Billain doesn’t make tunes; he tells stories. Approach the Sarajevan artist on any track in his discography and he’ll peel back the wrapper to reveal entire narratives, universes and details.
It’s been this way since he emerged over 10 years ago on labels such as Breed 12 Inches and Bad Taste… Even though many of his tracks radically exfoliate any serious D&B dancefloor, behind the exhilarating outer-planetary atmospheres and cybernetic aesthetics there’s always been a much deeper vision, ambition and story.
These stories began to develop in earnest around his Colossus and Colonize releases five years ago. Both EPs, they didn’t just contain worlds or solar systems but also generations and key protagonists. Fusing his passion for movies and cyberpunk ideologies and his ability to illustrate and write stories, these releases positioned Billain much closer to the realms of auteur than heavyweight bangersmith…. A position he realises with even more clarity on his debut album Nomad’s Revenge.
Out now on Minneapolis-based experimental label Renraku, Nomad’s Revenge dropped last week. Following the theme of video trailers he created for previous releases, the album launched with a movie-level animated short earlier:
Nomad's Revenge - YouTube
The scene is set, but it barely scratches the surface of the worlds that await on the album. Diverse in its tempo, vast in its structure and featuring collaborations with the likes of Vorso and Vulgatron, it’s the most complex narrative Billain’s presented to date. The sound (and sight) of one of our scene’s most voracious fusioneers plunging elbow deep into a dark future and seeing what he can pull into the present, it’s just the tip of his creative iceberg, too. He’s got another seven albums all bubbling away in the background. Naturally none of them fit the conventional D&B mould. Just the way he likes it. Here’s the story so far…
Nomad’s Revenge. Where does this fit in with your own personal story and the story of the universe you’ve been creating with your previous releases?
I think what really attracted me to drum & bass was how cinematic it’s always been. It perfectly translated imaginary scenes for me and I believe it has potential to do even more. That’s why I thought ‘what if we amplify the cinematic nature beyond any point that currently exists?’
Any artist wants to see their music on films but what if we flip that? Instead of bringing music to films I want to bring films to music. So Nomad’s Revenge is the continuation from the worlds we left in Colonize and Colossus. It’s a non-linear album with a narrative that features the same personas from previous releases. Stories for me don’t add up unless they’re described well. I want something more narratively packed than a DJ tool.
Yeah I was going to say. This goes way beyond the dancefloor. Even on tracks like Bilocation which can absolutely smash up a dance, they’re uncompromised in their direction and will make people dance.
Bilocation is quite a liberating track. It was three drops, it has an intro as long as the outro. The outro itself can be a different track. And the third drop shouldn’t even exist by the genre ‘standards’ but that is liberating for me. It starts as drum & bass but it’s also a cyberpunk way of expression. For DJs, they can understand there are three different drops they can choose to spin. For listeners they understand the track is in three parts. It translates to different emotional states. It’s challenging to encompass more than one task in a track and find a perfect balance between those elements, but I gather much more experience from trying to create something like that. For every track like that I learn as much as I would from 10 typical dancefloor tracks.
Exactly. Excuse the pun but it’s a full cycle – you start off listening to different things. You go from pop to rock to big electronic bands, you develop an understanding of genres and their formalities and you practice them and learn how to express them. But I think deep down everyone wants to go back to that blank page and do their own thing. If they have the patience to get there. A lot of sacrifices need to be made to do this; I have to put less tracks out there, for instance. Because I focus on each track a lot more. And that’s something to unlearn. Bassline rollers and squeaky jump-up are fine course- but I want originality and I believe originality is diluted and eventually lost in major recycling rituals.
Recycling rituals! That’s a great turn of phrase. Weirdly I have another Bristol reference. I recently spoke to DJ Die who said his favourite time in jungle was when it didn’t know what it was doing. It was a free for all pushing and pulling in different directions… No boundaries. That initial supernova.
This is the main thing; drum & bass’s most important point is the element of surprise. Like the intro that’s the opposite to drop. The silence that creates the feeling that something is going to happen but you don’t know what. That’s the spirit and essence of jungle culture. More than any other genre, I believe. But we’ve had this hyper normalisation of the industry because everyone wants to know how things are made. Everyone seeks the knowledge so it standardises things. And the ratio between the people who say ‘fuck that let’s try again from a different point of view’ is only around, I would imagine, 30 percent. Everyone else is happy to sell the same formula because it’s too much of a risk to do otherwise. Risk is less acceptable by labels now so that’s why you have artists self-releasing on Bandcamp and things like that.
Some of those releases are the best though. Akov’s new EP for example. So in this way, more risks are encouraged.
True. Hideo Kojima is a good example, I relate to his work a lot. He left Konami for obvious reasons. They told him the standard was that everyone wanted games on mobile phones so he said there was no place for him in the company. He could make those great big movies out of the games if that was the medium so he left. Sony supported him and they’re now making something totally new which brings games and movies together in an even better way. He proves that you can never give up for a submissive trend. At one point something will influence or fuse with drum & bass to create an even larger picture.
Isn’t that happening to you now anyway? You’re working with some big names in Hollywood… That came through your music, right? Is that the big picture? Movies recognising the skills of artists like yourself?
I see what you’re saying and yes it’s amazing to do that. But it was never my goal. It’s just happened that way. A few of the lads from Hollywood recognised my sound design more then festivals recognised my skills as a producer and DJ. I’m more involved in Hollywood – the films and projects I have revealed in the past and future projects I’m unable to speak of – than I am in the inner circles of drum & bass. That’s strange. It’s not how I mapped that out and it is a shame in one way because it wasn’t my intention.
Third World Murder (feat. Orifice Vulgatron) - SoundCloud (360 secs long, 2536 plays)Play in SoundCloud
‘A few of the lads’. I know there’s lots you can’t say about who you work with in that field as it’s not ready to announce, but who can we mention?
We can mention Pacific Rim and Hunter Killer and Scorn Game. I’m working with 1000 Toys in Japan who work with Tsutomu Nihei and Hideo Kojima. All these things are perfectly connected. Look at what Tim Miller did with Love Death & Robots. Everyone has similar ideas, it’s how they translate them. And I believe drum & bass is ripe for something like that. I released a short which I made with seven other people including Yan Caspar Hirschbuehl who worked on compositing on Bladerunner and Star Trek. We made the story together.
Like you say, it’s all connected…
It has to be in order to encourage the next development. We need more risk taking and crazy variation for the genre to be self-sustainable. I’m not going for the title of drum & bass’s David Lynch but I need to push in my own direction and no others. I wouldn’t be doing myself or the music any justice if I just made the same tracks over and over. You mentioned Akov and I agree – he’s making some very bold moves with that release and we need more artists like him to push things their own way.
The album is released on Renraku. I’m wondering if you pushed too hard for Bad Taste?
No no. This is one of seven albums. I’m sitting on another finished album and another one that’s been in the making for six years which involves some incredible people from film and videos. I’m also deep into another one. Picking the label hasn’t been done with any kind of specific purpose other than I really like to work with people who understand what I want to do. Kaya, the label owner, encourages a lot of people to step forward with crazy risks and the album is more experimental for this reason.
Tell us the video short and your collaboration with 1000 Toys…
I’m collaborating with them to make more profound cyberpunk narratives. It started with Colossus and Colonize, they both had trailers. I made some teasers for this and thought I’d go a bit bigger and make a trailer but the amount of people who got involved went to almost 10 so it became a full scale operation and turned into a full short.
