DLR – three letters synonymous with lightning-edged funk, hedonistic low end submersion and a gargantuan, norm-defying technical prowess, the effervescent Bristolian has been moving feet and turning heads for over a decade now. Intrinsically linked to Bristol hearts, minds and culture through the award-winning Sofa Sound imprint, his presence within the popular Collective crew and his general, wide-reaching influence on the scene in both the city and further afield, it’s actually quite hard to define his scope and reach in mere measurements.
Speaking in an interview with UKF in 2016, centered around the launch of his ‘Dreamland’ album, DLR noted that “I sometimes think the world I create in my mind isn’t exactly how the real world works and there’s still a lot of waking up to the reality of modern society I need to do”, a passage and multi-pronged thought process that really hits hard for all of us today, on both a societal and musical level. This self-aware, emotive nature shines through now, despite the cuts on his debut EP on Sofa Sound being inherently weapons-grade at their basis – it’s not something usually associated with this brand of drum & bass, but DLR thrives in this pocket of rich, funk-etched sonics.
Verging on scenic, diegetic sound at various checkpoints throughout his encompassing excursions, these encyclopaedic journeys are often curated entirely from scratch, with a supreme penchant for touches of delicate sampling, a divot that’s explored fully on this EP, and of course through his lauded work with Hydro & Spinback as reverberating supergroup The Sauce, who’ve just released the sublime ‘Everything Boss’ w/ Fox and a mega, dub-filled 2021 promo mix. Powered by scoping, techno-like progression and, as mentioned, a subliminal focus on meaningful background messaging, this is one of those projects where you really need to sit back and just take it in.
This year, and as a wholly cohesive unit and family, Bristol has united against brutality, stark barbarism and archaic, dystopian policies – something that needs to be explored, so here at UKF, we sat down with the man himself to gain a vital insight into his process, ideals and passions that reach far beyond art and music, as well as what’s planned for 2021.
Your first fully-fledged solo drop of the year, and your very first EP on Sofa Sound – how does it feel to finally get it out there? You’ve had a tonne of 2-track releases and collaborations but it’s great to hear a 4-tracker.
It’s really good to get the EP out there now! It’s a strange one… with me, and with how things have been over the past 3 to 4 years with starting Sofa Sound, the OneMind project I did on Metalheadz, Collective, The Sauce, The Sauce Recordings, me as an artist DLR, and then there’s another project I’m working on with some other guys that’s definitely gonna result in another record label – it’s been weird just trying to get stuff done really! In my career, I’ve always managed it bit by bit, so I’d always chip away all the time, and even then sometimes I feel like I’m not even being very productive or getting anywhere, then all of a sudden stuff starts clicking into place. Sometimes it takes that with me, things have to start making sense and then I’ll see a vision for a project. Like you said, it’s the first EP from myself on the label, I started it for myself but inevitably people were sending me a lot of really amazing music and I couldn’t resist!
Then I thought, we’ve gotta get something from me on there, probably so I could just balance out the royalty statements haha, make sure I get paid! Jokes aside though, it’s quite important for the business model and how things work; if I do projects on the label, it’s a bit more sustainable for me and I can push it harder for everybody else, so that’s a really important side of it – came together really, really nicely though.
‘Solo’ is a key word here production-wise, the masses have been hungry for it!
Yeah, I’m just a bit of a collaborator – I love to collaborate with people so there’s loads more collaborations coming up, got quite a bit of solo stuff as well but if I’m honest with you, working on your own for me is pretty boring! I love working with people and I think that’s the key essence of art and music. It can look at times like people are solo, or even in this case it’s a solo EP but that’s just the half of it, it’s a team effort and we’ve got Adam Menzies on the artwork who’s amazing, If Khan who runs the label and pushes me, projects ideas to me and gives me confidence in projects. Always behind the door there’s this group, this team and that’s what it’s all about!
A DLR release is always a cherished occasion, how did you decide these were the right ones for this EP? Have these been about a while, or were they crafted especially for this?
So ‘Twisted’ (the D-side) is the only one I’ve heard in a club out of all the tunes on the EP due to COVID and a lack of the club environment. That one I had before all this kicked in and I was really happy with how that was sounding. For me, this was all about a new realm of production, all about updating the sound which I’ve been trying to do for 4 or 5 years now and really pushing myself. I’ve got a really nice PMC monitor setup in the studio with a sub – it’s so beautiful! Gives me so much ability to hear the lows, especially on Twisted. When I heard that in the club I thought “we’re getting somewhere here”; the pressure and the mixdown is doing its job, which is really important in drum & bass, especially that track where it’s literally all about the driving bassline.
