It’s been the story of the week for all drum & bass heads… NOISIA
Actually, it’s been the story of the summer since they announced the Outer Edges album and concept performance. Each chapter compelling us deeper into their dark, detailed science: Anomaly, Collider, Tentacles, The Entangled… Each track showing us a whole new ante’d up side to Noisia’s 13-year cannon of bass chaos.
Then, exactly a week today, they launched their Outer Edges show at Let It Roll Festival. Trust us, we were there, it was immense. Never-wash-your-eyes-again level immense.
This is how it went down…
That should have been enough to ensure Noisia’s position in the drum & bass headlines for weeks. But alas, just moments before they took to Let It Roll’s iconic spaceship stage they learnt the album was leaked.
It’s a genuinely astonishingly complex, perplexing and satisfying piece of work. But we’d have been more than happy to wait another six weeks for an album we’ve been waiting six years for.
We caught up with Noisia just before all this and just after. Here’s a revealing blend of both conversations. Literally everything you need to know about the album, the show and – yes – the dickhead leaker is here. Grab a drink, maybe even a munch, this one goes deep….
So obviously the album has leaked. This wasn’t supposed to happen…
Thijs: You know what, I know people love to read about our emotions. We got a lot of press so far, because an album campaign failing and artists left frustrated is obviously more interesting than just three guys presenting their album. I totally understand that. Yes we were frustrated. But we were also really relieved about the Outer Edges show going so well, and this relief really helped us to stay calm, realistic and reasonable and face the facts to come up with an adapted strategy. So from now on, maybe it might be more interesting to talk about the music than to talk about the leak?
I think so. You know there was point I thought we might never see another Noisia album…
Martijn: We weren’t ready for it until now. After Split The Atom we wanted to explore other worlds again for a little bit. Then, after that, we felt the urge to make some proper drum & bass again. For ourselves. For our DJ sets. For people who enjoy our drum & bass. But we didn’t want to do a whole artist album that’s just 100% drum & bass so we focused on the EPs and did loads of other shit on the side… Relaunching Division and Noisia Radio which warmed people up to the idea that we’re not – and never have been – genre specific. Then we thought about what we wanted to represent and what we wanted to make within a DJ context.
The radio show definitely sets the widest Noisia parameters yet. You’ve never been clearer about the sonic spectrum you love. Does this provide freedom from fan expectation? Do you even acknowledge any fan expectation?
Thijs: This depends on who you ask. We all have different personalities. I’m not afraid to scare everyone out of the room and say ‘fuck you, this is the music I like!’ It’s not very professional but that’s how I am. But yeah, the radio show – and the support we’ve had for it – has given us the opportunity to hint at what to expect, among other things.
Martijn: It’s about widening the spectrum for us, too. I think because of Noisia Radio we’ve gone even further than we would have. We’d always do unexpected stuff but because we’ve set the boundaries even further, we can go further again.
Like skullstep. Thijs, with what you just said about not giving a fuck I reckon it was you who tweeted about the skullstep…
Thijs: Yes that was me. It was March or April when the sun first came through. We were in sixth gear by then. Deadline crunch time, trying to meet the end date that we all agreed would be June and no later. I just wanted to hint that we were making a lot of music. I didn’t know you guys noticed.
Skullstep and sunshine, somehow it works ??????????????
— NOISIΛ (@Noisia_nl) May 12, 2016
We notice everything. So, the Outer Edges show… Was that a result of the whole Best Live Act thing at last year’s Drum&BassArena Awards?
Martijn: No… Totally unrelated.
Thijs: What really compounded our decision to do this was I Am Legion with Nik VJing. That was the threshold we went over. So we knew we had something we wanted to develop. But it became a lot more developed than we first assumed.
Martijn: We have to say it’s not live… There are live elements but it’s us playing strictly Noisia tracks with our own edits and some incredible lights and visuals. It’s also all three of us on stage which is very important.
Thijs: We discussed calling it live for hours and hours. The pros are expectations are higher. The cons are expectations are higher. Our stuff is too complex to be reproduced live. We grind and graft in the studio.
I think there’s an honesty thing here. Calling something live that isn’t live isn’t your style.
Thijs: Exactly. There is some live audio in it and we will develop on that. I’ve spoken to Tim Exile who is a master of actual live electronic performances and he explained that what you need is an environment that you’re completely comfortable to change stuff. That doesn’t fit the Outer Edges music and how we made it.
Let’s talk about how you made it… The whole idea of you pushing and exploring the meaning of what the Noisia sound is. Isn’t that what you do anyway?
Thijs: It is an extension of our practice but there’s even less emphasis or focus on what might be deemed as a traditional arrangement. Stuff that we might normally worry will scare other DJs away. We just didn’t care about that on this album. We couldn’t care about it. We wanted to write what we wanted to hear on an album.
Martijn: When all this started there was no concept or theme, we just wanted to see how a Noisia album would evolve in this way. We just started making new music with no boundaries. We actually started making tracks and asking people for toplines and vocals and collaborations. But, slowly but surely, we realised that wasn’t what we wanted on the album. We tried everything and eventually came to the conclusion that the Outer Edges concept was the way forward.
