Down (ft. Eclipse)
Down is available via:
Grime; Hip-Hop; Rap
2nd October, 2016
IF the last couple of months in music have taught us anything…
then it is the importance of street-level music and preserving the realness of the British manors. Skepta’s Mercury Prize win was the result of a rare and brilliant young artists whose music not only extols truth and reality but has a universality and depth to it. Before looking at music from young artists and changing tastes; I wanted to look at Grime, Hip-Hop and Rap again. These are genres that have always struggled for mainstream acknowledgement and have had to fight against more preferred styles like Pop and Rock. It is baffling, in 2016 no less, that there is segregation and compartmentalisation in music – a lack of integration that needs to change. I know genres like Jazz and Country are always going to have their own audiences and not readily appeal to everyone. It is a shame these genres get clichéd views and are often written off – ensuring there is not a greater understanding and appreciation. We all know what a variety of great music there is but so much of it is being lost and buried. I feel we need to open up channels and make certain styles and sounds more accessible and exposed. Whether it is a greater exposure from radio stations or bravery by consumers – something has to be done. I am a big fan of Jazz but really reserve my tastes to legends like Miles Davis and John Coltrane. I feel we all latch onto a genre or music style but tend to limit ourselves to certain acts. Even if you are a new discoverer of Grime and Hip-Hop it is certainly worth more investigation and inspection. Skepta’s Konnichiwa is an album that resonated with so many people and it is easy to see why. Many musicians are insular and talk about love: pushing some away and coming off to personal and not varied enough. It is hard bonding with musicians that do not push themselves and go beyond the predictable. Skepta ensured Konnichiwa was an immersive but worldwide album that was not just resigned to personal issues and themes of love. Not only were the rhymes slick, confident and commanding: the compositions cross genres and beautifully combined emotions and shades. Deep, stunning and intoxicating: few could resist the temptations and scintillating music within. It is not a rarity discovering someone like Skepta. His award-mate and contemporary Kano was up for the Mercury and was narrowly pipped. It is odd Grime and Hip-Hop is not given more credit and spotlight than they have at the moment. Let’s hope Skepta can bring about some resurgence and reappropriation: make sure more people embrace the wonderful artists and music coming out. It is not just the mainstream talent that is making Grime exciting places to be. One of the brightest names emerging in the underground right now is Dan Amps’ Signal. Not one to be overlooked and play it quiet: his latest track, Down, is another dazzling and stunning cut. It is probably high time I introduce him to you:
“Having been performing for ten years already: 2016 has been one of the most jam-packed for Basingstoke Hip-Hop Grime star, Signal. Appearances on B.B.C. Introducing – The South (a live session and interview) and B.B.C. Berkshire (interview, freestyle; Q&A session) are just the tip of things. An appearancein the Basingstoke Gazette- which promulgated the local hero’s exposure from B.B.C. and his single, All Night- was matched with a feature on 1Xtra via #TargetsNoticeBoard (with D.J. Target). A stunning run in Has Reading Got Talent? - making the final- and a session of Croydon Radio brought the music to a wider audience- cementing himself as one of the south’s most promising new musicians. Signal's Dan Amps studied at The Academy of Contemporary Music (gaining a Music Production degree) and quickly established himself as one of the most dedicated, talent musicians in the south. Produced by Jay Picasso: new single All Night shows what Signal is all about. Hungry beats and slick, fast-flowing raps are filled with confidence, humour, and swagger- lines that reverberate in the mind and demand closer investigation. One of the most intelligent, authoritative and assured newcomers in Hip-Hop: the future looks very bright. After the release of E.P. Make It Happen- Signal’s 5th release- the young star has grows more assured and astonishing with each new offering. Inspired by contemporaries Wretch 32, Kano and Dizzee Rascal- in addition to ‘90s acts like Eminem and Biggie Smalls- Signal offers something both fresh and familiar: music that will not only appeal to hard-core fans of Hip-Hop, Rap, and Grime- songs that transcend borders and tastes. Throw in support slots with the likes of Chipmunk, Sneakbo; Wretch 32, Kano and Krept & Konan- quite an impressive and accompliished C.V. At the heart of things is Dan Amps (the man behind signal) and his warm, down-to-Earth personality. Somebody committed to music-making and spreading his message: that drive, determination, and passion are starting to reap rewards. How long before Signal joins the likes of Kano and Wiley: two of the forerunners in the U.K. Grime scene? Signal has performed across the U.K. - from London to Oxford- and shows an immense hunger and zeal: nothing means more than making music and bringing it to the masses. It cannot be long before his talent is recognised and (Signal is) one of the mainstream artists of the future”.