Really stripped back and raw.
Yeah, really raw… it’s super progressive in a sort of subtle techno way, and that element of drum & bass production is incredibly hard. In general, the sound is really important and how full that mixdown is. On the underground side of things, it’s all about the drums and the bass so that was key. Throughout this process I always wanted to prioritise that; everything’s gotta be super minimal and progressive as well, so it’s been a bit of a process if I’m honest with you man! I’ve got so many ideas laying around that never went anywhere, I’ve been so strict, and this was an offshoot of me really pushing for this solo album over the last couple of years and not really getting anywhere with it. I put myself in a box creatively which is what I needed to do – this was achieving my core creative goal of making raw, rolling drum & bass tunes.
The tunes themselves are typically brilliant, techy and funky, all that stuff we love. The Submotive collab is particularly fruity in a way!
James [Submotive] was actually up here recording a mix with me in the first or second lockdown, fuck knows in terms of timelines anymore!
No one knows anymore haha, all blends into one!
Yeah, in that time he popped up… That’s the privilege of the job we do in terms of our work! It was between lockdowns and we were working together to do that – it’s beautiful really man, it really helps with mental states and stuff like that. I understand it’s super difficult for people so we’re really privileged and lucky. We recorded a mix for RE.SET who are a Columbian crew, got really drunk and then the day after we were super hanging – I really wanted to show him this technique I had for gating drums and smashing out a break in 5/10 minutes. It just seemed to escalate from there, 3 or 4 hours and it came out really nice. James is an incredible producer and is really nice to work with, his knowledge of that gritty, minimal funk sound is unparalleled and in that area of the scene he’s probably the best.
He’s a wizard! ‘Sufferation’ is a particular favourite of mine, especially the use of the vocal which comes off as really poignant and emotive with the balance between that and the tempo. Is that something that’s important for you to weave in?
I’ve historically always used my music to be able to have a message. One of my albums, Dreamland, which is still really applicable today and maybe even more so, is all about that. I’m male, white and middle class I’d say, so I’m super privileged. Realistically I live inside of a bubble, wrapped in cotton wool and that was my concept of Dreamland, and my whole theory with all of this stuff is that until people snap out of that dreamland, until people start to realise how fragile life is, how lucky they are and how other people live their lives, not much is going to change!
That’s similar to Sufferation, as he says in the sample – “you’re not being taught, you’re not being brought up to know sufferation” – people like yourself or me, we’re starting to learn about the 0.001% of sufferation going through what we’ve been through recently. Due to race, sex, down to what shade their skin is, people are subjected to oppression every day from the lack of equality that surrounds us; I really think it’s important to get these messages in music to make people think. That documentary, Broadwater Farm, is really interesting – was done in the 80’s after some famous riots in Tottenham, it’s a really important thing to think about.
The sampling is always spot on, as DLR and The Sauce.
Yeah, to lighten it up a bit, when you’re doing this stuff often, you leave stuff playing and I record it into Ableton. Because it’s a mixture of footage, at the end of it there’s this old white woman calling bingo, and she’s like “1 and 2, 3 and 4!” Randomly I just chopped that and it sounded like “Run it”, which is hilarious, and I genuinely think it does! I’ve always sampled like that with our crew and where I come from… Hydro, The Sauce. That ties the whole concept of the EP together, stuff naturally seems to all move in the same direction of mental states – Twisted, Sufferation, Make My Mind Go, Blipped On The Head – I often put those bits of icing on the cake [sampling] at the end, those bits seem to always be in this direction of the head.
In a way, it’s a bit of a parallel to what we’ve seen in Bristol recently, something I’ve seen you’re really passionate about.
There’s not that much intention in that way, but I am very adamant about this sort of stuff, I’m very keen to speak my mind – I just want to open some conversation with people and talk. I do worry that at times we hide from that. It’s really important to me and I want to stimulate that conversation, even at the moment with these protests, it’s scary to me how the media is reporting on this; that’s one of the biggest problems and travesties over what’s happened recently. The brutality the police are subjecting onto protestors for wanting to peacefully protest, the press need to be writing about this in a responsible manner and they’ve given the premise that protestors are left-wing hippies, it’s outrageous.
These are our fundamental rights to be able to go out and protest against things you don’t believe are just or appropriate – it’s scary times man and I’m very fired up these days to say I want to speak, and I want to spread a message as much as I can in that I speak with some knowledge but also a lot of opinion, I want to talk to people, I’m not barking orders or saying this is the right or wrong way, that’s why I do what I do and where it comes from! The press’ reporting on this has been very skewed, they’re there to independently report on this so it’s really concerning.
