(Dom & Roland photo courtesy of Chelone Wolf)
Dom & Roland and Gridlok go way back.
2005 to be precise. Just over 10 years into Dom’s career, a little under five years into Gridlok’s. The pair first collided with two collaborations that year; the insane horn melting tornado Moodswings on Dom & Roland Productions and the frazzled funk of Hooked on Gridlok’s Project 51 imprint.
“I met Dom as a fan originally,” explains Gridlok who was based in California when they first met, but has since relocated to The Netherlands. “I was buying his albums before I met him. He’s been part of my growth as an artist.”
“Likewise,” agrees Dom. “Ryan comes from the same background as me in terms of hardware. We share certain ideas…”
These ideas led to a whole string of collaborations throughout the 2000s. The raging inferno of London’s Burning in 2007, the toxic grit of Funk Hunt and uncut sci-fi of Catscan in 2009… The list goes on. But it’s been a long time since they last linked up in the studio. 10 years to be precise. To mark the occasion, which happened because Dom got stuck in Amsterdam for three days due to heavy snow, they went back to their earliest collaborative roots.
“The whole idea around doing this tune was we wanted to do something epic like Moodswings,” explains Dom. “It was always going to be heavy.”
The end result is Black Matter. Don’t take Dom’s word for its heaviness, check it yourself…
To mark this reunion of kindred spirits, two acts who have never compromised and carved their own unapologetic paths in drum & bass, we asked them to interview each other. Covering everything from capitalist greed to mixdown migraines, they went in. Just as they do on their productions. This is how it went down…
Gridlok: Okay I’ll start… Why don’t you release as much music as other artists?
Dom: That’s a tricky question. I think it’s because I don’t put anything out until I’m happy with it and feel it will stand the test of time. I don’t want it to be cool or of the moment. Whether they will or they won’t, anything I release is left for other people to listen to. And it takes me a while to decide if I think it’s shit or not.
Gridlok: You need to let stuff brew for a little while, is that what you’re saying?
Dom: Yeah, I just think it shouldn’t come out if it’s not good.
Gridlok: I think that becomes a higher and higher standard as you develop. Things you felt good about when you’re younger you wouldn’t now because you’ve set yourself higher goals or have learnt more and been exposed to more music.
Dom: Definitely. I’ve changed as a person, too. I started off just loving the music, then I thought ‘hang on, I need to make more money.’ So the music changed. Then I realised my music was changing for the worst and I knew I needed to go back to my original vibe and just make the music I love. That whole journey has taken me back to where I was. I’m not worried about the money, I just want to make good music. But it has to be as good as I can possibly get it.
Gridlok: So you’re just super critical basically?
Dom: Totally. So, here’s a question of mine… How has your music changed since you moved to Europe?
Gridlok: Well before I was making music pretty displaced from the scene before. But now I’m in the heart of it. You’d think that would make a difference, right? But in the studio it hasn’t affected me much at all. In terms of my sets, yeah it’s made me want to play more high energy because the party atmosphere is different here. But in the studio, no, I’m still doing what I do because I’m into what I’m into.
Dom: From an outside perspective, you did change for a bit. You went way more neuro-y and now you’re back to the Ryan that I love.
Dom: That leads me to the next question I had planned actually… I love your movie theme car chase sounding 70s dark funky D&B that’s full of horns and strings. Will you make more of this for me to play in my sets?
Gridlok: Well I’m not going to make them for you, but I’ll make them for me and you can play them. My last two releases, on Hospital’s Sick Music and Cause 4 Concern’s 20 year album are both in that vein. They’re too mellow for you, though…
Dom: I like them both! But the things I loved were like the California Schemin with Hive. That was amazing. Your Moonraker remix, too. I love those tunes.
Gridlok: Thanks. So here’s one. It’s a legit question I’ve asked Goldie and a few different people… What’s the secret to staying passionate after all these years?
Dom: Not to think about it too much and be passionate about music, if you get too caught up in everything else around it, it stops being fun. It’s just there to be enjoyed. The soundwaves effect your emotions, which is a beautiful thing. If you can stick to that basic idea and not get caught up in the bullshit and overthinking, it stops becoming a passion.
Gridlok: That’s all fair. But what about the production and mixdowns? We both get frustrated with that.
Dom: We do and I wish we didn’t. I talk to my friend Rico at SRD. He distributes all kinds of genres and he said that it’s only drum & bass that has this massive thing about mixdowns.
