Fresh off the release of his long-awaited Under Another Sky LP on Dispatch Recordings, Cern stops in for a wide-ranging chat about his turn to the deeper side of the dancefloor on through to a breathtaking guest mix that bridges the old and new school in a heavy way.
This is your follow-up to 2011’s ‘Terminus album – looking back, how do you see the two albums differing? If I remember correctly, you finished the last album in New Zealand and have since moved to London; what sort of effect has that had on you not only creatively but professionally as well?
The pace of London life is very different to New Zealand, as is the music, travel, work, everything. Living here definitely played a large role in the approach I took to writing ‘Under Another Sky‘.
I’ve been exposed to a real variety of music since moving here and that’s influenced me hugely. Experiencing the deeper side of drum and bass in London clubs definitely stoked my interest in exploring a more experimental style of music. I still do write stuff for the dancefloor, which is what Terminus was more about, but in this project I wanted to create a very different body of work and have some fun creating sounds with looser boundaries of what constitutes drum and bass to me.
I’ve also been lucky enough to share the Exit Records studio with dBridge and Joe Seven (and previously Consequence) and it’s fair to say there is a lot of gear at my disposal (most of it not mine!). It’s kind of like being a kid again – starting the writing process from scratch, not knowing your arse from your elbow, making mistakes, learning loads. I definitely owe a lot to those guys for the opportunity.
This seems to be an album designed not only for high-end soundsystems in clubs but also for intimate listening environments. Is it an album meant to be listened to from top to bottom in one sitting? If so, what sort of story do you see the album telling?
Yeah, it’s definitely made with the listener in mind and I think it probably makes more sense listened to as a whole, rather than picking tracks out one by one. However I don’t think I set out to make any ‘type’ of track – they all just seemed to come out in the studio or at home or wherever I was writing (especially the solo ones).
A few months into it, I felt a direction of where it was going as an LP. I realise it may be quite a deviation from what people maybe are used to hearing from me, so that in itself shows the effect that moving to the other side of the world has had on me, and why I chose the title.
If you think back to the early inklings of the album, what were your intentions going in? Were there any points during the process where the project took on a life of its own and surprised you or perhaps even veered off in an unanticipated direction?
I did have a few tracks done before I had confirmed the album with Dispatch, so there was an initial intention develop a deeper album based on what I had already. I was doing some other experimental stuff (not really meant for release on its own), just working out how to use some of some synths I bought, and recording it.
Also, I really wanted to make it an immersive listening experience. So I think after I got a few months into it, it did kind of take on a life of its own. Ant at Dispatch was happy for me to take it wherever I wanted, so it was cool having so much support from the label.
One of my absolute favorite pieces from the album is “What We Bring Upon Ourselves” which is entirely instrumental. Walk us through the creation/production of this one. Did it start out as a sketch and then develop from there? Did you wake up from a dream and “hear” it in your head? The title is heavy as well – unpack the meaning behind that for us and how you see it working with the tune.
Yeah, you know I did that track on a Sunday night relaxing in the lounge with my girlfriend. I had just got a new reverb pedal and was testing it out on some keys and made a few pads, and a composition came together. It’s a pretty simple piece really. Just wrote some chords and backed it up with some other verbed-out pad elements. It wasn’t any kind of thing that came to me or anything. Just fiddling around with some gear having some fun. The title refers to life being what we make for ourselves and that decisions, whether good or bad, take us on our own journey and make us who we are.
Even when you get into “dancefloor” mode you are really taking your time to let the tunes develop and expand and contract on their own. “Those Left Behind” clocks in at over seven minutes long and yet never feels as if it’s dragging on. Since this one was done in collaboration mode with Hydro – talk a bit about how this one came together as well as the collaborative process behind it.
I’d been wanting to write with Hydro for so long as I’m a big fan of his! I was keen on doing something along the lines of ‘Immaculate’ or thereabouts, and he has a next level sample collection. So we got together, he grabbed some samples while I started with some drums and the tune came together in a few sessions at the studio. For us it was a lot about making the tune breathe, not whether someone could fit it in their set or not.
