WORDS

Utah Jazz: Meet the man who inspired Sun & Bass

utah-jazz-2012-17

Utah Jazz: keeping it real since 1999.

First emerging with the able guidance of Pulp Fiction don Alex Reece then rapidly developing his own style and sense of pace, during the liquid explosion of the early 2000s the London artist was unavoidable and was frequently co-signed or recruited by the likes of Roni and Bryan Gee for dubs, VIPs and specials.

With a razor sharp ear for a sample and an obese hunger for grooves, he’s retained all the hallmarks and skills that he made his name with and honed them without compromise. The result is a repertoire of timeless rollers that would have worked 20 years ago and will work in 20 years time.

Since 2008 he’s changed his workflow to an album system whereby every two years (pretty much to the month) he drops an album. Each one an essential addition to any collection or DJ set, last week saw the release of his fifth LP – Music Factory. As with his previous LPs, it’s a silky session from start to finish, bitten with loose sense of soul and funk throughout.

Worryingly he said on Facebook that it might be his last album. We called him up, called him out…. And left with a mad story about Sun & Bass Festival (which is happening right now at time of publishing) and his role in the unique event’s history.

Read on and realise…

‘This could be my last album’… You what?

Ha! I do feel like that after every album to be honest. You just put so much work and time into something you can’t possibly envision making another album. The way I do things is so intense so I always feel like this after I’ve finished. A lot of people have said the same and I’m sure I will write another one. But not for a long time!

You do work in a mad way. An album every two years since 2008. Like clockwork. I only know what year it is because you’ve released an album…

Ha! Me too! It’s a cycle and what I do; I work intensely for a year and present what I have then tour for a year. I don’t do singles. They worked for me back in the day then I did an album and that worked really well so I went on the album route. I feel if I’m releasing albums and singles then it would be overkill, I’d saturate the market. Touring-wise it works, too. It’s more like a band – you put the album out, you tour it as much you can, you hibernate, write another album and the cycle starts again.

Throw singles in the mix and you’re either doubling up your work or diluting the impact of the album!

It depends how you work. If you’re working that commercial edge and looking for radio hype then singles are a must. I was on that type of thing 10 years ago. But albums represent me more musically now and they also represent how I work. I won’t write for months then I’ll write furiously for several months. It helps with the context of the album then – it’s a whole body of work written in a certain time of my life in a certain mindset.

So that’s the Music Factory mindset?

Yeah kind of. But it’s also this new studio in my garden which I’ve built and the fact I’m now a dad, I only have a finite amount of time to write. I can’t just piss around for five days or sleep all day because I’m knackered from touring; I have my time and if I don’t use it wisely then I haven’t achieved anything.

So I was trying to get into the workflow where I’d go down the garden into the music factory and create something pretty much in a day. It’s amazing the way you utilise your time when you have shit to do. You can’t mess around or procrastinate. I think it has a positive effect when it comes to things like sampling. You can easily lose days on sample sessions. Now I limit myself to a finite amount of time and make sure all my time is being used properly. If something isn’t working then I park it for a bit and start on something else straight away instead of losing time getting frustrated with it. I had to leave the studio every day feeling like I’ve properly accomplished something.

Or tweaking decibels on a snare for days on end…

Thankfully I’ve never done that anyway! I’m technically illiterate anyway so I’ve never got caught in that type of game. I just write the tunes. I never put compression on anything or EQ or anything like that. I put the sounds together, find the breaks I want to use, layer the drums and put it together. Then I test it out when I’m playing and see if it’s too low in the mix or how it hits. Sometimes I get lucky and they sit right in the mix. Other times I send them to be mixed down. Villem did mine this time. I’ve worked with other guys before but Villem smashes it, just EQ’ing the elements, compressing the bass a little, giving it a warmer version without losing the magic of the samples like the crackles of the vinyl I’ve sampled from.

