Coming off a massive run with releases on heavyweight imprints like Metalheadz, Commercial Suicide, CIA, and most recently, Dispatch Recordings, Kmag touches down with Quadrant for an in-depth look at his influences, work ethic, and his escape plan in case the “dnb thing” doesn’t work out (hint, it involves the formation of a Smashing Pumpkins cover band). As if that wasn’t enough there’s a nice little mini-mix to round things off for all the internet masses in need of another Quadrant fix so look out!
First off, introduce yourself to Kmag readers, where you’re hailing from in the world, and how you “introduce” the music you make to those who don’t know – especially those outside of the dnb world!
Hey there, my name is Leigh aka Quadrant and I’m from Seattle, a small logging town in the top left corner of the USA. The drum & bass I make runs the gamut, from melodic halftime to neuro rollers, though I’m probably best known for the latter. As for explaining what I make to people outside of dnb well, I’ve been trying to do that for ages, and usually just settle on: “It’s fast music with huge amounts of sub bass; you probably wouldn’t like it.”
Take us back to your roots – what kind of music do you remember hearing growing up?
I started piano lessons when I was six and continued to do so up until my late teens. Before I was 10, I didn’t listen to anything other than classical music, but there was exciting stuff happening in the early ‘90s so I started picking up guitar around then as well. My dad plays a bit of piano and my great grandfather was an amazing (self-taught!) pianist as well, but it wasn’t a super musical household apart from a huge amount of encouragement from my parents, including driving me to and from lessons for years.
Coming up in Seattle I imagine you made contact with the grunge scene at some point – are there pictures of you floating around in a dirty flannel with long hair somewhere?
Haha, I was eleven years old when [Nirvana’s] Nevermind came out, so even though I was a gigantic fan I wasn’t exactly a fixture in the Seattle grunge scene! With that said, my parents did take me to see them for my first concert in 1994 which also happened to be Nirvana’s last performance in the States.
During my teenage years I was into the usual Seattle suspects like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, before expanding into the less well known stuff like Sunny Day Real Estate, Skiploader, and space rock bands like Hum and Failure. The biggest influence around that time, though, was Smashing Pumpkins. I fucking LOVED that band, knew all their songs by heart, had all the rarities, etc. They fell off after 2000 or so but man, they were so good back then. If this whole dnb thing doesn’t work out, I’m gonna start a Smashing Pumpkins cover band with Homemade Weapons and Red Army.
At what point does electronic music enter the picture. What was it about dnb that caught your ear?
I got into electronic music comparatively late- I think it was early 1998 or so, and someone convinced me to come with them to a Crystal Method show. I was skeptical, but the venue was great and they had this row of gigantic subs directly underneath where we were standing. The Crystal Method was alright, but their opener, a relatively unknown guy who called himself BT, really blew me away. I went out and bought his album the next day and that was the beginning of a long spiral into electronic music.
Apart from hearing some Photek on that old PSX game “Wipeout,” my only early exposure to dnb was hearing it at the side room in raves. Eventually a good friend here in Seattle turned me on to more of it, and I went to Tower Records (remember that place?) and bought this 2-CD Grooverider mix and just listened to it over and over. Here was this music that I didn’t understand at all; I knew I loved it but I didn’t understand it musically, I didn’t understand how the hell they got the drums to sound like that, how they got the bass to move like that, none of it. Basically, it broke my brain, and I’ve spent the last fifteen years trying to figure it out.
Any seminal tune that you cite as being the reason for drawing you in?
A little while ago, Klute asked me when I got into dnb, and I told him it was 1999-2000. “Ah, Wormhole baby,” he replied. Nailed it. I know it’s a bit of a cliché to name check the Virus/Metro sound from that time, but it’s still such a huge influence and even after all this time the ideas are still fresh. The two that stand out for me are “Fixation” off Wormhole, and “Light Sleeper” by Matrix, Fierce, and Ryme Tyme, which came out on C4C recordings. That one is damn near perfect. I still try to capture the way those basslines moved, and how those beats always hung a little back in the pocket.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Iris as she seems to have played a huge role in your early and ongoing releases. Was there any point where you considered being a straight-up duo or even folding her into the Quadrant moniker?
Karen, aka Iris, is my lovely wife. We’ve been together since 2007 and got married in 2010, but we didn’t work on our first tune together until 2011. As soon as it was done we sent it off to Goldie, and he really liked it, so we thought “Hmm, maybe we should make more music together!”
She’s a fantastic DJ in her own right, has great musical sensibilities, and has been listening to electronic music for even longer than me. The tunes we work on together definitely have a certain spark that’s not there when I’m working on my own. As for coming up with a duo name, or folding her into the Quadrant moniker, we had considered that, but decided to let each of our contributions in the studio to shine on their own. It’s a philosophy that’s worked well so far, but it can make it more difficult to design record labels and event fliers.
