Tony Thorpe is an enigma. A colossus. An under-appreciated underground dance music legend, he now runs the Studio Rockers dubstep label and is about to release his latest raft of productions — the Globe Stepping project.
Born and bred in Croydon with a West Indian background, Tony had soundsystems all around him when he was a youth, and went through various tribes such as punk, 2-Tone and new romantic. He says first seeing funk band Hi Tension on TV made him think he wanted to do music, and that ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts’ — the album by David Byrne from Talking Heads and Brian Eno of rock, funk, world music, African stuff, tape loops and samples — and the dubwise Playgroup project from On-U Sound's Adrian Sherwood blew him out of the window.
Not a musician himself, he fell into post-punk industrial band 400 Blows and in the mid-'80s made a couple of albums with dub hero Mad Professor. He then started doing acid house stuff in the late '80s as the Moody Boys with Jimmy Cauty from The KLF, remixed all of Cauty & Drummond's big KLF singles, went on Top Of The Pops with them, and then — working solo as Moody Boyz — produced the 'Product Of The Environment' album in 1994, which was basically the first dubstep album. In fact, DJ Mag suggests he's possibly the godfather of dubstep.
“You’re making me sound old, bruv,” he chuckles. “A godfather as in Scarface godfather? Ha, yeah, I’ll go with that. I feel like I’m appreciated by the people who know me and know what I do — I’m happy with that. And if new kids are getting on board with what I’ve done in the past and what I’m doing in the future, it’s all good.
Space doesn't permit even a brief summary of what else Tony's been involved with over the years. Suffice to say, as well as running Studio Rockers — the natural successor to his Language imprint in the '90s — he's just spent two years making five albums for his new Globe Stepping project. “A company called Imagen, who are library music people, approached me about doing some mixes,” he explains. “They gave me some ethnic samples and I did a couple of tracks.”
This led to a whole project, and what started as an idea to record music to synch to film and TV has become a fully-fledged artist project. “One album is full of African stuff, one is Middle Eastern, one is Far Eastern — it’s all different parts of the world,” Tony says. “I’ve picked my three best tracks off each album, so you get a good mixture of different types of sounds — Indian, African, Asian, it’s all there.”
Working with newbies Nuphlo, Pempi and Squarewave from his Studio Rockers imprint, plus old cohort Si Begg from the '90s, Globe Stepping takes gorgeous world music sounds and recontextualises them in the post-dubstep sphere using 21st century production techniques. So an intricately percussive 'Chai Garden' seems to reference Oriental hanging gardens, while 'Amazon' takes a 303-tastic acid trip through an Apocalypse Now rainforest.
'Kongotronic' is a Bandulu-like dubby melange, 'Ganges Flow' updates the sound of the Asian underground, a charming 'Dusty Path' zings with eastern promise... “Gone are the days when you’d just get a tabla and put a breakbeat underneath it,” says Tony. “It’s so much more in-depth now.”
This raft of rich, warm, cinematic global-tinged music could be said to fit into some sort of new scene — currently un-named (but we're working on it here at DJ Mag Towers). “I’m hearing a lot of new artists on a world music tip, there’s Mala from DMZ’s new album, A Tribe Called Red who are brilliant, LV who’s just done that thing on Hyperdub with lots of African MCs on it, Debruit on Civil Music… it’s just in the ether, really,” Tony concurs. “It feels like there’s going to be more people sampling — or getting people to come in and play — world music stuff like that.”
“It’s a part of dubstep, it’s in the underbelly of dubstep where there are a lot of creative things happening,” he continues. “Right now, dubstep has its own commercial sound, but underneath the belly of it is all this other stuff. House music by Scuba, future garage, wonky… loads of stuff. That’s what I find exciting. Anything goes right now, the world music stuff is fresh for the taking.”
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