I think those kind of rolling tunes do need to keep you interested though so that you don’t get bored with the loop, so there are a lot of changes in where the samples come in again, where we introduced the synth melody that comes in about half way through the tune, and the changes in the bass notes.
You’ve got a lot of other collaborators on here as well, DLR, Loxy, Gremlinz and Overlook – all of these artists seem to be at the forefront of a sound that differs from the kind of d&b that has dominated the genre over the course of the past few years. How do you describe the “style” or “vibe”? What language do you use to describe it to others?
I think all of these guys have been perfecting their craft for a lot longer than perhaps people realise – but they’ve been doing it out of the spotlight like you say. In the last few years guys like Loxy, Gremlinz & Overlook have been working at a fresh sound (in my opinion) which incorporate elements of techno and percussive lines which I love.
Some of that low end has come back too – not so focused on mid-range manipulation – and that‘s a great thing in my eyes as samples and layering captures your ears. DLR has been owning the funk game for me as well, but he can write deep stuff just as good as anyone else (see ‘Your Mind’).
I don’t have any particular name for it or language that I use – it’s just drum and bass to me, and it sounds closer to the vibe of dnb that got me into the music in the first place than what might be the most popular stuff out there now. So I think it could be a selfish kind of reconnection with the dnb that originally resonated with me.
Tempo explorations and atmospherics aside, you are known for bringing the fire to the dancefloor as a DJ – are you worried that those who only hear the album may be in for a surprise if they come hear you live? What sort of vibe do you usually bring to the decks that the album may not capture?
This album was a project I wanted to take on from an artist perspective, not with DJing in mind and so I hope it shows a little more about what I can do as a producer. Even though ‘Under Another Sky’ is probably as deep as I have ever gone musically, I still play pretty energetic, funk-driven sets. It always depends on the crowd and the set time as well. Obviously if I’m playing a Hardware night at 4am, then you won’t hear much from this album, but if I’m putting together a mix, or having a jam, I’ll always be a bit more explorative.
Speaking of which, I understand you’ve got a mix for us – what kind of journey should we be expecting below? Even more importantly, what other projects should we be looking out for before we let you go?
The mix I have put together features a bunch of tunes from the album, a couple of tunes that I’m really feeling that have come out recently, and I always add a few older things into the mix as well. There’s so much good music out there right now, I love it.
Projects coming up for me include more collaborations with Gremlinz and Overlook which are already underway. I have done a couple of VIPs of my own stuff on Dispatch and really I’m just getting back into it after a bit of a break. Not quite sure where things are going to go right now musically, but I’m enjoying the ride.
Cern – What We Bring Upon Ourselves – Dispatch
Tokyo Prose ft. Christoph el Truento – 16 Bar Cycles – Samurai Music
Ena – Chemically – Horo
Cern – Serpent Drift – Dispatch
Kimyan Law – Eclairage – BMT Music
Commix – Underwater Scene – Soul:r
Ulterior Motive – You Must See – Metalheadz
Source Direct – A Made Up Sound – Metalheadz
Cern ft. Overlook – Peaks – Dispatch
Blu Mar Ten – In Your Eyes (Ulterior Motive Remix) – BMT Music
Blocks & Escher – Broken – Narratives
Nucleus & Paradox – Prism – Samurai Music
Gremlinz & No Rules – Water – Cylon Recordings
Ulterior Motive – Chapters ft. Meyhem Lauren & Brotherman – Metalheadz
Digital – Gateman – Phantom Audio
SPKTRM – Relevance – Project 51
Cern – False Awakening – Dispatch
Cern – Hopetoun Bridge – Project 51
Cern – Blumei – Dispatch
Cern – Don’t Leave Me – 31 Records
Cern – Under Another Sky – Dispatch