Symmetry Recordings bossman, nostalgic junglist, serial collaborator, unique producer, prolific releaser, Facebook-hater: Bristol-based Break could be described in many ways.
Right now, though, the best introduction could perhaps be ‘the man behind one of this season’s most essential D&B albums’
Real talk: Break – Simpler Times is a consummate body of work. Exploring all the best corners of the genre we know and love; from the pristine classic Photekesque iciness of Confidential to the full strength gully of the Mad Hed City-focused Kill Dem by way of the sparkling Fats-fronted reggae roller Free Your Mind, Break’s third album positively demands your attention. And you’ll be glad of the time you invest in it.
He doesn’t do too many interviews. In fact he doesn’t do much internet chatting at all. For us this makes him all the more exciting as an artist… And gave us all the more to chat about when we locked him down.
Get to know:
It actually started with AIM back in the day. It would take up so much of my day. I’d be worried about not getting back to people and having loads of people hitting me up. It was such a vibe killer that got in the way of actually making music. When Facebook came up it felt the same type of thing but even more of a time waster.
The album…. You’re such a prolific artist, I wonder when you draw the line between singles and a larger album project?
It happens quite naturally. Half the album is tunes I’ve had for a year or two or even three. They’ve been tucked away and never come out. I hang on to a lot of things that I feel are strong that just need the right timing or a special vocal. I also felt it had been a while since the last album; I had a full-on year of singles last year so the timing for an album felt right, really. Actually it was originally going to come out last year! But I felt the collection of tracks wasn’t strong enough so spent more time working on it, making new bits and perfecting the older bits.
You must have been ruthlessly chopping, then?
Yeah, I had 20 tracks at one point but cut them down to 12. Some of the ones I chopped may come out as singles later, though.
I’m intrigued by the title. Is it just a nostalgia trip or more of a statement?
It was Kyo’s lyric that inspired it. When she sang it I thought ‘right, that’s a good album title!’ It’s hard to lock down a title; I’ve spent months going through thesauruses trying to decide on a title for previous projects. But yeah it is also a reminder of those old days. I’d been listening to a lot of old jungle records and missing that whole era. I loved that period in our music; as most people know I’m not a massive social media fan and how artists feel they have to use it. So it’s a bit of a very subtle political edge in that sense. Call me old fashioned but I still prefer talking to people face to face.
No Break Facebook page coming up in the near future then?
Ha! No. We’ve got a Symmetry Recordings page for the label but for my own personal releases I’d rather let the music do the talking and speak to people who I meet and know. It actually started with AIM back in the day. It would take up so much of my day. I’d be worried about not getting back to people and having loads of people hitting me up. It was such a vibe killer that got in the way of actually making music. When Facebook came up it felt the same type of thing but even more of a time waster.
Have you ever had moments when you’ve thought ‘can’t beat them join them’ and set up any type of social media?
There have been moments. I was really anti-YouTube to begin with as well actually. I couldn’t get my head around how people could share this stuff without people paying publishing. But then I have listened to loads of music on YouTube so I can’t be a hypocrite. And yeah, I’ve had moments when I’ve seen tracks get loads of hits and wondered if I should follow suit. But then you start wondering how many hits people have bought…
Unless it’s on UKF!!!!
Well this is it. And it is channels like UKF with proper communities and people who are passionate about it that made me realise that YouTube is actually okay. That’s why I’m talking to you now because I’ve had some nice support from UKF fans which I really appreciate.
Nice. We’ll move on from social media in a minute but I’m wondering if your proliferation is down to your lack of social media time – you just get on with the job you actually wanted to do to begin with. You usually put out a single or remix every six weeks… At least it feels that frequent!
It averages out to that type of release rate, yeah. Possibly it does free up more time for me to focus. I’m sure if you’re an organised DJ you can do it all; make tunes, play shows and spend time on Facebook. I’m just not that organised.
I’ve spoken to people who would beg to differ; Calyx, Xtrah and DLR have all told me you’re a very organised man in the studio…
They’re all being generous! I’m not organised at all. Organised chaos maybe? I definitely put the effort in but my folders are a mess, my set-up isn’t the best it could be but in terms of work ethic and attitude, I’m 100 per cent dedicated to making music by myself or with those guys or with many other people.
There’s a fair few collabos on the album. Kyo plays a key role in your music doesn’t she?
She’s an amazing songwriter and singer. We’ve done a lot of tracks over the years and we’re both in a band together too. For the album tracks we wanted to really look into actual songs but ones that don’t compromise on the dancefloor.
What’s this band you’re in? Excuse my ignorance!
Degrees Of Freedom. We’ve put out one track on Die’s Gutterfunk label. It’s kind of house, reggae, soul, disco… It’s everything we like.
Those lush organic intros on tracks like Love So True and Free Your Mind make even more sense now!
Those are definitely good reference points for the sounds Degrees Of Freedom make but whether it’s with the band or as Break I’m always looking to add that organic sound. I’ve always made hip-hop and trip-hop from an early age; I just don’t put much of it out and it’s not what I’m known for.
I guess the Bristol connection with trip-hop is strong… Was that the sound you grew up to?
It was… But I actually grew up in London! Both myself and Kyo moved up here about nine years ago. But it was the sounds and the vibes of Bristol that drew us here. Massive Attack and Portishead were a huge influence on me.
Would you ever release any of the trip-hop/hip-hop stuff?
We’ve tried to for years but it’s a tough nut to crack and I’m always trying to improve it. I’m sure it will come out eventually and when it does I want it to be as good as it can be. We’ve been able to put the reggae and house stuff out easier as we’ve got better links into those scenes.
Let’s talk about Free Your Mind on the album. That reggae intro and Fats’ voice are just awesome…
Fats is the man. I did my first gig abroad with him way back in 2001. I’ve been lucky to know him for a long time. No other MC sings like that; he just brings serious vibes! He knows what he needs to deliver to any track.
While we’re chatting collaborations: DLR… You also go way back with him, right?
I’ve just been over his house. We hang out a lot and have a lot in common. He’s great at what he does and there’s a lot of mutual respect.
Any competition between friends, as well? Obviously he smashed it with his album this year, too…
There’s a bit of friendly competition, sure. But that’s what I’ve always loved about drum & bass; everyone trying to do their best and outdo each other. People really pushing to make the next track better. It keeps everyone fresh.
That takes us back to the beginning; those simpler times we discussed, in this sense, will never be lost in drum & bass. The genre hasn’t lost that mentality…
I hope it never does. That’s what got me about jungle; the amen battles between us all – how sick is your amen edit? There are a few tracks with exactly that type of attention on the breaks that we had back in the day. The loudness war got in the way of that for a while; production was focused too much on engineering rather than the music so I’ve made an effort to move away from that and really focus on the music.
You strike me as a man who never got caught up in that war anyway?
Everyone wants their tune to be the fattest sounding, don’t they? It’s a hard one not to get involved in if I’m honest. Back in the vinyl days my cuts sounded strong; I had some priceless advice on how to mixdown for vinyl very early on. But when we switched to digital we all became guilty of competing in the loudness war. Hopefully the attention I spend on the organic sounds and the music balances it out…