Calyx & Teebee are in a good place right now.
There hasn’t been a time in the last two decades when they haven’t seemed on top of their game, inspired and future-focused to be fair, but their new series Plates hits with an unmistakably invigorating air. A quick cobweb-blasting dose of the zero-fuck-flinging War Dub backs this observation up entirely…
The first one-track wounder from the Plates series – which will eventually comprise their fourth album – War Dub is followed this month by Cloak & Dagger. A flip from the junglised horn-heaved inaugural Plates banger, Cloak & Dagger is a swampy, steppy mutant with bass textures that’s once again designed for nothing but total head-tearing.
What comes next? We don’t know. Calyx & Teebee aren’t even sure themselves; in-keeping with the dubplate culture inspired theme of the project, they’re leaving it up to feeling and gut instinct and dropping things as and when they feel. There isn’t even a set amount of tracks or solid release schedule; they’ve simply got a massive batch of tracks ranging between the rawest and deepest designs they’ve ever made… And they’re still cooking up more as you read this. Time to spin some Plates…
Let’s kick off with War Dub. That classic horn sample!
Teebee: I’ve been trying to find the original horn sample. Dave Angel used it in an old Eurythmics remix then someone else used it in the early 2000s. I’ve been searching for this sample for the longest time, I think it’s from a dub record in the 70s but I found this one by listening to lots of soundclash mixes on YouTube.
Nice. Roots. Take me back to the roots of the Plates project…
Calyx: I think collectively as a movement we’re all getting back to our roots a little, we all inspire each other and there’s definitely a move back towards the more foundational sounds and approach to things. For us this whole Plates series is about the past, present and future and just making what we want without worrying about what came before or after it. Just plates basically.
Teebee: I totally agree. I think there was also a naivety to the tunes when we were younger. That’s an aspect with things we’ve been trying to reconnect with. A lot of the tunes we really like at the moment are super simple but incredibly well produced and put together. We wanted to leave the edges rough and make it a bit rawer than what we would have got away with earlier. We’re trying to get back to basics, we want to clash a bit, we can’t lose that soundboy culture and it’s great to see us all moving back towards that; it’s about how can draw for sound again instead of who can squelch the most.
This is a very different era to previous times when I’ve interviewed you and we’ve discussed serious attention to the sound, the mixdown, the sonic properties.
Teebee: Oh do not get it twisted – we want it to sound both shitty and good!
I imagine that’s even more of a challenge than just sounding good?
Teebee: It really is. Making your drum kit sounding like it was recorded in a dusty old corridor but the transient has to bite just as hard as a Mefjus tune and the low end has to sit as well as a break tune. Yeah it is a challenge but I much prefer the end result.
You mentioned about worrying what comes before or after each release. Has there been a time when you didn’t feel as free as you currently are with Plates?
Calyx: I’m not sure it’s about freedom. We’ve always felt free and been inspired by the sounds of the future, which has been a main characteristic of drum & bass since day one. The real difference is how we’re releasing the tracks. With our past albums the spotlight would be focused on the big three A-sides that would reach beyond drum & bass or have that broader appeal and what happened was those tracks would often take the spotlight away from the other tracks on the album. Every album we’ve done there’s been some deeper and deadly stuff but the idea of growers – tracks you end up loving the most after six months – doesn’t really exist in the streaming age. So Plates is about a sequence of releases, no A-sides or B-sides, just single tracks. Some heavy, some retro, some we’ve never made before…
Teebee: It’s a bit like going to Music House; you didn’t know what you’d come out with but if you heard something you liked then you’d beg for it. And at the end of the day you’ve come out with a box of dubs. That’s what we’re trying to represent.
Give me a Music House memory…
Teebee: I got very lucky a few times. I was very very early with both John B’s Up All Night and Bad Company’s Planet Dust. Too early with Planet Dust; Fresh rang me and asked if I could scratch up the dubplate because certain people hadn’t had the tune first. It was very political at that time; certain people who could make or break a tune wouldn’t touch it if they hadn’t had it first.
Yeah I’ve heard. Did you scratch your dubplate as requested?
Teebee: No of course not, I opened with it every set (laughs)
How about you Larry?
Calyx: I think my favourites are the tunes that never came out. I got a few Ed Rush & Optical bits like Optical’s What’s The Difference? That was a track that only Groove had for a long time. If you were lucky and in Music House at the right time, and you got the nod, then you could cut it. I look back now and think ‘how on earth did these tunes not come out?’ But those are my favourite Music House memories. That and cutting my own tunes – things that were work in progress that I was road-testing and would turn into something else. Those are the really special ones for me. The ones that only exist in people’s collections of acetates. I cherish them the most.
Teebee: Yeah you’re right. I’ve got a version of Tearaway by Matrix & Fierce which is way better than the one they released. The bassline is off the hook.
Calyx: That’s an important point actually. Now if you update a tune you just refresh your USB. But if you’ve spent £50 to cut a dub you’d stick to what you’d cut and be happy you’ve got a different version.
An accidental VIP!
Calyx: Yeah or a pre-VIP I guess.
So are you in the thick of the Plates process or have you finished these tunes?
Teebee: We’ve done too many tunes if we’re honest! We’ve got a core batch that we like and have been playing them out. There are also many new tracks we’re making. But which one we’ll release next? We really don’t know. It’s whatever we’re feeling at that time. That’s the idea of Plates; we’ve got things that will be cut but when they’ll be cut we don’t know. They just will be.
Calyx: Because we’re still making things for the project we’ve got that constant flux of inspiration happening. You don’t usually get that during a larger project because, once you’re over that initial euphoria of a track coming together, you get bogged down by the technicalities for the rest of the project. We’ve just got this nice constant flow instead and that’s very motivating. The main struggle of a producer is the fact that the first rush and beautiful feeling of a good idea is only 10% of the process.
Teebee: If that!
Calyx: Then you spend a year, two years pulling your hair out and ending up seeing the tune in a much more jaded way.
You forget what it’s like to fresh ears
Calyx: You do. As soon as something is out you’re more excited about what you have in progress. All producers are like ‘ah that tune is in the past, I’ve got lots better stuff coming now…’ That’s the beauty of being a drum & bass producer and being focused on the future.
It’s your own personal quality control in a way I’d imagine?
Teebee: It’s an interesting topic because both your tastes and the context change over time. There are things that brought me into this music that I need to keep hold of to be true to myself. But when you’re out there DJing every week and you see things getting certain reactions it’s really hard not to get caught up in that and play that game too. That’s another part of the naivety I was talking about – being a bit reckless, being a bit loud and confident like you are when you begin with. Don’t analyse everything to fuck. Something I’m guilty of.
What Larry said earlier, too… A lot of people are trying to get back to that.
Teebee: Totally man and I hate what’s happening in the world at the moment. The divisiveness. The racism. What I loved the most about drum & bass in the first place was the fact it was so multicultural, I never felt more welcome as a 19 year old than I did at a drum & bass rave. It was a melting pot, we were unified. And I need to remember that. I think at one point we got so obsessed with sound and got so into the technicality of things we crawled up our own arses. It’s music at the end of the day and we’ve got to remember that.
Amen! So when does the next Plate spin? Is it monthly?
Calyx: We’re leaving it open to adaptation. On average it’s likely to be every six weeks. But if something gets a bit more traction then we’ll leave it to breathe. The key thing is more diversity and not a focus on A-sides. The last 10 years it’s been about the big A-side but we want to reject that and just focus on the music… Some of it will be retro, some of it will be deep, some might have vocals, some might be miles away from what you know us for. But this is the music that represents us, our sets and what we love about drum & bass.