I first met Arthur “Artwork” Smith something like 30 years ago, at Croydon’s Big Apple record shop – the birth place of dubstep. To be honest, I sort of lost track of his trajectory, after Magnetic Man – the “super group” Arthur formed with fellow Big Apple alumni, Beni “Benga” Uthman and Oliver “Skream” Jones. I do know that he’s done exceptionally well for himself.
Currently residing – appropriately, given where he started – in New York, this week Arthur launches a new label, Hi Quality Records Inc., and a new musical venture, More Amour. The project is a collaboration with virtuoso keyboardist, Jon Solo, and their first release is a 2-track 12. A modern mix of disco and house, and showered with flashy mirrorball SFX, Nightshift boasts a bumping Italo b-line, and increasingly stirring, soaring, synths. Stopping for short, subtly filtered breakdowns, it step-by-step builds its groove into an opulent aural orgy. The cut, cool enough with its references – a touch of Olatunji in the percussion – for the heads, and catchy enough to crossover. The mellower, but still most definitely moving, Don’t Look Down, features Fairlight-like fragmented vocals – a la Nu Shooz – wiki wacky wah-wah guitar, and a Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis-esque bottom-end, whose pH bubbles just below 7. Both tunes are totally authentic – the `80s given a 2022 production polish. If you didn’t know better you’d swear that a full band was playing. In each case, the second-half is dominated by an outrageous outburst from Jon, where he really gets a chance to shine / show-off. Arthur, it seems, is a sonic savant, capable of turning his hand, successfully, to any genre.
Where are you from?
It’s not where you’re from. It’s where you’re at.
When did you first get into dance music?
Around 1989. I was one of those kids driving around looking for raves!
How old were you?
Around 16. My mum used to drive us to parties. Hi Mum!
What kind of music was it?
Acid House, Chicago House, and some Detroit stuff.
Were you going to clubs?
With fake ID there were some I could get into, but many times this didn’t work.
Were you listening to pirate radio?
Yes! Sunrise, Flex. There were so many around that time, and so much great and inspiring music to discover.
Where were you buying your records?
The first place was called Mi-Price in Croydon, which was run by Jazzy M, who was arguably the first person to bring House music to London, and play it on pirate radio, LWR.
Were you DJing before you started making music?
Yes I was. Mainly at parties that we would put on ourselves. But there always comes a point where you want to play records that you can’t buy, and so you have to make them yourself.
Did you have any regular gigs?
Not really. Just whenever we could get people together and find a venue!
Did you play on pirate radio?
Yes! Many times. My first regular show was on Girls FM in London, from 12 until 2AM on Mondays and Tuesdays. I’m not sure how many people listened, but I’ve never met a single person who claims to have heard the show.
When did your first start making music?
Around 1992. I got a Roland W30 Sampler and an Atari 1040 STFM, with about 7 seconds worth of sampling available. We thought that was amazing at the time.
Have you had any formal music training? Piano lessons, or the like?
Yes, when I was very young, but I got bored with the teacher pretty quickly.
What kind of tracks were you making?
Kind of rave music, and then I started making Drum n Bass / Jungle.
How did you hook up with John Kennedy, owner of Big Apple Records?
I was a customer at Big Apple and John offered me the top room above the shop to put my studio in.
Were you working in the shop?
No, just in the studio, but I ended up spending hours in the shop when I wasn’t making music.
We actually met – decades ago – at the shop, and the thing that I remember about you – something that`s impossible to forget – is that you’d made a bazooka out of a drain-pipe and were firing potatoes the length of Surrey Street Market. Have you always been a bit of an inventor? Have you always been into pyrotechnics?
Yes. I’ve always been interested in things that go Bang! and I remember the potato bazooka with great fondness.
Can you remember any of the tracks that you made above the shop?
I made hundreds of records up there – too many to list – but I guess the most recognizable one is Red which was the first Big Apple release.
John moved to Wales. Are you still in touch?
Yes! I spoke to him today. He’s doing great. He was annoyed at how much it costs to sell records on Discogs with all the taxes, etc.
The first music I heard of yours, was under the moniker Grain – incredible dynamic techno – which was signed to Fatcat. How did you hook up with Fatcat?
Alex Knight, who owns Fatcat, is a very good friend of John’s. I`d started helping Steve Bicknell at Lost (legendary London techno parties) put up camo netting, and all the sound and lights, and that was how I got into techno music.
I heard a rumour that a Grain retrospective release might be on the cards. Is there any truth in this?
This has been on the cards for twenty years. So yes! It’s definitely happening. Only a case of when…
Even then though you were producing a vast array of sounds, editing stuff like David Gold’s City Police. What made you go digging for KPM records and where were you finding them? Were they expensive to buy at that point – 1997? Do you have any favourite library music LPs?
