[Q&A] Scratching the Surface of Distance’s Sound
[Q&A] Scratching the Surface of Distance’s Sound

Standing not only as one of the innovators of the original underground dubstep sound but as a pivotal player in molding and influencing the new direction of the genre, Distance is an artist who has always occupied an unmistakable lane of his own within the scene. Wielding a style that blends space, swagger, depth, darkness, edginess and forward-facing momentum, this dubstep forefather’s militant output continues to explore unchartered sonic territories that far surpass the confines of ordinary dancefloor listening. The mighty Distance tightened his grip on the pulse of the dubstep scene with the launch of his Chestplate imprint back in 2007 shortly after setting speakers ablaze with his genre-defining, standard-setting appearance on 2006’s monumental Dubstep Warz radio show. With over 40 releases added to the Chestplate lineage since its inception, the labelhead is here to unleash the label’s latest tour de force, his very own two-track release Clash (CHST042).

Following the rousing success of his 12-track Tectonic’s release Dynamis, Distance’s Clash continues to progress his trailblazing sonic legacy, as it’s laden with copious amounts of vigor, sophistication and versatility, despite its shortness in length. Demonstrating his command over the many moods and facets of the dubstep sound in just two tracks, Distance exercises percussive tact and use of tasteful energy with “Clash” while simultaneously demonstrating his mastery over the artful impact of space and powerful bassweight with “Scratch The Surface.” We caught up with Distance just before he unleashes Clash (CHST042) onto the dubstep world to pick his brain about the release as well as his creative processes, privileged perspective on the growth of the dubstep genre, and the future of Chestplate.

Be sure to grab your digital pre-orders of Clash here and physical copies here.

Your new Chestplate release (CHST042) is as multifaceted as it is short; with “Clash” boasting bouncy, bubbly melodies, echoing, tubular vibes and commanding percussive patterns while “Scratch the Surface” drags and pulls listeners into its bass heavy, spacious and avant-garde physique with each drawn out, reverberated drum hit. What would you say the overall goal or intended vibe was when you decided to place these two beats together into a singular body of work?

With my own Chestplate releases I have always tried to include one track suited more to a club environment and the other being an eyes down listening experience. So, one to lose yourself in and the other to go nuts to in a rave. [Laughs] “Clash” is very basic but effective; I based it around an old formula called “8-bar” which is actually what grime was called before it was labeled grime. Classic tracks like “Pulse X” were literally 2×8 bar sections looped. A few years ago I found myself getting so bored of the typical 140 structure so I thought, “Fuck it, I’m writing an 8-bar tune.” I’m much more into changes happening quicker in my beats and more regularly.

“Scratch the Surface” was a different beast altogether. I wrote it after listening to loads of old UK garage, hence the skippier beats as it progresses. Those old garage tracks were much more sample based, so I started by twisting up a load of old samples. I also wanted this track to be more haunting but energetic at the same time. I didn’t originally plan to put these two together but they were both made around the same time, so felt there was a connection! With all my tracks they are ultimately intended for sound systems.

It’s quite impressive how you (along with names like Sleeper, District, Thelem, etc.) have been able to adapt and evolve seemingly effortlessly with the changing tides of dubstep while retaining just as strong an influence through your output. Was the shift from your original style to this more experimental, forward-facing, bass music melting pot a natural progression for you? What would you say helped pull your evolution forward to this current style and, similarly, what excites you the most about this newer type of dubstep/bass music that the scene has been witnessing more recently?

It was definitely natural. I have always made music purely for myself, which I know sounds selfish but if I tried to make something which I felt was current or would go off in a dance then it just wouldn’t happen. My best work comes from experimenting and without any preconceptions of what it might be.

I think what really helps me to progress is to expose myself to new music, different styles, and maybe even music I don’t like, as crazy at that might sound. Films really influence my music and always have. I don’t know really, it’s hard to say exactly what’s kept me moving forward. I do get very bored very quickly with styles and trends, which doesn’t help when you are a label manager. In order to have longevity as a producer you need to embrace change and new techniques. Some people just can’t let go of a time or sound and that might work for them, but I just can’t do it.

