WORDS

How Digital brought Ex-Concord Dawn member Kiljoy back into the game….

Destination 90s: D&B tsunamis are splashing out across the world from the UK jungle wave machine, splashing and lapping up onto far flung shores. First via clued-up promoters, all eager to be the first to book the protagonists of the revolutionary genre that sounded like no other. Then, inspired by the parties and expensive black wax imports, by its own homegrown talent.

Gradually more and more isolated juglised atolls popped up around the world. Patife’s told us about the Brazilian explosion, Dieselboy’s told us how D&B permeated the US, now Evan Short can provide a little insight from a New Zealand perspective as a first hand witness to his country’s D&B revolution; first as a raver and fan, then as a founding member of Concord Dawn.

Pre-dating Pendulum by a good few years, it’s important to note how much impact Concord Dawn had on the wider international D&B movement. The first antipodean act to penetrate the notoriously tight UK D&B scene and make serious dents, Evan and Matt Harvey (who remains the sole member of Concord Dawn) set a seriously high benchmark on labels such as Timeless, Metalheadz, Critical, Exit and of course Function…. Digital’s longstanding imprint that’s just released Evan’s first D&B single in over 12 years.

Badman on the A, Air Raid on B: the single is a bone crunching return that packs an authentic hardcore punch. Rough, grainy, loaded with a stinking de-tuned synth hooks and amens that rattle so hard they should come with free tetanus antidote, this isn’t so much of comeback but rather the sound of a man embracing an uncontrollable urge to get back into the studio and just whip up a sick beat that digs deep into his influences and founding musical passions.

A family man who programs some pretty complex sounding anti fraud tech, living on the tropical island of Rarotonga, Cook Islands, Evan honestly thought his time in D&B was over and was happy with that. But with a studio itch he could no longer ignore scratching and the backing of the mighty Digital, it seems his time in the genre has just been rebooted. But it’s on his own terms, with his own sounds. We called him up to find out more…

You’re back on the tunes. I was trying to remember when you left Concord Dawn. Was it the Chaos By Design album?

Yeah that was the last album I was involved in. It had been a long journey…. Matt I go right back to when we were 12 and made music in bands throughout our teens. We kinda re-met at audio engineering school and found we were both into drum & bass and within a few months we’d already pooled our hardware and that’s when Concord Dawn really started.

Right so a little earlier than I thought…

Yeah it was around 1997. Then around 2005 Matt moved to Austria, my wife and I meant to go too but things happened and we didn’t. We thought it would work well to have me on this side of the world and him on the other but our communication was reduced to contact on AIM and the odd short phonecall. We weren’t listening to the same music together, going to the same gigs together, we didn’t have that common ground to work on as artists any more.

You’d gone in different directions

Yeah. I’d started producing rock bands and things like that and found I was spending more of my time writing heavy metal. My interest had dwindled, if I’m honest. It got to the point where Matt needed to tell me to pull my finger out. I was also very tired of the touring. I was doing Australia twice a year, America twice a year, New Zealand constantly. I was never at home and didn’t think it was a sustainable way to make a living. So Matty and I split, which was great because we got our friendship back.

Let’s go back to 97 for a second. You were part of that first international wave to make an impression on the UK stage. It was very much a UK thing back then…

It was a really funny time for drum & bass coming into the early 2000s. It wasn’t just UK-centric, it was more specific; it was very London and Bristol specific. You had pockets like Ipswich where Digital was working from but largely it was those cities. But over here we had Subtronix promoters bringing some seriously great talent over here. Guys like Trace and Doc Scott, Dom & Roland and Andy C and Bad Company.

That was Geoff Presha wasn’t it?

Yeah that’s right. It’s really interesting seeing how he’s gone on to do his thing and smash it with Samurai in Berlin. He and his partner Dave were smashing it with the parties back then. We didn’t appreciate how good they were. We thought they were just shitty New Zealand clubs but when I came over to the UK in 2001 and went to places like The End I realised they were very similar to clubs we had back home. When we started rubbing shoulders with the DJs who Geoff had been booking a bit more they’d tell us how much they loved the vibe and clubs. It’s awesome; New Zealand had become a breeding ground for drum & bass. The interest in it seemed skewed compared to Australia where there were far less people interested in the music. They seemed much more interested in breaks and tech house but over in New Zealand everyone loved it.

Why do you think that is? Because dubstep also has a very high contingent of sick New Zealand producers. It’s clearly a soundsystem thing…

Maybe yeah. New Zealand is also one of the largest countries for reggae sales so that roots connection has always been strong. The leap from dub to jungle to drum & bass was very natural for people in New Zealand. But those ingredients weren’t there to build on for other countries. We had the building blocks. We were lucky to have that when we started. Right time, right place.

What are earliest memories of being accepted into the wider scene?

