Deep in the furthest, most disparate corners of the known bass cosmos, four lone crusaders have been exploring, creating, gathering data, making sense of life’s endless sonic possibilities.
Once a tight unit, mapping out uncharted territories in unison, for eleven years they’ve worked in isolation: developing hugely influential labels such as Exit, Bad Taste and Breakbeat Kaos and releasing records that have scorched the most polar ends of drum & bass from the exciting experimental depths to number one pop hits.
Now the stars have aligned once again, the four-headed behemoth awakes.
Or, to put it another way: Fresh, dBridge, Vegas and Maldini have reformed Bad Company UK and it’s a massive deal.
The act who gave us some of the genre’s most iconic records over the course of seven years, Bad Company UK founded at a time when drum & bass was experiencing its first en-mass commercial focus. Their mission? To distil that energy, that rage, that feeling that was in equal parts fun and dangerous.
Now, as drum & bass begins to poke its gnarly features out of another commercial chapter, it’s time to remind us of the genre’s original spirit and its most twisted, daring creative possibilities… All the while continuing to look dead-set into the future.
It starts with the free download release of Bad Company UK – Equilibrium, their first production together since 2005. It’s followed by two major comeback shows at Motion, Bristol (March 24) and fabric, London (March 25) and we know that there is more to come. But what will it be? What machines are they immersing themselves in to make it? And when the devil can we hear it all?
Bad Company UK – Equilibrium
Questions, questions, questions: We caught their first interview together since reforming (at the time all we were allowed to hear was two minutes of Equilibrium) and these are the answers we managed to get.
Spoiler: this is epic. Get comfortable, grab a drink, grab a snack, maybe even a full meal… Getting all four Bad Company members together to discuss their past, their present and their future was never going to be a short chat, this one goes deep.
Fuck the sterile stuff, it’s time to get back on the analogue, grit up the place and distort the bass! – Vegas
This is a moment. How long has it taken for us to get here?
Vegas: About a year or so. That’s when we all started talking and dreaming of new ideas. As the year progressed we found time to get into the studio and link it all up together again. It’s great to reunite on a friends level. That was important; the vibe flows into the music and that’s what we’ve always been about.
The biggest challenges must have been logistics and commitments, I guess?
dBridge: Definitely from my point of view because I moved to another country! That made things difficult but the way things are with technology we don’t all have to be in the same room at the same time to get things done. That said, the first thing we wanted to do was have that feeling of us all back together again in the same room, catching a vibe.
Maldini: We had to start this with all of us together on that original vibe. We were vibing when Equilibrium was being made last September or October. We knew we had something and I don’t think we could have done that remotely.
The first trigger point had to be a physical one. All of you in the same space, on the same page.
dBridge: All tracks have to start with all of us in the same room. No question.
Vegas: Musical energy happens in that moment.
dBridge: Finer details can be done remotely of course but we wanted to keep that original presence. It had been a very long time since we’d done that. From my point of view I thought ‘how am I going to feel about this? It’s been so damn long!’
Fresh: We’ve always said this from the start… We’re very different individuals with different takes on music and on life. It’s always struck an interesting balance in Bad Company. But since then we’ve all gone in our own directions even further from each other. We knew that would be interesting for us all. But we knew that, bottom line, we wanted to make music together. We’ve always loved making music together, we work together really well and we knew people wanted to hear us make music again. I think drum & bass kind of needs it. To me, a lot of the big talent has deserted the scene and gone the crossover stuff. It feels like that’s been done to the point it’s been destroyed and rinsed out and it feels like things need to be built up again from the ground up. It’s like ‘right, let’s make something to get people and the clubs excited again’. There’s some exciting things happening but it’s not like it was in 1999.
Maldini: It was a community. Everyone used to link up. Music House was at the centre of it; people would see each other’s reactions to tracks physically, not just read it from a message. It creates reality.