I was buying all the KPM stuff from Beano’s, which was the greatest second hand record store ever, and across the road from Big Apple. I love the Tele Music series and the Chappell Recorded Electronic Music series.
That David Gold edit starts with a phone prank – which I love. Is it real? Did you do a lot of phone-pranking. I know in hip hop circles the Jerky Boys were popular at around the same time.
The Jerky Boys were big heroes of ours. I used to phone a local radio station – BBC Southern Sounds – most nights.
There’s another track of yours, under the alias, Professor Ludlow & Dr. Smith, called Neil Phones Clive Via Akai – kind of related to the phone pranks – that I absolutely love. It seems sort of silly, but its also kind of touching. Can you tell me anything more about the track? Who is it? Is there a story behind it?
Neil was at my house. We recorded him saying various different questions and answers and mapped them onto a keyboard. We had ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘maybe’, ‘I called for you earlier, you weren’t there’ and many other phrases. We wanted to see how long it would take Clive to realise he was speaking to a machine. This was long before automated phone services.
How did your techno sound evolve into “dubstep”? Was it a case of stripping the music down to the basics?
I was making techno and garage at the same time, so they started to merge. I would put garage vocals in the techno, and techno sounds into the garage, and it all got a bit mixed up.
Were there particular records coming into the shop, the work of particular producers, that interested you, and inspired you to move in this direction? Personally it was people like Horsepower Productions, El-B and his Ghost imprint that made the biggest impression. I guess in hindsight they were the closest to regular reggae and digi-dub.
Benny Ill, from Horsepower, used to come into the shop and play us the music that he was making. He was trying to make garage, but doing it wrong, and putting the snare on the wrong beats – rather than on 2 and 4 – so it sounded more like reggae.
You had a long running collaboration with Danny Harrison, making a wide range of music, under different names – Menta, Bobby Blanco & Miki Moto / Moto Blanco. How did you meet Danny, and are you still in touch?
Danny was a distributor of records to all the shops, and he came in to the studio with Julian Jonah to record some garage and I was the engineer. After that we started making music together, and the rest is history.
What happened to Magnetic Man? The project was funded by the Arts Council. Was it always intended to be a kind of one off?
There was no plan with Magnetic Man. It just happened. We were surprised how big it got. It was a wild ride while it was happening.
Are you still in touch with Benga and Skream?
Yes. As often as possible, but I live in New York now so we don’t get to catch up that often.
My favourite track on the LP is Flying Into Tokyo, which would slot right into a classic Cafe del Mar sunset set. Have you ever made any other “chilled” or “ambient” stuff?
Yeah. Loads of it through the years, but mainly not released. There was some on the Grain stuff, but mostly I just made it for myself.
Weren’t you doing a radio show from New York at one point? Is this still happening?
I was, and I did it again the other day, but it was taking up so much time to prepare the show each week, and with More Amour there just wasn’t enough time.
Did you also recently have a residency at Pikes with Harvey?
I’ve had the residency at Pikes for eight years now. I do the Saturday and Harvey does the Monday. It’s the greatest dance floor on Earth even though it’s only 300 people.
(I couldn’t find a Pikes clip, but this is a great Boiler Room set, and will give you feel for who Arthur is / what he does)
The new More Amour tracks seem very Italo-influenced. Did Harvey`s sets have any impact on that?
His sets have had an impact on everyone.
How did you hook up with keyboardist Jon Solo?
We’ve been friends, and making music for twenty years. We always spoke about doing a project together one day. Pandemic lockdowns gave us the time to finally do it.
Are you still constantly producing music, dabbling in all sorts of genres? Or are you too busy DJing all around the globe?
At the moment it’s all about More Amour, but I’ll never stop making all sorts of music. I’m never too busy to make music.
What are you working on at the moment with More Amour?
We’ve made the first five releases, and have countless more in the pipeline. We’re really excited about these records.
What gigs do you have lined up?
It’s always quiet for January and February, but then clubs, festivals, and my Pikes residency of course. We’re also planning to start More Amour parties, which will be hybrid live / DJ sets, with me playing records and Jon playing keys live. We’re talking to some amazing venues. All will be revealed soon…
What plans do you have for the rest of 2022, and 2023?
The next year will be about getting More Amour established, DJing and releasing more records on Hi Quality Records Inc.
More Amour’s Nightshift is released this Friday, November 25th, on Hi Quality Records Inc. You can order a copy from Juno.
2 thoughts on “Interview / Arthur “Artwork” Smith / More Amour / Hi Quality Records Inc.”
That Neil phones Clive track is well funny! Nice one, great interview.
Thanks Oliver! Yeah I love that track. I find it kinda touching, perhaps because it reminds me of where I come from, my mates, and mad times in Croydon : )