South London DJ and producer Endgame conducts club alchemy. Since late 2012, when he started a radio show on U.K. station NTS called Precious Metals, he’s been amassing and deconstructing hip-hop, dancehall, and experimental records to create a landscape of shadowy club sounds for his listeners. (And he made us a heavy FADER Mix last October.) Endgame moves in the same South London circles as GEN F alum Kamixlo and Uli K (they're all in a collective called Bala Club together), as well as Lexxi, who runs cult club night Endless. In addition to DJing, Endgame’s a prolific producer, known for his use of incisive synths, blown out clatters of percussion, and sinisterly entrancing rhythms. Last April, his debut, self-titled EP of icy, reggaeton-influenced tracks came out on Lisbon’s Golden Mist Records; his second EP, Savage, infused those same motifs with a more sinewy edge, and was released on New York City imprint Purple Tape Pedigree this past January. There’s a reason Endgame’s music has been able to span so much geographic space — this is music for the club, but the club isn’t necessarily a venue. It could be a tiny bar where the speakers are shaking, or your room with the lights off and that one song on repeat. The versatility of his production presents the club as a feeling and a state of mind. It could happen anywhere.
This Friday, his new EP, Flesh, drops on illustrious London label Hyperdub. It’s four tracks to crack the dance floor open with feeling and ferocity, tinged with elements of reggaeton, grime, and drill. Take “Sittin Here Redux,” for example, which is premiering on The FADER below — it's a roiling, snare-studded rework of the first track off Dizzee Rascal's Boy In Da Corner. “I think most of the tracks from this EP came from that thinking of how can I translate some kind of an emotion in a really hard way?” says Endgame. “Something that's tough, somehow.”
I caught up with him over Skype, just as he returned from playing the Czech Republic’s Creepy Teepee festival and right before he embarked on a string of dates across the U.S., including a stop at MoMA PS1’s Warm Up this Saturday. Read on to hear about his visceral experiences in dance music, what the speed of music sharing today means for producers and DJs, and the role London club spaces play in a time of political turmoil.
Your past EPs have this driving energy behind them. Savage felt like it was bubbling at the surface, but each track from Flesh completely hits you over the head. What happened in the six months between releases?
ENDGAME: Savage was actually written quite a while ago, so it's been a different frame of mind in a way. I guess I see them as [a] heaven-and-hell kind of vibe. Savage, although it sounds like it's going to be intimidating, is actually quite angelic. It was kind of reflective of how I was feeling at the time; there's more space in the tracks maybe, whereas Flesh is more claustrophobic. I was more conscious of making something that was more confrontational, maybe, and less polite. I'm trying to work out why that was and I'm not really sure, but I think maybe [it was] from playing clubs. I didn't actually play my tunes that often, and then I kind of wanted something that was harder, that could hold its own in the club.
Was your signing to Hyperdub a part of that?
A massive part of my musical education came from that label, people like Ikonika and Burial. In terms of getting emotion across in dance music or electronic music — I feel like they never just release club tracks. There's always a cathartic element or something kind of real about it, something that touches you in a way. That means you're not just going to listen to it in the club, it's got something extra. I think that influenced me quite a lot in terms of having some emotive force in making. And the four tracks that came together in the EP were never intended to be an EP. When [Kode9] put them together and was like, "This is what I think would work," I was like, "Oh shit yeah, it totally does." And I was able to kind of make sense of the music again. It fit together.
The idea of emotion in club music is very situated in the body. Did that influence the name of the EP and its artwork at all?
Yeah, it was after a very real traumatic experience earlier in the year, and I think that colored the approach in a way. Very life-affirming, but then also life-altering. I've always been interested in the idea of our bodies as something kind of separate from who we are as people, that we're just kind of vessels or something. Also, in terms of a sci-fi idea, what it means to be human. Whereas the last EP was maybe a bit more mechanical in some way, I wanted this one to feel very human and real and visceral.
When you're DJing, is there a specific feeling you're trying to evoke within the audience?
I like the idea of playing a set and connecting with the outsiders. I'm into the idea of bringing outsiders together, people who maybe didn't fit into other scenes or felt alienated by bass music or a certain thing, [bringing] weirdos together. Especially in London, there's a culture that's quite dry, that's like "you should only like one type of music." I grew up with heavy metal and grime in equal amounts, so I feel like there should be something for those people that grew up and didn't necessarily feel like they belonged to any scene.
It feels like in the last few years it's become more and more the norm in a way, where the structures that were in place, where nights were only one genre, [are] changing more and more. Every year [that way of thinking] is seeming more and more irrelevant, because sound travels so quickly and it's influenced by a million different things along the way. There's [a widespread] dispersal of music now, it's so fluid. What's happening globally — Portugal to the States — it's all fluidly interacting. That's super exciting to me; it fucks with people's idea of what a place should sound like. That's something that I've been thinking about a lot — what does London sound like?
