Fearful and Mtwn embark on an exploration of sonic darkness with Beyond The Veil, their second collaborative album on the boundary pushing YUKU.
Brought together by their love for experimental music at a time when they were predominantly releasing drum and bass, the album channels feelings of uncertainty from the time it was written. Despite the fact Dimitri and Max (Mtwn) reside a few hundred miles away in Belgium from Chris (Fearful) in London, the LP effortlessly weaves an ominous narrative together and with the help of Riko Dan’s vocals it’s by far their most aggressive work to date. It’d be difficult to talk about their music without mentioning the fourth person involved, modular synthesis. A unique way of approaching music making with infinite possibilities, it opened up a can of inspirational worms which played an important part in the development of the trio’s musical relationship.
We caught up with Fearful and Dimitri, one half of Mtwn, about their egoless approach to working together, going against current trends and how music expresses what words can’t.
Congratulations on finishing another big body of work, it sounds incredible all the way through. What makes the three of you work well?
Dimitri: I remember the first time we started working together. I was invited to Chris’ album launch party in London around 2018 and we discovered that we had common tastes outside of drum and bass, more experimental and dark music. We thought it would be cool to make something different together, something non-drum and bass. We were all releasing on Diffrent Music then, but started experimenting with other tempos and not worrying about fitting into a genre. That’s how it all started and we never stopped.
Chris: Dimitri and Max were starting to build their modular set up and I wanted to live vicariously through them to access it. We started exchanging files which naturally turned into tunes. A lot of the sounds they’d send over were like gold. I could just drop them over a beat and it’d work. When you work with really nice sounds, it inspires you quickly and you get into this feedback loop. When I’d run out of steam on a tune, I’d send it over to them and know that I’d get it back in even better form.
Dimitri: I know that when we send something to Chris, he’ll take a sound or the track and put it into a completely different context. I never would have imagined that it’d go in that direction. We’re all very creatively free and don’t set boundaries. That’s what I like about working with Chris.
Chris: We mostly work separately in our respective studios. I did make a trip over to Belgium just before lockdown and we had a big jam session on the modular. We’d already written a lot of the early ideas and that was just a way of cementing that relationship in terms of being together and getting a better feel for the music we’d made whilst in the same room. We made some more sounds that complimented the first tracks, then we had lockdown. Dimitri was working really hard because he’s a doctor, but I had loads of time to work on the tunes.
Wow, so you must not have much free time.
Dimitri: I guess, but it forces me to have a different workflow. I’m generally really slow at making music, I start a lot of tunes that I never finish. If I like something but don’t know how to finish it, I’ll just send it to Chris who will polish it and make it a thousand times better. That’s usually how it works with me and Max too.
How important is hardware to your collective sound? You mentioned the modular and it sounds like a central part to the feel of the album.
Chris: For me, it was about finding my sound again outside of drum and bass. Using this completely new thing and rewiring my brain to learn how to use this stuff. For this album it was more of a conscious decision for me to make it work on big systems and clubs. The previous one was really experimental, you can’t dance to it! Well you could, but there are often two minutes before a drop. This one was more focused on making something that was really hard and something to dance to.
Dimitri: This one is much more angry, much darker. When it comes to hardware, it did play a big role in the previous LP. It’s still my personal favourite way of keeping music production interesting. You can obviously make amazing music without it but I like the physicality of it. It brings me to some unexpected places.
Even the artwork has an angry and dark feeling to it! People often say that drum and bass is one of the hardest genres of music to produce and you all made quite a lot of dnb before. How important was learning those skills before experimenting with other genres?
Chris: For me, when you slow down the tempo you physically have more time. The gaps between the beats are literally longer. It may seem so simple, but it makes such a big difference. You can play with effects like delays more creatively, you’re not trying to squeeze things into these narrow gaps. A lot of my drum and bass productions have led to me being better at the technical side, but making this slower stuff has been more creatively freeing because I do things I wouldn’t allow myself to use in drum and bass.
Dimitri: I feel like slowing the tempo down allows us to put more detail into the music too and I agree that coming from the 170 world has helped on the technical side. I do think it’s good to get away from that too as I feel like you can easily get trapped into too much technicality and lose a sense of vibe.
That sounds like a nice way around to do it, learning the skills and now you can open the floodgates creatively without having to learn the more technical stuff.
Chris: It’s just occurring to me now that there’s another side to it. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to drum and bass, especially in my formative years when learning to produce. That forms this ruleset to abide by that you might not even be aware of. Breaking out of drum and bass and doing something totally different but using the same sound palette was a way for me to break free of the constraints I had set on myself. We’ve talked before about how we don’t have to compare what we were making to what we knew. We didn’t know huge amounts about the genres we were making and that allowed us to do whatever we wanted and it worked.
It definitely did, and it sounds like you’ve found the perfect home for the music with YUKU. How did you end up working with them? The variety of music they’ve released is incredible and the drum and bass background they have makes it seem like a perfect fit for your music.
