The Essential… Calibre

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In a scene brimming with experimental talent, all aiming to create their own unique sound, Dominick Martin, aka Calibre, is one of the few who can boast exactly that. After forming his own label, Signature Records in 2003, Belfast’s finest utilised the platform to put out an abundance of inspirational releases, which have sculpted the liquid side of drum & bass we know today. We recently ran a poll on our Facebook page to find your favourite producer of all time and Calibre was number one so we’ve put together a list, with input from Calibre, of our top 20 for you to enjoy. So sit back and let liquid’s most influential producer relax your mind as only he knows how.

20. Last Kiss
A depiction of pure emotion, Last Kiss came out on Dominick Martin’s down-tempo album, Shine A Light in November 2009 and proved his talent as a musician, rather than just a drum & bass producer. As in so many of his productions preceding it, Dominick employs his deep vocals to produce a wonderfully soothing piece of music, and was keen to see it make the essential list. “If you can sing a note, why wouldn’t you?” he asked. “The tune sounds exactly how I felt at the time and that’s why it’s one of my favourites. It does more than just sound nice, it reminds me of a certain time.”

19. For You Alone (ft. Steve Spacek)
Collaborations are an intriguing part of drum & bass, none more so than this blend of styles. The sound of dBridge’s Exit imprint and Calibre’s Signature label combine in perfect harmony, with that classic rolling Calibre sound throughout. Steve Spacek delivers on the vocals and the result is a deep, moving piece of drum & bass.

18. Be There (ft. DRS)
Calibre and DRS seem to come as a package deal in raves these days, and it’s always vibes. But this thought-provoking roller by the duo is as listenable on the tube on the way to work as it is on the liveliest of dance floors. The use of more traditional, percussive instruments has taken a back-seat in the experimental world of drum & bass today, but Be There is a reminder of what can be achieved by going back to basics. “I want to make music that sounds real, with real instruments and deep vocals,” Calibre said, “drum & bass is just the tempo and there’s endless possibility within it.”

17. Tenopause
Tenopause is something completely different, and perhaps a little unexpected from a guru of liquid drum & bass, but goes to show the versatility of the man. The eerie synths coupled with a devastating sub-bass at 140 BPM sounds more like a DMZ production than the work of Belfast’s finest. But feed this one through a Funktion One rig and even the most ardent of drum & bass heads can’t help but stop and admire.

16. Mr Majestic (ft. High Contrast)
High Contrast may have made his name with a more dance floor friendly sound than Calibre’s, but the concoction of the two made for a drum & bass classic in 2004. Mr Majestic is the perfect blend of styles, updating the old school Amen drum-sound with a comforting, rolling bassline, and sampling reggae tracks Money Money by Horace Andy and Dub It In The Dancehall by King Jammy. This track pushed the boundaries of liquid drum & bass into the raves and still has the power to set it off in the raves of today.

15. Hustlin (ft. DRS)
This street-smart roller from Calibre & DRS was thrust into the limelight by Marcus Intalex’s Fabriclive 35 mix in 2007 before its release on Signature. The intro creeps into the mix unnoticed, but once the recognisable strings make their presence known, it’s clear what’s coming. Yet another easy-listener by the duo that can do no wrong.

14. Ponderosa
Two of the drum & bass scenes most unique talents came together and merged as one in 2008, producing Ponderosa for dBridge’s album, The Gemini Principle. The soulful chords of Calibre combine with an imposing D-Bridge bass-line so typical of the Exit Recordings boss, making for a rave-friendly liquid roller.

13. Mr Maverick
The majority of Calibre’s music is easy on the ear, and therefore not always associated with the raves at the crux of the drum & bass movement. However, if we ever needed proof that the man can tear the toughest of dance floors to shreds, what came on Signature in 2004 delivers exactly that. Creepy synths and an Amen break tiptoe forward, drawing on a brilliant vocal sample from Gregory Isaacs’ Slavemaster throughout. What follows is the most devastating of bass lines, making Mr Maverick the perfect fallback plan for any DJ.

12. Even If
After venturing towards a downtempo route in 2009 with the Shine A Light album, Calibre was back in familiar territory in 2010, culminating in his latest album, and namesake tune, Even If. “I wanted to get back to doing what I do best,” he told us in Fabric’s packed smoking section recently. “I like to sing, make music to get my emotions across and, of course, get a reaction when playing out.” Even If certainly fits the bill, fusing deep, enchanting vocals with uplifting strings to relax as only Calibre knows how, maintaining enough energy throughout to ensure a mighty crowd reaction every time. Back in familiar territory and back to his best.

11. Overreaction (ft. Lariman)
Lariman’s vocal introduction to Overreaction couldn’t summarise the vintage Calibre sound any better. A better solution to “fussing and fighting” is often a sensible conversation, a theory prominent throughout this uplifting easy roller. The first track on Marcus Intalex’s iconic Fabriclive 35 mix, sees Calibre sensibly stick to the basics, and deliver another deep slice of inspirational liquid.

10. Hypnotise
The piano has always been an important part of Calibre’s production, and the peaceful chords used to shape Hypnotise are a strong example of why. Released on Soul:R shortly before Christmas 2004, it took the feel-good factor of drum & bass to dizzy new heights and still has the capability to brighten the darkest of days.

