Charli Brix belongs to a rare group of D&B vocalists who sound as comfortable over blackish basses as they do harmonious hooks. A self-confessed D&B head from the age of 14, the last few years has seen her trespassing across all genre and subgenre boundaries.
2017 was especially fruitful for Brix. A deliciously delicate collaboration with Ill Truth showed Brix at her deftest, whilst involvement on Dave Owen’s New York-influenced Love Is All You Need alongside T.R.A.C brought a sense of conviviality to a year dominated by seriously serious D&B. It’s the flexibility and universal appeal of her voice that permits such a diverse footprint, especially for a vocalist who claims she’s “actually a soul singer”.
Back to the future, Brix looks set to reveal even more of her soul as she prepares to drop her first solo EP on Flexout Audio and continues to flourish in various bands and collectives, including her own band Milk & Honey. It’s high time we called Charli for more details on what drives her, why 2017 was a turning point in her career, her own personal viewpoint on the gender divide in D&B and more.
What was the first ever drum n bass tune you did the vocals for?
The first ever D&B tune I did the vocals for would’ve been Submatik’s Tempted which was a really jazzy, liquid roller that just had a really cool catchy, piano hook. I love jazz music and yeah, I was hooked, absolutely hooked. It was really cool.
Did it become a regular thing straight after that or was it more of a slow-burn?
Yeah it was a slow one. I probably did about four tunes in 2013 with producers that Submatik hooked me up with, then I got lucky the year after when Enei hit me up and ever since then it’s just been crazy.
And that was Just One Look?
It was yeah, for his Rituals album – he found me on Soundcloud and messaged me. I remember the day, I was sat in my pyjamas watching the most mind-numbingly boring thing on TV, a message popped up from Enei and I thought nah, that’s got to be a mistake. I checked it and lo and behold he was saying he dug my vocals and would I want to do a track, so obviously I bit his hand off. He was happy with the first one, he asked me to do two more and since then he’s come to me for vocals and I love it. He’s a top man.
That’s the darker side of the spectrum. Do you have a preference?
Oh yeah, the darker stuff. With liquid, it’s a really good way in for singers because there’s a lot of melody in it and it’s a lot more musical, so even if you’re not used to writing songs it’s easier to pick up a vibe from. Me personally, I love the techier side, but it is a bit more difficult to put vocals over because sometimes it’s not really needed, so I try and keep my options open really. I just like singing – if I can vibe on a track then I’ll sing on it [laughs]. But no, my preference is definitely the darker, deeper, more minimal, gnarly side of D&B.
Working across the styles means you’re even busier. Does it not feel too busy sometimes?
No! I’m one of those rare people who just absolutely love being busy all the time, obviously I do have the odd day just to sit and do nothing, but generally I like to keep myself amused. I only recently moved to Bristol so for me it’s a luxury to be able to do music every day, I’m not really in that kind of work-mode with it, I still see it as really, really fun. I wake up and I’m just smiling man, I’ve got no reason not to be happy so yeah, the time just flew by. I’m having so much fun with it that I get to the end, I’m like ‘wow, did that just happen?’ and I’m left wondering where the last 6 months went – it’s crazy!
Do you think that move to Bristol is why 2017 was such a big year for you?
100%. The scene here is incredible. There is something going on all the time and people are so happy to get you involved, plus it’s just been nice working face-to-face with people because a lot of stuff I’ve done before has been online. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it can slow the process down a little bit. Just the overall vibe of the city as well, it’s a real collaborative vibe, there’s not a lot of competition and people just want to work together because they’ve got a massive love for it. If you do one gig well they’ll mention that to somebody else and they’ll book you or ask you for vocals, just word of mouth really. I feel like people are starting to see what I can do now and I haven’t even reached the tip of it. I’m a soul singer primarily, so I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve this year that I’m looking forward to getting out there.
I have some more D&B collabs in the pipeline, one of which is with Kyrist who as well as being a wicked DJ & producer has also become a good friend so I’m looking forward to that especially! Then I have my first solo EP in the works, I can say that it’s coming out with Flexout, but I’m not allowed to mention the producers. So, I’ve got some solo stuff coming because weirdly, after five years of doing this, I’ve still not released a solo track, so that’s coming.
You’ve already been busy this year. Tell us about working with Revaux on Colours
We went through a few different versions of that track in terms of the lyrical content and the vocals, it was quite a bit happier the first time around and it just didn’t really sit with the vibe of the tune. They were really great to work with and gave me full control over what I did with the vocal. I’ve actually been really lucky, I’ve not worked with anybody who’s given me any shit, ever.
Have you ever made a track with a producer and not liked the finished product?
No, I’ve been very lucky because I’ll kind of negotiate with them until we’re both happy with it, so no, I’ve not had anybody dispute that. I had one track a few years ago that was awful, I won’t name the guy but it was completely atonal and I could not, for love nor money, find a melody for it. I even passed it to a few friends to get their thoughts and they were stumped, so I had to tell him that I was really sorry but couldn’t do it – it was beyond me. He got a bit irate but that was years ago and it was one dude
When can we expect that Flexout EP?
