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“Experiment and develop”: Korzi’s soundsystem-inspired music accepts no limits

The co-founder of Manchester's Left, Right & Centre party and label is pushing a variety of stimulating sounds

  • Words: Patrick Hinton | Photos: Abbie Fowler
  • 3 February 2021

“It’s that feeling of having low frequencies that resonate and rattle your body that really appeals to me,” says Manchester-based DJ and producer Korzi, reflecting on his inclination to pack heavyweight bass into his tracks and sets. “In dance music specifically it can be used as an extremely powerful tool to catch people off guard.”

Pushing sounds that send your senses into overload has been the directive of Left, Right & Centre, the club night Korzi launched alongside Connor Cooper in March 2018 that evolved into a label last year with the release of three V/A EPs ('Nothing Left To Say', 'Right Place, Wrong Time' and 'Centre Of Attention'). From the dancefloors to the digital wavs, Left, Right & Centre hits from all corners of the soundsystem spectrum. Previous party guests have included UK techno artists Bruce, Ploy, Hodge and Beneath, grime master Spooky, South African gqom king DJ Lag, and purveyors of off-kilter house, breaks and electro Roza Terenzi and D. Tiffany. The triple threat of four-track EPs on the label so far have showcased sounds ranging from breakneck breakbeat to a trippy vortex of arpeggios and drumwork, featuring Kessler, Everett, Alexis, Henzo, and more. As a skilled graphic designer, as well as DJ, producer and promoter, Korzi’s vision for Left, Right & Centre extends across sonics and visuals, and physical and digital realms. The assured early stages are a clear statement of intent, and with plenty more plans on the horizon, an exciting marker of what’s to come.

Korzi, real name Wakil Ahmed, grew up in Birmingham and first got into dance music via making and listening to drum ‘n’ bass in his teenage years — also citing the FIFA Street 2 soundtrack as a childhood favourite that’s “absolutely embedded in my brain”. A friend in school (who “was making dubstep remixes of a teacher we had that used to say some pretty questionable (and extremely out of order) things out loud”) then put him onto pioneers of the UK movement such as Skream, Benga, Digital Mystikz and Burial, and YouTube channel Aliasizm became another source for discovery. “I swear whoever was behind that channel was locked into Rinse FM every second of every day and had all these unreleased and forthcoming gems up absolutely rapid.” he says.

“I’d say around 16/17 I really started to get into dance music,” Ahmed recalls. “Those early dark Dusky wafters were the one, along with a few other bits on School Records that really caught my attention, and by the time I was going on nights out in Brum those darker house and bass house sounds were really popping off.” He became a regular attendee at Birmingham’s 02:31, Mr Jangles, FACE, Resonate and Shadow City club nights and follower of labels such as Tectonic, Keysound, Hyperdub, Hessle Audio, Swamp 81 and Hotline Recordings, as well as loyally locking to every Swamp81 and Keysound Rinse FM show, which were “were really pioneering something new and exciting to my ears at the time”.

In 2015 Ahmed’s first tracks as Korzi came out, and in the same year he moved to Manchester for university, drawn to the city primarily for its electronic music scene. Around that time he went to a lot of Hit & Run nights at Antwerp Mansion, vividly recalling a party powered by the Sinai Soundsystem “which completely rattled every bone in my body.” He cites the city’s openness to a broad range of music as the perfect environment to evolve his tastes and approach to making and playing music, and why he’s stayed there ever since.

It was while working at a Manchester venue alongside Connor Cooper that the pair hatched the plan to launch Left, Right & Centre, and they’ve worked in tandem to bring more musical variation, cohesively linked by an impulse towards discovery and having fun, to the city.

“A moment where I really felt like the vision for it was manifesting has to be our second birthday with Ploy B2B Parris, Yant and Manami at Soup Kitchen,” he recalls. “Looking back on that night a highlight for me was Parris dishing out Rae Sremmurd ‘No Type’ which absolutely popped off (there might have been the odd bit of bassline towards the set end as well?), later followed by Yant closing it off with a power hour of full throttle techno. I’m not sure how the variation in tunes that night worked but it did and it even ended with us handing out Greggs vouchers at the end. It’s important to me that our throwing parties don’t become overly serious, and it's a lot more fun when it isn’t.”

