“We wanted to be part of taking drum & bass beyond the underground”: The story of Breakbeat Kaos

Photo: John Wright

2003 was a vintage year for new D&B label launches… Calibre gave us Signature, dBridge booted up the Exit machine, Futurebound unleashed Viper, Marky levelled up with Innerground and Adam F and Fresh founded the mighty Breakbeat Kaos.

Each one of these labels has provided us with a wealth of inspiring music and given maximum boosts to countless careers, but few had such a supernova effect during the 2000s as Breakbeat Kaos (BBK). Responsible for early tracks by the likes of Pendulum, Chase & Status, Sigma, Nero, Brookes Brothers, Camo & Krooked, the label was a key waymark in drum & bass’s overflow into the mainstream consciousness.

From Tarantula to Tear You Down, Cylon to Crazy World, Act Like You to All That Jazz; BBK releases were key anthems in the dancefloor drum & bass sound that flourished throughout the mid to late 2000s and eventually lead to the run of D&B acts representing in the charts, including Fresh himself.

While Breakbeat Kaos wound down in 2012 due to industry changes and the fact they felt they couldn’t develop and promote the artists as much as they wanted to anymore, Fresh knew the label was never permanently deceased… It was only a matter of time before it returned.

That time is now. Following the comeback release earlier this year – Macky Gee, Phantasy & DJ Fresh’s Civilisation – comes Junglesound: Revenge Of The Bass. An album celebrating 15 years of the label, complete with four new exclusives, it marks a new chapter for BBK. We called Fresh to find out what follows…

Let’s go back to the start. When were the seeds sewn for the BBK relaunch?

It’s something I wanted to do for a while but I was incredibly busy with the DJ Fresh stuff and then the BCUK revival, so it’s been a crazy time. But I guess it was a combination of things; realising we were coming up to 15 years of the label, and because I was heavily involved in the I Love D&B playlist; I found myself listening to drum & bass for the first time in years. As in the whole genre. So on my runs I was getting to hear new talent like Think Tonk and Flite and got inspired from there.

You don’t get a chance to soak up the whole genre like that when it’s your life. It must have given you a fresh perspective?  

Yeah it’s interesting. When we put the playlist together we decided there was going to be no curation and would be the full drum & bass picture. So every day I’d go for a run or do whatever I was doing, put the playlist on and be exposed to anything from any level. It definitely was an interesting new listening perspective.

Perhaps the first time in your adult life you’ve been able to step away from your own music to do that?

I haven’t started my adult life! But yeah, I get you. It’s been great to step back and have that perspective again. I heard lots of things l don’t like, of course. I’m very fussy. But the stuff I did like was surprising in terms of what it was. Think Tonk took me by surprise. They’re not on the album but I’ve helped them with tracks that are coming on other labels. Musically they’re quite far away from what I’d make or play in the past but I love what they do. So yeah, I had a lot more exposure to the full 360 degrees of styles.

It’s a great time for drum and bass in that way anyway. Things got a bit pigeonholed for a bit. I’m not sure how aware of that you were because you were making pop hits!

That was part of the reason why I was doing what I was doing, I didn’t like how things were back then. It pushed me away from taking an interest in the underground, it did totally become very pigeonholed and that way of thinking doesn’t complement my own personal relationship with the music. I’ve always been in love with the breadth of what we can do and not by its limitations.

Quite a lot of breadth in the BBK back cat, too… You must have some nice memories of giving a lot of artists some great exposure and breakthroughs on BBK?

We were in a fortunate position. People bought into the vision in terms of the way the music was presented. It was fun and open minded. We could have Chase & Status’s Top Shotta, Pendulum’s Out Here or my breaks track Steam then later we did some dubstep stuff. Just whatever Adam and I liked and thought was good. That was literally the remit. And we were lucky to be in a position in the scene when we could hit artists up and asked for tracks and they’d be honoured to be part of the label. It’s a shame that that is missing a little now. It was a responsibility running a label and when you ran a respected label you’d be in a serious position of trust. Like Bryan G or Grooverider, you know? We were lucky to end up in that space where people would trust us to do something with their label. We can’t take credit for that though. It was a thermometer for what was happening in drum & bass at the time. BBK was a window into that era of talents all coming through at the time. Just like Ram was and a few other significant labels at that time.