There are some wonderful young artists emerging right now and it is only a matter of time before they get the credit they deserve. Signal splits his time between Basingstoke and London and has been enjoying some time at Starcity Studios under the tutelage of Jay Picasso. I have been following Signal for a while and watching him rise and grow. All Night was his last single and was as urgent and desirous as the title proves; a man with only one thing on his mind. With each Signal song, there is that utter confidence and charm that is hard to ignore. You get seduced by the conviction and panache of the delivery and the ingenuity of the lyrics. There is a great focus on Pop and Rock acts coming through and it seems certain artists have to struggle harder than others. I feel British Hip-Hop and Grime is among the most exciting and compelling music you can hear. Throw away the preconceptions of needless profanity and drug-referencing M.C.s – we all need to forget the stereotypes and let the music deliver. With Signal, there is that accessibility that some of his peers lack. He is not someone that rolls to the mic. with fire and aggression – without offering any sense of relatability and familiarity. There is no unnecessary and undeserved ego: instead, you get an accomplished and hungry performer who is laying his marker down and intends on sticking around for many years to come. It is wonderful finding so many consistent acts in music who have overcome the hurdles and are setting their sights on the future. You might think British Grime and Hip-Hop is quite understaffed and it is a minority genre. You only have to drive around some of the clubs and venues of London to see how naïve that assumption is. From Camden and Hackney through to Clapham and Brixton – all manner of prime and lean talent to get your teeth into. In terms of sound and sensations: Signal takes a little bit of Wretch 32 and Chipmunk but is very much his own man.
There is still that zeal to embrace musicians in the capital and narrow in too closely. It is an issue I mention in (nearly) every post but there is a logic to bringing it up. It seems Signal might make his way to London and has performed across the city many times in the past year. He seems very much at home and would be based at the centre of the Grime revolution. Around Basingstoke; he has a legacy and name that is being cemented; one feels there will be fewer opportunities in the coming months – a natural evolution will see him based in London and making his way around the capital. It is a little ignorant feeling all good music emanates from the cities (very little to be found outside) but cities like London are set up to accommodate all type of artists. More open and opportunity-laden than smaller towns: many eyes will be on Signal and where he heads the next year. It is important not to forget your roots and those who begin towns and villages – before moving on – should acknowledge where they come from and how important it is to their development and character. Amps has spent his formative years around Basingstoke and been lauded in the local press. Without the respect, backing and attention from newspapers and radio around the town; it is debatable whether he would be able to perform and get gigs around London. That is a theory for another day but one thing is crystal-clear: 2017 is going to be the year we see a lot more coming from Signal.
When one approaches Down and Signal’s fresh output – it is worth looking back and seeing where he arrived from. I feel Down marks an apex for the Basingstoke star who has been feeding off the recent waves of Hip-Hop/Grime stars like Skepta. A lot of modern-day contemporaries are being inspired by the kings of the scene: including Wiley, Kano and Giggs (with a touch of Stormzy). All Night was a slick and sexy cut that found Signal in commanding mode and full of confidence. The vocal was assured and seductive whilst the composition provided a suitably louche and sweaty basis. Down is a sharper and more adventurous song that beats harder and incorporates a wider palette of electronic moods. Deeper, darker and more neon-lit than its predecessor: it finds Signal fresh from the bedroom scenes of All Night and roaming the midnight streets; maybe thinking of a new conquest; energy renewed. Maybe it is the continued partnership with Jay Picasso and his input that has resulted in this change. With Signal growing stronger and bigger each time a song arrives: you can hear that Picasso-esque rich production and compositional touches but the abiding impression is of Signal and his clear and distinct direction. After gaining live experience and picking things up on the road: that all comes to the plate in his most instant and professional track to date. You imagine it will not be long until Signal assimilates to the mainstream and stands alongside his peers and heroes of the genre.
I, for one, am very excited about Down’s arrival as it announces another bold move by Dan Amps and his creative rise. The opening moments of Down are a symphony of drive-by moods and street-level beats. The percussion cracks and whips; it is hollow and tasty with a definite swagger and sense of cool detachment. Strutting slams marry alongside echoey, cooing electronics that dives, warp and swallow. The combination blends supremely and gets the listener imagining the opening scenes and settings. You see yourself (I did at least) at night, down on the street. You wander under late-night smoke and stalk the pavements: part of you escaping a feeling of anxiety and being watched; the one vibing from the atmosphere and lingering energy of the post-pub revelry. Composition-wise; Down begins with an evocative and layered sound that is not too crowded or hard but never too slight either. The video – featuring Signal, Jay Picasso and Jamie Jooste – sees the trio swing and dance to the introduction: sassy and vibrant; head-nodding and ready to go.
