It’s already being touted by some as a potential tune of the year: DJ Fresh & Buunshin – Dancing In The Dark has ensured everyone’s 2022 kicks off with an almighty kickass soundtrack.
Not just a humungous collabo or OG and new-gen, Dancing In The Dark also heralds the return of both DJ Fresh and his iconic label Breakbeat Kaos, the label that gave the world the likes of Pendulum and early career-defining tracks from the likes of Camo & Krooked, Brookes Brothers and Chase & Status.
Founded with Adam F back in 2003, but now just owned by Fresh himself, the label made a brief return in 2018 to mark its 15th anniversary with the Fresh, Macky Gee and Phantasy collaboration Civilisation, then a full compilation Junglesound Revenge Of The Bass. While these updates were new chapters in BBK history, Dancing In The Dark marks a whole new volume and will hopefully lead to a new slew of underground DJ Fresh tracks.
Currently juggling an intense day job that involves gene sequencing and artificial intelligence, his newfound life as a father and now back in the studio, we caught a rare moment of DJ Fresh’s time to find out more…
You seem at your most inspired when you’re spinning loads of plates…
Yeah it’s funny. I always say to my mum that I’m going to grow up and calm down, but whenever I do, I’m not happy. It’s like an unfortunate by-product of having a limited attention span and needing to find things to do all the time.
It’s also hard to find that middle speed too, right? It’s easier to be at 100MPH than anything in between…
I definitely find any other speed tricky. Some people work with that really well. I’ve worked with people who are happy to be really stoned for large swathes of time and play games and watch films. Sometimes I wish I could do that but I feel guilty when I’m just relaxing. Even at Christmas I’m drumming my fingers thinking, ‘I’m sure there’s something I’m meant to be doing…’
How has that changed for you as you’ve become a dad?
It’s changed massively. You get those days when the shit hits the fan and it’s all encompassing and it’s eating you alive, but then this little face smiles up at you and you realise that’s all bollocks really and nothing matters that much. When you’re very passionate about what you do, and it takes up your whole life, it’s good to have a hard stop and there’s nothing better than a child to cause you to switch off and actually stop for a moment.
Yeah it doesn’t matter what you do. When you’re dad, you’re just dad and that’s sick.
For sure man. And this actually takes us to Breakbeat Kaos. I was getting caught up mentally in so much stuff going around me in my day job, and a lot of people were trying to get me to do different things and pull me in different ways. I’m a people pleaser and I try to accommodate everyone, but it made me lose focus of what I love.
I thought about when I first made music as a teenager and I never had any thoughts like ‘this is going to pay for my house, this is how I’m going to support my family.’ You can hear that in the music from that time. It’s raw and has that energy. So I wanted to get back to that place where I felt that mindset. And weirdly enough that’s been taking all the grown-up stuff and doing that during the day – being a dad, working my day job, whatever. Then the music is this guilty pleasure late at night, just doing it for the love of it and no other intentions or motives.
Wicked! So this is the second label comeback. You had Civilization a while back, but this feels more like a serious comeback.
I think so. The last come back was a celebration of 15 years of the label. We had some new music kicking around and we wanted to get the music up on streaming platforms and it felt like a good time to reflect on what Breakbeat Kaos had achieved. This time it’s more about DJ Fresh as an artist and where better to release it than BBK?
When the label previously existed, we put so much promo into things with picture discs and different marketing projects that no other label was doing. I was constantly looking at the majors to see how they promoted the music and really champion it and get it out to people.
But when downloads took over from vinyl, you just couldn’t do that anymore. That period was very depressing and it felt like we weren’t going forward any more. That’s why the label went on ice when it did and that compilation was the first step to getting back to some structure.
Interesting you say that. A lot of people have been chatting about the picture discs you did. You really invested in vinyl as an artform – it was hard to see things devalue the music wasn’t it?
Yeah man but it’s constantly evolving and changing and now it’s really exciting with things like blockchain and different mediums. I feel excited about making music again and presenting it to the world in different ways.
For me to come back as an artist, it was always going to be on BBK and always going to be delivered in an exciting way. We will be doing picture discs and we will be investing in great artwork. I actually scrapped the first artwork we commissioned for this release because it wasn’t exactly what I envisioned.
