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Robin Murray

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Insider Interviews #005: Ant TC1 & DLR

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Insider Interviews #005: Ant TC1 & DLR

If you know anything about drum & bass, you’ll know Ant TC1.

One of the busiest, most clued up and perhaps most influential men in the scene; not content with being a respected DJ & producer, Ant is head of artist management for the award winning Outlook and Dimension festivals, he’s Metalheadz manager and  the owner of Dispatch Recordings.

If you know anything about drum & bass, you’ll also be well aware of DLR.

A precision producer infamous for his technical details, DLR previously ran point with Octane (climaxing with the evergreen 2012 document Method In The Madness). He’s since gone on to chisel an impeccable solo career which is set to reach new heights with his debut solo LP Seeing Sounds. With public hype pledged by the likes of TeeBee and Noisia, it’s highly anticipated by DJs and fans alike and it’s coming our way on Dispatch.

A pivotal release – for both DLR and Dispatch – we collared the pair and got them to interview each other. They’ve been well acquainted for some time but have never had the opportunity to extensively pick each other’s brains – publically at least – until now.

Read on for juicy details on DLR – Seeing Sounds, industry secrets and the radically changing face of drum & bass.

Music most commonly isn’t heard these days unless it’s cleverly or intensely pushed and promoted. If I had jumped in a time machine twenty years ago and had a glimpse of what the scene’s like now I would’ve felt very shocked.

Ant TC1: I’ll start by asking, was it a conscious decision to make this album sound different to your previous work and did you have a concept for it?

DLR: I made a massive intention to simplify everything with this album. In the past I’ve tried to make everything sound as complex as possible but that’s actually not what I like anymore. I think it’s a harder sound for people to access. I fully understand that you have to present an idea in a palatable way for people to digest instead of serving it up with too many layers of intricacy. That’s why this album perhaps has a different feel to it, but aside from that, I think it’s a continuation from where I left off.

To begin with there wasn’t even a plan to do an album, let alone a concept for an album. I just had some tracks saved away before Ant said I should just throw them all together. All of a sudden I had a concept and a focus which allowed me to then create the album based on the idea of simplicity and stripping things back. Without that focus, it would have been a really hard and horrible process. I’m still trying to hit people with the ideas I’ve always hit them with; funk, space and something a little bit different.

Ant: I think what you also discovered when producing this album is that sometimes people just love a good roller; it doesn’t necessarily have to be really technical and flash, it just needs to make people dance. If you think about the commonly regarded “classics” in the genre, they are quite rarely complex tracks.

DLR: You’ve been part of drum & bass for the best part of twenty years now. How do you feel about the way the scene has progressed and how do you think everything’s going? 

Ant: I think the main change I’ve witnessed has been the rise of the internet. People like me used to go scurrying around record shops for white labels. I even used to try and buy vinyl direct from van drivers (who delivered the vinyl packs to the stores) at higher prices before they delivered the records to shops in Leeds just so I could grab them before anyone else! Fast-forward to 2015 and if you’re not completely throwing everything in the punter’s face via the internet, you can be perceived to be not doing a good job. Music most commonly isn’t heard these days unless it’s cleverly or intensely pushed and promoted. If I had jumped in a time machine twenty years ago and had a glimpse of what the scene’s like now I would’ve felt very shocked.

Whoever decided to price digital releases at 99p made it very hard for labels to make money from music, so instead we have to look at other ways to sustain – e.g. partially rely on label nights, merchandise and other avenues.

DLR: But overall, do you think the scene is better now or back when you first got involved?

Ant: It’s hard to say whether it’s better or worse, it’s just very different. A lot of artists get most of their music related income from playing in clubs these days because they’re not making much money from their music, so this in turn means it’s incredibly hard for promoters to make money, they more often tend to lose out. Music’s ‘success’ seems to be judged on how well it’s promoted now as opposed to how good it sounds, which is obviously not a good thing. However, drum & bass seems to have a better reach than ever; it seems to be the flavour of the month for all these ‘cool types’ people who dip in and out and there’s definitely plenty of depth in every sub-genre of D&B at the moment.

DLR: Luckily, I think good music will always shine through. If it sounds good it will have longevity no matter how it’s promoted.

Ant TC1: What are your future plans as an artist? Do you think you’ll always stick to the guise of DLR and are you tempted to produce different genres?

