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In Conversation with High Contrast & Bou

High Contrast & BouDon’t Need You: An epic collab that’s been bubbling away on dub in the background for over two years now…

No one saw it coming but everyone wanted to hear it; The fusion of such different D&B styles across two different generations, it was always going to be an interesting and intriguing experience. Remaining on dub for a good year longer than the other two tracks Bou lists in that 2019 post, it finally dropped last month to great acclaim.

An epic collab calls for an epic interview as we speak at length with the unlikely but perfectly complementary duo about Don’t Need You, the dark art of collaborations, the constant cycle of trends in D&B, how to remain inspired and some exclusive information on some forthcoming High Contrast remixes…

Take us back to the start…

High Contrast: I guess it started for me when I first heard Bou’s EP on Critical. It was one of those ‘I really like these!’ moments, straight away. They had a character to them and each subsequent thing I heard really caught my attention. A lot of drum & bass gets made, a lot of it is good, but a smaller percent has real character. Bou’s music has a personality and even though it’s very different to where I’m at, I felt there was something we could do collaboratively.

I get a lot of requests to collaborate with the more musical and liquid-focused producers but that’s not as interesting to me because we’re coming from the same angle. I’m all about contrast and seeing what can be created when you bring those contrasts together. When we met at Let It Roll a few years ago we instantly hit it off and thought it could work. Getting in the studio doesn’t always work. It’s a mix of vibes or personalities or the moment isn’t right. Something didn’t connect. The mystery of creativity, you know?

Bou: It felt very natural when we linked. Everything I gave you, you could work with, and everything you were putting down I was into straight away. There was a good energy in the room and the music wrote itself.

High Contrast: Yeah it definitely felt like, ‘Oh there’s the tune.’ There wasn’t any effort and that’s what you’re looking for. I’ve often found with collabs that the first thing you make together isn’t the best one. it’s like you turn up with certain expectations of each other. Say a liquid artist is working with a more bass orientated artist, they’ll come with a bassy sketch. Or vice versa. But what you really need to do is be yourself. So I think I had a bit of a jump up idea which we worked on, which was kinda cool, but nothing that blew us away. Then the next idea wasn’t over-thought, it was in the moment and a lot more relaxed and the tune made itself.

Bou: Yeah totally. That happens anyway doesn’t it? Sometimes you can sit on a tune for days and days and days and it doesn’t do much. Other times you can get an idea out in 30 minutes and it’s popping off. But with collabs it should never feel like a task should it? It should be fun and natural and not be forced.

High Contrast: Yeah, you should never chase an idea.

Bou: I still remember that moment when we first chatted at Let It Roll, by the way. Me and Hedex were like, ‘There’s High Contrast!’ Hedex said to go and speak to you but I didn’t know if you’d be up for chatting. I’m glad we did, we arranged a collab pretty much straight away.

High Contrast: You made it very easy. You booked a ticket down to Cardiff, there was no over-thinking or planning. Sometimes with collabs you have to draw up plans to meet and managers get involved and studios are booked.

Bou: Way too much pressure

High Contrast: Yeah I much prefer the casual vibe. And I don’t collab that much because of that. I’m a lone wolf and like doing my own thing. The same thing happened with other fellow Manchester legends – Marcus Intalex and ST Files. I was up there for a gig. They invited me to the studio because it felt right and we came out with 3AM. It was very natural. The same with Mr Majestic with Calibre. He did a gig in Cardiff and said, ‘My flight isn’t until 7am, shall we make a tune?’ We ended up making two tunes in five hours and I drove him straight to the airport. So there’s a lot to be said for immediacy and unplanned things.

Bou: Wow. With one of the biggest tunes in D&B and all!

It seems to be getting bigger. Mr Majestic’s a cult tune. Heard it so many times since freedom weekend…

High Contrast: That’s nice to hear. And from a producer’s point of view, that’s what you want – you want a great shelf life. If We Ever did the same thing. There was the initial interest, then I got tired of it for a bit, but then the demand came back. It happens in waves. Double and triple drops bring things back and I make tunes that are good for those moments because they’re not so heavy and lend themselves well to those mixes.

Pretty sure I saw Marky do that at Hospitality with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. He brought in this nice T>I thing underneath…

High Contrast: Or was it Bou’s new remix of it?

Oh wow. Really?!

Bou: I think it was that. We sent it to Marky!

Oh hahah. Wow. Well sick remix man! Sorry for any confusion.

Bou: I take any comparison to T>I as a massive compliment bro!

Wicked. So back to Don’t Need You. You can hear both of you in this….

Bou: There’s no way I’d have come up with a track like that on my own and I hope I had a similar influence on you, Link?

