High Contrast: Going Back To My Roots

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After a whirlwind trip of some of the best festivals in Europe (and a meaty mix to highlight the tour), High Contrast is set to return to clubland next Friday with Playaz at Fabric. We caught up with him to see how his summer’s gone, what he’s up to and his thoughts on the commercial side of drum & bass.

Currently on the precipice of some very interesting and exciting projects that – frustratingly – he’s unable to talk about right now, it seems we’re going to be hearing a lot more from the Welsh vibe maestro in the near future. Here’s why…

Even if I wanted to make a track in a certain style that might be more popular, I wouldn’t be able to force it because my hearts not in it and that’s not the way I make music.

Last time we spoke you’d taken some time off what you described as ‘the DJ merry go round’. This summer it seems like you’re controlling it.

Haha, yeah like a drum & bass carnie! It’s been fun. The weather’s been rubbish in Britain so it’s been good to get away. My girlfriend and I did a two week roadtrip around Europe, stopping off to play various festivals along the way. It was beautiful, especially Let It Roll in the Czech Republic and Sziget in Hungary. That was a great chunk of the summer. Bestival was the last festival of the season and now it’s the Fabric show at end of the month… Back to my club stomping ground!

Give me some highlights of this awesome sounding summer…

Too many highlights really; playing in tents packed with lots of happy people is awesome everywhere I play. I had an interesting mix the other weekend; Creamfields and Shambala on the same day. Both great events but very very different. Creamfields was heavy with a very up for it crowd. The vibe was intense and like a rowdy club. Then Shambala was more of a psychedelic party with grandparents and children in the tent as well as ravers.

What’s your favourite type of vibe?

I’m just happy to play anywhere where people are up for it and going hard on the dancefloor. I love any crowd that’s into the music and wouldn’t want to play to one type – it’s all about variety. That keeps it interesting. If I was doing a live show, I’d be doing a fixed set regardless of the type of crowd pretty much. But as a DJ you need to be sensitive to what the crowd want and how they’re engaging with the music. It’s not just about playing what I want; it’s about modulating to fit the vibe somewhat; sometimes that takes you 20 minutes to get into the groove with that particular crowd. I love that challenge. So at Creamfields it was full-on, bang it out for an hour. At Shambala I was the last act of the night and it was a longer set so keeping the interest of the crowd was more of a challenge. I loved both though!

Caught any interesting acts on your travels? I saw you’d seen some of Kanye at Glastonbury…

I’m often in and out of these things but yeah Kanye was really interesting as always and I also saw FKA Twigs at Glastonbury, she’s got a great stage presence and makes some really interesting music. But to be honest I didn’t catch that much music besides the DJs playing before or after me. I always want to see more live music at festivals but its often not possible.

I hear you’ve been checking out a lot of old northern soul lately…

I have! I’ve started collecting old soul 45s. Without knowing it, over the years I’ve been picking up bits of northern soul for sampling or just because I love the music. But I didn’t know what genre it was until recently. My sister has started DJing northern soul around south Wales and that got me more consciously into it and gave me the collecting bug. It’s nice to do these special sets from time to time and play something that’s completely different to electronic music. Hearing these records on a good soundsystem is a great experience. Some of them have really heavy breakbeats and powerful vocals. It’s a completely different sonic experience. It’s great to see contemporary crowds getting down to these records and seeing the energy of the music still totally working today.

Collecting old soul records is a dangerous and expensive habit man…

I know… But the way I see it is I’m buying these records to DJ and not collect them like a serious collector. It would be crazy to spend hundreds on one 45 and devalue it with every spin. I’m fine with reissues and wearing them out. It’s been great fun and given me a little hobby that runs really nicely alongside what I do for actual work.

Speaking of actual work… Last time we spoke Who’s Loving You was just out and there was talk of lots more material. What’s up with that? We’ve had a few remixes but not as much as we’d hoped!

I can’t talk about what’s going on at the moment sorry… There are a few big things happening but not ready to confirm and I’m also producing an album with someone outside of drum & bass which has been great.

Someone outside of electronic music?

No no, they’re in electronic music but not D&B. It’s a really exciting project and I’ve loved doing it. But I can’t let the cat out of the bag in any way. It’s been a great experience and working with an artist in this type of way has been an ambition of mine for a long time. I can’t tell you any more than that. I have been making lots of drum & bass by the way. There should hopefully be new material from me very soon… Early 2016 at the latest.

Cool! And there’s been the Faithless remix…

Yes there has. That was a bit of an honour to be asked to do that and have my remix used as the first track of the album as a premiere. What was really cool was that they asked me which track I wanted to remix. People had already leapt on the big tracks like Insomnia and God Is A DJ. But those are the ones I’d be less interested in remixing… Remixing tracks like that is a blessing and a curse. They’re so well known that it’s hard to do something different and people will have very strong feelings about the track and seldom will a remix satisfy the hardcore fans of the original. There’s also the tempo issue; turning a house track into drum & bass can be a gamble. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t. Mohammad Ali is a hip-hop tempo which lent itself well to D&B and it also had a great string loop from a 70s soul record which was right up my street, so that was great fun going back to that type of vibe.

Nice. You also threw down a housier remix for Denai Moore earlier this year didn’t you?

Yeah it was my first official HC non-drum & bass remix… It was actually 100 bpm so it was a lot slower than house. It was fun to make something at a different tempo – the original just lent itself to that type of vibe so I went with it. Part of me thinks I should have done a drum & bass version as well. Maybe I’ll do my own drum & bass VIP. I think with this one it was nice to have that opportunity to work at a different tempo and get some really nice reactions to it.


How about the public reaction to drum & bass… Its commercial popularity has been a hot topic in recent weeks, even in the national news!

It has. Obviously it’s great that the genre is getting out to more ears and more music fans are aware of what we’re all doing. But this is the thing with pop music; something works one year… But will it work next year? Things move very quickly and people jump on hot sounds and ditch yesterday’s sounds very quickly. Bottom line; Warhead hasn’t got to number one. It’s not core drum & bass, it’s topline constructed pop music that is topping charts. A few years ago it was dubstep beats, last year it was a house beat, this year it’s drum & bass. So it’s great to have that exposure but that type of sound and this type of attention won’t last.

Would you like to have a number one in your lifetime?

Of course! Who wouldn’t? But it would have to be on my terms. That’s the clincher. It wouldn’t mean anything to me unless the music was coming from my heart. It would have to feel personal and be something that I believe in at an emotional level.

That seems to be a consistency throughout your music full stop. Have there ever been moments when you felt you’re close to compromising?

Not really… Even if I wanted to make a track in a certain style that might be more popular, I wouldn’t be able to force it because my hearts not in it and that’s not the way I make music.

Amen. So… Fabric on September 25.

Yeah I’m really excited about this one. It’s for Playaz and I haven’t played with them for a few years. It feels like I’m coming back to the heart of drum & bass and looking forward to doing a proper workout. It’s always a cracking vibe at Playaz. See you there…