When Signal approaches the microphone; he seems to be directing to a heroine. Maybe a rendez-vous or easy hook-up: he wants her to get on the phone and bell a taxi. He might be at his place and wanting her to come around. In the vocals, you hear a young man with no limitations or shortage of bravado but someone who keeps things cool and clean in the first stages. Sweetleaf and dope-scented; beer-soaked and musky: a perfect combination of grimey, jumping beats and yearning vocals. If All Night has some innuendo and tease then that has been swiftly replaced: a man who has no intention of beating around the bush. Revived, renewed and energised by his libido: Down finds the hero playing Ken (to the girl’s Barbie) and wanting her to bend down. Keen to sneak a peek and get some side-boob action: raw, direct and full of confidence. Were the vocal and lyrics not supported by appropriate compositional flair then the song would suffer as a result. Picasso and Signal make sure the beats keep snapping away and back in viper-like. Those woo-wooing electronics hark back to the origins of Grime and remind me a bit of Dizzee Rascal during his Showtime period. Perhaps not as scuzzy and rampaging as Rascal: Signal provides his own take on sexual come-on.
If contemporaries like Rascal, Stormzy and Wiley document the theatre and unpredictability of the London streets – where they came from and the reality they faced – Signal represents the larger voice; drawing from his own experiences and the sort of night-to-night adventures he enjoyed (and possibly still does). There is never any sense of crassness or sexism throughout the song. The boy is smoking weed in the penthouse and lusting after the girl. Whether they have hooked up or he is speaking from experience; you know she is someone in-demand and knows what she’s doing. Never a shy or demure heroine: someone who is on a par with Signal and capable of throwing back the flirt. The listener’s body will be compelled to jut, dance and groove around; captivated and drugged by the simple (but highly catchy) backdrop. Signal is up-front and in no way one for reservations and hesitations. Eclipse (Jamie Jooste on joint-lead vocals and Jay Picasso on backing) acts as Signal’s sweetheart/backing and counterpart (Jay Picasso as the backing voice is particularly affecting). With her voice processed and given that stridulating, machine-like sound: it is almost like she is the hero’s imagination and subconscious. Whereas Signal’s voice is clear and natural; the counterbalance gives the song new light and layers. The duo plays off of one another well and, instead of being compartmentalised and not gelling; the vocal parts naturally flow and go together perfectly. Picasso adds the odd note and vocal snatch to back up Signal; giving it extra gravitas and defiance – if you see the video; the trio remains in the picture from start to finish – and you become more engrossed in the song. Whereas the first half of the song was pure Hip-Hop and Grime – straight-ahead and quite edgy – Jamie Jooste's introduction gives the song more Pop edges.
The vocal (from Jooste) has elements of mainstream stars like Rhianna and Sia but the heroine has her own flair and personality that separates her from the crowd. Mixing sunshine vibes and Reggae dance; salacious Hip-Hop tongue licks and a balance of sexuality and playfulness – the song opens up and is at its catchiest. Signal muscles into the scene and Down turns into a tussle between the two parties. At its most physical, flirtatious and desirous: the duo have progressed to the dance floor – if you are following the scenes – and tangling around the carnival beats and inevitable throw-down. The heroine can get him/herself up – whether added by something a bit recreational and strong or just natural spirit – but she can also get down. In that up/down dichotomy; one gets images of contrast and two people from different sides of the track. Signal is someone who has professed to some weed smoking and chilling. Despite his eagerness and charge: he is someone that is laid-back and calm. Eclipse (Jooste as the heroine; Picasso as the brotherly wing-man) seems a more fiery and accelerated element that has an air of a party girl but someone with sophistication and sassiness – the two have that chemistry on the microphone and there is that sense of tension and what-is-going-to-happen-next. The heroine provides the “D-da-d-da-down” snake dance in the chorus. An insatiable hip-swiveling delivery that is bolstered by some caning beats and a up-through-the-nose head-rush of electronics and slung-low-groove. Throughout, there is a conflict between cocaine confidence and mellow smoke: not necessarily as source material but in terms of the personalities of both. Few can accuse Signal of being more sedate and closed-off compared to Jooste's heroine. Picasso gives the song some vocal depth and adds his cool blends into the mix.
