23 years deep and still consistently delivering forward-thinking beats… Total Science are a rare breed in D&B.
While most artists have their peaks and troughs, hype moments and quieter phases, there hasn’t been a year when they haven’t released at least three or four killer, floor-focussed releases (often more) on labels such as Metalheadz, Goodlooking, Playaz, Hospital, Renegade Hardware and, of course, their own label Computer Integrated Audio, a brand best known as C.I.A
Launching C.I.A in 1996, along with their debut as Total Science (prior to then they’d been known as Q Project and Spinback or The Funky Technicians) C.I.A has been as consistent as two Oxford lads themselves.
Home to releases from the likes of Break, S.P.Y, Marky, Digital & Spirit, D Kay, State Of Mind, Bungle, Gridlok, Nymfo, Paradox, Zero T, Ed.It, Chroma, Lenzman, Calibre and many more, C.I.A has always reflected the genre’s global nature while refusing to kowtow to trends. Similar to Headz in the way the label has rooted its signature in that mid 90s stark futurist aesthetic while constantly remaining exciting and fresh, this summer marks their 20th anniversary of its existence.
We thought we’d call Quiff and Spinback to catch a history lesson or two….
How’s life in Bristol?
Quiff: I’m moving in the next month but it’s been amazing, I will be returning regularly though!
Spinback: I love Bristol, it’s such an inspiring place to live! I have no plans on leaving at all. So we’ll be based here and in High Wycombe from July onwards.
How will that affect your output?
Q: It will make it better! We’ve been used to having two studios anyway so being in one has meant we’ve been less productive.
So has being in separate studios been the secret to your success? Most acts have a lull in their career – you guys have consistently smacked it for well over 20 years.
Q: It could be a secret to our success but I would say the main thing is that we fucking love drum & bass! There have been times when we’ve not been feeling what’s going on in the wider picture but that’s when we just go ‘fuck it’ and do our own thing.
S: And also because we’re a duo. So we can pull each other’s necks in. We are best mates, like properly, so most the time we’re having fun and just enjoying the music.
Q: Yeah, and when those times happen when we don’t love the music, it puts fire in our belly to go the other way and making something that we stand for. Like the pop stuff that’s going on the moment, we’re on a proper reactionary buzz to all that…
S: Because it’s shit and has no connection to the D&B we know and love! So we’re on a mission to work with, and sign music from, some of the most exciting guys on the underground who are making the music that excites us, and of course, write more music ourselves.
Amen. So we’re talking now because of C.I.A’s 20th anniversary. You’ve had quite a few labels but Computer Integrated Audio is the mothership, right?
S: We actually had a label before C.I.A; Legend. But it was owned by other guys too. We started producing on it as Funky Technicians but when Gwange left we were kinda left to run it. But when it ran its course we set up Total Science and C.I.A launched.
Q: It’s where we got seriously serious about things, basically.
1996 was a mad year to get seriously serious: the year Renegade Hardware launched, Playaz, Hospital, Drum&BassArena, Urban Takeover. Tunes like Metropolis, The Chopper, Friday, Bad Ass…. What a year to be in drum & bass!
Q: It really was. I think it was because music has its phases and its fads and by 1996 we knew drum & bass wasn’t going away. This wasn’t a flash-in-the pan thing. It meant something to a lot of people. We felt part of it and wanted to push it and develop it and take it as far as we could.
S: It was a proper community. It was mindblowing music at the time, too. It all felt so new. Totally new. You’d hear a Photek tune or Dillinja tune and it would be like ‘fucking hell! What are they doing there?’ We need this synth or that synth or whatever bits of kit.
Q: And you’d hear it all down Music House cutting dubs so there was a proper community vibe. We’d all meet up and share music. You had to have good tunes to get good tunes.
Like a currency!
Q: Yeah. If you wanted to get a tune off Krust, for instance, then you’d have to give him your best and hope he thought it met his crazy high standards!
