Alex Sushon, AKA Bok Bok, is on fire these days. Between DJing London’s East Village excellent Night Slugs parties, blogging at Lower End Spasm, hosting a radio show on Sub FM, producing some of 2009’s freshest music, doing graphic design work for Fact Magazine, L-Vis 1990’s “United Groove” EP, and getting praised in Dazed & Confused’s New Media Top 50 piece, it’s safe to say that 2009 has been a pretty massive year. It’s also understandable that Bok Bok was taking a vacation in his hometown of Odessa, Ukraine when I got hold of him, where I had the opportunity to chat with him about sincerity, his recent remix for Mixpak Records (which you can purchase here), post-DJing snacks, the downfall of grime, “synth ecstasy,” The-Dream and his video design work for Simian Mobile Disco.
Exclusive interview for the Mixpak Blog by Brendan Arnott (my text in bold).
Also, peep one of Bok Bok’s favourite mixes that did for LuckyMe!
Brendan: Your Night Slugs parties sound like they’ve been continually successful, I’m curious about what sort of things are important to you when you’re organizing this kind of night?
Bok Bok: Well, what I really wanted to do with night slugs was make a fun accessible party for people that DIDN’T compromise on music, that’s to put it simply. It’s really a dance / club music party that’s frameworked by the UK soundsystem heritage, so what’s important to me is – good, heavy but CLEAR and bass-heavy sound, a really cutting edge music policy that’s still fun, and stuff that makes people focus on what’s happening in the club, the sound and the dancing, and bond together over it and have some shared experience. Stuff like having a host on the mic, and rewinding tracks, all that stuff helps people focus on what’s going on.
It seems like there’s a lot of collaboration and friendship at the root of the parties, which I imagine makes for a really productive atmosphere. In addition to DJing on your own, you also DJ with fellow South East Londoner Manara, and you’ve collaborating with L-Vis 1990 on the Crazy Cousinz “Bongo Jam” joint which is receiving some major support and love from blogs. What other collaborations do you have in the works for 2009 and beyond?
Oh man I dunno yet! Firstly I have to say this: me and L-Vis 1990 is a long-standing collabo. We DJ b2b (back to back, this is like 2 or 3 tracks each and then pass the headphones) all the time, and will be working on more tracks together. We’ve also got a split Night Slugs EP coming in August on the mighty DRESS 2 SWEAT label. But really i love DJing with other people, it creates a really fun interesting dynamic where you play off what the other person does. It’s a very creative process, b2b. I always try to get people to come on my radio show and play b2b, Some of my favourite people to do it with are Oneman and Ben UFO, they have pretty similar tastes but also bring a lot of their own personality to the mix, and push and pull the selection in different ways. I just did a radio set b2b with Kingdom while he was over here, it was amazing. Audio gonna be up for that v soon. ):
I know you’ve used the term “grimey house” to describe yourself at one point, but I also know that the music you’re making right now seems like a convergence of a ton of different genres, to the point where it seems like trying to slot it into a certain genre, or create a certain name for it is kinda useless – do you have any problems with people who might try and pinpoint your sound with a new catch phrase?
You can feel free to say “pass” as well…
No no, this is a good question.
Well “grimey house” was kinda early on, like my favourite music of all time is grime circa 2003-4-5… it had moments when it would go all 4×4 but the house structure never felt quite right in grime and at first what I was doing was combining that grimey sound pallete with 4×4 beats. I guess I’m still doing that now sort of but also it’s a lot different to my early stuff. I’m really wary of giving it a name because it’s definitely a hybrid sound and I’m a big believer in individual innovation within a genre framework.
Let’s say that genre is house/bass/post-grime-dubstep whatever. But that’s why we put gutter house heavy bass on our flyers, those are fake genres and vague signifiers for how the night feels rather than what we play exactly. The way ideas spread virally now in such a short time I feel genre definitions are a bit limiting.
Let’s see if anyone can come up with a good name for what me and L-Vis are doing…
Free Mixpak EPs for anyone who nails it!!! (just kidding)
hahaha let’s goooo!!!
Speaking of genres, I’ve heard that when you were younger you were primarily a grime DJ- not sure if you’ve heard it yet, but I just listened to Skepta and Tinchy Stryder’s “Ed Hardy Party” and tears started streaming down my face, I couldn’t help but feel like grime was hurdling into a watered-down mainstream and getting kind of lost from its roots. How you feel about the state of grime right now?
Yeah man, I started off just playing grime and 8bar type stuff. Mostly instrumentals, all white labels, and yeah grime has DEFINITELY gone in a direction I’m not into. There’s a lot of reasons for that, mainly that there wasn’t really an infrastructure for it as a club music…it’s gone down a kind of us rap route of MC personalities, mix CDs and stuff like that. I was more into it when it was all riddims on white label 12″ and off-the-wall club bangers. It started going that way too and dubstep went a way i didn’t like as well, that’s what got me playing other stuff in the first place- like house, bmore, 4×4 etc.
Earlier on you were talking a bit about how music is spread virally a lot these days, and I feel like your popularity is coming at a time that’s coinciding with a ton of big changes in the way that music gets promoted, sold and sent out into the world – how do you feel about the move of ‘the music industry’ (whatever that means) from albums and vinyl to a digital, internet based medium?
I mean I’m sort of in two minds about it, because I’m really into vinyl! I play all my upfront ‘dubplate’ material off Serato now as a vinyl proxy, and also try and play real vinyl as much as possible too, even though I’m finding more and more that clubs don’t maintain their capacity for vinyl and often it sounds like shit compared to digital media.
