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Fresh Kicks 165: Sputnik One

Dublin’s Sputnik One blends bubbling techno, buoyant bass and depth-charge dancehall in his exhilarating Fresh Kicks mix, and chats to Eoin Murray about balancing groove with emotion, his recent Wisdom Teeth EP, and the influence of Fela Kuti on his music

Sputnik One’s music comes with a certain stamp of quality. In just three years, the Dubliner has made an impact with his hyperkinetic club productions, which have become regular fixtures in DJ sets by the likes of Ben UFO, Batu and CCL. A string of EPs, remixes and standalone tracks for labels including Wisdom Teeth, Well Street Records, and Pressure Dome demonstrate his painterly, perfectionist approach; buoyant rhythms pull giddily from the realms of broken techno, footwork and dancehall, while sizzling bass mutations and shapeshifting melodies speak to the future-facing dubstep experiments of Hessle Audio, Livity Sound and Timedance. 

When we speak to Sputnik One over Zoom in early November, he’s still buzzing from his first hometown gig since before the pandemic. Returning to the basement of local club Wigwam on the night restrictions initially lifted at the end of October, he and fellow Dubliner Glimmerman DJ’d for an ecstatic dancefloor; clips from the party show the young crowd going wild for the closing track, DJ Zinc’s jungle classic ‘Super Sharp Shooter. “In the back of my mind I felt like it was never going to happen,” he says, referencing the uncertainty that loomed over clubs as the proposed reopening date approached. “At the start of the week I didn't know if I was going to be playing, or if we were even going to be able to have people standing in the club.”

Prior to this, one of the last Dublin sets Sputnik One had played was in February 2020 for the launch of Woozy, a party and label spearheaded by local DJ and promoter EMA that he has previously co-run, and for whom he holds a residency. Founded as an Irish outpost for sound system culture and low-end club sounds, Woozy’s debut compilation was released in September 2020, and features tracks from an international cast of emerging artists, including Yushh, Jurango, Kellen303 and Sputnik One himself. In late November this year, Woozy finally got to host its second party, hosting REEF’s Darwin in Dublin’s Yamamori Tengu, albeit with an early curfew due to Covid restrictions being reintroduced. 

Sputnik One’s love for weighty, percussive sounds started at a young age thanks to his father’s record collection. Drawn to the spaced-out dub echo of Linton Kwesi Johnson’s ‘Inglan Is a Bitch’ and the frenetic Afrobeat of Fela Kuti, he was particularly entranced by the latter’s  rhythmic innovations and impeccable energy. “That’s the essence of music you dance to,” he says. “[Fela Kuti’s] tracks are like 25 minutes long sometimes, but the variations, and the way they’re structured, keep it interesting. I feel like that's kind of mirrored in the way I make music –   just having lots of little different bits, but staying with the same theme... The nuances are what’s important.”

There’s a meticulousness to Sputnik One’s music, demonstrated in the nimble percussion that courses through his catalogue, and the colourful sonic details that rustle, swoop and pop just beneath the surface of his tracks. It points to a producer for whom precision is key, and for whom cutting corners is not an option. “I think maybe it just has to do with my tendencies as a person,” he says. “Once I start something, I need to finish it. It's kind of like a compulsion.... If I don't finish a track, it bugs me... If I see something out of place, I won't rest until it's there.” 

Sputnik One is constantly pushing himself to improve. “I definitely try to hold myself to a standard on a world scale,” he says. His latest release, ‘Love From Above’, on Bristol’s Wisdom Teeth, is testament to that. A “bucket list” moment for the producer, the EP features some of his strongest tracks to date, from the chirruping melodies, alchemised distortion and syncopated drums of ‘Microbead’ and ‘Powder’, to the acrobatic footwork-techno hybrid, ‘Michael Cera’, which he describes as an attempt to make a track that feels simultanesouly “demented” and “heartfelt”.

“Incorporating more breaks for melody, but then coming back in with the drums and having it be balanced really well is what I’m trying to go towards,” he says. “I find that the hardest part: retaining the groove, retaining the club feeling, but saying something heartfelt that sticks with you, emotionally.”

Injecting supercharged rhythms with emotional heft is something Sputnik One also sees as crucial to his DJ sets, demonstrated in his Exquisite Corpse radio show on Rinse France and in support slots for the likes of Djrum and Interstellar Funk. “It's really important to me. I think the reason a lot of people I know don't feel connected to the very big room tech house sound is because there’s no emotion to it,” he says. “It feels very austere, like seeing a picture that’s been photoshopped. You’re not seeing the cracks, or the pores in someone’s skin. I feel like when you bring in emotion, there’s room for vulnerability... It shows humanity. That’s definitely what makes me tick when I’m listening to dance music.”

At this relatively early stage in his journey as a producer and DJ, there’s a maturity to Sputnik One’s approach that adds fuel to his determination. With some exciting (yet to be announced) gigs coming up, and big plans on the horizon for Woozy, he’s settling into his post-lockdown groove, and seems ready for the next chapter. “Things are getting very exciting,” he says.  

Want more? Check out recent Fresh Kicks from Ebb & Texture and Ayesha

Eoin Murray is DJ Mag's deputy digital editor. You can follow him on Twitter @eoin_murraye

Photo credit: Cal Keane