What I love about what we’re doing now, is that whole screwface mentality. That ‘what the hell is that? I just want to punch something or someone!’ No other music gives you that feeling – dBridge
It felt like a community from a music fan watching it all unravel at the time: all the little collaborations you did with other acts like Trace and Optical etc. A sense of people creating and a group mentality.
Fresh: Definitely. When D&B caught on in America around that time one thing people said to us was that they really loved the group mentality of it. Almost like the metal scene. That’s been a lost I think a little. A little disconnected. But it feels like we’re about to experience revival of that spirit; not just Bad Company but within other little crews in drum & bass.
Vegas: A lot of the music became quite sterile for a while. There’s a lot of robotic techy music. People think just because music is made on a computer it has to be techy, but a lot of the life and soul and the feeling of a human playing electronic music in machines has been lost along the way. Fuck the sterile stuff, it’s time to get back on the analogue, grit up the place and distort the bass!
Yeah it was that session mentality wasn’t it? No quibbling over half decibels or minor details for days on end, you went in and recorded and it and it was done.
Vegas: Yeah you can really polish the shit out of something for far too long. But where’s the life? Where’s the music? Where’s the human touch? I’ve been in a lot of studios and there’s not even a keyboard! It’s like ‘what are you going to do? Tap rhythms with a mouse button?’
Ha. But you guys are all still involved in D&B to different degrees. Some of you have labels. I feel there’s a tiny bit of genre-bashing here.
Vegas: There is amazing stuff going on! But not consistently.
Fresh: Anyone who tries to tell me that it’s like it used to be wasn’t there. It’s that fucking simple.
Maldini: And we’ve followed it through right the way to now so we’ve got a good judgement on it. But bring back the human error.
Fresh: It’s not about bashing anything. It’s about being excited about something else. Something that hasn’t been here for a while. Not just us. An atmosphere and a vibe.
The vibe is in the air! Dan is amazing; he’s made so much stuff for other producers, he’s a multi-instrumentalist, multi-talented artist. We always knew he would never stay within underground D&B forever. Vegas
Take me back to that time. What captures that era when you broke through in the mid 90s?
Maldini: The lifestyle. Music House. Without it, you wouldn’t have had drum & bass. It was the core of the community.
Fresh: It’s where I met Darren and Jason. Everyone was part of little cliques back then. Different labels signed different types of people. You had cliques and groups like in hip-hop. It was competitive but friendly. It was a special feeling and that has definitely gone. So going back to the bashing comment… We’re definitely not bashing drum & bass we just want to go back to that original feeling.
Vegas: We’re fucking loving it but we feel responsible to try and encourage a different approach to the music.
Totally. Poor choice of words, perhaps.
Vegas: It’s cool. But we do feel like sacred keepers of drum & bass. It’s meant a hell of a lot to us for all our adult lives. So maybe constructive criticism is a better choice of words.
Fresh: Obviously I haven’t really done much drum & bass lately. But I’ve never stopped loving it. And when I have made it, it hasn’t been super underground stuff. I’ve been on my own creative direction and doing what I want to do. So when my drum & bass was in the charts it was because that was what I wanted to do. Now my record label are asking me to make charty D&B because of the success of other chart D&B acts but I don’t want to do that. I’ve always done what I’ve wanted to do. I feel like I’ve done everything I wanted to do on that front, the time is right for Bad Company and there’s a space we can see in the scene that we need to fill.
Vegas: The vibe is in the air! Dan is amazing; he’s made so much stuff for other producers, he’s a multi-instrumentalist, multi-talented artist. We always knew he would never stay within underground D&B forever. Somebody said if you do the same thing again and again and again it’s a form of madness.
One of you said it! In All Crews: “If we did the same thing over and over and over we’d kill ourselves” A pretty futureproofed comment from 2002 right there. Was that the spirit that brought you together in the first place?
Maldini: Well everyone’s into music, that’s what brought us together. Drum & bass is one form but it’s very broad.
