Billain: drum & bass’s finest mad scientist


No one does D&B like Billain.

No one does electronic music like Billain.

From his genuinely unique rhythmic constructions (case in point: the kickdrum-less Autonomous or, more recently, the tripped-out jittering weird-out Kingston Drone) to the fact that he is writing a sprawling socio-political sci-fi saga with each release, the Sarajevo-based artist is not so much of a league of his own, but an entire universe.

Essentially I want to create the best – and maybe the only – drum & bass science fiction story ever told.

You need more cases in point? How about the fact he and Kodin sampled hundreds of cars to create the basslines on Feed For Speed? Or the mental genus of his Colossus EP that we tackled in our last interview with him

Ahead of the full release next week we caught up with Billain to unravel some of his internal and sonic complexities. Trust us, this one goes deep…

I don’t know if it’s because of the huge, unavoidable discussion in the news or not, but I’m getting heavy political comparisons with your story of Broel and the current refugee crisis…

Whether it’s now or the future, wherever there is social intercourse there will always be attempts to create balance and security. It’s survival of the most persistent ideas; it doesn’t matter what format the ideas are or what industry or culture they are being persisted in, the most persistent ideas will flourish.

Not necessarily the strongest or best ideas, then, but the ideas that are the most heavily voiced and fought for will win, for good or bad?

Yes. As society grows, things that used to be untouched – such as the idea of borders and control – are being questioned once again. So my concept isn’t totally inspired by what’s going on today, but it’s impossible not to have parallels and at least be aware of what is going on today… And what is going on in the far future world I have created in my story. Just as there are similarities between now and historic texts.

What I am especially inspired by, though, is the idea that one idea can become so complex. In this instance, earth’s problems – right now in reality and the problems in the future world I have created – are a miniscule grain of sand compared to the problems of the wider universe.

Yeah, it’s all relative. So all this universe started with Colossus didn’t it?

Yes, Colonize is two eons after Colossus. It’s a totally different guy but Broel, the protagonist, has a memory of the original guy who was in the ship going towards Colossus. It was actually Enis, the artist who did that artwork, who encouraged me to build on my concept and write the story. Colossus had three stories and left a big question mark… A lot of people wanted to know what happens to Colossus and I did too, so I made the time to write the story around the productions and create this entire world. A world that will develop with each release.

I’m fascinated by any sci-fi writer’s ability to create this level of depth in a fantastical universe…  Just elements such as the language and slang that is used or currencies, places or names. Do you maintain a dictionary so you have consistency within this dialogue?

I Google all the titles and names to make sure they have never been used before, yes. I invented the language with a little engine I developed too. It is meant to sound ancient and old and that will be consistent throughout the stories. The most important thing for me, more important than the language, is to build up the characters and really make them feel believable and for people to want to know more.

Well I’m sucked in. For instance… Chapter four isn’t out yet, but from the sound (and title) of Victory, I get the feeling that this EP has a happy ending. Or as happy as things get in your world. Am I right?

For now, yes, it is a happy ending. Some battles have been won but they won’t win the war because of the complexity of the universe and its problems. That is my mission: to extend the universe with such vastness with more EPs and the albums that there could never be a happy ending for any one protagonist. Essentially I want to create the best – and maybe the only – drum & bass science fiction story ever told.

I would say the only. So has anything tangible – besides your imagination – inspired this approach?

Kind of; the industry has become harsher to good ideas so we, as producers, have to be harsher with our creativity. It’s never been easier to release something but actually standing out is harder than ever. You have to be brave and really find something that has never been done before. I felt I did this with Autonomous. There was nothing out there that sounded like it at the time and it could have gone down terribly, but people appreciated what I’d done. I want to have at least one track like that on every EP. In this case it’s Kingston Drone… I want to create confusion and challenge people. I don’t want to be in a closed loop of bangers. From time to time I will always provide a banger, as long as it’s followed by something that has potential to be acknowledged as something different and exceptional… Not now but in the future.

It’s about setting benchmarks or new levels isn’t it?

Exactly. And every generation has different benchmarks or examples that, to new generations, feel old. But we can’t think about the future because we have to live in the present – the present is money, the present is survival, the present is keeping a roof over our head in this over-populated world. Drum & bass is a snapshot of the wider world. It’s feeding lots of mouths! Making a living off music is a blessing… We need to persist and fight to succeed but we can’t forget where we come from. It’s a very fine balance.

The currency, whatever culture, is ideas, though… Nothing can happen without ideas. It’s how we harness them and translate them. Ideas are a miracle of the human mind… They are there, right in front of your nose all the time, but whether you can find them before they disappear is another thing. But when you do execute an idea, and you know it’s exciting and original and worth caring about, then artists need to show teeth to the labels. It’s like ‘we can be friends but you need to listen to me right now… I’m about to tell you something you have never heard before!’ More risks, better scene – that’s the equation.

Feed For Speed involves some risks, right?

Yes. 80 per cent of the basslines are motors from different cars. All types of cars, especially dragsters from any race video we could find – especially spectator’s cams. We had about 300 different videos in my collection. It has four drops; I didn’t know which drops to apply so we fused all of them. It’s been two years in making, waiting in the dust for me to add different details. It’s one of the most complex FL Studio projects to date; 80 channels with 400 samples and so many instruments. We had to bounce a whole load down so my PC wouldn’t melt down!  The idea for a car tune has been in my head for a very long time. Motor sounds and drum & bass are a perfect fit…

As proved by the NFS guy on YouTube, too; Majestic Cousins…

Of course. And he’s right – in every Need For Speed game, every racing game, you need drum & bass. It’s the perfect match. He’s come up with the profound answer to the question everyone is asking: why aren’t there more good drum & bass tunes in racing games? So yeah I’m aware of him and I agree with him. He’s become a drum & bass meme! So yeah the title is a shout out to him too…

Props. So what’s next?

So much stuff. I’ve got some interesting ideologies and groove patterns that I don’t think I’ve heard before… But I’m keeping them close to my chest until they’re ready. But I can tell you I’m making an album which will have more courageous moves and make a really big statement… And there’ll be more EPs before then, and more stories around them. Keep listening!

Feed your speed: Billain’s Colonize story is on the Methlab Website.