No one is making drum & bass like Conduct.
Even at a time when it feels likes almost anything goes in drum & bass, a time when genres, artists and line-ups are merging, blending and fusing like it was 1997 all over again, Conduct still live in their own wholly distinctive musical world.
Rich in far-away titles and textures, strangely tuned instruments and sudden moments of pensive, enshrouding atmospheres that snap into brutal physical rhythms: at points Conduct’s music is the sound you might imagine wafting through Jim Morrison’s mind during his most cosmic moments. At others it’s the sound of drum & bass had it emerged from the actual jungle rather than jungle culture. It’s smoky, it’s swampy, it’s a smelted, tripped-out brew of mystic sounds both familiar and foreign and it’s been this way since their debut in 2013 – The Black Smoke on Bachelors Of Science’s CODE imprint.
Home on Blu Mar Ten’s BMTM imprint since 2015, it’s also been coming our way at a pretty prolific rate of late. Since June this year the UK duo – comprising Midlands-based Robin and London-based Chris – have dropped three of their most remarkable releases to date. Two prelude EPs (Takai and Matriarch) and their second album (Oma); the intense, perplexing and frequently spell-binding collection is every bit of the description above but with an added feeling of a solo stroll in the desert with nothing but a big ol’ bag of peyote. And, when you understand the circumstances in which the music was written, an added feeling of respect.
Delivered barely a year after their debut album – the still-stunning and crucially cinematic Borderlands – this latest body of work was written during life chapters Chris and Robin will never forget. Willing subjects to the mercy of escapism, immersing themselves in their art more than they ever have before, there’s a reason Conduct don’t sound like anyone else… Because they’ve used music, and the support of each other, to take them far, far away from everyone and everything else.
Cliches often tell us good things come from bad situations. This couldn’t be more apt for Chris and Robin. If you haven’t already heard Oma (or the two preceding EPs), you’d be wise to investigate. Here’s their story…
It feels like the pair of you have been out in the wilderness. This sounds like nothing else that’s happening at the moment. You’re in your own musical world. Even more than you were on Borderlands.
Robin: That’s exactly what we wanted. There’s no point in making things that sound like other stuff happening. We try not to think about anything else that’s going on or even what genre any tune is going to be.
Chris: I’m happy that it shows even more on this album and how much we’ve pushed boundaries in terms of tempo.
The last album really wasn’t that long ago in the scheme of things. You either must have already been working on it or cracked on instantly after you finished it?
Robin: There’s three or four tracks that were finished before Borderlands that have made it on to this one. Then we took a month off after Borderlands to clear our heads, refresh our ears a bit and then got straight into it. Most of the tunes were written in a month or two.
Wow. Is that because you’re apart so when you’re together you just do as much as possible?
Chris: Literally that. We’ll work as long as we can stay awake and do nothing else when we get together.
Do you find the more far-out ideas happen the more tired you get?
Chris: I’m not sure. Because there are two of us we take it in turns to control things. This allows us to take a breather from time to time and listen from another perspective. It’s a good way of preventing getting ear fatigue. It’s like a conveyer belt, there’s this flow between us, keeping it fresh.
So the conveyer belt for this album started with Matriarch, right?
Chris: It goes back to the Takai EP which came out a few months before. The music on that EP, the Matriarch EP and the album were all from the same period of time.
I was wondering if Matriarch was like the mother project. The point from where the whole album grows?
Robin: Yeah that’s it. It’s the prelude to Oma, which translates to grandmother. We wanted to make it really clear that it wasn’t some random EPs then the album. It’s all connected and cohesive.
You’ve thrown me with that translation! I found a Maori translation which means to run or flee. And with the track Escapism on the album I thought that all made sense. That urge to get away… Maybe from the dark time we live in? Or maybe escaping from shit in your life? Or simply musical escapism?
Chris: That’s bang on. Oma does have multiple meanings but escapism has been a very strong theme due to things that have happened to me and Rob in the last year since Borderlands. I had some bereavements in my family and I chose to escape from that with drugs and Rob was using music to escape a situation he’s found himself in. It’s a word we came across and it has so many meanings that all seemed to fit so well.
Wow, sorry to hear this. Robin, what experiences did you have recently?