“I’m into the idea of bringing outsiders together, people who maybe didn’t fit into other scenes or felt alienated by bass music or a certain thing.”
The internet enables music to travel fast and get taken far from its roots, which definitely has its benefits, but often facilitates cultural appropriation as well. What are your thoughts on that?
The definition of appropriation is to use something recklessly, or without understanding it essentially. When people in the States started doing grime, and no one trusted it... this idea of only [being able to make] grime if you're London, it's not necessarily true; you just have to put in work. It's fine, I think, as long you're coming from a place where your intentions are honest, [and] you're not trying to trick anyone into thinking you're something you're not. I think that where it becomes problematic is when people don't put in the work and they don't really listen to something, they just take the surface. It relates again to that thing of how quickly sounds and cultures are moving around the globe, they're kind of resounding off each other.
There's a massive thing in London now where, to me, some of the most amazing and groundbreaking music in London is basically a U.K. version of drill or trap music. It's so massively influenced by the first Chief Keef mixtapes, but then I think why it's so successful is because they've obsessed over the basics of the genre, which I like, that snare sound and certain sounds and kinds of phrasing, but then they made it really British. And they've used British slang, as well as the American, and they really made it their own thing completely. And that's really exciting actually, I think that's where it kind of works, when it becomes its own thing and it stops being an "imitation of." In the U.K., it used to be a big thing where grime was grime, but then U.K. acts would start to have American accents and use American words and it sounded so phony, and you could tell that it was forced. Whereas now, there's groups like 67 and Section Boyz, Grizzy and M Dargg, and these people that have really London energy, U.K. energy anyway. It sounds, to me anyway, totally different, like it's a new thing. It will be interesting to me how America will respond to that, whether they will be like "this is amazing" or "not sure."
What's been London's reaction to Brexit and new prime minister Theresa May?
It's a mess. I read something yesterday that was like it's kind of an Armageddon type situation, where there's pure chaos. We're in this total limbo [state] right now that's so divisive, because everyone in London was desperate to stay in Europe, and understands the benefit of all these people here, and everyone outside of London didn't really. So it's made London its own kind of bubble in a way, and I often hear kind of an antagonistic attitude toward people outside of London now. It's just frustrating — once you've voted, then that's it, it's in the hands of whoever, and I think politically, the U.K.'s just a mess right now. There's essentially no one in charge. For most liberal people, the only hope we have is Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party. He's essentially being stabbed in the back and pretty much forced into a position where he can't lead the party, because he's too far left wing for most of the Labour Party.
I think it's the same in a lot of places now; it's becoming more divided and extreme. The extremes are coming out because it's a turbulent time. It's a shame because there was such a positivity in London because there's a new elected Muslim mayor. [Sadiq Khan] is not ideal, but he's moving things in the right direction. It's hard not to think about it too much. I'm sure in New York it's very similar to London, it's a very liberal place and you understand the benefits of multiculturalism and all these things that you take for granted, but that other people are terrified of. That's the thing, it's pure fear. It's a scary time, but the one thing that I think is positive is young people — they're the people that are gonna be running the world in 20, 30 years time, so you've got that to look forward to. But it might be a rough ride until then.
When you're making and DJing music at a time like this, how do you think the club, as a community space, interacts with the political climate?
It’s funny, I've never really made music with a political standpoint but I definitely feel there is a kind of energy of antagonism. I think there's an angriness to music at the moment. And I weirdly think that this EP is probably angry in a way. It's not [explicitly] politicized, but it's not comfortable. I think there are a lot of people that are angry, and that translates either directly or indirectly in the music. I guess it's trying to make a positive out of a negative. I think the biggest thing is solidarity, 100%. That's what the club is for. Before we started doing proper clubs, we would just to go to a really tiny bar, not really invite any people and just have a laptop and speakers. It was a club night in the technical term, but it wasn't really, it was like a community center or something, it was just somewhere to hang out. That's still the continuing thing, of course, solidarity with migrant people.
You're opening MoMA PS1’s Warm Up this Saturday. What can we expect from your set?
I’ve been thinking about it a lot, how much emphasis should be on my own production, and at the moment, I'm pushing it towards more of a live set. I feel like now I've got enough material that it can be three dimensional. It's a weird one, because it's in the daytime, so that's quite unusual for me; I quite like the dark. I haven't worked it out yet actually, I think it will either be kind of beautiful or like, brutal. One of the two. I was in the States last year and saw Rabit's show there and he totally destroyed it. So that's my inspiration, really.
Warm Up lineup: July 23
Branko / Enchufada + RBMA / Lisbon, Portugal
Kamaiyah (LIVE) / Oakland, CA
Maluca Mala (LIVE) / New York, NY
IMAABS / N.A.A.F.I / Santiago, Chile
Endgame / Bala Club + PTP / London, UK