The act of archiving is a cathartic thing. Drawing a project to a close, the sealing of the box can be a momentous occasion - a sense of triumph over impossible odds.
Particularly for someone like me who is a chronic starter of things. I'm flighty. I am my own most generous benefactor of ideas and whimsies, but I’m not very forthcoming with strategy. In fact I’m too often guilty of wavering at the starting grid. Often this is influenced by finance, i.e. having none. What is more often the case is that there exists a certain sense of comfort that I’ve reached, where the idea is enough.
But it’s not.
We’re not judged on the moments of inspiration that end up at the elephants graveyard of good ideas. Nobody goes there, particularly to inspect the bones. We’re judged on the things we put to paper or to pixel. Those things that can deservedly be placed in an archive box, titled and underlined. So that they can beam with pride from a shelf like a precocious student.
And, to adopt the language of the divorce lawyer, we need closure.
There is a niggling that comes with not finishing something, especially when it consumed a whole period of your life and presented some incredible highs and crippling lows that are still vivid. What did it all come to? When you are left with a sense that there is unfinished business, can you tidy it all up with one final act? Sure.
In the early 00’s I was one half of a Hip Hop production duo called the Bone Idols (with production G, Sponge Madix). We recorded the best part of an album’s worth of material that was never released. There’s the niggle.
I need to ready the box.
Archived first in that box would be the Polaroids I took at the Christmas party in 2003 that we held in our glibly named studio, Castle Greyskull. Attendant here were our co-conspirators, a ragtag, Magnificent Seven style crew of U.S. expats and other musical nomads that had landed here, in London.
Drawn together through the art form, our collective wish was to create within, and hopefully beyond its bounds. We were geographically disparate (from London to Long Beach via Dallas, Connecticut and Australia), our connection was not physical, not about our locale, it was built on our mutual passion and a wish to simply create dope shit and have a seat at the table.
And here we were, punctuating the end of a productive year, hosting a party that sought to set the dial to relax. Alcohol was consumed, plenty. Weed was consumed, also plenty. Mics were turned on, beats were played. This, the same ritual that had brought us together years earlier. Among others, our key collaborators were in that smoke filled room; Aphletik, a Long Beach MC with a strong storytelling flow, Kapoo, the Connecticut Delegate whose lyrical turns confound the sharpest of ears, Tommy Evans, who caught a few off guard that night with his freestyle, Mickey Morphingaz, our DJ and fellow musical traveller. And finally Bobby Boyd who, in a sobering moment dropped a weighty verse on the instrumental to Keep On, our summer release of that year that had garnered critical acclaim and some love on the airwaves.
All the memories of that night, folded, packed and sealed.
I would archive, with the greatest of reverence the release of Keep On, our lead track with Aphletik that featured UK stalwart Ty. Of all the songs we worked on, this grew the most organically from MPC beat to finished vinyl, it also did that most tricky of dances; it transmitted positive vibes without being corny. Slipped in as a footnote would be the first time I heard it on the radio, on a sticky summer’s day - it getting rewound three times in a row.
Placed directly next to this would be the Mini DV tapes of all the live gigs we did that autumn as part of our support residency at the Jazz Cafe, warming up for a smorgasbord of our heroes. If you could bottle the atmosphere of the night Talib Kweli played with Mos Def that would be in there. To this day I have never felt more the distinct possibility that the roof might actually be raised.
Most definitely included would be the night we gatecrashed Jaylib’s dressing room, we were a little green about the etiquette (not knowing there were two rooms), Dilla greeted us with smiles and Madlib understandably, remained po-faced, sipping Henny. The next night our dressing room was clearly signed.
These gigs were invaluable as ways of testing the tracks on a live system but it didn’t compare to hearing our tracks at CDR on the Plastic People sound system. That was such a trip, a little like knowing your song was going to be played on the radio you waited in anticipation to hear it. Then when it came on you stood in the middle of the room, analysing, smiling - the CDR crew nodding. A flyer from that time would be unfolded and nestled in with the other artefacts.
Would I archive all the late nights working in the studio, the Chinese take aways, the last train home? Of course. We were focusing our efforts on creating an album for Aph, building something that felt like a reflection of his outlook. This was exciting to us, figuring it out, trying to create balance, learning our craft; the 80 takes it took to get ‘Can’t Live Like This’ just right - the delirium that ensued when we couldn’t tell if the first take was best. The risk taken when we put Sponge’s upright piano in the warehouse lift that we were told had about ‘5 good runs left in it’ (it never came back down). The heated debates, of which there were plenty. All of these moments dusted off with white cotton gloves and placed evenly within.
To be continued...