The Sound Of: Western Lore
Inspired by the dusty, crunchy sound of old rave tapes, Western Lore is twisting up modern jungle with a wavy, freeform sound and equally psychedelic visuals. Committed to physical formats and with intricate hand-drawn artwork, it’s one of the UK’s most exciting labels both sonically and visually. Ben Hindle catches up with label boss Dead Man’s Chest, who delivers a whirlwind mix of cuts from label’s catalogue
Western Lore is only a little over three-and-a-half years old, but already its releases are some of the most sought-after drops around. Filed under ‘modern jungle’, but with a sound and look that encompass the broader spirit of rave, it’s a home for hypnotic, ruffneck beats that bring together elements of techno, house, drum & bass, trance and more.
The label’s origins lie back in 2014; founder Alex Eveson had seen some success producing breaksy liquid d&b under his last name and with his label Channel 82. But with vinyl sales dwindling the imprint became impractical, and he found himself disillusioned with the clinical sound dominating drum & bass — all clean, surgical drum-work and crisp mix-downs. He longed for the crunch and the dirt of the ‘90s sounds he grew up on.
Raised in Glastonbury, he spent his youth surrounded by the music and mysticism of the festival, popping over to Bristol to party, listening to trip-hop, and collecting rave tapes — a hobby that started when he was around 11 years old and continues to this day. “I didn’t know who made what, it was just this collage of bleeps, breaks, ragga chants,” he says of those early tapes. “There was this mystique and magic to it that I wanted to recapture.”
While on a snowboarding trip in the French Alps he began DJing a few times a week; playing old school jungle at the weekend and a mix of dusty house and techno from the likes of Theo Parrish, Moodymann and Four Tet during the week. “A lot of the mix-downs in that scene were very crunchy and raw. I wanted to bring that into jungle and not focus on this super- crisp, loud engineering style,” he says. “But I didn’t just wanna write what was done before, I wanted to reimagine those memories in a new and modern way.” Merging the styles he was playing in France with the desire to recreate the old rave tape aesthetic, his eureka moment finally arrived. “I wrote the first track, it was an early version of ‘Tears’, and once I nailed that it just all started falling out. I found this sound and all of a sudden it clicked.”
Returning under the name Dead Man’s Chest, his new sound was coarse and unpolished, with breaks that thrummed like a shamanic ritual and FX that swished and flickered in a cosmic haze. “I was playing a gig in London and somebody who hadn’t heard me before came up to me afterwards and goes, ‘You were the one playing all that wavy shit weren’t you?’” he recalls. “I thought that’s a really good way of summing it up — wavy jungle.”
He began releasing on now-defunct label Ingredients, and in 2017 launched Western Lore as a new outlet for his own music and visual art — “channelling all of my interests into one outlet and having full creative vision”.
Catching the new wave of junglism being pushed by artists like Coco Bryce, Mantra and Tim Reaper, the new label garnered interest quickly and it wasn’t long before he began receiving demos from artists on a similar tip. “Initially it was Response & Pliskin,” he recalls. “They have this old production technique where they make stuff all on analogue gear, and they were some of the only drum & bass artists that I was still vibing off ‘cause it had that old school aesthetic.”
The Manchester duo — who’ve since put out several releases on Western Lore, including their stunning 2019 album ‘We’re All Disturbed’ — brought huge celestial pads and thumping four-to-the-floor jungle tekno in epic 10-minute-or-more journeys. It had exactly the gritty, rough-around-the edges vibe Alex was looking for. “It blew me away, and that really opened me up to other artists,” he says. “[The label] managed to attract some really talented artists who started spamming me their music. I had to open up the label to other producers ‘cause I was just getting so much fire sent to me.”
Since then, the label has dropped EPs from Bristolian jungle voyager Eusebeia, the mind- bogglingly prolific, T-Power-esque Thugwidow, drumfunk master Earl Grey, Dutch hardcore obsessive Coco Bryce, and another West Country experimentalist, Crypticz. Alex has even linked up with something of a personal hero, Sonic (of Sonic & Silver) — a serendipitous meeting in LA in 2016, which involved a kind of ‘sign from the universe’ experience with a basketball, inspired Alex to push his then-new idea for a label to a point where he could release some of Sonic’s music.
There’s also a compilation album series, ‘Blunted Breaks’, the second edition of which drops this year. Alongside the usual label crew it will feature names like Double O & Sheba Q, D’TCH, Threshold, Tim Reaper, Drum.Mist and previous Dead Man’s Chest collaborator and friend Josimar under his new alias Brayzn. “The ‘Blunted Breaks’ stuff is portraying what I like to do in a DJ set in a full long-player,” says Alex. “It will have peaks and troughs and it will encapsulate the full variation of styles that I like to play; so it goes really gully, it goes beautiful and deep and mystical, half-step, charging four-four — that’s what I’m trying to convey with those LPs.”
And music is only half the story of Western Lore. To Alex, a keen graphic designer, the artwork is just as important. Each release comes with cover art painstakingly hand-drawn by him, combining the classic photo surrealism of ‘90s rave flyers with ideas from the music producers themselves, and can take anywhere from 10 to 30 hours or more to create. “In the same way with music, where I get put off with things when they become overly digital and computerised, I like that loose element, that human nature, that bit of soul in there,” he explains. In addition to the vinyl sleeves, the art is sold as risograph prints, adding another layer of “natural grain”.
“I do wanna try and make everything individual to each artist and try and bring out an element of what they’re about, which is why on the Coco Bryce release I did a version of Snoopy, which is his thing, and my representation on the label is skulls — y’know, it’s Dead Man’s Chest... I was always into pirates,” he adds with a laugh.
With such time and effort going into the artwork, physical releases are a must. But they’re also another link to Alex’s younger self. Studying graphic design at college, all he’d ever wanted to do was design record sleeves — “[it’s] just a brilliant canvas for a piece of artwork. It’s a lovely size, containing music... It’s just something I’ve always been quite in love with.” Every release comes on vinyl, with several on cassette too, and there’s even a vinyl-only sub-label called Lore Ltd. “Part of the ambition with the Dead Man’s Chest thing was to create my perfect record box,” he says. “To curate and create a full record box of releases that I’d put out that were all cohesive — with the visual artwork, the sound.”
With Western Lore, he’s well on his way to achieving that dream. “It’s why so much effort goes into everything,” he says, “it’s for me as much as anybody else. It’s what I’m having fun doing as an artist. I love to write music, I love to DJ and I love to design things. Making a whole record box of my perfect music is my own personal art project, and I’m really glad that people get to be involved and enjoy that as well.”