Skeptical & Alix Perez…
When it comes to drum & bass’s deep, rolling, futuristic soul, more exciting or indeed complementary production partnerships are hard to find.
Both relishing in the less-is-more science of lean dynamics and aesthetics. Both driven by high quality control and never spamming the download stores with endless reams of filler. Both highly technical badboys to be quite frank… Skeptical and Alix have already proved their collaboration skills on Alix’s Elephant Dreams EP last year on his own 1985 Music imprint. Now back with their first full collaborative EP on Exit – Without A Trace – it’s an even more explorative exercise in crisp sound design and deep groove innovation.
On dub for around a year and finally out today, the lead track is a real stinker…
We caught up with the pair of them to understand how they work so well together and what they think of each other’s work. Get to know…
Just for a moment take us back to the first collaboration and/or meeting of the minds – what was it like? What are your memories of the experience?
Alix: Ash and I have known each other for a good few years now and have always shared somewhat similar musical tastes and interests. Likewise when it comes to production and writing, very much so a less is more approach. The collaboration thing was definitely something we had spoken of before but it wasn’t until Outlook 2015 that it all began. I’d started a 16 bar loop on my laptop which I played to Ash after one of the nights at the festival. Something basic but with quite an unusual vocal. Ash vibed off the idea….
Skeptical: So he sent me the parts and I cracked on when I got home. That tune is formally known as Elephant Dreams. But if we’re talking real studio clash of heads then it was at Al’s studio in London. We had laughs, vibed and ate loads of chicken.
Phew. There’s a strong chance, with your schedules, that you made them collaboratively online. But it sounds like this isn’t so…
Skeptical: It isn’t so. Most our collabs have been in the studio together apart from Elephant Dreams and I think Solitude. It’s better that way, it’s easier to know what each other does and doesn’t like when you’re sitting side by side.
Alix: I personally prefer working within the same environment but yeah, like you mentioned, due to our schedules it’s not always a possibility. When we do have time to work together we’ll start as many ideas as possible that we can individually develop later on and then fling back and forth. Other times I’ll send him some stems and vice versa.
So Without A Trace is the most comprehensive collection you’ve done together so far… Over what period of time were these four tracks cooked?
Alix: Without a trace is definitely more developed in terms of variation and direction. With a full EP I felt we had more scope to deliver something rounded. It actually came together quite quickly over a few months of back and forth. The title track was one of those tracks that wrote itself, very natural. With tracks like Taurus we spent a lot of time on detail, layering and writing. We wanted to deliver something with a full intro, mid section and so on. It develops over almost 10 minutes which is not so common these days in our genre. It was really fun to write.
Skeptical: Yeah off the top of my head Without A Trace was super quick. The initial vibe was done in a couple of hours. Alix then bounced it into stems and I finished it off on a long haul flight and a final mix in the studio. Taurus is probably one of our longest tunes we’ve written. We started it in London then the project went back and forward a few times, each time building up the layers. Alix done the final tweaking and mixes. All in all the EP was done in 4/5 months I guess. We had the tunes for around a year before the release date.
And knowing how attentive you both are to detail, and how high your quality control is – how many versions did you get through until you arrived at the EP we now proudly own?
Alix: We’re definitely both very meticulous when it comes to production and writing so there was quite a bit of refining on the mixes, arrangement and so on. Saying that, I think we both feel to not force things if it isn’t working. If I’m not vibing off something I just move on and sometimes revisit ideas down the line with fresh ears.
It would be cool to get your own individual takes on each other as artists. Please tell us three things you admire each other’s technique and craft…
Alix: The thing that strikes me the most about Ash’s work is it’s effective simplicity. Which actually is one of the hardest things to accomplish. You can tell when it’s a Skeptical tune, due to his way of treating sounds, the way he gels things together. Three things about him are his rim shots and snares. His arrangement and drum patterns. And his low-end and mid range manipulation.
Skeptical: Alix is good at visualising a tune and being able to throw it down with ease. He’s annoyingly good at snares. He writes a good pantie wetter.
What are your three favourite tunes by each other?
Skeptical – Process Of Elimination (Dispatch)
Alix: The first track of Ash’s which I played or heard. At the time it was so refreshing. Still is.
Alix Perez – Suffer In Silence ft Zero T (Shogun Audio)
Skeptical: My favourite on Alix’s 1984 album. I love a tune with a good snare and this has loads of cool snare layers I like.
Skeptical – Imperial (Exit)
Alix: Because it’s minimal perfection. Light yet heavy; a proper percussion work out.
Alix Perez – The Raven (1985 Music)
Skeptical: Probably my favourite of his recent stuff. Wicked vibe!
Loxy & Isotone – Ancients (Skeptical Remix) (Cylon Records)
Alix: My favourite he’s done on the half time flex. Classic Ash.
Alix Perez & Ulterior Motive – Suppress The Hunger
no audio 🙁
Skeptical: I love the off step on the drums. Unfortunately I don’t think this tune made it to release though.