High Contrast: Without a doubt. My head has been in the jungle world for the last few years and there’s no way I’d made a track like this without Bou’s influence. It’s a moment in time that caught a unique vibe.

Bou: What I love about any real time collaboration is learning. Seeing how you work and what you use was a huge inspiration to me. You can get stuck in your ways as a producer so it helps to see another person do things differently.

Lincoln, did you learn anything from Bou?

High Contrast: Massively. I don’t know if it’s an age thing, because I’m 15 or so years older than him, but Bou is very direct and tunes are flowing out of him so I’m inspired by that workflow and mindset. Music was flowing out of me when I was at Bou’s stage. As you get older you get bogged down by technical things more and more and, a few years ago, there was a stage when I definitely felt that and it. Since then I’ve been trying to get back to that purer mindset and embracing that feeling of spontaneity. Your artistic instincts are unique to you. The technical stuff can be learnt but it’s the individual energy you need to tap into and working with Bou has helped me get back into that vibe and it did feed into Notes From The Underground.

Wasn’t Remind Me a turning point?

High Contrast: Yeah it was actually.

I remember speaking to you about it at the time. Bou what influence has High Contrast had on you?

Bou: I’ve spoken to Link about this and I don’t think he realises how much his tunes are classics to my generation. I remembering you telling me If We Ever was inspired by a classic but for us If We Ever is the classic. You’re a huge inspiration to my generation. And everyone in my age group is just trying to make the biggest banger but you’ve never done that. Like the biggest reaction in If We Ever is the piano before the drop. These days everyone is just trying to make the craziest bass and the most pumping sound. So you inspire me to think outside the box and do something different.

High Contrast: That’s great to hear man. I’ve always felt that people could make the heavy basslines better than me, so it wasn’t something I needed to explore. It didn’t have the emotional connection for me like the music side did. So I wanted to have the same impact but with musical elements. It’s funny – the bit before the drop on my tunes is the bit that gets the most reaction. The chopped up vocal on Racing Green, the piano on If We Ever, the synth drop on Return of Forever. That’s accidentally become my thing. But I’m always trying to make the drums hit harder and the sub connect more, but it’s the melodies that are the ones for me. And that’s why it’s great to work with you because you’re a don of basslines.

I wonder about the generation of people making big bangers…. Lincoln, when you came through it was like that with jump up. there was a whole generation doing that then. Like it’s a gold rush in any generation of artists who’ve got that fire in a way.

High Contrast: Yeah maybe. It’s a big appeal of drum & bass, filthy basslines are a huge part of the scene and very popular. I play a lot of filthy basslines as a DJ and always have. For me there’s good in every sub-genre of drum & bass. I love how rollers have brought back a more minimal sound which was really needed. For a while it felt like very full maximalist sounds and I was feeling quite synthed- out.

Bou: One big thing that’s changed for me is that when I was I coming into druum & bass it felt like everything was boxed off. People from different subgenres did their own thing but now it feels much more like drum & bass is just one thing and people are a lot more open now. There’s no barriers – everyone wants to work with each other and people are more accepting. A few years ago no one would ever think me and you would work together.

High Contrast: Yeah and hopefully people seeing us work together will inspire different combinations of collaborations.

Lincoln… How do you feel when a new generation comes through? Does it keep you on your toes? Do you think about these things or just focus on your music?

High Contrast: Generally I’ll make what I make. It’s great that my music is well received and has found an audience in the world but I’m making it because I have to in a way. I never see things as a competition. You’re only in competition with yourself. I drive myself by trying to outdo myself. When you focus on your own lane, you’re a lot happier. There’ll always be a changing of the guard and generations evolving but you’ve got to accept that. I’m so glad young people are coming through and having great success like Bou and Kanine, this means the scene is thriving and healthy. Likewise hearing people play Mr Majestic all these years later – it means people really care about this music. We need a constant influx of new blood.

Bou: Do you feel like the pressure has relieved a bit? Because you’re cemented in the scene for so long, do you still feel you need to release something to feel relevant or to stay active?

High Contrast: I don’t take anything for granted that’s for sure. I try and only think of the last tune I put out and that’s the bar – I try and do better than that. I think maybe around 10 years ago I felt more pressure because that was the first point where there was a new generation coming through, dubstep was huge and EDM was blowing up and it felt like we had to shout a lot louder to be heard. I think those genres had a big impact on how drum & bass was being made and the mixdowns were way louder than my tunes and I had to play a bit of catch up. That’s when I felt a bit lost.

