2016 has felt like a bit of a bad dream at times, hasn’t it?
Luckily for us, some good has come of it. This year’s series of, err, unfortunate events, combined with modern day society, has prompted DLR to write his second solo album.
Aptly titled Dreamland, it features what we’ve come to expect from the Bristol-based badman: some seriously groovy drum & bass produced to a standard which others drool over.
But, as DLR goes on to explain, it isn’t simply a compilation of infectious drum & bass tracks. Get to know…
So, Donald Trump is the new president of America… what do you make of that?
To be honest mate, if we didn’t know that was coming, we’d be a little bit silly. There wasn’t exactly much of an option for the American voters. We need to try much, much harder to get out of our comfort zone and push for what we truly believe in… Sorry for kicking off the interview in a pretty negative way but I just feel like we need to pay attention and sculpt our own future.
That’s what inspired Dreamland, right?
Yeah, I feel like we all know where we’re at right now and my album is very much about that. I feel like we all knew Trump was going to win, just like how we knew we were going to leave the EU, but we’re effectively powerless to it. Maybe it all needs to go horribly wrong to make it go right? Let’s be honest; humans are a ridiculous species, it’s amazing that we’ve made it this far!
So what’s the idea behind the name? Surely ‘We’re All Screwed’ would’ve been more fitting?
Haha, maybe… There are two reasons it’s called Dreamland. Firstly, I sometimes think the world I create in my mind isn’t exactly how the real world works and there’s still a lot of waking up to the reality of modern society I need to do. Like I’m living in a dreamland. The second reason is because I think the world can sometimes become so intense, especially after something like Brexit or Trump winning, which forces people to search for some form of escapism to get away from it all, whether it’s taking drugs, going to a rave or getting involved with really immersive gaming; essentially trying to create a place which isn’t real – a dreamland. I wanted to encapsulate that in both the name of the album, the name of the tracks and in the music itself.
So it wasn’t just about sitting down and writing some music – there’s far more to it than that?
Yeah I’d say so. Aside from that I also wanted to put across my view on the world in an age in when I feel which not enough people are doing so, and the way I can best do that is by writing music. People need to stand up for what they believe in, or they can’t be shocked when people like Trump win.
Seeing Sounds was written in a similar vein, no?
Sort of, but this is way more of an obvious statement.
Did the current state of the drum & bass scene also prompt you to write this album?
Yep. Don’t get me wrong, I think there are so many aspects of the scene which are incredible right now, including all the halftime stuff which the likes of Alix Perez are making, and there are so many good young producers coming out at the moment. But sometimes I worry that we’re at a point where the mentality of what drum & bass is all about – the simplicity – is slipping away from us. I don’t like the way the scene is split; I don’t like how there’s a lot of music which doesn’t place an emphasis on the drum & bass groove, being labelled as drum & bass.
So you think some producers are trying to over complicate things?
Exactly. Some of it is amazing music, but it shouldn’t be called drum & bass. There are some producers that miss the point and don’t sit down and think “I need to make the drums and the bass as interesting as they can be”. I know it’s a challenge trying to keep things fresh, I get that, but some people need to remember the true message of the genre. Not everything has to be cutting edge and totally different. Just look at the garage/dubstep scene and Burial; he came along with this crusty garage sound he loved and added his own unique but subtle spin to it, and smashed it.
Is there anything else contributing to that split in the scene?
I think some of the older guys have kind of lost the true mentality of drum & bass, too. I get it, it’s a very difficult world and you need to make money, but some have pushed the true message completely aside. I think it’s important that young people of the scene learn and understand what the mentality is about. When you talk to the likes of Cause4Concern and Randall, who still very much get it, you learn so much; those kind of guys are so inspirational and important, especially to me…
And how are you going to combat that?
As part of Collective, a crew I’m part of in Bristol, we want to start doing some videos with some of the guys who have been part of this scene for a long time, like those two, in the hope younger people will learn that mentality and embrace it. Us drum & bass heads are supposed to be the odd ones out, that’s how we’ve always been, and we seek a lot of shelter and comfort in the music we love, which has given some of us a new angle in life. Some of the older guys came from nothing and their lives blossomed due to drum & bass which is amazing. I feel like we’re at a line at the moment where that mentality could be lost. I’m not saying I’m Mr Right, I’m just opinionated…
Back to the album, did much change throughout the writing process?
