The ongoing evolution of musical genres has taken many sideroads and forged even more vital intersections. Especially in recent years, due to the ever growing influence of connectivity, distribution, consumption, and marketing the landscape has changed immensely. Navigating through this ‘soundscape’ as an artist asks for flexibility, but how far is someone prepared to go if it means they have to re-examine their beliefs and change their ideals?
Coco Bryce dealt with that dilemma, and – as is in many cases – there’s no simple answer. While being involved as a DJ/producer/label manager for more than two decades, he’s seen it all. From the formative years of breakbeat music, to the forefront of current developments – all the while observing and absorbing, chiselling and gradually piecing together his own distinct style. The timing couldn’t be any better. His unique take on jungle bridges a generational gap – essentially blending the timeless elements with his fresh and versatile take.
We caught up with him to get his journey. Something he’s also plotted across six tracks that have resonated with him and inspired his maneouvres over the years. Get to know:
What got you into producing jungle in the last couple of years?
Since an early age, I’ve been listening to all sorts of music, often through watching skate-videos. And it’s not like I get fed up with certain styles, but for me it’s rather hard to stick to strictly one genre for years at a time. When I started making music back in the late nineties, a lot of what I made revolved around the typical 4X4-structure. Although I still make a lot of different styles, the focus has shifted throughout the years.
It’s like the common theme whereby artists and their music change, while the listeners prefer the earlier work, due to their own specifically associated and rather sentimental preferences.
I wish that this were the case more often, but to be fair I’m actually astounded at the amount of producers who have literally done the same thing for 25 years. I wouldn’t be able to do that. Then again, once you reach a higher level of recognition, it’s hard to shake off that defining mould, so it’s preferable to have some margin. Once you focus on a specific genre, it’s really hard to switch to something completely different, without upsetting fans due to a drastic U-turn.
In regard to jungle, it seems like it’s become sort of trendy to release it, partially due to the rise of footwork a couple of years ago. There’s even some (lo-fi) house-producers who’ve tried their hands at making jungle, more often than not using the same exact sample packs. I personally quite like a lot of those releases, but I know a fair few people who more or less label them as “bandwagon jumpers”. I don’t care though, as long as the tunes sound nice.
How would you describe your sound?
I always try to find the boundaries within the genre by using elements that make it sound like something unusual, whilst not losing the recognizable jungle structure. One of the things that defines jungle is the use of sampled breakbeats; something I mainly work with usually.
In your case, focussing on jungle prior to its recent rise in popularity, does it feel like your timing was on point, while looking back now?
Actually, one of my friends recently said to me: ‘you should’ve started releasing jungle way earlier’. And while it’s true that most of my records sell fairly well right now, a lot of the stuff that was released about six years ago (most of which is worth relatively much these days) was a rather hard sell back then. Prior to that, I did numerous skweee and instrumental hip hop releases, but I often ended up with a lot of unsold records. Still, I had a day job and I didn’t care too much about the numbers I’d sell – I just wanted to release music.
So you currently are making a living from your craft?
Two years ago, I said farewell to my job as a courier, but remained on standby to cover for colleagues occasionally. The last time I did that was more than half a year ago though, so yes, I’m gradually making a living from music.
How does it feel to be able to do that?
It’s good, because I don’t have to wake up at five in the morning anymore. I’m more of an evening person anyways. On the other hand; once you don’t really have certain (external) obligations, it’s way easier to start slacking and lose time on distractions. Luckily I’m old enough to think ahead.
Does the current situation facilitate more room for your creative work?
That’s a tad two-sided actually. When you have a day job, you tend to use the remaining free time more efficiently. It’s like a law of nature. You appreciate the available time more, because it isn’t always there. Having a lot of time on your hands instead, tends to trigger the idea that you can postpone something important until the next day. It can become rather problematic if you lack the self-discipline.
There are of course periods when creativity doesn’t flow so easily, while on some days I can sit in the studio for hours on end programming the drums. Postponing the creative process won’t affect you as much, if you have a full time job, but when you are more dependent on it, the consequences might be larger. If you don’t release records, the amount of bookings will drop eventually.
