At a time when many artists are switching genres like yesterday’s trousers, outright jumping ship or setting up tedious aliases to make different sounds, Dominic Butler and Mark Yardley’s attitude has never been more relevant or refreshing.
Traversing the bass/beats/breaks/garage axis with consummate ease (and serious helpings of badboy funk), honing a sound that is identifiably their own for almost 20 years, the Stanton Warriors have stuck to their guns resolutely and never faltered or defaulted to hype or trend. To use a cliché, they do their own thing…
Cue Rebel Bass: the duo’s second artist album. A sweet, slick and ultimately punchy 10 track affair with vocals from the likes of Eva Lazarus, Laura Steel and Janai, it’s the duo’s most consistent body of work to date. We caught up with Dominic to find out about the album, life on the road and the importance of not playing a pre-recorded set…
That’s why we do the acapellas and the FX and generally fuck with shit as much as possible. The key thing is working the decks, getting creative and being a DJ instead of a jukebox. Do it like that and you’ll never get bored or pretend you’re doing something… Because you are actually doing something!
It’s been over four years since your last album The Warriors… Bring us up to speed!
Business as usual really… The global tour schedule is still in place. If anything it’s even busier this year with two US tours and the Far East. Studio-wise we’re constantly working on tracks, edits and remixes. That’s how the whole album came together; a lot of our sessions with singer and producer friends turned into tracks and before we knew it, we had an album on our hand.
All sounds very natural and unforced…
Yeah totally. We knew we wanted to release an album so started going through lots of different projects and remix ideas and realised we had enough ideas for two albums! All these things build up and when you sit back and listen to them it’s like ‘why haven’t we finished this? It’s great!’ So we put the best ones together. There’s quite a lot of deeper stuff that we wouldn’t necessarily play peaktime at a festival or club but really cool to jam to at home or during later night sessions.
There seems to be more consistency to this album. Similar sounds and synths appear throughout the whole album, giving it a really nice flow. Would you agree?
Sure. The thing is; we’ve always made sounds that we want to hear personally, as opposed to sitting in a studio and thinking ‘what’s blowing up right now? Let’s jump on that!’ So we’ve referenced and paid homage to our favourite elements of classic electro and deep house and garage. These are genres that are close to us and we grew up with; putting the elements of our favourite genres over beats we really want to dance to. We put them together, test them out on the dancefloor and that’s how our tracks come together – whether it’s a single or an album.
The whole concept of albums has changed hugely in recent years. What’s your interpretation of albums and did you return to any albums during the process of Rebel Bass to remind yourself what albums mean to you?
I wish I had more time to listen to albums the way they were intended! I did go back over Straight Outta Compton on an old school tip the other day which was really nice nostalgia. You’re right, though, albums have changed. As has the way they’re digested. But dance albums have always been a strange beast; even years ago most acts were just putting their biggest or their most radio friendly tracks on albums which misses the point of albums in the first place.
We prefer the DJ mentality of throwing all sorts of ideas into an album and not just the big hits. Rather than listening to albums, I find myself listening to lots of different sounds with my production head on; things that make me think differently or sound really unique and inspire me. I’m always listening to find something. I should probably sit down and just listen to albums more often.
Does it scare you that listeners are more likely to cherry-pick their favourite tracks from your album or does it make you think ‘right – let’s make every tune as perfect as possible!’
A bit of both really. But if I’m honest I cherry pick tracks myself! There’s definitely no room for fillers these days… We could have put 15 tracks on the album but while those last five tracks were good, we knew they weren’t quite album material. There’s so much music out there that you can’t afford to put tracks that aren’t quite there on an album. I’m not sure if you ever could even back in the day really.
One thing I do love about the best examples of electronic albums is when artists cover lots of different creative ground and don’t stick to one style but do everything with that certain sound and creativity they’ve made their own; Daft Punk and The Chemical Brothers are great at that.
Speaking of genres, I like a comment you put on Facebook recently about not jumping on any genre bandwagons over the years… Have there ever been any points in your 15+ years when you have thought about a stylistic change and gone, for example, ‘fuck this, we’re making deep house!’
