A few months back (well years now) In-Reach hit Horizon Festival and not only did we have the absolute time of our lives, we were given the opportunity to interview one of the most influential, highly respected, and forward-thinking figures within not only drum and bass, but underground dance music as a whole.
Darren White, otherwise known as dBridge, is a man that really has shaped the very foundations of the genre we love; Future Forces, Bad Company, the Autonomic series, his legendary imprint Exit Records… the list goes on. dBridge’s catalogue is unparalleled; inclusive of arguably one of the most loved drum & bass tunes of all time, ‘True Romance’, he’s also the architect of the emotive, and poignantly beautiful album, ‘The Gemini Principle’. It’s incontestable that dBridge has been, and is, central to a number of the pioneering movements that continually push drum & bass forward, be that through his collaborative projects, his solo work, or his label.
Needless to say, I was incredibly excited about the opportunity to interview dBridge, here’s how things went down…
dBridge gave us an insight to why drum & bass became such a huge part of his life, illustrating also his thoughts on how the genre has progressed.
“Back in the early days, it was nice for me to be feeling a part of something, part of a movement, and part of a scene. It’s a way of life and it takes up every aspect of me. You go through life, through different relationships, all of these things happen along the way, but the one constant has been the music, and the drum and bass; it’s like a family member for me now.”
“Drum and bass came along and you had house, techno, hip-hop, all of these things, and it was almost the last new genre in such that everything else is like subtle hybrids of other scenes. Drum and bass was definitely its own thing; it was in a tempo that no other real genre of music was touching. It’s taken time to develop to where it is now, but I think it’s amazing that people are forging careers out of a scene that I’ve been a part of for the last 20 years… I don’t think I would have envisioned it at all, but I’m glad that it’s turned out the way it has. I feel really lucky that I’m still here, and it’s still here, especially considering that scenes do tend to come and go.”
“For me it’s quite interesting that now you’ve got pop groups forming that are deciding drum and bass is what they do, or that that’s become an option. You don’t even need to come through the underground, you can just be like “right, we’re a pop group and we’re going to make drum and bass” and it’s like fucking hell, it’s quite mad that that’s there now. It’s weirder because I’m so much a part of it, I don’t necessarily see things that way. I can look at other scenes, so I can look at hip-hop and I can see how it’s become such a massive industry, but I don’t have that kind of disconnection from my own scene.”
20 years old, but still it seems that in some ways drum and bass lacks the kind of acceptance of other genres.
“It does seem to be the black sheep of dance music, it refuses to die, and it’s almost the case that in some ways you feel people have really tried to kill it off.”
“For a while, because you knew what peoples preconceptions of drum and bass were, people that didn’t know anything about dance music would ask me what kind of music I make, I’d say dnb, and you could see the kind of picture that was forming in their head. I’d be thinking, I can’t really be arsed to explain that the kind of drum and bass you’re thinking isn’t what I make… but it is what it is.”
“There have been discussions that maybe there should have been a change in the name slightly, to differentiate between us. We’re all under this massive drum and bass band, there are so many different factions of it and I’m not sure which part of the faction I am. It’s that weird feeling of being a part of something for so long, being through all of its changes and its morphs, and you always felt connected with everything. Now though, now that it’s been around for so long, I don’t have any idea what’s going on in certain sections of the scene – even though we’re supposedly making the same music. I think that’s a good thing though, it cements it as a genre. If you look at house and techno, the amount of subgenres those guys have, and I’m sure they don’t all know what’s going on in different parts of it.”
“We actually stumbled on a name when I was doing the stuff with Instra:Mental and we were doing the Autonomic podcasts; it suddenly became a genre, that was never intended, but you could see that it worked.”
The Autonomic podcasts, club-night, and label, undoubtedly influenced a whole wave of producers, subsequently becoming a prominent movement within electronic music. dBridge and Kid Drama recently started Heartdrive, does this relate in any way to Autonomic?