DLR: When I was younger it was never my aim to become a respected drum & bass artist but there was a point in my life where that all changed and it became my sole aim. I feel like I’m on the road to reaching my dream but because I’ve had a taste of lots of other genres and worked on lots of other projects I’m always looking at other angles and avenues.

I think it’s fair for fans to get upset with artists who diversify so much under one name, as it throws people off too much, there is so much scope these days that it’s easy to set up new aliases, and work on projects with a totally different feel. I have always enjoyed working on different types of music but I don’t plan to surprise people by suddenly making a traditional folk album under the name DLR.

This is why I have decided to work on other projects, using different names, for example I do a dub techno project under the name Oakm; it’s been good for me, as its freed up my creativity and allowed me to try and focus in on the ‘DLR’ sound and not feel this intense pressure to switch up what I am doing every day.

Ant: So are you saying you’re not strictly bound to drum & bass forever? Please don’t leave me! 

It’s a good sign when you can pick and choose to go to a D&B night and enjoy every persons’ set from beginning to end, that’s not something we used to all have back in the day.

DLR: Do you think the commercialised side of drum & bass is a positive or negative aspect? 

Ant: I used to have mixed opinions on this but now I just don’t really think about it too much. When I first got into rave music (which is what I was into before D&B ever came about) it was really cheesy stuff in hindsight and I guess today’s commercial stuff is the equivalent of that. To be honest, most of it isn’t my bag, but if it’s a doorway for people to get into the genre and discover the underground stuff then that’s great. I’ve talked to so many people over the years who were caught by something popular they heard at a festival or on an advert and from that they searched deeper until they fell in love with the deeper side of the genre. There’s a really healthy split in drum & bass at the moment which to me means that there are different nights everyone will most likely enjoy start to finish depending on their own personal taste, it’s a good sign when you can pick and choose to go to a D&B night and enjoy every persons’ set from beginning to end, that’s not something we used to all have back in the day.

DLR: Yeah I guess, although I’m worried that the split can be a bit unhealthy at times as there’s loads of money on one side and virtually none on the other.

Ant: I suppose, but the core thing you’ve got to remember is that it’s all about the music; whether someone gets it shoved in their face or they find it themselves, they’re either going to like it or not like it – it’s that simple. My perception is that the music is doing very well overall and it’s in a very good place.

DLR: That’s the most important thing, for sure.

Ant TC1: What made you want to write music in the first place?

DLR: It’s a common answer, especially on our side of the scene, but I’ve got to say Noisia because they’re such an incredible force and so impressive. In my opinion, they revolutionised the whole dance music scene along with Pendulum. I always try and stay away from ever thinking about Noisia or listening to their music because otherwise I try to make my stuff sound like their stuff and I lose my originality. Aside from Noisia, I always used to wish I could have been a Lee Scratch Perry type person in Jamaica back in the 70’s because that was some of the most revolutionary production and those guys were all about doing something different and something you want to do, which is what we’re kind of doing now.

Ant: Definitely.

DLR: The scene is reaching a financial critical point with everyone searching for ways to get more money to sustain doing what they do. How have you found it and are you remaining positive?

Ant: I think I’d probably be in this industry regardless of what I was getting paid to a degree because I don’t really see this as a job –  I love it and couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. We’re all in the same boat and we’re all learning different ways to survive from each other.

It’s no secret that over the years we’ve been pressing much less vinyl, which is where the profit was when the format used to be extremely popular, and we have instead (in more recent times) been selling more and more digital copies. This means that when I take a risk on a new artist these days, they’re not going to get much money up front because the release might not do that well financially, but I’ll always be proud of the music and do my best to ensure that it does as well as it can. I want to look back in ten years’ time and be proud of everything I signed to the label, I don’t want to look back and see releases that I only put out because I thought they would sell lots. Dispatch is a well respected label but being realistic it is still ‘underground’ drum & bass, which still has a very niche audience, so I am at that point now where I cannot afford to take financial risks.

DLR: But that’s one of the best things about you as a label owner – the fact that you do take those risks!

Ant: Haha, thanks, I guess… At the end of the day I’m doing something I love and getting enough to get by and that’s all that matters.

DLR – Seeing Sounds is out March 9 on Dispatch. Samplers are out February 23.

Pre-order and support.

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