WORDS

2019 According To… High Contrast

With a history that includes everything from working with Underworld and Danny Boyle on the Olympics 2012 opening ceremony to writing music with the likes of Marcus Intalex, Calibre and even Tiesto, you’d imagine every year is an exciting year to be a High Contrast. But we reckon this year has been even more extraordinary for the Welsh vibe maestro.

As you read this, he’s currently in the eye of a Grammy storm. His remix of Jorja Smith’s The One is one of five tracks nominated in the Best Remix category. He’s the first drum & bass artist to ever be nominated in the Grammys and he’ll find out if he won the award on January 27.

But that’s just a mere smidgeon of Lincoln Barrett’s year. This year also saw him develop his live band with another UK tour (including a return to Heaven, the fabled London venue where drum & bass was born and where Lincoln played regularly with Hospitality years ago) He’s also updated the cult Stevie Nicks-sampling Days Go By, bringing the track online for the first time in 15 years. But perhaps most excitingly he’s currently neck-deep on a classic hardware odyssey… Making a jungle album!

Currently tucked away in his lab armed to the teeth with the machines he could never afford or have access to when he first started producing 20 years ago, he’s on a mission to capture that raw, not-overthought or overly technical vibe that caught his imagination in the first place and can be found throughout his discography from If We Ever to Amen Sister.

The results of this current project are already evident: the rush-caked breezer Going Up dropped in time for a summer of sunny festivals while the brilliantly titled Snare The Blame landed earlier this month. If all goes to plan, it won’t be too long until we hear the album.

This interview was meant to be a recap of his year but instead it’s got us excited about 2020. Get up to speed while we wait…

Congratulations on the Grammy nomination!

Thank you. I don’t know how it got picked up, I’m not really sure these things work, but it was a very nice surprise.

Oh, no heads up in advance, then?

No none at all. I just saw the public announcement and started receiving a lot of tweets and messages about it. I actually thought it was a joke to begin with, but I looked on the website and there it was.

Did you have time to celebrate? I think you had a gig with your band around that time…

It was two days before I did that big Warehouse Project event. I was very grateful to get the nomination but didn’t really celebrate or anything. There was a nice celebratory vibe there, though. The MCs were announcing it to the crowd. I actually started to realise more how much of a big deal it was through people reacting to it. I guess it’s the musical equivalent of getting nominated for on Oscar.

Absolutely. And the recognition of drum & bass at that level too…

As far as I know it’s the first remix recognition of drum & bass on that level, which is quite mad. All awards at the end of the day are a strange thing. Not many of my favourite artists ever got nominated for a Grammy or Oscar.

It’s not what it’s all about is it?

Exactly. For me just making the music I love and enjoying what I’m doing and making that my job is all the reward I need.

Amen. It’s not just the Jorja Smith remix though, this year. You’ve put out a few bangers: Snare The Blame, Going Up. Kinda re-exploring your roots a bit aren’t you?

Yeah. It’s always been there. Going back to first album there was Amen Sister, the second album had The Persistence Of Memories, on Tough Guys Don’t Dance there was The Ghost Of Jungle Past, Tread Softly and If We Ever. That original jungle sound has been an inspiration for me, but it just felt like this year was a great time for it full stop.

Obviously you had S.P.Y and Chase & Status but it was the Sherelle moment I found the most inspiring. There’s a great buzz around her and her crew. I was living in London at the time and went to see her play and the new energy was inspiring. I’d been waiting for jungle to come back for years but I knew it had to come from outside of drum & bass. Sherelle’s not coming from the drum & bass world, there’s the footwork angle and a new flavour that’s not tied down by what we’re doing in drum & bass. It’s inspiring. I was also catching a lot of pirate radio in London with so much jungle, old tracks and new. I was inspired, when I got back home and got in the studio the first thing I made was Going Up and it set me on a path. Snare The Blame is the latest thing. These two tracks were part of an album coming out next year.

Album eh? Wasn’t expecting this news!

Yeah! I’m trying to use 90s equipment. I wasn’t using the Akai S950 back then, I was one of the early artists to work completely inside the box so now I’m living out my fantasy of being a 90s jungle producer and using floppy discs. It’s a new world…. Even though it’s an old world.

Cool. Have you invested in quite a few bits?

A few bits… They’re quite cheap on eBay because who wants to mess around with floppy discs and four minute load times? The S950 has that classic time stretch sound and I’ve been using that quite a bit. Just using the Roland W30 workstation, which is the same sampling keyboard that the prodigy used on their early albums. A mate of mine had one in his loft so I’ve been making use of it.

Legacy machines!

Yeah they’re great. The first mixtapes I ever owned were Hype ones from around 94 so using the kind of gear that made those tunes for me is inspiring. I’m enjoying this buzz I’m on at the moment and I’m trying to make a whole project out of the equipment.

