They may have emerged on a 130-140 tip and fine-tuned, championed and pushed a sound that’s influenced a whole new generation of bass producers, but cut Tommy or Jammo Leng in half and you’ll find drum & bass imprinted through them like some type of stick of gully rock.
Having met 10 years ago at drum & bass events Jammo was hosting, and connecting over their drum & bass record collections, the Bristol-based pair’s mission has always been how to fuse aspects of their initial bass passion into the house tempo they’ve established themselves in. Now, in their sixth year of releases, they’re in a position to show just how much they know and understand drum & bass: The Portal EP on Shogun Audio.
Teasing us track-by-track online over the last month, and slapping us with them in their festival sets this summer, the Portal EP comprises four tracks entrenched in dark bass science, three of which hit hard at 170. Featuring collaborations with Friction and SpectraSoul, in many ways you could argue it’s the EP they’ve always wanted to write…. But have been biding their time until everything is in the right place.
As the EP finally drops today, we caught up with Tommy and Jammo to find out more. But first, the small matter of their now legendary Boomtown headline show with TQD…
That Boomtown intro!
Jammo: Thanks! We’d been planning for that show for a while and made 11 tracks together especially for that show. They’ll probably never be released and that intro will only ever be played if we play together again.
I love the dubplate sentiments of that. Holding back things and keeping them just for your sets…
Jammo: Yeah we’ve always talked about having value to our sets. Because we’ve been playing these type of stages for a few years we need people to know that when they see us it will be different, unique and have things people have never heard before or can hear anywhere else.
That reminds me of the Arcadia stage at Glastonbury this year. I know I heard at least two of the Shogun EP tunes when you headlined on the Sunday. Definitely Jigsaw and maybe The Terrace?
Tommy: Yeah Jammo dropped that. We had a lot of fun on that spider!
Tell me about the EP. Dream come true business for you guys… Drum & bass is in your DNA!
Tommy: 100% It’s where we began and how we met.
Jammo: It’s never left us, we’ve always played bits in our sets and we’ve been making it on the side forever. But now we’re in a position with strong relationships with guys like Friction and SpectraSoul that we’ve felt it’s the right time to release it. There’s no pressure, it feels right. We could have smashed out 10 drum & bass EPs over the years but to be able to do it now when the music feels this right and it’s on a label like Shogun means a lot to us.
Why didn’t you start making drum & bass in the first place?
Jammo: I’d been experimenting with half tempo things but they weren’t really picked up on by labels but when we sat down together we just naturally felt more comfortable around 140 and 130. All the influences of D&B are in there but just at a different BPM. It was always there.
Drum & bass is famous technically complex production-wise and a lot of people say that if you can make D&B you can make anything. As you’ve come into producing it from another tempo, what’s your take on that?
Tommy: Because our drum & bass tunes are the same technique and approach but at a different tempo we never really saw that. What I would say is that drum & bass is notoriously difficult to break into. The years we spent doing our own thing have helped – drum & bass artists have been picking up on the fact we’ve been making drum & bass influenced house for years so we’re not seen as these new young chancers with no roots or background.
Jammo: It works both ways. I’ve seen a lot of drum & bass guys switch to 140 and 130 and not having the same impact. Going from being established in one genre to making another one is difficult regardless of which way you move. But to have guys like Friction, Calyx & Teebee and Andy C to be supporting some of these releases is a very special feeling. And that’s why we’ve held back – this is the level we’ve wanted to come into the genre we’ve taken so much inspiration from.
And why you haven’t done it as an alias, I guess. Although that must have crossed your minds as a way to release your drum & bass?
Jammo: We have a love/hate relationship with aliases.
Tommy: Sometimes it’s the right thing but we also need to respect your fans and your peers and have a bit of faith they’ll understand what you’re doing.
Jammo: A few fans who just love the house stuff might be a bit put off but you can’t please everyone all the time.
Tommy: Also it’s important to be honest as well. Drum & bass is huge and in a really good place. People could accuse us of jumping on a bandwagon but because we’ve been very clear about how much of a role it’s played in our musical make-up since day one, we’ve put our own name to it and people respect that.
Nice. How did the link with Friction go?
Tommy: It goes back to that Long Gone Memory remix we did. We’ve kept in touch and met at a few festivals.
Jammo: If we’re honest it goes back even further to raves we’d go to as massive fans and we’d go up all enthusiastic and fanboy-like asking for a photo! But we met professionally at a festival and he told us he was into our sound and was experimenting with that under his Fine Art alias. So we got some studio time and wrote Set It and Border. Set It in particular became a big tune in the summer of 2014 and 2015. So that kicked things off and we got along really well so we developed our label Maraki. During all of this we showed him some drum & bass stuff and he asked if we’d be up for a Shogun EP.
I like the fact that your SpectraSoul collaboration isn’t like anything you’d expect from either act…
Tommy: It would have been too easy to do a deep thing or a liquid roller.
Jammo: We all just wanted to make a statement and properly go in on the tune. We didn’t hold back. The sounds that were coming from the PC almost instantly were like ‘okay, we’re on to something here!’ We actually wrote two tunes – one for Shogun and one for Ish Chat.
Is the one for Ish Chat a deeper one?
Jammo: No! It’s even gullier.
So you’re jumping on tracks with SpectraSoul, you’re releasing on Shogun, doing b2b sets with Goldie… For original D&B fans who got into production because of the genre this is a dream come true. If you could work with any legend from the game who would it be?
Tommy: We’ve already worked with some of our dream collaborators right there!
Jammo: We’ve also worked with Zinc lately and a lot of other people but these things take time, there’s a lot more to come. Hopefully it will come out at some point down the line.
I’m gonna go right ahead and assume the link with Goldie goes deeper than some sick b2bs?
Tommy: We can’t give too much away but yes, there are things happening.
Jammo: We were introduced by our agent and went for some food with him a few years ago. It’s kinda spiralled from there and there’s more to it than DJ sets.
Tommy: It’s surreal for us to get one of his legendary phonecalls. He’s put us into gear a few times and I guess kinda mentored us in a way.
Have you had one of his famous 4am phonecalls?
Tommy: More like 8am but that’s still very early for us! Before the b2b sets he gets really vibed up about it and plays us mad tunes he’s going to drop saying we’re not ready. It’s mad!
Can’t wait to hear what else you got in store. So what happens after the Portal EP drops?
Jammo: We’re working on another EP, a few singles on Maraki and more bassline stuff we’re mainly known for. All kinds of things and kinds of styles.
Tommy: It’s important that we keep doing those styles. Just because we’ve made a drum & bass EP we haven’t completely ditched everything that’s got us to where we are. We’re keeping things varied and special. In our releases and in our DJ sets.
Yeah that’s something I’ve noticed you guys do really well: Drop drum & bass within the set, rather than going out with a bang. Any chump can finish on a big dramatic 170 banger and leave crowds wound up. It’s how you go from fast to slow and back again that counts…
Tommy: Definitely. We will always start and end on a 130 because that’s where we started with our productions and the sound we’ve championed. It’s great to flex our drum & bass muscles and show the world the music we’ve loved since time but also within the context of what people know us for.
Jammo: We’re always thinking of how we can make that transition smooth and how we can do them differently.
Tommy: Like we were saying at the start. No My Nu Leng set will ever be predictable or the same thing you’ve heard before. That’s always going to be the way…