“It was about catching vibes…” Break looks back over his Dusty Demos

Break: the hero lockdown crew needed and totally deserved.

First he dropped one of the most sought after dub packs last year, now he’s kicked off the new year with a whole album of previously unreleased material dating back to as early as 2003.

Released last month, Dusty Demos takes 12 old unreleased Break tracks and guides us through the first chapter of his career from a hopeful teenager in 2003 to an established premiership producer by 2012. All meant as demos – recorded at the end of the night before the mixing desk settings had to be reset – the tracks all rattle and slap with raw analogue grit and, besides a subtle master, have been largely left un-touched by Break since they were first recorded. Featuring collabs with longtime collaborator Kyo, fellow on-point groove crafter Mark System and No U-Turn-founder / drum & bass pioneer Nico, the collection is a testament to how Break has had his own sound since his first fiery footsteps and has never jumped on any of the genre’s bandwagons over the years.

Back to the future and Charlie Break is currently sitting on a new trip-hop/neo soul album with Kyo, a load of new Break originals and an exciting new VA on his label Symmetry that champions the new-generation who are in the same position he was when he started recording his dusty demos. We found out more…

Dusty Demos is a wicked example of the silver linings of the lockdown music that may never have come out is being released! Did you think these would ever see the light of day?

Yeah for the last few years. I actually started putting the idea together long before lockdown! I’d dug out an old PC, loaded up the hard drive, took the tunes off it and was starting to remaster them but I wasn’t happy with the remasters. I really liked the idea of taking a track per year and creating this chronology where we go back to my earliest releases and show that development and that was back in 2019, so it’s been a project I’ve had in mind long before this situation. It’s only in the last year I’ve had the time.

Were they all on one PC? They must have brought back some serious memories!

I think it was over two PCs which I was using with my analogue set up before I switched to using Mac. They weren’t released because at the time there must have been something about them I wasn’t happy with. A little hang up about a sound or an element of the mixdown. But hearing them now I think ‘what was the problem with this one?’ It was nice memories. I made a lot of them at my mum’s house in my little bedroom studio set-up. Part me of thinks ‘this is a bit ropey’ but the other part of me thinks ‘wow this sounds alright considering I knew nothing back then and I was barely in my 20s!’ It’s a strange experience. I think the best memories are the collaborations where I think about the session and the artist I collaborated with. Like wow, I’ve known that person for 20 years, which makes me feel old.

Yeah that one with Mark System must have been really early in his discography

It would have been yeah, he’s a similar age to me. He was just called System back then. I actually met him through Kyo who I met around the same time and connected with a group of friends in London. I remember the day we made that track. It was a super sunny day so we went for a summery one. The mixdown is decent for then, mine were a bit hit and miss but both of us together helped that one come out nicely.

Do you wish you released that one?

Oh yeah. I can’t remember why we didn’t. We both really liked it and I’ve got no idea why, it must have got lost on a hard drive or we got caught up in different things.

You were so prolific that not everything can be released!

I guess so, it was more about just making tunes than planning a schedule, so everything was a bit disorganised.  And because of the nature of the mixing desk – once you’d recorded your demo you moved on to another tune and you’d change the settings on the mixing desk. That’s why they’re dusty demos – you’d get to the end of the day, hit record and bounce a demo version. You’d think it’s a demo but it would end up being the actual finished tune because you’d move on to another idea the next day.

Ah thats one thing thats never changed. Like the mixdown these days. So many unfinished tunes exist because you just want to get onto the next idea!

Yeah especially at that age when you’re bursting with ideas and want to make stuff and not get bogged into the tiny details. But at least I recorded them because if I tried to open the project files now they wouldn’t open properly anyway. A lot of old recording engineers and producers from the old analogue studios have said that you had to commit to stuff back in the day and you had to go with your gut. Get it done and move on.

Yeah have some confidence in the tune and get it out there! With that in mind, the opening track Less Is More is a real statement. Was that the earliest track in your dusty collection or did you pick that because it was a wicked statement to open on?

I think there were some earlier tracks but they were too ropey. But with that one I was pleasantly surprised. It sounds a lot better than I thought it would for the time.

How much did you master them?

Very little to be honest. I tried to master them before, and I was trying to fix these little mistakes and I found I was over-finessing them and ruining their original spirit. So it’s mostly just putting top end on because they’re a bit dull because of the era. So it’s more or less how it sounded back then. It’s funny with the title of Less Is More because the track does go off into all kinds of switches and different pads and breaks. It’s not particularly minimal!

When I speak to Dillinja or Ray Keith they say how every Dark Solider or Hard Noize would be the result of 20 or 30 different tracks where youre experimenting with similar ideas. I was trying to hear similarities between these demos and tracks you released at the time. The closest I got with Come Closer and Singular with Fierce. There are similarities in the drums.

I know what you’re talking about! I found an old Dillinja tune which sounded like an early version of Hard Noize. I tend not to do that too much, but there was an era of weird snare patterns and I remember being sick of the drum grid people were sticking to at the time, so for me Come Closer was on a similar tip to Z Groove on Quarantine. I think a lot of that is more subconscious. Evil Twin, The Drone and a few other tunes use similar breaks and vibe and follow a family tree. Like I’m exploring a path or vibe. It’s the same with any run of Amen tunes.

