Andy Morton - The Submariner - Part 1

"I rate the Submariner as the best hip hop producer in the country." - DJ Mu (Fat Freddy's Drop)

"He's one of my favourite producers and DJs in the world hands down." - Zane Lowe (Breaks Co-op and BBC radio guy)

There is a hidden history in liner notes and production credits. Pay attention and patterns emerge. The same people and places appear and reappear. Look closer and you will see the social fault lines that run through the New Zealand music scene. Most of the names featured are not famous.

Andy Morton, aka the Submariner, is a DJ and producer who emerged into the Auckland club scene of the late eighties and early nineties, a scene that revolved around the central city and the bars and clubs running along High Street – De Bretts, Box, Cause Celeb and Shortland Bar. The soundtrack of those years was a mix of hip-hop, dance beats and live jazz. This music would form the basis of Morton's sound. The production talents that he would later utilise with such skill were also honed in that time and place. The clip below shows the Submariner demostrating those talents at the 2008 MPC Championships in Wellington.

Morton’s name first appears in fine print on a couple of Deepgooves releases, Jules Issa's Discomfort in their eyes (1994) and Babel's A is for atom (1994). A few years later he is credited with mixing on the Breaks Co-Op’s track 'transister' from the album Roofers (1997). The same year he is listed on Dam Native’s excellent Kaupapa Driven Rhymes Uplifted as a co-composer on ‘The Son’. From there he moves to a co-producer role on Mark de Clive-Lowe’s Six Degrees (1999) and King Kapisi’s Savage Thoughts (2000). But it is on a trilogy of Pacifican hip-hop albums that Morton’s influence emerges in a powerful and creative manner: Ermehn’s Samoans – Part 2 (1998), Che-Fu’s 2b S-Pacific (1998) and Feelstyle’s Break it to Pieces (2004). Three albums with hardly a dud track between them.

Each artist is very much the focus of his individual album. Indeed an aspect of Morton’s production genius seems to lie in allowing the performer to manifest him or herself. For Ermehn and Feelstyle this is as skilful raconteurs. Each has tales to tell. In the case of Ermehn it is with convincing stories of street life and growing up in a dangerous and oppressive South Auckland. There is a gangsta bravado that drives the tracks but Ermehn never loses sight of the heartbreak that lies behind the words. Feelstyle’s approach is a more grounded reminiscing of a life lived, of hard times and lessons learned. Break it to Pieces is an extraordinary album full of pathos and a keen sense of humanity. Stinky Jim called it a man’s album in an industry largely made up of boys. A masterpiece. The emphasis for Che Fu is on his golden vocals. Freed from the fast paced, frantic ensemble that was Supergroove, Morton allowed Che’s voice to soar and justifiably command all the attention.

It is clear however that Morton is an essential part of each album. Listen to them back to back and there is a consistent link between the three. Voices play off against one another, augmenting and emphasising individual strengths. Under the vocals a rich bed of sound is made up of beats, samples and live instrumentals. Often the instruments are curtsey of Morton. With restrained taste he teases a lush range of sounds from his collection of keyboards. This is the work of a fertile, free-ranging imagination that does not rest. Ideas and musical textures abound. Always there is a detail to appreciate, a unique tone to savour, a sample to relish.

Morton's attitude to production can be seen in the short documentary below. He talks about meeting the needs of the performer and supporting them in their quest to be as good as possible. The soundclip after is the remix that he is working on in the video.

And then there is Dimmer. The first two albums of Shayne Carter’s comeback vehicle, I believe you are a star and You’ve got to hear the music, feature tracks co-produced by Morton (not the Submariner). As with the hip-hop trilogy the album belong to the performer and to isolate Morton’s contribution is difficult. But it seems that those tracks attached to his name on I Believe you are a star are more intricate in nature. Carter spent nearly four years making this stark magnum opus and the standards on it are in keeping with Morton’s own. Spooky, whirling, glittering sound fragments flit in and out of terse guitar lines and almost whispered vocals. You’ve got to hear the music is a different beast. Here Morton seems to contribute by opening up the sonic pallette of the band. The tracks he co-produces feature various effects and instruments not found on the first album. It is not surprising that Morton’s name is missing from the third album, There my dear, full as it is with powerful, cathartic emotions. A long way from the intricate, haunted atmospherics that mark the albums featuring Morton.

Links and further reading
1. Andy Morton's discography (more complete and up to date than space allowed me to be). 2. A great history of the Auckland club scene by Simon Grigg. (The link is to the years relivant to this blog posting but it's all a great read) 3. Submariner remixes. 4. An ongoing overview of the Deepgrooves label over at Dub dot dash. The DLT interview is hilarious.

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