The Sound Of: Worst Behavior
Compiling hyper-speed, sci-fi sounds from producers across the globe, Anna Morgan and Bell Curve’s Worst Behavior has quickly become a force to be reckoned with. Alongside a mix from its catalogue, the pair chat to Theo Kotz about how friendship, collaboration and artistic freedom are key to the label’s success
It was mere months after their first meeting that Anna Morgan and Bell Curve (real name Isabel Munson) conceived of their label and party. Reeling from the madness at their first Outlook Festival and buoyed by the reaction to Anna’s hybrid 160 set, the pair began hatching a plan to build a space for artists to step outside of their comfort zone and indulge their freakier impulses.
As Isabel put it then, “I just want everyone to be on their worst behaviour”. Before long, they were playing host to the likes of Itoa, DJ Madd, Shy Eyez and Mumdance in Brooklyn. The pair met at Equilibrio in 2016, a festival curated by Anna in El Salvador. Isabel travelled there as a relative newcomer to club culture, and in Anna she found the perfect guide to help plunge her into the world in which they now both occupy a respected space.
After just a few days partying together, Anna offered to take Isabel with her to Croatia that summer for Outlook. It was a quirk of the festival’s line-up that offered the first nudge to take on a label; Anna was the only artist to have her city printed alongside her name on the bill, and felt the pressure to represent her hometown. In the presence of so many producers whose music she was inclined to play, she changed tack. “‘Well, I can’t play their tracks’,” she remembers thinking at the time. “‘Let me do a hybrid 160 set’, because that’s what a lot of my homies in New York were doing.”
The crowd, it’s safe to say, were into it, and the conversations that followed were the foundation of what Worst Behavior would become. As an excitable Isabel proffered at the time, “What if grime was really fast?”
On meeting the pair, it’s easy to see why they make a good team. Even over video call, with Anna in Los Angeles and Isabel on the US’s east coast, they exude a warmth and support for each other, while embodying different energies: Isabel, an exuberance and desire to communicate lots of ideas; Anna, an unflappable cool and ponderance, even as the roofers above her apartment bang in nails overhead.
These contrasting but complementary attitudes are mirrored by their musical backgrounds. Anna, the self-professed “raver who never grew up” from the Bronx, was known as a dancer and promoter in New York City for years before she picked up a controller at the behest of friends. Isabel, by contrast, grew up in Texas, was in a sorority at college, and got into the world of dance music another way — the internet offering an avenue of discovery outside of traditional clubbing communities.
Crucially, though, both experienced epiphanic moments with UK sounds. For Isabel, Dizzee Rascal and Caspa & Rusko’s ‘FABRICLIVE 37’ were an alternative to the slick sheen of EDM, whereas Anna recounts a mind-blowing experience at a party in a skating rink in the early ’00s.
“So, it’s like trance and techno,” she recalls, “and from this side-room they had someone playing ragga jungle, and I just had to find out what it was. It blew my mind because it was sampling dancehall that I grew up with, but it was rave music. I remember thinking, ‘This is the perfect dance music!’”
“I love that feeling [of not knowing what something is],” Isabel chimes in. “That’s the high we chase. When I was coming into music as this complete newbie, it was constant. My mind would be blown every day.”
The label does an impressive job of enabling those kinds of experiences. Genres, bpm, and other forms of categorisation are deliberately eschewed in favour of artistic freedom. Listening to the releases is a dizzying experience: you might find unnerving halftime d&b rubbing shoulders with footwork, weighty 140 drawing on jungle breaks and trap triplets, or anxious rave bleeps propelled by a distorted reggaeton stomp.
“A lot of DJs and producers often feel imprisoned by the expectation of genre,” says Anna. “Worst Behavior is about authenticity... it’s about checking that part of you that feels you’re supposed to behave in a certain way. We just want to do what we want to do, and feel free doing it. It’s an invitation to ourselves and others.”
The label’s signature has undoubtedly been the self-titled compilation series that’s played host to an international cohort of producers — like DJ Madd, Stranjah, A.Fruit, DJ Swisha and many more. Each compilation is capped at a certain number of tracks, so as not to have anyone’s work get lost, and more often than not the artists featured are friends, or become friends through the process. This speaks to the guiding principle of holding space for artists and putting people on, and the commitment Anna and Isabel afford the relationships they make with artists the world over.
