Bristol-based producer Guesswerk recently released his debut album Artefacts. Consisting of 8 tracks, Artefacts incorporates his signature dubstep sound whilst diving into a more experimental nature of production on tracks like Dream, Fall ft. Charli Brix and Strange Times. Co-founder and owner of Imperial Audio, Guesswerk has been contributing to the dubstep scene for some time now, providing a platform for up and coming producers to progress through his label. In recent years the rewards for his effort have been starting to materialise with the Imperial Audio crew featuring on the highly respected Get Darker in 2015, to having his own tracks featured on N-Type’s infamous Rinse FM show. So, with all that’s been going on and taking into account his various other ventures, it seems like the most apt time to launch his debut album.
The drumless first track Dream epitomises its title whilst introducing the Artefacts LP in a delicate and ethereal fashion. Deep, elongated pads combine with a subtle vinyl crackle to form the base of this introspective journey, a great choice to launch a debut album. Emerging from the mellow introduction, a beautiful but almost haunting synthesised lead, reminiscent of animal calls in the wild and the purity of sound in nature, expanding the dynamics of the soundscape and pulling you deeper into the dream. The opening track really does ‘what it says on the tin’, forcing you into a state of meditation until all of a sudden, the dream is over. The atmosphere and ambience help to make the listening experience that much more immersive, a fantastic start to the LP.
Guesswerk has already displayed the ability to create captivating music, regardless of the rules and restraints of genres, something he continues to show throughout the LP. In the second track Shadows he welcomes the return of his signature dubstep sound. The drums are an integral part of what really glues this mix of funky and dark dub together. A strict hi-hat pattern sets the pace early on joined by a Distance-esque synthesised lead playing out the same note continuously, acting like a kind of metronome (although not in a tiring or boring manner). A very faint pad floats around in the background as a kind of response to the ‘repetitive call’ of the lead synth. The short, clap snare and the deep kick sneak their way into the mix; very much like the progression of the introduction into the main section – the transition is almost unrecognisable. The gritty adaptation of the original lead becomes all-embracing, surrounding the other elements of the track, reinforcing the mysterious mood. A continuously varied drum structure commands the rhythm and really puts the ‘step’ into this dubstep track.
An obscure lead, that almost feels like a wind instrument, is the main feature throughout Strange Times. The off-beat nature of the drums and the general disjointed style is executed really well and yet again embodies the suggested feeling of the title. A festival vibe lingers from start to finish thanks to the experimental direction he’s gone for in the third track. Perfectly placed hi-hats and percussive hits cut through the rumbling, continuous bass that acts as the spine of the track. The airy lead plays out in a rhythmic fashion leaving momentary gaps between each note for extra effect. At times the rumbling bass drops out and is replaced by a mellow, synthesised version featuring the same tremolo style – a nice touch. Strange Times is one of the hardest tracks on the LP to describe because of the experimentation at its core but also one of the most enjoyable.
Omen, another dark selection, pairs the busy percussive style of drum and bass with the eerie melodies of recent popular dubstep. Opening with a catchy melody and a spooky vocal sample, Omen feels like a journey to the very depths of Guesswerk’s various influences. The post-drop section introduces a scuttling hi-hat and a lower octave version of the introductory melody before the hi-hat drops out to help form a double-time pattern alongside the return of the mysterious vocals. Omen features various short but impactful sound effects, such as a laser and a distorted ripping sound that cuts through everything to make its presence known. The mood here sometimes gets lost in itself but at other times it feels like one of the most exciting and interesting tracks of the project so far. In the later stages of the song, the addition of a piano cameo is welcome, as Guesswerk’s ability to mix various instruments and intricate sounds together becomes clear.
Fall ft. Charli Brix is my highlight of the LP so far. Not only does it provide more variety to the already diverse 8-track project, but it takes you back in time with its mix of outstanding vocal work from the revered Charli Brix and sample style breaks arranged by Guesswerk. Very few tracks can momentarily transport you through time and force you to reminisce about both good and bad memories simultaneously. It was at this point that I fully appreciated the hard work and passion that Guesswerk had infused into his debut album. It was also at this moment that Artefacts really stood out as an album as opposed to just another EP. Fall begins with the incredibly beautiful vocals from Charli Brix, approaching from a distance amidst the affectional and heartwarming pads, combining to create a perfect introduction. As the song progresses and falls effortlessly into the main section the previously mentioned breaks arrive and instantly compliment Charli’s vocals to create an unforgettable vibe. The track continues in that fashion, never once dipping out of its climatic style, perfect for this time of year, but also timeless.
One of the most original productions so far merges Guesswerk’s dubstep influence with the vast, expansive leads that he has successfully experimented with throughout the rest of Artefacts. The introduction welcomes a rough, mid-range bass sound approaching from a distance whilst the staccato melody floats alongside. The industrial drums drive the track forward, instigating the rhythm and admirably connecting with the dilatant melody. The mix of gritty, mechanical drums and the reverb-soaked lead are an excellent combination, accompanied by random reversed sound effects and the odd hollow growl that add texture to the spacious soundscape. Another welcome, out-the-box addition.
