New transmissions: Bluetoof is using narrative-driven bass to reconnect with his heritage - Music - Mixmag

New transmissions: Bluetoof is using narrative-driven bass to reconnect with his heritage

Inspired by the dark rave sounds of his youth, South London-based DJ, producer and label head Blutoof talks looking beyond the club and the importance of mentors, and delivers an hour-long mix inspired by his Moroccan roots

  • Words: Megan Townsend | Photo: Frazer Thorne
  • 7 August 2023

Despite having garnered a steadfast reputation for his eclectic, fluid sets packed with hearty bass and forward-thinking percussion, alongside support from a consortium of the underground's brightest — Bluetoof is anything but riding the wave of his success. Instead this South London-based DJ, producer and label head is an artist in a state of metamorphosis, looking to redefine his work and explore his own identity. "When I first started out I didn't really know what I wanted to do," he tells Mixmag. "I knew I wanted to make garage, I knew I wanted to go to London. When I saw that the music that I was making become more saturated, saw more talent coming through the door and more people making it — I thought, I'm done with making this now, let someone else have their time doing it."

Born in Scotland, but raised in Kent, Bluetoof - aka Ben Farjani - was exposed to an "eclectic mix" of music from his parents, who had worked within Glasgow's clubbing industry in the '90s — US garage, house, R&B, "lots of hip hop." Though it was in his school days, "during the actual Bluetooth/Infrared days when we'd send each other tunes," he says, that his interest in dance music first began. "I used to go skating every day - I was really into skating - and we'd get driven every day by my friend Harry Gerrard's golf and he had loads of UKG and jungle tape packs, that was the first time I'd heard from people like DJ EZ, LTJ Bukem — I remember hearing LTJ Bukem and Peshay in '19.5', the reprisal for the first time and I was like: 'What the fuck is this music,'" he recalls. Getting his first taste of raving at forest raves near his home, he - like many youngsters who grew up with the bright lights of London gleaming nearby - moved on quickly to going fabric as soon as he was old enough to get in. "We'd get the last train up to London on a Friday and the first train back in the morning, it was a pretty legendary pilgrimage."

Inspired by DJ EZ, he began DJing while at university in Brighton — establishing his own night alongside longtime friend Dome Zero, landing his first DJ gig at the city's biggest nightspot, Patterns. Though he admits that it was a pivotal move to London some years later that plunged him into the scene, growing his profile as a DJ, with early appearances at parties such as Percy Mingle, fabric and Wavey Garms that would grow his following significantly. Since then he's graced the decks at some of underground dance music's biggest gatherings: Dimensions, The Cause, Corsica Studios, Horst Arts & Music; all the while packing punch into the airwaves with his weekly Rinse FM slot, inviting the likes of re:ni, Toumba, Sarra Wild, Tasha and more on for guest slots.

Releases on For The Massive, Gather, Timeisnow, ec2a and most recently his contribution to 'fabric SELECTS II' have placed him as not only an in demand booking, but a one-to-watch for any headlong selector striving for a bit of low-end flavour. Though, as an artist, he's more recently turned to exploring his own identity, digging deep into his Moroccan heritage and weaving in elements of Arabic percussion into his dark, bass-driven sonic palette. Further carving out his unique place within UK dance music, last year saw Bluetoof launch his own imprint, cleverly named Infa Red — created in the desire to build "fully realised worlds", Farjani's label acts as a vehicle for him to create the "full package" with his releases, creating artwork, concepts and videos inspired by his life. Much of which can be seen in his April-released EP 'diggin a hole', which across three tracks tells the story of an archeological dig to discover two "artefacts" — progressing to deeper, darker levels of the "dig" as the record progresses.

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For Farjani, his deepening obsession with music came from meeting "like-minded weirdos" within South London's vibrant bass scene — honing in his production skills with the help of friends, mentors and collaborators; many of which he pays tribute to in our Q&A below. One of which, Jossy Mitsu, he's even teamed up with to form the duo BLUMITSU; with the pair playing festivals, recording mixes and even working on music together. In our Impact interview, Bluetoof details his journey from DJ EZ striver to introspective artist — using music and visual art to create his own little worlds, and to carve out his individual sound. You can read it below, as well as listen to Bluetoof's Impact mix which he has titled: “lost between ancestry and now.” The hour-long mix evokes the feeling of "teleporting between ancient Morocco and present day", weaving ancient arabic percussion into contemporary bass sounds.

You launched your imprint Infa Red this time last year, what has the experience been like running your label this year? Is it shaping up the way you imagined? or has it taken on a life of its own?