“It felt like a nice project, and it was good because we were getting this response from all different sides of the scene, that’s something I really enjoyed from it. In some ways with Heartdrive, because Damon and me were behind the Autonomic podcasts, we always wanted to re-visit it. When we put together those Heartdrive mixes there’s a narrative with it; it’s all aimed very futuristic, Japan, animate, love, sex – all those aspects are a part of it, and it’s almost trying to create a soundtrack for that story.”
“Autonomic had its own lifecycle; you get those things of flogging a dead horse so we didn’t want to over-do it, it was always going to be just 12. It will be the same thing again with Heartdrive; we’re only going to do 6. I like the idea of having a body of work, and a project. It’s nice to look back at the Autonomic podcasts and see that there are 12 strong podcasts, people like certain ones, they pick their favourites and they can re-visit and re-fall in love with them, it doesn’t get to this point where you’ve got 30 or 40 – because people start to get bored of it.”
It seems of late a number of producers from ‘outside’ drum and bass have contributed to what many believe has been a revival in the genre.
“The problem in a lot of dance music is that people find a formula and then simply repeat it. Drum and bass for a long time was very insular, it had to be done in a certain way.”
“With Heartdrive, Myself and Damon (Kid Drama) are encouraging artists from outside dnb to produce dnb because we want to hear what their interpretation of it is. We’re purposely working with a lot of techno artists and house artists; we’ve been doing stuff with Deep Child and we’ve been doing stuff with a techno crew from Australia. The artists we’ve been working with, they’re making dnb and what I think they’re noticing is that there are a lot of similarities; it’s just the tempo, and they can do what they’re doing at our tempo. I think it’s important to encourage this, as it injects new life into the genre. That’s what Exit is about, I want to put out interesting music, and ultimately it’s music that I like.”
“I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of collaborations going on at the moment also; this seems to be the year of collaborations. I think there’s something to be said for that, everyone’s excited, getting together, and bouncing ideas off each other in the same way we used to.”
With changes in technology, it seems independent labels such as dBridge’s Exit Records have the ability to wield a greater influence – is the Internet re-defining the structure of the music industry?
“It’s already happening; the old model just doesn’t exist anymore. In some ways my brother Steve Spacek, and his band, they came from this system of needing to get an advance to make an album, and it’s almost like jumping through hoops; nowadays the Internet has given us the power to bypass all of that. Labels like myself, and artists, were becoming more empowered and I think major labels were worried that they were getting cut out – so now they’re finding ways to get back in on the act. There have also always been middlemen within music, middlemen that don’t need to be there. In the case of digital distribution, if you want to get on Beatport or iTunes etc. you have to have an aggregator, so suddenly a middle man has come back up again.”
“I’m taking things slowly, building on my core audience, and trying not to overstretch or overreach. I mean I could go through these big promo campaigns, and I have done. Spending grand’s on a marketing campaign may get me into certain magazines, or on this blog or that blog, but it’s hard to see sometimes how this actually equates to sales.”
“’Marka’ for example was very much its own thing, and it seemed to come around at the right time, it was like the perfect storm. I look back now and I wonder what we did for it to have the success that it did, and we didn’t do a great deal in some respects. I think to some extent the end of year awards were important. The Drum & Bass Arena awards and all these kind of things come along, it’s time for people to pat themselves on the back “yeh we’re wicked, I won best this, I won best that”… so we waited for all of this to be out of the way and then we put the video out. It was one of the biggest tunes of the year, but it had no chance of winning anything because that had already been decided, which I thought was quite funny.”
‘Marka’ was a huge release that was nearing the peripherals of crossing over into commercial success.
“’Marka’ gave me an insight into the whole world of Radio 1 and playlists.”