The short has our heroes from Colonise and Colossus and develops from there. I’ve written up to 11 chapters while will become these neuro cyberpunk concept shorts that I help me showcase how drum & bass can be more than ‘just a track’. We also have a radio drama with an LA actor which is almost like an ASMR discussion on the top of a building. We’re using new echo location software where you have a person in the image and you predict how you hear the sounds and surroundings within the artwork. So we have these two radio dramas as well. It’s an incredible cinematic project.
Wow this transcends any comprehension of a typical album format. But all these disciplines take a long time to perfect. Most of us are lucky if we own one discipline or crafts. Where do you find the time?
The biggest problems I have is trying to make labels understand something big is about to happen and they have to think outside the box and ask themselves if they want to be part of the next evolution. Another challenge is self management which comes with its challenges. But by the endpoint of a certain project I find myself surrounded by people who understand my vision – the artwork, the visual, the sonic. The hardest challenge is the writing, making sure it’s not cheesy and has authenticity. How does the protagonist look? How does the background look? What are the logos of the companies that don’t exist but are in the background of the story? It’s fully developed. A finalised project has all assets so you can make a film out of it. And to do that I need to do a lot of side jobs to make money. Logos for artists, artwork for artists. You’re right it is crazy but these things happen over years.
Like the album you said you’ve been working on for six years?
For that album I’ve been working with a Japanese team of animators and they’ve taught me so many things. How to make story boards, colour correction, I can make my own posters and artwork. My independence is increasing. I can do more for myself. You learn so much after spending a lot of time in japan. That’s discipline!
True! I worry drum & bass lose you to a much more exciting world…
I guess electronic/modern/state-of-the art/sci-fi, whatever you want to put in front of the words music and film music are inseparable to me. They define what I am and I can only see that I’m going to find new grounds for it. I want to create new grounds for its development, I want to create new ways to describe it and apply it. I want to translate drum & bass in new ways.
Actually I keep saying drum & bass but when people hear the album they will hear a cross pollination of many things. I’ve been playing around with new music, creating new crazy stuff and recording. I’m making a new video because I want to show what’s happening in the studio in terms of production. I want to add something new to the whole discourse. Being in the same conservative music expression gets boring a little bit but what’s wonderful about music is that you can always make something new out of it, you can’t get tired of it, there’s always new ways of expressing how you feel. There’s always a new way to do this with visuals as well. It’s a wonderful ride. I can see myself being 60 years old and doing weird things with synths and videos. I’m not going anywhere, I’m just getting warmed up…
Nice. You talked about the art of surprise earlier. There aren’t many collabs on the album but guys like Vorso and Vulgatron are also synonymous with that essence of shock and awe…
Totally. Vorso is an absolute madman. I love how he translates multiple genres from his point of view. You can see there’s a new expression around the corner that we all share. The same goes for Orifice Vulgatron. I never stop liking that man. He delivers with such clarity and energy. He’s one of my favourite lyricists of all time and I knew it was only a matter of time before I worked with him. Also the visual collaborators; Yan, Tom and David. They all share the same crazy in-your-face punk attitude in our modern world as I do or Vorso and Vulgatron do, but they work differently. I guess the platform we create together gives us the freedom to express ourselves in the best possible way. And who doesn’t like absolute creative freedom? It was heaven to collaborate with everyone on the album.
So what’s next? 7 albums… how close to completion are they?
They’re constructed with the same non-linear ideology. I put tracks on albums I feel they’ll work best on. They’re just folders growing over time and once the folder is full it’s a complete album and I’ll approach it and bring it together. One of the albums was top secret for four years until I worked with top visual guys. That’s probably the craziest project in regards to going to such lengths and putting in 200% from all of us just to see what comes out. It was totally worth it. It’s at a movie level. It’s something I can’t describe in the way I would like. I don’t even know what it is I’ve made but I know it’s more than what I would be doing if I was just putting out tracks. I love this creative freedom.
We ran Unglued’s first ever interview in January 2018. Back then he’d just dropped Bootstrap Bill on Sick Music 2018, no one knew who he was and there were rumours it was an alias for a much more established producer.
Then came the bombardment… The wily, springy roughened funk of his first single Chicken In A Spacesuit / Ghetto landed three months later. As did a white hot bootleg of High Contrast’s If We Ever, a track which was up there with Police In Helicopter in terms of hype and hush-toned dub hunter lust. It was so sought after, in fact, the bootleg became an official remix with the blessing of Mr Contrast himself that summer (and went on to win the Best Remix award in the Drum&BassArena Awards)
Along the way there have been many more high profile dispatches; his Deep, Dark & Dirty EP and a cheeky twist on Poison by Bou, who he’s since collaborated with on Sick Music 2019 with Ascendant Man. Now comes his first official single of 2019 and it’s arguably his most accomplished release so far both sonically and creatively. Across two tunes he shows more breadth than he’s ever done before, it also features two legends from two very different sides of the scene and both tracks go bananas in the dance…
Born In 94 (with legendary MC Conrad) represents Unglued’s roots and pathway into the music (thanks to his junglist uncle) while the rasping, high voltage thumper Malware (with the eminent Phace) represents Unglued’s fiery futurist underbelly.
If you’ve caught him play in recent months you will have definitely heard, nay felt, these tunes… Plus loads more. He’s packing an insane amount of unreleased material. But, like the pioneers who started this movement, not all of it will come out. An old head on young shoulders (now no longer covered in Post-It notes), Unglued is on a serious mission right now, this is where he’s at…
What have I interrupted this afternoon?
Studio vibes all day. I’ve been in the zone since this morning and completely forgot the time – I need to eat!
Sounds like you’re working on something pretty sick…
I’m buzzing on these tunes for sure. I’ve got this made rave thing going this morning. You know Wots My Code, Total Science remix?
Do I ever. That riff is the essence of rave!
That’s the vibe I’m going for. Kinda crusty sounding. It’s so sick. So yeah I’ve been working on that today.
Nice. So we did your first ever interview just over 18 months ago. Back then your name and identity were under wraps and you’d only just released Bootstrap Bill. How things have changed for you!
Massively. That was very early days man.
You must be relieved you can take those Post-It notes off your face now?
Finally man. My face was getting sore.
The music had to speak for itself though right?
That’s what I want it to do. And still do now as much as I can. But I honestly couldn’t’ have predicted the support I’ve had. It’s been beyond any wildest dreams. I was just happy that Hospital thought my tunes were good enough to release to begin with.
High Contrast - If We Ever (Unglued Remix) - SoundCloud (150 secs long, 785230 plays)Play in SoundCloud
Had you done the High Contrast bootleg by then?
I’d done it but no one knew about it. It had been sitting on my computer and I played it a few times. Then I went away for a while, came back and everyone was dropping it. I’m still hearing people drop it now 18 months later. Madness.
Must have been nice to get the blessing from Lincoln?
Massively man. It was an honour. I think Calibre is the only guy to have done an official remix of High Contrast. That’s pretty mental!
You’re in an elite crew!
No no no, Calibre is like a god. I just got lucky.
Ha. Give me more turning points for you over the last year or so…
Playing Arcadia on the spider. I remember being at Glastonbury in 2017, before things had kicked off, and I said to my mates ‘one day’ then the next year I played on it in London.
Ah yeah I bet. Sick set at Glastonbury this year too!
Thank you man. It was incredible. It’s funny, Glastonbury is so well known it doesn’t matter who you tell that you’re playing, they’re like ‘woah no way!’. I saw all my old mates from uni at my set and it was way more busy than I was expecting! The stage we were on was huge. Still can’t really believe it happened now to be honest.
How about some other highlights?
Winning Best Remix at the Drum&BassArena Awards. I’d never imagined winning an award in the first year. That was just mindblowing.
You were nominated for a few if I recall?
I came second in best newcomer too. Madness.
