Introducing: OtikDecember 15, 2021
We get to know Otik, the cutting-edge, Bristol-born DJ/producer who’s blurring the lines between UK bass and techno.
After spending the summer months releasing cutting-edge compilations from newfangled producers that participated in its mentorship program, Martyn’s 3024 label has shifted its focus back to releasing genre-defying EPs. So it only seems appropriate that for its last outing of 2021, Martyn tapped Ashley Thomas (aka Otik) to round out the year with his Soulo EP, the latest excursion from one of the brightest talents in the continuum of UK bass, breaks, and techno.
Packed with euphoric club weapons, Otik’s Soulo EP jumps between BPM ranges with a refreshing approach, much like the rest of his recent productions. From the otherworldly delay of his “Lightyear Dub” to the moody and rough sounds of “Garuna,” the outstanding atmospheres and polarizing moods of Otik’s studio work pushes the envelope and redefines the relationship between the UK underground’s techno and bass scenes.
The 28-year old producer’s knack for creating unrestricted club music has scored him releases with revered UK labels such as Keysound Recordings, DEXT Recordings, Gobstopper Records, Integrated, and Shall Not Fade. In short, Otik’s highly stylized sound has become a hot commodity for vanguard imprints with their eye on the future.
Born and raised in Bristol during the ’90s, Otik’s parents raised him on a steady diet of UK finest electronic music pioneers, including Massive Attack, Faithless, The Streets, and Portishead. Regarding his own personal influences, he cites DJ EZ, Joy Orbison and Sully, but one artist stands above the rest — Burial.
“He doesn’t even seem human to me,” Otik says with awe in his voice from his East London apartment over our Zoom chat. “It’s his artistic ethos that really gets to me. It’s like the music he makes is trying to alchemically change the way you look at things. Even if he doesn’t mean to make it that way, it touches people’s souls. I really want to make music that does that, but without copying him, of course. I want people to enjoy themselves while listening to my stuff and have meditative experiences. So I strive to create music that can change something in somebody and get them to think a bit more deeply or critically about what they are listening to.”
Otik’s production journey started at age 15 with a cracked version of Fruity Loops that a friend gifted him. Despite efforts to learn instruments, he readily admits that he could never wrap his head around reading music. But at a young age, he likened music production to “a game of Tetris” — a process where he could efficiently “get things together and make it sound nice.”
“One of the main reasons I even tried to pursue music properly was because I didn’t get the grades I wanted to get to school,” Otik admits. “I ended up having to kind of force myself to do a music course because I had the experience to be able to do it.”
When it came time to attend university, he moved to London to study music culture. Like so many before him, the experience of raving in the British capital while meeting many like-minded people stoked his ambition and imagination. While still a novice DJ, his skills as a producer continued to improve at a rapid rate during his first few years in London.
In 2014, he released his roguish debut single “Areosoul” via Bear Fresh Records, and served up a brooding two-tracker Limbo/Antibodily Functions. Around this same time, he got an internship at NTS radio, working as a studio assistant. “It was a great opportunity,” Otik says. “I met tons of cool DJs, made some great contacts, and loved learning how radio worked. There was a time when I wanted to work for the radio station and become a full-time staff member, but then music ended up becoming more important to me.”
Otik continued tirelessly developing his artistry over the next few years, with further outings on labels like Infinite Machine, Durkle Disco, and Dusky’s 17 Steps imprint. Though he confesses that he never felt fully satisfied with what he was making until 2017.
“There was a point where I decided that I wanted to stop making club and bass music and decided to start trying to make more emotive techno,” Otik explains. “I don’t know what clicked, but when I made the decision to stop trying to make the same music at the same BPM, I realized how much I was restricting myself staying at 120, 130, and 140 BPM. And as soon as I started taking the drums away, focusing on ambiance, or making stuff that was like at 170 and 160, I found that I could tie it all together with one kind of particular and unshakeable sound. It gave me more inspiration and helped me let go a little bit. I started trying to make straight-up music, not just club music. But, of course, the end product all still ends up sounding like an iteration of club music, just with another side to it.”
