We Need To Talk About Operate

Many of us set goals at the beginning of the seemingly endless string of lockdowns. Nail that perfect sourdough. Read more books. Finally admit you love a foghorn.

For Dom Operate, it was to release music on two of the titans of the drum and bass scene. He smashed this out the park with two tunes on both Hospital Records and Shogun Audio, collaborating with the likes of T95, Monrroe and Degs.

Right now, however, it’s all about Operate’s latest release on the ever-consistent Overview Music. The simultaneously mind-bending and soul-soothing LSD EP mark’s the producer’s first full solo EP since his early days of releasing music and is a perfect representation of the diversity in sound he now embodies.

The four-track release covers all bases, from the jump-up inspired, tech-haven that is LSD, to Diamonds with Degs and Duskee, an inwards-looking track that beams positivity through a trifecta of unbridled talent. Meanwhile, Notions sees the producer link up with rising vocal favourite Javeon for a deep liquid exploration, and 2FACE brings the dark, dystopian feels with its long, inescapable bass growls and haunting synth work. All the tracks are married together with a focus on crystal-clear production and an impressive ability to conjure up expansive soundscapes and atmosphere.

We caught up with Operate soon after the release to chat about how he discovered the drum and bass scene, the process behind creating the EP, and how he coped with the difficulties of lockdown. Read the full chat below.

How’s it going?

Yeah, I’m good! It’s great to be going full steam ahead again with gigs being back on. I’m seeing clips of people playing the new EP which is something we all took for granted before lockdown. It’s a big shift though. I played my first gig back supporting Break and Friction recently and by 2am and I was knackered

Was that the first time you’ve been able to play out tunes from the EP?

Yeah! I’d had a couple of those sit down shows during the lockdown in places like Brighton and Southampton, but that was my first full capacity show back. It’s nice to have the sit down shows as a comfort blanket, but it just wasn’t the same. The first proper gig was just insane, it really reignited the love I had for it. Just sitting on the stage and taking in all the sound and the quality of the audio, feeling the bass rumbling your chest.

I imagine the new tunes went down well?

They did, LSD went off! It was nice to be able to play it myself for once, literally everyone else has played it before me. Everyone was so pumped to get back in the rave, even my deeper stuff was going off. It was amazing.

Before we to get on to the EP I want to take it back to the beginning. When did you start producing?

I started producing at college, and at that time I was massively into hip-hop and the likes of UKF Dubstep. My friend Ed (Edzilla) was a sick hip-hop producer and got me into producing and started showing me the ropes in Logic. I ended up dropping out of A-level biology and psychology and going to a new college with Ed where we did music technology. I learnt a lot of the basis of production through that course and through that started experimenting with making my own tunes. It must be around seven years ago now then.

Did you make a lot of different genres over this time?

At the beginning I was trying to find what I liked. I was really into hip-hop, so I did get into making that, but it just never stuck. I was also a massive metalhead/grunge guy before college with long hair and everything – in fact I still play guitar now sometimes. Drum and bass was what ended up sticking though. I saw DJ Hazard when I turned 18 for my first ever night out and instantly, I was like, ‘I want to make drum and bass’. I would apply everything I was taught on the music tech course into trying to make a drum and bass tune.

It’s safe to say that your much earlier stuff was more jump up influenced, right?

Yeah, it definitely was. I think a lot of people that are currently into me don’t realise what I used to make. I still love jump up though, don’t get me wrong. It was how I really got involved in the scene at first. I did alright in it and make lots of great connections and friends, but it got to a stage where I fell out of love with making it myself. I still listen to it, and I’ll still play the odd tune that’ll fit into my set, but production-wise I lost my flow with it. I disappeared for a little bit and tried to learn a lot of new stuff and then I came into what I make now. I’m a lot happier for it.

The influence is still there for sure. LSD has that jump-up energy for me!

LSD is definitely a nod to my former self. I still love getting pumped in the studio to my own tunes and making something aggressive. I haven’t had that in a while.

Was there any inspiration behind the name of that tune, dare I ask?

Hahaha I’ve had loads of questions asking about this. The comments on some of the videos like Skankandbass are like ‘Oh my god man, I love LSD’. To be honest, there is no actual reference, but the sample just sounded really cool and just fitted.

Are samples like that usually how you start up a track?

With LSD, I made the tune and I realised it had the potential to be received really well, so I consciously made the decision that it needed a catchy sample. I wanted it to be recognisable in the rave and I wanted everyone to know that it was my tune. Normally though, it’s not based off a sample and instead it’s impacted by my mood and what I’m in the mood to make. It usually starts off with a melody or a bassline that catches me and then I’ll build on top of that.

How do you keep pushing yourself in the studio to move forward creatively?

I don’t think I do anything consciously, but as a person I have quite an eclectic music taste. I’ll get bored if I make the same style over and over again. One week I’ll be feeling the dark minimal stuff and another I’m really enjoying liquid and letting out my emotions on the keyboard. Other times you just want to be pissed off and make some angry music. It depends on the mood, and that subconsciously drives me to always try and find new stuff to make. Branching out into lots of different territories will naturally make me learn more. I’m well aware I’ve got so much to learn, and I think that’s the great thing about producing. It’s a journey that never really stops, you can never learn too much.