Signal is hectoring the girl to get round and has his in-the-mood-to-get-down rider that includes Mount Gay (wonder if he’ll get sent a case for the name-check?) and smoking Marley. The hero invites her friends around so you wonder whether he is just looking for a good-time party or his sexual ambitions are truly heroic. One assumes the former is true and there is that desire to get high and chill rather than necessarily get instant gratification. Signal’s voice gets harder and deeper as he drills down to the core. Netflix is mooted for the date night – whether a mutual decision or a suggestion from the girl – and there is a Pippa Middleton vibe about the girl – perhaps a bit haughty and high-priced but able to slum it, one feels. Once more – as we have seen with previous songs – there is subversion and humour to be found.
As you imagine Signal leading a girl – and perhaps her girlfriends – into the bedroom to play some games (that game is “Sega!”); it is announced with a wink and tongue firmly in cheek. Signal busts out the white Power Ranger – sure he has mentioned Power Rangers before but can’t put my finger on it – and she seems like a keeper. As they have reached the bedroom; one wonders how much innocence and game-play (of the electronic type) is happening and whether the hero is making a move. Holding slightly back but putting his heart out there: Signal is firmly in the spotlight and laying down a solid and authoritative vocal delivery. The humour book is whipped out as the clothing starts to come out. Whether looking at some underarm hair or a bit further along the course: she is a “Neymar”; a Brazilian that is in need of the razor. There is a bit of cockiness to the sentiment but cannot help but laugh at the imagery and wordplay. It is clear Signal is down and ready to get it away but has some guidelines and rules, it seems. Blending the chorus’s repeated mantra (the song title fragmented, repeated and chanted; perhaps by Picasso); and Eclipse’s reintroduction – it seems like she can wait and time is on their side. Maybe Signal is too keen for things to happen and rushing into it. She is more relaxed and someone who can “share my candy” and promises fire. Stepping aside from the processed vocals and chorus representation: Jooste shows her natural voice and unwraps a sick and slick declaration. Wanting the ladies to get their hands up: she is someone that can get up and get down. Like Signal and his mix of narcotics, sexuality and natural charisma: one wonders how much of a comparison chemistry set is in Jooste’s handbag. Perhaps not quite as buzzed as Signal and more spiritual and pure: the lip-licking, salacious delivery draws you in and hooks the listener.
One hopes Signal and Eclipse (Jooste on the vocals especially) work together again as their personalities mesh naturally and they bounce off of one another very well. Whilst Picasso busts some moves – in the video, he is decked in shades and playing the Bez figure it seems (with way cooler moves) – and is very much the unsung lead and inspiration behind the song. His sharp and assured production takes the song through the motions and gears and provides it so many different emotions and sides. Never resting purely in Hip-Hop territory; it manages to ably splice genres and vocal elements without losing focus and keeping the story on track. Lesser Grime/Hip-Hop artists might put too many words in and be too keen to get the story on the page. Picasso, one assumes, has insisted on some compositional punctuation and treated some of the vocals. It gives the song greater depth and resonance and ensures there is more seduction, nuance and variegation emerging from Down. In the closing exchanges; the sense of intoxication and festival is explosive. One starts listening to Signal reveals his intentions and make their assumptions – thinking he was just after sex and was the dominant one – but has found a natural equal in Jooste. Her vocal gives the song its swagger and cool; Signal provides the directness and grit – together, there is so much to love. The chorus is the finest Signal has created and the catchiest to date. You cannot help but dance and flail around the room (look at Picasso’s moves in the video to see how it should be done!). Another sign of Picasso’s direction is the last segment which finds the opening lines – Signal asking the girl to ring a taxi and get round to his place – fed through a machine and given a bit of a low-down husk. Almost like a captor making ransom demands over the phone – the sound of the vocal rather than anything creepy – it is another great left-turn and means the song ends as strongly as it started. Everything is slowed down at the end and the duo trade to the end. One wonders how things ended and just what happens.
Credit to Signal who has delivered his (perhaps) finest song to date. The equal of any Grime/Hip-Hop cut out at the moment; Down proves he is ready and mature enough to handle the demands of the mainstream. He could well stand up alongside Skepta in future years and already has a sense of command and confidence that is key to success. If he does release an E.P. or album: that will be interesting to see if the tone is overtly sexual or he gives us an insight into his daily life and other elements. Maybe not experiencing the same urban decay and gang battles of many Grime contemporaries: Signal offers a more accessible and relatable set of lyrics. Not just reserved for young men – it seems a lot of Hip-Hop and Grime aims for that demographic – Signal’s latest song – and the fact he combines with Eclipse – will cross the genre lines and manages to cross-pollinate genres; meaning he will have a wider market and get radio-play across a number of different stations. Kudos to Eclipse (Jooste on vocals) who is a new collaborator with Signal and manages to smash it. Her unique tones and endless confidence give the song something extra; let’s hope the two works together again very soon. Picasso adds plenty of rawness and candour with his vocals; his production values are typically excellent. With Picasso guiding production and adding creative elements throughout - the overall effect is sensational and slick. Down is the first statement from Signal that takes him from local hero and Basingstoke boy-done-good to an artist that has the guts and ammunition to make his mark on the wider scene. With some wise tutelage and a constant attention to P.R. and getting his music out there; that transition and realisation will come quicker than he imagines.
