Our new podcast series is here! We’ve been talking to artists that have inspired us in our Small but Hard journey, inviting them to do a special Small but Hard mix that you can download for free! We will be posting a new edition each month, along with an interview with each artist about the mix they have made and the things that inspire them. We hope you enjoy it!
In this first edition of the Small But Hard podcast series we spoke to the legendary Skiz Fernando, perhaps best known as producer Spectre of the renowned Wordsound label. Skiz is a prolific artist: he has released nine studio albums as Spectre, and leant his talents to innumerable other projects as part of the Wordsound imprint. Wordsound defined the Brooklyn hiphop scene throughout the 90s, and remains relevant today as a source of inspiration and reference for all of us here at Small but Hard.
Skiz headed up the label from the outset, providing a voice for the scene he was involved in, and defining an era in underground hip hop. His vision resulted in a devastating roster, that not only provides a rundown of the critical artists working in New York during that period, but was also home to many artists that are still shaping the scene today: Scorn, The Bug, Antipop Consortium to name but a few. This vision, this ability to really see the value and uniqueness in what is happening around him is demonstrated time and again by Skiz. He works not only as a musician, but also as a writer, journalist, film maker, and documentarian, weaving his magic through careful study of the things he encounters.
His mix is, in his words, a small, but hard, exclusive offering of unreleased Spectre material from the last 3 months of his beat-making. For him, making beats is his form of relaxation, it’s the way he makes sense of the world and digests what has happened around him:
“My process of making music is very organic, I would say. I have no preconceived notions…when I turn the power on in the studio, whatever is happening, whatever I’ve been through in that day, or wherever I’ve been, whatever I’ve seen, whatever I’ve eaten, it all somehow makes it into the stew. Music is just a form of expression, just like writing, just like film making, just like cooking, so to me, all of those things are the same. If anything, my modes of expression have increased over the years. I just used to write and do music, and now, I do a whole lot of other stuff. I see that in most other creative people too; they’re not only creative in one subject, but they have many modes of expression.”
“I don’t follow any trends, I don’t follow any hype stuff, I just make music that’s not being made by anyone else. That’s why I make music to begin with, cause I make stuff that I wanna hear! I love bass music, and for me, dub is the original. The dub that originated in Jamaica, that’s the original bass music, and it’s very mellow music. It’s not like, it doesn’t have to be hard or loud or anything like that, it’s just more of a vibe, y’know. That’s basically what I’m on.
That’s the stuff that I listen to when I’m just chilling out. It’s all old music. Jamaican dub, older jazz, and different types of music from around the world. Right now I’m listening to a lot of Ethiopian music because I’m doing a film on Ethiopian music, I’ve been going there a lot.
Before that I was living in Brazil, and that had a lot of influence on me. Nothing about the music specifically, but the polyrhythms of Brazil had a huge impact on my work of the last 5 years. I lived out there for like, a year, and I just soaked up that atmosphere, y’know, so, actually, that’s my inspiration, travelling. Not just listening to other music, but travelling, and experiencing other people, other cultures. It all comes through my filter and then comes out on tape…”
So where does Wordsound feature in all of this? The latest Spectre release, The True and Living, is Wordsound LP #57. I wondered if he was still drawing inspiration from the Wordsound crew, from the other musicians around him.
“Wordsound was never really a label, it was just a group of people who happened to be in the same place at the same time. All of us were making music, and we inspired each other. It was a certain time and a place. It was Brooklyn in the early 90s, and a specific neighbourhood. I knew all these people; all the artists were my friends. That can only last for a finite amount of time, because people move out, people leave; it’s just the normal flow of things. Especially in a city like New York, money is a huge factor as far as living, if you are an artist. I’m thankful because back then, in the early 90s, I could make next to nothing, but I could still live, in Brooklyn, and do my art and do my music. I didn’t have to worry about paying a lot of rent and all that stuff. So, Wordsound existed in a certain time and place, and obviously now we’re many years removed from that.
Wordsound as a label is still releasing records though. I’m putting out another album in March called Firn/Energys, which is from my nephew, John Fernando. He was kind of like a protégé of mine. He was an amazing beat maker, and he died last year. So I’m putting out some of his beats on vinyl, as a tribute to him. The label is still going around, but obviously it is not the same as it was, as far as the whole collective nature of it is concerned. As far as I know, all the other people are still doing their thing, I mean, Sensational is definitely doing his thing! Everyone’s scattered around the world now, and that’s kind of cool cause when I travel to different parts of the world I can stay with different friends who used to be part of this movement that we had and it’s like no time has passed at all.”
It is clear that Skiz’s sphere influence is not in danger of diminishing any time soon. New Spectre material, the publication of several books, a new Wordsound documentary are just the latest outputs from his camp.
“I feel like I have not really reached the point that I want to be at, creatively speaking. I feel like every record I do is much better than the last one. Now I just released album number 9, and I look back at my first album and I think ‘Oh my God! I can’t believe I put that out!’
In my eyes, the normal flow of this is that an artist comes out, he gets big, he gets popular, he gets famous, and the quality of his work goes DOWN. You can map almost anyone up to that point of a paradigm. There’s a lot of people like myself who get better with age, like a fine wine!
My first influences were people like Adrian Sherwood and On-U Sound, Bill Laswell, and these people are still making music! They’re in the generation above me and they’re still doing their thing, y’know! That always makes me feel good. I always like to give credit where credit is due. We are just one part of this evolution, but I’m proud to say that Wordsound did add on to it, and there are certain labels that you can point to in this progression that, maybe they didn’t get a lot of credit, but they were doing their thing at their time, and what’s going on today might not have existed if it weren’t for what was going on then.”
You can read more about Spectre online here:
You can find out more about Wordsound here:
Watch the Wordsound documentary, The Greatest Thing You Never Heard, here:
Spectre’s latest album The True & Living is available to buy now at: