If you came into drum & bass during the early 2000s (or earlier) then the name Commix is guaranteed to conjure strong memories.
Once a duo comprising George Levings and Guy Brewer, Commix entered the game at an exciting time when deeper, soulful and often more introspective sounds were leading the charge. Breaking out on labels such as John B’s Tangent, DJ SS’s New Identity, Fabio’s Creative Source and Doc Scott’s 31, Commix found their spiritual home at Metalheadz where, after a slew of crisp singles such as Urban Legend and The Perfect Blue, they dropped their immaculate debut LP Call To Mind.
Few D&B albums have stood the test of time so well. Home to evergreen musical monuments like the hurricane soul of Be True, the come-to-bed dynamics of How You Gonna Feel and the darker rollers such as Satellite Type 2 and dagger-edged two-step Belleview, its critical acclaim when it landed in 2007 still stands tall to this day.
Yet in the wake of Call To Mind George and Guy found themselves in a creative fug. Feeling that they were no longer able to persist with the signature of progress and development they’d made their own, the duo – after releasing a compendium of earlier work entitled Dusted – went their separate ways and pursued solo projects.
Music has never been about the career or money or ego, it’s about art and creating a solid journey through my life that relates through music. If it takes 10 years to come up with new ideas then so be it.
Five years later, George has found space, relevance and – most importantly – inspiration for development in the Commix sound. Now rolling solo, he’s about to drop a series of EPs throughout the year and deliver an album next year.
It starts April 1 with Generation EP 1. As well as two older tracks – Painted Smile and SpectraSoul’s remix of Commix’s 2009 track Justified – the comeback EP also features the first two new Commix tracks in several years: Deepdubs and Generation. We copped Generation, check it here and find out why now is the perfect time for Commix to return to drum & bass….
You’re back… But tell us why you went away in the first place.
Let’s put it this way: After Call To Mind, around 2006/7 we felt creatively drained. We always wanted to keep the Commix project moving and progressing, we never wanted to stagnate and rehash our ideas and it felt like that was happening. Everything we made after the album didn’t feel new enough or creatively removed from Call To Mind. We were working in the same way, using the same methods so we decided to step back and rethink how we made music. That took the form of us taking separate directions and setting up entirely different projects.
Guy did his own thing and I set up my techno project Endian. What I found was that I’d started delving back into the 170 realm and using sounds and textures I felt were relevant to Commix. Over the last three or so years those ideas have developed into a body of work which I decided to send to Goldie who was really into them. So I thought why not put them out? I’ve always loved drum & bass, it’s part of my heritage and upbringing so I knew I’d never turn my back on it.
Another thing I felt about coming back is that there’s more space for me in the scene. After 15 years of being in the industry I didn’t feel like I’d fit in any more musically. I wasn’t feeling the music that was coming out around that time. But I’ve noticed in the last few years that the scene has broadened again, you have artists coming in with other influences from other genres and reigniting a certain flame with the musical side of the drum & bass.
So we’re talking late 2000s… A lot Pendulum influence, lots of electro edges, the sounds were getting ‘bigger’ so to speak.
Exactly. It started getting too commercial sounding for me. I felt what I loved about drum & bass, the essence of what I was trying to modernise and bring to the forefront was being put on the back burner. In the clubs we were always in backrooms and smaller venues and it just felt like the sound Guy and I were really excited about wasn’t exciting anymore.
Was the critical success of Call To Mind a factor in this? Had you set a benchmark you felt you couldn’t hit again?
No I totally disagree! Obviously the feedback and support we experienced on that album, and legacy we left with it, is amazing but I’d like to think I’ve got many more albums left in me. I’m always trying to progress and develop. Guy and I talked a lot about artists like Aphex Twin and Radiohead and how they reinvented themselves so drastically. That’s such an important thing for artists and it involves complete paradigm shifts in your approach, ripping down your studio, selling it on eBay and starting again. Learning new equipment, expanding, listening to different things you’d never heard before, finding things in your life that aren’t DJing and writing music and adding new colour to who you are and what ingredients are in your life.
