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In Conversation With Fixate

Fixate your attention on the first full-length LP from Fixate. Landing last week on dBridge’s formidable and forever eclectic Exit Records, the self-titled record is an unsurprisingly surprising journey through the nooks and crannies of his genre-bending, cliché-avoiding take on electronic music.

If we take it back, this take remains true from his very first endeavours in the music scene. His first release on Diffrent Music saw his already cold production skills guide us through the realms of broken beats and disjointed club music at 170-ish BPM. Whatever the tempo, he’s owned his style since day one and continued to explore this very pure, inwards-looking sound since – often breaking the rulebooks in the process.

Despite releases on labels like 20/20, Gutterfunk and Hospital Records over the years, it has been Exit that formed his primary home, a label/artist relationship that was written in the stars. It is clear that the label have wholeheartedly trusted every move he’s made, and we’ve seen undeniably successful music that perhaps sits on the fringes of the wider music scene – try Tweeked on for size, released on the now-iconic What Comes Around mini LP in 2017. On the flip side of this, we’ve seen him produce some of the rowdiest rave-weapons of the last few years, including the now-iconic Ripgroove Refix released on Ice Cream Records.

It feels apt for his full first-length LP, released last week, to simply be called Fixate, with it doing exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a sprawling, 13 track effort that defines what the producer is capable of at this period of time. More than a collection of songs however, the album ebbs and flows in its intensity, weaves through an impressive number of genres and tempos, and continues to take the listener down unanticipated paths. Does a Fixate DJ set spring to mind?

The record also sees Fixate team up with familiar friends, including DRS, Itoa, Cimm and label boss dBridge himself. Read our full chat below to get a further insight into the album: 

You’ve been prolific in your output throughout your career. Why was now the time to put out an album?

If anything, I think it’s a few years too late. Some of those tunes are six years old or more. Darren [dBridge] suggested it a long time ago and I agreed to it, but I’ve been overthinking it for quite a few years now. I like making lots of different styles of music, so there’s the challenge of making it all make sense together. I found it quite hard, particularly doing half-time stuff alongside the jungle bits. It took a little bit of time to make it flow, but I think it all works well together now.

I never would have known while listening to the album that some of these tunes were that old…

What will happen is I’ll sit on them for a while and tweak them. Some of them were completely different tunes in which I’ve taken ideas from and brought up to my production standards today. The tune Shaded for example, the hook on that was originally from a half-time tune seven or so years ago. It was one of those tunes that was never really good enough to put out. I took the bits I liked and made a new tune with it. All the tunes that are this old have been tweaked from their original state.

Something that really stood out to me is the journey from start-to-finish. Proper album business. 

That was something that took me a long time to figure out. It’s how I figure out a DJ set as well, especially when you’re going from say, 160bpm down to 130bpm, and then back up. It’s tricky sometimes. The album works in two parts for me, and I even considered doing a two-part album because of this. In my head, there’s something that links them one after the other. It gets more melodic towards the end, and at the start its more percussion and beat-led.

You mention the link there between the album and your DJ sets which is interesting. Do your sets inspire your production and vice versa?

Definitely. As I started DJing more, my productions changed a bit, as you kind of figure out what works best in that setting. It is dance music at the end of the day, so you are making it for the rave. There’s the tune Programmed To Fail with dBridge for example, which I visualised playing at 4am on a massive rig. It’s a time and place thing, thinking about where and when it would go down in a set.

I’m pretty sure I heard someone play that tune out at Phonox a couple of months ago, probably at about 4am…

Perfect!

So, you’ve got the big ‘gun-finger in the air’ reaction tunes like your Ripgroove refix, and then the groovier, set-building tracks like Gristle on the LP. Is there a vibe that you prefer making?

That’s a tough one…

I guess it’s not as black and white as that?

Yeah, so as an example, the Ripgroove refix was just a tune I made to play in my own sets. At the time, the only other similar thing I knew of was that mashup of High Contrast and The Streets with the Ripgroove sample in it. I had the idea for this track purely as one for me to play in my sets and obviously it escalated from there.

Big time!

I’ve seen people say this all the time but if you try to make a more of a banger it’s likely not going to happen, those ones are usually accidents. I’m happy making either style the main thing is that buzz you get from making a tune that you like. I’m having a lot of fun these days with more techno/dub inspired music, where it’s more about a longed-out groove.

Groove is one of thing that strikes me most about the album, especially with the percussion and odd rhythmic elements. Where do you find your influence with this?

I gravitate to lots of percussive styles of music and often use small parts of various loops/breakbeats to make my own patterns. I love taking percussion from all over the place, whether that’s various breakbeats or random perc loops. I also enjoy taking things out and making the space to bring out a shuffle or groove.

Following on from a trend in recent interviews, I’m going to take a wild guess and say you’ve played drums at some point?