It’s been really interesting to listen to because you’re clearly passionate about it, it’s important to get a reflection on it from someone who’s there and partaking in this. Bristol’s renowned for having that cohesiveness and culture, do you think that’s played into the unity we’ve witnessed?
It’s good that, when people look in and because of how COVID has highlighted equality and exposed it to people, they’re looking at them and thinking about them. Sometimes I’m out at them [protests] and I’m shocked that there’s not more people there! I think that’s part of the message of brutality that’s been put across, people are scared to be there and the COVID thing is real which is perfectly understandable. People move here because they’re a bit weird, in the best possible way! If you’re Spanish, French, Italian, English or whatever, you’re on the same sort of vibe. Young people in Bristol get to see this every single day and musician-wise, it seems to just drag more and more musicians here – it’s like a magnet! It’s been really interesting to be here over the past year and a half during COVID times, everything’s stopped and I don’t think there’s ever been a time in Bristol’s modern musical history where all the artists have been in the same place for this amount of time. I would love to see more of these musicians at these protests, especially from the world that I come from. I know it’s difficult and I know you have to give up a lot but it’s really worth it, I encourage people to read up on this bill and what they should be fighting.
We need to talk about Sofa Sound and the sheer phenomenon it has become, how have the last few years been for you label-wise?
I’ve loved running Sofa Sound man. It’s been a bit mental if I’m honest with you, like I said at the beginning of the interview! A lot of the past few years has been about getting my business sorted, getting my label sorted and getting everything shipshape so that I could be an artist again properly. I work with some amazing people like If who’s the label manager, I got him on board as soon as we could as I’ve seen some other labels struggle to delegate you know? He started to pick up on everything and now he can run that label, whilst I can work with the artists, write music, try and do all the creative stuff and think about how I can drive the label forward. That was really important to do and now I’m almost obsessed with it, that delegation of work! So we’ve got Adam [Menzies], Army of Few who do a lot of the merchandise and If who does the label.
I sort of got this mentality from Noisia who really are a phenomenon in terms of their independence, everyone was turning to them. It showed how possible it was to be independent and do something different and special, but what they also did was build this incredible local Groningen-based team. I wanted Sofa Sound to be this local, modular team, driving us forward to what I hope is a really successful, Bristol-based independent label.
If we’re chatting the label, we have to talk about the incredible work of Adam Menzies. How important has his artistry been to you guys, and how did you originally get him on board?
I actually got given a Menzies painting from a friend who was running a gallery for him in Leeds and she gave it to me as a present! 5 years ago I was thinking of Sofa Sound and thought, the most important thing for me is having something tangible and consistent to bite into branding-wise. I had to have artwork with a theme that ties this label together, that people can buy into and understand. In the past, the art side of things can be a bit of a mess sometimes! The really weird thing is I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a line drawing of Adams’, before Instagram did all of the trending or hashtag stuff, so I don’t know how it came in my feed as I wasn’t following him. This was the painting I’ve got!
The exact one?!
Yeah, that was the original outline of it and I’ve got the coloured version. I thought, that’s the guy! I hit him up and said “I want a dude sitting on a sofa, shaking with speakers in it, the words Sofa Sound around it, have a good punk aesthetic to it but quite playful at the same time…” I don’t think he sent me more than one version and the deal was made! I was so lucky Adam was at a point in his career when he was happy to take on a job like that, and was very interested to do so.
As one of the most forward-thinking labels out there, I’ve got to ask about what you’ve got lined up. The ‘Sofa King Sick’ compilations are certified fan-favourites.
So first off we’ve got a Perception remix package which we had a remix competition for last year. We had loads of weird ones, loads of same-y ones but also loads of really, really good ones – it was mad the mixture of stuff in there! We got some from Trail (some of the guys from Visages) which is fucking cool, a version from Liohness and then the winner Molecular, as well as Melysma and Wingz. That’s gonna be a full package of 6 all on one release, and the warm up for Sofa King Sick 3.
That’s all about a mixture of a few of the older heads on the label and a lot of fresh talent. For this one we’ve got Sweetpea & Iris, Nympho, Brain, Cecil Hotel, Dubhead, Universal Project who’re a huge inspiration from my early days of vinyl DJ’ing, ZeroZero, Kolectiv, Submotive, Black Barrel on a collab with me – super excited! We’re gonna do some really cool merch, some next-level, different artwork and I think it’s going to be done for June. We’re pretty much on schedule which is unbelievable!