March 25: ENiGMA Dubz will drop his fifth studio album Awakening on his own label Morii Records.
Six years since his last LP, three years in the making, Awakening is the Birmingham producer’s most diverse and full-flavoured album to date. Flexing from his signature heavyweight dubstep to drum & bass, UKG and all emotional shades and styles in between, the album features collaborations with S.O., Hedara, Queen of Hearts and CoMa and showcases ENiGMA Dubz (AKA James Vine) on a whole new level to anything he’s done before since emerging in 2007.
Last featured on UKF.com in 2019 discussing his roots as a classical musician, and how nights like Subdub woke up his inner bass beast, James returns to the site to reveal more about the new album. Since we last spoke he’s enjoyed some of his most prolific years as a musician, despite the world’s dancefloors being out of action for much of it.
From scoring documentaries to ghostwriting and producing with his new chill-out alias Itona, James isn’t just super busy, but super inspired, too. As you can tell from Awakening. Read on for the full tracklisting and the whole story behind it.
- Up in the Safe feat. S.O
- I’m a Ghost feat. Hedara
- Lost Souls
- Out of My Mind
- Bump in the Night
- ASMR feat. Queen of Hearts
- The Sunken Place
- And Then You Were Gone
- Afterlife feat. CoMa
- Dawn Chorus
You’ve been busy!
Yeah I’d say the last year of mine has been the most productive year than I’ve ever had. Which is cool considering everything that’s been going on…
Is that gig-wise, post July? Or production-wise?
Everything. I joined forces with a new manager in 2020 and things have gone from strength to strength since then. I got a publishing deal now which has opened-up opportunities to do a lot of additional production outside of ENiGMA Dubz and writing for people. Then for the ENiGMA Dubz project, it’s been all about the album which actually began in 2018.
Oh wow. I read something in the press release about you writing one of the earliest tracks while being stuck in an airport and finding a room that no one was using and spending hours writing in it? A very different sense of isolation to what we’ve had over the last two years…
Yeah that’s right. Quite a while before Covid, I was stuck in Munich during a massive storm and had eight hours to wait before my flight, I randomly found an empty room and I made the track Lost Souls there in the airport. That’s been on the back burner as a track I wanted to put out for some time.
How did you even find an empty room like that?
Know what I mean? I walked through the airport and found a door slightly open. No one was in there and they were really comfy seats so I thought, ‘Right, I’m just going to sit here until I’m told I can’t be here.’
Haha. That’s where this started then. So you’ve done five albums now. But it’s been six years since the last – does it get easier? Did you put yourself under any album pressure or was it a lot more of a slower, incremental build up to the final thing?
Everything I’ve done since the last album were all EP projects and didn’t lend themselves to an album project. This is the first album I’ve done as a full project with vinyl, real consideration into artwork and merch and everything like that. It’s really come together on another level to what I’ve done before.
You seem super inspired.
I’m never short of inspiration. There’s always something that will get my creative ideas going in one way or another. Plus it’s multi genre, so I’ve not felt constrained in any way. I’ve let it be a lot more emotionally led. On past albums I’ve done the odd D&B track and future garage track but there’s more of that on this album.
That seems like the theme of the album in a sense. There’s a great moment mid-way where you go from a beautiful D&B track (Out of My Mind) to a filthy dubstep track (Bump in the Night) to a sweet UKG thing (ASMR) That shouldn’t make sense, but it really does!
That’s great to hear man and, if you’re a new listener to ENiGMA Dubz, I hope you get the impression I’m never stuck in one genre or one lane and that my music reacts to emotions I’m feeling. It’s all bass music in one way or another. There’ll always been some low-end pressure in there somewhere and it all stems back from dubstep and garage days but that’s been the journey since 2007 when I was 18 and finding my feet.
Has lockdown been part of that? As in not strictly making tunes for the dancefloor. Although you’ve never been in that mindset much anyway, I think, due to your classic musical background…
Yeah that’s right. I’m a big listener, too. I devour new music. But of course I do love playing sets and I want to see people really enjoying what I do and kicking off to it on the dancefloor. So on the album around four or five tracks are made for systems, but I always want them to be enjoyed away from big systems, too.
That’s the ultimate goal for any producer, surely?
Definitely for me. During lockdown streaming became a lot bigger, too, so I’m interested to see how that develops now we’re out of that.
You set a target last year didn’t you, for a million streams on Spotify?
I did and getting that was wicked, now I’m thinking what’s the next figure?
There are divided opinions on Spotify in the underground electronic music world aren’t there?
It’s a weird place. I get the opinions on the pay-out from Spotify and the feelings coming from the underground. But don’t hate Spotify users. They’re on there with no politics, just looking for great new music to hear. And to be in a position for them to find me is great. There’s so much music on there, I use it myself and every day I hear someone new that inspires me. I feed off it all the time and hear things that make me think, ‘This is sick! I need to get into the studio!’
Ultimately whether my music is downloaded on Beatport or Bandcamp, streamed on Spotify or Soundcloud – I’m happy people are listening.
Wicked. What’s the story behind the title Awakening?
I’m always on a journey with music and I’m always learning and developing. Awakening is where I’m at as a producer. It’s me looking at what I’ve done, where I’m at and where I want to be as a multi-genre artist in this next phase of my career. What’s dope as well was when we sent the concept to the artist Emily Dayson she got it straight away. When she sent over the artwork me and my manager were like ‘Wow’. She was totally on-point. It’s amazing.