That’s amazing. So Born In 94 is your first release of the year really… Playing it nice and cool eh?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Basically I’d always rather do quality over quantity. Two or three release a year and make sure they’re as best I can possibly do. That’s what I want. Not just bang it out. Being on Hospital helps me with that; I’ve got 30 tunes I’ve done which I play at gigs but Hospital have so many artists and such a packed schedule you can only release your best stuff – otherwise they’re like nah.
Most of what I play is on dub. Not all from me. I play everything I like and enjoy and go across the board. Not just by me but by friends like Signal, Buunshin, Fade Black – they’ve been making crazy tunes I’ve been enjoying playing. With my sets I tend to open with heavier, crazier stuff for the ravers then I work my way back chronologically. I go through a lot of jungle and pretty much always finish with Born In 94 at the moment It depends how much the crowd are enjoying it to be honest. Some crowds in some places just don’t get jungle at all.
Last time we spoke you told me about your uncle exposing you to jungle and vinyl. How’s your record collection coming along?
Quite nicely thanks. I still go to RK Bass in Brighton all the time to see my mate Leanne. They get upfront Unglued bits from me so I just dropped off a few signed copies of the record.
Yeah man, it’s cool to drop down and give them a cheeky exclusive. I actually saw my record getting pressed at Vinyl Presents in Hitchin. They showed me my record, we tweaked with the colour. It was very cool.
That must be a vibe!
It was my first ever solo vinyl release too so I was very happy. Definitely a vibe.
So this release sums up where you’re at then with both sides of your style. Born In 94 is your jungle roots. Malware is the crazy rave side.
Yeah just like my sets. I love that super lairy futuristic sounding stuff. I actually made Malware specifically as a set opener.
How did you hook up with Flo Phace?
I played at his album launch party in Hamburg. I sent him a load of tunes, he liked Malware so we worked on that in his studio. It’s a crazy studio man, like a spaceship. It turned out really nice.
I can imagine his spaceship studio! Sick. So back to 94… This is blates the year you were born, right?
Totally. I wanted to make a jungle tune for a long time but I found it’s easy to make something that sounds old but it ends up sounding cheesy, it’s a lot harder to get that proper jungle feel. I had a few whacks at it and this was the result. I do find it funny that things have come full circle and that I’m making sounds that were first blowing up the year I was born.
It’s a pretty cool sample you’ve found there. Very clean.
Yeah man, it’s very difficult to find clean MC samples on tapepacks because there’s usually music playing constantly. But this is from a set he was doing with Bukem where one deck had broken so Bukem was putting a record on. Letting it play, stopping it, then playing another one. There’s 30 seconds of clean crowd noise with Conrad between each tune.
What a gold mine!
My uncle brought it to my attention. As I mentioned in the last interview, he had a massive influence on me and got me into jungle and taught me how to mix. He played it to me and I was like ‘wow! This is the one!’
I love how a lot of these tracks that sample MCs from tapepacks are highlighting the importance of MCs in the game…
Yes people are realising they’re the most important people focussing that energy in the rave and they bring people together. MCs are a vital part of the scene.
Born In '94 (Pirate Radio Mix) [feat. MC Conrad] - SoundCloud (218 secs long, 53 plays)Play in SoundCloud
This must have had full blessing from Conrad, too?
Yeah he’s been sent the tune and is happy with it. I’m meeting him soon which I’m buzzing about.
He set a blueprint for a lot of MCs. Especially with his melodic, singing style…
He did man. And I think it’s really important for artists of my generation to keep their legacy going and making sure the new fans coming into the genre know about guys like Bukem and Conrad and just jungle in general. It’s happening now with Chase & Status and S.P.Y – there’s definitely a renewed interest in jungle and the music still sounds fresh even 25 years later.
Let’s go back 25 years for the finale. Here are three things that were also born when you were. Thing number one: the internet…
Wow man, I did not know that. I’ve grown up with it. It’s cool because I can still remember when it wasn’t totally ruling our lives. But I don’t think I’d have achieved what I have so far without the internet. That’s the same for any artist breaking through in the last 10 years and guys breaking through now. It has its down points but if you don’t get consumed by social media and being super vain then we’re good.
1994 thing number two: Playstation one
I remember them for sure. But I had an old school N64. You had to blow the cartridges and everything.
Ahhhh Golden Eye!
Yes mate. That elusive golden gun was the one – if you got it, you won the game.
Thing number three: Lion King
Oh mate I watched that 100 times as a kid! There’s a new one coming isn’t there?
Yeah and I’m amped for it! Final 1994 thing: The George Foreman grill…
I had one of these in uni! Me and my mate George (different George, not Foreman obviously) had one and it was disgusting. The tray of fat was horrific – we wouldn’t clean it up, we’d just turn on the heat and let it melt off.
Haha. Same! Wasn’t George your mate who named Bootstrap Bill?
Nah that was another mate Matt. And a different mate Adam named Chicken In A Spacesuit. George has yet to name a tune but he can any time.
What’s coming up next?
A couple of tunes with Degs, a few collabs I can’t quite divulge. All little bits here and there. I’m just working on as much stuff as I can and will eventually think about an album. But that’s a long way off – I want it to be amazingly sick so for now I’m just cherry picking the best and stashing them for it.
Quality over quantity, as you say…
Every time. There are only so many Unglued tunes people can listen to at any one time, right?
Bensley has confirmed the full release date and artwork of his highly anticipated second album: Muskoka will land on July 26 via Ram Records
12 tracks deep and named after the Ontario region where he grew up, Muskoka is the sound of the young artist maturing and really digging into his own sound. It comprises strictly his own solo work – with no collaborations besides vocalists Skyelle, Armanni Reign, Sarah Carmosino and Emer Dineen – and features the man himself on saxophone and vocals. Loaded with explorations into hip-hop, breakbeat and funk, all laced together with the dreamy, crystalline D&B signature he made a name for himself with when he emerged in 2015, Muskoka brings us up on the last four years since he famously broke through with no previous releases and dropped a whole album on us.
Bensley ft. Skyelle - One Last Chance (Remix) - YouTube
The artwork also build on the same theme: Created by Umberto Ricchetti, the same artist who’s done all of Bensley’s work to date, like the music on the album itself, the Muskoka cover zooms out from the blurred motifs of his debut album artwork to reveal a much wider, warmer scenic picture to get lost inside of. Rich in detail, narrative and progression, file this one under ‘proper album’.
For a hint at what’s to come, check the singles Hard Times and One Last Chance. The full album lands on July 26 and can be pre-ordered here.
With a massive festival to run in a week’s time, a whole string of releases ready to drop over the coming months and an album on the horizon, Maduk has every excuse of being a little tense, on edge or distracted at the moment. But he’s not.
In fact the Amsterdam-based Liquicity co-owner is the most chilled and cheerful we’ve ever known him to be. Not that he has ever been known to be anything remotely like a stress head, there’s just a general air of calm about him. A sense of balance and confidence in all aspects of his life.
He’s in the studio only two days a week, for example… Yet he’s never been happier with his output both in terms of quality and quantity. After years of studio graft, he’s reached a level where he can articulate ideas from his head fluently and mix them down at a level he’s proud of.
Case in point; Colours / Still In Love. The next instalment of our don-decorated year-long UKF10 anniversary series, his latest single follows heat from some of the biggest artists on our network; Camo & Krooked, Hybrid Minds, Killsonik, Truth, Mohican Sun, AC Slater’s Night Bass crew and many more.
