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“Debussy was a badman!” How classical music inspired Naibu’s best album to date

There’s a lot to be said for the old school. The foundations. The roots. It’s been a prevalent D&B topic in recent times. Many acts have been retreating to the original melting pot mentality, cooking up their best records in years in the process, all contributing towards the healthy, diverse state of health drum & bass currently finds itself in.

But how old school are you prepared to go? Beyond jungle. Beyond hip-hop. Beyond soundsystem culture. Beyond the evergreen sampling trove of dusty old soul and funk records… Right the way back to classical?

That’s where Naibu is at right now. Late 1800s, early 1900s modern classical compositions to be precise. Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky. Pioneers who, in Naibu’s mind, pushed things musically further than man had done before… Or has ever achieved since.

It’s a topic that blows the Parisian producer’s mind. And one that drives him personally to understand more about composition and orchestration and apply to the already strong musical signature he’s developed since emerging in the late 2000s on Horizons (a label he’s remained close to ever since)

His signature is one most of us should be more than familiar with by now thanks to his six albums and multiple single releases on other seminal labels such as Creative Source and Paradox Music. Often introspective, subtly cosmic, heavily atmospheric, sprung with surprises and tightly coiled with emotion; Naibu covers a vast landscape but traverses it in such a style his records are instantly distinctive as his.

Ranging from glacial steppers to spectral downtempo beats, Manoeuvres is a perfect example of this. And it’s thanks, largely, to him retreating to the original rule breaking melting pot of the late 1800s and cooking up his best record to date. It’s not just drum & bass that’s in a healthy diverse state, Naibu is, too.

Fresh from blessing us with this absolutely stunning Sun And Bass podcast mix, we caught up with Naibu (real name Robin) to understand how he got here…

You’ve released a few albums now. How does that moment when you put an album out into public domain feel?

It’s like a farewell, in a way. A moment where I know I can move on. You spend so much time on the music, then you wait to release it. You get tired of it in a way. It’s like ‘okay I can put you to rest, thank God it’s over.’ I guess it’s a mix of excitement and relief. It’s like you’re stuck with something mentally. Once it’s out it no longer belongs to you, it belongs to the people.

I love that. I was wondering how long you’d been working on Manoeuvres. When we spoke two years ago, around the release of Corners, you told me you’d been working on something prior to that album and that it was “quite ambitious” and you were “letting it take its time to develop its own way.” Did that eventually become this new album?

That’s actually something else. Another album. I work on so much music I have no idea what to do with it. That project is different. It’s between D&B and non-D&B. But for some reason I can’t see it being released in a D&B environment. I’m holding onto it and I’ll see if there’s an opportunity to release it. Or maybe when I have confidence to release it. It’s exciting, but I don’t have the confidence to send it to anyone.

I really want to hear this… But it sounds like it may never see the light of day!?

I don’t know. Maybe it won’t? It’s a personal struggle to think about it. Sometimes I love what I’ve done. Other days I think it’s the most rubbish thing I’ve ever heard. It’s hard to make my mind up.

Are you waiting for the appropriate context to release it? Or the final magic musical ingredient?

The right context for sure. It needs to be outside of drum & bass. People may not get it if it’s solely released for the D&B market. I don’t think drum & bass is the right platform for it, because you can’t play it in a club. With D&B it needs to be DJ-friendly to be successful. It’s hard to place it or work out what to do with it. Only time will tell…

I think there’s a lot of that around. Stuff like Fearful’s album on Diffrent or a lot of stuff on Exit. Drum & bass doesn’t just have to be for clubs. Fans listen to it in all aspects of life…

I hope so. I also think it’s important not to think of a genre when you write music. When I write, I don’t think about drum & bass specifically. I use it as a format, as a style, but the music doesn’t start as a drum & bass tune.

D&B is a canvas. It sets the parameters. That’s when the best stuff happens… when you’re not writing a standard banger.

I think so. It’s the struggle, though. You become aware of the scene and people who follow the music you make. A lot of them are DJs or love the club nature of the music so I always feel I have to give something to them in that style.

You cover a wide range and I think there are two tracks on Manoeuvres that summarise the poles of your signature. There’s the uplifting, very crisp Achille. Then there’s the downtempo, quite moody beaty track Passage. Those two tracks capture the essence of what I understand Naibu to be.

That’s nice to hear. Maybe you’re right. When I make a tune like Passage it’s just a piece of music, there’s no club or DJ in mind. Whereas with Achille….

Is that reference to an Achille’s heel by the way?

