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“Ask me about the future:” Drum & bass pioneer Peshay returns…

From Reinforced to Metalheadz to Mo Wax to Good Looking; Peshay’s name is sprayed all over drum & bass’s most defining chapters.

A dominant voice in all the genre’s many creative twists and turns from the early 90s right the way through to the mid-to-late 2000s: he was responsible for definitive and diverse blueprint tracks that have been referenced ever since; Piano Tune, 19.5 (with Bukem), Predator, his whole Miles From Home album. The list goes on.

But talking to Peshay, you get the strong feeling he wants to focus on the future. While he’s humbled about praise for his past accomplishments and contributions to the music, for him it’s all about what he’s about to bring. After years of studying music writing, composition and engineering – writing albums like the house/funk album Generation on Tru Thoughts, and last year’s Reflections – he’s returned with his own new label and is armed to the teeth with material.

It starts this month with Underground Vol 1 with fellow foundation artist Sense. A hyperactive happy slap of floor-focused tracks, it ranges from the sweeping disco vitality of Tell Me to the brute force damagement of Face Peel and captures the vibe he’s expressed for years; an artist who can dark you out one minute and have your skin rippling in goosebumps the next. But it’s what comes next that really seals this comeback deal. As well as the new label and new album, there’s a whole series of singles before he drops another album next May. Entitled Decades, it’s his most ambitious project yet. Underground Vol 1 is just the start. Here’s where we’re heading…

There’s a lot to talk about. Let’s start with the album…

There is a lot to talk about! With Underground I just wanted to strip things back to basics. I’m about vibes. I like vibes in tunes whether it’s musical, funk, hard, deep, dark. It has to have a vibe. It also has to have a groove. So I wanted to focus on both for the tracks. Vibes and grooves. Once we got all the ideas together and worked them out like a great big puzzle it came together really quickly. I think we wrote the whole thing in three months. And trust me it’s not always like that.

Yeah I know! So is that just a strong chemistry you’ve got with Sense?

Yeah we work well together. We’ve known each other for a long time and when we finally got in the studio it clicked straight away. I’ve never done a joint album with anyone before, so that was a really interesting experience. I don’t collaborate that much at all but I’m changing that. I’ve got a lot of new guys coming up on the label.

That must have been a big change from working on your own to writing a whole collaborative album?

Well I’ve always worked with engineers. I did for years anyway, so I’ve always collaborated in that sense. But I’ve spent the last eight to ten years learning how to do that myself. I’ve been studying the technicalities of production but also composition as well – writing and arranging and how music works. Hence the name Peshay Music because it’s not going to be constrained to one style. I’m trying to open things up, and open my mind up, to as many things as possible.

I think that’s evident in the last few albums you’ve done to be fair. Reflections, your last album, definitely showed the musicality you just mentioned. Before that it was a funk album on Tru Thoughts…

The thing is for me, I’ve got such a wide variety of influences. I grew up on electro and breakdance, house music, all these things long before drum & bass was even a thing. All the Detroit stuff. Kevin Saunderson…  

He invented the Reese! Absolute don!

He’s one of the greatest. The soul in his music is overwhelming. The Reese is great but that’s just part of it. I’m talking about his musicality and his soul, how he expresses himself. But he’s not alone, I can say the same about so many of these legends that set the foundations in disco, funk, soul, jazz. Everything that’s led us up to where we are today. I’m not a genre man. I don’t like sections, boundaries, what’s this and what’s that. Drum & bass will stand the test of time because it’s such a blank canvas that doesn’t see genres. It’s only defined by the tempo; it can include any musical elements whatsoever.

I think it was Photek who said drum & bass is a reflection of what the artist is listening to. That sampling spirit, fusing everything in the melting pot…

Exactly. And that’s what I want to do with this come back. I want to come back with more musical things. I know ‘Underground’ isn’t that musical. It’s club ready, but that’s just how the releases fell. The next release will be very different. The next one after that will too. I want to showcase my label like a DJ set; all the styles. The next release is me and a guy called VSY which is really musical. The single after that will be me and an artist called Sindica which is again really different to the other guys who Ive collaborated with. Then the next release after that is from me and a guy called KrazeMan and it’s an absolute monster and completely different again. Then the next one will be me and Sindica again and then two tracks with me and Steppa.

Loads going on then…

Yeah and after that will be my Decades album which is me showcasing everything that’s influenced me over the last 50 years. Jazz, electro, 90s house, soundtracks, all this kind of stuff and that’s where you’ll hear all my composition side and what I’ve learnt over the last 5 years. I might not have been releasing much, but I’ve been learning in the background and understand a heck of a lot more now than I did. I feel I can really express myself musically more than before.