Gridlok: But people like you play into that by making amazing sounding records!
Dom: But at the time we didn’t analyse it. We were just making a record. We never looked at each other’s snares or anything like that. I never worried about frequencies, I didn’t have an analyser, I was making tunes off an Atari.
Gridlok: But you made them sound good when you did them. Other records coming out at the time sounded like they were coming out of a cassette tape compared to what you were doing.
Dom: Yeah but you’re talking about mixdowns here…
Gridlok: That was part of the question; we’re scientists of the music so it’s our job to create the vibe but we also have to see it through to the end and finish it in the best possible way we can.
Dom: Yeah. But the only thing that matters is what comes out of the speakers. None of this ‘oh I recorded this snare with this plugin and ran it through this tube hardware’… No one listening to it cares about that. The less people focus on the mixdown and more on the emotion the better position we’re in. Mixdowns are part of that but I refuse to focus on it until I have to. It gives me more focus on the music.
Gridlok: Not to sound ridiculous but that’s the difference between being gifted or not; if you don’t have to obsess over it and it still sounds good then you’re gifted.
Dom: You say that. But you have to teach yourself to learn everything about a trade and then teach yourself to forget it. I love engineering because of that.
Gridlok: I definitely agree with that!
Dom: I’ll find out about getting the perfect sounding distortion and all kinds of other techniques but then I try and forget about them because ultimately I want to hear, and enjoy, the music as a music lover as well as being an engineer. If you don’t have that relationship with the music then you’re just a nerd twiddling knobs and expecting people to like your knob twiddling.
Gridlok: Ha! I totally agree. So, you’re saying the way to stay inspired is to stay focussed on the music?
Dom: Yes. I like how you’re summarising all my answers.
Gridlok: You’re giving very complex ones, I need to wrap them up. So another question, something I’ve wondered since I heard Industry… Would you ever be interested in scoring a film?
Dom: Definitely but I know it’s not the romantic idyll I’d want it to be. Unless you’re Hans Zimmer where you get free reign, you’re going to be subject to a guy in a suit saying ‘I don’t like this, it should be more like this’ and I would find that very difficult having had free range to do what I want for years. But if a director who knows my music came and said ‘I love all your intros, would you be up for doing something like that?’ Then yeah I’d love that.
Gridlok: I totally agree. I’d find it too hard to hard to give up the freedom we’ve had as artists.
Dom: Okay so next question… Even though styles change, D&B is about a beat to dance to for some and a journey for others. Which one do you aim for first when you start a tune?
Gridlok: It depends what tune you’re trying to make. I do both sometimes. I can start with a beat because I’m thinking about dancing. Other times I’ll start with the intro, samples, synthesiser, just trying to build a vibe.
Dom: I’m the same. Do you think having both those elements is important in a tune?
Gridlok: Fuck yes. All the best tunes have both of those elements. Here’s my question: it’s now 2019, why are you still using breaks?
Dom: I like the sound of breaks. I also like single hits, but with a break you’ve got a groove and flavour and tone. With a single hit you have to create that tone yourself which can be interesting but not what you want to do at the time. I know there are people who say you shouldn’t use breaks, which I think is weird. But there are also people who say you shouldn’t use samples, which I also think is weird.
Gridlok: I just feel in 2019 the sound of all dance music kinda feels like there’s not much breaks going on…
Dom: I’ve talked to younger artists and some of them think sampling is weird and they think you’re stealing. I don’t see it as that. It’s like an oscillator in a synth; you get a sample and you mix it with another sample and those two samples combine to form something new. Because they’re from different places and have been recorded in different studios you have this deeper colour, this concoction of sounds, vibes and textures.
Gridlok: Totally agree. You can create that whole sense of space and atmosphere with technology now with convolution reverbs. But you’d spend a week doing that and you could be spending that time making a whole tune with elements of vibes you wanted and just having fun with it.
Dom: I know some people think that’s lazy but it’s hard enough as it is making a living of making music, you need to get that idea from your head as quickly as possible. Plus you’ll never get the same vibe. Ultimately it’s just a beat coming out of your head. But a breakbeat comes out of someone else’s head, it’s a different set of frequencies that are important to that person so there’s a whole other dynamic to it. It’s just not the same without samples.
Gridlok: I agree man.