Fresh: Drum & bass fits our vibe very well but it was the rage in it that we all shared. Darren makes beautiful minimal drum & bass but when we’re in the studio together he’s twisting his face up like crazy.
Vegas: He smashes up bottles!
Fresh: He fucking loves it! And so do I! So a lot of people will hear my chart stuff and say ‘why haven’t you been doing this for years?’ But the same goes for Darren too.
dBridge: In some ways; we represent what drum & bass is. It’s many different things. Look at its birth and inception; it was born from so many different things, especially if you go back to jungle and hardcore and the records we were all sampling. We were all four very different people, bringing different ideas to the table. Sometimes we would clash but that was part of it; finding our way to something we all knew would work.
Vegas: Finding the centre. The equilibrium of four minds that come from different backgrounds and different parts of the world. That’s the beauty of the world man!
Darren… Tell me about smashing bottles
dBridge: Everyone knows what I’m about, what I like and what I do. But I love all forms of drum & bass but the one thing I really missed about BC, and what I love about what we’re doing now, is that whole screwface mentality. That ‘what the hell is that? I just want to punch something or someone!’ No other music gives you that feeling. And I only get that feeling when we’re making music like this together: music comes out of the speaker and I just want to smash bottles, it’s really that simple.
I think we all know that feeling! So let’s go back a bit… You said Equilibrium was made in September. But this new chapter of BC starts at Outlook Festival which was very early September. So there’s definitely at least one more tune ready, right?
dBridge: No that was the first one. We made it and I went straight to Outlook and Sun & Bass and played both. It just destroyed the shit out of the place.
I’ve yet to hear the full thing. I’ve heard 1m52s and, after pushing for weeks, I know that’s all I’m going to hear until it’s released.
Fresh: Correct. You haven’t even heard the second drop!
dBridge: That’s one thing drum & bass has definitely lost these days; the art of the second drop. Everyone is mixing so damn quickly that the second drop doesn’t even get a look-in. When I first played Equilibrium we got a rewind on the second drop! Seeing the impact of one of the old techniques we used to do is great. Hopefully we’ll start hearing more second drops in drum & bass.
Hopefully I’ll start hearing more Bad Company music than 1m52s! Seriously; tell us what’s coming out and when. We know it’s plural, it’s more than one tune. But that’s all we do know. What can we reveal?
Vegas: Not a lot!
dBridge: There’s music there. Trust me. It’s heading in the direction of something. What that turns out to be, we don’t know… From my point of view the most important thing is making the best music we can. Plural is the right word though.
We’re not going back to Digital Nation. We’re going back to the early 2000s, late 1990s. That rage. – Fresh
Okay but what kit is this being made on? And where is this being made?
Fresh: Keep on guessing man, these are trade secrets…
Vegas: We usually just sit in a field with a laptop and some solar panels. We’re working on the dust of the furthest star and a pot and a pan. And some sandpaper.
Coarse or fine?
Vegas: Extra coarse and ripped in half.
Okay, you’re original set-up is well documented. You had very little and what you had was pushed as hard as it could go. Now you’ve all got pretty expansive resources. But I’m wondering if you’ve limited yourselves on purpose to go back to the original BC spirit?
Fresh: Yeah, most of the time between deciding to reunite and making music was working out what we would use and finding that right balance. We wanted that classic feel but we didn’t want to go back too far. It still has to move forward. The best of both worlds. Analogue was a really key part of our sound and always will be. It’s the human error. It’s not supposed to be neat little lines all drawn out on a computer.
Vegas: Wabi-sabi, ever heard of that?
Vegas: The perfection of imperfection. It’s one of the most important things in life.
There is no such thing as perfection. Keep chasing it then you lose that original spark.
Fresh: Without going too deep, as human beings we find patterns beautiful. You look at someone’s face and it’s the symmetry that attracts us. We’re surrounded by patterns and symmetry so what’s really special is the imperfection.