“I found it really weird to be honest; I don’t want to come across as a dick, but it seems you’re pandering to egos in a lot of ways, and I just don’t get it. It was almost that it gave me an insight to a world I’m not sure I’d really want to be a part of. Obviously I want to release successful music, but selfishly on my own terms. I can see from doing that, that there are certain things you can do to help push a record towards certain things. I like the natural way in that my label has grown though, I haven’t got a need to force it down people’s necks; I don’t like consuming music that way, and I wouldn’t want other people to consume my music that way. I suppose it’s the viral nature of it that I prefer, but in some ways you don’t really have so much control over that.”
Over the lifetime of drum and bass, we’ve seen the preferred format change from vinyl to CD to Digital, how does dBridge feel changes in technology have impacted upon the culture of the genre?
“I’ve obviously been there through the transition and in some ways, when I was with Bad Company we were at the forefront of that change. We had been cutting dub plates, but when CDJ’s first came about there was a huge advantage in not needing to spend all of that money down at the cutting house; we had the opportunity to test tunes out and see whether they were worth continuing with or not. We used to carry our own CDJ’s to the parties, we had them flight cased and we used to get cussed so hard: “use fucking vinyl, you’re not real DJ’s” some real abusive shit, it was funny though. It was like that’s cool, but you’re getting to hear music you might not have been able to hear otherwise.”
“I do love vinyl, I always will, I’m a collector, and in a lot of my sounds I sample vinyl, so it will always be a part of my label. It’s an art form spinning vinyl, but it’s just one aspect of delivering music to people. With the changes in technology, I think the music has been opened up to a lot more people; people that wouldn’t necessarily have had the chance are now able to shine as a result. I remember when Pendulum first came around, there was this CD going about, ‘Vault’, and it came out on Doc Scott’s 31 Records. Would this group of kids from Australia necessarily have been around in some ways if it weren’t for the fact we could now play CD’s, and that CD could get passed around? The music scene sounds healthy to me across the board, and I think that this change has been a big part of it.”
dBridge illustrated what he believes to be the negative effects of the cross-over to digital, highlighting also what he considers to be the future for vinyl.
“Digital may have contributed to the downfall, in terms of say, when I was with Bad Company and we released ‘The Nine’ or ‘Inside the Machine’ etc. we were selling 15, 16 thousand copies on vinyl and you can’t sell anywhere near that now. It’s become a performance-lead industry; if you want to make money and it’s in dance music, you have to DJ. People are coming up with interesting ways to do it though, everyone seems to be coming out with these tiny little USB sticks now… haha it’s a far cry from me having to carry two boxes of records!”
“It’s also the case of what you’re used to when you’re growing up though. For a kid growing up nowadays it’s totally different; you’ve got babies who know how to use iPads and shit. The idea of owning music is alien to them, and if you’re going to give them the opportunity to not have to have to own it, then why would they? This idea of ownership is going out of the window, and renting is becoming a more prominent thing now. Streaming is coming through and I’ve always been unsure about it, I run a record label and in the end of the day I want to be able to pay my artists some money. If you’re seeing someone like Lady Gaga is only earning around 100 dollars off 6 million plays, what the fuck hope have I got, or any of my artists?”
“It’s an interesting time but luckily I’ve got someone who works for me, Will, who’s better connected with all of that. I’m lucky in that I can sit back and focus on A&R, I can say, “I want this to go out and I want it to look like this” and he does his thing. My dream still is to be a big independent, so if he keeps doing what he’s doing, and I keep doing what I’m doing, hopefully we’ll start taking on more people, get an office, haha all that kind of stuff would be nice.”
“Although I think vinyl will always be there, it might not even come down to people wanting to be able to do it, it’s made from a natural resource at the end of the day. Also, the laves, the actual machines that create these pieces of vinyl aren’t being built anymore. From what I remember, there’s a guy, and he’s one of the last engineers who actually services all of these laves around the world, once he’s gone who else is going to be able to do it? These are old machines from the 60’s and 70’s, precision engineered machines. If the machinery behind it and that side of it dies out, then vinyl is fucked as it is.”
The debate of the extent to which the dance-floor dictates production is always interesting, particularly when considering how this has altered in the genre over time.