Following from other major league cuts he’s dropped this year (the massive Go Home on NCS and his first Liquicity single in years Go/Coming Down) both tracks are the sound of Maduk in his element and the single is split across both brands: Liquicity will premier Colours, which features the thunderbolt vocals of another familiar UKF face Diamond Eyes and some lightning charged guitars. Later this month we’ll be uploading Still In Love, a track that takes us back 10 years to Maduk’s and indeed UKF’s roots.
Maduk - Colours (ft. Diamond Eyes) - YouTube
Picking up where we last spoke to him in at the start of the year, read on to find out why Maduk is in such a good place, how his UKF10 tracks came together, what’s coming next and why he’s playing three sets at Liquicity next week…
You told us you had lots of music in store. You weren’t lying…
There’s still a lot more to come! I’m very excited. This single on UKF10 is the tip of the iceberg but I’m very happy how it turned out.
How’s the album coming along?
My plan is to keep on releasing singles. Like this current one on UKF, also the previous one Go and Go Home. I want to release singles like this over the next two years, take the best ones and put them on an album along with some new tracks. I feel in the current time and age of streaming this is simply the best way to release music.
Long game things! A constant steady flow of bangers…
Exactly, that’s the plan.
You must be packing in a lot of studio time?
Less than you might think. I have a nice balance in my life; I do one or two days in the studio a week. I make sure I have time for running Liquicity and also my own personal time. What I have found though is that I am much more efficient with that I want to accomplish. I have a good mood and energy in the studio. When I get into the studio it just works, I know how to finish the tracks. It can be up to 80% of the track on the first session. I guess it’s just how I’m approaching things in a much more positive way. When I’m starting to work on a track I don’t tell myself beforehand how it should sound, but more importantly: how it not should sound. I stopped caring about the negative reactions on my tracks. Whether people feel it sounds outdated, like someone else, commercial, underground, easy, complicated etc. If I love it, I know by now that many of my fans do too. Since I made that mental switch I’m blasting out tracks more tracks than ever before and I love every single one of them so much.
It is all about the mindset isn’t it? But I guess there’s an element of quality over quantity too?
Totally agree with the mindset. That’s what I like about this phase I’m in. Everything I make, I like. It’s not even about quality over quantity, everything gives me a good feeling. I’m never making tunes just to make as many tunes as possible, I’m only making tunes to express myself and I’m happy that I can do that right now so smoothly. Maybe in two year’s time I won’t feel that way, it might not be so easy for me to write like this, so I’m enjoying this while it lasts and it feels good to build up a buffer of tracks as well. Writing music under pressure is not something I like.
Tell us about Colours. How do you know Diamond Eyes?
I started making the track about a year ago, it was another one where I did the sketch in a day but I just left it. It needed a vocal. I wrote a vocal with another vocalist but wasn’t sure about it, then at some point you guys hit me up for a special project between UKF and Liquicty. I sent Luke and Sampo a bunch of ideas and tracks and explained this one needed a vocal so Sampo suggested Diamond Eyes and introduced us. He did the vocal, we went back and forth a few times and that inspired me to step it up and take the instrumental to the next level too. I’m really proud of the mix down, it bangs and sounds awesome. It’s one of my favourite mixdowns so far.
It’s quite a full powered, busy tune. Does that make a mixdown harder?
There is a lot going on but at the same time the elements are quite simple and clean. The guitar especially. It’s a friend of mine called Sean Kennedy. He does all my guitar work, he’s just the best. He’s such a talented and kind guy. I send him tracks and ask for some guitars and he always comes back with pure ear bliss. You put his guitars in and it instantly sounds 10 times better, he also did them in my track The End and on many new songs to come.
Maduk - The End (ft. Voicians) - YouTube
Amazing. I think a lot of artists would love a Sean on speed dial!
He’s incredible. I have about seven tracks with his guitar playing on. It’s very clean so when you come to the mixdown that makes it a lot easier. I’ve also switched monitors from PMC to ATC, the same system guys like Noisia and Fox Stevenson use. Since I switched to that everything just makes much more sense mixdown wise. I do less and less. The system is so good I’m not correcting it in my mix. Things sound good as they are. That’s been a blessing and such a pleasure to make anything on my system.
Nice. Tell us about Still In Love….
I think I started it about two years ago and it felt as the perfect track to complete Colours. Both tracks give me a lot of energy.
Quite old then!
Actually a lot of my tracks will have origins going back two or three years and I pick them up and develop them over time. I’m happy that I have my own sound so they don’t sound dated. At least not to me haha.
The essence of timelessness and not being sidetracked by what’s going on hype-wise
Yeah totally, I don’t care about trends or sounds or anything like that. I go into the studio and make what I want to make. So anyway, I made that track back then and I just love that sound. 2010 era vibes; big pianos, wobbly basslines, reggae vocals and rolling beats.
That was the sound that got you into drum & bass if I recall?
Yeah that was the time when I really got into it. Guys like Logistics and Danny Byrd. 2009/2010. It’s a sound I’ve always loved and I don’t hear in many new productions.
And the message is clear: You’re Still In Love… With drum & bass
Ha. Well said!
Any love for UKF?
Lots! It was there before I even knew what the hell drum & bass was. I was 18 and I gave piano lessons as a small job. One day a girl called me for a demo lesson, but later that night she invited me to a party. At the time I didn’t go out at all and was a bit nervous but went with her and it ended up being a drum& bass party. Even before the party we went to her place and had a few beers, she put on her computer and there was UKF and Liquicity. It was just when UKF started. That was the first time I heard drum & bass. Then we went to the party and I was blown away like ‘what the hell is this?’ Three or four years later I started making drum & bass, my first track was uploaded on Liquicity, a few months later my second ever track was uploaded by UKF. So UKF has been a major part of my career and it’s a pleasure to be part of the 10th anniversary releases.
My relationship with UKF has also been really good in terms of supporting the music and playing at your events. What I really like is how Liquicity and UKF work together. It’s funny; some fans used to say beef between the channels in the comments but behind the scenes we’ve laughed about it. We’ve never seen it as competition or rivals. We work together.
There’s so much music you need more channels to support it all. There’s room for everyone.
Definitely. There’s so much amazing drum & bass around everyone needs to help and support each other. It’s beautiful to be part of.
Maduk & Dennis Pedersen - Miles Apart (ft. Ella Noël & Rino) - YouTube
You’ve had at least 10 uploads on UKF. Give us some persy favourites…
Oh let’s see… I think my favourite one is Miles Apart. UKF usually supports the harder stuff but that track did so well on the channel. It was the track I least expected to get a response and that one did so well.
Close to 900k views!
Yeah I’m really proud of that. And another one I’m very proud of is Don’t Be Afraid. I still think ‘yeah’ when I hear it. I still can’t believe I made that. I surprised myself.
Awesome. How about Liquicty releases we’ve uploaded over the years?
Andromedik – Your Eyes, Fox Stevenson – Take You Down and my own latest Liquicity single: Go.
Fox Stevenson - Take You Down - YouTube
Nice! You all set for Liquicity Festival?
Nearly there! It’s an incredible amount of work since we do the full production and organisation in-house since 2017, but it gets smoother, easier and more fun each year. It’s a lot of work, stress and focus to make sure every detail is right but we’re fine-tuning now and this is what I personally love to do. We have gathered a lot of visitor feedback on the previous two editions and I think this year will be smoother and better than ever before.
That’s the same as the mindset we mentioned before isn’t it?
You’re playing three sets this year. Bit greedy!
