Beat Construction: The Real Life Shit Behind Cooly G’s R&B Bangers
The London producer talks musical catharsis, getting into DJ-ing at age 7, and why her kids know best when it comes to beats.
The producer is one of the most crucial yet anonymous figures in all of music. Every now and again we aim to illuminate these under-heralded artists with Beat Construction. This week we spoke to London producer Cooly G about the real life stories behind her cathartic second album, Wait 'Til Night, on Kode9's Hyperdub label, how she got her start in music as a DJ at the tender age of seven, and why her kids know best when it comes to beats.
What kind of music surrounded you when you were growing up? Reggae, old school, dub—I got a chance to listen to that stuff because of my dad. From listening to my mum's music, it was like acid house, hip-hop, and jungle. I got all the sounds in one, really, and that's what they drummed into our heads. We knew more music than other people on our estate because my mum and dad was proper into music.
At what point did your love of music turn into a desire to make it? The first time I felt like wanted to make something for real was when I was DJ-ing when I was around 7 or 8 years old. When I first mixed a tune properly together and I heard something else from that track I thought, oh my god, that could be another track. I didn't know you could actually produce tracks, I didn't even know how people made tracks really. I didn't know that I could have a computer in my house, and a keyboard, and the software, and just make beats. So when I got the chance to go into the studio, that's when I started to make tunes. I wasn't taught anything. I just learned everything myself.
Back up a minute—how old were you when you were DJ-ing? My dad had a sound system and he finally let me jump on it when I was about seven. That year I got to play a christening. I was selecting bad tunes like a little chick running some reggae dub plays and shit that my dad had. All these people were looking at me like, really, is this little girl doing that? Yes, she is.
What did you first get your hands on, software-wise? Cubase. On an Atari. Fucking hell, that was a long time ago. I don't remember what it was called but I actually remember the melody of my first ever tune I made. It keeps coming back to my head. Why do I remember that bloody track? It was sort of like a hip-hop kind of cinematic type of track. I've never tried to remake it. Maybe if I'm bored or something.
You've been signed to Hyperdub for five years now. From the outside it seems like there is a family vibe. Definitely a family vibe. I mean Scratcha [DVA], he gets me breakfast in the mornings. And if my backs hurting he'll rub my shoulders or something. You know what I mean? He's a good guy. Everyone's cool. I had a panic attack somewhere, and Marcus [Scott, Hyperdub's label manager] helped me through it.
"The 3 Of Us" [premiered above] from your new album Wait 'Til Night is really powerful. It was really hard to do that one. I didn't know how to lay it down so I left it till last. When I did it I felt like there was a big weight off my shoulder. These things can stress you out and you have to deal with it. [Making the track was a] way for me to deal with the fact that this fucking cunt is just really a proper wanker and he's fucked me up, do you know what I mean? But now he's trying to call me and I think it's because he saw the "Wait 'Til Night" video.
How much is your music autobiographical? Everything. It's all about my life. All my albums, all my tunes. For example, "Phat Si" is about a boy named Phat Si who got shot, and the track's angry because I was angry that he got shot. He's alive but the bullet's still in his head. After he had recovered I made it while he was in my house, especially for him. Every track has a story. Don't get it twisted. From day one, every single track has a story. It makes me feel better to make a track about it. Whether anyone in the world know about it or not, I don't really care. I make the music because that's what I do. I don't do it for fun. It's just something I have to do.
So making tracks therapeutic is for you? I think if I didn't make music I probably wouldn't be in a good place, just as a person. Because I'm a single parent as well, this is my way of exploring, and not feeling lonely, or just being able to be happy in my own way. I'm happy being a mum and nothing can't touch that but I'm a person as well, so I need to be happy for myself. That's one way that helps—if I make a sick tune. "I Like" [from the new album], I made that tune in literally five minutes. I ain't telling shit to you. It was so nuts. I was like, I need one more tune for the album and then I just fucking banged it out so quick. The melody, everything it was just done. I was just like, I feel so good. I'm not even thinking about what anyone else is thinking about the tune. I don't care what Ruth is going to think about the tune, I'm just making what's coming out of my heart and sending it as a package and hope that it's ok.
Do your kids get into your beats? Oh my god, yes they do. If they're not dancing then I'll start again on a new track. When they start jumping and doing back flips, then I'm like, yup, this is the one.