Fybe:One and I took refuge in front of a small outdoor pub heater- the one relatively quiet space we could find within hopping distance of London Bridge station. Now a father of two and full-time illustrator, I caught up with the enigmatic producer en route to his Aaja Radio set in Deptford. “But you don’t live in Deptford, right?”, I asked. “Nah, mate. I’m 40”, he replied bluntly, implying that in some way the two were mutually exclusive. I quickly learnt that the enigmatic producer was nothing if not honest.
The darker, younger sibling to the This Is Ours LP that dropped earlier this year, Fybe:One’s Refuge is a wondrous mix of layered rhythms and ascendant melodies. Dubstep-infused, house-adjacent, and furnished with rap vocals, it’s hard to pin down the sound. “People ask me all the time what sort of music I make and I don’t really know to be honest, it’s all different genres and tempos… electronic soul?” he volunteers hesitantly. Given his inability to be anything but honest, organic is the word that ultimately stuck for me.
Fybe has been a fan of hip hop since before I was born, and it shows. Featuring choice-cuts from New Wave alumni Mushkilla, YoGoCop grandmaster NuphZed and one of UK rap’s best-kept secrets Don Rattray, this project sits at an exciting new frontier of the sound. Blending unorthodox BPMs and diverse instrumentation, Refuge pays homage to the lo-fi grime space that artists like NamesBliss and producers like Kwollem have made their home. “I’m into that sort of stuff” Fybe says, “when the beats are very, like, cut up RnB, chilled and fast, with super aggressive raps over the top”.
Fybe fondly remembers attending the Kung-Fu hip hop nights hosted by Mystro & Harry Love in the early 2000s and has been playing a behind-the-scenes role in UK hip hop since the dark side of the millennium. He kicked off his music career as bassist in a rap-metal band that we promised we wouldn’t name (hint: it rhymes with ‘Transit Van’) and, since then, has produced for artists such as Nomadic P from the Planets, created album artwork for the likes of Yungun (now: Essa) and Mr. Thing, and carved a career of his own in nourishing, electronic grooves. So, when it came to producing this project, it was clear Fybe was a fan first, his creative direction telling of someone who has listened to the full spectrum of emerging sounds and where it might be headed.
“When I make music, I try to avoid getting all digital, MIDI sounds” Fybe says of this organic feel to the project, “I try to use a bit of field recording or sampling something old to help it sound more natural”. Full of transient ambients and textured to the brim, it figures that Fybe:One’s daytime grind is as an illustrator, during lockdown producing in the same room that he would draw in. “It’s always been connected for me, surely everyone does that right? Interesting sounds conjure interesting visuals?”.
I compared his songs to a music theatre, a full, surround-sound experience with something in every row. Fybe laughed. “Yeah it is very textured… y’know one of my best mates is a great minimal house producer and when I sent him my first project for mastering he was like ‘Nope, get rid of that, get rid of that’”. Clearly, not everyone has the same relationship to sound that Fybe has.
He’s reluctant to admit that this is a lockdown project, but it is in his impromptu design-studio-slash-production-suite that Refuge found its identity. “I’d be up there late at night building up layers and layers and then wake up in the morning and be like ‘Oh, maybe I went a bit too far’”, Fybe chuckles, his honesty shining through once more.
“Refuge is where you live and I found that quite powerful. I spent a lot of time in nature during lockdown and I loved it”. Weirdly enough, all of the projects’ vocalists ended up playing on this theme of one’s own space in different ways. “Unintentionally, they were writing about things that I was thinking and feeling… if I’d told them to write about lockdown explicitly, it might have come out cheesy”.
“Giving artists free-reign with the lyrics does feel a bit lob-sided”, he admits, “but that’s only if you’re going in there to make music with a purpose, like ‘I want to make a Summer banger’ or whatever. I didn’t have any purpose apart from to make good music“. That he did. Again, Fybe:One couldn’t tell a lie if he tried.
‘Fybe out’ to the beautifully organic Refuge EP, out now on all majors.