I think Buunshin thought I was mental, but he said at the end of the process he was glad I did that. It really means a lot to me. I’ve seen a lot of people’s collections online – people’s bedrooms with the releases up on the wall. It’s really touching and it’s a responsibility to keep that reputation intact and not let people down. So yeah it’s exciting.
How did you and Buunshin link up anyway?
It was really random. I was vibing off making D&B again and I went on Twitter and said something like ‘I’m back in the studio again and looking forward to making new music.’ Buunshin hit me up with a message saying he’d love to collaborate some time. I was like ‘what the fuck’s a Buunshin?’
I checked his music, especially The Wall remix, and it was like ‘woah this is sick.’ He’s blown up a lot since then, but I liked how he wasn’t hugely known at the time. It’s always cool to collaborate with artists when they’re at the beginning of their journey. And that track was on the edge at Ferry’s comfort zone.
It wasn’t something he’d do on his own, and I’d never have made it like that on my own. It was a true collaboration – it’s got a lot of him and a lot of me inside it. It’s exciting. He’s the Noisia protégé, very cutting edge but I think most people associate me with more of the mainstream sound.
I’m not sure. Depends on age. I associate you with Bad Company but younger people would have been introduced by your mainstream stuff. The first D&B tunes they heard!
Yeah that’s right. So it was cool that we’d be able to cross both sides of the scene. There used to be a lot of elitism and snobbery in drum & bass, which has thankfully disappeared in recent years, but to come from opposite ends of the spectrum was an exciting factor for me.
Totally! So this kinda emerged under the cloud of covid. The first time we heard it was clips of Andy playing it in New Zealand. So did you do it all online?
No we hooked up. It was February 2020, just before the lockdowns. I worked with a few other people like Skantia and Annix and Turno and A.M.C and Rene LaVice around that time. We had a few ideas but this collaboration had evolved enough to have something to work with before covid kicked in.
Cool. So those other collaborations are what we can expect in the future on BBK?
Maybe. There are a lot of things floating around. I’ve been talking to other artists releasing on the label, too. Plus I’ve got some solo things I want to release too. I don’t want to be one of those guys who’s piggybacking on the momentum of younger artists!
Haha, I don’t think you’d ever be seen like that. And what’s exciting is that you’ve got such a far-ranging body of work behind you that it could go in any direction from Heavyweight to Gold Dust! What can we expect? Sounds like you’ve gone back to your roots…
It’s weird man. I haven’t even told my manager yet, but the next release is something I’ve given to one or two people and played in my sets and it’s going down well. It’s super hard and underground and dancefloor and no frills. But it’s mad because, as you say, I’ve done so many things.
When I got back in the studio it was almost overwhelming. I was feeling like, ‘Okay let’s do a Heavyweighty thing,’ then ‘Let’s do a vocal thing.’ It was like, ‘Which direction do I go in?’ Then I started doing gigs last year and that put me in the right headspace.
I got back in the studio and I felt like I did when I made my Kryptonite album which, to me, is my favourite album I’ve ever done. That body of work is the one I’m most proud of – everything fit this bigger picture and related to each other. And I’ve got that feeling again. I played a show at Motion the other week and played this new track which went down really well so that really inspired me in terms of where I want to be and how the other tracks I’m making will fit into that.
Like a bigger picture is starting to reveal itself to me. This is the sound of DJ Fresh in 2022. It’s inspiring, I just hope I have enough time to finish it all with everything else I have going on in my life.
How are the gigs going anyway? You weren’t going to do shows anymore, but your health must be good if you can play shows? That’s great news in itself!
Thanks. Well, I don’t have cancer anymore, which is great. But I’m on some pretty hectic medication and I’m definitely not 100% and unfortunately I never will be.
I have to ration what I’m doing. My manager understands the realities of the situation. I’ll never be doing gigs every weekend anymore so it’s about picking the right things and doing shows I’m excited about and line-ups I’m excited about. Special shows. So that’s what we’re trying to do.
There’s a lot of emphasis on the visuals, too. Like a proper show. Not just playing at any club that will book me. But it’s crazy, none of this would be happening if I hadn’t got into all the other things I’m into with the coding A.I and stuff like that. Weirdly it’s brought me back to a space where I’m making music that I’m inspired about.