I was going to call it Science Funktion originally, which I now think is a really shit name, but you’ve got to start somewhere… I also scrapped a load of tunes halfway through and made new ones. There’s no problem with altering the end goal halfway through, as long as you get there in the end. I let Ant TC1 choose the order of the album once I’d written it, like I always do. I like it when it’s a collaborative process as I think more can be achieved and it’s more fun.
Seeing Sounds didn’t come out too long ago, was it tough making another album so soon?
I shouldn’t have made this album when I should, to be honest, but it has worked out really well in terms of all the political stuff going on and where we’re at in the world. However, giving myself two big projects so close together was probably a stupid idea; albums can ruin your life and destroy your relationships quite easily! I’ve managed to hold everything together, just about, but I feel bad for the people who have to deal with me sometimes. It’s like entering yourself into an exam, you put yourself under a lot of pressure, but I’m someone who really needs focus and an end goal otherwise I just go round and round in circles until I go fucking insane.
There’s a pretty thought-provoking conversation about money in ‘Living The Dream’ – who’s behind that?
I wanted Gusto to do some spoken word recordings to get one of the messages across for the Dreamland concept but it didn’t go very well as it sounded quite forced. Then one day when I was at Mako’s studio, I got a phone call so left the room for 30 minutes. When I was out of the room Mako, Gusto and a German friend of ours called Teasy took it upon themselves to have a really meaningful chat about money and other issues and it really worked; they smashed it! It’s just one of the loose themes within the album, the quest for money and whether it actually makes you happy.
You and Gusto seem to link up a fair bit?
Yeah, he really inspired me on this album because he doesn’t say the same stuff as a lot of other MCs. In the studio he’s amazing in terms of what he has to say. It’s serious, intelligent lyrical content with a lot of meaning, which in turn made me think about messages I’d never thought of before and approach the album in a different way. There are quite a few tunes on the album which are statements on modern day society including We’re All Wrong.
Has Bristol also shaped your musical journey and this album?
Mate, so much! I was in Leeds when there was a lot of good shit going on; Submotion Orchestra, Hessle Audio, Gentlemen’s Dub Club, Rusko. Loads. Then I moved to Bristol because my parents live nearby and couldn’t have picked a better place.
Is it just me or do 90% of drum & bass producers live there?
Not far off. There are so many great producers in Bristol right now; Break, Hydro, Mako, Sam Binga, Om Unit… the list is endless. It’s such an inspiration for me and has 100% sculpted my direction with a lot of this music. Especially now when I’m trying to keep the sound honest.
It’s a bit of a cliche but, with all the messages, this album does feel like a bit of a journey, not just 13 tracks back-to-back
I love a journey in music. It can be super simple but still take you somewhere. Sometimes in modern day music, with what EDM has brought across, it can feel at times like music is very two dimensional; it won’t give you much opportunity to create your own emotional attachment, or the message conveyed can just be ‘ahh go fucking nuts!’ and not much else. It’s the same as a DJ set, people like Photek really do take people on a journey when they’re behind the decks.
Isn’t that something you’ve been trying to work on lately as well?
Yeah, sometimes when I mix I’m a bit like I am in real life; just relentless with no real slow mode, but the likes of Mark System, Skeptical and a few others are far more chilled behind the decks. I like to do a lot when I mix but when I watch people like Ant TC1 mix, they slow things down a lot. He’s played some of the best sets I’ve ever seen because he mixes tunes that make you think ‘why would you do that!?’ but it works. I’m trying to incorporate some of that into my sets.
What gives you the biggest buzz when you release music?
It has to be when people like Noisia or Dom & Roland go out their way to say they like what I’ve made. TeeBee said that this is his album of the year, which is absolutely amazing for me to hear. It’s that connection people get with the music I love the most; when people can hear what I’ve tried to do. Hazard and Noisia still play Set Up The Set from my album with Octane four years on which is an absolute winner for me. It’s all about finding that special formula… but it’s not easy to find. Also although it’s massively important to me to get the recognition of the scene’s top figures, it means more to me when listeners go out, buy my music and really form an emotional connection with it.
Are there any tunes on this album which could have a similar impact to Set Up The Set?
There are a few on there which are a hark back to the more stepping and rolling sound from the late 90s which have the funk and the groove. We’re All Wrong and Wheel Of Fortune are both ones on there I like in terms of the feeling I wanted to create.
And finally… any specific aims for this album?
I’d love it if this album is one people who listen to my music enjoy and one that reaches out to new people who haven’t heard my music before; it would be great if some new people are brought in after hearing it, but I totally accept that my music isn’t necessarily for the mass market.