It may come as a surprise to most fans that Friction’s upcoming Connections LP is his debut. Having already achieved legendary status as a world famous DJ, the don of Shogun Audio and the long-running host of the Drum & Bass Show on BBC’s Radio1 and 1Xtra, it was pretty much the only thing in D&B he hadn’t done. With a few tracks under his belt, mostly collabs or remixes, Friction set out on an endeavor to create a full album all his own, to capture what he felt represented his sound and to connect with his audience in a completely new way.
With so many years logged in the industry and so much DJing and A&R expertise under Shogun, one might think it was easy for Friction to create Connections. What he found was one of the biggest musical and emotional tests of his life, especially in the face of leaving his radio show and launching his new Elevate imprint, another project he felt better represented his sound. What he produced was a seriously great album, but it sounds like what he’s gained is even greater: a deeper connection to himself, to his fans and to the music we all love. This is Friction…
How has the adjustment been since leaving the BBC radio show?
It was a very difficult thing to do because I loved doing it and I was very proud of that radio show. Being able to have such a big responsibility in music, but it had just been coming to a head for a while. I was trying to finish up this album and touring all the time. Trying to squeeze everything into my life it was just not happening. It was difficult but since I’ve stopped it I think I’ve been happier because I have more time to write music.
Do you feel like the album is a proper snapshot of your evolution as an artist?
Basically, with making this album, I really wanted to tell a story and to put it all out there that this represents me right now. This is what I like and this is what I want to make. It’s a declaration. I feel like this is my sound. I wrote a couple of deeper tracks, I wrote a couple of hard ones but to get the balance correct, it’s difficult sometimes because you don’t want to stray too far from your core sound. I did it in a way where there’s a range but it’s not totally swinging all over the place.
Is that sort of where the Connections theme came in with the album and putting it all together?
Yeah, to me it is connecting in a number of ways. Connecting in general is what I do. I’m connecting with audiences and I’m connecting to get a plain to get a train to get in a car to get to a festival. Then connecting music in terms of sounds and styles and the story behind it. That was the plan with the album as well. To try to keep it connecting and meshing together well. A tracks that quite hard and sort of techier and then later on a jungle track…again, covering that range but not having it be too much or stray too far.
So how did you apply that to the album as you were writing it?
I think I really like to test myself and see how much I can push the boundaries of what is my sound. I like to always keep pushing and trying to find new things. It’s funny because when I started the album, my production was at a certain point but by the time I finished I had learned a lot and there was more that I could do in terms of techniques than when I started. So I had to go back to the older tracks and go back in and reinterpret and use these things I’d learned to make it better. So if I had a new compressor or a new reverb that I didn’t have three years ago when I started, I wanted to go back and make it sound better with the new kit and the new things I’d learned.
So it was stuff you were learning but also new programming and software being available as well as you went through the process. How long were you working on the album in total?
I actually worked this out the other day—it’s been four years since I started, so it’s really been a journey. I’d been working on it so long and I was listening to it with my manager and some of the other people who help me with A&R when I’m doing my own releases and everyone said they liked it but they all said, “You just need one more big tune.” I was gutted. At that stage in the process, that’s the worst thing you can say to me. I mean I like people to be honest and I think they were right but going back into the studio after all that work thinking, “I must make something good,” it’s just a really weird kind of pressure. That last track took about two months. I had terrible writer’s block and to be that close to the finish line but with that huge hurdle…it’s been a journey that’s all I can say. (Laughs)
Everyone said they liked [the album] but they all said, 'You just need one more big tune.' I was gutted.
A lot of artists have said that as well. It takes so much effort and focus and it’s such a long process that you do feel quite emotional when it’s over and off to mastering.
Yeah, going to the mastering house was one of my favorite days. Listening to my album, this long process, on big speakers with a couple of people from the label and my management and they were all like, “We can’t believe you’ve finally done it.” I was really, really happy. You know when you put your heart and soul into something like this…I’ve spent so much of my career as a DJ. Obviously I’ve had some tunes out here and there but I always had to have help with production I’ve worked with someone in collab. Something happened in the last five or six years where it was like, “Right, you need to sit down, crack on and learn how to make yourself into a producer.” It’s been tough, but it’s been one of the most rewarding things.
It was also definitely a process of finding myself again as a musician and finding that confidence as a producer. With the album, people are starting to hear it in the last few weeks and now I’m getting great feedback from DJs and promoters and stuff and I’m like, “Wow.” Even though I worked on it for four years and really gave it everything, I still wondered if people were going to like it. So now I’m in this really happy moment, hearing Andy C or Wilkinson playing the tunes out, it’s like, “Yes! This is happening!” So I do need to be more confident but it’s amazing right now that things are working out and people are digging the album. With the remix as well that I just did for The Prodigy, to have Liam Howlett call me and say he loved the remix and I’d smashed it to bits, it’s just so surreal.
That has to be a strange moment and a sense of accomplishment, especially with everything you’d gone through in the album.
It’s amazing not just because of that but because I feel like now I get so much more enjoyment out of my music because of being able to make it all myself. It’s a whole other level. Being able to make my own stuff and then take it to the club and play it and watch the crowd react to that track it like, there’s no better feeling. I thought DJing was the best feeling but DJing your own music is just the best thing.
To have Liam Howlett [of The Prodigy] call me and say he loved the remix and I’d smashed it to bits, it’s just so surreal.
Was it always the intention with this project to put out an LP? Did you know what it was going to be four years ago?
Yeah. (Laughs) That was always the plan but I was completely delusional. When I think back now, to the points along the way where I thought it was close to being finished like three years ago or two years ago, it’s hilarious to me. People keep saying to me because I’ve been DJing so long, they can’t believe it’s my first LP but I’m always like “I can!” It is such hard work and such a slog. I’m laughing at myself as well, you know you read interviews with producers talking about their albums and they say over and over how much of a struggle it’s been and you think like, “It can’t be that hard.” No, it is really, really hard. You just sit there by the end of it and it’s really emotional and it was really a journey.
‘Connections’ is out on Elevate September 7 on Friction’s new Elevate imprint. It’s available to pre-order on multiple platforms by clicking here. Both Elevate and Shogun have lots of new releases out soon as well, so stay tuned.