There’s something inherently chill about analogue production.
Whether it’s the imperfect timings or the warmth of the samples, beats made in analogue have a certain laidback cool. From his lush instrumentals to his perpetually chill demeanour, eL Cee is the definition of laidback cool. With a dusty, raw vibe to his music and over 100k listeners on Spotify, the London producer has been quietly growing his following and building a lane all of his own. We got the chance to catch up with him to talk sound, the scene and the future.
Let’s start off by talking about your sound. Always Analogue is all over your socials. Can you go into what that means to you?
Yeah man. I like to be hands on when I make music. To like physically work with what I'm making. Whether it’s a mixer or a drum machine or even reel-to-reel tapes. I guess even like cassettes and stuff. I've always liked that feeling of something you can physically feel and hold.
So is it purely physicality or do you think the sound is different?
I think it makes a difference sound wise for sure. The waves come differently on analogue. They are squarer, you lose some frequencies. That's the beauty of analogue sound. That almost pre-compression effect gives the music an extra quality. It’s all individual to the machine. Every one is different, with different voltages and coils etc.
When you make beats is it all done in analogue?
Sometimes I use an effects processor but that's just within the process (like on a mixer). It's still effectively analogue because it's still in the machine, just software within it. It's all 'in the box'. I do use digital programs sometimes. Like for vocal edits. If I'm working with another artist, I'll use Logic but usually that's it. It's tool rather than the heart of the music.
Is this dedication to analogue what inspired Rough Tapes vol.1?
Yeah definitely. That tape I actually made because I had such a minimal set up because I was moving. I just had my MPC and a little cassette recorder. That was it really. The recorder had some basic EQ functions but that was it. I just tried to push the limits. Put everything through the recorder on max to punch up the sounds and that.
The project is a couple years old now but the concept is incredibly unique. Can you talk us through that a bit?
Yeah sure. So it’s a project where I flip the same sample and sounds to make all the tracks. I just manipulated them for each song. Back then on my MP, I only had floppy disks. With that you only have about 50 seconds of sample time on each one, but I only had one floppy disk haha. Usually I'd make a beat over like 3 or 4 disks so I have enough space to save everything. I didn't have space to save everything with just one so I was like 'You know what? Lemme just make all the tracks now and record it in'. So I literally just did it on the spot. I think I made all of the tracks with in one day? I just mixed it all down onto the cassette.
In terms of inspiration, where does that come from?
I think a lot comes from when I was younger. I grew up around a lot of music. My Dad was actually a producer. He was a Dub producer and my Mum played music as well. She played the clarinet and her Dad was a conductor, so there are a lot of music people in my family. It has always sort of surrounded me. I was always into trying different instruments and playing along wherever I could really. I guess I was surrounded by similar music to what inspires me, which is like anything from Dub and Reggae to UK Hip Hop. My Dad used to listen to a lot of Roots Manuva as well.
Who are some producers that have influenced you?
I would say definitely King Tubby. He's probably the biggest dub producer in the world so I took a lot form that. Obviously J Dilla. Dilla inspires me quite a lot because he pushed the boundaries on the MPC. Madlib, Easy Mo Bee, there's quite a few artists. I mean there's a lot of sort of early 80/90's influences in my beats. I was always into Eric B and Rakim. Rakim was always a huge influence, especially on my vocal side. The Roots as well are always a band I've always been inspired by. Their beats are so versatile. They mix live instrumentation with the MPC which is very cool.
You just mentioned your vocal side there. Is it something that is separate to eL Cee?
To be honest it's been something I've been quite quiet on for a long time. I haven't done any vocal stuff (well released anything) since 2014. So a good while ago but I have been working on an EP. It’s gonna be a half vocal, half instrumental. I've slowly got back into it again. I've been writing and trying to inspire myself. For a long time I wasn't very inspired. I had a prolonged writer’s block haha.
Haha we've all been there man! So with the vocals is it rapping? Singing?
Yeah so it's rapping mainly with like the occasional harmony and stuff.
That's really interesting to hear because I think your music stands on its own without a rapper.
Thank you man. Appreciate it.
I think it's really cool to see this current wave of UK producers coming out of their shells though and making beats without needing a vocal element.