I’m really liking the influences coming from hip-hop right now plus the more sample based sound. I love the fact that most producers are ignoring the typical 140 DJ structure, too. I reckon this is because traditional DJing is no longer the standard. Mixing isn’t the same as it was when I started. Most kids haven’t learnt to mix on turntables but rather Ableton or another software, so it’s no surprise the minute-long intro isn’t needed or a great big break down in the middle of the track. These parts of tracks were useful because it gave you time to get your next vinyl out of your record bag and cued up. Now you all you need to do is scroll through a list of tracks and click a button.

On a similar note, it’s worth mentioning how you’ve continued to play a pivotal role in the dubstep scene not only as one of the original forefathers of the underground dubstep sound but also as a modern-day artist that is helping mold, shape and influence the new direction of the genre. Given your unique, front-row perspective into the various shapeshifts with dubstep’s personality over the years, what grabs you differently about this new generation of dubstep versus during its inception and vice versa?

I think it’s definitely harder now to find good music within the genre. In the early days you had maybe a handful of producers making the sound, whereas now you have SoundCloud, YouTube, Spotify and Mixcloud and every week there seems to be a new digital radio station launching. It sometimes feels like I’m walking in a blizzard. You are being hit with so much music that you can’t actually see through it all to find the good stuff. Back in the day there was maybe two radio shows to listen to and one rave to go to. That was it! That was the only opportunity you had to hear and find new music.

The fact I’ve been doing this for such a long time doesn’t make it easy for me to discover new dubstep I’m feeling. Even though a sound may seem exciting and new to a younger generation, in most cases I’ve experienced it and heard it before in another form. A lot of DJs are happy to play the tunes they know will go off in a dance or sign tracks which remind them of an existing track but I just can’t do that. Hence the number of Chestplate releases in the last two years. I could easily release music everyone has heard before and they would probably be happy with that, but I wouldn’t be.

Dubstep has been through so many shifts but I do generally feel like we are at a very interesting time in the scene. People seem to be making music for themselves again and not worrying about success, which I think contributed a lot to dubstep’s demise.

Who are some artists within the dubstep scene today that inspire or impress you?

Sleeper, Mesck, Bukez Finezt, Siskiyou, Pinch, Vivek…there are more, obviously!

To change focus a bit, can you tell us what some of your favorite studio toys are these days and if you have any personal secret weapons to help you get inspired or enter a proper headspace for creating new music?

I still love CamelPhat’s CamelCrusher, which I believe is discontinued now. It was a free plugin as well. It’s a distortion and compressor in one. It just does something magical and quickly. It seems to turn any shit drum sound into a good one. [Laughs] Steinberg’s Quadrafuzz 2 and their multichannel envelope shaper is sick. All of the sugar bytes and Fxpansion plugins are great! There are loads of waves and UAD plugins too but we will be here a long time.

I can’t really say what gets me into a creative headspace. It could be a piece of music, something I’ve seen on TV, flicking through sample libraries or just tweaking a synth. You can create something magical when you least expect it.

Considering we’re here to talk about your new Chestplate release, what’s in store for the untold future of your label? With over 40 releases generated through your imprint, how has Chestplate evolved in ways that you didn’t anticipate when you first created the label?

Well, I never planned to sign any artists. I created the label solely for my own music, so I never really anticipated that. When I signed Tunnidge that opened the doors, really. Through having a section on my Rinse FM show called the “New Talent Section” I found so many great artists. Commodo, Ramadam Man, Randomer, Phaelah, James Blake, Thelem…Imagine if I was signing artists back then. [Laughs]

As for the future, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. The last few years have been hard, as I really haven’t found enough music for the label, so I am now trying to spend more time trawling through the net to find new artists. I’m starting up the Chestplate podcasts again too, which will still include the New Talent section, so I’m hoping I will find some great music. I have however signed a new artist to the label which will be announced very soon.

I would like to take this opportunity though to thank everyone who has been a part of Chestplate and a part of my career. Every promoter, every DJ, producer, journalist and especially the supporters who buy my music and take the time to come and see me perform! I’ve been so fortunate!