Ten Tracks: Strict Face

We’ve all had those moments of revelation when experiencing a certain song or sound for the first time. ‘The Ten Tracks’ explores the musical history and influences behind the careers of some of the leading artists in the scene; the tracks that inspired them to be producers and DJs, and how others’ music shaped their style and genre.

Strict Face is something of a seasoned producer with a current discography spanning five years; yet it’s only been in more recent times, and with a steady slew of releases on labels such as Gobstopper, Tuff Wax and Different Circles, that his name has become known further afield from his native Australia.

His latest venture has seen him contribute ‘Toxic Gunner’ to Black Label Edition 2 – the second installment in the Black Label series from the fast rising Blacklink Sound imprint. A week on from the EP’s release, we caught up with Strict Face to discuss the ten tracks that have proved to be the most crucial in encouraging him to pursue music.

1. Missy Elliott – Lick Shots

“It doesn’t feel right not starting a list of influential tracks with a Timbo track, but that’s just me. I mean… ‘Get Ur Freak On’ was the first track I downloaded back in ’02, and I unsuccessfully tried getting my parents to buy me an Aaliyah album when I was a kid. That’s besides the point though. The copy I had of “Get Ur Freak On” happened to be a rip of the video version, which had the first minute or so suffixed to it. The moment I heard those drums kick in for the first time? Life-changing. I didn’t start messing around with making music until I was 12, but listening to Timbaland’s productions obsessively definitely set the wheels in motion. I blame him for giving me the tendency to cringe at really cheesy rhythms/drums wherever I go now as well. He definitely set the bar for what a good rhythm sounds like to me.”

2. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – Souvenir

“I was heavily into synth pop and new wave throughout most of my last two years of high-school. New Order, the Magnetic Fields and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark stood out in particular since all three bands had this perfect formula of melancholic euphoria, which I thought wasn’t done accurately much at the time. Apart from them soundtracking every brooding moment I had inside and out of school, it taught me that music didn’t have to be all major chords or sappy imagery to be a guaranteed earworm.”

3. Deadboy – If U Want Me

“Listening to mopey Englishmen weeping into their Yamaha synths (interspersed with a whole heap of abrasive, angsty shit) got a bit tiring after seven months of my last year of highschool, so I jumped into the deep end of club music. I’d rediscovered grime properly around then after coming across Wiley and Dizzee during their first breakout moments, but it was also when I discovered Night Slugs and the earlier half of Numbers’ discography (including Dress 2 Sweat.) A lot of the melodies and hefty rhythms in that music seemed to tie in perfectly with what I was raised on before then, so it was basically an eye-opener for me. It’s kinda hard choosing a particular track from this era – Girl Unit’s “Wut” was almost a shoe-in, but this Deadboy gem summarises what it was like stumbling upon a world of innovation (well, to me anyway) just as well.”

4. This Heat – Paper Hats

“Even though it’s bleak as fuck, “Deceit” is one of my favourite albums of all time, if at least for the sheer amount of eerie sound design, space and structure found throughout it. There’s an awful lot of curveballs found on the album, which I find particularly inspiring. “Paper Hats” has this weird funereal march-type thing going on for the majority of it, but without giving too much away, the rest of the track is practically a ride that’s worth holding onto the handlebars to. If this band was still around, they could’ve had a field day with music… I’m still not brave enough to take a leaf out of their book yet.”

5. JoJo – Demonstrate

“I’ve heavily been into rap and R&B since I was a kid, but I don’t think it was until I came across 40’s work with Drake that I started paying attention to the instrumentals behind it. This particular cut he produced is a real treat though – the first time I heard JoJo over a 40 beat, I thought it was going to be straight-up like a Drake cut (not that it was a bad thing anyway) until those drums in the 2nd half of the chorus came in. The dude has a real way with pulling everything back while keeping you engaged… spacious chords that just envelope you like a warm blanket and drums so sparse they almost don’t leave a trace at all.”

6. Musical Mob – Bongo Clash Riddem

“This track probably nails everything I love and am inspired by about grime – a ridiculously nutty set of drums that never lets up with a melodic loop that’s only just enough to keep the track going, augmented by a Middle Eastern-ish sample that cuts in and out of the mix with reckless abandon. It’s basically, what, 24 bars? The whole thing’s basically on loop for ’bout four minutes or so. If you can basically get away with doing a 32-bar loop for that long without getting sick of it, you’ve basically made a hit.”

7. Ryuichi Sakamoto – In A Forest of Feathers

“There was a tweet Slackk made a few years back about David Sylvian (who’s collaborated with Sakamoto) being an inadvertent grime producer back in his prime… I feel the same way about Ryuichi. When I discovered the Yellow Magic Orchestra (and Ryuichi, Haruomi and Yukihiro’s solo output) around the same time I properly got into a lot of the music I’m into now, it all felt like a natural chain in terms of influence and sound. I’ve grown to love Haruomi’s solo output in terms of the sound design and manipulation (especially on “Philharmony”), but there’s something about the way Ryuichi uses those otherworldly synths and practically crafts a delectable pop song out of it.”

8. Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares – Pritouritze Planinata

“There’s a whole heap of influential “beatless” tracks I could put in here besides this particular cut (Nightswimming by REM, Tonight by Xscape, This Woman’s Work by Kate Bush or Violin Phase by Steve Reich for example) but there’s an emotional intensity to this one that’s always had me hooked ever since I stumbled upon this compilation during a course I did at uni a few years back. The use of space and tension in the arrangement alone is heartwrenching.”

9. The Isley Brothers – Don’t Say Goodnight

“I probably wouldn’t have come across this one if it wasn’t for being obsessed with Dilla’s “Bye” years ago. This is the Isleys in their prime – I’d usually babble on about the synths and the instrumentation like a proper neek, but this is also just how a straight up slow jam (and a proper love song) should be done. I’m hoping I can do something like this one day… maybe.”

10. Kanye West Ft. The Weeknd – FML

“I’ve been so inspired by all the rap and R&B that’s come out over the last couple of years. Maybe not so much by the drums, but by the synths and sample choices… everything I’ve heard from 40, Metro Boomin, Mike Will, Wondagurl, Mustard and Harry Fraud has been nothing short of incredible. It’s kinda like stumbling across Timbaland and the Neptunes’ productions for the first time: from another planet but accustomed in a way it doesn’t feel weird hearing it in the club. As cliche as it is, “Yeezus” and “The Life of Pablo” feel like two of many watershed moments in this respect. I dunno how many people would turn up to the Section 25 sample if it got played in the club, but the way it comes in out of nowhere after hearing Ye and Abel croon like warped blues singers is genius.”

Strict Face – Toxic Gunner [Blacklink]