It’s not just a cool alias name: Birmingham-based dubstep artist James Vine genuinely is a bit of an enigma. His last interview was in 2000longtime and he’s not the type of artist to be spraying memes or opinions willy-nilly on social media. In his own words, he keeps his head down and keeps thing moving.
Things are moving pretty smoothly; 2019 has been a consistent shelling of one-track ENiGMA Dubz wounders on LA-based Sub-Concentrate, landing on a monthly basis. Ranging from the floating, soulful vibes of Feelings at the start of the year to the warped and woozy Troll Dub this summer, he continues to flex a broad scope and paint from a deep palette of shades. To top it off, last month he dropped the latest instalment of DUPLOC’s DUPPLATES series with a four track EP stacked with some of his most disarming, deepest and heaviest designs this year. It’s called The Eyes and it sounds like this…
With more releases already lined up into 2020 – and a classical background entrenched deep in music theory – we called him up to find out more…
It was thanks man! I played Valhalla but in general my summer isn’t easy for gigs. My wife is a travel blogger so we spend the UK holiday times backpacking and we have a young family so it’s a juggle. I try my best to get the right balance between family and music and it’s working out pretty well! We’re looking at backpacking round Canada next year because I’ve had some great support there.
What a beautiful balance. Your kids are into exploring the world already…
Yeah for sure! We’ve had another one now so until Christmas I’m being selective over bookings so I can be at home and support my wife. She’s super supportive anyway. We met through music but the opposite side of music, Classical music.
Yeah man. I played the cello from the age of five and at around 15/16 that was where my career was heading. I was studying a course at Birmingham Conservatoire but ended up with a copy of Reason through some work experience during A Levels and I was torn. I love playing classical music, but my passion is composing and creating the music as well.
Yeah you must know some pretty deep music theory then? A lot of people say classically trained but you really were…
I was yeah man. It’s massively helped in terms of understanding music and having knowledge of music theory. It was looking very promising in that field too. But my tutors were saying I should be practising seven or eight hours a day and after about an hour practising I just wanted to produce and make more music. It felt quite solitary.
How did electronic music and dubstep murk up this classical mix in the first place?
I’d chanced upon a pirate station called Silk City trying to find Radio1 and heard garage for the first time, it totally blew my mind.
Yeah! I’d never heard anything like it in my life and I needed to know more. So, if it wasn’t for that encounter I might not have jumped on it so early. It’s cool how it worked out. I was getting mixtapes and rocking up to classical concerts blasting out garage mixes in my headphones. I was the odd one out there. What was cool was that I met my wife playing at symphony hall, I could tell she was another slightly odd one out and we got each other’s attention and have been together ever since!
Nice! What does she play?
Violin. It’s cool isn’t it?
Very! Do you pick up the cello for the odd strum every now and again?
I’ve got it at home. I don’t play it very often but it’s still there.
Any parallels to draw with the cello’s sound and your sound as a bass artist? They’re both heavy.
I think so. I played in a lot of quartets where the cello is the lowest range so I was used to playing the bassline anyway. But it wasn’t that which got me really into bass culture. It was soundsystem culture. I’d changed uni courses and went to study in Leeds at Leeds College of Music. I got onto a production course up there and a night called Subdub changed my life.
Exactly. At the time I was just obsessed with garage and grime and didn’t know much about dubstep. Then I went to Subdub. It was a DMZ night. Pretty sure it was Mala, Coki, Caspa, Skream. The cream of the crop were all playing. I walked in and was knocked off my feet. That was my first exposure to soundsystem culture. 2006. I left everything in that room and came out with 140. I got onto it straight away!
How about the Birmingham scene for dubstep? I got fond memories of the Custard Factory…
Yeah Bigger The Barry and Drop Beats Not Bombs were big nights and I’d play for them every now and again. To be honest Birmingham hasn’t got much of a scene for dubstep any more although some nights do pop up. Big up to Vault Session and the Assassin Soundsystem though, they do some wicked nights. The majority of my shows are all in the US at the moment though.
America’s flying the flag. Denver especially!
Exactly, there’s some amazing places and communities for it out there. It’s where most of my bookings come from and my management/agency Subcon are based out there in LA. I’ve got around 10 coming up from now until Christmas then next year I’m looking into a proper tour.
Wicked scene out there.
It’s great. They love the deeper stuff and the riddim stuff is popping off big time too. It’s a great balance. Another thing is soundsystem culture over there. People are getting really into building their own unique rigs. Sub.mission in Denver is unreal with the Basscouch soundsystem. There’s Tsunami in New York, they’ve been going for a while and have one seriously powerful system. Hennessy systems are ones to watch too. I’m looking forward to playing on one later this month. Then across our side of the pond you’ve go the Sinai soundsystem which is unreal and one I’d love to play on!
Yes! When you’re playing out in the US do you play a bit of riddim too?
If the crowd want it then it’s fun to bring into the mix. My management have a lot of riddim acts. I float around all the styles, but I still enjoy the hard stuff. Not when it goes up to 150 but if I’m on a heavier line-up I’ll have the right tracks for that type of party.
Yeah I saw you posting about pushing the tempo up to 144…
Yeah it’s a happy medium. I’m not a fan of the 150 thing at all. 144 still feels good though – I play between 140-3 but you do get a bit more energy when you put the tempo up a bit. Not to crazy speeds, but just a little touch.
You’re a sound engineer by day, right?
Yeah that’s right, and alongside that I’ve got a variety of aliases, one for making Hip Hop/Trap, one for House music and another for more ambient and soundtrack music which ties in more of my classical music skills
Ah, full circle!
Yeah it’s been in there all along. Especially with the more chilled and melodic stuff and future garage I’ve done as ENiGMA Dubz. But I’ve found it’s about getting the right balance and getting the right access to different scenes. People in different musical circles often don’t want to venture out of them and I think some promoters and other labels possibly get confused as to what I do and where I’m going to take my music.
But at the same time you want to keep yourself inspired and developing as an artist…
Can we know any of these alias names?
My ambient/soundtrack music alias is Lam Scape It’s still in development but I’ve got a library album out for syncing through Felt Music. My Hip Hop/Trap alias is ‘D-VINE’ and my house alias is ‘Manta’. It’s fun, it’s a different challenge and I’ve developed so much as a producer from it.
And you’re also dropping EPs like the Duploc one!
I’ve been working with DUPLOC from the very start of his venture yeah. Pieter approached me and asked me to get involved in their first compilation. They’ve really grown as a channel and I’ve done loads of bits. With this EP, which is out now on Vinyl and Digital, we wanted it to be special and I spent time thinking about the music. I felt I had something with The Eyes and sent it to him and he was really into it. That was about eight months ago and all the other ones were ideas I sent over and he picked them.
ET is a persy. It’s cold!
That’s my favourite too. It came about when I was backpacking in Sri Lanka with the family. I was lying in this guesthouse in the mountains. Me and my daughter watched ET and it inspired me to write the intro that night. It was a total opposite to where we were in the world but I knew I was on the right path for it.
Amazing. So what’s up next?
I’ve got a track called Shaolin coming out which is a harder one, one of the 144 ones we were on about. Then at the start of November I’ve got an EP called ‘And I’m Gone’ ft a really cool vocalist called Lylli, it’s the follow up to my Moonwalk EP on Slime which is more downtempo and chill. Then in December I’ve got a tune called Chestburster which is another harder one, inspired by Alien actually. Then in January I’ve got another vinyl on Dub Sector based out in St Louis. So yeah loads going on. Just keeping busy and moving forward!