That’s great. Awful question but what’s your proudest moment on the album?
Out of My Mind, I think. As soon as I started making it, it just came together so naturally and then it was a case of refining to where it needed to be. Pretty much every track was like that in a way – they all began with a four hour session where the idea was sketched out. And what’s great is that all the tracks were finished 12 months ago so we could park them and let them settle before coming back to them. It began as 30 tracks, so we picked the best ones that worked together and I was most happy with.
So like the best of the best. What’s interesting then, if these have come about through four hour sessions, is that you must have a way of dealing with those sessions when nothing comes? When inspiration isn’t there. You don’t feel dejected when you haven’t achieved anything or you wouldn’t go back in…
100%. The one thing I always do is always finish an idea. Even if I think it’s not working. If I push through that struggle it will often lead to more creativity. Quite often when I’m writing with other people, outside of my own artist work, I simply can’t stop. I’ve got a job to do and it’s not a case of ‘Am I enjoying this?’ I’ve got to continue and finish the track regardless of how I feel. So that’s influenced my mindset when it comes to ENiGMA Dubz stuff. Plus, I like to keep it varied. If I wrote 10 dubstep tunes back to back, I’d start to feel a bit stale.
That’s a wicked mindset, man. How much can you say about your other production work? Do you ghostwrite? And how far does that take you out of your comfort zone? It almost seems like taking yourself out of your comfort zone is your comfort zone…
I love it man, I love trying new things. I’ve done a bit of ghostwriting in the past, but now it’s a lot of co-production and I’m credited. A lot of things are in development so I can’t quite say what they are, but one thing I did last year was a soundtrack to a BBC documentary with Paul Merson about gambling. That was classical meets electronic, film score-like stuff.
Wow. How does that work? Is that like game scoring where you provide stems which can be extended or edited depending on the length of the scene? Or are you sent scenes to write to?
It was a scene-by-scene basis. They knew the colour palette of the scenes so they’d say what type of mood it would need and I’d write for each scene. It was a really cool job and to use the classical training I had in this way. I look forward to doing it again and it’s been a great diversion from things during lockdown. We also set up my label – Morii Records.
I was going ask about the label…
Yeah we’ve had quite a few releases out now, both as ENiGMA Dubz and as Itona, my other project. One thing I’ve learnt over the years is that the more of your material you own, and the more you control yourself, the more you get out of this. So we do everything ourselves and have total control, it’s been a really interesting journey.
Now is the time for independence! But there are certain points at your career to do that – starting off, labels are helpful. But when you’ve got momentum like you have, it’s the right time…
Totally man. And there are a lot of great labels I still love working with – Deep Dark & Dangerous and DUPLOC are labels I love for example. It’s great to collaborate with other people and do projects like that as well as releasing your own music.
Yeah man. And taking your time with it too. So this interview is to reveal the tracklist and announce more about the album. It’s released next month, and you finished it a year ago. You’re not hurrying or rushing anything.
That’s right. There’s no point in rushing it. We’ve got regular singles leading up to the release. So far we’ve put out Up in the Safe, which is the coldest track on the album.
Yeah that’s a lovely contrast on the album as the second track. From the opener Replicants you go into that and it’s heavy!
It’s all about the twists and turns, man. It’s like a reflection of my head. One day I’m making something soulful, then I’ll hear a drill tack and be like, ‘Wow, I need to make something inspired by this!’ Feed the beast, you know what I mean?
Yes! Love that description!
Yeah the beast is always in there. So yeah, Up in the Safe was the first single. Then Out of My Mind, the D&B track, is the second single, that was just released on Friday before this interview drops.
So at time of printing and announcing this tracklist, you’ve just dropped a grime track and a D&B track, but you’re generally known for dubstep. That’s a nice statement.
That’s what I want to do. Up in the Safe is a crossover track which I’ve been playing in my sets for a year now. It’s got that grime and dubstep feel to it that works in all different styles of sets. Then the vocals of S.O., who’s brought that US vibe to his style, it adds a whole other dimension to the track again.
S.O. is a sick MC. Cool to hear the influence of grime on a US rapper!
Yeah we linked up through my publisher. He’s so talented. He was born in Africa, he lived in London and he’s been in Texas for years now so he’s got those roots and that flexibility. There’s no one else like him, man.
Awesome. So what other singles rolling out until the release?
The third single is Lost Souls, which has been with me for years and I’ve had a lot of requests for. It’s 130 bpm, very atmospheric and trap influenced. Then then fourth single is I’m a Ghost with Hedara, which is a euphoric dubstep track. I haven’t done a track like that for years so that was a joy to write and a track that’s very close to me. And then after that it’s release day.
Wicked. And then I hear you’ve got another album’s worth of material after that?!?
Yeah I have. And some tracks on that list go back to 2016. They’ve been sitting in the locker, waiting for a release that’s meaningful to me.
What a time to be an ENiGMA Dubz!
It is mate. And the day after release we’ve got the album launch night in my hometown Birmingham with the Deep Tempo lads which I’m really looking forward to, with a stacked line up including Distance and N-Type.
What a way to kick off 2022 and what a way to spend your lockdown
Absolutely man. Onwards and upwards, I’m hungry, excited and inspired man.