It opens with the heavy-hitting cosmic title track Research & Development. It closes with another purring club-tailored banger Anatomy. In between these two rolling, XXL poles it includes a vast range of sounds, shades, forms and flavours.
It’s GLXY’s debut album Research & Development and it ticks every box a debut album should tick…
A detail-rich, carefully considered body of work, not only does the album wrap up everything the UK duo have achieved since emerging on labels such as Soulvent five years ago, it also taps into their whole existence as a duo… It documents how they met studying science at university, how they work together, what’s brought them to this very point and highlights what other areas they’d like to explore. From their early influential research to their constant state of sonic development, everything about the album has a purpose and place in the concept. Even the artwork is an immense data graph of every single stem and their relationship with each other.
18 months in the making, the results are conclusive: Jon Campbell and Tom Alston made the right decision to pursue music rather than a life in laboratories and academia. Research & Development is a remarkable body of work. Thanks to its musicality, its deep tone and consistent sense of introspection, it’s also one that lends itself well to these strange lockdown times. We called Jon and Tom for the story on how it came to life…
What a time to release an album…
Tom: Totally. It’s given us a bit more time to think about how we can present it.
Jon: It’s been bizarre. I knew a few of us are in this situation. Degs released his album earlier this month, too. All the plans we had suddenly went out the window. In a way it could be a good thing. The album’s not that ravey, you can sit down and listen to it. It could be quite nice; the soundtrack to a global pandemic.
Ha. Yeah Degs said a similar thing in a recent interview with us. If there’s any time people need music, it’s now. And people have more time to digest it.
Jon: They keep saying the album format is dead because of the immediacy of music but with everything slowing down, maybe it means certain tracks that might have got skipped over in the previous climate, might get a bit more love…
The album format has been dying forever, but concepts never die. There’s an idea and theme and story to this album isn’t there?
Tom: I don’t think we planned it that way, it just happened by us developing our sound over the years. Before what you’ve heard from GLXY in the last four years has been us learning how to produce. Literally live learning. The album is the sum of all of that. We also didn’t want it to just be 15 drum & bass tracks. We wanted to include other elements like downtempo bits which gives it a more personal touch.
Jon: The overall theme is that it ties our lives together. We both did science degrees in university and the album was taking everything we’d learnt since then and brought it together with what we’ve learnt recently. New gear, new techniques and our musical influences. Even the artwork, it’s all tied together as well.
Take us back to university for a second…
Jon: I did a masters in chemistry, Tom did biochemistry. We weren’t on the same course. I did a year abroad then met Tom when I came back.
Tom: We were both involved in the bass music society and got in with the student’s union promoter and got to play room two on every Thursday night. We’d DJ every week for a good year, just playing crap deep house music.
Were you producing back then?
Jon: Getting into it. I’d played guitar and a bit of drums from the age of seven. DJing from around 16 and production from 19. Quite a late starter by today’s standards. Tom was the more seasoned producer when we met.
Tom: I’d started when I was 15, learning Cubase for the composition aspect of my music GCSE. I was doing very rudimentary D&B but nothing massive.
Jon can we hear you playing the guitar on the album?
Jon: No you can’t. Maybe that’s my only regret with the album. With a bit more time we might have done. Tom didn’t put any sax on there either.
Tom: Yeah I played it until I was 18 then I went to uni and lost interest. It was a good musical founding, but I think we’ve fooled people into thinking we’re better musicians than we actually are.
Jon: It’s an interesting one. I think we write good progressions. The keys and musicianship could be better, but it sounds like we know what we’re doing.
Tom: We’ve learnt to sample well and how to recreate samples. That really makes us re-thinking how we’d use or create something.
Was there a particular moment when you were realised you were deep into writing an album?
Tom: We didn’t have a deadline for it for a while. Most of it was written in a two or three month period at the start of last year. That was just a really prolific time for us. We didn’t write to any brief, we just work on lots of different ideas. But it changed all the time.
Jon: Abstraction was written a week before the deadline for example. It was the quickest we’d ever written a tune and sorted the vocal out. That was just a week before submission.
It’s not done until it goes to mastering is it?
Jon: I don’t think an album is ever really done. You just run out of time.
I like the skits like Preface. There’s a Jon Hopkins vibe on that.