Yeah. That realness.
Fresh: The realness!
One thing you’ve told me about before, Fresh, was the ideology you shared about the commercial backlash at the time. Was that shared between all of you?
Fresh: Back then or now?
Fresh: It’s coming around in a cycle again. Back then drum & bass had been picked up by major labels and there was definitely an element of us reacting to that a bit – re-establishing the underground sound. And that’s been happening again. It’s weird; people have always said they don’t understand how I could make such heavy music and have such a dark and twisted influence on drum & bass and make the stuff I’ve made in the last 10 years. It’s about chasing something new and different but when that new, different thing becomes recycled and boring it’s time to move on. People want to hear experimental, crazy, twisted shit again.
That puts you in a unique position Fresh; you’ve been on both sides of the coin.
Vegas: It’s a unique position for all of us and we’re able to present these sounds and ideas that we’ve loved forever to a much bigger audience.
A huge audience. More worldwide than ever.
Vegas: Completely. There was barely an internet when we first started. Or at least it wasn’t being used as it was now.
Everything has changed. Including your own music. I’m interested to know what you’re taking from the successes and experiences you’ve had since Bad Company UK 1.0 and how you’re applying to the new set-up you have now. Or whether you’re actively trying to ignore your experiences when you get back into the Bad Company mindset?
dBridge: You’re always going to impart things you’ve learnt. It would be impossible for us to ignore it. How that comes through in the music is very hard to define. You can’t listen to the new stuff and say ‘that’s Darren, that’s Jason’ etc. We’ve all learnt a lot and I’ve always loved working with people, I love learning from each collaboration. So to be away from each other and come back and find we’ve all got these new ideas and new technical skills is inspiring. We’re all good at different things and we all bring those things to the studio and see how they work together.
How about you Fresh?
Fresh: It’s weird. We’re in the studio making twisted shit and suddenly I’ll get a call from someone like Ms Dynamite or Dizzee Rascal. I love those dual worlds. But then people like Dynamite and Dizzee came from this world, so it’s not too far from the essence of this culture anyway. We get in our own flow. Any artist I work with regularly has a unique flow with me. Same with BC; we switch into that flow and it doesn’t take any thinking, it’s very natural.
Cool. Some have to be more natural than others though, right? What are your personal favourites? Or maybe tracks that maybe you felt got overlooked or slept on a bit?
dBridge: I always liked The Fear EP. Running Man was a cool track and I thought Halo was slept on a bit. People didn’t realise how limited that was – we were only allowed to press 1000 of those due to the sample we had on it. I lost it for ages and eventually found it in New Zealand. I was like ‘sick!’
Vegas: Four Days does it for me. We’ve told this story before but the moment we dropped it at The End and this dude went totally wonky. Me and Darren had to carry him out of the club! Seeing a man collapse from a tune you’ve made is a very strange feeling. His eyes rolled back, his tongue went to the back of his mouth and he just fell. Me and Darren looked at each other and went ‘fucking hell!’ and caught him before he fell to the floor. It was like a movie. It obliterated him. And also Time Trap is another personal favourite.
Fresh: For me it’s Ladies Of Spain. No question.
Maldini: It’s such a hard question. The Voice always hits me. The Pulse, too. We were pretty unsure about it; it was very smooth on the intro and a bit different.
Have you archived all of these properly? And can we expect updates or remixes?
Fresh: We have archived everything, but the parts don’t sound anything like what they do on the record. I remember a really big drum & bass guy wanted to remix us years ago. We sent him the parts and he called us up really pissed off saying they didn’t sound anything like what they do on record.
Maldini: Because we twisted up the sounds through the machines. I think one of the basses was actually a hi-hat.
Fresh: The main bass in Equilibrium is part of a snare actually.
Are you going to go over the old tracks yourselves or is it all about looking forward and creating something new?