Around that time, Otik teamed up with DEXT Recordings for his Deep Red EP — a tempestuous and subby release complete with remixes from Erosion Flow and Mak & Pasteman. Soon after, Dusk and Blackdown’s Keysound Recordings scooped up his Top 10 EP, which continued blurring the lines between hard-hitting bass and techno. Both labels have become huge proponents of his sound, inviting Otik back for follow-up releases with his cascading Dioxide EP, “Appalon” single, and the Amor/Seasonal FX two-tracker. Midland, who befriended the artist during his time at NTS, also got in on the action, teeing up Otik’s track “Actress” and emphatically percussive Wetlands EP on his Intergraded imprint.
In discussing how his scope and sound have grown over the years, the conversation naturally circles back to his most considerable influence, Burial. “It’s very inspiring to me that he can make music that just sounds like him,” Otik says. “And I think once I realized that I could do the same, it opened me up to being able to make just about anything. So now I can drop a jungle EP or footwork EP or techno EP, and as long as I incorporate the sound palette I’ve created that is recognizably me, it just works, and it’s given me a huge sense of freedom.”
By the turn of the decade, Otik joined an agency, and loads of new opportunities started rolling in. He left his part-time job working at a bar and transitioned to a full-time musician. Spending 2020 hard at work in his at-home studio, he pushed out some of his finest work to date — the whirling Thousand Yard Stare EP with Gobstopper Records and his critically acclaimed Zero-Sum Game EP, released via one of his hometown’s most esteemed labels, Shall Not Fade.
Amid his creative onslaught, the global Black Lives Matter movement exploded into public view. Suddenly, Otik and many other talented Black creators in the techno scene began getting the attention they so evidently deserved.
“When BLM hit, a lot of people like me who had been overshadowed in the past were starting to get pushed into the limelight,” explains Otik. “It was a very bittersweet thing to have happened, but I’m glad it did. Techno is Black music, after all. And while I’m not trying to look a gift horse in the mouth, I also feel I need to recognize the fact that it did help to propel things a little bit.”
Once the pandemic started to slow, and clubs began opening again, Otik booked more gigs than ever before. Despite having learned how to use CDJs only five years ago, Otik’s mixes are as intriguing and adept as they come. He currently holds a residency with Rinse FM France and has served up mixes for Dekmantel, Crack Magazine, Lobster Theremin, DJ Mag, Reprezent Radio, and more. Bringing a discernible sense of the unknown into each of his sets, one can expect everything from comforting ambient voyages to textured techno enforcers, bass-riddled reworks, and breakbeat rhythms full of twists and turns from an Otik performance.
“I’d still consider myself a bit of a beginner when it comes to DJing, to be honest,” Otik says humbly. “I’ve toured enough to say that. I’ve probably played somewhere between 30 or 40 gigs in my life, so yeah, DJing is still a bit of a journey that I’m on.”
He recently closed out Waterworks Festival in Gunnersbury Park, getting a massive reaction from the crowd and citing it as his “first big gig” where people came out to see him specifically. And while he may have found the experience “overwhelming,” it also ultimately boosted his confidence behind the decks, and he’s eager and ready to show more dance floors what he’s capable of. With this in mind, Field Day 2022 is bound to see something spectacular from Otik.
Ending the year strong with his bold Trifecta EP on Club Qu — which comes equipped with a tough Zenker Brothers remix — and the aforementioned Soulo EP on 3024, it’s hard to pinpoint where Otik will take us next.
“I like the fact that people now probably can’t guess what I’m going to put out now,” Otik says with a look of satisfaction in his eyes. “And nor do I, that’s what’s fun about it. So I’m hoping I’m not going to run out of ideas, but I’m giving myself a much wider palette now than before, so it’s all very exciting.”
Cameron Holbrook is Beatportal’s North American editor. Find him on Twitter.