Korzi’s attitude is simple and effective: don’t impose limits on yourself when it comes to pursuing stimulating sounds and energies. Still just getting started, his personal and curated musical output is making an impact on UK dance music and keeping listeners’ on their toes.

Hit play on his exclusive Impact mix and check out our Q+A below.

What kind of music were you making/playing when you started out and who were your main influences?

I started off producing when I was about 15 under a different alias but only started releasing tracks as Korzi from 2015 onwards, I would say up until 2020 my sound hasn’t changed too much and I was locked in at producing tracks around 125-130 BPM. Some of my early influences were people like Objekt, Circula, Wen, Pearson Sound, Boddika & Joy Orbison and Paleman but there’s too many to name. All of them however had this moody heads down and soundsystem heavy approach to club music which is something I really wanted to emulate.

Playing out started to happen a lot later and I kind of got thrown into the deep-end which I’m quite glad about. There’s a venue called Hidden that gave me a few of my first sets with some seriously out of my league headliners that really got me into mixing and wanting to really hone my skills and ear selecting. I used to hate playing out my own tunes then though because they would just stick out like a sore thumb blended with other people's music. I feel like it’s something almost every producer goes through or some people have it straight away and others have to but I think as your ears get better and your mixdowns get tighter that starts to change. Recently I’ve been playing my own tunes as much as I can and I honestly thought that would never change but so thankful it did.

Your first tracks came out in 2015 via labels such as House Jackin, Circular Jaw and Brunswick Sound, and more followed in 2017 via Harmless Youth and Jelly Bean Farm followed. How did these releases come about?

My releases in 2015 we’re pretty much singles or tracks on compilations and I think it was me just trying to figure out how the whole releasing with labels thing works. The first one really just came about from me uploading the full track on Soundcloud followed by the label approaching me after hearing it, and the label got Hypho on remix duties who’s someone I’ve kept in touch with since and was even on 002 of our Left, Right & Centre label releases.

That release followed with Brunswick Sound and Circular Jaw getting in touch asking if I wanted to put anything forward for their compilations. Both labels were starting out at this point and so was I, so I guess it was a perfect fit. At this point I don’t think I really had my own production method down or a sound down though and it was more a throw everything at the wall and hope it sticks. I guess that's why all those tunes sound so different from each other but in my opinion there's nothing really wrong with that especially if you’re making club music. My releases 2017 onwards was where I actually started to find my feet with where I want to take the Korzi alias and Ganesa from Jelly Bean Farm wanted to pick up a few tunes for their first solo artist EP following their compilations, and the Harmless Youth release came about following that.

One thing I’ve noticed is how important the snowball effect is with breaking through as an artist and just keeping up the pace. 2016-2018 I was producing the most music I’d ever written and finishing the least. I’ve been releasing music on and off since I’ve started this alias but not as much as I could have and simply I found myself having constant writers block which I’ve only recently learnt how to overcome. The key to beating it was altering my approach to making music, focusing more on experimentation and development.

What draws you to heavy bass in dance music?

I guess it’s that feeling of having low frequencies that resonate and rattle your body that really appeals to me. When bass becomes the dominant element of a tune it creates a sense of impact and being, surprised and overwhelmed. Maybe you could compare the sensation of someone suddenly revving a beefy engine on a car? Deep sub bass feels moody, unapologetic and embodies exactly what I want to achieve with my music. In dance music specifically it appeals to me because it can be used as an extremely powerful tool to catch people off guard. Yet it can offer consistency by being rhythmic and hypnotic, especially in techno which I find myself drawing a lot more influence from recently.

There’s probably a whole load of different reasons why and to be fair I’d love to know the science behind it.

What are your favourite aspects of Manchester’s music scene and community? How has living there influenced you as a DJ/producer/promoter?

