Hodge: another green world
A staple of Bristol’s hybrid bass/techno scene, Hodge has begun to branch out in recent years, resulting in a stunning debut album, ‘Shadows In Blue’, inspired by anime, science fiction, and his newfound love of gardening
Takumi Fujiwara is a tofu delivery driver. His father, Bunta, holds the record of the fastest downhill time at Mount Akina; he’s known as “the white ghost of Akina”. Mount Akina forms the epicentre of Initial D, a 2005 speed racing anime film that Jake Martin, aka Hodge, was watching one Thursday evening. That weekend, Hodge travelled to Japan to play a show at Paramount Festival. Paramount, as he soon discovered, takes place on Mount Aruna in the Gun Ma district — it’s the mountain that Mount Akina is based on. “It was wild, I felt like I was walking into the anime I’d just been watching,” Jake says on a call from Budapest. “We got to this festival and there were literally cars drifting in the carpark next to us.”
And that is how Hodge named ‘Ghosts Of Akina (Rainbow Edition)’, the penultimate track on ‘Shadows In Blue’, his longawaited debut album. A title in two parts, Jake explains the latter, laughing as he says, “This gets so geeky”: When Street Fighter used to have arcade games in the US, sometimes the consoles would get hacked and the games would get sped up. These accelerated versions of the game became known as the Rainbow Edition. This track — a breaksy, driving and synth-heavy cut peppered with video game bleeps that could easily soundtrack a car hurtling around a mountain — got sped up by 20bpm during the writing process. Hence, ‘Ghosts Of Akina (Rainbow Edition)’.
Since 2011, Bristol-based DJ and producer Hodge has become an increasingly potent presence at the forefront of UK club music, putting out weighty dancefloor-ready tunes that land in a moody meeting pot of house, techno and dubstep. A signifier of his vital role in Bristol’s musical landscape, he’s released music on Livity Sound and its sister imprint Dnuos Ytivil, Livity co-founder Peverelist’s other label Punch Drunk, Pinch’s Tectonic, and Shanti Celeste’s Peach Discs. Beyond the Bristol hotbed, Jake has put out music on Berceuse Heroique and Hemlock, collaborated with the likes of Laurel Halo, Tzusing, Randomer and Peder Mannerfelt, and remixed Bruce, Dusky, and the mighty Leftfield. His DJ sets are high-octane, running the bass music gamut, and his productions are distinctive and suspenseful; dubwise techno, urgent and extra-terrestrial synth patterns, and syncopated rhythms.
There have been a couple of forays beyond the dancefloor, 2016’s ‘Body Drive’ and 2018’s ‘Sunlight On A Broken Column’ (synced for the trailer of Believer, a Korean crime thriller), but on the whole, Hodge has always produced music to make people move. “The dancefloor was all I really cared about,” he says, “I was focused on writing music that creates tension, or the release of tension, and makes people dance.”
“It’s very hard to communicate your success to people that aren’t into dance music, but Glastonbury is a signifier. You can turn around to your nan and tell her you’re playing Glasto, and she’ll know to say, ‘Oh, you’re doing quite well!’
With 2018 came an invite from Houndstooth to contribute to a compilation, ‘In Death’s Dream Kingdom’. The request, for which Hodge would deliver ‘Sunlight On A Broken Column’, came with no musical restrictions, and acted as a catalyst for Hodge to start writing tracks which, rather than being specifically for the club, were something of the opposite — a reaction against clubbing. Following in the footsteps of artists like Call Super, Pariah and Vester Koza, ‘Shadows In Blue’ has now found its home on Houndstooth, both for the musicality of the releases that have come before him, and for the flexibility and artistic jurisdiction the label has offered him throughout the process.
The Hodge palette is indebted to Bristol and its dance music community; Pinch’s Subloaded parties, and formative sets by the likes of Pev, Distance and Mala. Livity Sound (run by Pev, Kowton and Asusu) taught Hodge an invaluable lesson. “I couldn’t believe how exciting it was,” he says. “Livity Sound helped solidify the idea in my head that you could create something really amazing with very few elements.” Around the time he was getting into dubstep, Jake started going out to more house-led parties in Bristol too, and it was that melting pot of sounds that led to his now, as he calls it, “criss-cross world that I’ve never been able to pin down”.
But before Bristol, and before raving, Jake’s father was fundamental in how his taste would develop. In his childhood home, Hodge grew up listening to seminal records like DJ Shadow’s ‘Entroducing...’, and Leftfield’s ‘Leftism’, before branching out into the back-catalogues of Boards Of Canada and Aphex Twin. Considering his dad taught him that ‘Leftism’ was “the pinnacle of music”, it is a monumental and very proud highlight of Hodge’s career to have been invited to remix a Leftfield track — Hodge and Pev remixed ‘Leftism’ track ‘Afro Cut’ together in 2017.
He counts his first Glastonbury set, on the Wow Stage in Silver Hayes, amongst other pinch-yourself moments. “It’s very hard to communicate your success to people that aren’t into dance music, but Glastonbury is a signifier,” says Jake, “you can turn around to your nan and tell her you’re playing Glasto, and she’ll know to say, ‘Oh, you’re doing quite well!’” Hodge’s first shows in Japan were also a proud milestone for him. Prior to his career as a DJ taking off, Jake wouldn’t have considered himself well-travelled — bar trips to Spain, France and Germany. Standing in Japan, knowing it was his music that had got him there, was, in Hodge’s words, breathtaking.
