To mangle the words of LFO’s clanking bleep-era anthem “We Are Back”, there are many imitators, but very few true creators. When it comes to British dance music, Robert Gordon is undoubtedly a “true creator”.
Gordon’s story is seldom told, a by-product of not only the overlooked nature of the turn of the ‘90s “bleep and bass” scene that he helped nurture, but also his enigmatic nature. Over the last two decades, Gordon has slipped into the shadows, reappearing in public only in brief bursts (a handful of live shows with Winston Hazel as the Forgemasters a few years back, including a celebrated Boiler Room session, being the most recent example) while steadfastly refusing to do any interviews (a lengthy chat with Joe Muggs in 2009 being his last of note).
Predictably, I was one of those journalists keen to chronicle Gordon’s meteoric rise and subsequent fall from grace. I wanted to dig deep into his story as part of my forthcoming book on bleep techno and the birth of British bass music, Join The Future. Since the turn of the decade I’ve been making sporadic approaches, either myself or through mutual friends. I got close on a couple of occasions, but had all but given up hope of ever getting his side of the bleep and bass story on tape.
This time last month I received an email from my friend and former IDJ colleague Oli Warwick. He was working on a free magazine and event guide for No Bounds Festival, an admirably experimental and left-of-centre music and arts weekender held across multiple venues in Sheffield. Festival founder and Hope Works mastermind Liam O’Shea (AKA techno producer Lo Shea) had managed to book Rob Gordon to DJ at No Bounds, and he wanted someone to interview the prodigious sound system builder, studio engineer and British techno pioneer.
A week or so later I found myself sat with Rob and Liam – and Rob’s friend Natty – at the producer’s studio near Bramall Lane stadium, talking in depth about his life and career while surrounded by drum machines and synthesizers that had been used to make some of British dance music’s most forward-thinking records. For someone who has spent years digging into the stories of those who knew or worked with Gordon, it was a thrill to finally meet him. I subsequently returned a week later, spending another three hours getting his memories on tape for Join The Future. I will be forever grateful to Rob for taking time out to speak with me, and of course to Oli and Liam for setting up the initial interview.
You’ll have to wait for Join The Future, but the fruits of my first interview with Rob can be read in the No Bounds Festival magazine, which was published this week. It was produced by the team behind Bristol-based CRACK Magazine, and like that title, the No Bounds magazine can be picked up (free of charge) from stockists across the UK, as well as Amsterdam and Berlin. The feature I’ve written on Rob concisely tells his story, moving from his early love of sound to the present day via his days as the in-house audio engineering wizard at Sheffield’s FON studio, his early bleep productions and role in the foundation of Warp Records, and his later collaborative and solo work. It also features quotes from other DJs and producers on what makes Rob’s records so special.
No Bounds Festival itself is well worth a visit. This year’s event takes place between the 12th and 14th October. Check out their website for more info and tickets.