Yeah, It's definitely going the way I envisioned it, because there wasn't really a set goal when I started it out. I was kind of expecting it to mutate, and it was always open in where it was going to go creatively and sonically. I'm a designer and artist, and I've always been interested in combining my artwork and my music, so when I started Infa Red I knew I wanted it to be a platform so that could happen. Also, about a year ago, I was getting sick of the narrative of chasing labels and people telling you your music isn't good enough or asking for amends, not being happy with artwork - and I just decided to take things into my own hands. My good friend Yanis (aka Dr Dubplate) who runs ec2a gave me the push to get it going, he helped me pick the name and we set it up. Over the last year it's been really fun starting it, meeting people, not having to rush it and letting it grow organically — it feels like I'm shepherding together a little herd of likeminded weirdos [laughs]. People who share my vision. I think one of the integral things about Infa Red is giving the artist complete creative control with how it sounds sonically and how the artwork looks, investing in creating music videos for them. It's only digital, but we're putting the money into making a real, polished output. The second release, which was a collaborative project from me and Muskila, we got the mutual friend that introduced us to do the video and artwork for it. It's got a real nice community feel to it.

Your EP 'diggin a hole', which was released earlier this year on the label, utilises deep bass to create a narrative around the discovery of two "artefacts" — can you tell us a bit about this theme and where the idea came from?

As a child I was always super into fantasy, dinosaurs, playing around in my own little world. I used to collect a lot of figurines and stuff. Info has become my sphere of reality, so it seemed like a good time to explore some narrative in my work because it's always been really club-focused before, there hasn't really been a level of depth of me thinking about a concept and trying to develop the sound around it, so it seemed like the perfect time to make a more mature piece of work I guess, for lack of a better term. The cover artwork with the Alien-like figure is a reference to a party that my mum went to in the '90s - she's got this really insane A2 scrap book of every rave she ever went to from 1990-2000 - and I found it on one of the flyers. I think too, when I'm going through these books, it feels like you're going back in time - like you're on an archeological dig almost and I sort of built the fantasy around that. I used this loose idea of digging through this archive, and then took it quite literal — then playing on the idea of a dig, and that the image on this poster is an actual artefact. I was nice to build three tracks that had a crescendo in the middle that still glue together sonically.

Plus you get to live in this little world of your own creation?

Yeah! It's a childlike thing, you're playing with toys but in your brain you build these crazy narratives, like you're in your own film, you're building an entire world around it but you're just playing with two action figures. This is what I'd like to do with my work. I found it very hard for years to make music, I started so late, but I just indulged in it so much that I sort of forgot that I was a designer. I work with a lot of labels and brands a lot, and I've had people tell me "you should combine these two things, because then you'll create something that no one else can do." It's a lot more fun for me to make the whole package, than just to make the track — you can really envision the whole world. Definitely moving forward, I'm going to start work on an AV show. I've been wanting to do it for the last couple of years, but now it's really coming to fruition.

What do you think it is about deep-spanning, bass sounds that appeal to you so much? Do you think that is the common quality you look for in most of the music you make/play/listen to?

I think within the last few years, I'm a lot more enticed by darker sounds. I'm sure I can speak for a lot of people in that post-lockdown, music has just been much deeper and bass-oriented. Maybe it's a reflection of a lost, despondent youth - robbed of two years of freedom. Another thing is, I grew up in Kent and there's a real dark drum 'n' bass/techstep scene there — which I think maybe has been ingrained within me.

Is it challenging to apply narrative and visual concepts to bass-driven, stripped-back sounds? Due to them sometimes being quite synonymous with a club setting?

Do you know what, when I first started I used to make garage. The reason I stopped making that was because it felt way too clubby, and I found it difficult to develop it artistically. Whereas for me, moving into the more percussive/bass-y side of things, because there's so little narrative in terms of vocals etc in the actual track — it's way more up for interpretation, it can be abstract. In terms of my production now too, the percussion I use is very inspired by my Moroccan family and because that means so much to me, it kind of already has narrative.

Can you tell us a bit about how your Moroccan heritage has inspired your work?

It's actually all quite fresh to me. I grew up in Kent and Glasgow, and there wasn't really a Moroccan community that I was part of at the time. It was only in my adult years, when I moved back to Glasgow five years ago, I met people from this small North African community in the city. My friends Sarra Wild and KTAB, they really helped me connect with being Moroccan. Then hearing music from the likes of DJ Plead and Anunaku, mixing those Arabic percussive elements into dance music — it was the first time I'd sort of thought: "Oh god I can combine these two things." I've also been reconnecting with my Moroccan family, taking in the culture and those sounds more and more. I'm finding it so interesting. In terms of the music, I never really had that education from my actual family, it's kind of like shooting in the dark — trying to connect to your ancestry through the music you're making. I'm guessing how it sounds, because I didn't have a lot of it growing up.

Do you think reconnecting with your roots, now as an adult, has set you on a bit of a divergent path?