When I moved here it felt like there were promoters, artists and DJs who were, in my experience, more approachable, collaborative and open to weirder music. It might have just been simply because of the sheer size of the scene. There was more choice for venues here too. I got captivated by seeing everyone on their absolute graft here and no one's stopping anytime soon. The pipeline of talent here is unbelievable and there's so many crews doing their thing. Everyone seems to know each other as well one way or another. I’ve been around a lot of the highly mischievous Strange Riddims crew a fair bit the last few years and their absolutely rascal approach to events and parties makes me remember this is so much better when everyone's having fun and not too chinstrokey. My favourite part of Manchester’s community is how everyone's ears are always open and people will make time for each other.

Read this next: Manchester is the beating heart of new music in the UK

What inspired you to launch the label arm of Left, Right & Centre in 2020 and what are your aims for it?

Before the label idea got going we clocked on how quickly the impression you’ve made on people from events leaves them. Especially with how spoilt for choice events leave you in Manchester. I’ve done it myself and been to plenty of nights where I’ve not really paid attention to who the promoter is. With club nights It’s there and then it's gone. There's nothing at all wrong with that but we wanted to do something that stands the test of time a little more. Our aims now are to knuckle down and start pushing a bunch of solo artist releases moving forward. Growing with our artists and carving our own place as a renowned label within UK dance music.

The first three releases were each four-track V/A compilations. Why did you decide to take this approach and what were you looking for in the artists/music you released to introduce the label?

The first three releases came about because we wanted to showcase our possible range as a label going forward. The tempo of music we’re working with going forward will be unrestricted but it’s all going to be tied together by being bass-heavy, forward-thinking and ready to rough up a few ear drums in the club.

Initially the V/A was going to be one project but after reflection we decided that we would split it into a series of three. We made this choice to give all the artists the attention they deserve on each EP, which can sometimes be lost on bigger label compilations. I’ve found myself downloading huge compilations in the past and feeling spoilt for choice. People have access to such a massive quantity of digital music these days and I think when putting out music you don’t have much time to capture someone whilst they’re digging through the internet especially. By using restraint where necessary you're making that experience more approachable.

What was it like launching a club music label in the midst of a pandemic that has closed all clubs - do you think it’s affected how the music has been received? And how desperate are you to hear the tunes banged out on a system?!

Initially it felt like a batshit crazy idea, but you know what, I think it’s been received pretty well. The pandemic has made people a lot more patient due to there being a lot less going on in the world. We might have lost some reception due to people's relationship with dance music changing, but on the other hand we might have picked up some new ears that we would have never reached in the first place.

If you lock into Rinse, NTS, Noods Radio or any electronic music focused station I think it's fair to say that a big portion, if not majority of the music on there, is music for the club and to be honest, although I do use it myself, I find the phrase 'club music' being used a lot recently and find it a bit odd because a lot of us do listen to soundsystem orientated music at home. Dance music as a whole is as popular as ever, and thinking back to being a teenager, I was spending a lot of my time going down rabbit holes on YouTube and Soundcloud digging out 'club music' and listening to it in my room, and for a lot of us that hasn’t changed. Regardless though I can’t wait to hear the tunes ripped out on a system. Hedchef sent over a video recently of his tune ‘Loggerheads’ that we released being booted out of a system in Australia and this miniscule thought of being able to experience that again is keeping me going.

How have you coped with the lack of clubbing/playing out over the past year? Has the pandemic changed your relationship with dance music at all?

Not being able to play out or enjoy going out has been tough to be honest. I think I've coped with it by listening to excessive amounts of UK rap and drill. Towards the end of 2019 I was getting really drawn in and making tunes around the 80-100BPM region and even some wiggy halftime stuff at 170. Club music was feeling so locked in at 125-135 in a lot of the parties I was going to so it was really refreshing hearing slower stuff especially these techno/dancehall hybrid tunes that've been coming out the last few years. Simo Cell’s '5 Party Mix' EP on Brothers From Different Mothers planted the seed for me and I think the pandemic has taught me a lot about patience which in turn has probably translated to my relationship with dance music and BPM.

I’m really missing that build up you have with forthcoming tunes though, where you hear it do the rounds first in the club and everyone’s wondering what it is, then someone finds out, it releases, then does the rounds again! I think that periods of shock like the pandemic can easily manifest or speed up a whole new generation of creatives. Who knows what weird and wonderful music we’ll be listening to post-pandemic, hopefully there's a lot more music and DJs that are all up for breaking the rules going forward.

