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Break Interview 2016
It's common knowledge however that Break steers far clear away from any social media, but this has none the less proved you don't need it over the years, and that the music he makes does the talking loud and clear.
Now in 2016, ten years on from his labels initial start, I catch up with him to talk about the new "10 Years Of Symmetry" compilation - the album that has turned into a full LP of original material, featuring some of the biggest names in drum and bass, including Total Science, Spectrasoul and DLR.
To top that off, one of the tracks off the album "Who got da funk" is still number one at the beatport top 10 in the drum and bass charts.
First off, thanks for doing this interview! I feel quite honored, and I actually want to ask you straight off, how was the Symmetry night last night?
Yeh no worries, congrats on the baby. Yeh it was really good down there. We were a little bit unsure before because the event was on a Thursday night but it went really well in the end. The turnout was wicked, the crowd was sick - they really knew their stuff, and yeh all the DJs and MCs were on point, it was great music all night, so I'm really chuffed how it went down.
That's def what you want. What's in your DJ bag right now that you drew for last night?
I definitely played the new album, the "10 years of Symmetry" I got most of those in. I played the Strictly Entertainment VIP coming on Playaz and my Dillinja Hard Noize Remix... that went down really well. There was a few other sneaky bits but I've been sworn to secrecy on the track titles, but yeh the set went down nice. I really enjoyed it.
So how has your summer been? I know you're busy as I watch the work you do on music lectures and computer music, and what people don't realise is that producing good music sometimes takes time... so, have you managed to enjoy any of our British summer this year and actually get in the garden - or are you still perfecting a studio tan?
Yeh I've been trying my best to fight that studio tan, and I've moved my studio back home so I can step out the back to the garden and try and soak up some rays... while I'm doing phone calls and stuff.. but it still doesn't really do the job. There are always emails... and studio work to do so yeh there is certainly more vitamins to charge up on. I haven't really had a proper holiday in a few years so I'm hoping 2017 it might happen, but yeh it never really comes together there is always work.
I def feel your pain there I hate my email inbox! Can you go back to when you were growing up, how music came into your life and how that progressed into drum and bass? (could you talk about your brass instruments for those that may not know, and yes, i'm a trained e flat tenor horn player ;)
Oh that's cool... brass is hard I didn't even get to grade 3 on that, but I did have a go at French Horn, Trumpet, Trombone. I mainly played the piano from about 8 years old and then the drums from about 12 / 13 and messed around in a few bands and played some guitar and bass. But yeh when one of my mates showed me a sampler and he was chopping up the amen break - seeing that was pretty much the beginning of the end. We started making tracks and slowly learnt what was going on, but there was no internet or youtube tutorials so there was a lot of trial and error and it was a slow curve pretty much.
So following on from that... do you think it helps producing music if you have had some musical training?
Yeh I do think it helps a lot. I mean it's not essential - you can learn as you go but it depends on what kind of music you want to make. I think if you are going to work with singers and musicians then it definitely helps to know what you are on about if there are other professionals in the room, for song structure, chords, arrangement. Knowing the piano has really helped me out so I think that's a good one to learn if you are going to learn anything... but you know I never went to uni for music production for engineering, so I've managed to get through and you can teach yourself if you really want to do it.
So now how does it feel that people look up to you as a role model now, and how important is it to you, and that you portray a professional image with your music?
Yeh it's definitely pretty cool. I'm glad that the people I meet appreciate what I've done musically and that's what has got them into it, that's wicked. My general approach is just to try hard and do your best and I think that's the main part of being professional really.
Yeh totally... you have created your own unique sound, which is really subby, clean drums, excellent separation and what a lot of tunes miss... which is musicality with funk. Is there anyone who has and still does inspire you at the level you are at?
I mean yeah definitely for sure, there's a lot of really good produced and mixed music these days. The main leaders for me are Noisia, Calyx and TeeBee, Mefjus, but with a lot of them it's a loud hyper Neuro thing, so I guess a lot of my inspiration for the musical funk vibe still comes from older stuff, there is a lot more of that in the jungle era. That's the kind of thing that I try to bring into dnb tunes. A lot of it really comes from other genres because you don't really hear that in dnb so much.
And talking about that sub driven music, can you explain why getting the balance of the sub levels to the rest of the track is so important?
Well yeh sub is a big thing. The sub basically uses up a lot of your headroom for the track but to your ears the mid range seems a lot louder so it's just trying to find the sweet spot with those two things. For me generally, dnb should be leaning a bit more to the subby side of things - you know that was always the appeal of it. A lot of production these days has become pretty mid range focused and that wasn't really ever the style with jungle, so having a dip in the middle frequencies makes the bass seem exaggerated which makes things sound more dubby - especially if they are loud in the club. So 'I'm not really a fan of music that hurts your ears, especially if it is loud.