Haha. Well usually I do a set on the mainstage then a special one on the Solar stage. This year the special set will be a set totally of my own productions – old stuff, current stuff, new stuff, my bootlegs and remixes. I’m very excited about that. It’s a bit of a dream; what can be more exciting than playing all your own tracks? Then on Sunday we another special one. We fought hard to keep stages open until 3am this year. Usually we close down the sounds around 12 but now we can keep the Lunar stage open until 3am on Friday and Saturday and 2am on Sunday. This meant some slots opened up so Fred V and I are playing a back to back to close down the festival with the last set of the entire thing. However, first I’m driving back and forth to Tomorrowland to play a set there too on Sunday afternoon. It will be a crazy weekend for sure, I can’t wait.
Murdock will release his debut album on Viper Recordings this October.
Entitled Stronger, it features genre titans such as Roni Size and Jenna G and, he promises, will span the full spectrum of the genre he’s championed and pushed since the late 90s as a DJ, artist and as a promoter behind the massive Rampage events. It launches this week with the new single Holding On with fellow Belgian maverick James Marvel.
In January we spoke to Murdock when he’d just collaborated with a reggae don Errol Dunkley. Now he’s announcing his biggest release to date. In between he’ll also be hosting the first ever Rampage open air summer event. Stronger will cap off one of the most pivotal, busiest years in his career so far. We called him for some strong words…
Debut album time! How long have you been working on it? What’s the concept? Tell us everything!
I have been working on the music for well over three years, but the idea that all of it would result in an album was born about two years ago. I just had been steadily working on music, and it started to get a vibe where I felt all of it would tie in nicely together in album form, and Viper felt the same way. It doesn’t have a theme, as such, but I wanted it to represent me as a drum & bass DJ and artist. If you catch me playing a certain slot at a certain night, you might hear me play deep, laidback stuff. But find me playing peak-time at a big rave, you’ll see me churning out pretty dark tunes. I wanted all of that to be part of the album.
Right now all we know is the single Holding On with James Marvel. What else can you tell us about it in terms of vibes and collaborators?
I first started out playing hip-hop, then got into breakbeat house, electro and techno, and then discovered jungle. And it wasn’t till the Full Cycle sound engulfed me that I got completely involved in drum & bass. I felt that if I was to release a debut album, that should be represented well. So I was very keen to get something going with Roni Size, and I did.
I don’t know him well but we obviously crossed each other’s paths quite a few times over the years and when I hit him up, he was very receptive to the idea. I cooked up something that tried to capture that late 90s Full Cycle vibe and he put some Size swag on it. I couldn’t be prouder of the end result. When I sent him my initial sketch – which was only 16 bars of intro beats, a guitar lick breakdown and a 16 bar drop – he emailed me a few days later that he had edited it to play out and had already dropped it a few times and the crowd was loving it. To have Roni Size play out a rough sketch of mine was an achievement by itself to me!
Yeah that’s wicked. Who else is on the album?
There are some more people that have been crucial in my drum & bass career and I have aimed to get all of them on board. One of them was on the first track that helped me connect with Viper, and that is, of course, the inimitable, unbelievable and undisputed queen of drum & bass Jenna G. She’s such an incredible talent and I consider her to be a dear, dear friend of mine. Make Me Stronger started out from an acapella she had recorded and became my most popular track to date at the time, and somehow set the tone for a lot of the music that was to come after. It also spawned the name of the album, Stronger.
Murdock - Make Me Stronger (ft. Jenna G) - YouTube
What’s the most important thing your debut album has to say to the world?
I just want it to paint a good picture of who I am as a D&B DJ and artist. Drum & bass to me is unique. In many ways of course, but especially because every vibe and every style can be translated into it. If you go to a house night, you’ll mostly hear one type of house at a time, whether it be deep or Latin or tribal or tech house. Same with most techno or even hip-hop nights. But if you go to a D&B night, you will hear bits of soul and funk, hardcore throwbacks, rave bits, techno sounds, hip-hop, ragga and pop vocals, big synthy stuff as well as acoustic instruments… All in one night. And I love that about drum & bass. You will always have events that cater to one particular style, but the nights that have it all are the ones that I like best and represent our scene the most. And if my album reflects that, that will be mission accomplished to me. What’s been the hardest part of the process so far?
I think I’d have to say that getting vocals done for certain tracks was quite an ordeal. On the one hand because I myself am very inexperienced in the matter and I had to learn how to put into words exactly what I wanted for certain tracks, even sing my own demos. But also because some people are just very elusive and often very slow. So to wait for a vocal version for weeks or even months, and then have to go back and ask for things to be changed, knowing very well that those might take another number of weeks, was quite discouraging at times. But after a while I resigned to the idea that this stuff takes time and I just kept getting on with other stuff while I waited for a vocal to come back.
What can we expect next between the first single and the full album release in October?
We’ll be dropping two more singles before the album drops in October. We are currently deciding which ones those will be, but I am already preparing something really special for one of them, but it’s still in such an early state that I don’t feel like I can disclose anything about it, just in case it will still fall through. But it’s very, very exciting stuff! And in the meantime you can catch me testing out all these new bits at Rampage Open Air, Tomorrowland, We Are Electric, SonneMondSterne, Dub Elements & Friends and loads of other places.
Murdock - Different Way (ft. Errol Dunkley) - YouTube
What else does the world need to know right now?
People often say the best time of their life is when they were in high school or at uni, without a care in the world, and the only worry was getting to the next party. But to me, it always feels like the best part is always yet to come, no matter how amazing the recent past or the here and now already is, because when I look back, things have only always become better, more interesting, more full of life and joy than they were before.
Hence, I feel I am still getting stronger, going from strength to strength, with projects, music, family and life in general. And that goes for drum & bass as well; mainstream media has decided D&B is dead so often, while it only seems to be getting bigger from where I am sitting. And even though the chart success it had four, five years ago has dwindled down, the amount of people going out to D&B parties, finding the artists at festivals or streaming it at home only seems to be growing. Also, personally, on top of doing our first Open Air edition this summer on July 26 – 27, I am taking Rampage into uncharted territory over the next 12 months, so there’s another thing that seems to be gaining momentum. So that’s me, my projects and the scene in general, all getting…. Stronger.
At a time when our attention spans are the shortest they have ever been, and tunes blow up and die down within what seems like weeks, two years is a certified eternity in drum & bass. To the point you wonder if the artist is still even active and dabbling in the dark sonic arts.
Then they come back with a track like this, you lose several layers of skin and have that yearning urge to go out and kick shit out of a dancefloor ASAP.
Yes. Ed:It is back after two years album writing deep in the studio wilderness. It’s called Silhouettes and, like many albums this year, it’s coming our way over the course of the next few months via a series of three EPs.
The first EP dropped last month. Setting the tone for the whole album, it captures his wide-armed signature and ranges from evocative soul (Brink) to deep space percussive rollers (So True) via the above-embedded banger Generally Speaking. It also leaves us hanging for more. Here’s what we can expect…
Ed:it - So True - YouTube
It’s been a while man….
It really has. I’ve had some remixes out but actual Ed:It on-his-own solo tunes haven’t been released for a few years. Time has just flown by, the album process has been pretty deep progressive creative, life has thrown different things at me but it’s been a progressive and creative process.
Some albums kinda creep up on you while you’re busy writing and suddenly you find yourself in album mode. Did that happen to you?
No I knew that was what I was doing from the beginning, but I foolishly thought it would be easier. I thought ‘I’m going to smash a load of tunes and see what happens’ with no real concept. Then suddenly ideas started flowing and I had all these thoughts about how things could go and what I could do with it. I had some meetings with Ed (Friction) and the Shogun team and started to realise the bigger picture of an album. Suddenly it got scarier and scarier because I had so many things but knew I needed to write more.
You didn’t have the right balance?
Pretty much. I’d basically found myself writing heavier and heavier stuff but we knew that for the album I also needed to write deeper musical songs too. That’s when it got serious.