Woah… So you worked with topliners and vocalists in a way that guys at the total opposite end of the sonic spectrum do?
Martijn: Correct. We can do melodies and chord progressions and pop tracks but we can’t write lyrics or toplines. The point is that we had to explore this angle before we could agree Outer Edges was definitely the right approach.
Thijs: Every time we’ve done a remix with a vocal it’s come out really well. Like the Nothing Matters remix. So the thought process was that if we could find the right vocalist and topline to create that ourselves, it would be something exciting to explore. But we didn’t find what we wanted.
Martijn: The further we went into that approach, the more we realised it wasn’t the way we want to work on the album.
The drums stand out for me. Mantra, The Entangled, Stonewalled… Proper live-sounding drums. Very powerful.
Thijs: Very Superior Drummer! They’re semi-organic but super digitally controlled. But this is a compliment as we work hard to make the drums in that VST sound like live drums. I’m glad you noticed.
They remind me of The Upbeats. The five of you have spent a lot of time together. Too much?
Martijn: Oh we compromised each other’s integrity a long time ago. They do have that rock and roll sound to the drums and it’s an overlapping taste. We’ve found a similar sound but our approach has been completely different.
Certainly worked with Anomaly. When that landed my entire timeline was Noisia Noisia Noisia Noisia….
Thijs: We’ve been opening with it for around nine months so a lot of nerds knew it already. My barometer is Signal. He’s super young, super talented and anything he’s excited about I check out. He’s my connection to the forum crew because I don’t have time to dwell in those places any more. So Signal showed me the hype going on for Anomaly and how it had been acknowledged on that level.
We’re all acknowledging Collider on a hairy donuts level. Please tell me WTF is going on in that video…
Thijs: We’ve worked with him [Henk Loorbach] on the Machine Gun video with the hands made of steaks. He lives in Amsterdam and comes to a lot of shows. He’s fun when he’s drunk and sober and he looks like The Dude from The Big Lebowski. He’s got that air about him too. But he had an idea and wanted to connect some of the weird stuff that’s in his mind and he wanted to film someone putting batteries into a wooden plank for no reason. It has you guessing what the meaning is… But there isn’t one.
Martijn: That’s the point! The meaning is chaos. It’s not symbolic or in any way related to the Illuminati.
Thijs: What’s great about Collider is how it came together. So much went on to get that track to where we wanted it to be. Months and months of small baby steps and a lot of frustration. It takes so much effort and dedication to go back to these tunes that disappointed you at a previous stage…
How does that work then?
Martijn: Sometimes you grind because you know deep down it’s worth forcing. Other times you have to put it aside and hope that you get that idea or inspiration to develop it later on.
It must be a very fine line between the Old Shit We Never Finished folder and Old Shit We Will Eventually Finish folder?
Thijs: A very very fine line.
Is it a time thing or a feeling thing?
Thijs: It’s more of a ‘is this still relevant to Noisia’ thing! A bunch of these songs weren’t fit for Noisia but we knew there was something that we could work on. The Entangled, for example, is very very old and that synth part had a bit of magic that we knew we would one day return to and cherish and make great. It was a long-assed process but we got there.
Going back to these old projects must pose problems in itself…
Thijs: Yes. Some of them were in Cubase 5 on a computer that’s now dead. Old projects with old synths and old VSTs needed digging out and restructuring. We had to really want to work on projects that old to do this. It’s not a very exciting part of the process. Admin work, basically, but necessary.
Let’s wrap up with Tentacles. For many it’s a stand out track… Is it a stand out track for you?
Martijn: Yes definitely. It’s also one of the few tracks that has a vocal element to it.
Who says the word? And why Tentacles?
Thijs: Tentacles was one of the working titles we already had in mind for the track which was already well under construction. We felt it needed an additional element and Nik just dropped a recording of his voice saying ‘tentacles’ into his synth and it developed a life of its own.
Martijn: We were working on an intro and we had the dissonant chord section that didn’t flow towards the drop so that’s when we decided to add that element which brought it together.
Thijs: This happened a lot; when we needed to bring tracks together with a new element or something, we would almost always find it. That’s never happened before.
Martijn: And the initial tracklist we had for the album was stuck to all the way through. We thought we’d have to replace things with new tracks because we couldn’t make them come together. But we did. It’s quite surprising.
Is this indicative of how you’ve all developed? Do you worry that, in time, you won’t have any old shit you never finish because you’ll have the tools or processes or knowhow?
Martijn: Yeah I guess so. Effectively we’ll know how to finish more tracks because we’ll have a better idea of what we wanted in the first place. But it’s how we work – we find a sample or a sound or we set ourselves a technical challenge through which we end up with an idea that doesn’t quite make a track at that stage. But we’re definitely becoming more efficient in our execution.
Doesn’t that take the fun out of it?
Thijs: It’s not always fun anyway. That’s life. That’s how we work. The most important thing is that it’s never going to be easy. And it never will be.
Martijn: It doesn’t matter how efficient our process becomes, we will always set ourselves challenges…