After blowing the doors of perception wide open on his 2012 album Method in the Madness with Octane, the Bristol-based DLR returns for another mind-bending journey into the psychoacoustic netherworld of drum & bass on his aptly titled Seeing Sounds solo LP.
Having earned his stripes on imprints like Metalheadz, Utopia, Trendkill, and of course Dispatch, the latest long-player features the bass architect working his way through 16 heavy tracks, often in collaboration with a number of like-minded beat scientists in the form of Break, Hydro, Fokus, Total Science, Ant TC1 and more.
Centered on a cinematic framework that seeks to blur the lines between the aural and the visual, the LP’s synesthetic grooves have been frying synapses both on and off the dancefloor since its full release early last week. Never one to rest on his laurels, the ever-prolific producer is continuing to ride a wave of creative energy and checks in to give us a glimpse at his creative process and what the future holds.
“Seeing sounds” is such a rich conceptual frame to work with. At what point in the production process did it emerge as a frame for the project?
The concept is something that took a while to come, as it would be too much pressure for me to think of a concept first and then force myself down that route, when I am someone who can become easily distracted. I find it’s good to get a collection of tracks together and then sit back and try and establish what the best direction is from that point; this can mean scrapping some tracks and advancing others.
In this case, I was starting to see a focus with the collection of tracks that I had. “Ask the Question” was really the first track to establish the mood for the project, and once I noticed this, I also noticed that I had some other tracks that fit in with this direction, whilst others just didn’t feel correct. Conceptually, I really wanted to stay focused on a soundscape-based approach, writing off the tracks that had too much of a traditional musical feel with obvious chord or melodic progression.
This direction was supported when I was working on the intro track, “Synesthesia,” with Hydro. Break was lurking about the studio while we were working on it and mentioned how he felt that the name “Seeing Sounds” would be an appropriate title for the project. Obviously, I immediately agreed; it just felt correct! So in terms of the title and conceptual frame, I really have to thank Hydro for coming with the samples about synesthesia and also Break for being so observant—it made my job much much easier, and for me that is the joy of collaboration! It’s a beautiful thing!
Sound design is obviously a huge part of what you do. Talk a bit about your process in the studio—are you working with atmospheres, sketching out ideas, making beats first?
I think it’s important to remember what the goal or aim is when creating and producing a product. This can be said about any product; in this case, the product is drum & bass, so really the main focus HAS to be on the drums and then the bass. At times, I feel some people working in the genre can become a little distracted or confused about the underlying conventions of D&B, mistaking it for a specific drum pattern at a certain tempo without realizing that if the drums are quiet and the bassline is secondary to the musical progression, all of a sudden it starts to become something influenced by the conventions of D&B rather than D&B itself.
This is why I really try and make something happen between the drums and bass, and conversely, this is also what can be so difficult to achieve. How do you create interest between only two elements in a genre that is over 20–25 years old? Often you can find that ideas are redone; when writing, I drift around different ideas, never satisfied, as I feel that it doesn’t sound original or very groundbreaking. I never know exactly what I am looking for, but keep pushing to try and find an idea or direction that suddenly speaks to me and makes me want to push to roll the idea out and hear the track as a whole.
Sound design can be a really important part of this process. Sometimes I start with a soundscape to try and set a mood or direction, especially if I am trying to open my mind up a little bit, as it’s easy to get caught in the trap of going down the same road every time. I especially enjoy creating an idea with the drums and bass speaking nicely, and the mood of the sounds and music driving the idea; and then I really start to hear if the track has a focus and direction, and I try and build on this with new sounds and ideas that add to what is already there—sort of like the icing on the cake.
How do you keep things bubbling creatively, as it seems you are in a very productive space right now?
Recently, I rang up Ant TC1 [owner of Dispatch Recordings and label manager of Metalheadz] to discuss a few silly subjects and to laugh about stupid shit—the usual between mates—but also, I was a little bit concerned that maybe I have done a little TOO much at the moment, and I am perhaps flooding my area of the market.
While possibly true, Ant reminded me that there is no rulebook to this, and that it’s important to just do what your heart wants. If you’re feeling creative, then enjoy that creativity, the vibes that it brings, and roll with it. Because as any artist knows, creativity is not something that sticks around forever; it can be very very hard to find a positive frame of mind and feel creative and inspired. Anyway, it seems to me that recently I have been more inspired than usual and have enjoyed this productive period.
Originally, our plan was to hit you with some Rorschach inkblots and get you to “see” your way through the album, but you’re telling me you don’t see anything in this? No donkey on top of a mountain getting ready to ride that bassline all the way to the open sea?
Ha-ha! Sorry, man, although the name of my album gives the impression that I may see sounds, it’s more a way to sum up the feel behind the sound of the album. Of course, I can understand that sounds can stimulate the visual cortex, but I tend not to visualize sounds in that sort of way. With that said, if others have a more visual experience from sounds, especially to those on my album, then I am keen to hear their experience!
Also, to be honest, I never really got these Rorschach images; I never really see anything. They always just look like some paint pressed together on a piece of paper, so they come out with a symmetrical shape. I mean, at times they can look like something, but it’s not something that really reaches out to me.
So when you think of your album as a whole, what do you see?
For me, it’s more a journey of sounds.
And in this journey, where do you see yourself headed next?
I am currently in the process of working on a really exciting project with Mako on Metalheadz. We are in the process of creating an album together under a new name, and it’s a really enjoyable, creative process that we are both loving. We both feel that the music will hit people a little deeper and take listeners back to the more freeform style that Metalheadz jungle/drum & bass was famed for in the ‘90s.
Release-wise, I’m awaiting the release on Dispatch of a VIP that I worked on with Break of “Murmur,” which takes the energy of the original up another notch, if you can believe it! Also on this release is “Tugboat VIP,” which I am incredibly proud of, as it’s a proper slice of slightly wonky D&B—and then “Regeneration,” which is on a little techno-inspired throwback vibe.
Due to Ant’s commitment to the cause, the format of the release is something incredible: 180-gram vinyl, with stickers you attach yourself, all in a dubplate sleeve! It’s a great idea—not only because it’s original, but because it can give the younger generation a taste of dubplate culture, whilst the older heads can be sentimental and remember the days of cutting dubs and collecting the music on a format that is not throw-away and gives you a real sense of ownership. I am mighty proud to be a part of such an exciting project!
This article originally appeared on Insomniac.com.