Wicked... so you're from Bristol that has an amazing drum and bass hub. What's your favourite club in Bristol?
Well I am from London, but I've been up here about 10 years now so I've kinda sunk into the woodwork. I do a club night up here with Total Science, DLR, Mako and Alex from Basic Agency called Collective so I'm a little bit bias but the club we use is called the Crofters Rights - it's my favorite at the moment.It''s a small old venue with a lot of wood in the rooms so the system sounds great in there which isn't an euphemism - a lot of girls do come to the nights - it's got a nice vibe down there, and it's like a jungle rave rather than a big stadium dnb extravaganza. I know a lot of performers like intimate and smaller venues so I think that is definitely true. I really like Thekla as well, which is another one up here, it's on a boat. It's got a great sound system and a pretty unique feel.
Do you have a favorite place to DJ worldwide?
Yeh its hard to pick one country as it always varies, but just recently I played at Li Bikini in Toulouse France, and for me that has to be one of the best clubs in the world - it just sounds like a massive recording studio - the acoustics are amazing. I went out on the dancefloor and the crowd vibes are amazing! They get down to any tune and no one has to play cheesy bangers to get a reaction so it's ideal for a proper dnb night.
I think some of my guilty pleasures are a few cheesy bangers! I love your attitude towards how people make music, how they project it and you challenge the idea that some producers make the music they think people want, rather than make the music that they enjoy... do you think there is pressure to make music sell by labels or should individuals take more responsibility?
Yeah I mean it's a good question. I'd say at least 70% of producers jump on the generic band wagon and the scene is quite watered down these days but I don't always think it's their fault, there are def some people who should know better. For a lot of new young guys getting into it, they get their head filled with crap by the labels and they are looking too much at other people on social media, so you can see when certain producers sign to certain labels their sound definitely changes. I know the labels play a big part in that in turning down material and steering a sound in a certain direction that they want which is pretty sad. You go and see at a lot of gigs that there is a simple formula - kind of like a cheat code - if you do a big build up with a load of kick drums and risers and slam into a pitched up beat and an obnoxious bass sound it's going to smash it 8 out of 10 times - so that's basically what everyone does and they've nailed it - but it seems a hollow victory for me. I blame the crowds too - I'd probably leave and go to room 2 or wouldn't of paid for a ticket in the first place - but I don't know... there is always good and bad ones and I think everyone who DJs kinda knows that - you get a few bad gigs but there is a load of good ones so it's just how it goes. Take the rough with the smooth I guess.
It's certainly an interesting topic - I think I could talk forever about it .. Symmetry has gone from a small underground independent label to a rather successful underground label. You must be pleased?
Yeah definitely - it's really cool that the label has made a small but successful impact. I never really wanted to be a label guy but I am pleased we can add to the scene and cover a sound that is still relatively underground. The main challenge is kind of similar to what I was saying before - where there is that commercial side that you are up against, who have the money and the office and the staff to push their product, so it does make it even more pleasing when some Symmetry stuff makes it through with a tenth of the investment and promotion, and people appreciate the music for what it is, so that's why I keep the label going. That's what it is all about.
Well certainly and please don't stop. I'm going to play track 2 on the EP - Betamax with Total Science which I will play now... How did you organise the work flow with Total Science on this track? Did you all get in the studio together or were you bouncing stems over the internet?
We all worked in the studio together on that one. They are really funny guys. The sessions were definitely a total laugh more than "Total Science" but they are a big inspiration to me. I grew up listening to their tunes and we all like the same kind of music, and we have a similar production work flow. We just get a load of sounds and samples together and just roll out the vibes. It's a good balance of fun and technical missions and in the end the tunes write themselves.
So do you agree with the rule you should never master your own tunes?
Yeah I do pretty much agree with that. I always get Beau at Ten Eight Seven Mastering to do my masters, because you can get really attached to your own tracks. You can't really hear the problems that someone else will spot. It does really help. I do often do masters of my stuff and I do mastering for other people which is a lot easier - but for your own tracks I think get someone else on it saves you pulling your hair out.
Ain't No Turning Back is really full of energy... and that vocal really is awesome... Can you tell us how you start tracks, with drums, intro's or a hook?
Yeah it does actually vary each time. With this tune I started making the bass sounds which I don't usually do but I wanted to get some new basses which I wanted to start a tune from and then I worked back to the intro once I got the vocal and pads in. I do generally find it easier to get a good drop once you have the concept of an intro, and that tune probably took the longest on the album. It was a lot of work to get all the elements working together. With a lot of my tracks the intro with the music is the bit that I enjoy the most and the drum and bass part is the real ball ache. There is a lot more tweaking and engineering than there is music making. So that one was a lot of effort.