Ha! I have had moments – especially in Ibiza – when I hear techno and think ‘this is great! I should make some!’ Or you hear sounds at a festival and you see it going off and think ‘this would be so easy to make!’ But we’re much happier doing our own thing and making edits of tracks from genres we love… So we’ve made it our own and referenced it but not jumped on the bandwagon shamelessly. But that’s an extension of what we’ve always done anyway; we’ve got extensive collections of loads of genres we love; house, reggae, classic electro, drum & bass, techno. We just reflect what we love into our own sound rather than do something that’s already been done. That’s how Mark and I work…
We’ve always made sounds that we want to hear personally, as opposed to sitting in a studio and thinking ‘what’s blowing up right now? Let’s jump on that!’
It’s a partnership that works well! Is Mark touring much with you? Often it’s just you playing shows…
He still tours as much as possible and has been performing loads this year in America and Australia, but he’s got family commitments so we share the work to respect that. Tours are quite gruelling and very intensive…
Come on man… I know you work hard but also know how much you love it!
Haha, okay. But, like with your earlier question about listening to music, this is 24/7 and I never really take time off. Ever. Of course it’s amazing travelling the world and meeting loads of lovely people and being creative but I never switch off from it.
And you don’t see your own bed and home very much…
Exactly. I’m on first names terms with a lot of the passport officials at many UK airports! But you’re right, it is the best job I could imagine and what makes it more rewarding is that we play our own music. Pretty much everything we play is either our own material or an edit or remix that we’ve made especially for our shows. So it’s like touring as a band. And there are moments when I’m worn down and tired from travelling… But when I drop one of our own new tracks for the first time and see people going off to it, it makes everything worthwhile. Or when we perform together and Mark keeps me on my toes with all the acapellas and samples – neither of us know what is coming up next.
So none of that is planned?
Never. We might tell each other what’s coming up but it’s usually very off-the-cuff and inspired by the crowd in front of us. We have some standard tricks that we know work really well. But, even then, every crowd is different and enjoys different sounds so we test things out and constantly switch things up. You have to be able to adapt… Which wouldn’t be possible with a pre-planned performance!
You play a wide variety of shows alongside artists from all sorts of genres… Have you actually seen anyone playing a pre-recorded set? Not mentioning any names or anything!
Yeah sure I’ve seen people perform in a way that I certainly wouldn’t. There is a lot of ‘pressing play on Ableton’ type of sets out there… I also see a lot of people touching the mixer as if it’s on fire and that type of thing. But, I’ll play devil’s advocate here for a moment, technology has got so tight and precise that once those tunes are locked in then there’s not a lot else those types of DJs can do for a few minutes until the next track is ready to mix. That’s why we do the acapellas and the FX and generally fuck with shit as much as possible. The key thing is working the decks, getting creative and being a DJ instead of a jukebox. Do it like that and you’ll never get bored or pretend you’re doing something… Because you are actually doing something!
Speaking of getting bored, last time we spoke you told me you regularly worked on just drums for one track for a whole week. Still doing that?
Oh sure, we spend days and days and days over drums! We’re sticklers for drum perfection. We’ve had tracks where we’ve made 20 different versions with different drums and not felt any of the ideas… So much we end up shelving the tracks for a while and end up going back to the original version and realising the drums were alright! Sometimes we need to remember those early days when you’re making a lot rawer vibes. Those times when we’d get a 2am to 8am studio session because that was all we could afford. We’d go in with a bunch of records and just get shit done. Some of our biggest records in the late 90s were done that way. There’s a lot to be said for having a limited time, limited kit and smashing it out. Too many variables confuse the process.
Do you keep your tools pretty limited so you don’t waste days going through pre-sets and folders?
Yeah we’ve stripped down our set up so we’re really happy with it. But we still have sample days when we listen to as much weird and wonderful records for ideas and samples but that’s more of a case of making sure our sounds are unique and remain fresh.
Let’s wrap up now… Do you consider yourselves rebels?
Well we’ve definitely done our own thing! People always ask us how we categorise our music and we never know how to answer besides beats and bass. We don’t fit in any one genre category and never have done. I’m not sure how rebellious that makes us, but we have our own cause and, certainly after 15 years of staying true to that, it’s definitely a fulfilling feeling.
Final question, co-sign your three all-time favourite rebels from history and tell us why. GO!