Definitely. I think there needs to more. I don't think there have been too many UK rapper/producers when it comes to Hip. There are the likes of Lewis Parker and a few others but we could do with some more you know?
When it comes to making beats do you have a process?
To be honest most of the time I can just get down and get on with it but I do have times where I need to take a break. Sometimes I'll leave a beat for a while because I can't find the right element for it or something. Generally my process is just looking for samples and working from there. I'll start with the drums then work through the layers and the melody, and then finally the bass gets added. When I record I play it live into my cassette recorder (for example) and then once I've got that then I just transfer it into a digital format to put it out. It changes though. It depends on the sound I guess.
Do you prefer making beats for vocalists or instrumentals? Do you see a differentiation between those things?
Yeah they are separate for sure. I make with beats with intention if you get me? I mean if I made a beat just to listen to it will stay for that purpose. I've had people ask for those beats but for me the intention was for that to be separate. I want to stay true to myself, so I want to keep it how it is you know?
I feel you. How has being a Londoner influenced your music?
I think London had a huge influence on Hip Hop and therefore me. You got the likes of Black Twang, Roots Manuva, Jehst; all from the city. Nowadays you got people like High Focus popping, so I think there's still quite a big London Hip Hop scene to get inspired by. Living in London you're surrounded with a lot of different culture. There's a huge Reggae culture that I grew up around. The city opened that door to other cultures and sounds I may not have heard elsewhere.
So what do you think of the UK beat scene?
I think it's been quiet but it’s growing. I've seen a few events where it's popped off. There's one called Beat Meet which is run by L.A.B. Collective in Brixton and Shoreditch and there's few others coming from various people. One person I know is starting one where it's like a weekly beat session. There are a lot of things coming at the moment. I think it’s good, it's refreshing. Producers can come and show their stuff and people can connect. It's constructive.
What do you think the scene needs to grow?
I think these events need to keep happening. Collectives need to start throwing events too. That will get the scene some attention. I think as more come; it's a better way to put the spotlight on producers.
What UK beat makers do you rate?
There's few man. One guy called Purple Cloud for sure. He's one to watch. He's done the L.A.B. Collective beat meet a few times. Also a bunch of people from Blah Records. Sam Zircon is a good producer. Dirty Dyke as well. A big one for me would be Lewis Parker. I think he's inspired a lot of people here and elsewhere.
What do you think about the transition producers are making away from vocalists in the UK?
I think it's good! It never had to be a 'beats for only for vocals' situation. Other artists have done it so why not here? The beat scene is quite big in the US so I don't see why it can't happen in the UK. You can make an EP of all beats now and people will listen just the same as to a Rap project. Different elements of the beats can almost 'make up' for the vocals.
Yeah a beat project actually gives the producer a lot of freedom.
Exactly. I mean you can still add in vocal parts but it still keeps that instrumental vibe. Like cuts from a DJ.
You’ve been featured on Lissenup.tv. What was that experience like?
It was really good man. It was nice to be having the spotlight just on me and the beats. Playing the beats live was nuts. That was actually the first time I've done my beats live on air. It was the first platform I've seen from here that's popped up for that stuff.
You also have a relationship with o-nei-ric Tapes and Complex Channel. How did those links come about?
With Complex one they first shouted me when I put out this tape with Vice Tapes. They heard it and asked me to do a few tracks with them. They released those as singles last year. From there I got featured on their most recent comp tape. There's a lot of banging artists on that one. With o-nei-ric Tapes I submitted something to them first of all, and then they just hit me back and said they like my stuff and wanted to release something with them. That was actually Rough Tapes.
What can we expect from you this year man? What’s coming in the future?
Well I'm working on quite a few things at the moment. There's my EP I mentioned earlier. I'm looking to have that one up at the end of the year. Also I'm working on another instrumental project that should be up on Spotify in the next couple months. I've been working with a few artists too. Mainly Natty Wylah, Manic MC and Bisk from Blah Records. I've got a few different projects in the pipeline but I'm really looking forward to this stuff I've got coming with Verbz. So yeah it should be cool man. Excited for all these projects. It's gonna be a busy year I think haha.
Thanks for talking with us man. Where can we follow you?
Peace man. You can follow me on FB at ‘elcee1’, on insta @elceeuk and Twitter @eL_Cee_.
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