The penultimate Back To You is my personal favourite of all the eight tracks featured on Artefacts. Noticeably influenced by dub/reggae, Back To You glides effortlessly from start to finish. The submerged melody instantly demands attention as it bounces around like harmonic water droplets falling onto the subtle, growling bass. (A bottomless sub bass is layered underneath to provide the extra weight – as you might expect from a dub influenced track). The kick drum is relatively subtle but the catchy, shuffling rhythm of the hi-hats and snare really stand out here. As if that weren’t enough, Guesswerk later introduces some more heavenly pads, similar to those found in the opening track, that provides a gratifying alternative to the opening sections.
Endless Search creates the perfect mood to finish the LP. Emitting a similar calming effect to that of the opening track Dream, extremely subtle bird tweets emerge from the background and luscious pads float above the drums. Guesswerk makes great use of vocal samples for the second time here and not only do they match the mood, they enhance it. The kick drum commands the rhythm with help from the mix of hi-hats and shakers ticking away continuously. The enveloping, ambient pads and harmonies combine with the dreamy vocal samples and future-garage style percussion to leave you in awe as the LP comes to a close.
Albums are a tough nut to crack, not only do you have to write the music but selecting the right tracks and placing them in an order that complements one another is no easy task. Guesswerk has clearly taken to the challenge though, providing an intriguing and inspiring musical journey with his debut attempt in Artefacts. The entire project flows well throughout, not once featuring a track that felt out of place, despite featuring a variety of experimental elements. I’m excited to hear what he makes next. I caught up with the man himself for a quick chat about his inspiration for the album, future plans and more below.
Firstly, I’d like to ask about your inspiration for creating your debut album at this moment in time as opposed to just releasing another single or EP?
“Everything I have released has been a remix, an EP or a feature on a compilation. It made sense after a few years of collating ideas to push something with a bit more emotion in it, that’s what lead to the album and I think it has helped me as a producer”.
How pleased are you with the finished product? (And would you go back and change anything looking back at it now?)
“I think most artists are never one hundred percent happy with their work however, I’m close to that on Artefacts. Still, I try not to dwell on the past, the album is out now and I can’t change it. People have bought it and I have enjoyed the process and the support since its release!”.
Artefacts is very diverse, featuring a range of genres and styles, was that a conscious decision or did you just ‘go with the flow’ and that’s how it turned out?
“It was definitely a conscious decision to explore outside of my comfort zone. I have made ambient bits in the past however, most of my productions are more dance-floor orientated so it made sense for me to cover a range of styles and tempos”.
Which track(s) are you most proud of? (My personal favourites are Fall ft. Charli Brix, Back to You and the opening track Dream)
“I really enjoyed working with Charli on Fall, it was nice how the instrumental instantly gelled with her vocals, she’s a brilliant artist! Other than that I personally really like Endless Search”.
Can we potentially expect to see you collaborating with more vocal artists in the future then, thanks to the positive experience working with Charli?
“Me and Charli have spoke about writing some more stuff together so hopefully that comes about, but I am definitely interested in working more with other singers and MCs also, so let’s see what happens!”.
What made you choose to self-release Artefacts rather than trying to get it signed?
“Originally I’d planned to approach labels with the album however, I didn’t really want it to change in anyway from how I had planned to release it. I know as a label owner that its sometimes a two-way decision process between label and artists, so I decided to self release it on Bandcamp. I wanted it to be a bit more personal as well, seen as its my first album”.
Artefacts is my favourite release of yours so far which forces me to ask the question, can you tell us about any other releases you have lined up for this year?
“Cheers! I have a release forthcoming in the next couple of months that I’m very excited to announce, other than that I don’t have much planned until next year. I guess I’ll see what comes out of me clicking the mouse and pushing keys…”.
As co-founder and owner of Imperial Audio, how do you feel your venture into label management has helped in your production process and progression as an electronic music artist?
“Personally I think every producer should aim for an album as soon as they feel they are confident enough. In my opinion its much more of a product than just releasing another couple of tunes here and there. I think it has a bit more worth to it. That being said, we’ve never released an album on Imperial Audio apart from a multi-artist compilation. Perhaps its something we should do… if only more dubstep artists wrote albums!”.
Yeah, its not something many dubstep artists attempt apart from a few experienced heads. I think it comes down to the pigeon hole that making dubstep can trap you in. But, as you’ve shown well with Artefacts, albums need variety in tempo, genre and mood to succeed.
Speaking of other artists, who are the biggest musical influences on your production?
“That’s a difficult question, I feel like I’m influenced by all sorts of things, I listen to such a broad variety of music that it doesn’t stem from any one particular artist. I am very excited by new forms of dubstep nowadays though, there’s omse producers taking it in a nice new direction. Other than that, I’m still influenced by a lot of 90s music, Leftfield for example. I purposely didn’t listen to much music whilst writing the Artefacts LP though to try and become organic”.
Can you tell us about any forthcoming Imperial Audio releases?
“We have recently signed two new artists to debut on the label and are on the hunt for future releases to occupy that ‘Imperial’ sound we love to push!”.
Where can people catch you live in the near future?
“I have no bookings in the near future, but I’ll be using this time to keep writing new material and taking shots. But, let’s see what this next release brings in. Hopefully, it’ll open up a new market.”
Thank you for your time Liam! All the best for the future.