From his days as part of Bad Company, the mid-to-late-90’s drum ‘n’ bass collective, through his later decision to go it alone with Exit Records, to more recent work with Instra:mental as part of the Autonomic crew, D-Bridge has been an integral part of the UK bass scene for almost 2 decades now, helping to push it’s creative boundaries and offering up pathways for its more experimental merits through his unwavering dedication to the craft.
With the release of Exit’s first compilation, ‘Mosaic – Volume 1’ last month, D-Bridge brings together a wealth of talent including Instra:mental, Scuba, Skream, Croms, ASC and more, to shine a light on the increasingly fruitful efforts of producers still pushing for experimentalism and originality in modern drum ‘n’ bass. We caught up with the Exit Records boss to talk over his history in the scene, the future of the label and the rhythmic possibilities of 170bpm bass music.
Growing up in London, what sounds was it that initially inspired you, and how did you first get into jungle?
I was born in London but before I moved back here aged 18 or 19, I was living in a small town called Malvern in Worcestor, so my first introduction to dance music as such was through the free party thing – stuff like DIY, and Castlemorton and things like that. So I moved down to London when I was 19, went to live with my brother Steve [Spacek], and basically started taking me out so we were going to things like Roast, Breakfast Club, AWOL, then over to Desert Storm over at Lee Valley… Just going out to those early raves and following my brother around wherever he was going on a weekend. That was around 1991 I think.
So was there any other music around that time you were into, or did that come later?
As I as out in the sticks originally, there wasn’t much in the way of clubbing so we were kinda going up into the hills and seeing who could get served in the off license, underage drinking at a pub really – so I kinda grew up listening to, and was influenced by the charts in the late 80’s really – Bruno Brookes and all that – and I think I started to form my own personal taste with things like The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Stone Roses, Inspiral Carpets, Charlatans, and that led me in quite well to dance music.
With the Mosaic compilation, you’re introducing a few lesser-heard names to the world I guess – what is it that you look for when you’re A&R-ing for the label?
Just music with soul and integrity really. Someone who’s putting together a tune from the heart, rather than a tune that ticks certain boxes y’know? I think I just have to feel it on a personal level – I’m really into emotive music I guess so there’s got to be that element to it for me. I’m not bothered about whether someone is more established – good music is good music and if a young producer comes with something I’m personally into then I’m gonna do my best to sign it.
Talking about the emotiveness of certain tracks, the Croms ‘Invisible Cities’ track seems to be getting alot of attention – can you tell us a bit about Croms and how you hooked up with him?
I think he sent me it a while ago and I slept on it, because I do get alot of music and I kind of let it all build up and then I have a big listening session and go through things. But I think it was Fracture that said I might like it, so I had a look for it, and I was just like “yeah this kid gets it”. It appealed to the Michael Mann fan in me – the real sort of Miami, cruising around in a Ferrari, t-shirt and white blazer! It’s got a real John Carpenter feel to it as well – I’m a big fan, I love his movies and music, and it had that kinda feel to it. And coming from sampling, I used to go to sample alot of [legendary German pop outfit] Tangerine Dream so I could hear that element in it, so for me it just ticked certain boxes – it’s not really a modern track but it’s his take on the past in a way.
So what does the Mosaic release represent to you personally?
In some ways albums are footnotes to where people are at a time in their life, and these tracks are a culmination of the year or two I’ve been doing the Autonomic thing, and where that’s gone, and I hope it’s showing possibilities of where it still could go. With the Autonomic stuff we’ve been doing, I think people sometimes get it a bit confused in the sense of what it is and what it is we’re trying to say. We never professed it to be anything new as such, it’s just another side of drum n’ bass that got forgotten. Whether you want to call it minimal, or whatever it is, it’s just as relevant. It wasn’t getting represented in my eyes – if you look at the majority of drum n’ bass compilations out there, they don’t really cater for this kind of stuff, so I wanted to represent it in my way by finding people, established artists, people who aren’t necessarily from d’n’b like Skream and Scuba – just showing that there’s interest still in what it is we’re doing at this tempo.
Talking to Marcus Intalex recently, we discussed how many of your peers are moving into lower tempo’s, and obviously that’s something you’ve done with your deejaying and with the Autonomic podcasts. Are you tempted to push that slower tempo in your production more?
