Delivered over the course of 18 months, Mean Teeth finally released the fourth and final chapter of their debut album last month: Bring Back The Funk.
The title hints at the album premise with the subtlety of a sledgehammer: to ensure the FUNK in neurofunk remained consistent throughout all 16 tracks. Naturally C4C was the perfect home for it. If any fellows could nurture an emerging act to maintain such an authentic, dirty, gritty sense of funk about their hard-as-nails productions it was original neurofunk architects CZA and the sorely missed Optiv (RIP)
In fact it was Cause 4 Concern who willed Bring Back The Funk into existence back in 2018. At the time Mean Teeth (AKA Estonian ex-breakdancer Marius and Lithuanian audio engineer Mark) thought they were working on an EP, but Ed and Mark could already hear album potential in the duo. They weren’t alone. Since forming five years ago, Mean Teeth have released on a very respectful rollcall of labels; NickBee’s Axon, Safire’s Plasma Audio, Program, Korsakov and more.
No doubt that list will continue to grow as they continue to rise. But for now Mark and Marius seem most at home at C4C, adding to the label’s long tradition of raw, greasy mechanical soul. Bring Back The Funk is more than enough evidence: From oddities such as Mudrub and Slipdub and frenzied funklets like Disco Action to absolute rattlers like 3 Minutes and Vitriol, Mean Teeth are neck deep in neurofunk past, present and exciting future.
Hard times require hard beats… But that doesn’t mean they can’t be funky.
What’s the funkiest thing either of you first ever heard?
Marius: It was 2001. I’d moved to this new town and was hanging with some guy I’d just met and we clicked over doing cool tricks and stunts. We showed the kids in the school the next day and they said ‘what the fuck? You are breakdancing now.’ We didn’t even know what breakdancing was. It was around the time of Flying Steps were absolutely huge and when I found out about them I was breakdancing and from that moment I heard a lot of funk stuff. Original funk. B-boy stuff. Jimi Hendrix. All that stuff.
Mark: For me, my first funk experiences was much more recently. Around the time Mean Teeth started. That’s when I started to really understand funk.
Marius: If I may say, it’s weird to hear Mark say this because he has funk inside him when he writes music. He has this vibe. Is it intentional? I’ve never asked you…
Mark: I guess it depends on your interpretation of funk, then. Would you consider Korn funk? For me they had the integration of everything; grooves, hip-hop, energy. Similarly Limp Bizkit, even though they’re hated in the metal community, everyone in the band except Fred Durst is funky as fuck. Listen the bass players in both Korn and Limp Bizkit and a lot of it is slap bass. So I guess my first funk experiences came through that.
Metal is funky! Angry funk that’s often very comparable to neuro…
Mark: Absolutely. Rage Against The Machine. Even Red Hot Chilli Peppers, although they’re not metal.
Marius: It’s funny; I can’t remember any specific point where we really focused on funk as a duo. It was never a specific moment, it happened very naturally.
Mark: I think in general there was a feeling we were missing the funk in that side of drum & bass at the time. Things went very technical in the scene and a lot of people said at the time, neurofunk was missing the funk. We felt that too.
Marius, you mentioned Mark’s natural funk. Mark, what is Marius’s natural flare?
Mark: The groove. He can take anything and make it groove in unexpected ways. You think it’s going to go in a certain direction but then he takes it somewhere else. It’s all in the simplicity, though.
Marius: Sometimes Mark can send me something that’s too funky. Drum & bass needs repetition. People need to memorise the phrase and you lose that when the tune is too playful. So I break what Mark’s sent me up and make it more repetitive for the dancefloor.
Mark: They’re very similar things in a way, but there’s a distinct difference. The balance has to be right.
Groove is the structure of the house. Funk is how you decorate it.
Mark: That’s the perfect analogy. Funk is the colouring.
How did you guys link up?
Mark: I was here in Lithuania, missing any type of real scene. There were a few things going on, but not much. When I saw NFG had uploaded tracks by Estonians I was like ‘okay hell yes’ and hit Marius up.
Marius: I thought he was some random guy. Fanboy.
Mark: This was when he was using Voice as his alias. But anyway he sent me a track he’d done with Vidual at one point and I thought it was cool so we started talking.
