Music is transitory, subject to change. Artists are constantly switching up their style to keep things fresh in the studio, and in turn, genres mutate, sub-genres are born, and new projects can arise seemingly out of nowhere. With this sentiment in mind, we introduce you to Rueben – a new solo alias from one half of already established drum and bass duo Ordure.
Ordure has always centred around experimentation in the studio between Jelle [Rueben] and Jesse, teetering between neuro, halftime and deeper influences within drum and bass. Rueben, however, sees Jelle’s own emotional experiences as a key aspect of the music itself, taking form through complex synth work, intricate melodies, and vocal collaborations.
First came a spectacular rework of Grey Code’s anthem Simple Things, rereleased on Music Squad, years after the original on the now-defunct MethLab. Next came an intriguing return to Overview (albeit under a new moniker) alongside Waeys for the collaborative Prima Dollo EP – complete with its own playable game.
The brand spanking new Memories EP on Overview, however, marks the first full body of work under the Rueben alias, and it is truly a statement piece. The separation in style from Ordure is apparent at every moment, and vocal collaborations from PHI NIX and MC Gusto push this talented Dutch producer’s music into new realms.
No Need To even includes a sample of Overview label manager Peter in the bathtub, but we’ll get to that later… Check our full chat below.
I want to chat about the first Rueben release, a remix of Simple Things by Grey Code. The original is one of my favourite tracks!
Yeah, so this all started with Music Squad, a group of producers including myself and Spencer [Grey Code] that all met on NeuroHopForum around ten years ago. When that shut, we formed a group chat that eventually turned into a label so that we all had a place to release our own music. Through this, we were able to see each other more and push everyone to level up with their productions. It was about friends meeting up as much as it was about throwing events and putting out music.
It’s an inspiring story! How did Simple Things end up on Music Squad after being released on MethLab originally?
When MethLab died, I spoke to Spencer and explained that it was one of my favourite Grey Code tunes and that I really missed it. We discussed rereleasing it on Music Squad and he was down for it, also mentioning the idea of putting out some remixes with it. We started brainstorming, and the plan was for me to make a remix under my Ordure alias, but I found that once I started the remix it was leading more towards the sound of the Rueben project I had in mind around that time. It’s one of my favourite tunes so to be able to give that a spin and showcase my sound is perfect. Spencer is a long-time friend and he’s really helped me in many ways.
Following that, you put out the collaborative Prima Dollo EP with Waeys on Overview which was a great blend of both your sounds.
Yeah, so Casper and I started working on that almost three years ago. Again, it was still supposed to be an Ordure collab when we started working on the tracks. It was just me and Casper for one day in a room at my house and we managed to make four tunes there and then. It was very productive, but we never actually got to finishing them, even when he moved in with me after. We sat on them for a while and eventually decided that as we were housemates now, we had to create a concept around it and finish them up. We picked the two we liked most, updated them with new drums and sounds, and I added some Rueben flavour and went from there. We also added a solo tune each because we felt the other two collaborations were a little outdated at this point.
It’s time for the big question. What was the purpose behind starting the Rueben project?
At some point in Ordure with Jesse, I felt like I was writing music that was very personal to me. It was music that came out of very emotional situations, and it felt weird for me to be collaborating on that music, or for someone to tweak and alter something that was truly my own. That was when I started deliberating the idea of having a personal outlet for this stuff. The way I produce is divided into a couple of parts. One of these is producing for fun, and the other is an outlet for my emotions or anything I’m currently dealing with. For me, Ordure is a project that is all about having fun in the studio, whereas Rueben is about personal growth and processing my feelings.
I can hear this in the new sound, especially with the bigger focus on melodics. Do you go into the production process differently knowing that it’s going to be a Rueben tune?
Yep, although I might start a track as Ordure and over time, it becomes a Rueben track. Generally though, I start Ordure tunes out of experimenting with sound design and other techniques, whereas Rueben tunes often come from melodies or chord progressions that are in my head, or perhaps a vocal sample that speaks to me. That’s the main difference, plus I also like drum and bass a bit more than Jesse.
The synth work really stands out in the new tracks. Are you an analogue guy or totally in the box?
There is absolutely nothing analogue here. I once borrowed a Korg synthesizer from a friend for a week, but all it did was collect an extra layer of dust. I need to get a lot of ideas down quickly and that doesn’t work for me with analogue gear. Maybe someday it will, but it hasn’t yet and my wallet thanks me for it.
There is often an extra element of control when working digitally which makes sense for a sound like yours.
Definitely. I do like approaching things in a classical way, which of course can be done with synths, so perhaps that’s an experiment to do some time. There’s already so much to do in the digital realm though.
Where does the name Rueben come from?
Rueben is my second name (without the first e), and I felt it fit because the music is more personal. I added that e to make it more googleable and SEO friendly, and I thought it looked nice!
Gotta give it that D&B edge…
Let’s talk about the new Memories EP on Overview. When did this first start coming together?