That sounds like creative heaven for you…

It is. I feel like while there’s a lot of people making jungle influenced stuff today, it’s more reggae influenced. I love that jungle but it was the more melodic stuff, the Renegade Snares and Bukem style of jungle. I don’t feel that’s as well represented so that’s the vibe I’m trying to create. The pad sounds, the female vocals, that more atmospheric stuff. The stuff that inspired me right at the beginning.

It’s not the only music you’re working on at the moment though, right? I’m interested to hear the Bou collab!

Yeah I love his tunes. I think he’s just got that great ability to roll out tune after tune after tune. He’s got that raw talent. I imagine people wouldn’t think of us collaborating, but I love collaborating with people, you learn from each other and come out with something you might not expect. Plus I want to support the new generation of people coming through.

Does his position remind you of where you were at when you were his age?

Yeah I think so. The way he’s being very spontaneous and not getting bogged down in the technicalities of making a tune. He’s just going ‘bam’ and rolling it out. The longer you do this, the more you learn your craft but you get to the point where you’re too technical. I look back to when I first started out and all I had was ideas and enthusiasm and that got me through. That was more important than the craft. Bou has that. He’s amazing technically, too, but I don’t get the feeling he’s getting bogged down in it all.

Have you been too bogged down in the past?

Definitely. It was around the time when that shift happened and dubstep came through. There was a new generation of producers and everything was suddenly incredibly loud and super-produced and technical. I felt I had to catch up to that. I’d been working my own way and it took me a while to adjust. Now I’m out the other side of that and I’m not playing catch up, I’ve found my own way of working and now I can go back to equipment like the stuff I’m using at the moment just have fun experimenting.

And the band. You’re just finishing the tour, right?

Yeah it’s been great. It keeps building, the show we did in Heaven a while ago was the best show we’d done so far. I’ve got a lot of history with Hospitality – plus the venue’s history itself – it was special. There were new fans, there were fans who’d been there in the early 2000s. We did the live version of my Golddigger remix which I made specifically for the first time I played there. We did a jungle section with the new tunes and If We Ever. The crowd were amazing, they knew every lyric. It’s been a great experience, it’s completely different with the technicalities of the band. But we’re constantly developing and it’s evolved as it’s gone along. It’s got to the point where I can throw things in much more spontaneously. For this tour I’ve got a little handheld sampler and I can trigger sounds and do live time-stretching on. I’m looking at re-jigging my rig for next year’s shows so there’ll be new things for me to do on stage. The more you do, the more you learn, I think we’re in a good position now.

And the more you can adapt the show for different venues and crowds?

Yeah definitely. It can’t be rigid. It needs to suited to the space, and that’s what I do as a DJ. You factor in what the show is. Who’s on before or after me. Eventually as I get into my set I play what I want to play, but you do have to factor in these things as a DJ at the start and end of your sets and the vibe you go down.

Amen man! It was nice to see Days Go By finally make it onto the internet legitimately…

Ha. Yeah it took a while. Essentially it was just a bootleg but it happened to blow up. It was an interesting track. I can’t think of other tunes before that where the synth was the main lead.

Perhaps what John B was doing at the time?

Yeah, his trance and bass project. But I don’t think even that stuff had the big melodic lead line as the dominant element in the tune and the bass being subservient to it. I did it because I’d heard it in house and techno tunes which I loved at the time so was trying to bring that vibe into a drum & bass track. It seemed to lead the way for the synth-led drum & bass tracks, a sound that really took off in Europe with a whole generation of liquid producers who came through with more of a synthy sound like Netsky. But yes, it is nice to see that track back in rotation. It only took us 15 years to clear the sample problem!

Ha. Let’s round up. Who have you been feeling this year?

Obviously Bou and I was really happy to see Hazard back, too. I’ve always loved Hazard and I love his new EP. He’s not following anyone else’s trend. I’m excited to see what he’s coming up with next.

You’re a jump-up dark horse…

I’ve always loved jump up! When I first started DJing my favourite was Nicky Blackmarket. The two sides of my personality have been Blackmarket and Bukem. I’ve always been a massive sucker for cheeky bassline tune.

Basement Track!

Exactly. And the Has It Come To This remix. Also Green Screen on the B-side of Everything’s Different. There’s always been that side to me…

And a jungle side, too. Too early to say when the album might land?

I’m trying to make the tracks as fast as I can. I feel like I suffer from procrastination far too much. It took me seven years to finish Remind Me. But I made Going Up in two weeks, which is very fast for me. Similarly Snare The Blame. So I’m trying to keep that momentum up. Hopefully the album will be out early next year. We’ll see…

High Contrast – Snare The Blame is out now on 3Beat

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