Eavesdrop On Depth Charge
Tony F Wilson, Trance Europe Express 4, 1995
Jonathan Kane, the man more commonly known as Depth Charge, Silver Fox and Octagon Man, is sat in his West London office, headquarters of his two label imprints, DC Recordings and Electron Industries, and his video licensing company Made In Hong Kong (which releases cult films, such as The Killer by Hong Kong director John Woo - a favourite of one Quentin Tarantino.
For a man who has consistently kept out of the limelight during his six-year recording career, releasing just one album to date - Depth Charge's field trip through dope beats, spaghetti westerns and kung fu flicks, 'Nine Deadly Venoms', I guess you could say he's done rather well.
His appearance, however, resembles more the new school b-boy (cropped hair, phat jeans and hooded top) than corporate capitalist. The story goes like this. Having engrossed himself in the dub of Lee Perry and Augustus Pablo as a teenager he then progressed on to early electronic hip hop, which inspired him to take to the decks and spin at the various underground warehouse parties across the capital during the latter part of the '80s.
In 1989, at a time when beat heads were moving away from hip hop as it became more a soapbox for racial politics than an abstract music form, opting instead for the cheerful menace of acid and 'ardcore, Jonathan unleashed his debut ' Depth Charge' on a pioneering new label called Vinyl Solution, set up by the independent record shop of the same name in London's Portobello Road.
"It did get a bit political, didn't it?" he agrees. "People like LL Cool J and Schoolly D were pioneering new rap styles but Public Enemy somehow just blew them away. After that nearly every rap act wanted to sound like them.
"I was always into the more abstract, instrumental side of hip hop right from the beginning. I remember when 'Plug Tuning' (De La Soul) and 'Public Enemy No. 1' (Public Enemy's debut) came out, I was like straight away, Give me that. Whereas a lot of hip hop purists weren't really into it. When I DJ'ed at warehouse parties in the '80s I remember people then didn't really like the stuff I was playing (a problem he still finds now).
"As far as styles go I suppose hip hop has diversified now, but not so much as individual records go - it's all pretty samey."
Overlord X, Black Radical MK2 and Hijack made futile attempts to relate Public Enemy's manifesto to the UK streets. West London, however, was creating a niche of its own - not a scene, as such, as it involved only Jonathan and his neighbours, Renegade Soundwave.
By pollinating heavy-weight dub with hip hop breaks they created a sound that Bristol would later claim its own. Jonathan had found his own niche by sampling his favourite films.
"By using dialogue I put an identity on what I did," he explains. "I like having things you can remember and want to hear again. I don't repeat things like choruses and verses because, yeah, it makes you want to hear the track again - but if you hear a chorus too many times it becomes monotonous very quickly."
In Depth Charge, frustrated beat fans who found that rap preached to them but never spoke of anything they could relate to, found an alternative to reciting rap lyrics. They could now instead quote Depth Charge samples to each other.
"I've had several people come up to me in the street and ask, Are you Shun Tai? ('Depth Charge' begins with a sample from a film depicting a character avenging the death of his father who was killed by Shun Tai.) The first record was, I suppose, quite a cult record in a sense."
After two more singles came a one-off collaboration with MC Alkaline from respected London crew Gunshot on Silverfox (a label venture which never took off and a prototype for DC Recordings). It combined Jonathan's much favoured use of sub-bass and heavy breaks with spurts of dialogue from a Japanese action pic (Saviours Of The Soul, available through Made In Hong Kong) and Alkaline's fierce rap delivery.
Also active during '91 was Jonathan's Octagon Man persona, using a more minimal electro approach than the Depth Charge releases. 'Freer Than Free' was the first Octagon single. It contained little more than what sounded like a drum machine going berserk - not dissimilar to Plastikman's 'Spastik'. 'The Demented Spirit' followed in much the same vein but, for over a year, there was nothing from either Octagon Man or Depth Charge.
"I just couldn't be bothered. I didn't feel inspired," is the only explanation he'll give.
It wasn't until late '94 that 'Hubba Hubba Hubba' surfaced, fortified with more chunky beats and less dialogue, satisfying long-time fans and those switched on to abstract. lethargic beats by labels like Mo' Wax. It was followed by the largely retrospective 'Nine Deadly Venoms' album.
"The taste factor is quite low at the moment, unfortunately," he says of today's trip hop. "There's so much shit that, unless you're really into the music and you understand why things are the way they are, you won't buy the really good stuff because you'll just assume it's the same as all the other crap.
"I like some of the Mo' Wax stuff; DJ Krush's 'Kemuri' remains a classic, '2000' by RPM I like, 'Influx' by DJ Shadow, but I don't like his more recent work. I find it all a bit waffly.
"I think it's going to be about three years before people realise what's good and what's crap. That's what I've always tried to achieve with my own stuff; making tracks that sound better three years later than they do at the time of release."
Where did the inspiration for 'Sex Sluts And Heaven' come from?
"All over the place really. I mean, sex is used to sell everything, it exists everywhere. It's just whether people choose to see it or not."
The third Octagon Man single appeared this year in the shape of 'Biting The Dragon's Tail', a further slice of dark-edged electro released amid an apparent electro revival.
The reason why I hadn't done more in the style of Octagon Man was because I didn't think people would be interested, but now labels like Clear are making that electro style more popular."
For the moment at least Jonathan won't be disappearing. If not releasing his own product then he'll be issuing abstract electro through Electron Industries, including material from Eon and his own Octagon Man LP.
Then there are further outings from Depth Charge on DC, the first being a single entitled 'Legend of the Golden Snake', and an EP from Dual Tone, a new instrumental hip hop outfit from Glasgow.
Jonathan is also putting together a complilation of twisted hip hop instrumentals from the '80s - and then there's the task of sorting more oriental action flicks for his video outlet.
The saga continues...
The track: Depth Charge - 'Sex, Sluts And Heaven'. Written, directed, produced and engineered by J Saul Kane at Iron Monkey Studio, which remains unpinpointed, geographically speaking. Published by Schnozza Music. Courtesy of DC Recordings. Depth Charge: J Saul Kane.
Copyright © 1995 Volume/Trance Europe Express.
THE EXCITING WORLD OF J SAUL KANE:
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