Does being from the States and Seattle in particular have any influence on your sound or development as an artist? I still have fond memories of that grimey basement at Onset and hanging with Seth Grym, Jake Flat Black, Demo, and Chris Cease – even then Seattle had a surprisingly strong crew of heads pushing dnb in a number of directions.
Well the rain does give us reason to sit inside all the time and twist out our basslines, which is something I’m sure the UK readers can relate to! As you mentioned, Seattle was and is a fantastic city for DnB. Grym moved to Denver a couple years ago, but Cease is still helping run Onset, which is a monthly now, and Demo is still helping run DnB Tuesdays at Baltic Room, which is the longest consecutively running DnB night in the USA. Another crew, Soma, does a monthly party, and there’s a bass music weekly called Substance that brings out bigger DnB acts (both Iris and I are residents). The scene here is tiny compared to London, but everyone involved is super friendly and works really hard to support, whether it’s throwing shows, helping promote, writing music, or just coming out and being enthusiastic for the DJs.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my great fellow Seattle producers- of course we already mentioned Cease and Demo, Homemade Weapons is doing some of the most creative stuff I’ve heard in ages, D-Struct (formerly of Robot Death Squad and Identity) also lives here, and Dubtek still puts us all to shame every now and then when he feels like knocking out a dnb tune.
Even though you’ve released on Metalheadz, Commercial Suicide, CIA, etc., in many ways this EP for Dispatch feels like your “biggest” or most popular release to date – what do you think it is about this project that has stirred up the interest of the masses?
I think it’s a combination of my own music reaching a certain level of quality and the release being on Dispatch, which has been one of the most consistently curated and promoted labels in recent memory. I can’t pretend that the same five tunes would’ve had nearly as warm of a reception on a different label, and that’s a testament to how hard Ant, Alex, and the rest of the crew over there have been working. Turns out, if you only sign great music, and then hammer away at promotions while keeping up the quality of the product, then do that for thirteen years, it’s pretty easy to come out on top.
Walk us through the creation of Microsleep EP. When you started the project, was it as an EP with a specific label in mind or did each tune just sort of come together organically and separately on their own?
The whole thing built kind of organically, so each track wasn’t originally done with an eye towards the bigger picture. That being said, they fit together really well stylistically, so it’s more a testament to our collective mindset during that time than anything planned, and I think all of them were started and completed within the same three month span.
This one started off as an ode to 1999-era Matrix, and we spent a lot of time making sure the groove hung together just so. I love it when a groove sounds effortless, and it turns out that it takes a lot of effort to create that illusion. I brought the skeleton of the idea to Kid Hops and Iris during our weekly studio session, and we just hammered away on it, adding edits, variations, and atmospheres until it was done. The name had been kicking around in my brain for awhile, referring to the concept of falling asleep briefly, without even realizing it.
DLR came to Seattle last year, and while he was here, he mentioned that he’d love to remix “Convergence,” which was a tune I did with Kid Hops and Iris that came out on Dispatch around the end of 2013. Of course we were all thrilled that he liked it enough to want to remix it, so we enthusiastically sent over the stems. We got more than we bargained for, since Ant TC1 also jumped in on the remix, and they knocked it out of the park. It captures the vibe of the original while providing a fresh take, and the whole thing just oozes quality. Pretty much everything you want in a remix, right?
This was the product of a one-day session with my good friend Cease. We’ve done several tunes over the years, and they always get started quickly and turn out great with seemingly no effort. Things really got rolling when we put in that creepy siren/pad sound, and the rest practically wrote itself.
Iris and I had been wanting to make a track with samples from Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan for awhile. We spent half a day picking out the choicest bits from the movie, then cooked up another throwback roller with Wormhole growls. I’m really happy with how the energy builds on this one, it works great in a club setting.
RoyGreen and Protone are great producers (and really nice guys!). They sent over a couple of projects to start a collab, and true to form, I promptly failed to work on them for around a year. I eventually did my part, and the track came together nicely in my opinion, but I’m forever in their debt for giving me such good material to start with and for being so patient while I got around to finishing it!
You have a lot of collaborators on this EP. While each collaborator seems to bring a distinct flavor to each tune they appear on, there is still a distinct and unique “Quadrant sound” that underlies it all – what do you think that “sound” is, for lack of a better term?
I really love vibing with other people in the studio as it keeps me out of the “engineering” rat-hole and forces me to take on other perspectives and influences. To be honest, it’s more fun working with other people and having regular weekly studio sessions with Iris and Kid Hops ends up meaning that a tune will be a collab more often than not.
