“We went back to that freedom we used to have when we first started making music…”
For long-time readers, listeners and viewers of UKF, Calyx & TeeBee will be a familiar name… They’ve racked up approximately 30 uploads in the past 10 years on our YouTube channel.
Readers less acquainted with Calyx & TeeBee’s work will find plenty of material to enjoy for the first time. Having been active since the ‘90s as individual producers, the partnership has resulted in three LPs for RAM Records following their 2007 debut LP Anatomy. On top of this, the pair is responsible for a plethora of singles and remixes for artists as prestigious and diverse as Wilkinson, Mefjus, Break, Friction, and Spor.
We sat down with them to discuss their recent album, taking influences from outside of drum and bass, and how the genre has always been the soundtrack of the future…
So, Plates is finally out! That must feel good after three years of solid work on the project…
Calyx: It’s a great feeling and a big relief! The pandemic really carved into the release schedule for this album. We were doing this album very differently by releasing tracks individually, all the way up until the final album dropped. It didn’t make sense to release tunes which need to be heard on sound systems when they’ve never been played out and no one had the chance to play them out, so we realised we needed to put the release schedule on pause and wait until the world was coming out the other side! Most of our income comes from DJing these days anyway, because the likes of Spotify pay so little money to artists.
Was the album all ready to go before the pandemic, or did you end up changing what was on the album over the course of the pandemic?
TeeBee: Well, the pandemic changed a lot of things. However, the way we did the album, and why it’s called Plates, is because we decided to take away the pressure of writing an album away from the process. We wanted to write tunes which felt natural to us at the time, not thinking about anything else apart from where we would like to place it in the sets we play out. You don’t always think ‘I’m gonna make a banger’, or ‘I’m gonna do this’, so we went back to that freedom we used to have when we first started making music!
In doing so, we discovered that there is a lot of joy in not looking sideways and worrying about what anyone else is doing. We approached this project by just writing music. At any given time, we had two or three tunes to choose from which we knew we wanted to be part of this project. That’s just how we went along with it.
We were going to do things quite differently before the pandemic hit, but it wouldn’t have been very wise of us not to use the pandemic to better ourselves or make this a better record. We added a few new things to it, we took away things we didn’t necessarily thought fit, and we went back in on the mixes so as an album it sounds a bit more cohesive.
Calyx: As much as anything, you just feel stale about some tracks when you’ve written them three years beforehand. There were some we just wanted to feel fresh about. As a producer, you’re most excited about what you’re working on right now, not the stuff that’s been finished. That’s in the past, its behind you. The things you’re always buzzing about are the latest tracks.
So, with bringing in the new tunes, it wasn’t necessarily that we wanted to ditch one because we didn’t think it was appropriate. We had just heard them a million times and, to us, they felt stale and dated. When the pandemic hit, we had all this time on or hands so we thought we could reinvent some tunes and freshen up the album somewhat!
Teebee: I’m quite pleased with how it came out at the end of the day! It feels great to be able to just let it go. When you release something, it’s not really yours anymore. It’s everyone else’s.
Writing the album like that definitely produced some great results! If you couldn’t play out because of the pandemic, what inspired the tracks you made during this time?
TeeBee: Take Warehouse Days. It’s a track where you can sit there and reminisce about what it’s like at 6 or 7am when the sun comes up and you’re in a field! We just wanted to make some music that sounded like that moment and takes you back.
When we were young and started raving, the music was a lot less hard and there was a lot more diversity. It wasn’t so niche. Now, you get one stage for tech, one for jump up, one for commercial, and one for the dark ones. Back then, everything was under the same roof. All DJ sets had all flavours. I think the way me and Larry play, we always remember that from way back when, and we always try to go between all the avenues in our sets. We had lots of bangers during the pandemic, but we didn’t have that 7am beach in Spain one. So, we made it!
The pads on Warehouse Days, the horn sample on War Dub, and those lovely stabs on Made in Detroit all really give some old school vibes…
TeeBee: I wouldn’t call it old school, just the stuff that’s influenced us!
Calyx: I think what got us in to drum and bass in the first place is that it’s such a melting pot of influences and genres. Teebs comes from a hip-hop background and I come from a jazz and funk background. When we were first getting into drum and bass, in one set you would hear tracks which were influenced by classical music, or metal, or jazz… you name it!
Honestly, I think we’ve always taken inspiration from other genres rather than making drum and bass which imitates drum and bass. For us, that’s a bit of a turn off. You can feel the staleness of drum and bass which is trying to replicate the sound of a particular label or producer. The influences that went into tracks like Made in Detroit is what has always kept us inspired and fresh! When we start things separately and send them back and forth, we always try and surprise the other person with what we’ve brought into the music instead of just writing stuff which feels generic or typically drum and bass.
That’s what the spirit of drum and bass has always been about! You push creative boundaries by taking elements from the past, be that musical influences or older projects you’ve been working on, right?
Calyx: Yeah, exactly!
TeeBee: I think that’s something me and Larry do really well. We bridge the old with the new.
I’ve also noticed that you’ve done that with the classic Calyx & TeeBee sound on this album; reinventing and repurposing what was there before…
TeeBee: The only constant in life is change! For us to do the same thing over and over again would be really boring. For us, everything moves in circles and you pick what your influences are going to be. At the time, for me and Larry, whatever everyone else is doing, we will do the opposite because there is no fun in doing what everyone else is doing!
Calyx: We’ve never been bandwagon hoppers! Our sets have always been diverse. We’ve always been inspired writing all kinds of things. Some which are a bit more liquid, some which are bangers, some with more vocals, some which are deep instrumentals… and that was part of the motivation for releasing this album in a different format.
