to find out where the young producer’s influences lie, what his new EP Only Built For Neon Nights is really about and if it’s possible to ever have too much synth.
Your bio says you’re the “Founder of TUFF WAX – music on MAD DECENT / JEFFREE’S / MISHKA NYC / DONKY PITCH / OWSLA / SCION AV / NATIONAL ANTHEM”, but who is Lockah?
I’m a hardworking producer with ambition and a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit. I’m 27, but I’ve lived the life of a 40-year-old. I’m based in Aberdeen, Scotland, where I’ve spent my whole life.
If you had to pick a food or a dish to describe your sound, what would you pick and why?
>Maybe a spicy taco, or a juicy punnet of strawberries. Anything with some mad flavour that you could eat with your hands. I try to keep my music accessible and colourful and fun.
Paul Lester over at the Guardian described your music, saying, “Much of the music seems designed to soundtrack significant sports events or historical battles.” Do you agree?
I’m not into sports or historical battles but I understand what the guy’s saying. I think it’s the love of brass samples or just those brassy, stabby synth sounds – plus I’ve been known to loop crowd noise under things at times so it may even be subliminal. When you can capture that fanfare type sound, I suppose it creates a kind of epic atmosphere if you’re in the right listening mindset.
I personally would have to agree, especially after spending some time with your Mishka release, Lockah – Please Lockah, Don’t Hurt ‘Em. It has this Billy Joel stadium feel to it. Where does that influence come from?
Yeah, that EP was pretty much an experiment in how huge I could go with my sound. The slightly discordant piano stabs are a jungle/rave thing for sure. I was into all that stuff as a child before I hit double figures. Where that interest sprung from, I’ve no idea. And with no friends, older siblings etc. into it, I grew out of it and into guitar music as I got into my teens. Back then though, I used to try and recreate the piano riffs on my toy casio keyboard, so I’m drawing on decades of experience here!
You’re great at creating melodies out of the most unexpected of sounds.
It’s something I’ve been doing since the moment I started producing, but unfortunately it seems to be regarded as a staple of identikit ‘trap’ production now…
When listening to Only Built 4 Neon Nites the first time, I thought, “This is the most epic of video game dance parties I will ever go to.” Where did this concept come from?
Well straight up, everyone picked up on the obvious nod to the Raekwon album title, Only Built For Cuban Linx, but not a lot of folks seemed to give any further thought to where I was coming from. That happens to be my favourite rap album ever, by the way. I had read this old XXL interview on the making of it, one of those fantastic articles where they get a shitload of different interviews then chop it up into a flowing commentary. If you read it, you can really get into the the mindset of the RZA back in those days. It was early, before the movie soundtracks and all that. Instead of just a record he helped Raekwon to make an incredible combination of a rap album, a cinematic soundtrack and even something with the vibe of an actual movie. I wanted to try and capture that same feeling, just simplified and shrunk down – so the main influence is Wu-Tang and classic Hollywood, not computer games as such.
What is Only Built 4 Neon Nites about?
In a real, personal and slightly boring sense it’s supposed to be a soundtrack to a midnight drive. If you live around Aberdeen, especially out in the middle of nowhere where I grew up, most people get around in cars cos of the shitty public transport. I’ve spent a fairly decent amount of time driving places in the middle of the night, often in the interest of seeing girls I suppose. Which kind of brings me into the more fantastical train of thought, that it’s a cinematic nod to movies like Drive, Akira, even Tron… call it Neo(n)-Noir, romance, whatever. The 5 tracks spell out the story – the intro leads into the beginning of the journey in ‘Young Neon Countach’, ‘Guards Red Carrera’ is supposed to sound like a struggle such as a fight or a lighting storm, the calm sets in halfway through ‘Let The Cool Air Breeze’ and sets us up nicely for a little rain ‘n’ romance on ‘Platinum Blonde’.