As for the “Quadrant sound” I’ll give you an analogy. Have you ever heard a recording of your own voice and thought “wow, do I actually sound like that?” Of course you sound like that, but you’re used to hearing your voice from inside your own head. I feel the same way about my own music, and I’m willing to bet a lot of other musicians do too. When I listen to one of my tunes, all I can hear are the influences, the individual components, the techniques that went into it.
I set out to make music that’s serious without seeming self-important, musical without being cheesy, and technical without being ostentatious. What comes out the other end is just that set of principles, filtered through my brain, influenced by my close friends, and seasoned over countless hours sweating details in the studio.
Basically that’s a long-winded way of saying that I don’t think having a signature sound is something most people set out consciously to achieve, it just grows out of your tastes and habits over time.
Either way, your sound is definitely diverse and versatile – it’s part liquid, part neuro, leans a bit to the left-field minimalist side of things but still packs a massive wallop for the dancefloor. Are you finding that genres are blurring and that you being asked to host the Hospital USA podcast is less an anomaly and more the norm or are you, in fact, the glitch in the matrix?
I think Hospital was and is a much more diverse label than a lot of people give it credit for, but I also feel like drum and bass is becoming less segmented than is has been for a long time. There’s great music at all ends of the spectrum, and I personally enjoy labels and DJ sets that have a certain amount of “dynamic range” if you will. I think of the artists that I’ve rated over the past decade, people like Break, Klute, DLR, S.P.Y, and they’ve all run the stylistic gamut this entire time. We’ve all pigeonholed ourselves enough by picking a BPM range, there’s no need to worsen the problem by sticking to one style.
I love this post from your Facebook page a few months back:
“Once a tune is finished, it’s easy to forget how much work went into it, and how much you agonized over every last detail. A day and a half of work perfecting that signal chain on a bassline just disappears like it never happened. Just wanted to let people know that this shit is hard, no matter how long you’ve been doing it. Keep at it. Making music is a great way to spend your time, and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.”
What do you have to say to those who think that your success happened overnight and how does that work ethic translate into your day-to-day life?
With very few exceptions, there’s no such thing as an overnight success story. I tell people that becoming a really good producer is actually pretty easy all you have to do is sit in your studio for hours every week for ten years. It sounds like a bit of a simplification, but you really do just have to put in the work. Whenever this topic comes up, I have to refer to this fantastic quote from Ira Glass on creativity.
I have a full time day job as a programmer, but I probably work on music or music-related activity at least 15-20 hours per week. It’s less important that you put in a huge amount of time, but you need to be *consistent*. For example, one hour each night in the studio is much more effective (in my experience) than seven hours once a week.
I spend a couple hours working on music a few nights per week, there’s the aforementioned weekly scheduled session for the last two years with Kid Hops and Iris, plus at least one weekend day is typically devoted to longer studio sessions. It sounds exhausting, and it is, but building up a consistent body of work (i.e., finishing tunes) is the only way to get better, and working consistently is the only way to build up a consistent body of work.
That being said, there’s nothing quite like the feeling when a song comes together it makes all that time worth it.
Before we let you go, I understand you just completed a mix for the Pirate Station show on Russia’s Radio Record you want to share with us? Hit us with the details and let us know what else we should be looking out for as well.
This is a rather short journey, a “MicroMix” if you will. It hits all the tracks on the new EP plus some other exclusive bits from the Dispatch/Metalheadz/Commercial Suicide camps. It’s a perfect companion for your next 5k run and if it ends too soon, that means you needed to run faster.
Project-wise, things have been very busy with more material forthcoming on CIA, am in the early stages of my next project for Dispatch, we’ve just done a remix that I’m just *dying* to be able to announce, and last but not least, I’m working on a full length album along with Kid Hops and Iris. Be sure to follow along on my Facebook page for all the latest news, snarky missives, and pictures of our Corgi.
Quadrant + Kid Hops + Iris – Convergence [DLR & Ant TC1 Reconverge] – Dispatch
DLR, Hydro, Mako, + Villem – The Formula [Break Remix] – Dispatch Dubplate
The Invaderz – Dream Is Over – Commercial Suicide
SCAR – So Suddenly – Metalheadz
Xtrah + DLR – Direct Approach – Dispatch Dubplate
Quadrant + Iris – Genesis Wave – Dispatch
Survival – Dub Soldier VIP – Dispatch Dubplate
SCAR – Old Time Metal – Metalheadz
Blu Mar Ten – In Your Eyes [Ulterior Motive Remix] – BMT Music
Quadrant + RoyGreen & Protone – Right Now – Dispatch
Quadrant + Cease – Warsaw – Dispatch
Quadrant + Kid Hops + Iris – Microsleep – Dispatch