“Oh I’ve had a million different jobs. You talk to me long enough and you’ll be like, ‘What the hell are you doing with your life?!’ I certainly never intended to make drum & bass…”
Alex ThugWidow Lowther-Harris is a curious fellow. Neither a thug, nor a widow, he’s a warm, engaging and charmingly quirky man. The son of a west Wales sailing family, currently working as a mid-century furniture restorer, he bounces around from topic to topic, anecdote to anecdote, proffering just as many questions as he’s answering.
His energy and multi-focus mindset matches his music: a hectic, full-strength brew of breakbeats, surprises and a hazy blend of rave and hardcore references.
Sometimes jilting and jittering happily on the IDM spectrum, other times swaggering away with pure jungle authenticity, there’s a high chance you’re already well acquainted with the ThugWidow sound thanks to his prolific nature and recent dispatches on labels such as Hooversound, Sneaker Social Club and, of course, Western Lore – the super consistent and ultra-applaudable contemporary breakbeat label run by Dead Man’s Chest.
“Without him there’d be no ThugWidow to be honest,” Alex says of Dead Man’s Chest (who’s also called Alex) “I had a notion to start making jungle music years and years ago when I was going out in Hereford as a youth. No one was making it or doing that type of stuff. Drum & bass was getting very commercial at the time, which wasn’t really my type of thing, and then around seven or eight years ago I started hearing Special Request doing things, then US producer Lee Bannon made a jungle record, then I found Alex’s stuff and he’s ended up becoming one of my biggest supporters.”
The appreciation goes both ways; ThugWidow beats are the perfect fit for Western Lore. Raw, unformulated, broad in tempo, sizzling with ideas and written with a clear focus on escapism, hedonism and immersion. They’re served up at a prolific rate, too. Alex explains how he can get numerous ideas down in a single day and sends Western Lore dizzying levels of releases. “I send him, and I’m not exaggerating, 100s of songs,” he grins.
“He picks the selections and organises the albums. That’s a little peak behind the Western Lore curtain for you. He’s a DJ and I think he sees organising the arrangement of an album like a set. I think that comes across in this album. It’s fucking chaos man. It’s the music you hear at 4am at a festival and say, ‘Oh fuck this, I’m going to bed! I’ve had enough!’”
The chaos is definitely communicated across the whole album. And whether it’s the type of barmy beatwork that would keep you up till sunrise or send you off packing to bed, Seventh Circle Of Litness is definitely a selection worthy of inspection and appraisal. Not least because it’s one of the most authentic explorations into hardcore breakbeats released this year.
“It’s basically my understanding of the eras I lived through as a very young child. I was 12 at the oldest in the 90s so I only experienced it through the TV and thought ‘what the hell is this?’” laughs Alex. It’s the same type of reaction he wants to illicit with the album now.
14 consecutive cuts of pure, unadulterated WTFness, each one comprising myriad breaks all diced, spliced and layered with intensity – the album sucks you into its dark, tense underbelly and smothers you so hard you’ll be convinced it’s 1992 all over again, even if you weren’t even alive in that year.
There are moments of respite (the piano-laced dreamer Dissociative Funk, and the super spacious, subby bubbler A Reduction In Stress for example) but, by and large, the album is a homage to that first raving generation to lose their minds at 4am to a Witchdoctor, Dr S Gachet or Ellis Dee set.
“A lot of that is down to how Alex ordered the tracks and put it together, it was like, ‘Wow, this is the soundtrack of me spiralling into madness,’” says Alex who named the album after the ancient Sumerian tale The Descent Of Innana.
An epic 4000 year old poem of a goddess who visits her sister in the underworld and has to go through the seven gates of hell; tropes and themes of the Descent Of Innana have existed in mythology, fables and stories ever since. It’s a fitting source of inspiration. Not just because Alex is utilising and subverting some of rave music’s most ancient elements on this album, but because he was fighting of his own personal descent at the time; the pool of tracks Seventh Circle Of Litness was compiled was written during a time in which he lived in London and felt the conditions and pressures of the city pushing him closer and closer to the edge.
“I narrowly avoided madness myself. Living in London, working as a chef, never seeing my wife. We had to get the fuck out of there.”
Now based on Anglesey, his pace of life is much slower and healthier but his music and creative mindset remain just as rampant; mercifully his move hasn’t affected or diluted the anarchy of his productions or his translation and contemporisation of formative hardcore breakbeat music. Cuts like Contrary To Popular Opinion are especially exciting as he takes the classic dubby Krome &Time or Dextrous style of spacious jungle and riddles it with modern bassline harmonics.
The track United Kingdom has a similar effect; every ingredient is familiar and could unite anyone who has ever lost their mates on the dancefloor at 4am since 1990. Yet the pace, tension and those bellowing depth plunge basslines give it a fresh and exciting feeling of energy.
The Funkiest Funk, meanwhile, is the ultimate call to arms as it takes an array of well-used and familiar breaks that any raver, hip-hop head or junglist will recognise but blends them with such a rawness and sense of surprise that it somehow both brazenly old school and refreshingly new.
These are just a handful of examples as Alex exorcises ghosts of a raving era he didn’t actually get to live, rolling out one of the most consistent, accomplished and immersive albums he’s made so far in his career. “I think I’m just channelling my angry adolescence with it all,” he muses. “When the reality is that I’m actually more likely to be at an antiques fair or doing a spot of gardening than I am at a rave these days…”
Whether these sound like the words of a man who knows, or doesn’t know, what the hell he’s doing with his life is up to you. We just hope he continues to unintentionally make drum & bass music for as long as possible…