9. Don’t Want Your Love
With such an impressive string of releases under his belt, Calibre could be forgiven for resting on his laurels. Don’t Want Your Love, however, is solid proof that 2010 saw him produce some of his best work to date. It was released on the eagerly anticipated Judgement Day EP on Samurai Red Seal and showcased perfectly the deeper, more emotionally driven side of his production. The decision not to use a break down is inspired, the tune stays rolling from start to finish, yet each bar seems to sound fresher than the last. There’s no wonder it topped the drum & bass download charts for four weeks on end.

8. Enigma Remix
The ability to remix a tune is a vital string to the bow of any successful producer, and it would appear Calibre can add that skill to his armoury of talents. It’s a rarity that a drum & bass producer will approach Calibre to remix a tune in to a rave-friendly piece of music, but it certainly happened with this release on Fierce’s Quarantine Recordings. Originally, Break’s Enigma was a far more tranquil offering than his usual lively style, but Calibre tweaked it perfectly to devastate the dance floor.

7. Man On The Road
Calibre seems to have an ability to relax, energise and provoke emotions amongst his listeners at 170 BPM. The Shine A Light EP, however, was proof that tempo is a side-issue when the Belfast based artist is writing music. “The whole downtempo album gave me a platform to try something new,” he recalled. “I love to sing and it was nice not to be restricted by the tempo, I could just do what I was feeling with that album, which was sort of the whole idea, to portray the emotions I was feeling at the time.”

Man On The Road is a perfect example of the emotion he mentioned, and perhaps a remedy for it at the same time. An inspirational piece of music that makes everything seem fine every time you hear it. It may not involve that classic Calibre sound or tempo, but it carries over the emotional drive that has animated so many productions before it and is certainly one of his finest masterpieces to date.

6. Steptoe
It’s fashionable for drum & bass producers worldwide to push new sounds right now, be it through experimental samples, inventive drum patterns or inspirations from other genres. Calibre is no different in that respect, and this half-step offering on Signature generated a huge reaction from around the scene. “The reaction was really strange when I first started playing it,” he laughed, “people were coming up to me and asking me why are you playing dubstep? I didn’t know you made dubstep! But it seems to have started a little sub-genre thing now which is great.” In light of Genotype’s recent experimental album, Ritual Dance, on Exit Records, it would be tough to disagree. One of the biggest tunes of 2010, Steptoe could eventually become an important junction in the ongoing drum & bass journey.

5. Drop It Down (ft. MC Fats)
2004 saw the perfect blend of a classic uplifting liquid sound and a bad-man attitude, courtesy of MC Fats. Calibre’s productions are never overpowering and Drop It Down continues the trend, with a tune as enjoyable in a Friday night rave as it is relaxing on a Sunday morning. The spacious bass-line allows enough room for an impressive vocal performance by Fats, with the end result an extremely cool piece of music from Signature Recordings.

4. Devil Inside (ft. ST Files)
This track is simply a DJs dream. The lengthy intro contains a sinister piano rift that seems to mix well with just about anything and sneaks into the set practically unnoticed. The tune was coupled with Wasp Factory by Zero T & Bailey on the first Footprints offering in March 2010, a release that set business off with a bang at the label. Again proof that 2010 was one of Calibre’s best years to date. Let’s hope for more of the same in 2011.

3. Peso
Not only does this track represent Calibre at his brilliantly laid-back best, but it was a critically important release for the entire drum & bass scene. June 16th 2003 and Peso was backed up with My Chances before being released under catalogue number SIG001, the first of many releases on Calibre’s very own Signature Recordings. It is safe to say that the liquid side of drum & bass owes a lot to Signature Recordings, a label that has become nothing short of an inspiration. Peso started the journey in style, and Signature is still the first port of call for Calibre’s finest work.

2. Bullets (ft. Diane Charlemagne)
Female vocalists in drum & bass have seen something of a resurgence in recent years, with Riya and Jenna G carving out reputations to rival even the most established male MCs. One name that maybe doesn’t receive the credit it deserves is that of Diane Charlemagne. The multi-talented vocalist starred in Goldie’s Inner City Life in 1994 and in a much more placid affair 11 years later on Signature. Bullets is an emotionally-driven piece of drum & bass, spacious enough to allow a sensational vocal performance to achieve its full effect. His productions are regularly fuelled by emotion, but even by the increasingly high standards set by Calibre, this is sentimental brilliance.

1. Second Sun
The album Second Sun is a genre-defining collection of drum & bass music. Uplifting, soulful and musically unique, the title track showcases everything we have come to love about a Calibre creation. It was the first album to be released on Signature Records and paved the way for four more since. Delivered as always with class and precision, Second Sun encompasses each and every reason behind the reputation Calibre has carved out for himself. “Things were really getting going at the time that album was released,” he remembered, “the label was going really well and I wanted to put an album out there to show what I was all about both emotionally and musically.” Second Sun certainly achieved that, a timeless collection of thought-provoking ingenuity, with the title track our deserving number one.”

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About Author

Colin Steven co-founded Knowledge Magazine in 1994. He also runs a book publishing company called Velocity Press specialising in electronic music and club culture.

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