Dimitri: It’s been great to be honest. Jeff and Ilda are amazing people, they’re super open minded. It’s been so easy to work with them and the label has grown so much. They have so many amazing artists and there isn’t a single bad release.
Chris: It’s not often that everything you write gets approved. There’s usually some sort of constructive criticism, not necessarily negative but something like the music not being the best fit for the label. That’s normal because labels usually have a particular sound. But the strength of YUKU is that it has loads of sounds and so many artists that are so unique, it allows them a lot of freedom to accept really wacky ideas.
It’s like their variety of experimental styles is their sound. Whose idea was making albums for them?
Chris: I think we wrote four tracks and Jeff said he wanted a few more haha, he just pushed us until we were at eight tracks. We had more ideas and were encouraged by YUKU to send them more stuff for the project, that pushed us to think about what worked with the first four and it turned into a big cohesive piece.
It must be a fine line between a little nudge and them being pushy. Did it all come together pretty easily because you’d worked together before?
Chris: We wrote this one very quickly compared to the first one, I think we had more ideas to start with this time. We’re like gardeners. We spend ages pruning our tracks, replanting and restructuring sections until it’s just right. I think we rewrote one of the tracks like five times and it was driving us crazy, right?
Dimitri: Yeah, ‘Mutual Destruction’. It’s completely different to the first version, not even the same tempo. We started it when Chris came to Belgium, now there’s just a few samples which were in the original.
Chris: I can’t remember how it turned into what it is today, it was just sessions of attacking it and basically treating it like a remix. It’s a nice way of working because it gets you big results in a short time.
Dimitri: That’s the approach we often take, remix what you send us rather than just adding something on top.
Chris: It’s nice because we trust each other completely with that process. It’s not often that you find people that you trust with an idea.
Dimitri: It’s also about not being afraid to let go of ideas. Before, Max and I used to be more specific about what we used to make. Now, I just don’t care. If I like the idea or the vibe, let’s just go with it. I’m not attached to a sound or a track. If it needs to be destroyed to be better, then so be it.
It sounds like there’s no ego in the process.
Chris: Dimitri, what’s your favourite track from the album?
Dimitri: Oo tough question, I really like all of them but I think ‘Beyond the Veil’. It changes depending on my mood, but I would stay that sticks out for me. What’s yours?
Chris: It has to be ‘Mutual Destruction’ just because of the battle that track was. I have such a strong attachment to it, there were four times when I thought about giving up on it. It taught me a lesson about being creative and making music. Force through that wall when you see it, even if it’s painful. All of that pain goes away when you hear it and it works!
If you ever play it in a club, you’ll look at the crowd and think they have no idea what you went through to get there.
Chris: A single tear rolling down my eye…
The tear of pain… Dimitri, do you get much time to work on music for other projects because of your limited free time?
Dimitri: Recently when it’s come to making full tracks, it’s mostly been working on tracks with Chris. I changed my approach to music in the last few years to just enjoying the process of making sounds and generating ideas for myself. We’ve always made niche music and the effort you put into it isn’t always rewarded because there’s such a small audience. I question who I’m making music for because it’s so specific. The stress of persevering to make a full tune was not beneficial for me. What’s very fun is making sounds and ideas. If I want to make a full track then I’ll send it to Chris haha.
How does Max fit into this?
Dimitri: He made some sounds for this project but he was more involved in the previous album because of other things going on in his life. But we always stay in touch about music.
Who owns the modular out of you two?
Dimitri: I have it, but it’s a bit out of hand and unnecessarily big now. The approach is so different to a computer. You get to touch the knobs and cables, you have the physicality of your sound. It’s very unpredictable because it gets you to places you probably wouldn’t reach with a computer. I put myself into the modular and it gives me back results I wouldn’t have expected.
Sounds like it has a life of its own and I’m sure it works for everyone. You pay for the modular, Chris and Max get to use the sounds from it.
Chris: After my first trip to Belgium to see these guys, when I was waiting for the Eurostar, I spent like a grand on modular gear. I was intoxicated by it, it’s really addictive in terms of gear acquisition syndrome but also in terms of the way you’re able to be malleable and hands on. On a computer I can do one thing at a time on a mouse, but with this I’ll be stretching to move a pinky to a different knob. This thing can feel alien. Sometimes you hit a sweet spot and it’s just magic.
It almost sounds like you’re collaborating with the modular. Speaking of collaborating, how did working with Riko Dan come about?
Chris: We had this one track which wasn’t quite enough on its own, we loved it but in terms of the upped energy of the album but we thought it could have a bit more. We thought, “What if we had an MC with dark lyrics? Energetic and aggressive.”
We got introduced to him by TRAKA who’ve also released on YUKU and worked with Riko before. We weren’t sure if he’d like it because it’s like 112 BPM and just a weird track. So we sent him two tracks, one was a dubstep-centric track which was playing it safe and then we had our secret favourite. Luckily he said he really wanted to work on the weirder one that we preferred which ended up being ‘Careful’. It was amazing, his delivery is incredible. He brought something which was missing.
