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Dave Owen: Where UK roots meet US drum & bass future

Dave Owen isn’t quite a household name in drum and bass, but he should be. With a body of work that dates back to the early 2000s,he’s been consistently flying the flag for the genre stateside while making chinks in the UK drum and bass armor. Now he and a group of original U.S. producers such as Random Movement and Flaco are taking the lead as more fresh talent pops up across the country by the day. He’s in the perfect position to take the lead, though he doesn’t behave that way. He’s just happy to be producing the music he loves.

Owen also has the perfect blend of inspiration. Since he was young he divided his time between the U.S. and UK, and credits this split upbringing with his split musical influences; everything from west coast R&B and rap to UK garage. Now based in New York, Owen still spends a lot of time on both sides of the pond and releases his own brand of hybrid experimental liquid drum and bass which also crosses the pond with labels like Liquid V, Formation and Rubik, just to name a few. His latest track, surprisingly not a liquid tune, can be spotted on Randall’s label Mac 2 via the massive Pieces II compilation which includes Benny L, Shimon, Randall, Jaybee and MC Fats to name a few.

With plenty more locked and loaded, we caught up with Owen to ask a few questions about where he’s come from, where he’s going and what he thinks about how his own unique and sometimes experimental style fits into the current drum and bass climate.

Give us the Dave Owen musical origin story as you see it.

Well I spent a lot of time in both the UK and the U.S. growing up so I feel like it got a sort of meld in my influence between the drum and bass in the UK and then the R&B, hip hop and jazz in the U.S. Being exposed to dance music from an early age – you know in the U.S. a lot of kids were exposed to house and techno in Detroit and Chicago – but because of where I was living half the time for me it was always drum and bass. That was what was around at the time.

So it was just proximity then in terms of your influences?

Ha. Yeah, but I think it still took quite a long time for me to find my sound in terms of sampling the hip hop and jazz side of things. When I came up in drum and bass there wasn’t a lot of that around. I grew up with the harder sounds like in the mid-to-late 90s. At first I was trying to make tunes that sounded like Bad Company or Ed Rush and Optical because that’s what I grew up with. The techy kind of stuff.

Well that’s quite surprising given your current style or even your style throughout the years.

Yeah exactly! What was tough for me back then was in the 90s – Bad Company and Ed Rush and these guys, you know, to create the sounds they did they had studios full of crazy equipment. They had amazing synths and samplers and MIDI controllers and stuff like that. I was using like Kool-aid pro and Fruity Loops! So when I tried to make those kinds of sounds didn’t sound anything like it, obviously. I’d kind of like to dig up some of that old stuff and hear it now. It’s probably so bad.

So how did you get into liquid from techstep?

Well while I was trying to figure all this out the liquid movement was just starting to get going in the late 90s and early 00s, and because of where I was I had access to it really early on with Fabio and Grooverider and LTJ Bukem and all the other producers who were doing that. I mean it was always kind of around but still no one was really doing sort of the heavy sample-based stuff yet. But then when I started hearing people like Calibre and Zero Tolerance and Liquid V and stuff like that it was kind of like a lightbulb went off for me, like oh! I could do sample-based drum and bass with hip hop and R&B. Soul, funk, jazz…Stuff like that. And then that could tie in two things I was really influenced by. The UK dance music and then the West Coast style as well.

So what did that process look like for you?

Well it was quite involved. I had to go back to the hip hop and R&B stuff from when I was a kid and then find out where those samples were from like who did the original songs from the 70s and sampling that and then also trying to find the R&B vocals from the late 90s and sampling those as well. So that’s how I started was these little mashups with funk and R&B. It took a while but we got there in the end.

When liquid came around you realised you didn’t have to make every sound up on a big board and you could sample the stuff you loved and come out with a product you still really liked?

Yeah exactly and then that could sort of get me where I wanted to go. And then of course there were a lot of other U.S. producers who were doing great stuff at the time like Random Movement and Submorphics, Jaybee, Bachelors of Science; they were starting to make this sort of music as well and I guess I became part of that movement. I’m really thankful for that actually. Those guys weren’t huge at the time but it had a lot of influence on me in terms of the idea that I could actually do this. I mean Random Movement was and still is sampling some crazy things like prog rock even. So I realised it didn’t just have to be this one thing.

Taking that base and going through everything you’ve put out since, say 2002 when you really got going, how do you see how your sound grew or evolved to what it is now?

Well I got kind of experimental for a while there… I think it’s just been really fun to explore a lot of different sounds. I think at core people really just think of me as a liquid DJ and a liquid producer but if anyone’s heard me play in the last five to six years, I definitely don’t play just liquid sets. Sometimes I don’t even play any liquid full stop. I like to play all over the board, and now that’s starting to reflect in the production as well.

Do you think that now you’re comfortable as an established liquid producer it’s easier to branch out, especially as drum & bass is branching out as well at the moment?

Yeah I guess so. I mean I’ve even been doing some rollers lately with Jaybee, dipping into the jump up side of things, and the halftime as well. It’s actually really fun and inspires me more for liquid too because when you go off and experiment with these other styles, at least for me, when I come back to liquid I come back with all these different tricks and techniques. So something I may have been working on a year ago I come back to with this new information and it ends up sounding completely different than maybe it would have.

It pays to be open-minded to all the different genres.

Absolutely! I mean if I hadn’t been messing around with Jaybee on that jump up stuff I wouldn’t have maybe tried to put a wobble to a bassline in a liquid track. I think that’s what keeps it interesting and fun and keeps an artist’s music fresh, really. At least it does for me.

So maybe you could pull out that old techstep and neuro stuff and give it a try?

Yeah! I mean the neuro scene right now in Europe and really for the past ten years has just been insane. I just got to play at that Broken Balkans festival in Bulgaria with the MethLab and EatBrain guys like Jade and Disphonia and those guys are so ahead of the curve. Watching them work was probably the highlight of my summer and I hope to learn more from them production-wise and apply it to my own stuff as well.

So what’s coming up for you or what are you working on at the moment?

Yeah there’s so much actually. The big thing is the compilation with Randall on Mac 2 is finally out… I have a track on that with MC Fats and I’m really excited. It’s called Rollin’ and it’s a bit techy. Definitely not what a lot of people will expect from me so that’s kind of fun. We were really lucky to hook up with Randall for that. The next thing coming out is a tune with TRAC on V Recordings, also really excited for that and then I have tracks I’m working on with Los Contreras, Random Movement and NC-17. I’ve also got an EP in the works for Fokuz and working with Adred here in New York and vocalist Kevin King.

Any tours?

Yep I’ll be hitting Europe again in November and December. I think I’m doing Cologne, Geneva, Barcelona and Paris and a bunch of other dates. I’ll be happy to get back to the continent. I am trying to make more music from home now, though. Being a new dad I think my heavy touring days are behind me because I really want to spend as much time as I can with my family. Hopefully that translates to more tracks where I can experiment even more with styles. I think it’s a really exciting time for me and for drum and bass and I’m just so stoked to be part of it.

Zere & Gabriel Habit & Dave Owen – Rollin’ is out now on Pieces Session II via Mac 2

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