Robin: I was forced to live in my studio for nine months. I had a massive flood in my block of flats and had to move out so I lived in my studio. It was helpful for the album but not practical due to having no bathroom or kitchen. I was homeless, my flat was fucked – everything was damaged. I hated it at the time but it was a blessing in disguise in the way we’ve come together and written this.
So this album I’ve been buzzing off for the last few weeks has come from some truly grave and sad circumstances!
Chris: Yeah it was an incredibly shit time to be fair. Really shit. For both of us. It’s a cliché but we’ve helped each other through it, bounced off each other and helped each other to face our problems and not run from them. We’ve been through a lot.
Was Chris Blu Mar Ten aware of this? Did you have help or support or did you work your way through these times and suddenly drop this mountainous body of work on him?
Robin: We did drop it all on him at once. Just a massive folder of 20 tracks and an explanation about what had happened. He was totally unaware of what we’d been going through.
Chris: We just went to see him and gave him the music, told him everything.
Robin: His reaction kinda made us realise how fucked up things had been and how deep we’d gone into this.
Robin I know you play a lot of instruments. I’m wondering if either of you have gone down the vocal rabbit hole – it feels like the right album to show that deeper layer.
Robin: Yeah I have. On Escapism and Shards and a few of the manipulated vocals on other tracks are me as well. It’s cool to have that extra emotional output in the album and an extra level of personality. Singing is such a personal thing to me, it’s fantastic to be able to do it on this album.
It’s a whole other level of revealing yourself isn’t it?
Robin: It’s taken me a long time to pluck up the courage to do it.
Chris: A very long time! He was very shy about it. Then when he plucked up the courage to sing I was like ‘what the fuck man? This is amazing!’ So we’ve worked from there. One way we’ve really come together is for me to write the lyrics he sings. So we’re both showing that personality. We’ve also got a few other vocalists who we love working with, too
Robin: Yeah on Water & Oil there’s a good friend of mine, Georgia May. She’s so talented and such a great person to work with and we’ll be working with her again. And there’s also a vocalist on The Rain It Come. He’s just called Rick. He’s not an artist he’s just my mate’s dad who has a cool voice. I wanted to record it and experiment with it. I’m interested to see how people react to it.
San Bushmen is a stand-out track for me. A proper WTF moment. You’re rich with references and have been since day one. You seem worldly wise and display an interest in a much wider picture in this way. San Bushmen really sums that up in a club context.
Chris: Yeah we wanted to capture the energy and power of a drum & bass track but in something much slower. It’s actually 110BPM. We wanted to bring in as many rhythms and ideas and see how they work in a club context. We’re happy with how it came out. It’s heavy isn’t it.
Robin: In terms of the worldly wise, thing I’m glad it comes across that way! But no we’re not particularly well-travelled. We read a lot and listen to everything we can. There are so many things to discover and explore and learn from when you step away from standard western theory and instrumentation.
Like the unusual tuning on the guitar in Deli Bal, for example?
Robin: We often tune strings to the song, rather than fit something to a traditional tuning style. I’m a big fan of those low tuned strings where it slaps the fretboard and you hear those big loose twangs.
Chris: There’s a lot of that in our last alum too. On one of the shittest guitars you’ve ever seen.
Robin: Sometimes the shitness of an instrument gives it that life and that special something.
What other tracks were you particularly happy with? And were there total cathartic moments that took you from the terrible situations you were in?
Chris: Escapism for me was certainly like that. Rob wrote a lot of it. And when he first played it to me I was like ‘what the fuck?!’ The guitar solos and everything about it hit me hard. It was so good. It wasn’t what I expected and still isn’t. It stands out from everything on the album, it’s significant. Omakia is another one.
Robin: I listened to the album for the first time in a while last night. I took a month off from everything so I could clear my head for the next project. I listened to the whole thing and I’m so happy with it. Happier than I thought I’d be actually. Escapism for me was very special, too. Having my voice and guitar on it, it’s very personal. It’s built with the idea of us playing live as well.
Live, you say?
Robin: That’s always an idea and something we want to work towards. Rather than DJ it out but act it out as a proper show. We’re looking into it now but we’re at other ends of the country it’s hard to work out when we can rehearse it.
How would you do it?
Robin: We think it will be 50/50 live and electronic. Because that’s what we are in the studio. I’m a lot more classically trained and acoustic and Chris is much more technical. We’d play to our strengths. It’s still very early stages but that’s definitely one of the next things we’ll be throwing ourselves into… Let’s see what happens in the future.