That’s mad to hear because Miles From Home, for example, was hugely musical! It felt like you were conducting a live band when I first heard that…

Elements of Miles From Home were recorded live but they were put together in more of a programmed way but with Decades it’s fully live and composed. There’s some live drumming on a jazz track, there’s a lot of very talented musicians, it covers everything about me. I’ve never done anything like this before.

So Underground is a just a teaser. A starter course!

I like to call it the h’orderves mate!

The nibbles!

I’m proud of it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not showing what I’ve learnt over the years yet. This is my homage to the underground, the dancefloor and where I come from but anything is possible in the future. I want the label to have a reputation for surprise. I want people to see a new release and think ‘what’s it going to be this time?’

Do you think a lot of labels have lost that sense of risk taking and variety and play it a bit safer these days?

I’m not sure because I took a bit of time out from the music and haven’t been following labels. I do think, though, that if you’ve got good music – a good product, essentially – then people will notice and it’ll do what it will do. Maybe some labels have become more risk-averse, but personally I’d rather take risks, push things, challenge myself. I want to hear something new with every drum & bass track I listen to. That gets harder and harder the longer you’re in the game, so I’ve pushed myself to make those new things.

Yeah, to keep yourself interested!

Exactly. I want to make people go ‘blimey, didn’t expect that!’ I do agree there’s a lot of samey things coming out, I guess people do feel they have to play safe in that way. And, don’t get me wrong, this is a bloody hard industry and it’s unforgiving. So if that way of doing things is working for them, then great! But for me I think there’s never been more of an important time to stand out and do something different and go against the grain. There’s nothing wrong with diversity!

We need more of it!

I promise you now, Peshay Music the label will be the most diverse you’ve ever heard. Trust me every release coming out is unique. I’m going out of my way to make sure of this. I’ve taken a few years out to just learn and soak up the knowledge and really get it into my skin and become self sufficient to do this. One thing I’ve learnt is taking a step back helps you take many more steps forward.

And all that is paying off with the music that will come out…

Exactly. I wanted to add strings to my bow and not make music the same way I was making it before. My music’s always been quite visual and I wanted to extend that. Now I’m sitting here with hundreds of tracks on my hard drive.

100s??!

Seriously. I’ve not released anything, I’ve been properly focusing on my craft and trying to make the very best music I possibly can. And I’ll tell you now, it’s all coming on my label only. I’ve got an amazing team around me, some great musicians, the Audio Animal guys doing my mixing and mastering, I can focus on what I want to do, release it when I want to. I’m learning certain aspects about engineering and I’m also aware that other people can do it even better – that leaves me to focus on my sounds and my writing and everything and let other people play to their own strengths.

Is that why Underground hits a lot harder than your last album Reflections? Reflections sounds more like a home listening experience. Underground will hit hard in a club.

Perfectly put. Reflections was me reflecting over the 90s. It’s not mixed and mastered in such an aggressive way. It is more for home listening, you’re right. More of a journey to listen to. Underground is exactly what it says on the tin. I wanted them to mix it and mix it in that way, they’ve done a great job; it hits hard and that’s what I wanted to do. I’m back DJing again and I don’t want to be playing old school sets. I want to be playing up front music and my own music needs to be upfront too.

No more old school or classics bookings…

Totally. It’s not part of the plan. I have a lot of respect for old school, I love the fact those nights exist and for years I took those bookings but I want to be focused on the future. Playing old school and classics sets is not the right message to give out for me. I’m much more excited about what’s coming up in the future.

I bet you get a lot of fans who come up and request classics though!

I do. And I don’t know how I’ll deal with it when I’m only playing new things. But I respect people who want to hear those tunes. It’s a double-edged sword. One half of me thinks it’s great that my early music has that weight for people. But the other half of me wants to be in 2020 and be asked about what’s coming up. I get a lot of people writing me and telling me about the influence tracks like Piano Tune and Vocal Tune and early Metalheadz stuff had on them. Or how it changed their life. I’m honoured about that. It’s touching and quite overwhelming. I remember one guy writing from prison and saying how my Fusion album took him through a very tough time. That means so much to me. Something money can’t buy. So I do appreciate anything like that, it’s great but I’m truly focused on this time moving forward now. That was then. This is now. I’ll never forget where I came from but I want to make new memories. I want people in 2040 talking about a tune I’m making in 2020.

That’s an awesome way to end. Very positive!

I’ve never felt more positive mate. I’ve never felt more confident in the studio, I’m excited and inspired. I’m looking at events, we’re building up the label, I’ve got a lot of music to share and I want it to talk for itself. I’m excited to release it all and for you to hear it.

Peshay & Sense – Underground Vol 1 is out now on Peshay Music

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