Total Recall’s career in drum and bass so far has spanned over a decade, with many hurdles testing him along the way. The Birmingham-based artist (real name Darren Marsh) has emerged from the pandemic with a whole catalogue of new music, overcoming personal loss and struggles through his love of drum and bass. His new EP, Risk Assessment, embodies the challenges that are always around the corner in life, but how there is always a way through.
Living as a full-time artist has granted him many opportunities, as well as a platform to represent and encourage artists with disabilities. He has done so on a grand scale, releasing his work on an impressive array of labels such as RAM, Playaz and Full Cycle Records. With the support of drum and bass royalty behind him, Daren has nurtured a career that he is truly proud of and wants to help others to do the same with through his own label.
We spoke to Darren about his latest EP project and how his determination throughout the years has led him to this point.
How have you been coping over the last year?
I’m alright now, but at the start of lockdown it was really tough. I sadly lost my Grandad to COVID and then obviously not being able to perform. I’ve seen a lot of artists that are struggling creativity wise. At first, I did find it hard because of things personally, like with the passing of my grandad, but I tried to turn it around. Since that moment, I have probably made more music in the last ten months than I have in a while, like the space of a few years. I feel like the music has elevated quite a lot because I’ve had a lot more time to put into it. I’m really enjoying music again; I’ve upgraded the studio and got a load of new toys. That’s where I am at now – I feel like I’m at a good position with my music again, things are flowing.
I dropped an EP back in March when the first lockdown started, on the same day that we went in to lockdown, so we were all like, ‘oh my god what’s going to happen, no one’s going to buy anything as everyone will be worried about money’, but it ended up doing quite well – it topped the Juno charts across all genres for about three weeks – so maybe that was because everyone was stuck in their house and wanted something to listen to!
It’s nice to hear that you managed to overcome such a difficult time. Speaking to other artists, there is definitely a mixed bag of some people coping and others struggling with productivity.
Even away from the production side of things, I’ve had quite a few little exciting things going on behind closed doors. I’ve linked up with Monsta Boy. He had a smash garage hit from 2000 called Sorry! and I’ve got the official remix of that tune coming out later in the year. It was fun doing a D&B remix of such a hit – it’s the 20th anniversary of it coming out.
Off the back of that project we’ve ended up becoming quite good friends and we’re going to be launching a record label together, and then hopefully some events when all of this is over. We’re calling the label No Limits.
That’s some collab! We’ll get on to that in a minute. For now, tell us a bit about Risk Assessment. What’s the inspiration behind it?
Well the inspiration behind it is kind of to do with the lockdowns and all the talk around COVID with the new variants etc. My girlfriend is actually studying for a Master’s degree in disaster planning and management, and the sample before the drop on Risk Assessment is about preparing for a new danger, hence the title. Then the second tune, Chapter 5, is named after the section of law and protocol that the government have to follow when preventing disasters, so I tied the two ideas together. There are always new dangers around the corner and that’s the idea behind it all.
The tunes are quite heavy and club-orientated, which suits the darker theme. I bet you can’t wait to play them in a club?
I can’t wait to play so much of the music I have made. I have a lot of cool releases coming up so I’m really excited. I’m just trying to make sure that I stay consistent as well. There a million hungry artists like me out there that want to do the same things. If you take your foot off the pedal for two minutes then someone will come screaming past you. When my Grandad passed away, I thought it was time to put my pedal to the metal and just stay consistent. I have been putting out music pretty much every month, if not every other month, just to keep my name on people’s tongue.
The jump-up/roller vibes are strong on this EP, do you think about D&B trends when you make music or is it all about your own signature style?
I’ve always done that vibe. I’ve been making that vibe since 2010 – it’s always been my sound. I can write the other flavours – my Sorry! remix is your standard commercial track, and I have the soft liquid stuff, but there’s always a punchy roller edge to everything that I do that gives it that signature style so people know, ‘that’s him!’. I think the stripped back, warm, thick punchy drums and warm bass is my signature.