Read this next: Muzik N Vibes: Beneath keeps dance music fresh and fun on his own terms

Although people have been unable to come together on dancefloors, you’ve maintained regular sets on radio, across stations such as Rinse France, Balamii, Noods. 1020 and Limbo. How important do you think radio has been this past year in providing a shared context for listening/experiencing dance music?

Radio has really been the one thing that’s kept me locked in with my relationship with dance music since the pandemic started and I’ve tried my best to keep busy at it. I’ve been making sure that I’m doing a radio show almost every month for the last few years and I find it keeps me grounded as well as making sure I’m up to date with new tunes from all my friends. It’s a shame though because for me radio is all about collaboration and meeting new people through guest mixes etc. That part of radio feels a lot further away now unfortunately as everything’s pretty much a pre-record and we can’t all be hanging about in a studio before or after a show. I’ve met some incredible souls in Manchester thanks to radio and it’s been a vital pillar more than ever as of recent.

You threw a virtual launch party for the label last May, how did that come together and how did it go?

May was a really odd time and especially for us as we're putting on nights almost every 6 weeks for about 2 years. The virtual party was our chance to get the ball rolling for our mix series whilst also allowing us to celebrate the release in some form. If we were to ever do one again I’d like to work on something with an element of interaction and something that embodies the idea of a party as much as possible. I had a go on a VR headset not too long ago and it absolutely blew my mind, and whilst I am a big advocate of the progression of technology my mind drifts to the idea that we might all be plugging into the VR club at some point which is a little scary. I don’t think I’m an advocate of VR queuing up for the toilet though.

Read this next: "Coronavirus will never stop the rave": How people are finding new ways to party online

Has there been any positives you’ve taken from the pandemic - did it allow you more time to focus on projects like starting the label for example?

My personal goalposts feel even further but to get there the vision seems clearer. I’m making music that I feel more and more happy with and finishing a lot more projects. We kept saying we’d launch the label for maybe the good part of a year and the pandemic actually enabled us to put all of our drive and energy towards it when we finally did.

There’s been widespread introspection and discussion about fighting for equality and racial justice in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, which Left, Right & Centre publicly supported. What would you like to see done within dance music to support this cause?

With Left, Right & Centre we’ve always thought it to be important to use our platform to support movements, projects and causes that we care about. Manchester especially has community at the core and the dance music scene upholds that and I hope we do also. At the end of the day I’m making music, listening to music, influenced by music and releasing music that has its seeds planted in the art and culture of Black people. Me and Connor are both not Black but have a platform and a voice, it might not be huge but equality and racial justice for Black people needs to happen and that can’t happen by ignoring it.

There’s a lot of people in dance music who might say dance music doesn’t have to be political and maybe they’re right in thinking there aren’t people on the outside looking at us thinking “When is dance music going to speak up and say something?”. Although I do think If you’re turning a blind eye then I guess you’re probably part of the problem? Collectively dance music has a huge platform to educate, influence and empower, and often aligns itself with a goal of not seeing or treating others differently in terms of gender, race, nationality or sexuality. If you’re part of dance music and truly believe this then you really have to continue to support movements like Black Lives Matter, for instance, speaking out, educating, protesting and empowering Black people both online and offline.

I’d like to see people with the bigger platforms and audiences speak out more and not just after they’ve been pressured to do so. I worry that a lot of them don’t because they don't want to distance themselves from their audience, but again, if you turn a blind eye then I guess you’re really part of the problem?

2020 saw the release of your first full EP since 2017, 'Footslog' on eatmybeat. Did your tastes and approach to production change much across that time?

The tracks from my 'Footslog' EP we’re written in 2018/2019 and since then my approach to production has been dramatically changing and always is. Around then I started to really get into using a plugin called Reaktor which is an entire rabbit hole and honestly a gift that keeps on giving. Discovering that drastically changed the way I produced music and I started to use and record live sessions in. But more so over the top of what I had arranged already. It was refreshing approaching music in a way that was a lot more tactile and fun, as I had been making tunes just clicking about and arranging noises for over 6-7 years by then. Since then Reaktor has been the holy grail of my music and I started to draw a lot more influence from techno. Ableton has a Max for Live feature where you can map an LFO to literally anything on the screen and that was an absolute game changer. It was banging for adding subtle movement or turning something like a pad or texture into something completely rhythmic, adding a lot more depth to what I was working on.