Sounds like you had too much material!
Yeah kind of. I had some tunes that didn’t work and made me wonder what I was even thinking. But it’s a big different between writing for singles and EPs where I’d concentrate on four or six tracks and get the best out of them. But in the case of an album it was more like 25 – 30 tunes and picking the ones that work. Obvious each of those tunes would change and develop drastically over time.
Was that when the Silhouettes concept began to take shape?
Yeah. There wasn’t a concept to begin with at all but as the album developed Ed and his A&R Pete kept asking me about a title and I kept coming back to the idea of Silhouette because of the darker and lighter sides to what I do. I liked the idea of a dark outline in a bright background, it kinda summed things up for how I see my music and my relationship with drum & bass.
That makes sense. You’ve always been varied in your style.
Definitely. I love all kinds of music and I think that comes across in what I write. I love heavy tunes but I’m also a sucker for a Calibre tune.
Who isn’t? Why tie yourself to one sound?
Definitely and it keeps you on your toes. If you’re writing the same old roller you’ll get bored of it. The problem was that I started writing the album when I was writing heavier tunes because I was getting later sets and making tracks specifically for those types of slots.
I hear that so much. You can’t help but be influenced when you’re on the DJ merry go round…
Definitely. I had to keep telling myself ‘calm down mate, not everything needs to be so heavy!’
What was the most important thing for Silhouettes to say?
It’s Shogun man, that’s the sound I’ve grown up on as an artist and they’ve released some massively significant and influential albums. Especially 1984 and Delay No More. That’s a big legacy to step up to. I asked myself what can I personally add to that type of vein of form? How can I express myself and put my sound on the imprint? People have said to me about an Ed:It sound but I can’t hear that personally. I do what I do.
Ed:it - Dayz - YouTube
You’re too close to your sound to hear that aren’t you?
I think so. But the best I can do is showcase my sound and make sure it’s on the level Shogun is known for.
I guess the biggest change since those massive albums you mentioned is how LPs are often delivered over three EPs now.
Yeah you’re right and that eases some of the pressure from the writing and mixing down stages. You don’t have to look at the full album picture all of the time. You can focus on each EP. I also struggled with writer’s block a little at points and this refocused things a bit for me. It’s nice to have that space to add the extra 10% over time and not all at once. Plus it means people are more likely to hear all the tunes – some big albums are released and within a week they’re gone again and it’s like they’re forgotten.
Did you come from albums or were they dying out already when you came into this?
I massively came from albums! And vinyl too. You’d save up for these releases and you’d treasure them. You’d listen to an album over and over again for weeks on end. Now people bash tunes out in a club for a matter of weeks and it’s forgotten again. That’s a shame when an artist has put so much into the track.
Hugely. Did you spend a lot of time thinking about the tracks on the first EP, then? That’s the big opening statement for the album isn’t it?
Definitely. We wanted to establish the full musical spectrum if you like. It was funny; Ed and Pete picked the four tracks they wanted for the first EP and they were the ones I had in mind too. You’ve got Dayz which is a musical roller. You’ve got So True which is break heavy. You’ve got a bit of everything; all my styles but with impact. I wanted it to be like ‘bam – it’s been a few years, here we go…’
Ed:It - Brink (ft. Lady Soul) - YouTube
Nice. I think we need to big up Lady Soul on Brink too…
We do. I met up with Becky in Liverpool at a night called Spectrum. She’s a really good host and singer and we instantly started chatted about doing a tune. She sent me some vocals straight after that and we did was Wander Away which was on The Junction EP two years ago. This new one, Brink, came together really quickly too. The original idea I sent her was completely different to the tune I sent her. She came back with that killer vocal and I ended up re-writing the track to her style.
That’s quite interesting. It’s usually the reverse isn’t it?
It is but I quite like doing it this way. I’ll send a basic idea in the right key but the vocal comes back and it gives me a whole load of other ideas that are better and more complementary to the vocal so I rewrite it. That’s cool because the vocal is one of the main elements of the track so it makes sense for it to work that way.
Talk to me about Generally Speaking. I love this tune but I hate the term.
Haha. I have no idea where the tune name came from. I never say it myself!
It’s one of those heavy ones you were on about earlier, right?
Absolutely. I wrote it down at the Shogun HQ and the minute I played it to Ed and Pete they were like ‘yeah that’s going on the album. 100%’ I was really happy with that. It was one of those tunes that wrote itself – it just rolled out, I have no idea where it came from.
It sums up the sound of where things are at too. But you couldn’t have forecast that at the time…
Things do move so quickly it’s mad. I was worried at points that things would move on too much while I was in studio hibernation for sure. I kept thinking are people going to get it? Will it work? But people have been very supportive. Plus there’s always a place for rollers isn’t there?
Damn right. I guess when you do your own thing there’s no danger of the track dating…
Definitely. I wanted the music to do the talking. No fireworks or bandwagon jumping. But I think right now there’s a very healthy interest from fans and artists in all kinds of styles. Look at Vanta Black being at number one! That’s a fucking deep tune! It’s not commercial in any way and people are right behind it. That’s very encouraging. The music’s in a very healthy place and that’s a great time to be releasing my album. I think one thing I truly love about drum & bass is the amount of heads involved. Like people who are deeply into it and really know their shit and respect it and listen to everything. People who love a tune for the tune’s sake. As long as you have that passion from fans then the genre will be in a good place.
Couldn’t agree more! So what have you learnt about yourself during this whole two year trip?
Hmmm, interesting one. I guess I’ve learnt a lot about keeping myself motivated and getting up and cracking on. And also trying my hardest not to overthink things about the smallest little detail. Being able to let go and think ‘if it works it works’ and not labour it has been a big thing for me. It doesn’t matter if the mixdown is 100% on point – if it’s got a vibe then that’s the most important thing. That’s what drum & bass is about for me.
As always with Sonny, it’s a flip on expectations and not what you’d expect from a Skrilly banger at 170. Of course it’s not the first time he’s dabbled in uptempo dark arts; his sets always include D&B, when Pendulum released their remix album he gushed about how Pendulum and Baron records were the first dance tracks that inspired him to become a DJ and his VIP of Dimension’s UK still rears its gully head on the regs.
Plus who can forget his Goin’ Hard remix of Birdy Nam Nam? We uploaded it exactly seven years ago to this day…
Birdy Nam Nam - Goin' In (Skrillex Goin' Hard Mix) - YouTube
This weekend’s D&B tease is the latest in a line of heaters from Sonny Moore who had taken the last few years out of the spotlight. In recent months we’ve been treated to the first new Bog Blood material in five years and an outrageously heavy collaboration with TroyBoi in the form of WARLORDZ. Both on UKF, check them below. We’re interested to see what he brings next…
TroyBoi - WARLORDZ (ft. Skrillex) - YouTube
Dog Blood (Skrillex & Boys Noize) - Turn Off The Lights - YouTube
US artist Kallan HK seemingly came out of nowhere.
First came her debut release Slow Motion on Viper in 2017. Dispatches on RAM, ProgRAM and Reid Speed’s Play Me Records followed in quick succession. But, as always, years of hard work had gone in beforehand as she worked her way up the local circuit in her hometown Atlanta and around the Southern United States before those hits started to roll through. In fact she’d been grafting since she discovered D&B out of pure happenstance in 2012.
Anyone who listens to Kallan’s tracks should be able to spot quite quickly why she’s been such a commodity. Her style is smooth with a little bit of cheeky funk tech in spots and grounded in the old school fundamentals. Whether she’s new to you or not, she certainly knows her stuff. But is she taking these label hits in her stride? Nope. Ms. HK may seem cool and collected on the decks but her reaction to her first tracks on RAM was, as she describes it, “surreal”.
