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Dom & Roland: An Interview With A Scoundrel

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The Last Refuge Of A Scoundrel: just on the title alone, Dom & Roland’s seventh album should win some type of prize.

Sonically it deserves to win plenty more: a hurricane of turbo emotion, production power and rich diversity and detail, it’s one of the most striking D&B albums of the year and one of the Dom’s broadest sounding documents in his 22-year production repertoire.

Interestingly it’s also his first on Metalheadz. After years of helping define the sound and influence of the legendary Moving Shadow imprint and a decade of releasing on his own self-titled label, he’s finally settled down in what many would believe to be his spiritual home: Casa Goldie.

The story begins in 2013 with the ridiculously full-strength Unofficial Jah and Outta Endz – a release presented so well Headz have shared fan’s tattoos of the artwork – and has reached new heights this month as the album finally drops.

We caught up with him to find out where he’s at, where D&B is at, why he refuses to play any of the current popularity or production games and why he’s not the angry man that many people always assume him to be. This one goes every bit as deep as his influence and tenure commands…

We’ll start with the book concept…

The whole album is a story: it’s inspired by moments of me growing up and the music I listened to over the years. That’s why it’s very varied. Each song is like a chapter.

I looked up the title. It’s Samuel Johnson isn’t it. Is Headz your final refuge?

I found it on a quote site. It sounds like a novel doesn’t it? Something I would definitely pick up and read. It sounds exciting, it’s got scoundrel in it, it makes you want to pick it up. You could call it a reference to Headz though, I guess.

It has been a long time coming…

For me it already happened when I co-produced and engineered the Ed Rush- Skylab EP years ago. It would have led to more but Moving Shadow and Metalheadz had fallen out at the time, Shadow had done a lot for me and I felt pretty loyal to them. Goldie and I have always been friends; I was there at Bluenote every week and I often felt much more like a Headz artist than a Shadow one.

When you talk about the tracks repping certain times in your life are there any Bluenote homages on last refuge? Or are you going even further back in time?

There are definitely Bluenote references but it goes back earlier too – King Of The Hustlers, for example, goes back to my love for hip hop and electro.

Yes… It takes off where Get Up on Through The Looking Glass left us? With that sample from Style Wars.

That’s right. I did a lot of graffiti growing up and followed the route a lot of us did back then: skateboarding, graffiti, music. Get Up was a graf track and King Of The Hustlers follows from that but with more of a Headz style.

Going to Bluenote – DMT conjures up the sounds of that time for me…

Definitely. It was written with Hive. We just did a track we wanted to hear. We both love drums and distortion and did our thing really. I’ve always got on well with Hive, we’ve got similar views on making music.

It’s been in existence for a while now…

We did make it a long time ago. It’s taken ages for me to finish – I was in the process of building a studio and took a while to get my head around the space, it was a transitional track from around that time.

The album’s been a long time coming full stop…

It has. I’d done six tracks which I didn’t know what to do with. Rico my distributor said ‘well you’ve got these tracks, you’ve just done this killer single for Headz, why don’t you give them to Goldie and make an album for him?’ I didn’t think they were very Headzy to be honest but I sent them and Goldie was into the idea. It was a case of fitting another six in that sounded Headzy. I ended up writing lots more tracks specifically for the album that didn’t make it because they sounded too Metalheadz.

Almost like a pastiche?

Yeah. But also they didn’t provide the scope I wanted for the album. I don’t feel albums in electronic music are really exciting at the moment. I want something I can listen to as a whole and many albums seem to be more like collections of tracks. This probably has a lot to do with downloading and the way we consume music now.

How about the influence of streaming? People can try your album with no investment (besides the streaming subscription) Do you think that might ease off the pressure of having to make a collection of bangers?

I doubt it. I don’t think artists will put up with the whole streaming scenario for much longer. For me to buy a cup of coffee I need 2000 plays. That’s ridiculous. I’ve heard of some very interesting platforms on the horizon that may change things, but the way the entertainment industry has changed is that it’s harder for artists to put their all in to one piece of music. Artists are suffering from streaming – music fans who think they’re doing the right thing by paying for a subscription aren’t being told the full picture; some people are making a lot of money while the people actually making the music aren’t. The whole world is like that now and I think that could be why there’s less diversity. Especially in electronic music.

I think D&B is enjoying a healthy diverse chapter right now, though. What are your thoughts?

I don’t know if I’m the right person to ask. If something on promo doesn’t grab me straight away then I move onto the next one. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve come from an age where I feel like I’ve mastered sound engineering and went to school to learn it and pushed myself to excel at it in every way I can but I feel a lot of music produced nowadays is made on a computer by people who don’t have much knowledge – or need much knowledge – to put tunes out there. I’ve seen a video on YouTube where someone recommends getting stems from Beatport from four different tracks, putting them together and selling it as their own tune. If that’s happening – and I know that’s extreme – then that is a new low for us all. You can hear laziness in so many things; you can hear the same pre-sets and samples. It seems like music is being made from numbers rather than talent or that it’s been done before at a much better and more innovative level.

