Om Unit: Setting the Scene

Om Unit: Setting the Scene
Photo: Bradley Barnes

Photo: Bradley Barnes

This man needs little introduction. When he enters a room he has a certain presence that isn’t easy to ignore. Not only because he towers over the rest of the crowd, but because you know when he steps behind those decks, you’re about to witness something special. Jim Coles a.k.a Om Unit is an important fixture within this music scene of ours. I say scene with no mention of genre because it truly doesn’t matter, nor should it. Whether he’s dropping jungle classics or a beastly dub, this man believes in what he’s playing, and you know when you catch a set of his, you’re about to get schooled.

Last week saw the release of his highly anticipated 8-track EP, Inversion, on the Metalheadz imprint. The thought of an artist like Om Unit releasing a project such as this on a label like Metalheadz was already enough to incite excitement, but it’s only until you actually hear the finished product that you realise how special this project truly is. From the cinematic Touching Down, to the rumblings in The Crossing, to the particularly Headz-y Parallel, it’s simply gully.

All that’s left to do is chat to the man himself…

Yes Jim! If you weren’t chatting to us right now what would you be doing?

I’m recovering from recording the Headz Xmas Podcast yesterday so probably watching cartoons tbh!

Straight to business – the new EP on Metalheadz… One word: PHWOAR! How did this project come about?

Well i’ve put out 4 tunes already on Headz, (the Sleepwalkers record, and Timelines which was on Platinum Breakz 4) so it’s a natural progression. I am a fan of the label and the music more than trying to be “down” so I think that Goldie and the team were keen to see what I would come with as an outsider looking in, they basically green lit everything i gave them and here we are!

Was it a long time coming?

It did take a little while, it’s been quite a busy year with all the DJ gigs so a lot of this record was actually made in transit, and finished properly in the studio.

Was it made specifically with the Metalheadz imprint in mind?

Absolutely, it’s a reflection on the sonic identity of the label, but also they are just tunes at the end of the day I don’t want to get too wanky about all that – it’s essentially just my own way of doing d&b under that flag.

What impact have Metalheadz had on you over the years?

It’s Goldie, Source Direct, Doc Scott, people like Peshay and Grooverider etc.. that shaped my imagination as a youth so I think that Inversion felt very natural off the back of that.

Goldie gave you access to some DAT’s out of his studio and some other sample collections from his archive for this project – were you like a kid in a candy store going through it all?

This was the executive side of the label, Goldie likes to put his word in there, he’s quite masterful with language too, he essentially named the record and helped shape the sonics with his input. It was exciting but I wasn’t about to just nick his breaks and make another version of Saint Angel really – i chose some of the weirder bits out of the DATs to spice things up subtly more than treating it like a Zero G sample CD.

Which samples ended up on the album?

Some of the spot fx here and there, Goldie’s vocal on Bardo Realms, some drum hits. Some atmospheric bits and percussion, one break layer or two as well. Just salt n pepper as i say.

Touching Down has such a powerful intro! It’s incredibly cinematic, before launching into an all out assault.. The art of intro’s seems to be lost these days with ‘the drop’ often being the focal point – do you think it’s important to retain this as much as possible to be able to set the scene properly?

I dont use rules so much to be honest, a club tune is a club tune – it’s about the intention of the work. If people make the decision to just run a quick tune for the club then that’s ok.. I think the art of simplicity could also be used to build tunes more progressively as well though.

The Crossing has to be my personal favourite off the album… The way it builds is absolute genius. The subtle, creeping growl and perfectly arranged percussion. I get goose bumps just thinking about it.. Was it inspired by anything in particular?

Glad u like it! It’s inspired by some of the more recent rap stuff i’ve heard in recent years, I wanted it to sound like it’s in a cave though, loads of space and subtle layers of things happening. I think that was an ADD one – it never stays still.

Talk us through ‘The War” – how did the connection with Jehst come about? And where is the sample at the end from?

I’ve known Jehst for years, and we bump into each other around the way sometimes, I had the idea to bring him into this world as we’ve worked together a couple of times before and I think I just liked the idea of that convergence between a tried and tested vocalist like him and the d&b world.

The sample at the end is Alan Watts, he was a teacher of Zen and brought a lot of those teachings to America back in the 60’s. I have found his teachings incredibly insightful.

Is it a bit of a nod to our current global state of affairs?

It is.

Speaking of war… You were pulled in to the recent Jungle war by Gantz and retaliated with a lethal attack, using Brick Top’s infamous speech in Snatch as a sample. How quickly did that come together?

I did that on headphones on the sofa in a couple of hours, it’s a total joke thing. Some people have contacted me wanting to put it out but that makes no sense whatsoever to me. That jungle war was meant to be a laugh between a few mates really. I’d rather make tunes with Gantz and put them out.

Seems like a bit of friendly competition really brought out everyone’s creativity… Any other war dubs you particularly enjoyed?

Compa, Chimpo, Danny Scrilla, Moresounds, All of Epoch’s – there’s loads really. It was fun for sure, i’m glad not to have seen any dickheads getting serious about it too.

Back to the album – Parallel. Mate… Now you’re just showing off! 😉 Do you start tunes like this with a particular framework in mind or does the creativity flow as you’re working on it?

I just made the thing tbh! That one was made for the Sleepwalkers record actually but we didn’t feel like it fit with that.

I caught you at Vivek’s event – System – a couple of months back where you played a half dub, half jungle set (p.s – WHAT A SET!). Do you find that lines between genres are being blurred more and more these days?

Thanks that night was a career highlight! That night is one of the best in the UK, if not THE best tbh, it’s home for me.

Re: the lines, well it’s quite self-limiting to stick to one thing all the time right? So perhaps it’s a good thing that they are – it makes it harder for people to label, and I think young people are happy just to like a tune because they like it rather than be so concerned by the scene or genre so much.

You’ve just completed a US tour – do you find that people respond to your sets differently depending on which country you’re in?

I’ve been out there 4 times and have played all over the US and Canada and tbh people know what the deal is wherever you go It’s not rocket science. I play for the club and try and get people to dance and enjoy themselves as much as listen. In the US there is a healthy, fertile landscape for what I do, I know that much. Some countries can be challenging though.

You’re playing at the upcoming Exit vs. Metalheadz night at Studio Spaces. The line-up is jaw-droppingly good. What are you most looking forward to on the night? Will it just be an excuse to catch up with old friends from both camps?

Crazy right? it’s a statement, we are HERE! Haha, I’m just excited and honoured to be a part of it all really!

Any tricks up your sleeve for your set?

I made a new version of my Shadow Boxing remix for the night which i’m excited to play for people.

(Note: Om Unit went B2B with Alix Perez on the night for some next level business. Shadow Boxing remix was ridiculous – wait till you hear it!)


What’s next on the cards for you?

Australia and New Zealand over the new year and January – 4th year in a row! Can’t wait.

Final shouts?

Shout to Steve’s Cafe on the Norwood Road, best fry up in South London.

Inversion is out now

You can follow Maja C on Twitter, @_Maja_C
Head of content and curator of Drum&BassArena's YouTube and SoundCloud channels, Maja also works across UKF's editorial pages.

Om Unit

“Om” The supreme and most sacred syllable, and believed to be the spoken essence of the universe. “Unit” a single thing or person.Over the ...