Now with her new singles Flight Path and Future Shock out and doing the business on ProgRAM since their release last month, Kallan is showing no signs slowing down. Perfect timing, then, to get the skinny on how it’s all come to pass, how she found her style in the highly competitive modern age of drum & bass and how she continues to create those songs that makes the labels sing. Spoiler: she’s an old school D&B head trapped in a millennial’s body.
Kallan HK - 'Flight Path' - YouTube
You kind of fell backwards into raving and D&B culture. Can you explain how you initially got into it?
Right, so I got into dance music around my junior year of high school. I was 17. At first I liked other genres but I had yet to really discover D&B. When I turned 18 I went to London with my parents. I actually snuck out of the hotel one night because I wanted to see the legendary Fabric Nightclub. I didn’t even know who was playing, but I tapped someone on the shoulder to ask what kind of music this was and they replied “FUCKING D&B mate”. I was hooked!
That’s got to be the best way to discover it, right from the source. So did you get hooked into the London scene from there and then sort of go backwards to the U.S scene?
No, I didn’t really make any connections that first trip. I went home to Atlanta and started listening to D&B non-stop. A few months later I started mixing around at home on a shitty little controller and then a few months after that started DJing out.
Once I got even more into the scene I realised if I really wanted to make a career out of this, learning production was a necessity. So I spent almost all my free time watching any videos, master classes etc so I could to learn the craft.
Wow so totally self-taught to start and you started DJing really soon after being introduced to it. That must have been interesting
Yes there was about a year gap from when I first heard it until when I started DJing. My first big show was around NYE 2013. It was mostly around the south to start. The out of state gigs didn’t really start to come in until after my first release was out, although there were a few.
How was DJing around the south at first? A lot of people from across the pond might now realise there’s even a scene there to speak of.
Atlanta used to be hot for D&B. For me, aside from that Fabric show that was all I knew. Just to be accepted by the community and be given the chance to play was a huge blessing in my eyes. I have nothing but respect for the Atlanta scene and I know all the promoters there work night and day trying to grow the D&B community there.
That’s wicked. So when did your first releases come out?
I started dabbling in production around 2014 and 2015 and my first release came out on Viper in 2017. I know that may seem like a big gap between starting to produce and releasing but I really wanted to make sure my tunes sounded as I heard them in my head before I sent anything out. Early on in my career someone gave me great advice: “wait to send out tunes to a label until you have played your tunes alongside theirs and can clearly tell that they are of the same quality,” so I waited until I was completely confident in my abilities to start reaching out to labels. It seems to have been a good move.
That does sound like good advice. That leads to the question of style as well. Since you were largely self-taught, how was it to try to develop a style or sound for yourself, especially one that big labels would respond to?
I had some close friends who are also producers that I would send tunes to and they would give me constructive feedback. Basically saying yes this is good, or hmm maybe wait on that one (laughs). I would also toss my own tunes into my DJ sets and if the crowd stayed consistent or gained energy I’d take that as a positive. If they slowed down I’d take that as a negative.
Kallan HK - They Live - YouTube
Back then did you have an idea what you wanted your sound to be? Or was it really more experimentation at that time?
It was totally experimental! I have always been someone who enjoys all the subgeneres of D&B so that made it even harder to figure out who I wanted to be as an artist. I still play pretty much every style in my sets but once I really started getting into production I definitely started gravitating towards a certain sound. I love sci-fi films so I take a lot of my inspiration there. I like to think of what I do as dancefloor but with a bit of a tech and underground vibe. I’m not sure my tracks fit into one specific category but that’s how I like it. It’s pretty much whatever I am feeling when I am in the studio.
So how did the meetings and eventual signing with RAM come along?
RAM had always been a goal of mine, as Andy C was an inspiration from very early on in my career. My manager knew this as well. I had two tunes I thought would be good for ProgRAM around January of last year but I was so nervous I didn’t think they were ready. My manager actually sent them before I could say “wait” (laughs). I was so stressed for the next few days, and then I remember him texting me at like 8am in the San Francisco airport that they were interested in both. I yelled “oh my God!” way too loud for that early in the morning. Got a lot of stares but I didn’t even care at that point. So Much Pain and They Live released in July of 2018 and that was definitely a surreal moment for me. Then to see them both make the RAM annual was just insane.
That’s super quick to be on Viper and ProgRAM right away. Must have given you whiplash.
It’s pretty surreal but I have always been such a driven Type A person. Sometimes when I get worried about not having released in a while I have to make myself step back and appreciate the achievements I have made. It’s very easy to get caught up in what’s next.
What do you think it was that RAM responded to in terms of your style and production?
I think they responded to the originality and unique style of the tunes. I really just make whatever I am feeling at the moment. Flight Path, for example, reflects my love of aviation. Whenever I take off on a flight I get such a rush and ever since I got an iPod I always timed a perfect ‘take off’ song to the flight’s actual takeoff. Weird I know but that’s how it happened. I was like “wow I should capture this rush I get in a D&B tune,” and thus Flight Path was created. So I guess I’m trying to say I never create a tune to be popular or to fit a certain label. ProgRAM seemed to like what I was feeling on the past four tracks I released with them and I’m very grateful for that!
So when did you move to LA and what inspired you to do so?
I moved in January of 2018 I love the vibe and my manager was happy for me to be out here because there are so many amazingly talented people to be surrounded by here. LA has been absolutely amazing. I love how driven and hardworking everyone is here.
You talked about Flight Path a little bit but how has it been to put your most recent tracks together? What are you noticing about the evolution of your style now that you’re starting to dig in with ProgRAM?
I love that ProgRAM is a label where I can truly express the deepest, weirdest ideas my brain comes up with! I am loving the deeper tech stuff lately, hence Future Shock and also the more melodic styles like in Flight Path. Recently putting a tune together starts with an inspiring moment, whether it’s a life experience like with Flight Path or something interesting that I watch like in Future Shock. I take in that inspiration and then build on it.
Kallan HK - 'Future Shock' - YouTube
So other than the obvious ones like Andy C and the Viper guys, who would you say are your biggest influences?
Definitely from the beginning legends like DJ Hazard, Bad Company, Ed Rush & Optical and RAM Trilogy. I love the old school! I try to draw from the old school sounds as much as possible. I’m addicted to throwbacks.
Your sound definitely draws from some of the founders, especially when it comes to drum loops and snare progressions. What do you think draws you to some of those original beats and sounds?
I just love that they were made over 20 years ago but still go off! D&B is one of the only genres I find where tunes remain so timeless. And also let’s be honest production is difficult as is so the fact that they made it happen without all the modern technological tools is just beyond impressive.
Since you’re one of the newer producers out there, have you found that anyone has given you grief? Sometimes it seems like old school rules in drum & bass so what’s your experience been with that?
Ahh yes I definitely have. I don’t like to comment too much on this because I don’t want it to be the focus of my work in a scene I love so much. I’m a believer that in order to grow, we should all be lifting each other up but I’ve definitely heard some comments like, “well you weren’t even around back when it started.” I was born around the same time D&B started blowing up so while that’s true I feel like I’ve done my research and I know the history, so let’s judge me for what I am responsible for, not on things out of my control. Trust me I would do just about anything to have been there for the 90s D&B days.
Do you have any tracks you’re working on right now that you want to talk about or anything in the lab or any shows coming up? Any styles you’re really feeling in the studio?
Yes I have a vocal tune that I’m super excited about coming out on another big label. It should be out around the fall.