Dom: So here’s another one… Like myself you try to remain slightly elusive and more focused on the music. With the current climate of showing everything on social media how do you deal with this? And do you care if fans are disappointed that they don’t know enough about you?
Gridlok: Haha. Well firstly we’ve both experienced many waves and, to me, this whole social media thing, posting about what you had for breakfast is about as permanent in this scene as clownstep. It’s of the moment. Secondly, I’ve come from a time when I was buying records, your records, Tech Itch records, Ed Rush & Optical records, whoever… I never had an idea of what you looked like. I knew you were British because they were British labels but that’s all I knew about you to begin with. All of my favourite artists had a mystery to them and it’s more interesting. Now I know you and…
Dom: It’s a disappointment?
Gridlok: Ha. Maybe yeah. It’s normalised, but I want to keep that magic for anyone listens to me by keeping things more of a mystery and not giving everything about myself away.
Dom: But do fans like the mystery now? Or do they see that as you’re being boring?
Gridlok: I don’t know. But I do think we’re in a transition phase. There’s always been a need for media and critics, that’s an integral part of how art is accepted and interpreted and exists in society. But a lot of content no longer holds value like traditional press did so everyone in a creative space is screaming on social media about what they’re doing and showing how busy and successful they are themselves. But I’m thinking ‘if you’re doing this great now, you could be doing something even greater if you didn’t waste your time on social media’. It’s interesting though. I always try to look at the analog of every digital phenomenon. So what is the analog of social media?
Dom: Are you talking newspapers, magazines and stuff?
Gridlok: Yeah. Like Knowledge Magazine, iDJ, all these publications had credibility and considered content and you could pick them up in your fucking grocery store with your spinach! We haven’t had a digital version of that. There’s not a totally trusted digital source. Like sure there’s trusted platforms but I think it’s left artists feeling the need that they need to shout as well.
Dom: I don’t think it’s a fair replacement
Gridlok: it’s not at all. It’s still mutating in my opinion
Dom: Younger people do trust a lot of digital media, which I find strange
UKF: Hang on a minute!
Dom: That’s why we’re talking to you. We trust you. But that can’t be said for a lot of digital media. I suppose we’re getting a bit broad here.
Gridlok: Well the question is about social media and the internet. And I do have animosity towards them because they’ve taken away the Knowledge mags. They’re monopolistic entities that are giving us less and less power. I’m fundamentally against it. I’m not against tech, I’ve had a computer since I was four, I’ve always been into innovation. But this isn’t an improvement…
Dom: What you’re saying is you want it how it is now, but without the greed?
Gridlok: There’s always going to be greed. We’re in a capitalist society, I’m not trying to be utopic. I don’t know the answer, if I did I’d try and come with the solution…
Dom: Absolutely, although I do hope we can find a solution because I really couldn’t give a shit about what anyone had for breakfast!
Gridlok: Me neither. So here’s my last question… One of your biggest tunes was Can’t Punish Me. Why don’t you don’t make more songs featuring vocals?
Dom: I’m going to this year. I had a bit of a break last year from putting music out, but it didn’t mean I wasn’t making it. I have a lot of music to put out this year and some will definitely have vocals. I’m coming round the idea that music was always about a story being told and you really need vocals to do that.
Gridlok: Can you name any vocalists you have lined up?
Dom: I’m definitely going to do another track with Robert Manos this year
Gridlok: He was on your album, right?
Dom: Yeah, he’s a great vocalist. Funnily enough there’s a mum at my son’s school who’s got an amazing voice, she sings in the choir and is up for making a tune which could be a laugh.
Gridlok: Oh wow, that could be interesting?
Dom: Yeah we’ll see what happens. So, final question… With this new release does it mean you’re more focused on releasing your music on your own label this year? And how does that effect the music?
Gridlok: When I moved out here I definitely put my label on pause and wanted to connect with local labels. I did that for a few years and feel like it’s time to bring Project 51 back . It’s an awesome feeling, to be honest; I’m in complete control. I just have to like it and it’s good to go. Like you were saying about scoring films, that applies to releasing music with other labels. When you do it yourself it’s only your standards to meet.
Dom: I find that tricky. I tend to set too much of a standard for myself that I never pass.
Gridlok: Yeah, we’re back to question one again there! But it’s been three years since Project 51’s last release and we never released more than three or four records a year to keep it special. That’s what the label has always been about so it’s cool to be restarting things with this tune….