And now DJing has taken him all around the globe. As he presents his debut album to the world, one key inspiration picked up along the way is the flora of Singapore. “The way they incorporate plants and green spaces into their buildings,” he explains, “it feels like a giant greenhouse, very futuristic.” If Hodge were to compare ‘Shadows In Blue’ to a landscape, he would describe it as a botanical garden, where all the plants are from a different planet. Picture Singapore’s famous Gardens by the Bay — War Of The Worlds meets the Kew Gardens Temperate House, and on a more personal level, Jake’s interest in science fiction meets his own greenhouse at home, and a new-found love of gardening.
Science fiction has threaded into Hodge’s music before; 2018 EP ‘Exogenesis’ takes its title from the hypothesis that life originated beyond planet Earth, and, from the same EP, ‘Xenomorph’ is named from the Alien films. But this new bringing together of sci-fi and the botanical, and stretching his remit beyond the realms of a dark dancefloor, has resulted in a record that stays true to Hodge’s roots but feels fresh; birdsong, natural percussion and watery textures breathe life into dystopian and futuristic soundscapes. Opening track ‘Canopy Shy’ is named after a phenomenon amongst trees in the jungle which grow away from each other in such a way that their leaves and branches never touch, and the second track, ‘The World Is New Again’, is a reference to the way Hodge feels his love for plants has given him a new set of eyes. “I felt like I was seeing the world for the first time,” he says, “I noticed things, I had an actual reaction to noticing the plants and trees around me.” You can hear that fresh perspective in ‘The World Is New Again’, where ambient textures and reverb feel like a dramatic sunrise on a new day, adding a clarity to the landscape that wasn’t there before.
‘Shadows In Blue’ transitions from an appreciation of natural phenomena into otherworldly territory as you move through the record, a “natural kind of futurism”, as Jake puts it; ‘Sol’ could soundtrack an alien invasion, with its siren calls and banging drums, and ‘Cutie’ is a return to the club — turns out he couldn’t resist — chiming melodies and breaksy techno to send you shooting through the galaxy.
Galaxies, alternative realities, dystopian futures, Hodge likes to read about it all (often in the bath). With an image of Singapore’s wildly futuristic cityscapes stuck firmly in his head, Hodge returned to the studio to work on the album. He was reading Octavia E. Butler’s 1993 science fiction novel, Parable Of The Sower, at the time. It tells of a world in which food is scarce, and the characters are forced to fend for themselves and harvest their own crops. Hodge had just moved into a house with a garden, and so began his first forays into growing food of his own. “Even something as simple as putting your hands in the dirt,” he explains, “it’s so basic, and nice, and natural, it puts me in this meditative headspace.”
He thinks it's a reaction to our reliance on technology and social media, and also to spending his weekend in dark, crowded rooms. Jake now finds huge respite in the outdoors, where his carefully nurtured plants need sunlight in order to flourish. When we speak, he’s recently planted aubergines, tomatoes, basil, coriander, spinach and lettuce in the greenhouse, and courgettes and pumpkins outside in the garden. “Last year I was literally eating out of the garden,” he says, “it was just such a good feeling.”
When Hodge has time in Bristol, and he’s not in the studio or out in the garden obsessively watering his homegrown produce, you’ll often find him at Idle Hands or Elevator Sounds, two focal meeting points for Bristol’s music community. “I love it because you can walk pretty much anywhere,” Jake says of his hometown, “it helps you understand the city in terms of the space, and it creates such a nice community feel.” Bristol has produced so much interesting and innovative music over the years that you’d think there might be something in the water. “If you look at any genre or subsection of dance music,” he explains, “there’s always someone in Bristol doing it, and they’re making it exciting.”
Livity Sound, Timedance, Idle Hands, LCY, Avon Terror Corps; for Hodge, much of the music he is championing right now is born and bred in Bristol. If he could collaborate with anyone, he’d choose his great friend and former housemate Ossia, another Bristolian. When we speak, Jake is, coincidentally, also reading a sci-fi novel that is based in Bristol — Tim Maughan’s Infinite Detail. It’s a story of a dystopian post-Internet version of the city, and in the most Bristol-apt narrative imaginable, one of the characters spends their time collecting old jungle tapes.
Another work of science fiction which has heavily impacted Hodge is William Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer, a tale that’s a frighteningly accurate premonition of contemporary society’s addiction to technology and the Internet. “It’s so on-point with where we’ve ended up today,” Jake says. “He was the first person to come up with the idea of online infrastructure.” It’s been so impactful for him, in the way it creates this “fuzzy grey cyberpunk future land” in his mind, that Jake’s memorised the opening line, which he repeats to DJ Mag, “The sky above the port was the colour of a TV tuned to a dead channel.”
Add some vibrant botanics into the introductory scene of Neuromancer and you’ve got the foundations of ‘Shadows In Blue’; an inspired record that draws as much from the natural world as it does the supernatural. Neuromancer was Hodge’s first sci-fi obsession; it was William Gibson’s writing, which he describes as phenomenal and mindblowing, that encouraged a deep dive into the vast world of science fiction.
And so as our conversation wraps up, DJ Mag asks for some recommendations; Hodge’s reading list for science fiction amateurs: William Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy (1984-1988), Octavia E. Butler’s Lillith’s Brood (1987-1989) and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1992). And we know just the right soundtrack to put on in the background...