I wrote the final EP track Apathy during a breakup with my ex-girlfriend in the first lockdown of the pandemic – about two years ago now. It was a bit of a rough time. I’d moved out of the house for a bit with just my laptop and I managed to write it then. This was the first moment where I thought the music was too personal to finish with someone else.
Memories is an old idea as well, right?
Yeah, Memories is actually a five-year-old concept. Me and Jesse went into the studio with PHI NIX in Hilversum in the Netherlands to record the tune, but it was a footwork style tune at the time which we never really felt. She kept messaging us saying that we need to finish it, but we didn’t feel like the aggressive footwork style worked with the vocals. Last year however, when I was writing a moody, feelsy tune I suddenly felt it needed a vocal and started singing PHI NIX’s vocal line in my head. I wasn’t sure if it was in the same key, but I threw it in there and it ended up working perfectly. It feels great to revive a five-year old tune.
It marks this new, more melodic sound on the EP. Is this something you feel much more confident with now than before?
Absolutely. I actually feel a bit uncomfortable writing dancefloor orientated tunes now. Punk with MC Gusto is the only tune on the EP which leans more towards the heavier roller or dancefloor style. I’m not sure if it’s the pandemic or just me getting older, but it doesn’t go easy on me to just write bangers or heavy hitters like that. When I start writing the melancholic tracks, they just seem to write themselves. I’ll be stuck behind the computer until I finish them, and I guess that’s a sign.
Do you have any musical background or training prior to starting up in drum and bass?
I’ve played a bit of trumpet and a bit of piano when I was younger, but nothing that is worthy of mentioning really. I had a job in jingle production for five years before this, making jingles for radio stations across the world. It taught me a lot about pop music and chord progressions. In a jingle, you need to make everything fit within ten seconds. In that time, you need a memorable melody, and to capture a sound that matches the radio station. It taught me to focus on those little details and catchy elements that make a tune stand out. I am glad to be making songs longer than ten seconds now, however.
Knowing all our dwindling attention spans, we might just see ten seconds being the average track length in years to come…
Hahaha, absolutely if we go on like this.
Punk with MC Gusto is a really cool tune, and the lyrics have a nice political message. Did you push him in a specific lyrical direction?
I knew his writing style and political direction from his other tracks, so we jumped on a call together and spoke about what it should be about. It was already called Punk, so it screamed something rebellious. We spoke about the subjects we thought are relevant today and that’s how the politics came out of it. I really like that we discussed it beforehand and that we were on the same page.
Sounds like a natural process, and it’s of course very relevant right now. How have the current world affairs affected your own music making?
It has made it easier to write the music I’m currently making. Music can be an escape from the issues you have going on in your life, and I notice that when things are going well, that I suck a bit at music making and don’t have a lot of inspiration. It needs to be a bit tough sometimes to be able to write music. In that sense, the pandemic helped me. The downside is of course that I’ve never played any of these tunes to a crowd. It would have been nice to test this EP!
One thing I need to mention is the sample of label manager Peter in the bath at the end of No Need To…
Do you want to know the story behind it?
I was a little bit mad with Peter for announcing the project on his podcast without discussing it with me, so I wanted to teach him a lesson. I Photoshopped a message from another label saying they wanted to sign the exact tunes from this EP, and said I was in a tough spot because I wanted to release with them. He immediately called me from the bathtub while he was on a weekend away with his girlfriend, and we had a half an hour phone call about why I should sign the release to Overview. I then realised that I’d taken the joke a bit too far, but I had also recorded the entire conversation… I decided that it would be nice to round things off by sampling that nice part out of the conversation to include on the EP. For both Peter and I, when we listen back to this in ten years, we’ll known exactly where and when this was and what happened.
Love that, it’s added a whole new dimension to the EP now haha!
I could have chosen the artwork to be Peter in a bathtub, that would have been even better.
Despite all this, how has it been working with him?
It has been great, he’s super open to my ideas and my views behind the project. The artwork is a big part of this, as I believe it was the most expensive artwork Overview has ever had. I do apologise to him, but I really wanted to go in this direction as I had a clear idea in my head for it. He’s open to crazy and creative ideas, like the game we created surrounding the Prima Dollo EP. I can’t imagine another label where we would have gone forward with that idea. So much of it is us fucking around together as friends and brainstorming crazy ideas. It makes for unique releases and a way of presenting them in the chaos that is social media right now. He’s dedicating all his time into making Overview bigger, so I’d really love to keep releasing with them.
What does this project mean for Ordure?
I hope it will continue, but recently I haven’t been able to write stuff that’s Ordure related as I have been on a real Rueben flow. We do have a lot of stuff laying around though and I think we should go back into the studio at some point and make some weird shit. I don’t think there will be much drum and bass anymore for Ordure however…
Interesting! What’s next for Rueben?
I have more on Overview, and I have sent off music to some wish list labels so fingers crossed for that. I’m hoping to work with more vocalists this year, so if you’re a sick vocalist, hit me up!