Acting as one of the most respected envoys of the drum and bass scene for the last two decades, as a record label owner, DJ, producer, and the former host of Radio One’s drum and bass show, Friction has continuously epitomized the love and devotion that so many of feel towards our beloved genre of music.
Four years on from the release of his award-winning debut album, the countless hours that
the Brighton-based artist has dedicated to drum and bass now find themselves at the forefront of his highly-conceptual sophomore album After Dark.
Written around the concept of club life, a topic which many aren’t better placed to tell the story of than Friction himself, ‘After Dark’ perfectly captures the vast swathe of emotions that an individual can feel through the beauty of experiencing brilliant music live.
Conceptual, thought-out, and detailed from start to finish, the fourteen-track LP lands on Friction’s own imprint, Elevate Records, and features collaborative tracks with the likes of Pola & Bryson, Kanine, K Motionz, Poppy Baskcomb, A Little Sound, Shells, Emily Makis and Olah Bliss.
UKF caught up with Friction to discuss the concept behind his latest extended body of work in-depth. From the inspirations to the biggest challenges, read on to learn more about all things After Dark…
You’ve dropped your sophomore album so first of all, congratulations! How did it feel when you finished that final track?
It’s been a really long time coming. I said that after I made ‘Connections’ I wouldn’t do another album, but then I started thinking about the next one straight away. But then with COVID and lockdowns, I started to struggle with making it. I knew I needed to deliver something to the standard that I wanted it to be at, so I kept going and going and eventually we got there.
I’m relieved that it’s going to be out there and doing its thing now because it gets to a point when you think I’m never going to finish this. We’re there now, so I’m pleased and relieved.
I hope you got more sleep whilst writing this album than the last one…
Yeah, I actually did. During the lockdowns, I wasn’t doing any travelling or staying up late. I was just working in the studio and walking my dog most days.
As someone who’s spent so many years DJing and touring it must’ve been so odd! Like someone pressed pause on your life
I can’t lie, I got into that a lot. I’d make music, take the dog out, and chill. I know that a lot of people struggled with the lockdown, but for me, it almost opened my eyes up in a lot of ways.
In what ways?
For 15 years, I had gotten used to going somewhere and performing every week. Once that is taken away from you, you definitely appreciate it a lot more, but it also gave me the chance to do less and just talk to people more.
The album itself revolves around the theme of club life, so writing it during lockdowns must’ve made it even harder in a lot of ways.
Definitely. It was a big reason why I stopped and started it at times. I really enjoyed the creative process of the album, but getting the tracks finished this time around felt harder.
I can imagine, club life has defined your life and career! Could you even imagine what you’d be doing without it?
No. It’s literally consumed my life and continues to consume it all the time – it’s mostly what I talk about. For the album, I’d already written a couple of tunes and I had this idea in my head about the feelings that I’ve personally had at festivals and clubs. There are so many elements that make up club life, so many feelings and emotions, whether it be at 3 am in the club hearing a track that resonates with you or being at pres with your friends. I wrote ‘Remember’ in deep lockdown and I wanted to write a track that reminded me of when we could just go out.
There aren’t many people in a better position than you to write an album around this concept. You’ve been at the forefront of D&B for so many years, but was it ever an option for you to do something instead of this?
It’s hard to say really. When I was a kid, I actually wasn’t very good at mixing, but I always had that belief. This was what I always wanted to do, but I couldn’t have ever envisaged that I’d make a whole career from it and spend my time doing what I love. It’s pretty mind-blowing really.
What stands out for me is how you’ve captured the diversity of drum and bass’ club life through the sound of the album. Was this always the plan?
It was a really tough one because I wanted to be able to vary the sound, but sometimes you can write a project and vary it too much. I wanted to change the sound throughout the album and have those different emotions through the songs. I probably did overthink this quite a lot when writing it.
It must be very easy to overthink when writing an album! Were there many tracks that didn’t make the cut?
There have been about 70 or 80 tunes that have been in contention for the album. Some have even gone in, gone out, and then come back in again haha. In the world that we’re in musically now, where people want to seem to put a single out every couple of months, I still want to give something that people and myself will remember.
In this world where we’re social media obsessed, I wanted to focus on the art of the music and have a strong theme throughout.
With people’s attention spans as they are nowadays, it must be intimidating putting a big body of work out at once.
I’m guilty of it too, but luckily I have a great team around me that has helped loads. You’ve just gotta make sure that some tracks get out there before. It’s still 100% nerve-wracking waiting for it to come out though.
Fans will have already heard some of the singles, but are there any real standouts from the album for you?
