The sound of: bokeh versions
A pivotal moment for Bokeh Versions came as Opland turned to collective and label Duppy Gun, who released some of the most radically offbeat tracks in modern dancehall. The brainchild of Jamaica-based MC I Jahbar and Los Angeles-based musicians Sun Araw and M. Geddes Gengras, Duppy Gun’s approach is the sweetest tropical cosplay antidote to Western pop iterations of dancehall, and a reminder of the distorted eccentricity of sound.
Duppy Gun saw a convoluted birth; Initially funded by Stones Throw Records, it quickly stalled. Fortunately, a chance meeting between Opland and Sun Araw while the latter was on tour in the UK led Opland to help the team reinvigorate the project on the label side.
“He had a life before I was on the scene, that’s for sure,” he explains. “I knew they had issues and I just had a chat with Sun Araw, and we got on really well. I could see it was quite a frustrating situation for them.
With Bokeh now managing the label’s operations alongside the LA duo and I Jahbar recording a stable of up-and-coming singers in Jamaica, the team began co-distributing projects, the first being 2017’s “Miro Tape” featuring I Jahbar. Since then, Duppy Gun and Bokeh Versions have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship, showcasing homegrown voice talents such as G Sudden and Vybz Kartel protege Sikka Rymes, while also providing Bokeh Versions production regulars such as SEEKERSINTERNATIONAL and Jay Glass Dubs a new way to flex their production chops. .
“You grow through your collaborations, which is why I really encourage people on the label to come together,” says Opland. “Just because you can do it all yourself doesn’t mean you should. It’s good to get out of those echo chambers. If we just have someone who is a chamber producer, we’ll try to get a vocalist involved.
The project has flourished in recent years. On the 2019 tape ‘I Jahbar & Friends – Inna Duppy SKRS Soundclash’, production is jointly handled by Duppy Gun and SEEKERSINTERNATIONAL, who, having previously relied on sampled vocals, are able to distill their outlandish sounds into a more functional, displaying a contagious synergy with the singers of Duppy Gun that has continued to evolve.
Looking ahead, collaboration is at the heart of Bokeh Versions. The latest release, ‘SPICE’, finds rising star Grove in the vocals of YOKEL and Robin Stewart of Giant Swan. Six alluring, forward-looking dancehall and club tracks, it follows through on the promise of their previous project ‘Queer + Black’, making a distinct figure in the Bristol scene.
“When I first saw them play I thought they were unreal, just one of the best I’ve ever seen. Grove can do it all, to be honest. Absolute legend. While the vinyl pressing comes to a halt due to endless major label reissues, supply chain issues and Brexit skyrocketing postage and import taxes, Bokeh Versions reconsidered how to get out of the music.
“Brexit almost killed us. We never chased the money, but it’s not nice to lose a third of your customers, which the EU public represented. A lot of these people have been with the label since the beginning, and now they don’t buy anything. And why would they? They might receive a mysterious tax added to their expenses.
While a clear solution seems a long way off, the label has doubled down on its eccentricities; limited copies of the Grove version come in the form of a house fragrance brewed by the artist himself, a new direction in building a sensory world around music. “At this point, vinyl is almost like whipping a dead horse. We were like, ‘Let’s take the money we would have spent on a record, and do some videos and perfume and T-shirts instead. ‘ This sounds more exciting.
This follows the label’s craziest step into alternative distribution: a 30-minute virtual reality headtrip, released alongside Mars89’s 2021 sound art release “New Dawn.” “I like the idea of an outing as a world, the idea of music as transportation. You don’t get that with a five-second clip on Instagram.
Currently viewable on a headset or browser, the site allows viewers to navigate a hellish landscape of abstract digital flora, an environment that throbs and breathes with the soundtrack. The product of two years of work, it remains a proud achievement for Mars89, although Opland admits the initial response to the job proved difficult to gauge through the veneer of social media. Originally slated to appear as an installation piece before the pandemic hit, “New Dawn” will soon be shown as a physical exhibit.
Listen to a 100% Bokeh Versions mix below, recorded by BKV Industrial and Robin Stewart of Giant Swan.