The darker, techier, heavier side of drum & bass has enjoyed yet another halcyon year….
Noisia, Dom & Roland, Emperor, Audio, Rido, Misanthrop, Neonlight, Fourward, MachineCode and many more have delivered impeccable albums. Bad Company have reformed. Mefjus and Emperor have collaborated again. The Upbeats are developing a new series of EPs. Optical has unleashed two volumes of classics and never-released dubs. John B went back to his techstep roots with Lava. We’ve had slews of toxic industrial funk labels such as Critical, Blackout, Eatbrain, Bad Taste and Methlab to name a few.
Cause 4 Concern Records has also pumped a steady flow of creative energy into the game with monthly dispatches from acts such as Impak, Subtension, Dub Elements, Inward, Hanzo and Randie. And they’re wrapping up the year with high tension double hitter from two of the label’s three founders Optiv & CZA: the tub-thumping Cell Dweller and hair-blazing Pitch Funk
Optiv (Ed) and CZA (Mark) comprise 66.6% of the longstanding, hugely influential act better known as Cause4Concern. With a discography almost 20 years long, the trio were at the forefront of a movement and sound that changed drum & bass as we know it. Alongside acts such as Konflict, Bad Company, Fierce, Stakka & Skynet and Ed Rush & Optical, Cause4Concern were an exponent in the darker, futuristic side of the genre that took shape during the late 90s / early 2000s and influenced many of the dominant names we love now. And still very much whittling that grizzly stick now as you can hear…
With releases on scene-shaping labels such as Moving Shadow, Renegade Hardware, Virus, Subtitles and Quarantine and stacks on their own label, Optiv and CZA have consistently and continuously fired shot after shot of undiluted and uncompromised D&B. Noisia have cited Cause4Concern’s influence in interviews in the past, as did DLR just a few weeks back on this very site stating “When you talk to the likes of Cause4Concern and Randall, who still very much get it, you learn so much; those kind of guys are so inspirational and important.”
With their new single due Dec 16 we thought we’d take the time to talk to them, too. Well, two of them.
What’s the score… Are Cause4Concern a trio or a duo now?
Optiv: When it’s just myself and Mark we go as Optiv and CZA but when Stuart’s involved then we’re Cause4Concern. That happens less and less these days. Not for any particular reason – just life happens doesn’t it? We’ve been doing this for a long time
Nearly 20 years now…
CZA: Almost. The label is 17 years old next January and we were writing a few years before that as N-Code and Troubled Mindz.
Back to the future. The drum rolls on your new single Cell Dweller knocked me sideways the first time I heard them.
Optiv: That’s what we wanted! It’s a showpiece… When a drum roll that big hits you, you know something big is coming. We were just trying out a new drum plug-in and this came about.
Live drums counter the techy and very rigid, techy, complex aesthetic aspect of the music really neatly. The Upbeats are kings of that.
Optiv: Agreed! It doesn’t sound so clinical and feels less like it’s come out of a drum machine. It’s all live drum plugins but the sound is reminiscence of how we used to do things.
CZA: Back in the day we’d be sampling funk loops. We still do now but couple it up with plugins and modern techniques. That natural funk is still there.
Speaking of funk… Are you guys comfortable with the term neurofunk?
Optiv: Not really no. I mean it wasn’t really coined when guys like us, Bad Company and Ed Rush & Optical and were coming through.
CZA: Stakka & Skynet and Konflict too. Them and those other guys were more established in the scene so they got labelled with neurofunk more than we did because we were very new at the time. To be honest the term drum & bass suits us just fine.
Optiv: We do understand that people need ways to describe the music and find the music they like though.
I think what the term stands for now is very different to what it did to begin with…
Optiv: Drum & bass changes, develops and evolves over the years and I guess the meanings do too. It’s been an umbrella term for a particular style and that style has developed and evolved so the meaning has too.
CZA: The funk side has suffered a little in that evolution. There was more space and less elements in the tracks back then so more space to move the funk around with sound. Tracks are a lot busier now which isn’t a bad thing but less elements almost always means more funk.
So let’s chat Noisia for a minute. Thijs has told me about the first big D&B night he went to – a Virus night in Tilburg in the early 2000s – where he took a minidisc player and recorded tracks that inspired him. He later found out that all the tracks he recorded were yours: Facelift, Peep Show and Synergy. Cool story.
