Rewind… It’s 2007. A year that’s matured well with D&B history hindsight.
Commix’s Be True squeezed every bit of breath from our collective lungs; Lynx’s Disco Dodo changed the game with every bashment step; Hazard slaps, slays and slices with Mr Happy and Machete; Lenzman, Icicle, Eveson, LSB and Metrik all make their debuts; Samurai, Bad Taste, Fokuz and Audioporn launch and benchmark-setting albums such as Calyx & Teebee’s Anatomy and Mist:I:Cal’s Eleventh Hour indelibly dent the D&B landscape. As did High Contrast’s third (and arguably best) album Tough Guys Don’t Dance.
It featured this…
Spaceless and timeless and such loveliness…
Exactly ten years old this month and still goosebumping your innermost soul whenever it’s dropped, High Contrast’s If We Ever is one of those rare tracks that can still be played in any scenario, within any subgenre, to any crowd in any country and cause the same unifying evocative rush.
Light enough to carry the most thundering or creative double drops, soulful enough to instantly lift spirits, hooky and distinctive enough for everyone to know exactly what’s about to get down from just the opening chord; the deep alchemy behind this track is effectively the holy grail for any drum & bass producer, and not even High Contrast can explain how it all came together so naturally.
Galvanised by Diane Charlemagne’s arresting and iconic vocal presence, immortalised by certified future classic status, it’s the only production High Contrast has played in every set since he first cut it to dub in March 2007.
As we await his fifth album later this year (an album we suspect will be a return to his agenda-setting Tough Guys form) we called up the Welsh junglist to get the full story of how it came to be, how he feels about the legacy of If We Ever and how hit affected DJ Zinc so much he tried to run away with the dubplate…
“I’d wanted to make a tune like this since the beginning. Someone gave me a DJ Hype mixtape from 1994 when I was in college around 1998 and it had the Foul Play remix of Omni Trio’s Renegade Snares. That track had such a huge impact on me. Over the years I would try and make a piano-led jungly type tune but often when you try to write something with a very specific tune it just doesn’t work. It’s like if you try to solve a problem head-on you can’t – you need to look at things from a different angle. I was trying too hard to make a homage to Renegade Snares. I knew I wasn’t getting anywhere with it so I just put the idea to the side for a while.
“Then one day, late 2006/early 2007 I found a pad sound on a synth and thought it had a nice old school sound. I still can’t explain it now but literally the first notes I played in were those chords riff. That fit really nicely I tried some piano over it and, again, the first notes I tried was the piano riff. It was like I wasn’t consciously doing anything – I was in the zone and letting things come from somewhere I couldn’t control. Back then I wasn’t a proficient keyboardist in any way at all and I’d forgotten most of my music theory I’d been taught as a kid. It all just came from within.
“I tried some breaks on it and by then it had come together very quickly. It’s incredibly exciting when things come together in this way, it’s like ‘wow, okay this has taken life as a tune now’ I knew it needed a vocal element to match the feel of the track and Hospital got in touch with Diane who was totally into it. That was a real honour; her voice on Inner City Life was one of my first powerful introductions to drum & bass so it was unreal to have such an iconic and talented singer on the track. That was a real high point for me.
“Even then I wasn’t sure if I had what people would describe as a ‘massive track’ on my hands. I just knew I was personally very happy with it. Then MC Wrec was in town for a gig and came round to my studio. He was the first person I played the final version to and told me he thought it was a future classic. So I cut it to dub and played it for the first time at a festival in Eastern Europe. Zinc was playing after me and the minute I dropped it he came running up saying ‘what is that tune? I need that tune!’ He asked for the dubplate but I told him I’d only just cut it and would send it to him. So started trying to pull it out of my bag in a jokey type of way and trying to run off with my whole record bag… In the middle of my set. I was running around after him like a puppy! I took it as a compliment that he was so into it so sent it to him when I got home.
“Looking back I think what pleases me about having this regarded as a classic is the fact it’s not a heavy tune in any way. It’s got quite a light touch to it and the emotion of the simple melodies seem to connect with people. That’s what I’ve always tried to do: hit people with the melodic content, not the hardness of the sound. It’s a track I think I’ve played in every single set since I made it. Sometimes I think ‘okay I’m not going to play it tonight’ but someone will request it or it’s just the perfect moment for it and I have to play it. It’s become a signature tune and I’m happy to say I’m not sick of it yet.”