You mentioned hip-hop and dubstep. Are these your main influences outside of drum and bass or have you got any others?

I don’t listen to drum and bass much outside of producing so I definitely have lots of influence from other genres when I produce. I’ve always been in love with the dubstep from around 2009-2012, primarily all the stuff that was on UKF Dubstep. It was just so epic sounding, so atmospheric, and all the intros would be so entrancing. I’ve always wanted to bring that into my productions, because you want it to be memorable or have an impact on someone. That’s why I enjoy delving into the deeper side of things like the liquid stuff. It can have more of a lasting impression compared to some of my angrier music. I also like bringing the not-so-standard melodies you’d get from darker rock and grunge music into my dark liquid tunes.

The LSD EP is your first full solo body of work since your very early stuff. Did you approach it differently knowing this?

I was very conscious after my collab EP with Rizzle in November that this release would be just me, so I wanted to make it special. It’s the culmination of lockdown, my project to get through it all. I like to make an EP that is diverse in sounds so there’s something for everybody on there. LSD is the club banger and I think that will have a lot of cross pollination across people that are into different stuff. Notions is the smooth vocal roller featuring Javeon who is the most incredible vocalist and has the quickest work rate I’ve seen. 2FACE is some angry, dark minimal moody shit, and is a good example of a song that comes from my metal background with lots of dissonant and moody notes. Finally, Diamonds with Degs and Duskee is an upbeat happy song, which is quite unusual for me. I made that in the crossover of lockdown easing off, so maybe that was done subconsciously because I was probably feeling better about life.

Definitely! You’ve obviously worked with Duskee and Degs separately before, but how was it working with both of them on Diamonds?

I had it in my mind that I wanted to work with them again and put them together, and before Degs’ Sprayout Vol. 2 came out it hadn’t happened. I was really happy that they both said yes, and they were both awesome to work with. Despite their busy schedules, they smashed it out the park in a couple of weeks so I’m super appreciative of that.

The music video was great as well. Did you have much input in that?

Well, I was keen for us to shoot a video and we all thought it’d be a good option to spread awareness of the track. We had the location suggested to us by the videographer Sam Wright, who I’ve got to shout out because he smashed the video. The same goes for Crums as well who did all the drone footage. We looked at the pictures on Airbnb and it was beautiful, this old rustic abbey with loads of cool brickwork, tapestries, etc. I was meant to go down for the shoot but I ended up catching COVID so I couldn’t go. It sucked seeing clips of them all making it and having a laugh, wandering around all the acres of land… I was very jealous. It still came out dope though and I’m glad it happened; I’ll be at the next one for sure. We’ve decided maybe next year we’ll do Diamonds 2.0 just because this went down so well. I also want to big up Pete and Oli from Overview for helping me get this EP together and letting me nag them relentlessly in the group chat haha. They are both so on the ball and helped push me to make an EP I am proud of… and the music video as well which I’m very happy about!

Continuing with Diamond’s positive theme, how have you managed to keep positive over this last year and a half?

One thing that helped me was setting goals at the beginning of lockdown. For example, I wanted to release on Hospital Records and Shogun Audio and I managed to do both of those. Doing those bits and bobs kept me super busy. It wasn’t like I was just making one tune and sending it to Hospital, there were quite a few tunes in fact that didn’t pass the A&R process. It’s such a nice feeling when you reach these goals, and it can really drive you on. I was also collaborating with a lot of new people, T95 being one of these people. We collaborated on Set You free which was released on Shogun and since then we’ve made a few more. Oh, I also didn’t watch the news too much, because that was just super depressing.

In terms of production, is there any advice you would give to newcomers for pushing through in hard times like this?

The big thing is never to be too hard on yourself. You’re going to have bad days where you sit down and everything you make sounds rubbish, it’s totally natural. That’s where having a good circle of friends around you can really bring you up, whether it’s your producer friends or non-producer friends. Don’t give up, keep at it, and if you feel like you’re forcing it then it’s OK to take a break. There were times where I might not have produced for two to three weeks just because I felt a bit drained or burnt out. It’s fine to sit down, play some PlayStation, or have a beer.

It’s easy to have unrealistic expectations of how proactive your favourite producers are, especially when just starting out. You think they’re slamming tunes out every day but realistically, it’s not always like that.

Literally, everyone is the same. A lot of people don’t realise that these big producers who they see smashing it all the time will also have a lot of abandoned projects. It’s often only a few that make the cut, and it’s important to remember that. One thing that really helped me was the Must Make podcasts by Workforce. He had an interview with Alix Perez, and I’m not sure on the quote but he basically explained that there are times where he’s questioned himself as a producer. He’s like the legend of drum and bass right now, and if he’s OK with admitting that to himself, then we should be too. I found that inspiring, it’s OK to have down days with creativity.

What’s next for you?

I’m already working on my next EP for Overview, so that’s my next project to work on. There will definitely be an LSD VIP involved in that, because why the fuck not. I don’t want to say too much else, but I will be releasing here and there on labels that I’ve released with before. There’s more stuff with Javeon, more with T95, and I’ve got a single coming out in a couple months with a certain MC so keep an eye out for that!

Operate – LSD is out now on Overview Music

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