Fresh: We really don’t know. Once you’ve made something that’s it, move on. We used to make new bits for our DJ sets but because of the communal aspect people would hear about it and ask us for a copy and before you know it a whole bunch of guys have it and it has to be released. We never made stuff to be remixed. Not by ourselves anyway.
Vegas: Having said that, we’ve had a few remixes done by other people.
Vegas: It’s all in the process. The one we can tell you about is Audio’s remix of Nitrous. It’s featured in Andy C’s Heartbeat Loud video in the car. Audio put it in his Ramlife mix, too. So that’s the closest remix to the finish line… And it’s disgusting. Big up Audio!
Wrapping up now. I got this real sense of intensity from the last few years of Bad Company; so many labels and projects and solo things and the beast that was Dogs On Acid. So much going on! Was your eventual split down to fatigue or intensity?
Vegas: It’s what we said earlier; you can’t do the same thing over and over again. So we were trying out new ideas and new projects to keep ourselves fulfilled.
Fresh: We needed to grow and get our ideas out of our system. Listen to what we’ve done since and it’s all very different. We’ve got that out of our system, we’ve got our own set-ups and contacts and can re-introduce Bad Company into our working lives.
Vegas: In that way it’s a better time than ever. We’ve all got our own things established. Dan’s got all his people, Darren’s got all his people, we’ve got all our people. There’s more to it now.
That’s really interesting about you all. Groups usually spawn one or two successful solo artists but you’ve all gone on to do big things and set up your own labels and crews and brands and everything. That strength of character and all those big ideas must have brought you all to each other in the first place.
dBridge: Jason and I came out of the Hardware thing and were looking for something new to do. Dan and Mick had started something and were looking to develop that. So yeah it was providence in a way. Me and J were going to do a project with someone else but it didn’t fit right. Inside The Machine sums up that time; one summer in 1997, no expectations, it just came together. It was all those elements of who we are as people and all our imperfections as much as any strengths we may have had. It was a unique time. We’re in a stage of our career now where we have nothing to prove. We can do this relative ease, we can just go into this and enjoy ourselves. We’re doing our own thing and we’re all happy with it. Let’s just have some fun; like we were back during Inside The Machine.
Fresh: We don’t have to compromise in any way. I think back to certain periods of Bad Company and there definitely were periods when we didn’t agree on things musically. And it’s those points that you can see our different directions starting to bubble out a bit. Like when I wanted to experiment with vocals, for example.
Vegas: One thing that gets me is when people describe Bad Company as techy. It wasn’t! Listen to the catalogue; it had all sorts of different ideas and sounds and styles.
Fresh: If someone asks us ‘what does a Bad Company tune sound like?’ Then I don’t think any one of us would reference the tracks towards the end our first tenure. We’re not going back to Digital Nation. We’re going back to the early 2000s, late 1990s. That rage.
Vegas: Before things exploded. Before our experiences in big clubs as DJs. Around 2000s it was all of us, all together. We knew what we wanted and knew how to make it work.
Fresh: Definitely. But if you go to more like 2005-ish with Shot Down On Safari then things sound a lot more ‘DJ Freshy’ and that wasn’t the core Bad Company sound. That’s when we stopped. We couldn’t make the sound we loved making together.
Was it amicable or was it rough at the time?
Vegas: We just moved on. It was a natural thing. There was no massive fight, we just got on with our lives. Girlfriends, families, friends, other interests. It wasn’t like ‘bye you bunch of bastards!’
Time for me to say that, though. Final thoughts or shouts?
Vegas: Much love to Gareth Databeats and Kloé at Bad Taste.
dBridge: Big up all the wave mechanics out there.
Maldini: Are we not even going to mention the gigs?
Of course… What’s the set-up there? Anything special technically?
dBridge: You’ll have to wait and see….
Is that code for something special or code for ‘we don’t know yet?’
dBridge: What did I just say? Wait and see!