Every producer has a few private bucket list labels that they really want to release on. If they say they don’t, they’re playing it way too cool.
Take Voltage, a man who’s released on an army of labels. Shogun, Low Down Deep, Philly Blunt, Co-Lab, CIA, Smokin Riddims, Natty Dub, Souped Up and his own Rollaz label are just some of the labels to sport Voltage jams over the years. You can now add his bucket list ambition to the list: Metalheadz with Mood Swings, one of his most diverse EPs to date.
Out now, his debut on Goldie’s blueprint imprint follows a precision run of fire this year and once again galvanises his razor’s edge signature of heavyweight consistency and mischievous unpredictability. Already acknowledged as a man who’s just as likely to throw down a Charge-style stampede as he is a Playaz-flavoured riff or Full Cyclist roll-up, Mood Swings sees him adding strong shades of deep tech, soul, space and jazz to his repertoire. Restrained, evocative and timeless; each of the five tracks suck us deep down a new rabbit hole. The poignant piano-primed soul of Losing You, the haunted yearning vocals on the white knuckle ice-out Out Of Luck, the Hidden Agenda flurries and haze of Mood Swings. The list goes on…
Mood Swings is impressive in every possible direction, but it’s perhaps the timely arrival that strikes you the most. Compounding a direction and energy that’s been building in Voltage for several years, Mood Swings confirms his position as a one of the new generation’s most versatile, authentic and exciting producers. A DJ who could smash a Westfest or Inno just as knowingly as he could a pulp a crowd at a Headz night or Fabric room two, Voltage is one of an elite force of acts such as Break, fellow Kings Of The Rollers Serum and Bladerunner, Heist, or more recently Turno, who understands the essence of drum & bass and is confident and accomplished enough to explore any corner of it.
These explorations are set to accelerate as we head into a new year; in December Voltage and Serum will be releasing an album on Low Down Deep and word on the street is that Kings Of The Rollers have major plans to announce in due course too. And before all that, there’s a release coming up on Doc Scott’s 31… The bucket list business continues. Here’s where Voltage is at right now…
Busy year?! Variety, consistency, frequency… It feels like a lot of momentum at Voltage HQ right now.
I’ve always made a point of just making drum & bass. I’m not interested in being pigeonholed at all. I’m really fortunate that I have plenty of outlets to put out my music. I’m not held back by certain sound, I can release with a lot of different people; I can send music to Goldie or Friction or Logan D or Serum. There are lots of different options for any type of sound I make.
There’s a lot to be said for just making strong connections and not signing with one label or exclusive crew.
Yeah definitely. I know Serum feels similar – we’ve tried to be that bridge between the two sides of drum & bass. I hate saying it but there are sides to drum & bass and it’s about bringing those sides together. You make a lot of allegiances that way. You can be a breath of fresh air in every circle because you’re coming from a different side.
Is the divide still strong? It doesn’t feel as bad as it was a few years ago.
It’s nowhere near as divided as it was a few years ago. You’re always going to have the music snobs but because we’ve made a point of setting the production bar at such a high standard a lot of the guys who thought they were superior to jump up can’t ignore us now. We’re asked about our mixdowns and how they’re loud and clear. So that’s broken down a lot of barriers. People can’t sit there and blame the technical aspects if the production is as good as theirs.
For a while the jump-up sound was pretty harsh with a lot of Belgian elements, very high frequencies in the bass, a lot of young artists self-releasing with low quality control, crap mixdowns etc. That put people off for a bit.
Yeah and that period was hard for the accomplished producers making really good jump up like Heist, Pleasure, Konichi, Decimal Bass, Majistrate. Those guys make jump up at an extreme high standard and when the lower quality stuff came along it tarred the whole sound. I felt for those because their engineering is some of the best in the game.
Definitely. Break, too. He can go to anywhere in the scene, any label, any sound. Total Science and Ed Rush & Optical are an older example of having that versatility, too. They can make any type of drum & bass for any label and probably do it better than some of the label’s artists.
So you’ve been sending Goldie music for a while, then?
It was Heist who introduced us actually. I’ve been sending him tunes from time to time. Only the right ones that I feel he might be into. Then we spoke early 2016 and he said ‘I know you can do whatever you want, do what you do and we’ll get there’ And it came together. Once I was in a certain vibe and mindset the EP came together in around seven weeks.
So it’s not a little percy stash of Headz style tracks made over the last 18 months, for example?
