Interview / Naveed Akhtar / Northern Life Records

Freak Seven`s Ya Bosmang is 50 minutes of Roland`s famous boxes throwing dark,  urban, buzzing, bass-heavy, electro shapes. TR-909, 808, and 303 working, wired, together to synthesize a sparse but rich sound. Showcasing its designer`s chops by switching from silicon chip soul, to rubber-limbed, off centre and fractured, forward-thinking, robotic funk. Music for b-boys on acid. Popping, locking, and tripping, to sinister Sci-Fi spy themes and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind key tones. Skipping house 4 / 4s dancing shoulder to shoulder with caustic dubwise drum-machine workouts. Sneaking flashes of junglist and pitched down footwork patterns into its obsidian acidic squelch. This Hurting In Me, an ace collaboration with vocalist Victoria Unthank, is like a more mechanical Massive Attack. Local Control is Motor City motorik. Mancunian in origin, the album is Lagos via Belleville via Cheetham Hill. There are echoes of the Hacienda`s heyday, and T-Coy. Transmat via A Guy Called Gerald`s Trip City score. The man behind Freak Seven, and Northern Life Records, is Naveed Akhtar. 

Freak Seven : Ya Bosmang

Where are you from?

Born in Croydon, bred in Cheetham Hill, which is just north of Manchester city centre.

Where are you based? 

I live in Stretford in Manchester, and I have my studio set up based at home. We’ve been here for about thirteen years and its nice. It’s got a cool musical vibe going on also – James Holroyd, Ruf Dug, Mr Scruff, Jamie Finlay, Woody from Red Laser Records, Fran from Eve’s Drop Collective all live in Stretford. Bumped into Ruffy the other day outside Aldi and had a little chinwag! 

Did you get into making music through DJing? 

Not through DJing, but through avid listening of music and an old BBC show called Tomorrow’s World, which used to highlight new technology. MIDI had just come out and they had a MIDI set up with various MIDI instruments, a guitar, keyboard, and an electronic drum kit. It was all being controlled by a Sinclair Spectrum 48K. When they played the keyboard and drum sounds came out I just couldn’t understand how – drums out of a piano!! – it was mercurial.

Were there any particular parties or DJs that inspired you to start making music?

The whole scene in Manchester during the `80s was inspiring – there were some really cool parties and clubs, aside from the ubiquitous Hacienda. I was always inspired more by boxes with flashing lights that made futuristic sounds rather than the 1200s. A friend of mine, Irfan Rainy, won some tickets from local radio station to go and see 808 State with A Guy Called Gerald, although Gerald may have been part of The Spinmasters at that time. This was at a club called The Boardwalk, which also hosted Jason Boardman’s night, Yellow – top night! All those TR boxes that the guys had was mega inspiring! 

So if you know Irafan, were you ever involved with the Rainy City Music crew? 

Yeah man – Irfan is one of my oldest friends! I’ve known him and his family since primary school, and we were into the same music, so it was natural for us to make music together. I was involved with them in the early days, when they had their studio at 23 New Mount Street, which was a fantastic creative hub. We were in the basement alongside Uncut, Eric Gooden and Eric Powell (Bush Records), Clint Boon (Inspiral Carpets) and a few others. On the third floor there was Paper Recordings, Wai Wan, Andy Madhatter, amongst others. I worked with the Rainy City guys on a few tunes, and they released one of my early tracks, Mars Probe, on their label.

Can you remember where and when you first heard an electro record? Can you remember the impression it made? What impact, for example, did the Streetsounds Electro compilations have on you?

1985. At my cousin’s house on Francis Road in Harrow. Electro 7 on cassette. Egyptian Lover – Girls. Wow!!

I’m glad you asked me this question. The Streetsounds comps were a big part of my musical education and very influential on me. You couldn’t hear music like that anywhere at the age of fifteen, apart from on tapes or radio. John Peel would play something from that scene every now and then – the first time I heard Needle To The Groove by Mantronix was on John Peel’s show. But Street Sounds were releasing this amazing music and they were prolific too – it was never a long wait till the next Electro. And you know the `80s were fantastic for music both on the underground and the overground, but it was also a difficult period in some respects, so the fact that Streetsounds was run by a brown dude with an Indian name and was releasing futuristic underground music was very, very, inspiring.

Can you remember where and when you first heard a house record? Can you remember the impression it made? Was it a big leap from electro to house?

1986. Stu Allan’s radio show on Manchester’s Piccadilly Radio. He had two shows, Souled Out and Buss’ Diss. I think it was his Souled Out show. The track was Nitro Deluxe`s Let’s Get Brutal. He said something along the lines of “It’s a new style of music from Chicago called House music.” And no, it wasn’t a big leap from electro to house – more of a natural progression. Both genres had the same synths and drum machines – the TR808, TR909, TB303 and other analogues. Electro had the syncopation – boom clack boom boom clack – whereas house had that hypnotic four on the floor! 

When did you start making music? What equipment did you have then? What sort of music were you making?

I had a friend who was a little older than me and into synths and drum machines. So I used to hang out with them a lot. I got into drum machines first and I’d write drum patterns and mix them in with records – just trying to copy the drum patterns on my favorite tunes. It was a Boss DR660 drum machine – a little powerhouse. I went through a learning period of buying bits of gear and selling them, just to try other stuff. Eventually I had a basic set up which was an Ensoniq ASR10 sampler, Akai MPC60 drum machine/sequencer, Roland TR808 and an SH101. Music wise I was making electronic stuff, techno, and house, usually quite dark with a Detroit feel to it.

What equipment do you have now? Do you have a favourite bit of kit? What instruments can you play? Have you had any formal training? 