It's nice that some people are taking time to do good intro's and put the musicality in there. Going to play "Not Forgotten" and this really has some beautiful jungle elements... How important is jungle to you to be kept alive?
Yeah I'm definitely all about keeping jungle alive. It's really important for me. I made that one after listening to loads of jungle again one day and it was the same with the last album. Just got back in the vibe and you remember what you got into it for. With Not Forgotten I tries to recreate a similar kind of electric piano riff, from this Night Rider's track - a 1992 hardcore tune that Bad Company sampled with Trace on Flashback - but yeh you never really make a tune like that if you just listen to dnb today. If I had to pick dnb or jungle I'd go with jungle any day.
Yeh I think quite a few of us can totally relate to that! It's good that people like yourself are keeping the jungle vibes alive. Can you tell us what your current studio set up is?
Well there is quite a lot of stuff to mention - it's basically a mac pro with logic 9. I've got quite a bit of outboard hardware gear. A lot of it is for the mic chain, for when you are recording vocals but I love tape echo's. I've got a couple of original 1970's units which I've used on the recent 10 Years Of Symmetry album. I've got several Warm Audio and Alicia units for compression and EQ. They are amazing.
What are your favorite synths?
Yeah I'm less big into synths, I;ve got a Virus C which I really like but I don't use a lot as I should. I generally prefer getting bass sounds into a sampler then using effects and filters to make most of the sick basses. In the computer I do really like Trillion, Omnisphere. I;ve been using Serum and Dune a bit too.
That's interesting. So if I gave you ten grand to spend on studio equipment, what would you buy and why?
Oooh, wouldn't that be nice! That's a pretty tough call. Maybe I'd just pay my rent for a year so I didn't have to do any gigs and I could just make tunes, but time is probably the best bit of equipment these days. If not, probably a nice 12 track Neve mixing console would be pretty sick.
Oh ok.. so I always ask this question because I have images of some producers sitting in slippers drinking tea, but do you drink tea or coffee in the studio?
Yeah there was a lot of tea drinking back in my stoner years - definitely 10 or 15 cups of Yorkshire a day but pretty much now a nice coffee in the morning when I get up does the job, and yeah rolling out in tracksuits and slippers is definitely one of the perks of the job.
That's awesome... And how long did the whole LP take to make? When did you start it...
Yeah this was pretty much the quickest album that I have done. I didn't really set out for it to be an artist album. I was just going to release several unreleased tunes and put together a best of release kind of thing but after a bit I just realised that if I updated them then I would be halfway through an album and then 4 of the old tunes I think were old ones that I dug out, and once I had got a few colabs in that took the pressure off and then that was pretty painless actually. I mean most of the hard work probably took about 6 months and some of it had been done before.
That was pretty quick, so when it was finally finished, how do you go about your mixdowns to get them all as loud as possible? What tips can you give the listeners about achieving a loud mixdown and then key things ready for a master?
Yeah it's probably trickiest with an album and that was still one of the big problems with this one because there are older style tunes with more crusty jungley production then there is a chilled one with Kyo and Boston and they will never compete with the super loud modern Neuro stuff so in the end you either have to ruin the quiet ones to get them as loud as the modern stuff or turn the loud ones down which you have spent ages on getting really loud so it can be a bit of a compromise. It would be easier if your album all sounds the same but no one really wants to hear an album like that so I think in hindsight getting a good average level so you have a bit of room to go louder or quieter at mastering is probably the best way to go. I guess the best tip for people to get a good fat master is to balance between things. If you have got a dull snare and then super bright high hats, you are never going to get a good top end across your whole track. The same with the bass... it's just about trying to get things even and then when it gets to mastering there is room and scope to bring up the top end if you want it to come up together and not just one really bright high hat or symbol that pokes out so that's the best technique to try and get everything even.
That's absolutely wicked advice... So I noticed all the tracks came back from Ten Eight Seven mastering, so thanks for sending me the whole LP by the way.. but a huge shout out to Beau and Rob there... those guys have been friends for a while and they are really awesome huh?
Yeah those guys are great - I mean I have mastered all my stuff with them for over 10 years because they have always given me a lot of time and I always get the best sounding results. I've learnt a lot from Beau and I've sat in on loads of sessions and he has helped me understand the vinyl process and that has really helped me understand production, because that was what I was kinda saying before, because you have to have things really nicely even and balanced for vinyl because it can't handle irregular things so that's really helped me with digital mixes to get a vinyl vibe across your mixes. We have been friends a long time so just having a good relationship with the people you work with is really important for me and ends up making the music better.
