2015 is shaping up to be something of a vintage for neuro-influenced and harder drum & bass. The return of Spor, the collaborative fusion of Noisia, Mefjus and Hybris, Calyx & TeeBee’s new material, Phace’s new album, Teddy Killerz first Ram EP… Each exponent helping to melt down the once concrete barriers between sub-genres, the list goes on.
One name at the top of that list is Current Value. A name that’s been synonymous with dark styles (and absurd sound design) for nigh-on two decades, this year has seen him appear on some of the most respected labels in the game; Critical, Blackout, Invisible and, most recently, Bad Taste.
Until last year the Berlin-based German (who operates informally as Tim Eliot) was more frequently spotted in the murkiest, most uncompromising techstep off-shoots. But, gradually becoming disenfranchised with that niche (but passionately supported) area of drum & bass, he’s found himself a new home in the neuro district of drum & bass’s ever-sprawling community. And his arrival, especially by those familiar with his older work, couldn’t be more warmly welcomed.
We caught up with Current Value to find out where he’s at right now. We weren’t disappointed…
Neuro has definitely come out of its classic phase and has gone into a more daring and harder sound. It’s technically profound. You either love it or hate it.
Indeed! More and more since I dipped my toes in the neurofunk business, so to speak. I’d been very busy before, but things have definitely changed since the Black Sun Empire guys asked me for tunes, then the EP happened, then Critical asked for an EP, then the Invisible stuff, then the Bad Taste EP. Things have definitely been on the up!
It’s like Blackout lit a fire that’s gone out of control!
Absolutely! There’s load more to come on those labels in the very near future too. Including an album. I was asked about it earlier this year. Of course I said yes, and the tunes started piling up from there. We’re just waiting on a remix and it should be out later this year. It’s been thrilling.
Great. It almost seems like the D&B world is finally catching up with Current Value… Or perhaps you’ve changed your pace and delivery while the harder sounds are enjoying more attention and you’ve both met somewhere in the middle.
The latter I believe. I’ve always done the neuro stuff but it never got the same attention as the Therapy and harder stuff did. I always felt obliged or pushed to do the harder stuff because that’s what people really enjoyed and supported. I met Milan from Black Sun Empire last August and we discussed the idea of me releasing tracks with them but I didn’t actually expect him to get back so positively. They really liked the stuff I’d sent them and it empowered me more and more.
I enjoy neuro much more than the harder stuff. That sounds a bit weird now because I was flying the flag for the harder style for a long time, and I think I was pretty good at it, but you can’t keep on doing the same thing again and again. And since the crossbreed stuff came along I was ready to leave that scene… I felt like it lacked some elements of musicality that appeal to me and I lost interest. Now I’m really inspired in a whole new way and feel like I can creatively flex in a fulfilling way. It seems like the network has opened up for me. There are so many collaboration invitations and exciting creative opportunities. It’s incredible. I feel like I can at once lean back and do more.
What an awesome position to be in. So what do you think would have happened if you hadn’t had that chance encounter with Milan and you were feeling jaded with the crossbreed stuff?
Good question! But I think this would have happened anyway… I’d already sent music to Kasra and Critical as I was really keen on Mefjus. I’ve loved Mefjus for a long time and thought why not send them a package of tracks? I was amazed when he got back with positive feedback and set up the Binary EP. It was a crazy time because both the Critical and the Blackout releases came at the same time but it all worked out well.
Very well. You’ve bigged up Mefjus in various interviews now. So who else in the neuro realms were really inspiring you creatively?
The Telekinesis stuff is really nice. State Of Mind, too; both their harder material and the more laid-back instrumental mellow stuff. It’s really interesting. Check their own remix of their track Bigger Faster Stronger; that simple melody and reese bass. That type of material inspires me to go even deeper, ease off the FM synths and get spacey!
I can kind of hear you playing with those ideas on Happy Mode on the recent Bad Taste EP.
Thanks! Actually Bad Taste are a joy to work with. They approached me and it’s like ‘wow, the Bad Company guys want to release my music!’ We sent bits and bobs back and forth and it developed into the Force Black EP which came out in the last couple of months… And hopefully more to follow!
Awesome. One thing I’ve noticed – regardless of label releasing it, or the type of sub-genre you’re exploring – is the consistent sound design you push. This seems especially relevant as samples become even more of a challenge and generally advised to avoid by labels…
Yes that’s true. I’ve just always enjoyed making my own sounds. I’ve just never been tempted to work with samples. That said, I’ve worked with some incredible producers who love samples. Some of them are incredible arrangers, others are incredible sound manipulators. I would say I’m definitely in the latter category and haven’t always invested the same amount of time on arrangement as I have the sound design. But you spend time listening to other producers such as Phace or Maztek or Mefjus, you get inspired and you learn a lot!