The first proper reaction we got to Morning Light was actually from Digital. He’d come round to our place before NYE. We were touring elsewhere but our mate played him some tunes and apparently he was like ‘woah what’s this?’ I got a text from my mate saying Digital likes the tunes and wants a chat, which was incredible.

Then a few days later we’re playing a local gig in Auckland just after Bad Company. We didn’t know them well at the time but we had one CDJ and they had brought their own as well. I asked Darren if we could use their CDJ and Darren agreed. Then we kicked off the set with Morning Light and Darren was like ‘I need a copy of this now!’ I couldn’t give him the copy because we were flying straight after so he made me promise to send it. It was cool, that feedback was very encouraging because before then we hadn’t much feedback other than ‘thanks mate’. All of a sudden this tune blew us up. Then it felt like people would sign anything from us. It was mental. There are some tunes I look back and think ‘ah man, I wish that didn’t come out.’

Fresh recently said to us in an interview about that era: ‘you could shit on a vinyl and it would sell 4000 units’

Ha! You really could. But the whole industry has changed; I was getting dubs but I was still spending a couple of hundred bucks on test presses and 12”s every week. No one does that any more. I’m not lamenting that, by the way, I love the idea of streaming. Music is made to be listened to and danced to. As long as I can pay my way in life, I don’t need to be remunerated thousands of dollars, I just need to make it work while and feel good about it.

What got you back into it?

Well I’d been doing some records with friends as a producer and engineer, I’d been in bands, but I missed drum & bass. There’s something about sitting in the studio and working on a beat. So just before we moved over here I was having a play on FL studio for fun and thought it would be cool to write a throwback to the hardcore days. Just a pounding 4×4, big rave stabs and an amen over the top. Back to 1994 darkcore stuff. I was doing it very much for me and didn’t think anyone cared about that sound. I didn’t think it would fit in with what’s going on today.

Were you listening to anything current in D&B at the time?

Not much. I’d gone off it a lot, it seemed like a race for who can make the wubbiest wub or the screechiest of screech and it had lost its soul. That’s not me. So yeah I sent Badman to a few people who all pretty much said ‘nah D&B isn’t like this any more’ and I sent it to Steve for a joke like ‘look at this throwback I made’ and he came back instantly saying ‘I want to sign it, make me a b-side!’

Nice. He pushed you back into the game!

He did! He set me a target and at first that was daunting. But I got into a bit of a flow and found time to make more beats and it’s just kinda working out. I’m getting to explore things that I didn’t do when Matty were writing because it didn’t fit into the Concord Dawn sound. It’s cool. People might think it’s a bit of a throwback piece but elements like the breaks and reese basses are what I grew up with and what I fell in love with. It’s not about being retro, I’m just being honest.

Good timing, too. There appears to be less interest in precision tech and much more emphasis on authenticity and vibe.  

I think so. I think it’s interesting; if I think back my favourite DJ sets back then. Andy C, Doc Sctt, the diversity of music and the sonics would create this mad dynamic throughout the set. And I don’t think we have the same eb and flow. It’s not the music itself, it’s how it’s played, the mix is more relentless and there’s much less dynamic range. I’d like too think there’s space for music that’s more open, has movement and diversity in sound.

We’ve got that already. Think about producers like Quartz, maybe Need For Mirrors, Serum, Break…

Maybe man. I’m not up to date and I don’t think I ever was. Matty was, and still is, the guy who would be like that. Like Mr Football Manager guy. He’d know who was what, what was hot, what was where. He was that guy. I was the guy who just want to play with a pad all day and see if I could turn it into something cool. I think my view of drum & bass is still influenced from the last era I was properly active which was around 2008.

Biggup Digital though. You go back through all the eras right?

Oh yeah definitely. It’s funny, Steve and I go right back to the start of us breaking through. I’ve made loads of mates through touring over the years but Steve’s special. Any time he’d come over to New Zealand he’d always make time to hangout. When I was in the UK he’s picked me up from airports and driven me to gigs. He’s been a great friend. So when he gave me the opportunity to do this again I said he could have first refusal on any tracks I want to sign. He was like ‘cool, let’s do it, join the family’

So this really isn’t a whim is it? You’re properly back on the tunes!

Yeah I think now I know what I’m getting myself into, for sure. When you’re in your early 20s you’ll sacrifice anything to make this happen to get out there and do what you think is right. But now, with a much clearer idea of how the industry works and how I want to work within it, it’ll be on my own terms. Gently gently, softly softly. I’m not going to be putting out 12 tunes a year on various labels and constantly touring. I’ll do what I can, when I can. I get a lot of satisfaction from my day job but writing drum & bass, regardless of anyone actually hearing it, is in me. It was something I had to do. And it just so happens Steve is into it and wants t release it. I guess it’s the luck factor again….

Feeling lucky? Follow Kiljoy

Bad Man / Air Raid is out now on Function