At the edges of the ever expanding, mutating category known as electro(nica) stands Underpass. Eschewing the strategy for multiple pseudonyms – so favoured by other producers – with neatly accompanying subgenres, he has operated solely under this name for some years. Truth is, in a scene sometimes guilty of generic electronica-by-numbers, with Underpass you never know what to expect. Except, you know, sheer stamina.
When it hits your ear, you’ll recognise something. Undeniably, the music of Underpass is crafted with precision. He pushes synths and drum machines to produce beats and melodies seldom heard, while avoiding any of the po-faced beard tugging those words might entail. In short he makes, not just BPM counts or tone palettes, but TUNES. That said, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
As a youth, Marshall broke from the claustrophobia of a dull suburb by forming a series of guitar-led punk bands. This was roughly the time when creating your own scene was, for him, the only viable option. When the musical forms and modes became too limiting he received his electronic epiphany akin to what he describes as a “monochrome artist discovering colour”, taking time to school himself in the digital way.
He co-founded the seminal Machine Meadow series of clubnights, being the first to bring mis-shapen electronic peers like Adverse Camber, Kode9 and Werk Records to Cardiff. Energised by these live and DJ appearances, he fired off a debut release – the Multistorey 12″ EP on his own record label, Urban Planning Recordings, finding favour with scene stalwarts like Si Begg, Ed DMX, Bass Junkie and Annie Mac. The tune “Automatic” with its flagrant abuse of sawtooth bass did the trick in the club – with enough personality to dodge the tag of mere club banger. The other tracks showcased a diversity of strains with crunch, wit and verve.
Heart-wrenching melody came to the surface on his Variable Architecture EP released by his friends at Virus B23 records. That and his knack for finding inspiration in the most unlikely places (disfigured pavements and other zones of concrete) both became aspects of the Underpass world you could rely on, especially as evidenced by The Transit EP on Urban Planning.
Let’s face it, the future for the vinyl record industry is very uncertain. Underpass has his own stories of cherished record shops closing, of friends struggling to run record labels while record distribution companies vanish – taking money and vinyl stock with them. Be ye not depressed, my child. On the contrary, it’s possibly the ideal time to announce his new contribution to Mutations Volume 2, the sequel to the original volume which featured Si Begg and Momentum. Tellingly both compilations have been put together by Mutate Records boss, Edzy, who brought bleep masterpieces to the world as part of Bradford rave-era pioneers Unique 3. “Behind Your Shoulders” is Underpass’ contribution and it’s as apt a title as we could hope for. Every so often you encounter people who stick around and always do their thing – largely because it’s what they WANT to do and it’s all they CAN do. Underpass clings to that DIY ethic long ago learned when he first emitted sound. What – no music shops, club nights or shows for music you’re seeking? Start your own. And keep going.