I would say the title track ‘After Dark’. In lockdown, a lot of the time I’d be writing and the direction of the music could be a bit random. With this one, I’d written some chords and was already in contact with SHELLS, who’s the vocalist on this one. I played her the chords and then sent across some words that summed up the mood I was trying to capture.
She came back an hour later with some lyrics and had absolutely nailed what I wanted to capture. The tune encapsulates the vibe of the album as a whole.
If that song encapsulates the mood of the album, what exactly does club life means to you?
To me, it’s pretty much all I know. My life has revolved around club life. Since I was allowed to go clubbing it’s been everything.
Or even a little bit before…
Haha. When I was at school I had a bit of a baby face so even if I had a fake ID I wasn’t going to be getting in anywhere.
Was it Brighton that you were first going out in?
Yeah. I lived in Mid Sussex but everyone went to Brighton on the weekend. Some of the best times going out and DJing have been in Brighton. I love it.
What are some of those standouts for you?
There was a 1Xtra night in the Ocean Rooms and I played with SP:MC and Navigator on the mic. It was a mad combo and it was so vibey in there. More recently I played at On The Beach as well. That was a huge evolution of my Brighton DJ career, going from a small and sweaty club to playing in front of around 10,000 people.
Didn’t your son play there as well?
Yeah, he did – that was pretty mad. He got that call up last minute, so I rushed down there and saw him up on the big screen. It was a proud dad moment for sure.
Yeah, I bet. On the subject of your evolution as a musician, I know that when you made the difficult decision to leave Radio 1 it was to pursue your journey as a producer. Now that you’re releasing a second album, it must feel like you made the right decision.
100%. The six years I had at Radio One were incredible. Being able to take over the reins of such a prestigious show from Fabio & Grooverider was such an enjoyable experience. But, it just got to the point where I was trying to do too much at once. I wasn’t sleeping and doing so much wasn’t making me well. For me to elevate myself as a producer I had to let it go.
Six years is a big chunk of your career, so I can imagine how hard it is to leave behind for another chapter.
Yeah, it was, but I’ve always got that under my belt now. They gave me a plaque that’s in my living room now and I’ll always be able to look at that and be happy that I was able to.
Prior to Radio One, did you have much hosting experience?
I had a bit of experience with radio before doing the Radio One show, but not a huge amount. I’ve always thought that if you doubt yourself, you’ll probably fail. I think if you believe something and you think you can do it, that always gives you half a chance of doing it.
It’s about having the confidence to throw yourself in at the deep end.
100%. You have to back yourself. Like I said, when I first wanted to be a DJ I couldn’t even beat match. I was going to village halls playing disco nights on decks that you could barely mix on, but I wanted to get involved and you have to start somewhere. You have to just get amongst it.
Shogun, DJing, and Radio were a lot at the time, but I felt like I had a big duty to the scene. I really enjoyed having that responsibility. People were so grateful and that was something that made it really enjoyable. I got to the point where I enjoyed having that pressure, because, without it, you may not push yourself as hard.
As someone that was a DJ first and evolved into a producer, did you feel extra pressure to be making top-quality music off the bat?
Yeah. DJing is an amusing thing because I could have no sleep after travelling, but I’ll always feel like I can deliver in any situation. Production is harder because you’re always learning. There is always something new to learn, especially with the internet and social media. That’s what I love about production though. You can just be a sponge and learn something new every day. You can always improve yourself and that’s a beautiful thing.
I think it’s key to really put that time in. To any producer out there who is still learning the art – learn your software, learn your hardware, try and understand what everything little thing you do does.
Both of your albums to date have come out on Elevate Records, is there a part of you that wants to make an album more tailored towards Shogun?
Yeah, I think about it all the time. It’s really difficult because, with drum and bass, the range of sound is so big. You can listen to a big Wilkinson dancefloor track and then a deep minimal tune, they’re part of the same genre but they sound massively different. There are so many vibes. I’ve got it in my head to try a deeper project because I love all elements of drum and bass.
As an artist, it must be quite easy to feel pigeonholed into a certain sound.
I think it is. I’ve started a lot of projects that are quite experimental, but I probably get a bit of imposter syndrome and think that people won’t want to hear it. One thing I would like to do after this album is take a bit of a break and then experiment with some different sounds.
To end on a slightly different note, what’s one of your favourite non-D&B tracks?
That’s hard. I’ll tell you what, one of my favourites was actually a massive inspiration for the album was ‘Faithless – Insomnia’. The chords in that tune were the emotion that I wanted to get into the album. I’d call it dark euphoria and that’s exactly what I wanted.
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