DBR UK Interview

The three-headed beast known as DBR UK pops in for a wide-ranging chat that takes in the entire scope of their journey into drum & bass from their early hardcore/jungle rave days on through to their latest deep and deadly EP for Dispatch. With another EP already slated for release on Dispatch Recordings, collabs with Genotype, and rumours of a full-on album brewing, Luton’s finest promise that the best is still to come.

First off, introduce yourselves to our readers, where you’re hailing from in the world, and what your beverage of choice is so we know what to bring you when you’re out on the town.

Craig: I’m based and from Luton, my drink of choice would have to be brandy with a dash of Coke.

Carl: I’m also based in Luton and my drink would be a bottle of white rum & Coke.

Dan: I’m originally from Hitchin but now reside in North London. My current tipple on a night out would be a Jack Daniels and Coke or if it’s summer time a flavoured cider on ice…

How and when did DBR come together?

We formed in 2001, around the same time we were all playing on a local pirate radio station called Raw FM. Our friend Chris (Motion/Dungeon Beats) was putting on local nights and wanted Craig and Carl involved with helping him run the nights. A short time later Craig, Carl and Chris decided to come together as a collective called Drum & Bass Republic, which was actually more like the ‘DBR Crew’ as we had DJs Conflict, Motion, DJ Live [R.I.P] and usually rolled with MC’s Phantom, Lydon and Reflex. After about 3 or 4 years Chris decided to leave the collective and pursue his own career in drum & bass.

Dan (formerly known as XS) was part of another local collective called Lockdown and Code of Silence fronted by Phil a.k.a MC Fokus and a host of DJs from London to Manchester. They ran a number of nights and local parties in the area with regular slots on the local Pirate Radio stations (Raw FM, Perception FM and Impact FM).

It was around 2005 that there were some distinct changes and developments with DBR. Due to the regular radio shows and gigs that we were all doing together in the local areas scene it made sense to collaborate and form what is now the internationally recognised name of DBR UK…. The rest, as they say, is history.

Like any good superhero crew, I’m guessing each of you has a special ability or strength. Fill us in as to who brings what to the table that maybe you guys wouldn’t have in solo mode.

Forming this trio has given more variety and influences to the sets and the tracks that are created. We have always generally had the same interests in styles and variations of the drum & bass sound. From the dark hard Amen classics like “Fade to Black” by Souljah (aka Lemon D) to the soulful grooves of Future Cuts ‘Midnight’ right down to bouncy Bristol rollers like DJ Die’s “Play it for Me” and cunning dancefloor shakers like Concord Dawn’s “Say Your Words”.

With these influences in the crates, we have developed and formed our own take on the deeper, darker, rolling, minimalistic at times, side of drum & bass. But with such a varied number of influences, it enables us to ever evolve and develop our sound whilst staying true to the core.

The main thing that we bring to the table is the ideas; when we have a studio session it’s nice because we all have different thoughts and ideas. Craig will start a lot of the tracks as he has the most experience as a producer while Carl bring their own fresh ideas that are often influenced by their experience as DJs.

While DBR has been around a little over a decade now, your roots run much deeper. Take us back to the hardcore/jungle days of the 1990s. I don’t think new-school heads understand what it meant to be listening to Kool FM and snagging tape packs as your only way of keeping up with tunes.

Having a local record shop was key back in the day as it was a meeting place for local DJs. You would not only find out what raves were happening but getting that phone call on Thursday to say your promos were here was something to look forward to each week! Our local record shop was Soul Sense Records and my mates and I would go there to pick up the latest flyers and to see what new records/tape packs they had in store. We were very serious about our music even down to the point of taking our Walkman’s in and showing Gary, Dave and Jonny (Soul Sense crew) the tracks we wanted on vinyl as we did not know the name of the tune!

Being from Luton we were lucky enough to have [parties like] Jungle Jam and Exodus on our doorstep. Jungle Jam was run by a guy called Pikki who also ran the jungle stage at the Luton Carnival in the 90s. He would bring down top DJs & MCs such as Shy Fx, Brockie, Kenny Ken, Andy C, Stevie Hyper D, Det, Skibadee and many more.

Exodus was a collective which put on outdoor and warehouse parties in and around Luton that would attract thousands of people to their raves each time. The way it worked was hundreds of cars would meet up at midnight on a Saturday night at the Woodside industrial estate and wait for the Exodus Jeep with its flashing red light to arrive so everyone could follow it to the rave site. Just seeing how many cars were in the convoy was pretty crazy. As Exodus gave me my first DJ set to a packed crowd, I will never forget the hundreds of people just standing there looking at me as I stepped up to the decks.

It wasn’t long until we started to hit London going to jungle raves like Telepathy @ Club UN, Roast, Voodoo Magic, World Dance, AWOL, Jungle Fever, STUSH , One Nation the list goes on and these raves were the best days of raving…

Living only 30 miles up the road from London we had easy access to Kool FM as me (Craig) and Carl’s older brother (MC Phantom) could pick up Kool FM on our old tuner’s. You only had one chance to either listen live or record it to tape so many times I would grab one of my sister’s tapes and record over it. Having fresh Kool FM tapes was key as other than tape packs or actually going to a rave this was the only way you could hear the latest tunes, there was no internet back then.

