Having made his name as one-quarter of drum & bass supergroup Bad Company, dBridge has wrong-footed a few people since, confounding convention with his trailblazing Exit Records label, a string of solo releases and some notable collaborations. With an eclectic new compilation album, Mosaic, set to hit the streets on Exit, D invited Knowledge over to his north London studio to chew over snubbing superstardom, breaking boundaries and his harsh secret system for track selection…
So, Mosaic’s ready to go. How did you choose all the various tracks and artists, and do you think your reputation for taking risks is behind the diverse content? Skream’s contribution, for example, is a drum & bass track.
A fair few of the tracks I’d had for a while, and have appeared on the podcast (Autonomic). The podcast attracted people into making that style – Skream was, and still is, a huge fan of it. It’s the same with Scuba, Distance… they were interested in what we were doing and what could be done. As tunes were coming in, I was signing them, and planning to release them as singles, but I was waiting for B-sides, and I’m really ridiculously fussy. I have this thing of comparing people’s stuff to their best-ever tune. Each artist has this benchmark that I’ve set for them that they don’t know about!
When we’re doing the podcast, we talked about a compilation, and we kind of did that with the Fabric CD, but with Autonomic, there are three people who have to agree. I already had these tracks together and I couldn’t get them out quick enough – it probably would have taken a year to do them individually. Hopefully, it’s one of those CDs that you can play out in the club, and equally sit down and listen to it in your house.
The wording of the press release to go with the album talks passionately about the need to represent “the more experimental side of drum & bass as opposed to the crash bang wallop which seems to be the only side… portrayed by the mainstream media today.” Do you feel that you’re still trying to leave Bad Company behind seven or eight years after you called it quits?
In some senses, yeah. It’s a part of my life, but there’s more to it than that. Drum & bass seems to have been chiselled down to just that, but there’s a whole other side to it, a subtlety and a musicality to it. I like the dancefloor side of things. But I’ve sort of got over the whole BC thing.
I’ve made no bones about the fact that I hated BC at the end, and I wanted out. The split was inevitable. The producer side of me, which I wanted to be, wasn’t coming through within the confines of BC. We got offered a couple of deals as Digital Nation, but it wasn’t right. We knew each of us wouldn’t be able to commit in a way that would make it work. Pendulum did what we wanted to as Digital Nation. So we sort of knocked on the door, but they just ran with it.
So forming Exit was your way of defining your own space?
I did it for selfish reasons. I wanted it to be my way, my art direction, my music – all the things I couldn’t do with BC. I liked the idea of the whole camp thing, but still being an individual within the camp. Full Cycle had it – the label, the whole crew but you could see the individuals as well – but for some reason it just didn’t work for us.
It was a hard time. Especially with the music that I was personally making at the time, I didn’t know where I stood in the scene, or if what I was doing was still relevant. Luckily people liked what I was doing, namely Zinc, who was the one with the Monochrome EP who gave me the confidence I needed. It was quite sporadic until 2003, with just a couple of releases a year, in some ways following the BC blueprint to cement yourself by getting releases on the key labels – Creative Source, Metalheadz…
You now sing on some of your tunes. Do you maybe wonder why it’s something you didn’t do earlier?
Yeah, sometimes. I started with the Digital Nation stuff – me and Dan (Fresh) were singing on some of it, just to do the melody lines, though we were always looking for a singer. Because it’s in the family, with my brother, I look up to him, so I always kind of compare myself, maybe unnecessarily. Talking with Calibre, he indirectly gave me the confidence to try it. For me, the thing with Martyn (‘These Words’) was the real test, because that was in such a high register as well. I wondered what people were going to think. That was about the time that I thought I can’t go on Dogs On Acid now, because I’m sure I’m going to get flamed!
But it got received really well. I still have confidence issues around it, and I’ve got people asking me to do stuff. One day I’d like to be able to do it on stage in front of people, but when I’m singing in the studio and a bum note comes out, it makes me cringe. The thought of that happening on stage freaks me out. I just have to practice more and learn vocal exercises.
It’s got to the point now where I’m writing my new album and I want there to be vocals on most of it. I’m really enjoying the whole songwriting side of it.
Your first solo album The Gemini Principle was very well received. You have the follow-up coming out later this year. A hard act to follow?
Fuck yeah! It’s another one of these musical clichés of the difficult second album. There’s that fear of how it’s going to be received, but I’ve got to get through it and something I’m excited about doing. Thinking about it too much is something I’ve got to be wary of, because The Gemini Principle was 2007, so I’m reaching that four, five-year mark. I’m not going for the whole D’Angelo ten years between albums!
But I have scrapped it a few times, just because I didn’t have this [gestures to new studio], and I didn’t feel as if I could do it justice. I didn’t want it to be an album of me making do. I feel I’ve been making drum & bass for long enough now that I can do what I want. I’m at that stage where I’ve signed other people to the label, so it’s given me that time to write the album I want.
I’ve committed to the fact that I’m going to get it finished and out this year. I’ve got a real love for hip hop and soul, as well as d&b, so I don’t know if it’s going to be a straight d&b album. I’ve sort of pre-empted people to the fact it might be a little different with the Autonomic stuff, and the way people are now is more open. But it has to gel as a whole.