I like that element of trust you touched on. I think it comes from artists but also the music lovers and fans who have faith in the label. You’d have labels that were buy on sight, you wouldn’t even have to listen to it before you bought it…

Absolutely. I get messages from people with picture discs and all the flyers and things like that. You can forget about that when you’re being a hermit working away on tiny details of your music and when you’re running a label and DJing and everything else. You forget how much of an impact it has on other people but ultimately that’s what makes it meaningful and keeps it going. It means a lot to me that people appreciate the hard work that went into it.

I guess during Breakbeat Kaos’s first tenture that feedback wasn’t quite as toxically noisy as social media is now….

We had Dogs On Acid and Drum&BassArena and they were much more of an intrinsic part of the connection between everyone around the world. It was different time back then. I think we miss that dedicated type of platform now.

Was the BBK story over for you for a few years or did you always know you had unfinished business?

We wound things down because there wasn’t enough money to be made and invest in promotion as much as we did. We wanted to give tracks the spotlight they deserved, we spent decent money on making sure they got heard; promoting on radio, doing music videos, press. We wanted to be part of taking drum & bass beyond he underground.

But with everything that happened with the change in physical sales to digital it got to the point we had to start skimping money on promoting and I didn’t want to do that. Like when I started this compilation I knew I’d probably lose money in the short term, but there’s some great music and I’m connecting with exciting new artists like Flite so I thought fuck it I’ve built enough of a platform to do this and invest in this and not worry about overheads let’s put do it old school style and push it out as far as we can. I haven’t got a plan after this by the way. If something comes along that feels like a BBK release then maybe we’ll put it out. If we have the blessing of the artist of course.

That was the style before. Less is more. There’s not a lot of filler in the BBK back cat…

I remember joking about this at the time. Someone who will remain nameless used to joke about an artist who did well in the early 2000s, and how he used to put out too many records but would be driving around in his Porsche. I remember thinking I could be making more money if I was behaving like that.

Back then you could shit on a piece on a piece of vinyl and it would sell a few thousand units. This was around 2003. I used to think am I stupid for not releasing loads of stuff. Am I being short sighted? Should I put out as much stuff as I can? But music lasts forever and I’m happy I can look back over pretty much all my releases and be happy. That’s worth more than money.

Music lasts forever…. I love that. Flux said this in an interview recently, too.

It’s the volume and scale thing. I’ve seen more and more producers release tonnes and tonnes of music. But if you can’t make money from selling one piece of music that doesn’t mean make more music. That’s not my ethos. But luckily, having the blessing of BBK, I’ve learnt the lessons; you can’t fling something out and expect people not to judge you 10 years later. There’s so much music out there these days. Don’t be part of the problem and add to the wades of mediocre shit, make sure it’s fucking good.

Amen. Back to the Junglesound album. Nice nod to Adam’s legacy…

Adam’s been a big part of this album; his Circles remix is on there and Sigma’s remix of his and Redman’s Shut The Lights Off, which I fucking love. But Junglesound was really what captured the sound of the label. It began as an EP and we had the idea of trying to bring that jungle vibe back. Eventually we did the Junglesound Gold album. But yeah in terms of the return of the label it seemed like the obvious thing that kept that vibe alive, even down to the artwork. It’s funny, we got the original artist who did the original Junglesound artwork and also did our Stadium Drum & Bass album. He’s a big artist now, but we persuaded him to do the cover of the new album because it was important to keep that vibe. We had someone ask about the artwork being too old school but that’s not what it’s about; this is Breakbeat Kaos, that was our look and our vibe when we started and I want it to be that in the future.

What’s up with the future? You said you didn’t have any specific plan either way…

Maybe I have some plans. I just want to put out exciting music and help and work with inspiring talented artists. When I hear something that I know BBK can do something with and really help, I’ll be on it. As I always say… Watch this space man.

Junglesound: Revenge Of The Bass is out now