Marius: It was a weird time. The other guy I was working with taught me a lot but he left Estonia and music entirely and I was pretty lost for a minute. I was deciding what I was going to do. Am I going to pursue this? Or will I take my life into something else? I was deciding not to make music then a few weeks later I met Mark and realised I couldn’t leave music. I sent Mark this four bar loop and he turned it into a whole tune and we released it on Bad Taste as Nastiest. I thought ‘what the fuck is happening here? I’ve found a friend!’
Mark: It worked very naturally and we found we could collaborate well.
Marius: We still talk about it now. We are five years into this and have had no problems, no lack of ideas, things flow freely. We can do this our whole lives, I think.
That’s the magic of collaborations… You’ve worked with some awesome labels over the years – Plasma, Axon, Korsakov. Was that the intention or more just of a natural path of events?
Marius: I think so. We’ve never approached any label, they’ve always approached us. We’ve only wanted to work with people who want to work with us. We never had that thing about making it big instantly. We just want to work with people who appreciate and respect us. Then C4C came into the mix and we’re so happy with that.
Mark: After those first early releases offers have always come in. We kinda sharpened our teeth working some amazing and very passionate underground independent labels. Marius always said ‘let the music do the talking and not worry about the size of the label’. He was right, and to end up working with Cause 4 Concern was a dream for us.
You can hear their influence in your music. How did the connection come about?
Mark: It came through Optiv. We got in touch with him to send him some music to play and he offered us a release on Redlight.
Marius: No no, we had the track Nine Lives. We knew it was a big tune so sat on it until we had the right offer and Tobax introduced us to Ed. He came back to the tune saying ‘what the fuck?’ and set up some releases on Red Light then Cause 4 Concern.
So Nine Lives came out and your pretty much started on the Bring Back The Funk project straight after?
Marius: Nine Lives was quite old actually. We sat on it for a while. But then things did take off quickly with the album once we linked up with Ed and Mark. We were meant to write an EP but we sent them eight demos and they said ‘a few tunes more and you’ve got an album.’ So we thought ‘okay cool, let’s do it’
Halo has that real album opener vibe. When you wrote it, did you already know you were in album mode?
Marius: We knew it would be an album by that stage. But we didn’t know how many tunes we were going to end up making for it.
Mark: We wanted every part to top the last one, that was the only plan. Every tune has a story to tell and you want every tune to tell its story fully so Halo just happened to have all the qualities of an album opener with its big intro.
What’s your favourite story on the album?
Marius: Badman Sound on the second EP. I started that one and the basslines are a complete coincidence. I was just dropping in my sound design from random sessions and built everything bar by bar so it’s a bit special for me.
Mark: For me, a really cool bit is Disco Action on part three. I always wanted to hear what disco and drum & bass would sound like together. I know a few producers have done it, but I wanted to put my own twist on it.
Marius: I remember when you sent that over and it felt like it was almost done already. I broke it up a bit to simplify it but it was almost there. I always say sorry for doing that. I appreciate it’s like you’ve put your heart into something and some guy comes along and rips it apart.
Mark: It’s about the end result, though, so that’s part of the process.
How about the process post-album? Bet you’re already sitting on things…
Mark: We’ve got stuff in the pipeline. We got a release on Maztek’s label 0101 Music. Then after that there are some remixes and collabs in the works. Those are to be finished…
Has lockdown influenced the music you’re writing at all?
Marius: Not really. I’m still driven by the dancefloor. I always dream about it. I like my rhythms really right in the face. I’m obsessed with them.
Could that be through your breakdancing?
Marius: I supposed so, yeah. 10 years of listening to funk and dancing and physically interpreting it. I think that does translate into my drum & bass, yes.
How about your trade, Mark? You’re an audio engineer, right?
Mark: I’ve been involved in all kinds of music since my last year in school. I worked in live events and then recording and mixing bands. Then after doing a few years doing that I moved onto producing and got a job as a full producer for a company so I’ve always been involved in this professionally. What I do professionally definitely translates into what I do in drum & bass.
How about your lockdown music?
Mark: Like Marius, I’m needing the dancefloor vibe more now than ever because there are no raves. I get my other musical fixes from other artists in other genres. For my own music I want to concentrate on what we’ve been working on for five years and hopefully for a long time to come: big heavy dancefloor music. Let’s hope the dancefloors open again soon.