By John Alex Colon
For Gavin Harris, Timbuk3’s timeless lyric—”the future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades”—must ring true on a daily basis. Harris grew up in Bristol, right around the time that Roni Size and Full Cycle Records were drawing attention therein. Bristol was already getting attention from Portishead’s seminal releases, but the jazz-fueled drum ‘n’ bass phenomenon was taking shape with Size’s Reprazent project, and Bristol would soon grab musical street cred for multiple genre hotspots.
Back to Harris, aka Xample, who not only grew up in this electronic-music equivalent of San Francisco in the late 1960s, but also relocated to Liverpool—of all places—and teamed up with local drum ‘n’ bass jocks, including Futurebound, to become a resident himself at some of the region’s best club nights. Harris, after some time behind the decks, wanted to try production and soon found his tunes released on labels like Hard Leaders and L Plates.
Homecoming brought a new streak of success for Xample, and in 2005, upon returning to Bristol, he caught the ear of Andy C and the Ram Records crew. He released several tunes on their Frequency sub-label before signing “Heaven And Hell” for the label’s “Dimension” EP and Andy C’s “Nightlife 3” DJ mix. His first proper single for Ram was released in May 2007 to critical acclaim, and an anticipated follow-up in 2008 confirmed his arrival to the next level. Collaborating with fellow Bristolian Lomax, Xample’s latest single, “Contra”/”Keep Their Heads Ringin'” is not only reaping praise, but also heralding the release of a full-length album.
So, is it in the water? Is there something brewing in Bristol that ensures the city remains an influential force in music?
Harris thinks the sound of Bristol has “diversified a bit” as the location of production hotspots has shifted globally, and the sound of the genre at large continues to develop.
“When the likes of Roni and the rest of the camp were the only major d ‘n’ b producers coming out of Bristol, there was definitely a distinctive sound, which you can still hear today via music released on Die’s label Clear Skyes. Now a whole host of producers are coming out of Bristol representing different sounds and labels.”
In addition to the sound, the techniques are changing. Xample’s early efforts were certainly darker, but he has retained elements of past eras while pursuing a more dance-floor-oriented approach. Using software instead of loads of gear is another welcomed shift for him.
“I’m using a hell of a lot less,” he exclaims. “My old set up was all hardware Mackie desks, Emu samplers and a load of compressors, but now I’ve moved on to a simple Apple setup with Logic and various synths and plug-ins.”
Xample’s versatility has allowed him to move skywards in terms of success, hopping from seminal labels like Hard Leaders, Flex, Frequency and then Ram. When pressed on whether he considers each a milestone, he confesses, “I’m always striving for the next thing as it keeps me motivated and driven, so yes, I did see each release as an achievement.”
In 2009, he has already released a single on Ram, completed a remix for the critically acclaimed duo, Chase and Status, and is deciding on a first single from his soon-to-be-completed album. He and Lomax will work on a project for Ram in 2010 as well.
Well-traveled, Xample counts his Ram-related DJ gigs in London’s End venue as the most memorable sets of his career thus far.
“The reason why I chose these gigs is that I had been going to these nights for years, always aspiring to play there. When I did, it was an amazing experience. Playing the last-ever Ram night at the end was special. I played after Andy C and it was weird because it was a great party but it marked an end of an era, which was kind of a shame.”
Xample has been to Chicago before, “a few times on holiday” he says, but the upcoming event at Smart Bar this week marks his first time DJing here.
What to expect from a Xample show? Gavin was kind enough to serve up a few adjectives he feels summarize his approach to the liquid funk sub-genre quite well:
“Bristolian, Energetic, Futuristic, Dirty, Dance floor, Bangers!”
Xample performs July 30 at Smart Bar, 3730 N. Clark, (773)549-0203.