Get To Know: Unkut
Catapulted into the jungle stratosphere in 2017 on a Roni-sized slingshot with his debut Full Cycle, Swindon’s Unkut may appear to be a relatively new name to the game. But behind the scenes, steadily sharpening his skills, he’s been on this for quite some time… Since 1992, in fact. When he was just 10.
One blast of any of his generous EPs on the iconic Bristol label suggests the same; powered by breaks, ripped with samplecraft, cheeky rave references, classic warping basslines and loose-limbed rolling grooves, Unkut records are the sound of a man who was schooled in the free party classes of the 90s and has been entrenched in jungle ever since, following its many twists and turns closely.
They’re also the sound of a man who’s dedicated his entire life to the craft, sacrificed relationships and any type of semblance of a social life and committed to a life of constant self-critique and disciplined improvement. And, after years of house and bass releases as Swankout, he finally feels he’s reached the production levels of drum & bass.
He’s not the only one; Roni Size does too and has so far released three EPs on the re-booted, re-suited Full Cycle. The last one landed earlier this year; the second part to his The Funk, The Filth series, once again it smacks with the reference points of a man who’s been supping from the original jungle melting pot since before he could even reach the turntables.
With another Full Cycle EP due a little later this year, we called up Unkut (real name Danny) to see where he’s at.
Let’s go back to the start. I think you were resident at the legendary Brunel Rooms, right?
We can go back further than that. My first love was jungle and hardcore when I was about 10. My cousin was a few years older and was feeding me Top Buzz tapes and I was addicted from there, got decks soon after and was away. I first started playing at nights called at a place called The Underground, I was so small at the time I had to stand on milk crates to reach the decks! I was already pretty good at scratching so that got people’s attention and then Halloween 98 I was playing my first free party in a big old mansion house. The free party scene was amazing. I’d say that’s where I cut my teeth the most. I’ve got so many memories from that time.
Give us one…
We did a massive one in Savernake Forest near Salisbury. It made the Daily Telegraph, which we were well chuffed about. We had about 13 rigs playing. The Prodigy were playing off the back of an arctic lorry. Police were all over place, helicopters and everything. Anarchy. I wasn’t even 20 and it was just the best buzz ever. You never forget shit like that.
Can we bridge the gap here? That was a while ago now but Unkut productions are still pretty new…
Unkut has always been my DJ name since I was 14. Always drum & bass. During the early 2000s things were amazing, I was resident at Brunel Rooms, playing all around the UK, legendary venues like Lakota. I was making tunes and cutting my dubs and it was going incredibly well but I knew I needed to get a proper trade in so became an electrician in 2004.
I was still making music but knew it could be better so a few years later I studied production in Bristol and made a lot of house music/ bass music and rave/ rave breaks, mainly under the Swankout and Danny Unkut name, did some deep house stuff under deep dubs, did some bass stuff and that went pretty well. I have to big up Alan Hostage because he heavily supported me back then and got my tunes onto Rinse and things like that. But I’d always saved the Unkut name for the drum & bass…
So that was bubbling away in the studio all the time in the background?
Yeah I had some good advice from a mate who said ‘there’s no point in putting any old shit out, if you do make it and people start to dig back over your stuff and find 30 mediocre tracks it doesn’t look very good.’ I felt he had a point so I became very selective over what came out.
Priceless advice. Too many people fling stuff out too soon…
Yeah I never want to be negative but I do agree that there’s less quality control now. That said, if people feel motivated and they’re getting that momentum from these releases and putting things up on Soundcloud then that’s great. It’s a different ball game now.
True! So how about the Full Cycle link? Do you and Roni go back to your early days?
No not at all haha. That’s a recent link, relatively speaking. Around 2012/13. A guy I was in music college with had a mate near Bath who’s housemate knew Roni. She played him some of the Swankout stuff and he was into it. She called me up out of the blue and asked if I wanted to be linked with Roni. I was told his plan at the time was to have a bass label but things obviously changed there but anyway we linked on email, I sent him some tunes and we stayed in touch. Then, around the time I’d just dropped an EP called Get Dark, Roni started shouting about me on Twitter and Instagram, which was pretty mad. We chatted again and he asked for a few drum & bass tunes. I wasn’t working at the time… What I do is work for a bit, stash a bunch of money and the take a bit of time off to properly focus on my music, so I rolled out two tunes in a week. That was on a Saturday, the following Tuesday he emailed me saying ‘call me’. I was like ‘shit it’s Roni Size!’ I plucked up the courage and he was like ‘these tunes are fucking wicked mate!’ That blew my mind and it went from there. It still blows my mind now to be fair. Full Cycle was huge for me growing up and such a massive influence on the scene and now I’m part of that.
What I like is how your EPs have been substantial and cover a lot of ground. He seems to have given you a lot of freedom as an artist?
He has mate and I really do appreciate that. I’m very versatile and I make the music that reflects what I’m feeling at the time.
What mood were you in when you made Atom K? I love that tune. Reminds me of something that might have come on Talkin’ Loud
Ah thanks. That’s my personal favourite and one of my proudest achievements. There are about 70 tracks in that with a lot of layers. I was banging my head against the wall at points, trying to mix it all down I won’t lie! What mood was I in? I can’t remember now… I think I’d found an old Computer Music sample CD from 1992 somehow. That’s where the main Valleys Of The Shadows came from. There was a half time beat on there and that led me down a Bristol rabbit hole so it kinda came out as a celebration of everything that’s come from the city. It’s a bit different and I want to show I have versatility and want to explore different things and I want to show drum & bass has that versatility too.
Amen! What’s up next?
I’ve already got two tracks ready for my next Full Cycle EP. I’m really into mixing the old with the new. I’ve done it in my DJ sets and I do it in my productions, it gives me inspiration and the tunes write themselves a lot more naturally. There’s a Swankout remix coming, I’m working on a Swankout album and just hitting the Full Cycle stuff hard. Basically whenever I’m not in work, I’m in the studio. I’m a bit of a perfectionist as well so that first Full Cycle EP was a year’s delay because I wasn’t happy with the mixdowns and wanted to get them as good as possible. Of course I look back now and I’m still not happy…
We’re never happy are we though? You can always improve and when you do you compare everything you’ve done before that.
Exactly that. I read an interview with Redlight / Clipz and he said no one obsesses over the labour anymore so feel free and don’t get bogged down in details. Hostage said the same; don’t get bogged down by the kick drum because no one is going to be thinking about that when they’re on the dancefloor.
And that’s what it’s all about. Let’s sign out with a random fact about yourself…
To be honest I’m not sure I’ve got one. My whole life has been based around this. Everything has been about music. I’ve held off relationships and sacrificed my social life a lot because I’m so dedicated to it. I can’t give people enough time because I want it for myself in the studio. Sorry if that’s really boring!
That’s not boring, that’s dedication!
That’s what I’ve been telling myself for the last 20 years… And it just keeps getting better and better.