I often think about my discography and what I’ll leave behind when I hang my boots up and I want it to be a solid body of work that doesn’t stagnate. Music has never been about the career or money or ego, it’s about art and creating a solid journey through my life that relates through music. If it takes 10 years to come up with new ideas then so be it. I’ve learnt this over the years the hard way; every time I’ve done something strictly for the money I’ve regretted it.
Can you tell me about those regrets?
One or two remixes really. The odd thing here and there. You need extra money, you do something that doesn’t quite fit but you force it. We felt after Call To Mind we were going down that road a little.
What did you do for money when Commix finished, then?
I was a chef before I got into music and I got back into that. Food is a huge passion for me. So I got involved in various food businesses and pop-ups. I’ve also always written library music and music for advertising and teach music. So those things have always supported me. I like not having to rely on my art for money. I’m grateful for any royalties and payments and fees I receive. To think my art can make any money is a very special feeling for me. Plus teaching and working in food are both very social too, which is a very important balance to the solitary work in the studio.
Let’s talk about the result of those solitary sessions, though. Painted Smile… I felt that was always too good for free download status.
It was our decision to do that. Like I say, it’s never about the money and it was a way of saying thank you to the support. You never know how people will react to a track so I had no idea it would be as well received as it was. I’ve had hundreds of messages to release it on vinyl so here it is. It’s funny, I feel like I’ve used it twice now to help bring attention back to Commix. It’s great to see it mastered for vinyl and out there in people’s physical collections.
Let’s chat Generation…
I wrote it after listening to a lot of Drexcyia. I wrote this and a track called The Time, which will come on a forthcoming EP. They’re both on that similar muddy, textured vein. A slight continuation of Underwater Scene; moving further down that very stripped back Detroit sound without it being too clean and techy. I love the textures, basically.
There’s a strong backlash about the cleanliness of production right now; Krust discussed it with us, Bad Company discussed it with us…
I totally agree! I’ve been kicking back at it for a long time; I use a lot of analogue gear and I love dirty sounding music. I love it when you can hear the hum and the noise of the studio in the background. I love that human touch; you can’t get that when you work inside the box and spend days tweaking things. One of my biggest influences ever is early hip-hop. It’s rough and ready. That’s how I like my electronic music; to be a developed idea but not polished. It starts losing its soul. But this issue of finely EQ’d and super compressed production is something I’ve been talking about for years and years, it’s nothing new!
Amen. Deepdubs now…
Yeah, another textural workout. I love making music for listening to. I don’t want to 100 percent focus on strictly dancefloor music. Especially after my experiences in the techno world; people are a lot more experimental and really explore what they can do with their equipment and creativity. The album I hope to bring out next year will much less focus on the dancefloor and a lot of attention on those early sounds and textures of drum & bass that I fell in love with and how I can modernise and create something new from them. Early Metalheadz, Photek, Dillinja, Jonny L… But rather than modernising it for the dancefloor, I’m interested in using the sounds in different ways.
Check out an artist called Lee Gamble. He did an album that samples old jungle tape packs. It’s got no drums but it’s incredibly atmospheric and so textured. Pick it out and check it; it’s an inspiring album and it made me realise that there are a lot of fans of drum & bass who grew up with it and might be a bit older now and don’t go raving so much but still love that original feeling. I think there’s a lot of room for listenable drum & bass and my album will be focused on that. Of course there’ll be rollers, I’ll never quite writing them, but I do want to be more artistic about my approach and not be a slave to a big bassline.
Interesting point about time… You don’t fall out of love with D&B when you hit a certain age. I’ll love this when I’m 40, 50, 60…. As people who grew up in the 90s we’re one of the earliest generations to grow up with electronic music in this way.
Yeah we are, and that audience will grow and grow. There is a growing trend of really interesting deeper, more musical labels that nurture drum & bass which isn’t dancefloor exclusive. It doesn’t have to be dedicated to big raves. There are labels like Samurai and Hidden Hawaii and obviously Exit that has always been a solid stable of electronic music. Metalheadz have always celebrated that side of drum & bass too. Headz got me into that idea of textures and aesthetics in the first place and it’s what I want to explore creatively on my album. You’ll see that idea gradually develop over the following EPs, too. Of course there are some bassline rollers in the mix as well but the real focus – from now and in the future – is music…