That’s unavoidable though surely? Music is constantly referencing and riffing on itself. To create something completely new is a harder and harder task each time. For guys like you, for new guys, every producer?

Yes. And there’s nothing wrong with pushing an idea and trying to developing it – but you need to succeed in doing that or it’s just a rip off of an old idea. People buying your music who don’t know the original roots will hear your poor man’s copy and think it’s amazing. But they should hear the original. Neurofunk especially – that whole scene was built on Ed Rush & optical and Bad Company. In that particular field no one has done it better.

Yourself and anything on Quarantine also…

I’m a big fan of Fierce actually. You’re right. He’s kept it real over the years. He refuses to start putting silly noises in his tunes for the sake of it. He’s a D&B purist!

Amen! So in terms of contemporary guys now, how about Noisia – when guys run their ship as fastidiously and detailed-driven as them do it give you faith in the future?

Of course! They’ve broken down huge walls and boundaries. The only problem is that when you have guys who lead, you have followers. And right now the balance of leaders and followers seems a little out of kilter and, like I say, there’s a lot less diversity in the sounds being made.

Back to your music… The diversity is strong just between Sirens Song and Tone Poem alone.

Well a lot of people have said that those two particular tracks are very different and maybe too different. But I don’t think they are. I see the tracks in my head before I make them so I try and get the sound as close as possible to what’s in my head and don’t worry about trends or current. I know what works on the dancefloor having DJ’d for so long. I’d been playing Tone Poem for a while in clubs and it was a DJ tool for a while. My wife thought it should have a singer but in the end I left it as it is.

Is it you on the guitar?

No it’s a sample of a band called One Minute Silence who I produced for a while. I had a load of riffs lying around and found a 3 sec loop, timestretched it in a few different keys and Tone Poem came about. Sirens Song is another interesting story – the original song with Robert Manos was Sacrifice but Goldie suggested a female singer. I couldn’t not put Robert on the album so I wrote Sirens Song to build around his vocal. It turned out really well – the strings, the bass and drums all came from songs that I wasn’t feeling and they ended up becoming this whole other track that I couldn’t have conceived in my head.

So Natalie ended up doing the vocals on Sacrifice… I feel a nice continuation of Electric Smile in a way on that track.

You’re not the first person to say that. I want to a lot more vocals – I’ve said it every year but I’ve always gone back to angry dark D&B but now I’m a bit older I see the importance of vocals in music and there’s a place for it in the music I do. When artists make vocal D&B it’s more on the mellow side…

Or poppy side?

Well I think the charts are crying out for a good underground song to chart again. If the vocal is right then it’s been proven that you can get some very underground sounding records to chart or at least get airtime. The charts need something edgier to shake things up. But that’s not why I’d do it. I need music to satisfy my soul rather than money or ego gain.

Amen. Interesting you said angry earlier…. I don’t hear anger in your work, I hear funk. It takes a few listens and a few layers and shades to dig through but the base for me is funk.

Thanks. I was kind of marketed by Shadow as ‘angry boy’ and I’ve never thought of my music as angry and I’m not an angry person. I like hard hitting drums and bass. I suppose it’s melancholy at points but never anger. You also raise a very close point with the layers and listens. Music should immerse you but never give everything away in just one take. You have to listen to the end and notice things and realise that they’ve been there all along. It creates deeper understandings of the track and subsequent listens you hit different elements and your emotions kick in and you feel the track.

If something hits you and you understand it implicitly from the off what’s the point in listening to it again?

Definitely. A lot of the rules that seem to have found themselves in D&B right now seem to lead to that mindset. Things like doing everything in F because that’s the best frequency for bass and arrangement and mixdown levels. It’s all very paint by numbers and people obsess by that far too much.

I think producers obsess about it and listeners obsess about it way less than you’d think!

Perhaps. But DJs do and that’s where the music is still aimed at. And every DJ has to be a producer now so I understand why the obsession is there. But I have a skewed view myself as I’m a DJ and a producer. As long as I persevere with that depth and still look for it in music than I know I’m doing it right. I still listen to old Bukem tunes and hear sounds I don’t remember hearing before. Have you heard of ghost noises?

No?

Two sounds interacting to create a third one that was never actually there. You think you can hear it but you can’t put your finger on it.

You can get lost inside tunes looking for them!

You can totally over-analyse it but I do always look for them in my own music and when I hear them I’ll go towards them. It’s what makes the music interesting and when you do that sort of thing you can’t be worried too much obsessed with mixdowns to follow that type of technique.

Yeah. So finally… Was the legendary Roland S-760 part of your technique on Last Refuge Of A Scoundrel?

Very slightly. I did go through a load of old Roland discs from the 90s before doing the album. I turned it on, loaded the discs, bounced them all out to the computer so I could use them on that. It wasn’t switched on during the actual making. So yes, its presence is felt. But not in the way many would assume or hope.

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