Jon: They were like skits which would help to lead into tunes or natural gaps and pauses between certain tracks.
Tom: Jon Hopkins is incredible, though. Him and Floating Points are huge for me. They way they treat their drums and samples and strings. They’ve definitely had an influence on me.
Garage has, too, by the sounds of Crescent. Asa & Sorrow vibes on that one…
Jon: Yeah the dark garage and early, deeper dubstep sound was a huge influence on me. It’s funny, though; if you mainly make D&B and that’s what you’re known for, when you do a different genre you still want it to sound like your sound. So tunes like Crescent and LP track felt like a happy medium of a different style but still having that GLXY vibe.
She Sings For Me with DRS has got a vibe for sure. Sheesh. Absolute tune.
Jon: The way that came together was so mad. Me and Tom had one session each on it and it already felt done. Really simple drum breaks, nice and melodic, lovely little sample in there. Then, last minute, we sent the track to him. I remember, it was about 10am. Then by 1pm he’d recorded it all and sent it back over.
Jon: Ridiculous. I knew he was fast, but not that fast. The easiest vocal tune we’ve ever done.
You gave him good materials to work with. Did the tracks with Ruby and Anastasia come together with similar simplicity?
Tom: They did actually. Shogun had their eyes on Anastasia for a while and linked us up. She wrote a sketch that was really good, we went back with a few changes, she did them and that was it.
Jon: She works with an engineer so everything she sent us was toned and pitched perfectly. Then having Ruby on the album was another sick moment. We’re massive Submotion Orchestra fans, we love her voice so it was nice to have her on our first album. The Submotion Orchestra remix we did in 2016 launched our careers. That was the first time we got noticed. So it’s so sick to have her on the album, like a full circle vibe.
Tom: All the vocals turned out well, thinking about it. When you sign to a label and they talk about albums you worry you might get forced to write poppy tunes. There was none of that, though, we were given freedom to do what we wanted and it’s come together nicely.
What’s your relationship with the album now? Obviously in your world it’s been done for a long time, but it’s fresh to us…
Jon: You go through these phases of loving it, hating it, loving it. You’re right, in my head it’s been done for months because we finished it last year so it’s strange to see it coming out now. We’ve moved on from it.
Tom: In the last 18 months we’ve released about three tunes and the odd remix here or there, so to have a body of work out there is a nice feeling. I’m happy with how things have gone down so far. We’ve forgotten what the tunes sound like to fresh ears.
Are you already onto new stuff or are you taking a studio break?
Tom: We’re just getting our mojo back. After Christmas things were chaos for a bit but we’re slowly getting back into it.
Jon: We’ve got some remixes to do, which is a nice way to get back into the vibe. But for a month or so after the album I just wrote garage to cleanse the palette a bit. I’m inspired again now.
D&B thrives off outside influences
Jon: I think so. That’s been a big thing for us to express in our sound. We’re not super underground but we’re not on the straight and narrow either. We aim to always go a bit to the left and I think the fact we’re not being 24/7 100% absorbed into the world of D&B helps that.
That said, you can definitely hear the D&B tradition you’re tapping into… Soul:r, Alix Perez, Spectrasoul. That balance of shades.
Jon: Yeah Soul:r was my favourite label of all time. Them and Shogun. You’ve pretty much listed everything that’s inspired us D&B-wise there.
Alix has a lot to answer for!
Jon: He has. There was definitely a moment around 2014 when Alix and Ivy Lab just changed the deeper side of D&B. Pretty much overnight I’d say. I think what’s inspiring about him now is that he’s at that top level and he’s done things on his own terms with his own sound. That’s really inspiring man.
What do you think the effect of lockdown will be on the music?
Tom: I think we’re going to see a lot more experimentalism and less focus on the dancefloor. It’s interesting because you had the whole idea of people on dub safari, with their phones out trying to catch new tunes and the biggest foghorns. But without the clubs, that’s not happening and that’ll have an influence for sure.
Jon: Don’t get me wrong, I love the foghorns and rollers and the jump-up influenced stuff. There’s a good time to play it and it’s brought a whole new generation into clubbing, but without the clubs we will hear some new developments. Whatever the reaction will be to foghorns, it’ll be as a result of covid-19. Music’s in a mad place right now and this situation could take it anywhere. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. It’s an interesting time…