Ah yeah I hear you. So with the chronology I think it would be hard to guess what years these were released. Youve never bandwagon jumped or followed trends.

I think I can tell with some of them because of the quality of the sound or mixdown but then other early ones sound a lot better than more recent ones. You go through phases as a producer when you’re really inspired or not feeling things quite as much. Some I think are older than they are. So Get Hot is 10 years old but in my head it feels older – I thought I’d stopped making amen tunes a lot longer ago but it’s nice to hear that I went through these phases much more than I though. So I’d go through an Amen phase or a stepper phase etc. That’s why I thought to put the dates in the track title just so it was clear when each one was done.

The album reminds me of how hard and fierce your earlier tracks were! Were you an angry young man?

Definitely a very stoned young man, which was maybe chilling out a bit of anger. But I came through that dark, tech era. Ed Rush, Optical, Konflict, Bad Company. All those guys were my heroes. Plus I think as a younger person you’re not averse to how intense and heavy things can be. Now listening back it’s like ‘wow, these sound pretty full on’.

Haha. So no artist trajectory is just up and up there are moments when youre not on your game or not feeling youre on your game. Can we hear any eras like that in Dusty Demos?

There’s definitely a point when I moved to Bristol, which you can hear. The track with Nico we started in London and finished it in Bristol. That was a very positive time – I left home, I had my first house and a home studio. It was great. I was lucky, living at home I could make tunes and my mum was cool with it. I was lucky that the room in that house was a good sounding room. So I think the things I can hear the most in this type of way is how I would get very frustrated with the rooms I working in. My first studio in Bristol was in a big boomy house with thin walls. I struggled with sound around that time, finding the right way to set things up. It’s hard when you’re young with no money to get a set-up where you can hear things properly. You need 20-30k to do that and I’m still not in that situation now but I’ve had much worse rooms.

Ah man. As a writer, I can be anywhere and just write and its cool. As long as I got a laptop or even a pen and paper. But as a producer you cant just do that can you? You could have the sickest idea in your head but if you cant articulate it in the way you want to because of the room and sonic challenges then that must be really annoying?

It’s very annoying. You start to notice problems and it causes this massive self doubt. You think ‘is this the room? Or is it me? My speakers are shit so I need to upgrade them.’ All this stuff. But then on the flip side, I actually had a really nice place in Motion with Sam Interface. We got some rooms built there, Dom & Roland put me onto this acoustic designer, they were great. But I had more problems there! But this album is a reminder of where I’ve come from. I didn’t know about room nodes and cancellation and phase and all this shit. I just made tunes, they sort of sounded cool at the time and that was it. There was a real innocence about it – it was just about vibes and you did what felt right. I miss that – you can’t get rid of the knowledge you’ve picked up along the way. So I like the innocence and naivety of it all.

Are there things youll take from it?

I always knew when I’d switch from mixing on a desk to mixing in the computer that things would change. I’ve always tried to keep the elements from that old sound in my music during the last ten years or so and still use hardware gear. But it’s good to remember where things came from and take some inspiration from the best parts of that. I’m quite stuck in my ways and a lot hasn’t changed but the main thing I’ll take from it is not to worry about stuff and just make the tune.

Timeless sentiment crack on and dont overthink! So back to the future, what were you working on before you decided to put this project out and whats coming up?

Before this I was working on all the tunes that became the dub pack. That was a great experience and that took up a good chunk of lockdown. I was working on my house stuff and neo soul projects, which was cool. I hadn’t had time to focus on that as much as I wanted until lockdown.

Is any of that out yet?

Almost. The Degrees, my band project with Kyo, is almost done. We’re calling it neo-trip because it’s a combination of neo soul and trip hop. So that’s in the process of being released.

Sick! We speak about this in every interview so its coming out? And its an album?

It’s an album, it’s with a label, we can’t say more than that but it’s great to have had the time to finish that and bring it together and more can be revealed on that soon. So I’ve done that and I’ve been focusing on Symmetry and releases. So we’ve got the final two remixes from my album Another Way coming out very soon with Calyx & Teebee and Breakage remixes. That’s long overdue; I had the Breakage remix since Sun And Bass 2019! Then following that I’ve got a single coming out – Never Say Never/ Zodiac. And after that we’ve got some great music signed by other people this year. Villem’s got a release, then another Symmetry Selects album which are the best tracks we’ve been sent as demos.

Oh Nice!

Yeah I still remember sending demos to labels and not knowing whether it’s gone through or if they like it. So I do go through all the tunes – it matters that they get heard and the best get released. It’s nice to give some new talent support and a platform. So that’s something we’re finalising and wrapping up. So yeah, good label stuff, an album out, the Degrees stuff is happening, a new single, lots of label stuff… Now I’ve just got to make more dubs for the bookings that seem to be coming in!

Dusty Demos is out now on Symmetry

Keeping It Raw / Conversations (Remixes) are out now on Symmetry