I was approached by Tom a few months ago and there’s no deadlines or anything set in stone, but he basically said that they want to do an EP with me and get some solo stuff out. I’ve also got another project, coming out with some people I’ve worked with in the past, that’s all I can say at the moment because we’ve got a little plan up our sleeve. But there’s going to be quite a lot of solo stuff this year, the Flexout is a definite in that it’s happening but we’re not entirely sure when it’s going to be released.
Tell us about your solo stuff that isn’t drum and bass…
Yes! So, I have a few projects at the moment, I do backing vocals for Collette Warren’s band Collette The Dots and work with a collective of people at the moment called the Cosmic Soul Collective in Bristol. Off the back of that I’ve decided I want to do my own soul stuff, so I run a band called Milk & Honey. We’ve got some gigs coming and we’re going to be recording some bits over the next few months. It is a complete switch, it still sounds like me but it’s a completely different genre and a completely different vibe, so yeah, I’m just thinking about the best way to unleash it onto the world.
What’s making soul like compared to making the D&B stuff?
It’s a lot more inclusive when the band is there, it’s nice to vibe off of everybody else’s input and their ideas. I’ve got an amazing band as well, I’ve got Hugh Hardie on keys which is just awesome, he’s such a great guy to have around. I guess it allows me to tackle more topics lyrically as well, I feel like in drum and bass and dance music I don’t want to get too deep, because yeah you want people to enjoy it but you don’t want them to cry, you know?
What type of issues do you write about?
Any and everything! I am very much an advocate of real life, so whatever takes my vote. If I’ve had a good day and met some cool people I’ll make up a song about how great people are in the world. If I’ve had a bad day and I’ve been dumped I’ll write a song about how shit boys are.
Do you ever write about broader, non-personal issues? Poverty for example.
Yeah man, absolutely. I have a lot of side projects outside of Charli Brix, I write for a few magazines and I get involved with a lot of groups in Bristol that support things like the gender divide in music, gender inequality, helping the homeless and support for mental health, things like that. Whether it’s musically or with my big old gob, I like to write about things that are really happening.
I wanted to talk to you about women in music and it’s interesting because some people think it’s an issue that’s overblown massively in dance music whereas others are more concerned. What have your experiences been like?
It’s a tough one. Me personally, I must admit, it has gotten better. When I was 17 and just starting to go to raves there were no females on the line-ups. None. Obviously, there would’ve been some somewhere, but you would’ve been pressed to find one where I was. I feel like it has to be sold by both parties, so instead of a case where we need more women, people just need to see it as DJs and producers. Not male DJs and female DJs, male producers and female producers. It needs to be just DJs and producers, and I feel like when that stigma gets lifted the more people will realise that it’s an integrated thing.
Unfortunately, until all of us, male and female, get it out of our heads that a man can’t do this and a woman can’t do that, it’s not going to change. I don’t think there’s any reason why a girl can’t be a producer or a DJ, and I feel like the odd one or two guys who have that sexist mentality is where some of the issues stem from. It’s just being narrow-minded. I don’t see myself as any different at all.
To summarise on the gender thing, because I want to make sure I’m taken in context on this, I feel like the vast majority of males in the industry support the females that are already within it. However, there are a few that need to assess their view on what males and females can do, because until people realise that everyone is equal in that sense, and on a level playing field, it’s going to continue to be a bone of contention.
But it has improved, I believe, and it’s definitely getting there. Although I will say that I was a bit pissed at Hospitality because of their line-up for Hospitality on the Beach. You can take off every single male DJ and you’re left with one female. She’s not even D&B. Her name is Lucy and she’s like experimental grime and 130, she’s Bristol based and really good.
That’s a shame
Yeah exactly, and not even necessarily the DJ side, I can’t proclaim to know all of the female DJs that are in the scene. I can, however, say, when looking at the host part tell you that: Riya, Me, Collette Warren, Charlotte Haining, Tali – that’s five off the top of my head without taking a breath. That’s five that could’ve been booked for that festival to host for sets, and if you sit down, think about and write them down you could easily think of 10-15 females that could’ve done the hosting side of it.
I think people just need to come together. That’s the biggest thing, because when we try to shine a light on the lack of females we’re not attacking the males in the industry; it’s about making it equal and accessible to all, if you put the work in and are good at what you do it shouldn’t matter if you’re male or female.
I think anyone who appreciates your vocally-driven D&B would love to see it live.
I think it is just about having variety and that’s why I love music as a whole, especially D&B. You don’t see many female hosts or MCs so it’s quite a new thing to have vocals over a set instead of the traditional MC, so I understand that it may take a while to see more live vocals over D&B. For every person that doesn’t enjoy your set, there will be someone that does, so you just play to those people. I’ve been doing this for five years now and I’m happy with my trajectory; where I am… And where I’m heading.
Watch out for a forthcoming collaboration with Monty and Charli’s own solo EP, both on Flexout Audio.