Each of our previous two albums on RAM would have three or four singles. All of the attention would go to the A-side of those singles; the tracks which we’re probably more passionate about wouldn’t get that time in the spotlight! They don’t get that ability to breathe as an individual release. So, with this album, we thought, right, it doesn’t matter if it’s a banger, or a vocal, or super deep… the nine plates that we released individually had its own chance. We just wanted to put out our own music. It meant that Warehouse Days had just as much time as a single as Anything for Attention, which would traditionally have been an obvious A-side single.
With this album, we just thought, ‘right, each track is going to have its own chance to be heard’. And it’s been much more rewarding or us! Every track from this album has had the chance to have its own exposure. Just like dubplates did back in the day! Individual tunes which were sought after and heard in peoples sets.
I guess you could say that you have taken a traditional approach to releasing an album and applied it to the modern day?
Calyx: Exactly that! We’ve had the buzz of constantly having a new track out and knowing that a lot of people are going to hear it like they would have heard an A-side on our previous albums.
It’s great to see that you are seamlessly blending the past, present, and future! However, it’s not unusual to see people deride the fact that things will never be like they were back in, say, ’92…
TeeBee: They won’t! But that’s alright.
On the topic of what things were like back then, why did you gravitate towards D&B at the time?
TeeBee: For me, I was there before it was jungle. It was the late ‘80s when I got into house music. Before that, it was hip-hop. Before that, it was rock. I just followed it!
Calyx: Pre-drum and bass, all I was set on was being a jazz guitarist. I played instruments as a kid. I was playing in lots of jazz bands at university in the early to mid-90s. I had friends who were really into drum and bass, and I started going out to raves and free festivals just as jungle was emerging and I loved it! It was this melting pot of all kinds of influences and it sounded like stuff from the future which you couldn’t even imagine! Even then, I didn’t plan on writing drum & bass. It just happened that a flatmate of mine said to me ‘look, you can play lots of instruments, can you play some keyboards and try and make a few drum and bass tracks’…
We did, we sent off a few demos, all the demos got signed, and suddenly drum and bass took over from jazz!
Drum and bass does sound like the future…
TeeBee: It still does… it always has! You can listen to records from the mid-90s and still get transported to another time.
Those tunes still sound like the future!
TeeBee: They still do. And they always will.
Calyx: Arguably, they sound more like the future than a lot of stuff today! I would recommend that anyone who hasn’t heard Grooverider Presents: The Prototype Years to go and listen to it and try and tell me that is any less futuristic than what’s being made nowadays. Still to this day, I think it is the most incredible collection of tracks and journey into the future. There were no rules. There was no ‘you’ve got to get to the drop within 32 bars’, there were tracks where the intro was two and a half minutes long! Tunes like Adam F’s Metropolis would get a rewind in the intro, because elements in the intro were so incredible!
Is the sound of the future something you’ve tried to capture in the album too?
TeeBee: I mean, not really! Our contribution is that we just love the music! We just try and represent it in the way we think it should be represented out of a respect for the culture.
Can you tell me a bit more about what you mean by respect for the culture?
TeeBee: For us, just to have been part of it for so long has been a massive privilege! When you are part of something that is more than just yourself, you have an obligation to represent the culture int the way you think it should be represented, and to also remember that it’s not yours. It’s for everyone.
Drum and bass is toying with its big commercial break. There have been tries in the past, and there are quite a lot of big-name artists being vocal about it and being quite unhappy, but at the same time I don’t think anyone has a decision or a vote where someone else takes their influences. We’ve all taken our influences from somewhere else. The only thing you can do is represent it in the way you want to represent it, and I guess we’ll continue to do that.
What do you think the future for drum and bass holds?
Teebee: Where the future lies with drum and bass is beautifully unknown! There will always some kid in their mum’s kitchen who no one told that sounding like Noisia is hard. There’s always going to be some kid out there taking advantage of technology. It’s bound to happen. Some of it is so far removed from what the original idea was, and that’s amazing! However, that’s not necessarily where I see the excitement, or where I see the future is… but that’s what’s so special about it!
Calyx: The future is really unknown. But it’s really reassuring to see this new generation of new producers coming in. Names like IMANU and The Caracal Project… some of it is garagey, some of it is footwork, some of it is weird electronica which just tends to be at drum and bass tempo. That’s what made us passionate about drum and bass in the first place! It can sound like anything and be influenced by anything. The only common thread is the tempo. That’s the one thing which makes drum and bass so unique. So long as it continues to be influenced by music which isn’t drum and bass, then the future’s bright.
Speaking of the future, what are your plans now the Plates project has been wrapped up?
TeeBee: We’ve just completed a couple other projects, including our first NFT project! But we’ll come back to that at a later point though… We’re always working. Right now, it’s all about getting back on touring! We have a lot of shows coming up, especially in America!
Calyx: Before the pandemic, in 2019, we had over 60 shows over there!
TeeBee: We have been working extremely hard for a very long time in America. It looks like things are back up and running there again, so, for the moment, our diary is looking very healthy.
Is there anything else you want to share with UKF?
Calyx: One more thing – during the pandemic, we realised, as a lot of producers did, that having all our eggs in the gig basket is a fragile career position to be in! During lockdown, Teebs has thrived and excelled at going in to mastering and I have set up an exclusive, bespoke music agency called Pitched Music Agency doing exclusive music for computer games, advertising, TV, film. Who’s to say there won’t be another SARS outbreak in 10 years’ time… we could be in the same boat again. In that case, more fool us for not having diversified what we do with our music and our skills!
Finally, big shout outs to UKF! They have represented all styles of our music since day dot.