A Londoner through and through, Arthur Smith, more commonly known as Artwork, is a man who has been a key part of some of the capital’s pivotal music scenes in the last two decades. After a time producing techno under his Grain alias in the 90s, fore-fronting dubstep with Big Apple Records in the early noughties and forming Magnetic Man alongside Skream and Benga in 2007 – Artwork is now busy injecting his character into various parties, festivals and clubs around the globe.
As a longtime friend of the shop, we reached out to Arthur to see if he would be up for providing us with the final mix in our 2021 series. For the occasion, Arthur went above and beyond and the result is a whopping one hour and forty-minute long recording packed with all kinds of rare disco, funk, boogie and house treasures. There is also an in-depth interview to be found where we discussed his new life in NYC, his past projects; Grain and Magnetic Man, his future plans, and much more. Enjoy!
Hey Arthur, thanks for joining us! Can you tell us about your recording and what the idea was behind it…
I initially started out with the idea of putting some tracks together in such a way that it could potentially kickstart world peace.
Could you tell us a little bit about your background, perhaps where you grew up and what first got you interested in music?
I grew up in Croydon unfortunately, my dad was a big music fan so there was always music in the house, mainly jazz, but he did have Kraftwerk and funk records. he had great taste and would always play his records for us really loud so I guess that’s where it all started. I had a radio in my bedroom and would listen to John Peel and Andy Kershaw. Nick Kershaw had this show where he would play music from all over the world so one minute it would be a country band, the next some African Hilife, then something from South America. Then one night he said “we have a brand new sound coming out of Chicago and they are calling it house music” I jumped out of bed and taped it. It blew my mind, I couldn’t stop listening to it, so eventually someone told me this guy jazzy M had a shop and they were selling this stuff, that was it I was hooked.
And what about some of your earlier projects such as your techno alias Grain, or the dubstep-oriented group Magnetic Man which you were a part of with Benga and Skream. Will we ever see any more new music from any of these?
I got into techno through John Kennedy who owned Apple Records, He would play me Detroit techno tracks but I had never been to a proper techno party. He said a mate of his Steve Bicknal ran a night called Lost, and would I give him a hand putting up dirty stinking camo netting at the Vox in Brixton, I did, and it was absolutely disgusting, digging out the cammo from a lock-up that had been taken down a month earlier drenched in sweat and left there to ferment. But Steve said I should come along as Jeff Mills was playing, I went that night. Walked in and it was a kick drum and a low bass playing for what seemed like forever, but the crowd were getting more and more excited… then the open hi-hat came in and the place exploded. Did a pill… lost my bearings, and knew that was what I wanted to make. I did 4 releases on Fatcat as grain and one on Cosmic ID under Santos Rodriguez and a few other names on other labels. Nut this was pre-internet so you never knew if anyone was actually playing your records out, but then Richy Hawtin did the first mix album on Sony called decks fx and a 909 which was a big deal and he had used 5 of my tracks under different names to start the mix so that was the moment I started DJing techno parties. But I was always doing like 3 types of music at the same time, so techno, garage, house, dubstep, whatever. And my focus shifts pretty fast. If I had stuck at one I would probably have been really famous by now HA!
We understand you’re now living over in NYC – that’s exciting! How does life on the other side of the pond differ from that back here in London?
I love it here, The thing I think I like the most is you could walk down the street in divers flippers, leg warmers, a tootoo with a top hat with a live parrot and a snake on your top hat and not a single person would bat an eyelid.
What’s your preferred method for finding new music – do you still enjoy digging around in dusty crates or do you prefer to buy online?
I’m all about dusty crates at the moment. Living in London and going to a charity shop you are going to find the same 50 records in each store, but here is WILD … if you think that in the 70s and 80s people were collecting really great disco-funk and soul, and now you find a house clearance place where all these collections wind up and it’s just mind-blowing. There is a place just at the end of my block and I’ve been many times the guy knows me now, so when he gets a new collection in he just texts me saying “BRING YOUR GLOVES”.
When it comes to music production, we know you’re a big synth/hardware head. What’s the one piece of kit you couldn’t live without?
This is nerdy and weird as it’s not a synth or drum machine… It’s a pair of headphones. I got a pair of HEDD PHONES.. they are huge and look kind of funny. But I mix all my tracks on them now, I trust them way more than I do my room, and I can work anywhere and it’s like being in the best-treated room with the best monitors.
What does 2022 have in store for you?
So during the lockdown and living in NYC I had a bit of time on my hands. I called my musical genius friend Jon who I’ve worked with for 20 years and asked if he would do a solo on an edit I was doing, and from there we started making original music. Because I wasn’t playing every weekend, we had time to do a ton of tracks. On my last trip to the UK when things opened up we went to Devon Anologue and did a week in synth heaven. John and I write together but he can fucking seriously play, I had a gig at Printworks coming up that Friday and asked him if he wanted to come and play live over the tracks we had just made and it really worked. So we gave ourselves a name ‘More Amour” and 2022 should see us doing our thing where there are people who wanna dance to some groovy sounds! (There are a few tracks in the mix, hope you like ’em)
No… Thank YOU!!!!