Optiv: Well it’s very flattering to be honest. We knew they were fans at the very start of their career, if not before.
CZA: To take the time to take a minidisc recorder to a club is a bit of a mission in itself! It’s humbling to know that we had that affect. Didn’t Thijs tap you up on AIM all the time back in the day Ed?
Optiv: We met at a Blackout night in Utrecht. He was backstage and was asking me a lot of questions about things. That was just before they become Noisia. The first production of theirs I heard was a track called Silicon on Nerve Recordings, Paul Reset’s old label up in Glasgow. I was like ‘wow!’ and have been a fan ever since. It hit me on the same level that Ed Rush & Optical first did in the mid 90s.
Also like Ed Rush & Optical, they’ve taken a very complex sound to larger and larger audiences
Optiv: And done so completely uncompromised and with genius innovation. Huge respect to them!
How about your own innovation? Which tracks do you feel you’ve set personal benchmarks?
CZA: Definitely Peep Show on Virus and Carrier on Quarantine which we did with Fierce. They were pivotal releases for us and we could really feel things develop. With Peep Show we knew we had something big on our hands – we played the night we made it and it instantly kicked off. We gave it to Optical and suddenly everyone was hammering it. It was a great feeling. We’d been sending our tracks to Ed Rush & Optical for a while and this was the one that really sealed the deal.
Optiv: If we’re talking pivotal releases in D&B then Virus has to be top of the list. That first release – Medicine – blew my head off. I remember working in a record shop when this came in, I put it on out of curiosity and was like ‘my God! What is this?’
You both worked in record shops, right? Is that how you met?
CZA: We met through various events but had a connection or mutual affiliation through record stores but it was when I moved over from retail to distribution that Ed (Optiv) and I struck a friendship as I was selling him records every week. We knew we both had studios, we knew we had a shared interest in this type of drum & bass and I knew how easy it was to set up a label. So we pooled our resources and Cause 4 Concern Records was born.
That was a vehicle for your own material to begin with… When did you realise its potential to sign and develop new artists?
CZA: After two or three years we knew we had something solid enough to support our favourite new artists and guys we respected but Ed was already running Red Light.
Optiv: Yeah I set that up around 2003 and when vinyl was in its heyday we had Cause4Concern label and C4C Limited which brought newer artists through. Now they’re both rolled into one label but I still run Red Light which I bring through new people on then invite them over to Cause4Concern at the right time. To begin with a lot of it was mates like Black Sun Empire, Mayhem and The Upbeats but lately there have been some really exciting new names like Impak, Inward, Hanzo, Randie, Signs and many more. It’s a great label to test the water, see how it works and help to develop them.
All those new names you mention are European and you’re based in Switzerland yourself Ed – what’s your take on the mainland European dominance in D&B now?
Optiv: I think it’s taken guys like Teebee, Black Sun Empire and Noisia to really show the world that everyone can get involved. People around the world love music so people around the world who want to make it, should make it. As long as you’re talented, you will eventually get picked up. That’s one of the great things about drum & bass – talent does get recognised.
Your model of setting up your own label and not signing to any big labels is very similar to how a lot of guys, especially in the Netherlands, have done things lately. You were ahead of your time!
Optiv: Unwittingly, yes!
CZA: We had insight from the distributors and worked in different aspects of the scene and we were in the right place at the right time.
The right time is now… I hear you have an album en route?
Optiv: We’ve got a few collaborations coming out after the Cell Dweller single. We’ve got something with Pythius, a track with Current Value and yes an album! Don’t hold your breath for it – it’s looking like a release in the second half of 2017. But we have a lot of tracks ready, we’re testing them in the clubs and we have a title… What Lies Ahead.
Cool! So what lies ahead for drum & bass?
Optiv: It’s always evolving and developing, much more than any other genre I know of, and long may that continue. I get really inspired by new artists – they keep older artists like us on our toes.
CZA: Some of the sounds they come through with are incredible. Really next level stuff. And while we have that constant influx of new ideas we’ll always have a very strong scene.
Who’s keeping you on your toes the most?
Optiv: Tobax and Disprove spring to mind.
CZA: Inward, Hanzo and Randie – the Italian trio can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned.
Optiv: Aggressor Bunx
CZA: L 33
Optiv: We could be here for a long time….