Over 18 months since the first single was released, Xtrah’s highly anticipated debut album X can finally be heard in full…
Released on his own imprint Cyberfunk earlier this month, the album now sees the light of day following pandemic delays. Although, similar to many producers, there was a silver-lining for Yasin Xtrah – he was able to spend even more time in the studio, distraction and guilt free.
He certainly took advantage of the opportunity. We already know about his 3 month snare, and so it was always going to be the case that an album from him would represent some serious studio graft. The lockdown periods allowed for plenty of extra tweaking, testing, and ultimately some drastic changes.
Designed to be listened to from start to finish, it explores a variety of genres and styles – but maintains a consistent vibe of dark atmospheres and crisp, interesting production. This is what we’ve come to expect of both Xtrah and his label.
X does not disappoint. The tracks are detailed, and with every listen you’ll find something new – whether it’s a distant sample or a hidden layer. The production is tight but it’s nowhere near ridgid, with creative sounds that take you on a trip to his early days growing up, buying records, navigating the scene. You can hear the time and effort that’s gone in, not only during lockdown but as a veteran in drum & bass. Producers will be taking notes.
UKF caught up with Xtrah following the release, where he revealed more about what’s gone into his album…
In your last interview with us back in January, you spoke about a bit of a hiatus, and delaying your album due to the pandemic. And now, several months later, we finally get to hear and see the finished product. How does it feel?
It feels good! Although I’m happy to see the end of it, it’s been going on for a while now – but it’s a great feeling and I think it’s turned out really well. There’s always going to be changes that could’ve made it better, or worse, but at the end of the day it’s out there now. I’m glad I got to finish it the way I wanted.
With things opening back up in the UK, was this the prompt for you to release it?
I wasn’t necessarily planning on it like that, but that’s just how it happened. To be honest I just released when I felt I was ready.
It was originally held back due to the pandemic though, and I’m glad I decided to do that because I made a couple of quite dramatic changes that turned out to be really important – right when I thought it was basically done. Giving myself that extra time has really helped I think.
The pandemic got me thinking, ‘okay, maybe I can go back in on this one more time’.
Can you talk about those changes more specifically?
So there’s probably so many different versions of some of the tunes, that I’d have an album’s worth of different variations for each one.
Take for example Prima Donna or Need. I made some pretty big decisions about these ones, keeping the same core sounds, but making dramatic changes to how they originally were going to be released.
I still really like the other versions, and I want other people to be able to hear them. So I’m thinking about potentially releasing some of those – maybe via. Patreon or Bandcamp. It would be like a ‘progression album’ so you can hear how it grew and took shape over time.
Sounds like you’ve been busy tinkering and tweaking things. How has the lockdown experience been for you? More on the productive side it seems like.
Yeah I was quite productive to be honest. I’ve got loads more music I’m working on now, a few remixes and other bits that will be coming out later. But lockdown was mostly focused on getting the album done, as well as just taking it easy! What else can you really do?
I’ve tried to just stay relaxed because it’s quite a scary experience that we’ve all just been through. I’m glad I can put out an album that people can listen to and connect with at home or in their headphones – rather than it just being for the club. As much as there is stuff on there that could be perceived as ‘for the club’ – for me, it’s one continuous album, you’ve got to listen to it from start to finish.
Definitely. To me this sounds like an ‘album’ rather than a collection of tracks.
And I’ve started the next one! I think it’s going to be a series of three albums…
Oh wow, okay! I was about to ask about the themes in X, do you see that running throughout this series of albums?
Possibly, possibly, we’ll see. All I can say at the moment is that it’s definitely part of a series…
We’ll stay tuned for that. Can you tell me about the themes that you were trying to capture on X?
I wanted it to be something that represents the culture and music I grew up loving. I wanted to capture the atmospheres, settings, and other things that I remember that made me fall in love with the music.
I have memories of going out and buying peoples records, getting home and listening to it all the way through – really listening to the details of the tunes. This is something I was reflecting on when making the album, and why I wanted to make it an end to end listening experience, rather than just for the club. So I hope I’ve been able to create that for some people.
In terms of sound, HVRT was the tune that started the whole thing. That’s actually what made me want to do an album – and that tune set up the basic idea for everything on there. I wanted to try and take the themes from HVRT, and put them in different genres and tempos – while staying true to where I’m from, and what I love, which is drum & bass.
I think you’ve definitely achieved that – it’s a journey of tempos with drum & bass at the core. Does this tempo exploration represent anything about your future productions?
I’m not really sure! Anything can happen. But I’m just making what I love and I’m hoping that people will enjoy it. I’m getting a lot of positive feedback from DJs and other well respected producers, which is reassuring.
Do you approach it like ‘I’m going to sit down and make 140 now’ or does the tempo come afterwards for you?
Sometimes you can think you’re making drum & bass, and then it turns out those drums or those sounds would work better on a different tempo. I test out a lot of different stuff when I’m making music.
There’s some fantastic collaborative bits on the album – my favourite track is actually Scan The Planets with Sense – how did that link-up come about?
Well I’ve been working with Matty for a long time, I’ve known him for about ten years and always thought he was one of the best, as well as Code:Breaker and their Fathom Audio project.
We all first met through doing radio together, and we’ve worked on stuff together ever since. So yeah that’s how that came about, just through the scene, all working together and being friends for a long time.
With DRS [on the track Let Me Fall] it was the same sort of thing. I’ve gotten to know him over the years and we did a track together with Break back in the day. I’ve had that vocal for a while from Del, and it felt fitting to put it on the album.
So what has the reception of the album been like so far?
dBridge bigged up Dispossessed which was really nice to see. He’s someone who’s so well respected, and known for never making any compromises in his music, so I’ve found that really encouraging.
Everyone I’ve spoken to has been super positive about it actually. Although some have said it doesn’t quite sound like it’s for the club.
As you said earlier, many of the tracks aren’t designed for the club necessarily.
I mean I think it just depends how you mix, I can get through a lot of tempos in my sets. Not so much the slower ones if I’m playing at a drum & bass event of course. But at the album launch the other night, I went through tempos a bit and it was received very well. It’s just got to be the right occasion.
That must’ve been one of your first gigs back – where was it?
It was in Peckham. It was a bit of a listening party, with a lot of friends and close people. But yeah, it was one of my first gigs, that didn’t actually cross my mind until now…
Does it feel good to play out again?
Really good, and I’m looking forward to more of it. I’ve got a few shows lined up now with Hospitality and Playaz, and I’m really looking forward to doing festivals again, too.
But in saying that, I’m still thinking about how it’s been such a crazy, scary experience for everyone this last year and half. I haven’t attended any big events yet. About ten of my friends all went out to a big gig recently, and they all came back with covid. So I’ve been a bit paranoid after hearing that, I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t be going out just yet. I’m still looking forward to playing and definitely still taking bookings, but I’m just trying to avoid putting myself at risk as much as possible. It’s a balance.
Certainly a difficult balance for DJs – the need to earn a living but protect their health at the same time. In a post-covid world, are there any changes or developments you’d want to see in D&B?
I hope we can get back to the way it was. I just want to make music, push my sound, and hope to captivate audiences and connect with people.