Yeah totally, and obviously working with people grateful about the help and support and advice that you get is important as well.. so talking about people and relationships I have a lot of people support me on my facebook and I put out that I was interviewing you and you had whole heaps of people who can't wait to pick your brains a little so a few questions from the listeners here...
First off Dan Wright. He wants to know if you were nervous on the first set you played out and how did you overcome the nerves.
Oh yeah for sure, especially as it was vinyl back then so you actually had to be able to mix. It does get easier with practice, It's always different from DJing at home - you kinda got to learn all over again. I guess you go in there and hope for the best and try and not clang it.
And DJ Konspiracy asks..If you could remix any dnb or jungle track what would it be?
Oooh that's a tough one... I mean sadly a lot of them have been done already like Babylon or Sound Control or Lighter which are some of my favourites but I've been working on this Hard Noize remix for Dillinja which is one of my favourite tracks of his so that's been really cool and pretty challenging.
And Mandie Cay asks - Which producers are you digging at the moment?
Well you know I am a big fan of Boston that's why I have been signing some of his tracks. I'm really feeling these Architype guys too - it's really quality music which is quite few and far between. I always rate DLR, Total Science, Mako up here in Bristol and Dead Mans Chest as well - there is a lot of good stuff close by which is pretty handy.
Awesome artists there... Harry Saunders asks - What is your favourite Pizza topping?
Pepperoni mushroom - standard. Yeh can't be doing any hot fruit or anything like that!
Everyone loves Pizza... mushrooms are good! So Lee Beckford asks - What's the best piece of advice you could give anyone thinking of taking up production?
I guess really just make the kind of music that you would like to hear and expect to make about 100 tunes before they really start sounding good. You just got to stick at it and it does take a while but it does get better each time so persevere.
My friend Vinnie J Smith asks - Is that James Brown in "Flux"?
It's not actually! A lot of people ask me that but it's actually Wilson Pickett. The "uhs" are from a break beat I used from his track Land Of A Thousand Dances and with a bit of cleaning up it's a wicked break beat in there.
Ah that's interesting... so Rachel Harris asks - Who most inspired you musically?
I mean loads of people obviously - DJ Shadow was one of the first people that really made me get into wanting to make music in 1995. That was when I was just getting into using samplers and that kind of stuff and that really opened my eyes to what you could do and that's a big part of getting into it.
And Joe Murphy asks - How long do you spend on average mixing a track and how much of that time is spent on creative aspects vs mixdowns and to tie in with that - what are your thoughts on artists who stick to one refined sound like yourself vs artists who change styles over time?
It's usually about a day to make the main tune and then a couple of days tweaking the mix. Sometimes a week or two if it's a really tricky one or you work on other stuff and come back to it, or you get fed up. I guess I change my sound a lot from tune to tune and the production has improved and refined over the years but the general taste is quite consistent. I think you have got to move with the times for sure to stay relevant and sound fresh - but if you jump on every new trend or bandwagon you wouldn't be original really.
Yeah I totally hear you about being current but not jumping on every single new trend... so finally just to wrap this up where can we catch you playing in the next couple of months?
I'm doing a Break live with Kyo and Mace at Thekla in Bristol Oct 21st - my other gigs are Turin and Malaga. We are trying to sort out another Symmetry night in London. I know I am in London at Fire in December.
Wicked... we will all certainly keep our eyes out for those dates. So any other projects in the pipeline?
Yeh I have another project called Degrees Of Freedom which I have been doing for a number of years, It's myself and Kyo in the band and we are just working with other musicians for the live shows. Mace who does our dnb guitar, he is a great player and we are just meeting with a bass player and a drummer this week to step up the live performances. It's mainly dub, house, soul. We always end on a few dnb tunes for the dnb heads for the crowd. So hopefully there will be more shows and festivals coming next year.
Well I hope so and I'm sure a lot of our listeners will too.. so big up.. Can I just ask if you have any shouts or thanks?
Well yeah just a big shout to yourself it's great to have a chat. Shouts to all the fans who have supported me and the label and who come to the shows and to all the people who have held it down for good dnb.
Well thank you... it's been a wicked interview really enjoyed everything that you have had to say.
You can keep up with Break on http://www.symmetryrecordings.co.uk and Break thank you so much for your time out - I know an awful lot of people who will be listening eagerly to this and all respect due to you where it's due because you really are a very gifted producer and an asset to our drum and bass scene. Thank you for all the wonderful music and you again soon.