It’s all about the groove, isn’t it? You can make mind-melting noises all day long but if there’s no natural groove then it’s no dice…
Without a doubt. In the case of Mefjus, it’s the electro-y kind of sound. Like his drums; listen to those drums and you hear these crazy noises that shouldn’t be drums but just work! In my own work, I’ve found it most efficient to start with the bassline. The bass leads everything else I build around it. That’s very different to how I did things before when everything was led by drums.
Is this indicative of D&B at large? Are we all putting more emphasis on the bass rather than the drums?
It’s interesting. Neuro has definitely come out of its classic phase and has gone into a more daring and harder sound. It’s technically profound. You either love it or hate it. I love the harder jump up sound as well. A.M.C, for example, I saw him play at some Czech festival and saw how the crowd interacted with him and it’s like ‘fucking hell! What is this?’ It’s inspired me. It’s very exciting right now; we can all experiment and show what’s possible but still be in tune with what people play… Before now you would experiment and push things right to the edge and expect to be on the fringes but now we can all do that and play each other’s music. Perhaps this is a technical thing; programs and processing are so much easier. It’s a far cry from an Atari ST and sampler trying to work things out for yourself.
Access to information wasn’t there either…
Exactly. No tutorials or guides or anything like that. Now you can be told exactly how things work and get started. That said, you still need talent. That shit can’t be taught. You’re either born with it or not. And there are many people who have got those natural skills. Whether they’ll get heard is another thing. More people are striving for the same thing… Which makes the challenge of gaining any type of attention so much harder. I often wonder how I would survive if I was breaking through now instead of 15 or so years ago.
My favourite ‘gaining attention’ story of yours is the Bjork one. The fact you denied them a sample and, instead, made them new drums. That must have opened some crazy doors at the time.
Yes! They said they didn’t have enough time to get anything fresh done and really wanted the sample but I said ‘we’ve got the whole night, right?’ What I did for them definitely worked better than any sample! It would have been badly pitched and poorly positioned in the mix. The problem with that type of cross genre stuff is that the songwriters who adopt drum & bass techniques don’t treat it properly. It sounds like early-to-mid 90s stuff. But shit stuff from that era… Because we all know how good jungle could be back then when it was in the right hands. It also led to four official remixes of tracks from her Biophilia LP which came out through One Little Indian.
Okay, how about the current commercial success of drum & bass with producers who do know how to treat it properly taking the genre all the way to number one in the charts?
I think it’s all been very helpful. You need that contrast and you need that access point. When it’s done well, it’s a great entry into our crazy world. If you play a drum & bass record to someone who has never heard the genre before, they always say ‘oh that’s too fast for me!’ But if you have acts making poppy twists on it with vocals and big cheesy arrangements then people get it. They see past the speed of the music. That’s important. It’s part of the business. So why rebel against it?
I’m trying to imagine how a Current Value remix of DJ Fresh would sound like…
Ha! I’d have to listen to the stems first, but there would be melody, reese bass and two-step beats… Who knows? One thing is for sure; it would have to work in harder sets. Audio is very good at those type of remixes actually. I would love to rise to any challenge like that.
I’m sure a lot of people would like to hear you do it! So the last thing on agenda now is your project with Dean Rodell; Machine Code… How’s that going?
Very strong. We meet up every Wednesday and, almost every time, we finish a tune. I’ve been pushing things towards the bigger neuro labels. You can hear that with tracks like Airlock where it’s bit less about experimenting and more about pushing ourselves more towards the scene. It’s really exciting for us to be on Eat Brain with our forthcoming Terraforming EP and also Subsistenz, labels who do really daring stuff. We’ve got loads in the pipeline, too, and have really found our own sound.
I love Dean’s techno elements and what he brings to the studio. He’s a very inspirational producer. What is a shame is that I’ve found sometimes people have confused, especially when we’re invited to perform, Current Value with Machine Code but we are two very different entities who play and make very different styles of drum & bass. And why not? When you have as much material as we do, you can do this! It’s only a problem when you’re only making two tunes a year.
Yeah, that’s another consistency throughout your entire career so far… Proliferation! What’s your annual output?
I’ve never counted; I just work on music 24/7! Many people have said to me ‘man, you need to slow down!’ I do get that and I do understand intelligent promotion. So, actually, I have stepped back from the ‘release as much as possible’ attitude I used to have. But I have to have at least three EPs a year, maybe a few collabs and remixes. I’ve been on album a year for a long time and I still think it’s possible without losing impact on each release.
I think people sit on tracks far too much. It’s one of the old attitudes of D&B that remains intact since the dubplate days.
Yes, without a doubt. And now, with the internet, people know about the tunes so much quicker. There is a very fine line of getting people excited and actually giving people what they want. Which, to me, has always been much more important.