But also, it’s a good thing in that music is super accessible now, and if you want to put something out you’re not limited to short run pressings that sell out fast like in the old days, you can just do a release and everyone who wants it can get it.
For example, Night Slugs is about to launch as a label. We’ve got great things planned, and we wouldn’t be able to do any of it if it wasn’t for digital distribution. Also certain blogs have showed us a lot of love (shouts to discobelle, bap bap), and that’s a big deal for us and i really think blogs are a great thing that have the capacity to take our localized little music scene and make it much bigger.
Yeah, your mixtapes stand out as another example of how digital media helps grab people’s attention – you’ve made a ton of really diverse mixes for a whole slew of blogs and magazines all over the map. Any favourites?
My favourite mixtape was my latest one for my friends LuckyMe up in Glasgow. I love their whole aesthetic, its really honed! They’re a strong team. What I tried to do with it was take a load of quite diverse music and link it all together through certain non-linear similarities they have in audio and emotional palette. I dunno, I don’t like genre names at the moment. The stuff on there has all got these exquisite uplifting synths, that’s what kind of holds it together. I’m trying to chase a certain sound … I’m not sure how to describe it. I dunno why but the word ‘celestial’ keeps coming to my mind lately. It’s a kind of synth ecstacy sound I guess.
On your blog Lower End Spasm, you talk about how there’s a lot of of “purism, irony, confusion, pretentiousness & narrow-mindedness” in some London clubs. Do you feel like sincerity is something that’s somewhat lacking from the scene lately?
Yeah, sincerity and authenticity is a big deal for me, it might seem a bit cliched but… yea ! it is. Some anthropologist say that the hunt for authenticity is a painfully middle class pursuit, but I feel like I’ve had enough of people hijacking localized musics and “reinterpreting” them only to draw all the attention away from the originators.
In my view the key to righteous representation is to:
a) Only drop it if you mean it and
b) Keep the originators involved
I feel like this relates to you talking about destigmatising the music that you play- what does this mean and why it’s important?
I don’t wanna come across as angsty about all of this stuff, because since i was talking about the stigma attached to urban music, things have got much better, people have to much more open minded and the music itself has developed into something much more open, and with a genuine global following. The stigma thing I guess is about keeping an open mind, trying not to set yourselves any dogmatic rules where you’re like “ok if its got this sort of sound in it, or if it comes from this sort of scene, I won’t touch it”
But like I say this problem has really started to correct itself now ! So I’m happy.
Yeah, I feel like the Mixpak collaboration with Sizzla was a move in the right direction when it comes to breaking down genre barriers.
Yeah TOTALLY, Mixpak is doing great things and getting really good people involved. I love what Dre [Skull] is doing.
Who would you like to see Mixpak do a release with?
Hmmm let me think… I’d love to see Mixpak get some really strange people on the some remixes, like say The Dream (if Dre can one day afford or somehow convince him!!!!) or someone from grime or funky. That’s a bit random, but I mean I love the idiosyncratic nature of the label so far, things like working with Sissy Nobby and Sizzla. I want to see those kind of collaborations continue and I’m sure they will.
Oh wow, the day that the Dream remixes Dre Skull my head will explode.
Speaking of remixing, the internet seems to be in love with your Dre Skull remix ( It’s been charted on Grindin’ this month, messageboards seem to mutually declare it a winner, Fake Blood gave you some big props). How you feel about it?
I’m amazed by the good response to it!! I think its a great thing. I suspect its because its a little different to what’s out there right now, it definitely sounds like night slugs, and I HOPE that it means people are hungry for that sound!
Now in addition to DJing and making music, I know you’re also responsible for a lot of graphic design work as well, and now you’ve also stepped out into the foray of video design too – people might not know that you recently co-directed the Simian Mobile Disco videos for “Synthesise” and “10,000 Horses Can’t Be Wrong” with Kate Moross. They both look beautiful, can you talk a bit about the process of making them?
Video is something i dabble in only occasionally, but yeah!! Those videos were amazing fun. The process was like this: Actually it was a lot like doing a remix for a track. We got stems of the tracks from the band, cut them up into little loops after analyzing the tracks’ overall structure and what they sort of “did” in each section.
We then put each little segment or loop or event into Ableton live, and created accompanying animations for each clip using very simple 2d black & white elements. Next, we used Ableton to cut up and arrange those animations in time to the music. We then rented this space, an amazing warehouse in Peckham, South East London, called Area10, and
projected the composite animations into the space, affecting the footage live in the space with various sets of lights, and filmed it all, then back in the studio once again cut up the footage in time to the tracks. Viola!
That’s insane. no wonder it looks so good. Any idea why Kate Moross was so into circles for it?
She’s more of a triangle gal, circles was somehow just theme for the SMD stuff. We’re not sure why !
Last question. DJing is hard work. One gets very hungry doing it. Favourite post-DJ meal?
HOLY SHIT, you’ve opened a can of worms. Favourite pre- night slugs meal – VIETNAMESE PORK & RICE NOODLES, no doubt. Post DJing … IF we eat and we’re in London probably milkshakes at this one diner that will liquify any chocolate bar into a shake for you. Yep ill go with that.
Wow, that’s ridiculous, we have nothing like that where I am in Canada…
hahaha right !? It’s kind of an amazing rarity.
Thanks to Bok Bok for the interview.