On Twitter you posted about learning the importance of taking the pressure off making music and not stressing about needing to make bangers every time. How has this helped your process? Are there any other key lessons or production tips you’ve learned?

There's a Native Instruments lecture with Batu and Simo Cell which was really insightful and took quite a lot from it. Batu mentions a similar process of splitting sound design time and arrangement time, and honestly it made so much sense after he said it. I’m someone who suffers from extreme writer's block and there was a phase where I was watching a lot of stuff like these. I think a massive reason why I struggled was because I was approaching writing music with attempting to sit down and make a banger with an idea in mind that is completely in my head.

I’m not able to do that yet and realise now that's absolutely fine. If anyone out there is then hats off to them, but it hit me that by experimenting, developing and having sessions where you often create absolute nonsense you can often build yourself a little foundation which you can then take to your writing phase. If you don’t build anything you’ve probably explored something new and it’ll be something you look towards using later down the line. It's funny because when I was at college or Uni they had us do exactly this but I just used to ignore it, smash something out and work backwards so they just had something to mark.

A technique I pinched from Simo Cell from that same video is using sequencers to create generative systems within Reaktor and allow the computer to make the music for you, taking advantage of randomisation. Essentially, you’re mapping a sequencer to a drum machine (in my case Polyplex), letting it spit out absolute nonsense, and recording it for a while. If you do this in Reaktor you can record it as MIDI and if you’re lucky there might be a tiny little loop in there that could be the start of an entire tune. I absolutely love a randomise button when it comes to my output. There's something about making order from absolute chaos that's extremely satisfying.

You’ve got a solo EP on Left, Right & Centre coming up. What can we expect from that?

I’ve properly switched it up on this one on all on a 100 BPM flex. It’s what I’m most excited by and listening to at the moment, and was all written during the first lockdown back in April last year. I knew I wanted to release this on the label so I’ve clung onto them since. There’s influence from techno, dancehall, halftime drum 'n' bass and just general big chug energy and a bunch of wacky synths knocking about. I’ve included one of the tunes from the EP in my Impact mix too.

How did you approach Impact mix and is it reflective of what you like to play in clubs?

In this mix I tried to exhibit some range without getting too carried away. There’s a bunch of tracks in here that fall in that 100 BPM, dancehall and techno area, followed by some straight up techno and a bit of bass towards the end. Things kick off slowly and chuggy to begin with but swiftly ramps up. I wanted to build a lot of tension, stress and nervousness in one part which I’m especially happy with. There's two unreleased tunes from myself knocking about, along with some new or unreleased ones from a few friends. I didn’t want this to be a showcase of my own tunes but rather what you could expect from me once we get back into those dark sweatboxes we called clubs.

Left, Right & Centre's first three EPs as out now as a limited edition USB drive, buy via Bandcamp

Patrick Hinton is Mixmag's Digital Features Editor, follow him on Twitter

Tracklist:
E-Unity - Not For Me
Peder Mannerfelt - Clear Eyes, Full DJ Tool (Henzo Flip) (Unreleased)
Syz - Bunzunkunzun (Yushh's Droop Remix)
Kouslin - Sharper
Korzi - Terra Preta (Unreleased)
Holloway - Kelter
Christian Coiffure - Sketches
Porter Brook - Kirche (Unreleased)
Paleman - Sore
Lokua - Nettles
Asusu - Serra
Pev & Kowton - Low Strobe
Henry Greenleaf - Rumble
Korzi - Bruk Neck Pace (Unreleased)
Ploy - Ramos
Henzo - A Horse Is A Bike That Peddles Itself (Unreleased)
Flore - Coded Language (Walton Remix)
Hodge - Lanes (Anz’ Hoover Remix)
Batu - Shiratani
Henry Greenleaf - NOFM
Off The Meds - Belter (Acapella)
Mosca - The Optics
Andrea - SKYLN

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