It’s been present in his DNA since childhood exposure to bands like Deicide, Napalm Death and Pantera and remained a prominent signature in his style right the way through his tenure as the fieriest founding member of hugely influential UK hip-hop crew Foreign Beggars and, of course, I Am Legion; a brutalist electronic headbutt of a project between Foreign Beggars and Noisia I Am Legion is Vulgraton came into his own as an MC who can command the most uncompromising sonic aesthetics with equal measures of lyrical venom and gymnastics.
Prior to this the ski-mask sporting rapper also spent years as a frontman for death metal bands. In fact hardcore resonates with this MC so much he puts on bands like Meshuggah and Car Bomb just to chill out.
Which is why his new single Deadman should resonate with fans of either hardcore of heavy electronic music. His first solo release since Foreign Beggars announced they’ll be going their separate ways at the end of 2019, Deadman was produced by Mark The Beast and Nitepunk, it comes our way on Never Say Die and it hints at the ‘onslaught of fuckery’ he’s about to drop in the future. Oh, and it bangs. Hard. You might have already seen the video…
Vulgatron - Deadman (prod. by Mark The Beast & Nitepunk) (Official Video) - YouTube
Here’s how – and why – it came to be, and the fire we can expect to follow…
A new chapter. Deadman feels like a brutal statement of intent…
I’ve always been drawn to the darker and the heavier side of music. You can tell from the work we’ve done with Noisia, Black Sun Empire and Skrillex collaborations.
And the previous Foreign Beggars records released on Never Say Die…
Foreign Beggars had many sides to it; hip-hop, soulful stuff, the electronic side and the harder side which was an element I’d usually bring to the table. Because the band was constantly moving, there wasn’t always space for that energy to be there. But it’s a side of music I’m really into and I feel I can express myself in. It’s where I came from to begin with. I was in a death metal band for seven years and have been inspired by it from the moment I was first exposed to it as a kid.
How old were you? What bands?
I was 10. Deicide, Morbid Angel, Napalm Death, Sepultura. Early 90s. That was very influential for me. That dark mystic release has always had a presence in everything I’ve done since. Whether it’s a live performance or the lyrics, there’s always a prevalence. Dissect the old Foreign Beggars lyrics and there are references of specific death metal albums from the past.
From the age of 10? That’s an acquired taste. I got as far as Machine Head, Pantera, Sepultura but it took years of cheesier metal bands to get there
I heard Napalm Death and Deicide before I even heard Pantera. But that band – and fuck all the racial shit to do with them – meant everything to me and my brothers. They were the centre piece.
You never forget the first time you hear Fucking Hostile
Vulgar Display Of Power. That was the blueprint. Perhaps subliminally that had an influence on the Vulgatron name. I’ve not considered this before.
Interesting. I guess the allure for you is the tension and energy and raw release?
Yes. I was sent to a super Christian school the same month we discovered Deicide. We had to hide these super satanic CDs we were listening to but they gave us the release we needed being in such a strict Christian environment at the time. It was a strange existence.
What a life-changing moment in your life
You learn a lot about yourself during time like that.
So this is you tapping back to your roots and ploughing them into this on a new level?
When I go to a show, I want to get my head blown off. That’s what I’m trying to bring to the table here.
What are your thoughts on the lack of moshing etiquette in electronic music?
It’s there. It’s just not such a tradition but most people get it and understand it. Don’t go putting rose-tinted glasses on about metal though bro; fucked up shit that happens at metal shows. I’ve experienced it first-hand, racism and bigotry and all that shit. But it’s always the minority. Most people understand that it’s about connecting. It’s about releasing aggression without taking it out on other people. If someone falls over you pick them up at the end of the day we’re all a fucking family.
Electronic music is much more than just about moshing properly, though. There is a deep culture of individual expression, raving, releasing and connecting which I think the younger generation of rail riders need to explore and understand more. Raving is a journey. It’s the whole theme park, experience and company as opposed to the rollercoaster of a single track.
Couldn’t agree more. I’ve found the people who make the darkest music are often the most chilled people. They’ve channelled their aggression…
They’re not carrying that daily shit around with them. They crystalize it into an artform. Everything is energy, it’s where you choose to channel that. If you apply it with intelligence and passion and want to share it and channel it positively then you come up with something that touches people.
It’s an outlet isn’t it? Perhaps almost like meditation?
Just listening to it is a release. I can put on the most brutal music on a flight like some Decapitated and falls asleep. That shit calms me.
Deadman doesn’t calm me. It’s aggy as hell. It’s another reminder that there’s so much more potential for exploration in that fusion between hardcore and bass music.
For sure. There was a point when dubstep and grime were right next to each other but dubstep got heavier and heavier and moved away from grime and became less focused on lyricism. We did The Harder They Fall EP in 2011 but I don’t think were many other proper lyricist-based MC records. There’s good hosts and vocalists in the genre but besides Virus Syndicate, no rap group. Dope DoD were doing similar stuff in their field but this harder end from the 140/1150 spectrum there hasn’t been so much of a hardcore influence. I think Never Say Die are in the best place to explore it and bring it back on the agenda. SKiSM’s been around, he understands the nuances of the music. What’s needed. How to deliver it. I just want to bring some underground UK energy back to the fucking cypher.
I Am Legion - Dust Descends (Ft. Strange U) (Noisia x Foreign Beggars) - YouTube
That’s done best with a proper frontman
I learnt a lot from the I Am Legion era. The whole vibe we put together with the lighting, visuals, styling and outfits. When we stepped onto the stage we turned into something beyond any of us; it wasn’t a Foreign Beggars show, it wasn’t a Noisia show, it was a beast that was bigger than both. That’s the energy I want to bring to the Vulgatron show when I take it on the road.
Sounds like you have pretty clear plans about a live show?
We’re still figuring it out. It’s game time. None of this ‘oh let’s try this and see if it works’. This is it. It wont’ happen until it’s ready. The way I see it, I Am Legion was practice for what I want to do now. When we bring a show, it’s going to be a problem.
Sick. At first I thought Deadman might be firing shots…
Don’t get it twisted bro. It sounds like I might be sending shots for CASisDEAD and Dead Team but I’m not. I think he’s one of the most vital UK artists around right now. So don’t misinterpret that, he’s been an inspiration to me lately.
How did you link with Mark The Beast and Nitepunk. A label connection?
It’s just an extension of the way I live my life. I’m impulsive, I’m not very organised or meticulous, I’m open to what the universe gives me so if I feel a vibe then I’ll jump on it. That’s how you end up making connections. I met Nitepunk on tour in America and had a few days off in New York. He introduced himself to me at a bass party and I ended up having to use his studio last minute to record a final track for the Foreign Beggars album. One of our last ever singles, Standing with Rag N Bone Man.
When I was there, he and Mark played me some of their music including the track that would go on to become Deadman. It was written on purely analogue equipment. It was experiment and not a traditional dubstep tune in that way. It could have been made 20 years ago, it’s warm and it’s rowdy. I took it and we developed it over time then I took it to Tommy SKisM. It’s a departure for the label but they know not everything has to fit the standard DJ structure. It’s an art piece for them. And besides, the remixes fucking bang…
What comes next anyway? I reckon you’ve got a stack of stuff lined up…
This is just the beginning of an onslaught of fuckery. It’s been interesting building up the tracks. The producers I’m working with are a little out of their comfort zone, it’s making them explore. That’s an exciting creative position to be in.
Who else can you tell us about?
I just told you, wait and see. But I will shout out some people involved in this so far. Obviously Nitepunk and Mark The Beast. The video director Tarnish Vision, Mass Dust and just everyone who’s pushing their music forward, not compromising and making connections with people through persistence, dedication and self belief.