Tucked away in the unassuming surroundings of Bromsgrove lives Joe Corfield; a self-taught producer putting out loopy, sample based beats that have been stamped in wax and amassed international recognition.
BABMAG visited Joe’s family home last month as the golden hour was setting in. Stretching our legs, we walked through the vast estate where only a sullen cat crossed our path. Joe lead us through an allotment, past a smoking bonfire to a viewpoint which presented us with an impressive panorama of Bromsgrove. The quiet beatmaker then showed us to his local cafe for a cuppa and the first half our interview.
It began at Bromsgrove skatepark, Joe can identify his skating days as the time when he was first introduced to hip-hop. His interest in skating slowly dwindled and music became his sole focus, but through the skatepark important friendships were made, “One of the guys I used to skateboard with introduced me to Frank Lindsay and that took me into Birmingham more.” Naturally he shed the comfort of suburbia and gravitated towards friends who were soaking up the inner-city happenings of Brum in the early 2010s because as Joe says, “there’s very few people round here that have ever showed an interest in hip-hop and rap, and even less that have showed an interest in making it.”
At the time Listening Sessions (who have just celebrated their 5th birthday), was just getting going. Joe recalls the first event where unknown producers had the opportunity to play their tracks through a club sound system and get real-time feedback, “it’s probably one of the most important nights for a lot of producers in the city because that’s where they congregate and share ideas.”
Despite living in Bromsgrove his whole life, he absolutely calls Birmingham home, “when people ask me where I’m from, especially on the music angle, that’s why I say Birmingham, because it’s really shaped the music that I make, through the people I met.”
As friends moved away and started uni, Joe got to taste of the cultural and musical happenings of those cities we tend to look up to; London, Bristol and Manchester. Of course Joe compared the artistry of our UK counterparts with the 0121; a likeness or unlikeness that’s puzzled generations of performers and promoters. He goes some way to explain why there’s a lack of self promotion in the second city, having a knock on effect on the amount of Birmingham artists ‘making it’; “I think the recurring theme in Birmingham is that we’ve all been to these places and seen how artists thrive there and we all feel like we’re all as talented as they are… We feel like we deserve all the things that happen to a lot of artists in these ‘bigger’ cities, but we still have to work twice as hard sometimes to get where these artists seem to get a lot easier.”
The sentiment is strong. We’re all in it together, but humbled, tired of working twice as hard for half the gain; Joe continues “and maybe a part of it is that we don’t feel we should have to push ourselves twice as hard.”
Only recently has Joe put more of a focus on pushing his music, admitting that “when you start to see it [self branding] work, it adds another level of satisfaction to what you do. Personally, I hope me doing something like this will spark something in other artists, especially in Birmingham because we are all so talented and all deserve recognition.”
Later we wandered back to Joe’s house and sat down in his room/home studio with dog Bouncer, drum machines and chatted who and what we know; mates, music and Brum.
In September last year Joe released his first and highly regarded LP, Patterns. Joe tells us how the Bullring made its way onto the album artwork; “It’s one of those things that worked out in the end, I always wanted to put the Bullring, in someway, on the front cover of an album because it is so iconic as an aesthetic thing.”
The Selfridges building with its facade of aluminium discs seems to install civic pride in admirers, so Joe harnessed this in order to encourage other producers in need of a nudge, to release music. Joe explains that since the release of Patterns “I’ve had bare people coming up to me saying ‘I didn’t even know you were from England let alone Birmingham, now I know you are, that’s inspiring me to be proud of where I’m from.’”
Inspiration for the album and his music comes not from the golden era of hip-hop as some might believe, but from from he’d say “jazz or world music from the 70s or the 80s and a lot of modern jazz music, guys like Yussef Dayes, anything Gilles Peterson touches on – that inspires me massively.”
Going on to discuss his work flow and production, he explains “A lot of the time it starts with me going record shopping”. Something Joe notes has got a lot better in the city recently – “depending on how much I get I’ll usually just spend a week making beats, starting with the sample, then the drums, bassline then I’ll add melodies and chords. Even though it’s all instrumental I always make stuff with vocalists in mind, so it’s always very stripped back, there’s a lot of space on there.”
A vocalist he’s been working with of recent times, after some persuasion, is fellow Brummie Kofi Stone; “He’ll laugh about this as well; he was hassling me for a looong time, trying to convince me to send him stuff… when we met in person, I saw he was very passionate about what he does. Sometimes I click with people that have a similar workflow and passion for what they do and our ideas bounce. Since then, I’ve been sending him beats and it works really well, I’ve made three quarters of the album he’s working on.”
When asked about the Soundcloud beat community and the online/offline experience in Birmingham we found Joe summarises the sentiment perfectly; “Me and Frank [Lindsay] have spent some time trawling Soundcloud because he was looking for people to put on for his night [Mystic Brew at Café Artum] and I was actually shocked because I’ve never really thought about it… He was like ‘do you know anyone?’ And I listed off a bunch of people I know from Birmingham who I’ve found through Soundcloud. I put them on to Frank and he got in contact with them. [Laughs] I mean, some people were a bit standoffish about getting involved, they were like ‘err nothing happens in Birmingham, I don’t know if this is going to work’ sort of thing – it’s weird so many people put out music in Birmingham but none of them really take that next step. Probably because there are no avenues to do so.”
The avenue arose when Frank, Matt Smith and Artum heads started Mystic Brew to provide a physical space for the Soundcloud community, Joe performed at the first event back in December. He confirmed that the night is a success and that Mystic Brew is “finally something for us.”
Joe’s final note on the city is that “It’s changing for the best. I think a lot of things in Birmingham are changing for the better. I’m interested to see things pop up to push things forward musically.”
Check out Joe Corfield’s music here and catch him performing at the next Mystic Brew night where they have teamed up with Listening Sessions.
A full circle Birmingham connection.