It must have been amazing to work with those vocals which you must have heard so many times before.
Chris: It’s incredible, he’s super professional and delivered it perfectly in no time. You know what you’re getting when you’re working with legends, they’re legends for a reason.
Dimitri: Especially on such a strange tune, it’s slow and fast at the same time but it works.
The concept of the album is about the uncertainty of the future, where did that idea come from and why did you apply that to the music?
Chris: It’s an embodiment of us wanting to make something dark and hard which has an impact. It has a very serious tone. It’s probably different for each one of us, but for me it’s shaped by the events of the years when those tracks were made during the pandemic. There was a lot of stuff going on geo-politically which was pretty doom and gloom. I don’t want to get into all of it now because it’s been said and done, but I’m glad to say that I’m making much happier music now that I’ve got that out of my system haha. It was an expression of my environment and myself.
Dimitri: I’ve also got pretty bleak views of the world. I feel like some people can express themselves easily through their words, but music is the closest representation of my feelings. When Chris came to us with the theme for the album, I connected with it.
Chris, you came up with the concept after the music was made?
Chris: Yeah, in hindsight it was starting to become obvious to me that it was stirring emotions which I was familiar with from the time I was making it.
So the music is very much an unconscious snapshot in time. Chris, did you make much other music whilst making the album? You seem to be a bit more active release-wise.
Chris: I started making more towards the end when I could see that we were wrapping it up. Making two albums at slower tempos rejuvenated my desire to make drum and bass again so I started making it and experimenting with different sounds in that sphere which I hadn’t ever given time to. My most recent releases don’t sound anything like the drum and bass I made years ago. That’s just me getting older and caring less about what clique I fit into or how I want to be perceived. Just writing what I want, Dimitri taught me that.
Dimitri: Oh really?
Chris: It’s a nice way of doing things, enjoying the process rather than the outcome. It’s a great way to be, a great way to live.
Dimitri: I feel like this is the ethos for all of the artists I really love. Just making something completely different and not caring about what anyone else makes. If you stick too much to one way of making things, you lose interest. Well, I’d ose interest. If you make the same tracks over and over again, it’s not interesting. You might release a lot of music and work with certain labels, which is fine, but it’s not how I want to work.
I guess there’s a lot of freedom with not caring or relying on music for anything other than being creative.
Dimitri: Exactly, that’s easy for me to say because I’m not trying to make a living from making music as I have a fulltime job, so it’s just a passion for me. But I do understand the struggle for those who try to make it as a musician, because you will probably have to compromise at times.
Chris, do you have a job outside of music?
Chris: Not anymore! I quit my job last year. I’m in a fortunate position where I’m able to take a long break and do music full time. It certainly doesn’t pay the bills but it’s a different way of working when you do this everyday as a 9 to 5. The temptation is to write music everyday and it’s impossible because you run out of stream pretty fast. So I’ve been sharing what I know on Patreon as I’ve been making music for a long time now. That’s been a great motivator for me because it’s holding me accountable for producing something of value outside of just another song.
That’s great to hear because that places more pressure on music for you but it sounds like it hasn’t taken away from how much you enjoy what you do.
Chris: I’ve found ways to make it fun. I’ve got a lot of time now and can spend a whole day making snares haha. That may sound maddening to most people, but when you’ve got the time you’re not rushing to get results. You’re trying out things and being more experimental, I’m doing a lot of bad things and have bad ideas. I can finish a day not having created anything useful but I’ve got it out of my system and know that it doesn’t work.
Dimitri: That’s how you learn, by making bad things. If you’re looking to be 100% efficient all of the time then that’s more maddening.
It’s amazing that you’re still able to connect musically even though you have different approaches. Just one last question, if you came home from a day out and noticed that your studio was going up in flames and everyone was safe, what one thing would you save?
Chris: I just got rid of loads of stuff because I’m moving so I don’t care about most of what I have.
Dimitri: My coffee machine is the first thing that came to my mind. It’s not even a good one, I just love coffee.
Chris: I’d probably go for my passport because I really like travelling and if my house burnt down, I’d go on a big holiday and detox that thought to just enjoy life to the full. Even though it’s replaceable, I’d want to go immediately. I’m not waiting around for 10 weeks.
That sounded really practical at first but you’d probably want to get away and not see the ruins.
Dimitri: The thought of losing everything might be scary, but being forced to start again with everything sounds appealing, not just musically.
Chris: Maybe your house burning down might be too cataclysmic. But even with music, I’ve lost all of my projects and samples before. It forced me to rethink everything. Initially it’s horrible because you think about everything you lost, but once you get over that it forces you to think in a different way. Reinvent yourself.
Let’s hope that doesn’t happen but there’s a silver lining!