My set up is not too dissimilar to when I first started, although I don’t have the TR808 anymore, and I have some more modern bits. But essentially, it’s a sequencer, drum machines, synths, samplers, and the ever-present Mac – Akai ASQ10 sequencer, Akai MPC One drum sampler, DSI Tempest, DSI Pro 2, Roland TR606, DSI Evolver, Roland SH101, Ensoniq ASR10 sampler, Akai MG614 four track recorders – mega old and rare! I use Reaper for as my main DAW, but I’ve been getting quite excited about Bitwig also. I tried going all in the box, but I much prefer hardware for my instruments. 

My favorite piece of gear at the moment is the Roger Linn Linnstrument, which is an MPE controller. The notes are set out like on a guitar and, if you have a compatible synth, you can do polyphonic pitch bends. It’s more of an instrument than just a controller, so you have to give it time. It`s incredibly expressive, it allows you to play synths with the same expression as a string instrument. I’ve also recently bought an Akai MPC One which I think is amazing, good value for money, great storage and very experimental. I started out my musical life playing the trumpet at school, but I’ve not played for years. I’ve not had any formal training which I think has been good for me, it means I’m not restricted to the circle of fifths! 

Have you been in any bands, or have you always worked solo? 

Never been in any bands as such but I guess my Sasso project is the closest to being in a band. I tend to collaborate with the same musicians for Sasso and the project has more organic feel to it than my Freak Seven project.  

Are you open to the idea of musical collaborations?

Yes always! That’s when all the good shit happens!

Everyone I know from Manchester – from Ruf Dug, to the Aficionado chaps, to Martin from ACR – sings your praises – a “Manchesters best kept secret” kind of thing. Do you get requests to do production for others?

Ahh that’s nice to hear. No, I haven’t had that many production requests over the years, but recently I was asked to do some additional production on an album project which I am very excited about. That started just before lockdown and has now resumed again after nearly a year. It’s a jazz-based project and features some world class Mancunian musicians.

Is there a conscious difference between the music you make as Sasso, and the music you make as Freak Seven?

Yes definitely. Sasso is more of a band-based project, and its more of a collaborative effort between all the musicians – allowing me to bounce off their input – whereas Freak Seven is just me on the composition side, and if there is a collaboration then it’s with a vocalist only – Aniff Akinola being one of them, who is amazing and was one half of Chapter and The Verse many years ago. Also, genre wise the two projects are very different which can be a bit of a hurdle sometimes when you’re trying to find an audience.

Freak Seven : Ya Bosmang

Both of these aliases came out of retirement relatively recently. What were you doing during this “break”? 

Oh, you know – bought a house, had children, got a day job in a completely different industry. I guess at one point during this break I thought I wasn’t going to make any more music due to a lack of time, but that creative itch is very difficult to forget about!

Is there a concept behind the new album, Ya Bosmang

No, I don’t think so. I don’t think about those things that much. Maybe I should? I just try and write music, and hope that someone else will also like it! The title was taken from the sci fi series, The Expanse, it’s patois for ‘yes boss.’ 

How did you hook up with vocalist, Victoria Unthank? Do you plan to do more work together? 

The collab with Victoria came from mutual friends and musicians. I was sharing a studio with my sensei, Sylvan Richardson, and we were looking to do some stuff with a vocalist. He knew Victoria and arranged a couple of studio sessions, and that vocal came out of one of those sessions, which was actually around the early noughties. That vocal has been sat on the hard drive of my old G4. I came across it recently and thought “Wow! I need to do something with that.” I have not seen Victoria in quite a few years but would love to do an album with her. She is an incredibly talented singer.

Freak Seven : Ya Bosmang

Has the lockdown period been creatively productive for you?

Yes, it gave me time to assess everything and also gave me time to write music with no outcome in mind. Just noodling on my synths and Linnstrument. I think the lockdown and COVID has changed a lot of things about how we live our lives, and how we try to find a good balance. In some ways it was like pressing a reset button.

Prior to the pandemic where there any local parties that you particularly enjoyed? 

I haven’t been going out that much as I’ve been getting older – even before lockdown – but there were a few things that I liked. Mostly local stuff. Irfan Rainy’s Community night was a regular fixture. There was also a little thing near me called The Social Service, which was very cool, the Pariahs night at The White Hotel with Jon K and Tom Boogizm was mega. Irfan and Scruff are having a party in a couple of weeks that I’m looking forward to.

Are there any local artists, or DJs, that we should watch out for? 

Tom Boogizm! A great DJ who plays very electronic yet funky music. Lovescene are a great band as are Porij. Secret Night Gang who have just signed to Brownswood. Space Afrika for ethereal dark textures.

Could you please give me 3 pieces of music that you are currently enjoying? If possible, explaining why?

Ash Lauryn / Truth

I love this, it captures that old school vibe of hot sweaty smokey cubs perfectly. It reminds me of K Alexi or Phuture Phantasy but modern at the same time. 

Ash Lauryn : Truth

Rupert Hine as Thinkman / The Ecstacy of Free Thought

This is not a new record but new for me. I recently discovered Rupert Hine and was amazed at how talented a producer he was. Very quirky. I love this song, it’s even more Bowiesque than Bowie!

Ruf Dug x Lovescene / Make This Right

This ticks all the boxes – moody, nice bassline, great vocal.

Are things beginning to open up again where you are?

Yes, pretty much back to how they were – but changed at the same time.

All being well what are your plans for the rest of the year and early 2022? 

I’m finishing a contract off this year. That’s going to take me up to Christmas. Then a post-Christmas family holiday. Next year I’m hoping to have physical releases on vinyl, so that’s going to take some research and planning given the current six months plus waiting time for vinyl.

Freak Seven : Ya Bosmang

Freak Seven`s Ya Bosmang is out now, care of Northern Life Records. 

 

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