SpectraSoul’s recently rekindled inspiration for their own craft and drum & bass culture at large has been well documented. Since leaving Shogun and setting up Ish Chat in spring 2016 they’ve explained to us on two separate occasions how they’ve felt more driven and in control and how the new slew of artist-established labels has reinstated a new dubplate culture among peers and reinjected a new energy, a sense of friendly competition and a proliferation among heads that hasn’t been experienced since the Music House days.
The releases on Ish Chat, including the joint label Synergy EP they delivered with Alix Perez’s 1985 in April, have been indicative of this refreshed state. Since April last year, the Brighton-based duo have never unleashed as much music at such a level. They’ve never been as focused on the underground dynamics and original principals of drum & bass, too. Everything from their Only You EP via Stock Sound, Second Chance and Synergy has writhed in that molten merging point between shades, shadows and strong aspects of soul.
From gully to golden, everything they’ve put out has been on-point and directed at the dancefloor. And nothing showcases this more than their third album How We Live. Released last week, it’s a powerful body of work that reminds us why we fell for their sound in the first place. At points rugged and unwashed, at others shimmering and introspective yet cohesively held together with an energy and focus the duo are really beginning to fine-tune after over 10 years of working together, How We Live is a succinct and accomplished snapshot of the precise moment where Dave Kennett and Jack Stevens are right now. We called them up to find out more.
I spoke to a big DJ who’ll remain nameless about the new movement of artists setting up labels and they said it all seems like fun and idyllic now but you’ll be cursing yourselves when you’re bogged down in metadata and paperwork. What do you think about that?
Jack: That is the reality sometimes but it’s not that difficult to employ someone to do that for you. The difference between losing 50% to a label and having no control and giving a smaller percentage to someone and having complete control is massive. Yeah metadata is annoying and tedious but it’s 10/15 minutes when we do a release. I’m sure if we sign people there’ll be additional paperwork and legal things to take care of but that’s when you employ a manager to take care of that. Whoever said that has a very pessimistic view. The quality that’s coming out of all of these new labels has made everything really exciting and rich again for what feels like the first time in a while. There’s a new burst of energy and creative outlook.
I’m feeling that too. But you’ve all been putting out wicked music for a long time. There’s always been a creative outlook and bursts of energy since day one, surely?
Jack: Definitely. But you can’t tell me that any of us haven’t put out more music, more frequently than we have since launching our labels. The amount of music we’ve been able to put out because we’re in control and not on a schedule has been liberating and exciting. Our album is an example of just how liberated and excited we personally feel.
Totally. I want to talk about the flow of the album. How We Live flows smoothly, it feels like real cohesive trip from start to finish. I have to be honest, I never got that flow off your last album The Mistress.
Dave: That’s our angle on that album, too. We were in a different place where we wrote that.
What type of place?
Dave: Firstly, we never wanted to repeat Delay No More or rehash it in any way. I’m proud we did that and there are some moments where we really went out there and tried to push things on and be brave instead of rehashing anything. We also had the opportunity to do a lot of singer/songwriter sessions between the albums.
Like pop stuff?
Jack: Kinda. People were looking for production for their acts and we found ourselves working with a lot of different styles. So yeah, The Mistress was the influence of working with pop singers, wanting to do something different and, if we’re honest, that it became a full-time job. Delay No More was written while we were still part time, doing sessions when we could and having a lot more time between those sessions to think about what we were doing. So in a way How We Live was written with a return to that mindset.
When you announced the album you alluded to a return to that mindset in general and how there was a renewed appetite for forward-thinking drum & bass. Where did you see that the most?
Dave: The biggest change we’ve seen has been in the shows we’re playing. They went from being 500-600 cap clubs with stages to being 400-500 cap clubs, no stage, dark rooms, no lighting. Back to the origin – big soundsystems and no razzamatazz production. Back to the vibe I got into drum & bass. There’s a clear divide between festival drum & bass and underground club drum & bass.
Jack: EDM had a bad influence on everything, even drum & bass. And the more that fades, the more people have returned to the underground. It’s healthy and there’s a refreshed energy between our peers, especially those of us who are running our own labels. We can get behind the music and really push it and get behind it. There’s no divide any more. It was difficult to send out music ahead of time. People were getting music a few weeks before release and that’s not enough time to build up records. Hits are made in the club. That’s what drum & bass is – it’s music for clubs. So a lot of us are writing for the clubs again and we can get out there and support and push each other’s music and get those tunes into people’s consciousness before releasing them.
We spoke about the core values of drum & bass when you announced the album. Dubplate culture is one of the strongest core values
Jack: An example of that is an EP we were working on for Marcus before he passed away. We got it all sewn up and decided between us to release it after the album but I just remember him saying ‘I don’t know if I can keep this tune down because it’s already picking up’. It just shows that dubplate culture still works in 2017. It’s just super sad the way that situation panned out. Such a sad period for everyone who knew Marcus. It’s been amazing to see that his choice of records was still bang on. The response to that tune has been amazing.