DJs we would listen to back then were Carl Cox, Top Buzz, Ratty, Grooverider, Mampi Swift, Kenny Ken, Brockie, DJ Ron & SL – the list goes on!

Since then drum & bass has definitely evolved in a myriad of ways yet through it all you guys have stayed fairly consistent in your representation of deep, minimal, dark and moody beats. Talk a bit about your philosophy and taste in d&b and how that may be at odds with the larger currents of popular d&b at times.

Our philosophy is pretty simple; it has to have a groove. Whether that comes from a deep bassline, soulful melody or a skippy drum pattern, it needs to make us want to dance. Drum & bass has so many varied genres and subgenres that it seems foolish to not have an open mind to all of it.

We play across the board so you will find a bit of everything in our sets from rollers to stripped back minimal stuff and delve into the crates for those dusty classics that can gain a new lease of life. It’s always nice to play an experimental set but it has to be to the right crowd. So long as the set up in the club is good the DBR sound will be fully appreciated.

Talk a bit about your relationship with the Dispatch crew – it’s been a minute since you appeared on the imprint but now you’re back with a bang. Talk about linking up with them and at what point discussions for this new EP came to be.

Craig met Ant about 3 or 4 years ago up in Leeds when he went up there with Ash (Skeptical) and his fiancé for his gig at Momentum and we have been in contact ever since. For this current EP we had been doing quite a bit of work with our mate Anthony (Structured) towards the end of last year and we had been working on some vocal tracks with a vocalist called Amanda Seal. At the time we were just writing for the sake of it, but knew we had a few nice tunes. We all agreed that the music needed a good home, so we started firing some bits to Ant.

Ant had heard Jay (DLR) play a track in Germany and emailed me in the early hours saying he wanted it. Ant then asked us to get a side B, so we passed him a few more bits we had been working on which he was into and that’s when he said let’s make it an EP instead. It’s funny because the tracks that originally caught Ant’s attention were 5 totally different tracks for another EP we have done for Dispatch which will be due out later this year.

The lead tune, “Say What You Want” features the vocals of Amanda Seal. Talk a bit about how this tune came together and how your vocal bits in general evolve from maybe a sketch or idea and at what point do you guys decide or realize that a vocalist is what is needed for any specific tune?

We came together last year when a friend introduced us to Amanda; we had a meeting and played a few tracks to her to see if she could work them and she instantly vibed off them so it all started from there really. We would work at Structured’s studio with her and also send her instrumentals and just say to Amanda do your own thing and see what you come up with. Amanda always had the freedom to write her own lyrics so there was no need for us to actually write them. We had worked with a few vocalists in the past but never in a studio live, so it was all new to us really, everything just seemed to flow and we created some great vibes.

The EP as a whole seems to be fairly diverse in the spectrum of your sound, from the smoother end of things on through to the late-night warehouse zombie crew bits – was that intentional or is that basically how you cycle through your writing process?

That’s just how we like to write, we go through phases where we will write 3 or 4 rollers then 3 or 4 minimal kind of bits as it keeps things fresh, it definitely helps what kind of mood we are in to though.

How does the studio end of things work for you three?

Craig and Carl live on the same street while Dan now lives in north London. All three of us meet up at least once or twice a month as we all have other commitments with our young families and work, so it’s set days and times, but in between we will be working on stuff getting bits ready for the next session.

What about the DJing end of things? How do you guys decide who goes where and on what gigs?

Gig-wise we have a system in place so if we are playing as DBR and not b2b with someone else Carl and Dan will play b2b as Craig doesn’t DJ, he only produces, but sometimes one could be in Bristol from 1-2am while the other is on at a party in Leeds at the same time. When we travel out to Europe we all like to travel so we have some good laughs, sometimes though sadly only one of us can travel so Dan and Carl will rotate.

From what I understand, you’ve already got another EP lined up for Dispatch – with so many tunes on tap, when can we expect a full-on LP? Anything else we should be looking out for in the near future?

Yes we have five tracks lined up for that EP which is due out later this year, that’s with our close friend Anthony (Structured) who we have been working very closely with for a while now, and also featured on that EP with three tracks  is Amanda Seal, She has such a powerful voice and brings a whole new dimension to our music.

We are currently working on our album for Dispatch which should be out next year, it will feature a combination of sounds which we represent and make within the scene along with some guest collabs, hopefully it will also include a couple of other bits of music we work on outside of drum & bass, so we will wait and see.

Looking ahead we have the 2nd EP to look forward to on Dispatch, and something we did with our good friend Justin (Genotype) called ‘Zombies’ on Ingredients Records (Big up Clive). Also on our own label Broken Audio, we have something again with Genotype called ‘Fog Off’ and something on our own called ‘Sanctioned.’ We’ve spoken about doing an EP for Broken with Tony, who is now our partner and running the day to day label. So we will have to wait and see over the next few months.

Gig wise we are playing at Cafe 1001 in London on 12 September, Kmag presents (Denial & Myeloma UK) – it’s a charity event and also FREE Entry with DJs Grooverider, Jumping Jack Frost, Denial, Genotype, Andy Scopes, Chris Innerspective + MCs IC3, Funsta & Shylo. October we’re out in Amsterdam from 19th – 21st for a few gigs, also a Dispatch night which also is in October  I think…