When Drake made heavy use of a sample of Kyla, Paleface and Crazy Cousinz’ breakout UK funky anthem ‘Do You Mind’ on a teaser track for his fourth album, the world was quick to predict that this would be the summer of UK funky (again).
But the thing about revivals – and the ’10 of the best [insert genre] anthems’ listicles that help to drive them – is that they’re usually dependent on the people who were there in the first place to really do the leg work. This means fans and promoters, but it also means the musicians who were making the music in the first place.
Lil Silva is not interested in a UK funky revival. That’s not because he doesn’t like it anymore – in fact, he fondly describes his contributions to the scene as “timeless music” – but because he’s moved on.
Not in a negative, getting-over-a-bad-ex way, though, but moved on in the sense that he views his musical experiences – whether that be wheeling up ‘Seasons’ or ‘Pulse Flex’ on cue every weekend back in 2008 or putting in studio hours with Mark Ronson and Jamie xx – as equally formative.
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In the same way that bassline producers from the same era have sought to take new strides, carrying their experiences with them, Lil Silva is more interested in how what’s already been and gone can inform the next and entirely new. “It’s like garage,” he says, “garage is always there, UK funky is always there, bassline and stuff: it’s all there and I think people are gonna forever create new genres and scenes.”
This way of viewing these various strands as combining into a single, past-tense pool of music that can be picked from and reshaped into something new is interesting – and informed, it would seem, by Silva’s early listening habits too. “The people I was growing up listening to – J Dilla, Timbaland, all the grime heads – all the producers had their sound,” he reminisces. His goal, he says, is to be identified in this way rather than within a genre bracket: “[when people say] ‘oh that’s a Wiley beat, oh that’s a Timbaland beat, that’s a Pharrell thing, that’s a Dilla thing’…people pick up on their sound.”
Now this idea of a sonic identity is by no means a new one, and Silva wouldn’t be the first producer to actively strive towards making it a reality – but his approach to doing so is an interesting one. He’s experienced life inside the genre bracket and since then has learned the value of taking a step back.
“[Nowadays] you’ll see six DJs [on the same lineup] playing very similar sets at parties because, y’know, they’ve all been on the same scene,” he says, “it’s not a bad thing to take a few months out and develop your sound.” This, for Silva, has meant developing others’ sounds too. He’s been honing his craft from behind the mixing desk, working with other artists – including a certain record-busting megastar from Tottenham – in a more traditional producer’s role.
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It’s not a bad thing to take a few months out and develop your sound...
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“Working with Adele was amazing – [she’s] at that level, but yet so humble.” This meant sharing a space with super-producer Ronson, and Silva describes the experience as hugely influential on where he’s at today. “The way he structurs his music and knows how to make it sound, it’s just really opened my ears,” he says, audibly beaming, “and it’s really helped to adapt my sound as well.”
The sound he refers to as his own is demonstrated – as it stands to date, at least – on his latest EP, 'JIMI'. The title is intended as an acronym for ‘Journey Inside My Imagination’ and seems fitting in describing the exploratory, self-developmental path that has lead to the release.
Sonically, it’s a mish-mash of different tempos, textures, and palates and there’s a strong sense of wanting to avoid being pinned down. As such, abetted by the uncontained element of guest vocalists, it demonstrates Silva’s own sound as something of a work in progress.
He’s not particularly concerned by this, though, and, with another record lined up for imminent release, is clearly enjoying being in his groove. He’s working towards a live show and will be back in the studio fulfilling his passion for developing new artists.
Ultimately, then, it’s possible to view the prospect of a live show – and further down the line, he hopes, an album – as the real goal in terms of artistry. Here, he’ll be marrying the development of his own sound with the development of other artists and his knack for drawing out their own musical identities. It’s a projected narrative that seems rather fitting since, just as Lil Silva was beginning to draw out his own identity from the UK’s ever-bubbling pool of club music, Drake was recording a mixtape called Room For Improvement…
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'JIMI' is out now.
Words: Will Pritchard (@Hedmuk)