A debut drum & bass-album for the British producer/DJ Section and the first album released on Portuguese label Counterpoint Recordings will arrive July 8. The Fourth Hour is a 12-track trip comprising many collaborations and subgenres, navigating two opposites on the emotional spectrum.
As someone at the front line of the COVID pandemic while working for the NHS, James ’Section’ Barclay experienced first-hand the emotional turmoil of so many people. He, too, went through a very dark period, coping on both ends with his own emotions and the emotions of the people whose pain he wanted to alleviate.
In search of meaning, at the centre of what still is unjust and needless suffering, he transmuted that pain. The Fourth Hour LP is an obituary. Homage to these beautiful souls, honoured through the universal medium that is music. It ultimately reflects a glimmer of hope in especially trying times. The dedication to the creation of this album, furthered by contributions of the collaborating artists, can be really felt.
We reflected with James on the process of writing The Fourth Hour and asked him to talk us through the tracks. As it’s the first album the label have ever release, we also caught some insight from Counterpoint boss Martim Santos.
“The relation we developed with Section over the years is a testament to our desire as a label to build meaningful connections with artists. From the first time we interacted, it always felt very natural and grew organically into a familiar partnership. Knowing him on this level made me confident he would create an album that could represent not only his amazing creative vision, but also a pure and unadulterated take on the Counterpoint Recordings sound. I’m honoured to have worked with James and to have played a (small) part in helping him create The Fourth Hour LP, which I believe is a beautiful piece of timeless drum & bass music.”
Read on for the full story…
When did you consciously start to put together this album?
In January 2021, Martim asked me if I wanted to write an LP for his label, following on from a single I released with them in 2020. I said yes immediately, aware that an opportunity like this may never arise again. I started writing in February 2021, ensuring every track was written from scratch. I wanted to write an album that reflected a certain time and to make it as cohesive as possible.
How did you go about it from there?
I am a physiotherapist for the National Health Service (NHS) and at the start of 2021 I was working with COVID patients in the intensive care unit. The album was a tonic for me and a way to make sense of the world at that time.
The process was about creating something positive and hopeful. Looking back, it all came naturally. I didn’t have to think about it too much. I wouldn’t say the album wrote itself, but it felt organic and it came together quicker than I thought it might.
You more or less absorbed that energy at the time
Yeah, I work for a great team. We all worked together to make a dreadful time as positive as we could, and I tried to bring that energy to the creative process. The guys at Counterpoint Recordings fully supported my vision and allowed me creative freedom, something I am extremely grateful for.
Can you tell us about the collaborations on The Fourth Hour?
I’d worked with some of the artists previously; Inner Terrain and Shyrren5 had released on my label Locked Up Music. It felt very organic to work together again on Awake. Shyrren5 is a wonderful poet. Inner Terrain and I have worked on a couple of tracks before, and I massively respect his artistry. The initial idea for Awake was to have no drums, but I couldn’t resist! Once I’d added the breaks it felt more complete, and we are all very proud of how it turned out.
I’ve known Jem-One for a while and I respect him hugely. He’s signed to Metalheadz and it’s amazing to have him on the LP. I wrote this riff and sent it to him on Instagram, he was really into it. The track wrote itself fairly quickly after that.
Daydream with Sofi Mari was born from an instrumental I wrote and felt she could add more colour with her outstanding talent. She lives in America, but came over to the UK, enabling us to work in the studio. It’s one of the few collabs that I worked with the artist in person, which helped massively.
OB1 runs Rebel Music, and we’ve worked together for the past 3 years. He’s become a good friend. I’ve written a track for Rebel under my Dark Ops alias and played at his events. Fly To Me is the first single from the LP. I wrote the groove and Ben added colour with vocals and instruments, I think it took him an hour; awesome work. The undertone for the whole album was to not overthink the process. Partially, it is called The Fourth Hour – not because every track was written in four hours – but if I didn’t get a vibe in that time, it wouldn’t be a part of the project.
I wrote Ogami with Ross Flashback, who is the other half of Dark Ops. Ross came to the studio, bringing these sick Japanese sounding strings. We developed the track with intricate drums and melancholic pads. Ogami is one of the tracks on the album I enjoyed writing the most, despite the drum programming being long!
Did you use a lot of hardware while writing The Fourth Hour?
No, I have a basic setup. I used Cubase, plugins, and synths. I did play all the instruments on the album. There aren’t many samples on the LP, which was a conscious decision. I wanted to push myself in this aspect and explore a different approach to my production process.
And the specific synths/VSTs?
I used Komplete Kontrol from Native Instruments for atmospherics and soundscaping, specifically the Ethereal Earth synth. It’s really user-friendly and there are great stock sounds that I resampled. I hope this approach created a cohesive sounding album, something that was very important for me.
