2015 will, without doubt, go down as a vintage year for neurofunk and the harder peripheries of drum & bass.
Just a handful of the many reasons why: Critical’s Binary series, Noisia & The Upbeats’ Dead Limit, the return of Spor, Billain and his head-melting sci-fi saga, Teddy Killerz signing to Ram, Ed Rush & Optical releasing a Fabric live mix and an artist album, the reformation of Bad Company, new Calyx & TeeBee material, the endless onslaught of Current Value… AND a serious ante-up by MachineCode.
With two massive EPs dropping earlier this year on Eatbrain and Subsistenz, Current Value and Dean Rodell will be releasing their third heavyweight EP of 2015 on C4C Recordings on October 2. Entitled Counterbalance, it’s another four-track whirlwind of tech-laced, densely texture sci-fi drum & bass.
We caught up with the pair of them to find out their perspective on what’s shaping up to be one of drum & bass’s deliciously darkest chapters yet.
The D&B scene has never been healthier in this sense. Noisia’s radio show is another great example; they’re bringing a lot of underground & D&B records to wider audiences and opening up the doors for all of us.
Tim: We’re stepping things up this year, yes. We’ve always done lots of stuff – especially on Dean’s labels Subtrakt and Subsistenz – but we have definitely tried to develop our focus more this year.
Dean: A lot of people still think we still do dubstep! The first album Environments was a little bit of everything but had a big slant on dubstep. Our idea has always been to not limit ourselves to one style but, more often than not, based around the 170BPM mark. Just drum & bass…. But not as you may know it.
T: We’ve always had a very laid-back approach and never pushed or forced things. But when I experienced some big releases with Critical and Blackout earlier this year, I thought we could try the same push with Machinecode. We’ve always been doing nice things but been off the radar a little. Now we’d like to bring it to the forefront and see if we can be heard by more listeners.
D: We’ve already noticed it with the new releases; they’re helping people go back over our old stuff and seeing that we’ve been making these types of beats for a long time.
Let’s rewind a little; how did you two start making music together?
D: Tim did a Current Value remix for my label Subsistenz around 2007 and I was heading to Berlin so we met up, had a curry and got along really well. When I set up my studio Tim came round one afternoon and we’ve done this every Wednesday since. It was just two mates having fun making music but tune after tune came about and we realised we had an album on our hands. There was no pressure to be one thing or another, it’s just about having fun and enjoying the creative process.
Back to the future, three big EPs have come our way this year so far… All fresh? Or are some of them ideas you’ve been cooking for a while?
T: All completely fresh… The oldest would be about a month old on release. We meet every Wednesday afternoon and make a tune every session. It’s been really interesting, we’ve been actively looking at labels who we’re really inspired by and engaging with them to see if we can work together.
D: We love labels that are interested in exploring new ideas. Eatbrain are great at that; they champion artists with fresh perspectives and really get behind them. Cause4Concern are doing the same with many artists at the min . The D&B scene has never been healthier in this sense. Noisia’s radio show is another great example; they’re bringing a lot of underground & D&B records to wider audiences and opening up the doors for all of us.
T: Noisia’s radio shows give a great perspective on what’s going on in drum & bass and how it contextualises in the wider scene with records from other genres. I’ve listened to every show so far.
What are you listening to Dean?
D: My key listening times are when I’m travelling; I stack up on mixes and immerse myself in them on the road. What I’m noticing is a really high level of production values. Young producers coming through now are pushing things to another level; it’s keeping all of us on our toes and keeping things fresh. It’s really inspiring.
How do you two inspire each other in the studio?
T: I just find the whole process inspiring: I never prepare anything before I arrive but usually Dean creates a variety of parts and ideas and we work on them together, creating sounds and developing ideas.
D: We both come from a very similar place inspirationally especially with things like techno and dissonant soundscapes. So we both share the same vision and have the same interests outside of music. We both love sci-fi and curry for example…
Sci-fi has been a massive inspiration for you guys hasn’t it? Terraforming especially!
D: Yeah definitely. Terraforming came about after we’d watched a whole load of reruns of classics like Aliens. When you end or start a session with a film like that you’re always going to be inspired.
T: It’s down to what you surround yourselves in your environment. When I listen to techno I’m inspired to make techno. I hadn’t listened to drum & bass for a long time… But when I did, I started writing it. It’s all very natural.
D: It’s always been a good symbiosis between us . We never force things; we’ve written techno and electro tracks in the past but we’ve never gone away thinking ‘ah that was a wasted session’. It’s about the process and not the label or sales in my eyes.
T: It’s about setting our own challenges and rising to the task…
How about future challenges?
D: We’d love to take a live set-up on the road again. We tried it years ago using analogue kit but we felt it didn’t work too well in dnb. Not so much in the sound but in the logistics.
T: The problem is that the dancefloor doesn’t care how it’s played; they just want to hear it and get down to it. You could have the best modular set-up possible but this will pass a lot of people by as they are there to dance to it and not geek out as much as you will.
D: Or they’ll try and nick it.
Has that happened?!
D: It was very close to happening… We’ve had three grand keyboard almost fall of the stage, we’ve had fans at the front who’ve elected to be our personal security because people were trying to come up on the stage and take stuff. I had it once during my techno days; I had everything in a rack case and someone tried to nick it. It all fell onto the floor. It made a hell of a sound… But people kept on dancing.
The whole idea of live is so broad and vague within electronic music. What’s your ideal set up?
D: I’d love to get the G2 modular synths out again and some additional samplers. It’s more about the manipulation you can do with a live set-up, doing a complete analogue show where you’re re-patching and creating things randomly would be fun. But that doesn’t work so well with a dance floor oriented drum & bass ,were changing between breaks very fast is essential. Not so much about locking in to one moving groove and expanding with in it . so finding the balance would be a challenge and exciting to do.
T: I think a techno set lends itself a lot more to live performances; having that loop and really pushing it and pulling it in different directions. Drum & bass is so much harder.
D: It has to move quickly. So if you’re making it live then you need a lot of machines and you need to move around them quickly. When done live – like we have before – it sounds incredible. Better than any record.
Any other plans?
D: Releases are planned for a special collaboration between Bad Taste // MethLab and a release on Subsistenz coming soon, also with some interesting collabs with Lockjaw, Disprove and Allied! Another album would be great but we’re not rushing things.
T: As I said to you before, I’m always warned about releasing too much music! But I’ve come to realise that making a track will create another new idea which could be an even bigger track. So it’s the evolution of things – even if you end up with a whole stack of tunes that can’t all be released due to time constraints.
D: It never hurts to have a whole bunch of dubs that no one else has got too!
T: The very best ones will get released which can be hard for artists to accept because they will have their own opinion on whether their music is at a release-stage. But this is good; ideas are being evolved and developed and labels are encouraging risks again. It’s an exciting time for all of us; not just drum & bass but the whole electronic music scene…