“Being with Bad Company and playing massive parties and massive arenas, I’ve been lucky enough to be on both sides of it. I’ve seen the transition. Initially with Bad Company, we were trying to outdo Dillinja, and Ed Rush & Optical, we just wanted to produce something with the impact of one of their tunes. We weren’t concerned so much with the audience, and I think a lot of producers weren’t. The audience started to dictate things and we gave them that control; you could see what was going to get a guaranteed response, so next time you went into the studio you knew what to do to get that… and it evolved from there.”
“What has happened now, in some ways, is that the big room stuff has got to a point where it has standardised elements; you’ve got to use this foot drum, this sounding snare, and this massive lead. You’ve now got a big room night where it’s 4, 5 hours of the same thing in slightly varying forms. Where as in the smaller nights like Blue Note, we were all using different breaks, different basses, all of these different things, and the tunes had character. I think that’s what gets lost in the big rooms, because you’re trying to get this response, you know what you need to put into it to get that response, so there’s not enough individuality in the tunes anymore for me.”
“That’s why I’ve started the night I’m doing at The Nest; it’s a small-scale Wednesday night event, the venue has a good sound system, you can go in there, try things out and all of my artists can do their thing. You never know what’s going to spawn off it, and if it does go big room, then so be it. It’s like that; up and down, you get called up to room 1, and then a couple of years later you’re back in rooms 2 and 3.”
Exit Records outputs music, and supports artists that side more with the experimental arm of the genre, how does dBridge go about getting the right balance of dance-floor friendly music whilst DJing?
“I’ve always done my own thing, and a lot of the time I’m not really sure what I’m going to play until the moment I’m doing it. I get sent a lot of new music and because I’m quite busy I don’t get to test it out as much as I’d like to; so in some ways, playing out is my time to test things out.”
“I suppose it may then come across as me ‘experimenting’, you’re obviously there to entertain and it can be really difficult as sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s an aspect of it that I enjoy though, it’s like a constant learning thing as trying to piece it all together can be a challenge. At the same time though, I’m quite a selfish DJ, anything to do with music is always quite selfish for me, I do things for my own reasons.”
This seems to be working rather well…
“Yeh, luckily it does, in some ways I think it’s something to do with the fact I’ve been around long enough to get away with it, people will cut me some slack haha.”
“What I’ve learned is that as long as they don’t leave it’s fine. Even that got a bit difficult to judge though, especially in England when the smoking ban came in, you’d be doing your thing, you’d look up and you’d be like ‘where the fuck is everyone, have I just played something really bad here?’ I don’t need people to go bat shit crazy, and I even say that to my MC, Stu (SP:MC), they don’t need to be prodded into a response: “ARE YOU ENJOYING YOURSELF?” – it doesn’t matter, let them experience it their way.”
What should we be looking out for in the coming months?
“Forthcoming on the label we have a Calibre EP, a Chimpo EP, a Skeptical 12”, and a System release. I’ve got a project called The Binary Collective which is myself, Jon Convex, Joe Seven, and Consequence – we’ve done an LP and that’s finished. Joe Seven has done an album for me, and Skeptical is also doing an album. I’ve got my dBRm project which is me and Radioactive Man, we have a release on Craig Richards’ label and we’re just tying up the second release now.”
“In regards to Velvit there’s some cool things coming; I’ve done a vocal for Dark Sky, and another one of my tunes has just been signed – I’m not going to say who by, but it has been good for me. Hopefully I’ll have some more releases on Electric Minds. Somewhere in all of this I still need to finish my album, but when that’s going to happen I don’t know.”
“Obviously then there’s Heartdrive, Damon and me are writing an album for that and we also want to do that live. Hopefully we’ll have something ready for Dimensions with that, so shit… yeh, a lot going on!”
Word’s: Leslie O’Connor
To keep up to date with all things dBridge head over to his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter and be sure to check out the Exit Records Soundcloud page 🙂