Issue 100: Blame

You can’t keep a good man down and that’s very much the case with Blame who is on top of his game right now with tracks like ‘Stay Forever’. He’s also found time to put together the cover CD for the hundredth issue of Kmag.

Quite simply, Conrad Shafie, the man they call Blame, is a bit of a dude. He may not always have had the most media hype or been the hottest new thing, but if you care more about quality and consistency his name is up there with the best. It’s all about playing a long game and it’s here where Blame really shines though and, if his current string of releases is anything to go by, he’s only just hitting top form.

Blame first made his mark on the emerging drum & bass scene in1991 with the seminal ‘Music Takes You’ on Moving Shadow. He then worked with Good Looking before concentrating on his own 720 Degrees label. The last few years have also seen him release music through Metalheadz, Hospital Records and his new imprint Blame Music to much critical acclaim, while a string of tracks on Mampi Swift’s Charge Recordings have taken the scene by storm. In fact, his current offering on Charge, ‘Stay Forever’, is Blame at his best.

With a pedigree like this including dozens of singles and remixes to his name along with a clutch of artist and mix albums, there’s no finer choice than Blame to put together the cover CD for Kmag’s hundredth issue. He’s pretty useful behind the decks too, of course, as his 27-track mix is ample testament to, and it features a selection of his own material alongside some of the freshest drum & bass around.

Part of Blame’s success has been his ability to constantly reinvent and reinvigorate his sound, while still retaining his own unique flavour and drawing on the best traditions of drum & bass. Music for the head and the feet, in other words, and that’s something that Blame knows all about. Fittingly, he closes the mix with ‘Music Takes You’.

Let’s get back to here and now, however, and ‘Stay Forever’ is currently taking the clubs by storm. Kmag spent some time with Conrad recently and we started by talking about what he’s up to on the production front. “Things are really busy at the moment,” he explains. “I’m working on a follow-up to ‘Stay Forever’ for Charge and some more new material for Blame Music – a new album is also on the cards. I’m spending a lot of time in the studio right now.”

‘Stay Forever’ is blowing up and it’s not hard to see why as Conrad keeps it simple and leaves the essential ingredients to do the work. Dynamic, driving beats, rich strings that warm the soul and a perfectly placed vocal create a slice of dancefloor magic that’s up there with the best (check out ‘Strikeforce’ on the flipside to hear Blame showing off his rougher, tougher side.)

So what’s the secret of its success? Conrad is typically modest in his reply. “I don’t think you can really pinpoint why a certain track blows up more than another; I just feel this was the right time for ‘Stay Forever’. There have been a lot of big dancefloor tunes over the last couple of years, so maybe it was the right time for people to pick up on a more uplifting musical sound. I find it really hard to describe my own music – I’d rather just make it! – but I guess I would say it’s an uplifting, orchestral track that works on the dancefloor.”

That pretty much sums it up and it certainly seems to have struck a chord. It’s clear also that after over fifteen years of making music Conrad knows there’s no quick fix or easy formula; you just have to do what feels right and hope other people feel the same way. ‘Stay Forever’ is also getting support from outside of drum & bass with Trevor Nelson, Zane Lowe and Annie Mac all showing the love on Radio 1. “I gave up trying to predict which DJs are going to support something,” muses Conrad, “so I just followed the vibe I was on in the studio and played it to Swift. He loved it straight away and signed it to Charge, but it still was a big surprise how much ‘Stay Forever’ has picked up momentum outside of drum & bass. Fabio helped out a lot with the support on Radio 1 and it really blew up from there.”

With Conrad working hard in the studio, which other tracks are due out now or are in the pipeline, and which labels is he currently working with? “The first release on my new label Blame Music, ‘Hiro’ / ‘Apocalypto’, is out now. ‘Keep The Sunshine’ featuring Diane Charlemagne on vocals is also going to be floating around on 720 Degrees very soon, while there are more projects lined up for Charge, and hopefully, at some point, I will nail an elusive 12-inch for Hospital! Blame Music is an outlet for me to try more film score-oriented or edgier ideas, while 720 Degrees will keep pushing the deeper musical sound it’s known for.”

Which other producers and labels do you really rate at the moment? “Label-wise, I always know when I get a Hospital or Ram record through the door it’s going to be wicked. Shogun Audio and Technique are really consistent with quality releases too. I’ve also really been feeling Darkestral on more of a diverse and deeper tip. There are loads of new producers coming through as well and it’s hard to keep up. There’s some really good music across the spectrum of drum & bass but a few names to watch out for would be Instramental, Sigma, L.A.O.S., Amaning and Third Rail.”

How have the current changes facing the music industry in terms of digital releases and downloading affected you and what are your thoughts for the future? “I think it has hit everyone in the scene but you can’t fight technology. I’m still a big vinyl fan but your tracks have to be available as MP3s for fans of the music who don’t play vinyl anymore.”

As well as a hectic studio schedule, Conrad is increasingly in demand as a DJ, so what are the best parties he’s played at recently? “I’ve played at some wicked nights lately. Some of the highlights have been the Hospitality nights in London which are always massive and the Phreaktion party in Shanghai which was amazing, I can’t wait to get back out there.”

With quite a few years under his belt now, what keeps his passion for the music strong and fresh ideas coming, especially as current productions are widely regarded as among the finest work he’s done? “I definitely feel my latest tracks are among the best I’ve done. The great thing is they came out exactly how I heard the ideas in my head, and that fires you up to keep pushing and developing even further.