It’s hard sometimes because I’d love to see myself as a producer first and foremost, and tempo should really be irrelevant, but you get known for one thing and I suppose in some ways it’s that adage that I wouldn’t want to be a jack of all trades and a master of none. There’s always been this thing within d’n’b… when a new scene comes along alot of people rush off and start making it, and I’ve never really been one for that just because I truly love drum ‘n’ bass – warts and all. Though I think for the other side of me [sic], I’m more interested in producing the hip-hop side. But all the 120-140bpm stuff, it’s still new to me. I collect it, but because I haven’t grown up with it or it’s not been that big a part of my life… I just don’t want to make music for the wrong reasons. I think for me there’s still things I want to do in the confines of hip-hop and d’n’b, moving into vocals and singing, and that for me has opened up what I do more, and I’ve still got that to explore really. But never say never.
There seems to be a real acid and classic electro influence creeping into alot of UK bass music at the minute, where do you think that stems from? Is it a generational thing do you think?
It’s hard to say really. Everyone’s trying to find the next thing, but it’s circular y’know. There’s people going back to analogue machines, and people picking up 808’s and SH101’s and TB303’s and because it’s been done before I think you’re kind of more likely to go to those kind of beats really. But at the end of the day, with every year its a new thing – this year it’s electro, and next year it’ll be… who knows, folkstep or something. I know with Al Boddika he’s always liked those tunes for a while and he’s collected electro and always had a love for it, so it’s bound to creep in to what he does, plus with certain bits of equipment he uses it lends itself well to that. But what will invariably happen is that it’ll get popular, and everyone will jump on it, and then it’ll move on.
With the formation of the more classic 2-step break that pretty much ruled from the late 90’s onwards – since then rhythmic capabilities seemed to be pushed further back in the mix, instead turning to a real focus on the bass. It seems you’ve addressed that more with the Autonomic approach – do you feel through Exit’s releases and your work with Instra:mental you’ve have helped open up the scene to experimentalism again?
I’d hope so – slowing down a little bit helps. There’s not room to mess about with rhythms once you go over 175 to 180bpm, so generally the 2-step is what will work. But it’s weird as it almost became drum ‘n’ bass’ 4/4 really – that was the standardised beat pattern. But from growing up from the early days of jungle, from listening to drum ‘n’ bass through the sort of ‘96 Blue Note days, Photek, Source Direct and what rhythmically is capable, I personally miss that – I like to hear different rhythms. Also things like adding swing y’know? You can add that human feel to a rhythm pattern around 170bpm y’know? So I’m glad that side of it is coming back. What happened is that the dj side of it took over, and a dj will generally mix something that’s alot easier rhythmically to deal with, where as back in the early days in some ways our beats were break-lead, we kept the integrity of the loop, we got used to it. It’s harder to mix but… It’s that whole thing of where the party and the dj takeover as opposed to the production and the experimentation and people actually trying to push themselves. So I think in some ways it’s nice to know that it’s possible to do that still and there’s people who want to play it, so if Autonomic and Exit have done that, I’m pleased.
Would you say like-minded artists like Instra:mental, Alix Perez, Rockwell, Icicle, Klute and the A Bunch Of Cuts crew stand aside from the main drum ‘n’ bass scene – almost as a sub-genre of it?
Oh yeah, I’m niche, I know that! I’m very aware of how niche I am! I was pretty much at the top of the food chain with Bad Company, so coming away from that was a massive step for me, but I’ve never been happier – obviously it was harder but you have to work for what you believe in, and it’s easier to take the easy route in some senses – not to discredit anything that’s going on within the mainstream side of drum ‘n’ bass, but I don’t get driven by it. It doesn’t fill me with as much passion as the other side of things. I don’t ever want to look back over my catalogue or my career and be like “I wish I hadn’t done that”, but I always do things for me first and foremost, so as a result this i where I end up.
Where do you see Exit heading over the next couple of years – do you think the Mosaic release has opened a new chapter for the label?
Yeah I’d like to think so, I’d like there to be more volumes hopefully. I mean, I’ve got personal dreams, and personal goals and aspirations, and for my label, but I’d just like it to be a strong independent, I wouldn’t want it to just be about drum ‘n’ bass, obviously I have my roots there and I’ll always have love and always put things out, but I’d like to be able to put out an acoustic band one day – I wanna be a strong independant label that’s roots were founded in d’n’b, in the same way that labels I look up to like XL, Warp, Talkin’ Loud, Ninja Tune – they all started somewhere, so that’s the future I would like for my label one day. And the next few albums I’ve signed, that aren’t drum ‘n’ bass, will hopefully be another step in that direction.
‘Mosaic – Volume 1’ is out now on Exit Records
Interview: Louis Cook