One of the more telling anecdotes is the story of the label’s only single to date, ‘1800AREYOUSLAPPIN’ — a ghettotech banger smothered in gurgling blasts of bass. After asking her friend HomeSick for a premiere on his blog, Footwork Jungle, Anna found herself taking over the blog’s curation, while in return HomeSick sent her the track. Not only that, but the Sinistarr remix that would go on to be the B-side was already a match made in Anna’s head. In no time they had put together what would become a totemic calling-card for the label.
Friendships played a big role, too, in the development of Worst Behavior’s gorgeous art direction. The cover of ‘Worst Behavior Vol. 1’ was made by Gavin Dias, found through fellow bass-heads These Evil Streets, while Catherine Villalonga took over from volume two after designing a flyer for fellow New Yorker, Suzi Analogue.
“We’re very grateful, because she gets the vision,” Morgan says of Villalonga. “And honestly, when it comes to art, I don’t want to work with any more guys. The women we work with are definitely trying to collaborate more. We’ll come up with a concept, [Catherine] will send us a sketch of what it means to her, and we’ll send a little feedback. It really is a shared vision. With that last compilation [‘Vol. 2’], I said it should be like a soundsystem rave, but in space, with non-binary aliens, underwater. And she’s just like, ‘Okay!’ and then beasts it.”
Villalonga’s vibrant riffing carries a distinctly futuristic, sci-fi feel, perfectly exemplified on Bell Curve’s debut LP, ‘Unstable Orbit’, which came out in June this year and pictures a neon headphone-adorned woman tumbling through the cosmos. For Isabel, the style is especially apt, given that she writes journalistically about technology and behaviour, and that thoughts around these topics permeate every aspect of her work. Crucially, though, she is sceptical of the nihilistic tropes of the dominant mode of dystopian sci-fi, often written by men.
“Women tend to focus on sci-fi as a tool for exploring other worlds and how different designs and beliefs might inform a society. Where classic sci-fi by guys will say, ‘Look how horrible machines are’... women’s sci-fi will say, ‘Imagine how our relationships could be different, how can we use this as a tool to imagine wildly?’”
A wild imagination is certainly present on the imminent full-length remix album of ‘Unstable Orbit’, a quasi-compilation record featuring d&b heroes like Fixate and Trends, Equiknoxxx’s Time Cow, label stalwarts like A.Fruit, the insatiable Kush Jones of Juke Bounce Werk, and even a trance and amapiano-inspired take on the Rider Shafique-featuring ‘Lifted’ from Breaka.
The record feels like an instant classic, a snapshot of the ingredients which constitute the Worst Behavior sound and the mangling of those ingredients in one place — not to mention Anna’s first appearance on the label as a producer. With the next volume in the compilation series in the works, don’t expect Worst Behavior to come down from orbit any time soon.
Listen to a hyperactive mix from the Worst Behavior catalogue, recorded by Bell Curve, below.
Bell Curve ‘Lifted ft. Rider Shafique (A.Fruit Remix)’
Bell Curve & Strategy ‘Spacey (Anna Morgan Remix)’
Bell Curve & Strategy ‘Spacey (Doctor Jeep Remix)’
Bell Curve ‘Evaporate’
Bell Curve & Strategy ‘Spacey (Trends Remix)’
DJ Swisha ‘Spirit Airlines Distress Track’
DJ Girl ‘Psychosis’
DJ FLP ‘Tunnel’
Bell Curve ‘Evaporate (Kush Jones Remix)’
Ani Klang ‘(once at a time)’
Deeplinkin & Mars Kasei ‘DarkWhite’
OOTW ‘Facing the Pit’
A.Fruit ‘Observer Effect’
DJ Madd & Jon1st ‘Roots Fashion’
PlayPlay ‘Clocked In’
Nikki Nair ‘Pah’
Bell Curve & Strategy ‘Spacey’
A-0 ft. Viberous ‘This Against That’
(soon) ‘Lunar Twist’
Luke Leadbelly & Samurai Breaks ‘Send Back’
Bell Curve ‘Fahk (Ani Klang Remix)’
Bell Curve ‘Fahk’
Samurai Breaks & Harka ‘Tucked In Trackies’
DJ Madd ‘Pak Up Ya Dub’
Stranjah and Fox ‘Inya’
Bell Curve ‘Lifted ft. Rider Shafique’
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