When you spoke to UKF back in 2016 you had been doing this for six years. Now that you’ve reached the decade mark – how does that feel?
I think I put my first release out with a label called Class A Recordings, which was pretty popular in Birmingham at a time, and I think that was around 2010. Then the following year I started to get the attention of the likes of Hazard and Hype and it just took off from there and I was releasing on Playerz and Radius. I went on to win best breakthrough producer three years ago. No matter what happens, whether it goes well or not, I love making music and I’m not going anywhere.
Since that last interview a few years ago, you have obviously had time to improve and develop more as an artist. Do you think you’re still changing 10 years into your journey?
Definitely. I look at producing music kind of like a video game that has no ending. There is always new software and toys coming out and it can go on forever. It’s limitless. Music will keep on going and developing so there’s more intricate sound design. Technology moves forward and we move with it when we’re making music.
Going back to the labels, you have had a lot of releases on a lot of labels over the years – does it motivate you to know you’ve got the support of so many big names?
Yeah. Looking at the list of labels I’ve worked with does make me feel quite proud. Growing up as a kid I was listening to all these people and then years later they’re on the phone asking to sign your music – it’s an amazing thing. As a kid, you think ‘I’d love to do that, I wish I could make music like that’ and then the next thing you know, you’re there. The main message behind all that is to never take your eyes off the prize and just put your all in. I’ve had great fun working with everyone I have worked with – everyone has always been friendly and looked after me well. I’ve enjoyed every minute of everything I’ve done.
A lot of your releases are also on newer labels as well, which is even more interesting now that you’re planning your own label. How important are these newcomer labels to you?
I like working with the smaller labels to help them out. Like with Pick’n’Mix, I spoke to TJ (label owner) and said I would do a release and he was really happy. It was the same with Bagged & Tagged, where I released my EP out with last March. I just think it’s good to help the labels and I share the same hunger as them, so we can all just elevate each other.
Tell us more about your upcoming label No Limits.
Around four years ago I got offered to do the remix of Monsta Boy’s Sorry!, but at the time I was busy with other projects and I didn’t feel ready because it’s such a big tune. Throughout lockdown when I got all these new plugins and processing things, I learnt more, and I felt comfortable to do the remix. Then I hit Monsta Boy back up and said, ‘I know it’s been about four years, but listen to this’, and he really liked it! The next thing you know we had a good chat and we got onto the idea. I mentioned the idea of a label and he said he’d back it, so everything is pretty much ready now and we’re just waiting.
The name is No Limits, which is kind of related to me and my disability. I want to encourage that message of overcoming difficulties and, no matter what is in front of you, you can do anything as long as you put your mind to it. We’re going to really push this whole message and make it really positive and try and drop it into the industry as well so that other people who are misfortunate have a platform.
That’s a great idea! It really opens things up for people who may be or feel that they are at a disadvantage.
That’s the idea. When my BBC World News piece went out a few years ago, I had a crazy response from that. I didn’t realise the impact it would have just pushing the message that you can do anything you want. I was just speaking from the heart and I got tonnes of messages from people with similar disabilities to myself and with other struggles who felt like they really wanted to pursue their dreams. It went out to 220 countries, so I was getting messages from all sorts of people, like some who wanted to be a swimmer but with one leg, and they felt like they could do it after hearing my positive message. It had a mad impact.
I bet you can sympathise with those people as well – you must’ve had stages in your career where you doubted yourself and your ability because of your disability?
Exactly. I spent a lot of time like that, so that’s why I want this label to really encourage the idea that you can do whatever you want.
Will this message cover the type of music the label releases as well, in terms of releasing any and every kind of bass – especially since you and your collaborator are both from very different musical backgrounds?
We are going to be touching on all sorts and try and have a bit of everything. I can’t say too much at the moment, but it is coming. We have a lot of amazing vocalists as well. We will be doing the gritty releases too, but there will always be a positive message behind it, even if it is a bit of a moody rave tune…