And then you’ve got the holy trilogy of Randall, Fabio and Grooverider copping all the dubs off everyone…
S: Yeah they broke the music. They showcased it all. Without them you wouldn’t get heard. You’d be fucked if you got caught behind Groove at Music House – he wouldn’t come in with anything less than a carrier bag of DATS.
Q: It was like ‘fuck! I’m here all night’
Let’s have a chat about Champion Sound for a second… DLR’s turned in a bit of a blinder hasn’t he!
Q: He’s turned in two blinders mate.
S: He wanted to update the original then he wanted to do a full-on techy version which we’ve released for the album sampler.
It’s one of those tunes that never dies… I forgot about the Bad Company remix until I saw their comeback show.
Q: I remember the Generation Dub bootleg. Someone called me and saying ‘I heard Groove play that Generation Dub remix of Champion Sound, lemme have a copy!’ and we were like ‘errr…. What?’ We liked that remix so much we released it officially in the end. But yeah we purposefully left it alone for a while because we felt it had had enough remixes
S: DLR wanted to do it. We probably wouldn’t have returned to it but he wanted to do it and we knew he’d do a great job on it. It was the same with Baron when he remixed Nosher. We let him do it and it ended up being a smasher.
Lots of fresh smashers on the album too!
S: That was the plan! We wanted a range of people who’ve been with us since day dot, new friends and people who’d never been on the label. Everyone delivered; Break’s track Unification was made for us directly. It sounds like a C.I.A release, it’s very personal.
Q: S.P.Y gave us something that was probably a little too dark for Hospital so it’s a something different from him. We’re also very lucky to be working with Calibre who really doesn’t work with that many labels. So yeah, it had to be something personal and special to celebrate 20 years and I think we’ve done it.
I’m gonna ask the question everyone hates… Give me your favourites. Two each!
S: Method because it was the first release and had that real Source Direct type of vibe that we were really inspired by.
And our remix of Wot’s My Code – Dubplate. It was a real privilege to remix that.
Rockwell was inspired by that remix! It switched him onto D&B.
S: Yes! He was going to remix it at some point but I don’t think we could find the parts.
Q: So yeah my favourite would be Spirit – Midnight Run, back when he was The Spirit.
And our Advanced album. Our debut album, it was a big moment for us.
That came out around 2000 didn’t it? Mad time in D&B… Not quite as special as 1996.
Q: It got dark! We were still going out and partying when we weren’t DJing. But we were going to garage nights because more girls were going out to them. We’d play at drum & bass parties and it was very much a boys club and the records were really dark at the time.
S: Then Digital came down to play The Source in Oxford and he blew us away! It was so fresh and dubby and properly jungle. He was breath of fresh air and inspired us to remix Champion Sound and Wot’s My Code. We went in on that old school buzz.
Q: We were going through old tunes in our record collection, listen to them, sample them and get inspired in the studio. Using old school sounds and new production techniques. Digital was doing his thing. We were doing our thing. Future Cut were doing it. Spirit. Marcus Intalex.
S: D&B had lost its soul and lost its funk a little. Ed Rush & Optical still had funk. Bad Company had the funk. But a lot of it was very clinical. Parallels between then and now with the techy stuff can be drawn. It was hard to get inspired for a while… Then Digital came along.
Deadline was the first halftime tune!
Q: It was indeed. He’s a beast. We’ve got a whole EP with Digital & Spirit coming up actually. We’re buzzing about the fact we’ve all got together and made a tune together. We’d been meaning to do this since early 2000s!
What other long-awaited plans have you got planned for the future?
S: We’ve got so much stuff stacked up, it’s untrue. We’re back on the vinyl releases, there’s a lot of really exciting music around, our love for D&B hasn’t been this high in years. So hopefully we’ll be having this conversation again in 20 years time if you’re up for it? Unless one of us dies of course…
Long live Total Science: Follow Them. Pre-order CIA 20.