Definitely. I think, especially in the last year there's so many more diaspora kids popping up, the whole community is connecting with each other. It doesn't feel like there's that element of loneliness anymore that I felt when I first started on this journey. It's really sick, exciting.

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When did you start making music and DJing?

I went to uni in Brighton when I was 18 to study graphic design, and I got a bursary and I was obsessed with DJ EZ at the time. This was around the time that classic Boiler Room came out. I bought some CDJs off some really dodgy guy on Gumtree for like £250, and a crappy mixer and then I used to go to Poundland and get loads of CDs and sit in my room and copy DJ EZ and Oneman's Boiler Rooms. There was no community then to really learn how to DJ I found, controllers weren't really a thing and I didn't know anyone else that DJ'ed. At the start it was quite lonely, and I was in my own little world just trying to be EZ and Oneman. Me and my friend Dome Zero, and some others from Brighton uni, we started a night called "Off Peak" - that ended up being my first gig, at Patterns - and we sort of started our own little community where we could do whatever we wanted. Play whatever we wanted, because we always knew people were going to come.

At the end of studying, I was living with Dome Zero and he was always making tunes and messing around, and I said: "I want to learn that, can you teach me how to do it?" and he taught me the fundamentals using FL Studio. At the same time, I was struggling with my course, I hated doing graphics and illustration, and was obsessed with music. When it all changed, and I decided to have the pseudonym Bluetoof, I'd made this tune - my first proper tune - and I was listening to Rinse FM. I thought: "I need to get this sent out to someone." This was the time where getting someone to play your tune on Rinse, was massive. I sent the track to Jossy Mitsu, she played it on the radio. I was sat at home, and she gets on the mic [does Brummy accent] "this is Bluetoof! he's really sick." That moment of hearing my track on radio was the first time I thought, I can really do this.

So you moved to London with the mission to create music?

Oh that was the only reason. I think I moved a week after Jossy played my track, my mum who has had my back creatively since forever was like you need to go to London its your destiny haha. a room came up in a house and I just moved. I was really hungry to get it. I got a job in Pop Brixton, in a chicken shop, and Benton was randomly working there when I arrived for my first shift. Benton took me under his wing a lot, he helped me put my first project out and helped me do it on his label - he acted like a big brother for a long time, a mentor for a minute. Then it all fell into place, you know how London is, you just start meeting everyone — it's actually so small after a year, even though it feels so big when you move here. I felt like part of a scene, it felt so nice that Benton took me in.

Has South London been a real source of inspiration for you?

Yeah, it's like the capital of the uk techno/ bass scene. Being from Kent, you see these parallels between where I grew up with South East London. My close friend and the owner of the club night Percy Mingle, he was the one who gave me my first proper show in South London and my fanbase definitely grew a lot from that. I owe Percy a lot for putting me on. Then venues like Venue MOT and Ormside Projects, you can play whatever you want and the crowd are so receptive, have definitely impacted my sound. I think South London is definitely a big part of my personality, the friendships I have here are so special and I haven't experienced that as much outside of this city. Being around so many creative people, so many people that are so talented, is so shocking. Growing up in a place that is so drained of culture, and coming here and everyone is on shit — it's like, okay, let's get this going. Collaboration, spitballing ideas, just meeting likeminded weirdos... it's been really nice.

You've already touched on people like Benton and Percy Mingle taking you under their wings, have you had any other key mentors in music?

I think when I was younger and I met Benton, I was so starstruck by him and he really - on a technical level - showed me a lot about production, and a lot about how the game worked. The ins and outs of the industry. Another key figure for me was definelty Oneman, he seriously showed me how to use a Pioneer DJ mixer as an artistic tool, and also how to keep a rave flowing and everyone moving and grooving. Owe him a lot for that. I guess, more recently, my close friend Andres Branco put me on a lot he introduced me to my manager Miguel - who also works at fabric - he's a big brother, he guides me and helps me realise my vision. When it's a bit chaotic, he's helped me hone it in, and work out where I want to go with Infa Red. It's really nice to make plans with someone who knows their stuff. It's strange sometimes, because the line between friendship and mentor can blur so much in this industry, it's so skewed. Sarra Wild has helped me a lot in being in touch with my heritage, helping me do things authentically and advising me - helping me to do something I've wanted to do for so long, as well as a great emotional support. I've got to mention is my non-blood twin Greg harris aka AKONE we have really had each others back from day one. Also, I guess it's not mentorship per say, but Impey and Dome Zero have taught me a lot they always help me out and back me when I think something wasn't working. there's to many people to mention I could go on for hours.

I guess also being able to work with people who are down to earth, who you feel you can connect with personally too?