No actually it’s from my love of classical music. I’ve been studying it for the last few years and learning about the composition and orchestration and I’m a big fan of Debussy. His name is Achille-Claude. I took inspiration from Les Parfums de La Nuit and adapted some bits from it to make this track.

Oh wow, cool. This is the second time Debussy has been mentioned on UKF! Keeno once compared Klute to him.

I’m not surprised. Debussy was a proper badman! Take a look at his biography, he was one of a kind. A beast. A difficult person but a genius musically. I haven’t even scratched the surface. I’ve got a lot of time for composers of the late 19th and early 20th century. Ravel and Debussy especially. They can totally blow your mind.

Relatively speaking, the early 1900s weren’t really that long ago. It’s mind blowing how much has changed musically. What will people make of music of the early 2000s?

That’s interesting. It’s a cultural thing isn’t it? In terms of the music we’ll never have anything as great as what you had 200 or 100 years ago. Those composers pushed things to the very limit of what you can do. The best representation of what the human mind can produce in terms of music and beauty.

In terms of dynamics?

In terms of dynamics and composition and orchestration. There’s nothing new anymore, novelty in music now is about texture and sound. But in terms of the chords, melodies, harmonies, rhythm, everything has been done and a hundred times better. They just had a piece of paper and their mind to make this. they had to put their full mind into it. Now you can just jam and make a tune.

Yeah, these were mental feats with mounds of manuscript, all composed from the head!

They couldn’t even hear it! They just had an idea of what it would sound like.

That does blow the mind

It really does. But now it’s more of a textural thing and a feeling. We approach music very differently. But in terms of what will stay, I am sure much of it will because culturally it has its place so it will be referenced.

It will last forever

The real good stuff will stay and the bad stuff fades away.

Back to Manoeuvres, was there a concept? You’ve once told me that every album or project is a reflex to the last…

Every album is a form of a reflex; it has to be something different to what I’ve done before. There was no concept to Manoeuvres though. All I wanted to do was make something beautiful. Regardless of whether it’s relevant for the dancefloor. I wanted it to be written instead of jammed. There’s more writing in terms of orchestration, I took the approach of classical orchestration but using synthesisers instead of an orchestra. That was the main thread, which I guess was inspired by my more regular musical day job.

What do you do?

Library and TV music, which I get to write a lot of orchestral stuff for. It’s a whole different approach that I have fallen in love with. Orchestration, writing for strings, for winds. It’s very inspiring. I get to experiment with new techniques and do things I’d never do on my own because of time or budget. It gives me new challenges and different perspectives. Which, of course, inspires my artistic side.

It’s quite a competitive game isn’t it? Quite often you do things on spec, right?  

Yes. You can spend days and days, no sleep at all, on something and then find they’ve gone with someone else and you don’t get paid.

So it’s just as brutal as it is for producers, but in a different way.

The music industry is brutal full stop. It’s not kind and you have to be strong.

What else keeps you strong? You’re determined and prolific. This is effectively your sixth boody of work. Something keeps you strong…

Yeah I don’t know what it is. But I need that artistic outlet. I feel so bad without it. I feel ill. Like a mental or physical thing. Like something is missing and I feel very bad. It’s like drug. And I get the same listening to the music. When I find something I love I will listen to it over and over and over. It’s like a rush to the senses. And it’s the same when you make something you love. It’s proper addictive. I’m just an addict. I’m weak for music.

What’s the next fix then?

I’ve got nothing now! Besides the project I was talking about there is nothing now. I need to start again. I felt a little drained and empty after finishing this one. Not in a bad way but like I’d invested everything into it. It feels like the most accomplished project I’ve done to date in terms of what I set out to achieve. I’ve wondered about the next direction and of course I have ideas but none of them are going anywhere quite yet. I can’t see a new project forming yet but it will come. What I’m happy about now is that I have a balance with the two worlds of music I work in.

You don’t have to rely on DJ bookings…

Exactly. Which is good because I’m not sure I will play any more…

Woah!?

I’m not sure. Maybe. I think it’s an age thing. The dancefloor stays the same age but I’m getting older. Tastes change. I don’t listen to as much D&B as I used to. I don’t have the urge to play it out, clubs can be very dangerous for my hearing which I need to protect over everything else. And there’s stress from travelling. All these things make me want to stay away from it.

Like you’ve grown out of it?

Yes. I simply don’t crave it any more. Maybe this will change but for now I’m much happier writing. It’s the balance I need. To push myself in the professional world of music but also have time to make personal music artistically. Being comfortable and being able to do both is a blessing…

Naibu – Manoeuvres is out now on Horizons

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