In Conversation with Calyx

After three albums on Ram Records and well over a decade of only being booked to play as a duo, it’s almost impossible to force our tongues not to roll straight into ‘and Tee Bee’, but force we must, as for the first time in sixteen years Calyx is releasing music as a solo artist, with his tracks Tempest and You Want It All coming out today on Critical Music.

Long before Calyx & Teebee, Larry Calyx was a professional  jazz guitarist until the universe introduced him to the unknown, futuristic sound we now know as drum and bass. Falling in love with the vast  diversity of emotion which could be expressed through drum and bass he started producing, and quickly built up an exceptional solo reputation, releasing tracks on Moving Shadow, Metalheadz, and V Recordings as well as many other celebrated labels.

 We caught up with a jet-lagged Calyx the morning after returning to his South London home from a stint of gigs in the USA to talk about his new signing, lockdown forcing him to diversify and how being angst filled can create the best art.

So how was America then?

I just got back and it was great as always – me and TeeBee have a great thing over there. We’ve been playing in North America solo and together for over two decades, but in the 5 years before covid we were touring there over and over again and we’ve built up a big following in so many cities. We got our new visas in May because they expired during lockdown and we’ve been out there every month since then. So we’ve done seven tours in as many months. It was like this before covid – in 2019 we did 64 shows in America. It’s insane how much support we have over there. It’s one of those territories where you’ve really got to put in the hours. You can’t just swan in thinking you’re gonna sell out nights and command big fees because you’ve had some big releases – you have to build each local scene’s word-of-mouth reputation with each show and it grows from there.

Do you tour state by state or the whole country in general?

There’s the odd trip where it’s a dream and the routing is logical but invariably it’s criss-crossing the whole continent which gives me massive environmental guilt. It’s just huge flight times and another downside is that you end up with no sleep because you’re up all night and then travelling all day. Especially in summer when it’s festival season because invariably it’s double flights, then a monster drive out to the middle of nowhere and then rinse and repeat. But I love it. It’s one of my favourite places to tour.

Do you think the crowds are the same as in the UK?

Yeah, it’s increasingly similar although almost every country has a unique vibe. It’s funny actually because in the early days of my career it was a pretty weird scene. They didn’t have big subby sound systems like we had in the UK and Europe. Even the dancing was different. People would just form circles all over the dance floor and have little break dancing circles, or do crazy shit with huge pieces of string and coloured gloves and mad shit that you’d never see anywhere else in the world. And then as time progressed, dubstep blew up in America, which meant that suddenly you’ve got all these clubs with incredible sound systems, and bass rigs for what was a huge dubstep scene and still is. But suddenly drum and bass is blowing up again as the hot underground bass subgenre, and loads of people are sort of leaving dubstep or moving on and looking for a new bass music genre that their 12 year old sibling isn’t into. You know it’s like that all over the world really – at different times, different countries go in cycles of popularity, where one minute it’s underground and increasingly seen as super cool, then it blows up. But then it becomes uncool and goes back underground again. That sort of ebb and flow is always going on.

So the last time I think you spoke to UKF you were saying that you started Pitched music agency. How’s that going?

Oh yeah, that’s going great. I mean, it’s exciting, super exciting. We’re building up more and more clients as an agency and it’s just got so much potential. I think that was one of the big things that came out of lockdown. A lot of producers realised we had all our eggs in this one basket – a conveyor belt of gigs and releases. Releases don’t really make a significant portion of income anymore after the death of not just vinyl and CDs, but even MP3s and wavs are a drop in the ocean of how people consume music now. You know, everyone just wants to stream. So suddenly when covid hit we were all thinking ‘what if I let myself end up in the same situation again if the events industry gets taken out like that’. So it makes total sense to diversify our income sources. And I’d found that when doing some music for computer games during lockdown as an individual, it was almost like I’m asking them to do me a favour – chuck me a bone & give me something to do, whereas in an agency with a great artist roster there’s so much more of a pull – whether it’s an advertising agency, TV network, film studio or a gaming developer – when you’re a collective and you’ve got all genres of music covered, the reach starts to snowball. We’ve got most genres of electronic music covered, but we’ve also got jazz musicians, classical musicians, we can fulfil literally any brief whatsoever.

In general, during lockdown it was just all about diversifying. So even aside from doing the bespoke stuff. I’ve been writing house music, half-time stuff, weird abstract stuff – whatever I felt like really. As the months went by and you know, the shows started to feel like a distant memory. It was like, creatively you just wanted to nourish yourself. And I just thought I’ve got to make something positive out of this and not just stay in my lane and focus only drum & bass. So having all that time in lockdown was like, well this week I’ll take a break from DnB and I’m just gonna fiddle with some weird shit, or write some house or some really non-categorizable stuff.

