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Fresh Kicks 211: Pizza Hotline

Jungle/drum & bass outlier Pizza Hotline records a mix of blissed-out breaks and emotive soundscapes for the Fresh Kicks series, and speaks to Ben Hindle about the influence of retro video game soundtracks and vaporwave on his sound, and his brand new album, ‘Polygon Island’

Pizza Hotline’s 2022 album ‘Level Select’ is a joy to explore. Built from the kind of jungle/drum & bass beats that might once have earned the (now generally derided) “intelligent” tag, but are much better served by adjectives such as ambient or atmospheric, it’s full of bright melodies and easy-rolling breaks. The title track glows with a fizzy neon ambience, while on ‘Emotion Engine’, glassy chimes shine like morning dew, and ‘Glacier Zone’ delivers an appropriately icy sparkle. Even the more epic moments, such as the meeting of a chunky Amen and shimmering operatic vocal on ‘Shadow Moses’, feel airy and unburdened. It’s also a viral success, having racked up over 1.5 million plays on YouTube to date, yet Pizza Hotline (real name: Harvey Jones) is virtually unknown within jungle/d&b circles, and aside from a set at Glastonbury this year, you’re unlikely to catch him playing out much at the moment.

See, Jones came to his current sound via a roundabout route. Though he did start out DJing drum & bass a decade ago, and does count albums like LTJ Bukem’s ‘Logical Progression’ and ‘Progression Sessions’ as influences, his main inspiration has been the playful, low-bitrate music of ‘90s video games — in particular Soichi Terada’s d&b-adjacent Ape Escape soundtrack. After his initial junglist forays, he fell in love with dub techno at Freerotation festival, eventually releasing his own under the alias El Choop; he played this year's edition of that very festival under the same moniker just last week. Alongside this, while studying music at university in 2018, he and a friend found out about the chronically online, nostalgia-obsessed genre, vaporwave, and began to mess around making tracks with an old tape deck — slowing down elements and resampling them to form crusty, emotive textures.

“I just loved the way that it wasn’t held up by pristine production values. It’s almost the opposite,” he says of the style. They jokingly named the project Pizza Hotline, and it eventually became an outlet for Jones’ non-dub techno projects, like the fuzzy soundscapes of his 2018 ‘deals with a western oil conglomerate’ EP, or the thump and crackle of 2020’s ‘Pressing Business’, which was him “trying to make a sludgy, deep, minimal Chicago [house] sound”. Going down a wormhole of retro game music on YouTube eventually led him back to drum & bass, but the connective tissue throughout his work is minimalism. “When you’re doing a great amount with few elements is something that’s always really motivated me,” he says.

His new album ‘Polygon Island’ is out now. “The pressure was colossal,” he says of following up the runaway success of ‘Level Select’. “I worked really hard to try to not think about it... but I got to a great place, and I feel like I made a really good album.”

‘Polygon Island’ is crisper and cleaner than its predecessor. He explains how the making of ‘Level Select’ was “really quick... it was raw”, whereas the production on the new album is “infinitely better”. It’s also generally a warmer, more relaxed affair, full of sun-bleached synth lines and gently bubbling bleeps, a result of its specific inspiration, the Ape Escape level Crabby Beach. Jones aimed to create the feeling of a “lush, interesting, nice beach level... I want it to sound inviting”. This in turn has directly inspired the music video he commissioned, which plays like the intro to a platformer game level, soaring over a 3D island complete with spinning pizzas to collect. One day he’d like to create an actual video game, though that’s a whole different ballpark.

In the meantime, he hopes to play more gigs and is composing music for real video games, including the smash-hit Fortnite and a “really compelling indie game” called Motorslice. He’s produced an album of RuneScape remixes, forthcoming on Laced Records, has a split EP with Mitch Murder on the way — expect heavier, dancefloor-oriented material there — and, he reveals, “I’m working on my next album already. It’s gonna be another concept album. But I think I want to make it sound more dreamy.” We can’t wait.

In the meantime, listen to Pizza Hotline's Fresh Kicks mix, and check the tracklist, below. 

Tracklist: 

Eternal Sunset ‘Love Songs’
Chameleon ‘Links’
Pizza Hotline ‘Y2K Dreamscape’
Mitch Murder ‘Oceanic Zone’
Pizza Hotline ‘Region Free’
Pizza Hotline ‘Emotion Engine’
Dj Sofa ‘Junglist Respect’
Tim Reaper & Comfort Zone ‘All the Time’
Soichi Terada ‘Grand Senshuuraku’
Pizza Hotline & DJ Total 90 ‘Glacier Zone’
Runescape OST ‘Waterfall (Pizza Hotline Remix)’
Pizza Hotline ‘Z Buffer’
Pizza Hotline ‘Shadow Moses’
F1 World Grand Prix ‘Credits (Dreamcast Game)’

Want more? Read DJ Mag's deep-dive into dance music in video games here

Ben Hindle is DJ Mag's deputy editor. You can follow him on Instagram @the_z_word