Which tunes off the album picked up like that?
Jack: How We Live, Push & Pull and Pinger, which Andy’s been playing. We sent it out to such a broad range of people we’ve had feedback and plays off a lot of tunes. Calyx & Teebee are really into Heartbeat for example, which I’d never have pegged them for it at all.
Dave: It’s been cool to have such broad feedback and not just having that one big tune on the album. You want everyone to play all the tunes at the end of the day.
There’s a rawness to a lot of tracks where it doesn’t feel over-polished and over-refined. Did you have to pull each other back when you felt you were over-cooking things?
Jack: there’s such a fine line, making sure it’s not over-thought but it’s also not too simple or boring. We’re always trying to stretch ourselves and challenge our ideas and include little switches or sections where things do things you least expect.
I think that’s harder to do in a five minute. That’s why LSB is bossing it – he’ll roll out a seven or eight minute track and do that classical thing. Krust was the king at that.
Dave: Yeah the track with Luke is the longest on the album for that reason. That sample rolls so well. It’s okay to have a massive middle section if the vibe is right. Luke does that exceptionally well. And Krust is still king by the way. We’ve just had some incredible pieces from him forthcoming on a well known label.
Nice. So going back to the idea of festival drum & bass – I think the whole white knuckle roller coaster ride style of mixing with double drops has influenced the length of tune time
Jack: Definitely. You don’t often hear tunes rolling out together like you did. DJs definitely mix differently. Tunes aren’t written with rolling things out in mind. Randall, Klute, Andy, Friction, Fierce were all dons at that and you don’t hear that so much now. People bash out tunes every 20 seconds now but it’s nice to hear things rolling together for a few minutes.
Dave: But at festivals the crowd don’t want to hear that so much, they need high impact mixes and the thrills and spills.
Jack: Our attention spans have reduced and this is symptomatic of this. Us included. But this has always been the case in drum & bass – you had the big guys playing in the big raves and the DJs who played dark moody clubs. This isn’t a new issue, it just seems amplified now.
The attention span thing is worry. Smart technology is unsmartening us. We need to be able to stop and think and not have everything on a plate.
Jack: That’s the role art and music should play. It’s the gap between communication and understanding. It’s where real ideas are. Even if they’re not explained in literal terms, art and music is a raw reflection of imagination and creativity. I know club music isn’t necessarily written for that but we’re trying to straddle both so you have richness in the music but it works in a club. So things are expressed in such a way that they make you feel something or a certain emotion but also kick in a club. That’s our MO, that’s what we’ve always done. With this record in particular, and all the stuff on Ish Chat so far, has been about that; realigning what we’re about and what our music is about. Working to our strengths but still keeping interested and motivated and developing. It’s difficult sometimes when it’s your job.
And it’s 24/7 because it’s your label and your business and your everything
Jack: Actually it’s not as intense as it was for The Mistress because we were also living together then during that album.
Living and working and touring together? You must have hated each other at some points!
Jack: We hate each other now haha. Not really; we do sit a foot away from each other for over 50 hours a day and we don’t always manage it that well. Me for the most part. But now we talk in the morning and if we don’t feel it or it doesn’t feel right then we do other things, focus on other label aspects or take a day off. There’s less pressure now than there was before. If you go into the studio with pressure or deadlines then the output won’t be the best. You need to accept that you have to go through a process and maybe not come out the other end of it with anything. Like Hazard said to you the other month.
He’s incredibly pragmatic about this. How long have you left it between sessions?
Jack: Never as long as Scott has but we realise those moments when you need a break and need to take a few days off. You have to live life and have experiences if you want to write music – or the only emotion you’re expressing is music-induced stress which is a weird paradox. You have to do stuff and find inspiration.
What’s the most unlikely moment of inspiration you’ve had during this that might surprise people?
Jack: Most inspirations are intangible; you go through a positive phase in your life, you spend time with good friends, have a nice weekend away, do something you like and it boosts you, it puts your mind in a positive place which can lead to an amazing week of production. I think having the label as a platform to release or own album has been a massive inspiration. It’s a boring answer but that’s definitely driven us to capture this moment in time.
Dave: And everyone who’s running the new labels, all our peers, they inspire us and we’re all trying to write the best tunes possible.
Speaking of which, what’s next?
Jack: We do have a new batch of music already but it’s a case of when we release it. We’ve got album remixes early next year too. We don’t want to stop – we did too much of that between the other albums and we just want to keep moving, moving with the label, moving with our music. We’re already back in the studio… Once we’ve got through all this metadata and admin of course!