I feel like after lockdown a lot more multi-genre albums are being released maybe because people  just had the space to go and figure out what other sounds they like and…

Yeah, also not having that urgency of delivering releases to whatever label you’re with. So many of us producers are constantly busy. There’s touring and gigging at weekends or longer tours that take out most of a month, and then you’ve got a label sort of pushing you “where’s the next release? where’s the next release?”. Whereas going into lockdown, me and TeeBee were just building up towards unleashing an album, and we realised there’s no point in us releasing an album of what is essentially dance music when no one’s gonna dance to it in a club or festival or hear it on a proper weighty soundsystem. So we put the release schedule on hold and kept on writing new music. I’ve got an absolute mountain of music that I started during lockdown so the first thing that people are hearing from that is this Critical release.

In terms of releasing solo tracks again, it’s something that just sort of evolved organically with a whole load of factors that came into play. During lockdown we had this backlog of releases to complete our RAM album and they were put on hold until there was light at the end of the covid tunnel. Then we were locked away in our separate studios being creative but with our careers on hold with no end in sight. There were tracks that I was getting part-done before moving on to the next and other tunes that just evolved to completion as solo tunes. I think me and TeeBee have always strived to keep our output fresh and having done four consecutive albums together, it was just a logical progression for us to obviously keep writing music together but also make some stuff on our own. I think maybe to some degree, we had the pining for that feeling of completely uninhibited solo self-expression again, so it’s super exciting for us both to have some solo identity again. Then when we do our collabs we’ll be bringing that solo inspiration into the duo – which is what made our initial coming together feel so good.

Going back to how the Critical release has come about, I’ve built up a stack of music so I wanted to find a home for some solo tracks and for me Critical was such a natural and exciting choice!

So did you send them out to Kasra and he was just  like “Yeah”? 

Yeah, I gave him a ring and told him where I was at, and that I was sitting on lots of tracks both finished and unfinished. And you know, I just told him how I felt about the label, because as the years have rolled by I’ve become an ever-increasing, huge fan of Critical. For me, I find it really inspiring as a label in a similar way to how Prototype Recordings inspired me in the early years of my career. Because essentially whether it was sublime liquid or absolute rocket fuel tear out bangers or stripped-back minimal, it was all boundary pushing – what we used to call ‘future music’, and I get that feeling from Critical today. You know, from utopian to dystopian, there’s this huge spectrum of energy and intensity – they really cover it all. As they’ve evolved as a label and a collective, there’s no sort of narrow lane that they sit in. It’s just all boundary-pushing progressive music and it’s so diverse. So it made sense to me to send some tracks to Kasra and much to my delight he was actually bowled over and itching to sign them. So this first release is the start of some of these solo tracks coming out.

That sounds like there’s some more Calyx/Critical fun to be had in the future…

There most definitely is yeah.

Are we talking  EPs, LPS,  what can we look forward to? 

I’m certainly not thinking about LPs at the moment. I’m really just loving the freedom of just being able to write individual tracks that aren’t necessarily part of any sort of project. They just stand up in their own right and they’re their own entities. But, I’m open to anything. I’m actually keen on doing EPs, but again, much like LPs, they are kind of a dying format in terms of demand. They’re certainly not a dying format for me in terms of an artist expressing what they’re all about because there’s no better format for you to show your range and diversity. The beauty of an album is that you can express yourself so much more. But in this streaming age, the spotlight and algorithms want to focus on one track at a time and people tend to cherry pick the immediately obvious or immediately likeable tunes, whereas what I love about bigger bodies of work is that you get growers – tunes you grow to love more over time. This first release on Critical is a two tracker and even that enabled me to show two different facets of my production and what I’m into.

Yeah, they sound quite different from each other…

Yeah, and it wasn’t a conscious thing. It was just that during lockdown, I had the headspace, although not constantly as there were times when the headspace just wasn’t good. In fact, I will come on to that because that in itself can be actually really inspiring when you’re in a certain bad headspace. I don’t know why, but you know, angst tends to fuel some good art. But anyway, each tune was just me feeling creative and writing what I was feeling at the time. I wasn’t necessarily even thinking about dance floors so I guess the A Side was just me getting my bottled-up energy out.

And there’s a lot of energy in that track. 

It’s a real real face melter, then the B-side was me, you know, in a different month just wanting to feel ethereal and musically nourished so it’s something a bit more sublime. I mean it actually ended up quite… what’s the word I’m looking for? You know, it’s not super deep or anything, and it goes off when you play it out. But the essence of it is much more of a headzy vibe. The A Side still has musicality to it but there’s no doubt it’s a smasher.

It’s so nice to hear that you’ve really wanted to go there,  it’s worked out and Critical was the perfect fit. Listening to the release I thought, yes… this fits with the label so well.

It’s super exciting as well. You know, having not released a solo track in over 15 years. Embarking on a solo chapter feels like the early years of my career again.

Is it 15 years? Wow.

It’s possibly 16. I’ve not actually looked it up. There’s so many years and so many releases. It’s all a bit of a blur. I never look back at my complete discography to get a bigger picture and look through my journey in drum & bass. Like most producers, I’m always thinking about what’s next.

Follow Calyx: Facebook/Instagram/Soundcloud