Interesting. You were making music for the Olympics and collaborating with Tiesto. I saw that as an experimental chapter of your career in a way…

High Contrast: Yeah around then. That album is the peak of that feeling. There were new cats coming through and I felt I had to step up to the technical standard they were setting, which is good because it’s important to keep the standards high. But the way I chased it, I lost my sound for a little while. There was a moment when I thought, ‘hang on, I don’t need to sound like these dubstep guys to sound like me.’ Not long after, I made Remind Me. That was reassurance that I didn’t need to over-think things. Some of the best things I’ve made have been on an old battered laptop with my headphones in a little kitchen, much more than tunes I’ve made in Abbey Road or somewhere like that.

Bou, do you overthink things? Do you feel pressure because of where you’re at?

Bou: it’s very easy to overthink things and I think my generation have a lot to overthink about. Especially with social media and Instagram likes and followers and you can’t help but play that comparison game. But I feel lucky because I’m in a position where I don’t have to release a tune in six months and I’ll still get bookings and still be fine where I’m at. I don’t stress it too much. I don’t need to follow anything and the stuff that’s popular comes very naturally to me. But when the sound changes, who knows? I like the idea of being pushed out of my comfort zone in a way.

High Contrast: I’ve been through these cycles so many times over 20 years and you can never predict what the next sound will be. You can never second guess it because it’s a naturally occurring rhythm.

Bou: Something I’ve seen is when you bring two genres together. Like ragga and D&B back in the day. Or someone doing an EDM sounding D&B track. Combining two different sounds into one is something that influences things.

The techno and drum & bass, kinda 4×4 sounds for instance. I didn’t see that coming…

High Contrast: There you go. And the best thing I’ve realised is this… If it’s a sound that I know isn’t for me then I’ll carry on doing my own thing and stand out because I’m not sounding like the current sound. Or if it’s something that does resonate with me, then I can get involved and try my hand in it. It’s a win/win.

Bou: A lot of styles have shelf life too don’t they? You can be all-in and be like ‘this is what’s popular, I’m gonna make this now’. I’ve learnt you can only do music for you. You can’t make everyone happy; make yourself happy hopefully if people connect with it but if they don’t, it doesn’t matter.

High Contrast: Yeah it doesn’t matter. People will forget about that tune and check the next one. That keeps me going. In the world of film, if a director makes a movie that isn’t a hit, that can affect them for years. But with tunes it’s such a cottage industry, you can just crack on with the next tune. That’s quite addictive, you’re always chasing your next benchmark.

Bou: Totally. And I don’t think any other scene or genre is as prolific as ours. How many times do you see Beyonce touring? We’re all touring every weekend and releasing so much music, it’s mad. You have these guys like Hazard who takes his time over releases but the scene moves too fast for most people to behave like that.

Neither of you spam it out though, and you’re both very hands on with your own creations and all aspects of the releases. Especially recently…

Bou: I love creative freedom and doing what I want. It makes it more enjoyable for me. I find it fun – choosing the artwork, getting the tune mastered, making a video. I love the whole creative process.

High Contrast: I’ve finally got my own label ready to release things. It’s taken me 20 years. The fact Bou has his up and running and at such a standard so early on in his career is inspiring. He’s setting the standard. I know for some artists it’s not always the way and some people just want to focus on music and let someone else do the business side of things. But there’s a lot to be said for being in control of your output. Labels have become less and less relevant in recent years and, with a lot of artists, it’s a direct-to-audience model. For the audience this is great. You’re not being mediated, you’re interacting direct with the artist and fully supporting them. It’s not being diluted by an outside party.

I think this has made labels step up! So… Will we see more High Contrast and Bou collabs in the future?

High Contrast: I’d love to work with Bou again. The next thing from us will be the remix we mentioned. I’ve been getting big tunes from my back catalogue remixed because it’s coming up to the 20th anniversary of my first album so I’ve been asking people to revisit my tunes. It’s been interesting hearing new takes from new artists on these tracks. I’ve been trying to find the right people for the right tunes and what I like about Bou’s remix of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is that he’s caught the cheekiness and humour of the track.

Definitely! When’s that coming out?

High Contrast: Early next year, I reckon. I’ve got my label Highly Contrasting all ready. It houses my back catalogue but I haven’t released anything new on the label yet. I wanted to get things in place and have everything running and the first new stuff will be the 20th anniversary releases.

Awesome. What’s the Gossip from you, Bou?

Bou: I’m just going to put out some of my own tunes and roll on that, really. I think by the end of next year I’ll be releasing music by other people too. It’s got to feel right, though. So for now Gossip is to keep my own releases flowing. And, I’ve got to say, releasing this tune on the label has been a huge, huge thing for me. So I haven’t planned a lot much further than this! But to go back to your question, I’d love to work with Link again. Just let me know and I’ll book another trip down to Cardiff, mate…

High Contrast & Bou – Don’t Need You is out now on Gossip

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