Can you please explain further the meaning of the album?
Throughout life there are highs and lows, but I have never felt in such a place as I was at the outset of writing this album. The overall sentiment was to produce something that felt hopeful. Each track being a journey, finishing in a different, more positive place. Writing the LP was deeply cathartic for me and helped me hugely with coping with work and home life.
Thank you for clarifying further, tell us more about the tracks on the album
Nozomu is a track that profoundly reflects the emotion of that time. I cried while making this track, not because it’s sad, but because it’s hopeful. Nozomu means “hope” in Japanese. Nozomu and Ogami both have Japanese flavours. I’ve never been, but there’s something about their culture and art that strikes a chord with me. Ross is really into Japanese movies and had a huge influence on Ogami.
Resemble A Moment is one of the tracks where I used sampling. All the sounds are samples and I hope they work to create a unique piece of music. I also sampled my two daughters, Elodie and Isla. I recorded them on my iPhone, while they were talking about their favourite things. We were lying in bed one morning, I pressed record, and they chatted away. I really wanted them on the album as a legacy for me and something they will always have to look back on.
So what’s more to say about your mindset when writing this album
Despite what was happening in the world, I tried to remain hopeful and progressive. The LP was purposeful, and every track was written deliberately for the project. I never thought I had it in me, to be honest. Not until they asked me. Counterpoint gave me the confidence to work well out of my comfort zone. Massive props to the gang at Counterpoint for believing in me, I cannot thank them enough. They even invited me to Porto for the album launch in May. My family came too, and the whole experience was overwhelming but so sick!
Despite The Fourth Hour being an album to really sit and listen to, there are a lot of dance floor vibes in there as well
Yeah, the track Feel The Pressure with Peas goes off in a club. I actually met him through OB1 and have played out with him several times. He became a friend and I have written more music with him since. The track was inspired by Mark System’s Break Glass. It has a constant drone running through it and I play it out most sets. While it doesn’t sound like it now, that was my inspiration. After writing the music, I sent it to Peas. He did a great job with the vocal. Having an MC on it made sense, given the vibe of the track.
Another track with a dance floor vibe is One – which has had support from artists I respect, something I always strive for. It was the first track I finished, so I unimaginatively called it One haha! Feel The Pressure and One are more aggressive tunes, which is probably my default sound and so having them on the LP made sense.
The opening track, Amenucation uses a sample from an American law lecturer about copyrights. Martim was so excited that I made this track. I’ve been listening to this music since ‘93 and the Amen Break has always been there. This is a homage to the most recognisable drum break, which been an important part of life and my career.
Colours In The Sky features Rachel K. Rachel is John Conscience’s wife, a friend of mine and a producer on Flexout Audio. She also came to my studio to work on the track. It has a real ‘90s trip hop vibe to it. Rachel really nailed the vocals; they have this haunting feel to them. It recently featured on BBC introducing, which we are both very proud of (embed).
Why did you decide to end the album with Ogami?
The track order is really important to me, and it needed to feel right. Martim and I discussed it a lot. Ogami was written as a war scene. It begins with strings and atmosphere to represent a tranquil village. As the track progresses, we added Reece sounds and heavy drums, like an army infiltrating the village. The track ends as it began, peace has been restored. It made sense that the LP would finish in this way, as this is how I felt throughout the creative process. That’s probably why Ogami is one of my favourites. It represents a period in all of our lives; a contrast of emotions.
A synthesis. After everything falls apart, it comes together again
Absolutely. Ross and I were so proud of this tune when we finished it. My wife Sarah came to the studio to listen to it. Without prompting, Sarah clearly described what we intended. A moment we’ll never forget.
This LP is easily the proudest moment of my career, and there are a few people I need to thanks who helped it become a reality.
Without my wife’s support, none of this would happen. I love you Sarah. A special mention to my mentor Nathan Solley, who inspired me to start this journey. Nathan helped with vocal production on Colours In The Sky and always provides constructive critique to help my development. To all the amazing contributors, I feel extremely lucky to have a group of like-minded artists to work with. To all of the wonderful Physiotherapists I work with in Worthing Hospital. You inspire me every day.
To everyone at Counterpoint. You have something very special. UKF for the opportunity to tell my story. Monita, HLZ, Script, Outrage, Wreckless, SR, Kolectiv, the Rebel Music crew, Nu-Lo, Smasha, The Volks gang, Jack South, Johnny 5, Ben, Tino, Mackie, Vykhod Sily, Brian Keith, Bassdrive, Cygnus Music and all of the amazing artists I work with at Locked Up Music.