No because when I collect tracks in that way the release never works. I did stall it for a bit because I took a few tracks off that I felt weren’t as good so made some better ones. But we’re already working on the next Metalheadz release now.
Already on the next one? Nice. Benny L said the same last month. These aren’t one-offs, there’s a real relationship building up with the label….
Yeah. Headz was always the end goal for me. When I started producing that was always the big ambition. It bugged me for ages that I hadn’t done it. Up till a couple of years ago I was thinking I might never happen. It’s nice. A relief, in a way. I can relax, I’ve done it and I’ve got it out of my system.
Better to happen now rather than hammer them with demos too early?
I was always wary of that. I only sent them very select demos. If I piss them off with really shit music it’s going to close the door. I’ve always been very select about what I sent to Goldie. Even my releases. He’s very cool to work with and helped out a lot on the EP. I spent a lot of time on the phone with him editing things. Random calls at 2am with ideas about where to put a string line. And every time I try these ideas, it works. He’ll give times where to do something and try something out. I’ve never worked with anyone like that before.
Okay I’m going to try and pin point a moment where I can hear his suggestion… On Out Of Luck, before the breakdown there’s eight bars of thundering bassline that ripples and disappears again. Is that one of his ideas?
Yeah it is! To begin with Out Of Luck had a lot more vocal going on and really pulled it apart. At first I didn’t get it but I listened to it the next day and it sounded so much better. He’s very good at saying ‘right, this needs to happen here and if you do this here it will make something else happen in the next part’ He’s good at seeing that cause and effect or helping you see things from a different perspective.
So what comes next?
We’re just working on a massive Kings Of The Rollers project that’s our main concentration going into the next year with something very big happening next year. Because of that we’re trying to tie up every release before that happens. I’ve got a 31 release coming early November and myself and Serum are dropping an album in December on Low Down Deep.
It’s basically a lot of tunes you’ve heard me or Serum play this summer. The artwork is super cool, all hand drawn. We’ve been working on that for around 18 months.
You two complement each other so well
We’re both big fans of the whole Bristol sound, that’s the driving force of what we’ve always tried to do. The Dope Dragon, Full Cycle, V, Philly Blunt vibe. So when you’re on that same wavelength you’re always going to end up making music together. The first tune we made together still hasn’t come out and I play it every set. Wicked tune. We’re saving it for the right release. It’s getting on for three years old and it still sounds new and fresh. That’s the cool thing; we’re always trying to push each other to find that next little fresh element, something different. The first studio session we did we made three tunes, the next we made four. One session we made Break It Down, Mission Control, Save This World and Barbarian. Just all in one session.
A session is like one week, yeah?
No way! Tweaks and mixdowns afterwards, though?
No, they didn’t get touched. We’ve got very similar set-ups and we’re all on the same page. Bladerunner as well – we make music in a very similar way with a similar attitude. So there’s no ‘what do you think about this?’ we’re all coming up with similar ideas and music gets made very very quickly. We’ve made a tune called Burn Down The House and we did that in two hours.
Do you approach things in the same way as Bladerunner? He puts his basslines in last doesn’t he?
Yeah he does! He makes the whole arrangement, does the edits, the samples and everything and then he fills in the gaps with a fresh bassline. Often he’ll put the bassline answers in before the questions. He’s amazing to work with. We’ve got some tunes unreleased which we still play now.
I like how you’re sitting on so much material. Even when your release schedule as a busy as yours…
You can’t put everything out. You get more critical as you progress anyway – like three or four years ago I was happy with everything I was making, now I only like one in 20 tunes. I’ve become super picky, trying things out in the raves, seeing how they sit in the mix. Sometimes tunes you think are too out there work the best, some tunes you think will work but don’t. Like my last EP on Low Down Deep, I thought the hooky things like Sticky Vicky and Barbara would do the best but it’s Labrynth which is much darker and stripped back, that was the most talked about tunes on the release. I’d never have predicted that.
You can’t forecast that can you? You can never put a formula on it
No you definitely can’t. And the minute you think there is a formula or you’ve reached the best you can do then it’s your downfall. There is no winning formula, you constantly have to change and evolve and try and make sure you’re that little step ahead. Finding something different – 90% of the time it doesn’t work but you’ve got to try it out. That’s what drives me and keeps me inspired and on my toes!
(Photo credit: Chelone Wolf)