I do worry that mixdowns lose a lot of magic. It might be an old fashioned way of doing things but it works for me. I have complete respect for the technical guys made an art of sound design but haven’t lost the vibe. Very few people have that balance. Personally I focus on what I’m good at; finding samples and creating a groove. Spending days on EQing and processing would be a waste of my time. Talented guys like Villem can help make sure I keep the actual production level up to date and contemporary.

You’ve contemporised Can You Handle It with DRS from your Vintage album very nicely on this album….

I’d been thinking about doing a VIP because I’d never played it out as it’s not D&B. But it ended up becoming this. The original started as a loop. That was pretty much it, just three minutes of one loop with the strings coming out here and there. I sent it to DRS and turned it into something really special.

Would you go over any other tracks from your past?

There are all sorts of tracks I’d like to update but it would be a nightmare finding the samples again. I don’t know where half the bits came from or where they’ve gone. Never say never. But probably not – even down to old technology I use. Opening a really old project on a new version of Logic is an absolute nightmare to be honest.

So you keep mentioning the S word: Samples. Good to hear. A lot of artists are encouraged not to sample…

Yeah I get that it’s shaky territory but I do go for really really obscure samples that I hope aren’t going to get recognised. I’ve had the odd thing replayed but I feel you lose the soul and spirit of the original. But it’s the old school hip-hop or jungle style that I really love – when every single sound you hear is taken from another record. If I want a sax sound then I find it and sample it, if I want a horn sound, I find it and sample it. It’s old school but I am old school.

What’s been the biggest change you’ve witnessed since coming through in the late 90s, then?

One of the biggest is DJing. I love a good set – I love including everything, soul, classics, bangers, everything. It’s my interpretation of the whole of drum & bass, really. I still love doing that but I find I’m being asked to play my own tunes more. It’s like a production showcase, more than a set. Before now I’d play a whole set and maybe one or two of my tunes would be in it. Now I’m asked specifically to play all my own stuff. Which is a bit of a shame as I really enjoy mixing and surprising people with classics and joining the dots.

You could always sneak in a few Calibre tunes, though…

I always do! But it’s not a negative thing – it’s just the way things are. And because line-ups are very subgenre focused then it actually helps. If I’m on a liquid line-up with six other liquid guys at least I know I’ve got a whole bunch of tracks that no one else has. I’m just getting ready for my party at Sun ‘n’ Bass which is one where I can – and people expect me to – play what the fuck I want! The crowd knows their shit there; you can play a Calibre or Bad Company classic and everyone will know the score.

You’re a staple at Sun & Bass.

Yeah this is my 12th amazingly. I got a mad story with them… Stefano, one of the original Sun ‘n’ Bass crew knew me from a German exchange trip at school. We linked up in around 93 or 94. We went to Germany and I was giving him tapes of Kool FM and things like that. Manheim had a rich drum & bass scene with all the pirate guys like SS, Kenny Ken and Randall all playing there on the regular anyway and he was just getting into it. But they didn’t have it on the radio so I would record stuff from the radio and give these tapes to him. He often jokes that Sun & Bass wouldn’t have started without me but he’s being too kind. I did feed his interest in jungle. We were barely 14 at the time. About 10 years later I get this call saying ‘Luke it’s Stefano from the German exchange! I’ve started this party I want you to come along’ I thought ‘who the fuck is this?’ Then he told me more, it all clicked into place and I was there at the second ever Sun ‘n’ Bass with a whole bunch of mates. I haven’t missed one since. It’s a very personal connection.

So Sun & Bass wouldn’t exist without you, basically… There’s my headline right there.

Ha! According to Stefano it’s true. I’m sure he says it to flatter me and I reckon the crew would have smashed it anyway. But regardless, they’re family and have been really important to my career and to drum & bass in general. Without big events where we all come together like that, the music would be a lot more fractured and a lot less consistent…

Utah Jazz: keeping it real since a high school German exchange trip in 1993.

Follow Utah Jazz: Facebook / Soundcloud