“The passion will always be there for me as I’m one of the lucky people who can say I was here before we knew this as drum & bass; it was just a bunch of likeminded people mixing breakbeats with basslines and house and techno sounds in the early 90s. So when this music is in your blood you can’t stop making beats!”

As we said earlier, Blame is a bit of a dude and that makes him a great ambassador for drum & bass. Not that he would ever claim such a role for himself, of course, but if keeping the faith and doing what you do are what it’s all about, he’s up there with the best of them. When asked if he could hazard a guess at what he thought he’d be doing in five years time, he gave the simple reply, “No idea! That’s the beauty of drum & bass.”

Enough said.

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01. Danny Byrd feat. Brookes Brothers – Gold Rush (Hospital)
“Danny has nailed this one, awesome musical vibes combined with beats and bass to keep any dancefloor happy. For me, this is the classic Hospital sound.”

02. Blame – Stay Forever (Charge)
“This is a special one for me right now. Everything came together exactly as I wanted on this track and I feel I’ve come full circle with my music.”

03. Logistics – Wide Lens (Hospital)
“I’m a big fan of Logistics and this doesn’t disappoint. It’s a gritty dancefloor monster that still manages to keep that funk flavour.”

04. Blame – Hindsight (Hospital)
“I went back to my early influences here. I had a lot of fun in the studio with no pressure and really enjoyed just rollin’ out on this one.”

05. Artificial Intelligence – Desperado (V)
“‘Desperado’ is a real moment in time in drum & bass. Classic… say no more.”

06. Chase & Status – Brazil (Ram)
“Chase & Status just keep delivering big tunes. ‘Brazil’ is a slightly different flavour than they usually serve up, but the steppin’ break and heavyweight bass still hit the mark.”

07. High Contrast – If We Ever (Hospital)
“For me, this track sums up the vintage sound of drum & bass all the way from Voodoo Magic to the Blue Note to Speed. It’s not easily done, but High Contrast has captured it 100 per cent.”

08. Culture Shock & Brookes Brothers – Smoothie (Ram)
“This is a real bass roller, reminiscent of the classic Ed & Optical sound of the mid to late 90s… I love it!”

09. Brookes Brothers – Mistakes (Breakbeat Kaos)
“I can’t stop playing this track. Musically it’s amazing, the bassline is killer and the vibe is spot on.”

10. Break – Let It Happen (Shogun Audio)
“‘Let It Happen’ is a fantastic mixing tune, deep subs and sharp breaks with a dub feel running through it.”

11. Drumsound & Bassline Smith – Stay Loose (Teardrop) (Technique)
“I’m a big fan of these jazzy rollers. Drumsound & Bassline Smith really show their skills and versatility here and can switch from dancefloor slammers to jazzy vibes with ease. Killer.”

12. Blame – Solar Burn (Charge)
“This is my take on the Jazz bass sound. I combined a 70s double bass with classic rave chords and somehow it seemed to work.”

13. KG – Textures & Sound (Frequency)
“I really like this one from new artist KG. It’s got a hint of Artificial Intelligence synths mixed with a touch of Sub Focus style drums which can’t be a bad thing. I’m looking forward to hearing more from KG.”

14. Phetsta – Dutty Funk (Technique)
“‘Dutty Funk’ is the perfect title for this one…. it does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a wicked tune that hasn’t ever left my box.”

15. Blame – Hiro (Blame Music)
“I went deep with this one and took on some Far Eastern influences; I even played the riffs in a Japanese scale which proved to be a real nightmare when I wanted to get the bassline in key!”

16. Blame – Batcave (Charge)
“I wanted to make a track that sounded like a fight scene from one of those old skool Batman episodes… pow!”

17. Blame – Apocalypto (Blame Music)
“This is a deep, tribal groove with some Amazonian rainforest vibes flung in for good measure.”

18. Blame – Hold the Sunshine (720 Degrees)
“I really wanted to try some new sounds out on this one and got very musical. I took myself out of my drum & bass comfort zone.”

19. Matrix + Futurebound – Womb (Metro/Viper)
“I love this one, a really soulful bassline fused with cutting edge synths and heavyweight drums. A great piece of music.”

20. Blame & The Pedge – Avalon (Hospital)
“‘Avalon’ was my first track with Pedge on the mighty Hospital Records, so it was a real milestone for me.”

21. Blame – Skyline VIP (720 Degrees)
“I dusted off the old synths for this one! The Roland Junos were worked to their limit as I tried to put a track together that fell somewhere in between Detroit techno and drum & bass.”

22. Sub Focus – Druggy (Ram)
“This is my favourite Sub Focus track so far. The kettle drums are so distinctive and the breakdown is hypnotic.”

23. Lynx – Disco Dodo (Creative Source)
“The real standout track of last year… say no more.”

24. Blame – Reign of Fire (720 Degrees)
“Orchestral strings, dark choirs, timpani drums, lashing Amens… I could make tunes like this all day long!”

25. Blame & The Pedge – Magnitude (720 Degrees)
“We went back to the late ‘80s / early ‘90s with the acid lines and bleeps from those early rave days.”

26. Blame – Enduro (720 Degrees)
“This was a big favourite with Fabio and Grooverider. I built on the ‘Skyline’ sound and added some brass sections to step up the intensity.”

27. Blame – Music Takes You (Moving Shadow)
“If I was going to play one track to summarise my music career it would have to be this one. It was my first solo track back in 1991 and this is when things really started to happen for me. As soon as I hear this it takes me back to the old rave days which were a really unique moment in time and laid the musical foundations for all the drum & bass we know today.”