London based producer Offshore, aka Aberdonian Ewan Robertson, has been developing a name for himself pushing forward the realms of UK bass and experimental hip hop. With commended releases on respected underground music portals such as Stuffrecords, Disboot and Big Dada it is something of a surprise that Robertson had not leaped into the conscious of music tastemakers sooner. That he has enjoyed a gradual increase in attention compared to some overnight ‘hyped’ acts is more testament to his humble, attentive and assured approach to production and commitment to his work as a graphic designer than anything else. That seems set to change after performances at festivals such as Sonar in Barcelona and with new music projects due to drop, after the final of his trident of EP releases on Ninja Tunes offshoot Big Dada. Ahead of his first show in Oslo, we took the time to sit down with this mercurial talent to talk about how he juggles between music and design, his creative background and where he finds inspirations for producing, performing and award winning graphic work with Oscar & Ewan.
Q1: Hi Ewan, am I right in thinking that you left Aberdeen to study graphic design at art school in London? What did you bring with you in terms of influence from Scotland and what have been the things that inspired you along the way in London?
A1: Growing up in Aberdeen there wasn’t a glut of great acts coming up so, if you were into music, when something did come up that was good, you’d go along regardless of the genre. It taught you to be quite open and appreciate a lot of different styles rather than really honing in on one. A lot of discovering music in Aberdeen was more about buying records and listening to stuff alone or with a few mates playing Grand Theft Auto, rather than hearing it out in clubs. Inbetween the two, my older brother studied in Bristol, I vividly remember visiting him in his flat, and sitting listening to Origin Unknown – Valley of the Shadows and Ram stuff in his flat for the first time. They were describing it as ‘dark’ I’d never heard that before. Chills down the spine.
Q2: I found it interesting to discover that you interned with a label, Big Dada, that you later went on to have a professional relationship with as an artist. I remember Flying Lotus speaking about his internship at Stones Throw and how much he learned working around Madlib or Peanut Butter Wolf, what were your experiences like there? Did it give you any fresh creative aspirations? Would you recommend young artists to try and gain such experiences?
A2: I think the greatest thing I got from it was just seeing how a label works. Being young and naive I thought it was much bigger business than it is, there aren’t many people there running it, and for Big Dada it’s one guys vision from an A&R point of view. Its honest. Being there day to day, constantly listening to new music whether it was coming out on the label or just stuff Will and Jamie would play in the office, was brilliant and I learned a lot from them, so its great to be part of the label now as an artist.
Q3: Studying and working in London throughout periods such as the emergence and crossover of dubstep and the constantly evolving strains of 2 step the city seems to throw up must be exciting as a creative, have you been involved in any of these scenes in particular? Has there been any moments where a gig, track or event has defined one of these shifts into new territory?
A3: I dip in and out, and go to things here and there, but I’ve never been part of a ‘scene’. I don’t go out loads to be honest. But there have been those defining moments. Cliche, but experiencing FWD for the first time, with Clause Four, was quite amazing, just seeing the bass take on a totally key roll. Melodically though, I didn’t take much from there, it seemed more like a technical revelation. Melodically there are always mini revelations or epiphanies with tracks, or anywhere really. But that is more personal, rather than denoting a shift in the genre. I don’t follow specific genres too closely.
Q4: Your Offshore productions flawlessly mix the growl and snap of grime with lush catchy melodies, is this an approach you have consciously developed or more something that has gradually come along with time? How do you approach making tracks compared to playing a DJ or live set for example?
A4: Yeah, it is conscious. Some of the earlier tracks were really trying to mix the tempos and bounce of hip hop, with the sounds and tension of grime. I was keen, and still am, on how raw and dry it all is. Its very comfortable with how its made. I want my music to sound like its made on a laptop, and i don’t feel the need to cover that up. Hopefully the intelligence comes from interesting drum patterns and my sense of melody rather than the finish or atmosphere. My music is probably quite deceiving in a way. The sounds I use are probably more linked with music that is more upfront and banging, but the tracks effect are generally more understated, its something that creeps up and gets you over time.
Dj wise – a bit more fun and upfront, I try and play a wide range of electronic music that I really love, old and new and create links between- building up through different tempos over the course of the set. The idea of playing one particular sound doesn’t really represent where my music comes from.
Q5: Running a graphic design agency while producing music and performing must clash sometimes, or not? How do you divide the time between the two fields or do you find that they feed into each other?
A5: It does clash, at the moment a lot time wise. When we’re really busy, it can be difficult to make time. Its not a job that I can leave at 6 every day. But at the same time, I can take days off when I want if there is less on.
I think of design as the thing I’m schooled in, and music as the more free and personal outlet. With design we’re quite strict about how we work through a project, making logical choices for every part. We have your own way to approach a project, and really its the same thought process whether we’re doing something like an exhibition design, or album cover, even though the deliverables are quite different. I think of music as being less rigid and free. I see design as work and music as play. Design can be play too as the type of projects we get are generally quite fun and interesting, but I don’t really want music to ever feel like work. It’s an outlet for me rather than a professional practice and a reaction to whatever else I’m doing, so I think its good to have stuff going on outside. The best music is made when you’re not thinking about music.