I did have lessons for a couple of months as a kid, but it got quite pricey! I’d just go round my mate’s house and play on his kit. I was always into music, but never really had the opportunity to fully pursue an instrument. I’m also not from a particularly musical family, so no grand piano lying around the house. When I figured out you could get a cheeky version of FL Studio and start making noises, I was pretty excited.

What were the early musical influences when you started producing?

My initial journey into production was through wanting to make hip-hop beats. I often discovered music as a kid through skate videos and computer games. I was drawn to the hip-hop and breakbeat stuff, which I guess naturally led onto jungle and drum and bass. After I messed around for a while trying to make beats, I got really into dubstep and tried making that for a bit. I sped the tempo up when I started making tunes with Chimpo and it felt natural to me, so I continued producing in this way.

It’s definitely a style that sets you apart from a lot of other producers in the drum and bass world. 

I just kind of sped up what I was doing and quickly got more into this world of 160-170 music which was really exciting. I was not so knowledgeable of the scene so just did my thing experimenting and seeing what I thought sounded good. It was a lot of taking influences from other places and putting them in that tempo.

I guess this is why Exit Records is such a good home for your music! How has it been working with them over the years?

It’s been really good. Both Darren and Will have helped me a lot with developing as an artist. I just make music, and I’m not being asked to tweak anything. I’ve learnt a lot from working with Darren, and I’ve been given a lot of opportunities through the label. I’m proud to put the album out with them and feel like I’ve come a long way thanks to their support. I’m really grateful.

We mentioned it briefly earlier but there’s the collab with dBridge on the album. Tell me a bit more about how this came to be. 

That came from sending stems back and forth after he moved to Belgium. It was a very natural process. We’ve done another track together in the studio with Kabuki as part of his New Forms project that came out a few months back. We’ve got some pending ideas still so hopefully we’ll make a few more.

On the topic of collaborations, I’ve got to mention Richie Brains. That must have been a surreal experience at that point in your career, right? 

Yeah, that was surreal at the time! I hadn’t even released a tune when we started doing that. There was a group email going around and it all happened from there. I hadn’t met anyone at that point either, so I was pretty nervous and quiet in the studio. At first it kinda felt like, who the fuck was I to tell all these producers I look up to what to change in a tune? However, the project naturally developed, and I had a lot of fun being part of it. I learnt so many different things through everyone I worked with. Good times, I can’t believe how long ago it was now.

I’m sure I know the answer to this, but could we ever see a return of the project?

I mean, I wouldn’t say no, but getting seven busy people together like that is difficult. We have tried, but I almost think it’s better that it’s a one off. You never know though!

Carrying on with the album collaborations, you have the track Down with DRS. That’s the first time you’ve worked with him on a track, right? 

This album track was my first time working properly with a vocalist, so it was a learning curve. I love his vocals on this and it’s one of my favourites off the album.

You also teamed up with Itoa for Backpedal which is a wicked tune that showcases both of your styles very well. Did you both have different strengths that played into the final product? 

Definitely. We live local to each other around North London, so we’ve linked up to make tunes and hang out quite a few times before. It wasn’t originally a halftime tune, we messed about with several ideas. We started with a percussion loop which we sent back and forth and then we sat down and finished it. It was super fun to make, and he smashed it. We’ve been back in the studio again lately and will hopefully have more music on the way in the future.

The last collaboration I wanted to mention is of course Back to BC with Cimm. You guys seem to have a great relationship, first with your Fixate & Cimm night at XOYO and now this. 

Yeah, we’ve been mates for a while. I sat on that tune a while and it was quite bare bones. He ended up hearing it and sending me a video of him jamming over it, as he plays keys and all sorts of instruments. He really brought the tune together despite just doing it for fun to begin with. I really liked the end result.

Tell me more about that XOYO night!

We were probably pissed one night and Cimm suggested it, and next thing you know we’re planning it out. Sgt. Pokes pretty much hooked it all up with the venue and suddenly it quickly became very real! Big up Pokes!

That was another learning curve, but I’m glad we did it. Booking a line-up is hard, out to promoters because it seems like stress! It all came together well though and was exactly what we wanted – loads of mates coming together and playing music to a great crowd. We didn’t know how busy it would be, but it got completely rammed out. We’re looking at doing another one soon hopefully. It gets tricky with dates and trying to make the stars align.

Have you got anything else in the pipeline for after the album?

Yeah, I’ve been working with others a lot at the minute including vocalists, a lot with Itoa as I mentioned, and some others. I’m looking at putting some more music out over the summer.

Any final bits to mention? 

Just a big shout to dBridge and Will from Exit, Cicely Grace who’s done the artwork, Itoa, Cimm, DRS & dBridge again on the collabs, and everyone else who’s supported me on the album!

Fixate – Fixate is out now on Exit Records

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