I recently interviewed Jay Picasso (who produced Down) and he extols the virtues of Signal. The working relationship between the two is solid and brother-like – Picasso ribbing Signal and applying cute nickname (which I shall not reveal). The duo has worked together before and one feels it is a partnership that benefits both parties. Picasso has the chance to take a young talent under his wing and experience new sounds and stories. It is helping craft and develop him as a producer and mentor. Signal, in turn, has been afforded the opportunity to work alongside a recognised and reputable studio boss that has seen many artists pass through his door. I know the two have been discussing the possibilities of an E.P. or album in the coming months. There is a lot of momentum and excitement in Signal’s camp and plenty of fresh ideas coming to the fore. Whether there is quite enough material for an album – he might go in with an E.P. – the coming months are crucial. The reception and acclaim Signal’s been receiving in the live setting has given him a definite boost.
The past year has seen radio interviews, live performances and some stealthy reviews. Coming from a humble basis and worked hard to where he is now: few can deny how deserved the attention and positive feedback is. All Night was championed by many people and sounded contemporary and fresh but with enough edge and unique spin to distinguish it from everything else. Down continues where that left off and is another dizzying assault from one of the finest young artists working right now. These are now the first moves from Signal: he has been performing for a long time and created an impressive back catalogue already. I feel the evolution and development he has undergone throughout 2016 will lead to some great things. I hope an E.P. does arrive in 2017 and we see many more tracks from Signal. Looking back at the earliest recordings and comparing them with today and you can just hear how much stronger he is. Whether that is down to work with Picasso or the experience picked up in the last few months. When Down seeps into playlists and gets picked up; one imagines Signal will have more London gigs and more chances to bring his music to the masses. One feels he could go even further and tour throughout the U.K.; perhaps some international dates might not be out of the question.
I opened up by talking about Grime and Skepta especially. There is an artist that is leading a charge and highlighting just how good Grime and Hip-Hop are. It is not acceptable to be tepid and tame with our musical tastes because so much great music is being overlooked. One of the best things about what I do is getting to hear such a wide range of music and some really fascinating people. I’d like to think – without the blog- I would be as adventurous. There are those of us who do take chances but not nearly enough. It is hard to say if anyone is to blame and what is to be done. I guess mainstream radio stations have their own tastes and cannot really break their format. There are not many websites that people use that aids the issue; many of us rely on word-of-mouth and a certain amount of luck. That might take time to change and it is going to be tough ensuring genres like Grime get a fair shout and feed fully into the mainstream. What the Mercury Prize did this year – like it has done recently – is to recognise music that falls outside of the mainstream and would not necessarily top festival bills. In the past (the award) has been given to popular bands that have been approved by critics and are a tad predictable. Over the last few years, the judges have taken chances on artists that fall outside of these spheres. That kind of shake-up is what music needs and let’s hope it continues. It relates to Signal who is not someone that is necessarily going to be sharing the stage with festival bands – his path and career will be a little different.
The public is starting to discover wonderful talent like Skepta and this trickle-down will see acts like Signal gain new audiences. Down is his latest revelation and emanates from a young man that has not even hit his peak. One feels, with every new song he brings out, the best days are ahead of him. Down has plenty of fire and roll; it swaggers and sticks in the mind but Signal will bring more sounds, strands and layers into future music. He will get heavier and perhaps collaborate with other like-minded artists. When all that comes together – whether it happens on a future E.P. – then you feel awards and huge gigs are likely to follow. It is always risky and difficult making these predictions when there are so many eager and talented musicians wanting the same thing. It is easy to discover those that go above and beyond expectation and elevate above their contemporaries. I hear plenty of artists on national radio that are weaker than Signal; let’s hope this injustice is rectified and (those like Signal) get their dues. It is worth wrapping up and recommending you follow Signal’s career and his upcoming moves. Down is yet another addictive and brilliant offering from a young man out of Basingstoke who has the potential to conquer new worlds and join the likes of Skepta under the microscope of the mainstream critics. Contrary to the title of his latest single: Signal is very much…
ON the way up.