Yeah, a lot of people you meet in this industry are so fickle. So when you meet these people, I could list people for days, so many people have really had my back. Lasha at fold has also really supported me and looked out for me, the team at fold have supported me from very early on when no one knew who I was - they gave me the platform to do what I want to do. Me and Jossy have our studio over there now, there's some core peeps there that have really helped push me in the right way.

The last 12 months have seen you work closely with fellow bass-head Jossy Mitsu as BLUMITSU. Can you tell us about the decision to grow this partnership with Jossy?

We've got a lot of mutual friends, we'd been loosely friends for a bit. Her radio show at Rinse FM is before mine on Wednesday - she does 6-7, I do 7-8. We saw the similarities in each others shows, we hung out a lot more, and Jossy asked me if I wanted to get a studio. At first we would do sessions separately, then we did a b2b on Rinse and we were like "oi, this is going somewhere" after the reception it had. We get on really well as it is, she's like my big sister. At one point someone was like: "BLUMITSU" and we were like, "oi, this is something, maybe we should start working on some tunes." We've been working super hard, in the studio every day working on this project - it's coming out in September. Our debut EP. I'm really excited to put it out. We've gone to town on the full package, we've got a video coming out from it. It's just been really nice working with another person too, sometimes when you work by yourself it can get quite lonely. It makes the creative process so much funner, having that duality.

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Who have been your biggest musical inspirations?

I think people who I really respect are people like Djrum, LCY, DJ Plead, Batu, Stenny, Mad Miran, Azu Tiwaline — people who are really true to themselves. I really respect that, they haven't compromised but have still found success. But also, my close friends, people like Interplanetary Criminal, Dr Duplate, Cosworth, Main Phase. My little crew of friends, they are big inspirations for me. It's so nice to see everyone do so well after all starting around the same time, when no one really gave a shit. Seeing those guys so well, it's super inspiring on a personal level but also sonically. But yeah, everyone around me is inspiring me daily its crazy what people are achieving in all creative fields not just music. My main inspo's have got to be my mum, she's the most creative person I've ever met and really taught me you can do anything you want in life. lastly my fiancéTav'sWorld is insanely inspiring she moved to London and smashed it seeing hat she's done in the design side of music is so impressive. She's a real driving force in my life.

Do you think your musical ethos has changed a lot since you first started?

As you get older, you become way more inverted I think - you stop focusing on what everyone else is doing. I wanted to look at my heritage more, explore what I want to represent and how I can portray that sonically, doing more research. Before I would get any old sample pack and jam it in, whereas now I want to authentically apply the elements of a project so it doesn't come across corny. Particularly with Arabic percussion, I don't want it to be this ridiculously obvious nod — I want it to be nuanced. Again, I love dark bass music and drum 'n' bass, they are still part of it.

What is coming up next for you?

I'm going to be amping up the release schedule for Infa Red, and just working on some more mixes. Also, the AV show, I'm really excited about. Plus me and Jossy will be heading to Atonal in Berlin, also Dimensions... can't wait for that one.

Can you tell us about your Impact mix?

So I set out to do less of a live club style mix and tried to do something loosely concept based, I titled the mix “lost between ancestry and now”, its kind of themed around the idea of teleporting between ancient Morocco and present day. Mixing both current forward-thinking new music with traditional Arabic percussion and instrumentation peppered throughout, I feel like the mix makes you feel as if - while teleporting, you get stuck half way between both worlds. It’s kind of like a vortex warping, and ping ponging between dark and light, with crescendo drum patterns and wiggy top lines. It's got a lot of the sounds and themes in 'diggin a hole'.The selection has a few unreleased bits from myself and some of favourites, there’s tunes throughout that have really inspired me recently and resonate with what I would describe as my sound.

Megan Townsend is Mixmag's Deputy Editor, follow her on Twitter


???? 'yenelik' (part ii)
Prace ft. abdoul1987 'gnawawa'
Bluetoof ????
Dagger 'drift'
TSVI 'ritmo Strano' (unreleased)
Parry 'Ashdown'
REBA '5 AM At Circle K'
Arkajo 'Tape 17'
Konduku 'Gegek'
Azu Tiwaline 'Berbeka'
Atrice 'Chamber Of Mazarbul'
Exium, Reeko 'Electrical Phenomena'
Doctor keep 'Dorado'
Lisene 'Loose Connection'
Jossy Mitsu ????
Bluetoof 'T’s Dunya' (unreleased)
r:eni ????
Swarm 'Ripper' (unreleased)
Crouds 'You Talk The Talk' (Jakojako remix)
Artefakt 'Delta'
Sindh 'Zeroinfinity'
Gigi FM 'Senstronaut (MYO)'
Intellagama 'Tellurian Gait'
Autechre 'Glitch'
Jabes 'Roley Poley'

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