How do you approach the work in the studio?
Perhaps bit of a cliché, but I do firmly believe in ‘less is more’. My setup is rather basic: a computer with Ableton and some VSTs. I bought a huge midi-keyboard once, but it’s gathering dust against the wall. I use the keyboard of my computer instead (laughs). When I started DJ’ing around ’95, it really surprised me how some artists could make really engaging songs with just a few sounds. ‘How do you do that?’, I thought. It’s perhaps easier to make something that sounds interesting with a huge and expensive studio, but, to me, it’s intriguing to compose really worthwhile music with just a few elements.
In relation to distributing music and adjusting to the current market, in terms of a bigger focus on online media, how would you describe your experiences?
More and more of my releases can be found on streaming services like Spotify. I’ve been selling music for about ten years on Bandcamp. In retrospect, it’s interesting how I got involved more with making jungle because of Bandcamp. A couple of years ago, two tunes of mine were picked up and featured in a video game called Hotline Miami 2. The received royalties and income from the streaming services has helped me quit my job.
I’d wanted to release a jungle/hardcore EP on vinyl for a couple of years already, but up until then, it seemed like a waste of money. I told myself: ‘fuck it though, if someday I can somehow afford it, I’ll just do it, even if it means losing money on it’. So then with those royalties I started the Myor Massiv jungle sublabel. I didn’t even expect to break even on that first release, but the first batches of records all sold out, which definitely was a good push to keep doing more jungle.
What can we expect from Coco Bryce in the upcoming months?
Looking forward to my upcoming gigs; Tribe here in my hometown of Breda on Nov 17, Distant Planet in London on Nov 24 and then Tilburg and Nijmegen the week after that. Plus I already have a few more UK gigs lined up for next year. Always a treat to play there. As for new release: I have records coming out soon on Dubcore, 7th Storey Projects, Myor Massiv and Fresh 86 for which I’m currently writing a full album. Besides that, a new 4×4 hardcore label is also in the works, first 12” to be expected around Feb 2019.
Six tracks that change the life of Coco Bryce
Les Boucles Etranges – LBE 03
I used to rinse this one pretty much every week at squat raves back in the very early 2000s. Whereas a lot of the tekno/hardcore played at these free parties sounded kind of same same to me, Les Boucles Etranges tended to use a whole different sound pallette, often running samples and loops completely out of sync with the drums, creating a rather chaotic collage of sounds. In my opinion they’re probably the closest thing to free jazz any hardcore act will ever get.
Cyborg Unknown – Return Of The Cyborg Unknown
PCP: one of the most prolific hardcore labels to ever do it. Responsible for many an underground anthem, this is one of their slightly lesser known tunes. I regularly played this at both local Gabber parties in 95/96 as well as squat raves a couple of years further down the line. And still play it nowadays whenever I get the chance.
Ill Suono – Angel Beat (Dabrye Remix)
This to me is truly an era defining record, unlike anything I’d ever heard before. It’s hip hop, but such a far out version of it. Even though Dabrye only has about a dozen releases to his name, he’s seen by many (myself included) as more or less the originator of this specific branch of “electronic hip hop”. Light years ahead of the curve.
Slugabed – Here You Are
One of my all time favourite producers. I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to release some of his tunes and play a bunch of gigs with him back in the early 2010s.
Dead Man’s Chest – Fade Away
There’s two producers of whom I always play at least one tune in my sets nowadays, DMC being one of them, FFF being the other. It’s pretty much impossible for me to pick just one favourite, but I’ll go with this one. Vibes all over the place, like with most of his releases, DMC has that “lofi yet fresh ’till death” sound down to a T.
FFF – Never Let You Fall
Again, very hard to pick a favourite, but seeing as this has to be one of his strangest sounding tunes, plus I had the honour of releasing it on my label… The juxtaposition of those eerie pads/chords with the rather uplifting vocals got me feeling funny right off the bat, and it still gets me every time I listen to it.