dBridge, aka Darren White, has been traversing the drum and bass scene since the early ’90s, perhaps most memorably spearheading the group Bad Company alongside Dj Maldini, Fresh, KS, and Vegas. But Darren’s musical interest is far more unconventional and far-reaching than we might expect. Since founding Exit Records in 2003, Darren has demonstrated a clear desire to move away from typical club style drum and bass sounds to more ambient and experimental soundscapes, turning away from the contemporary technology that dominates production today and returning to old school techniques, equipment and production styles. Despite this return to the retro Darren continues to produce music that is fresh, unpredictable and exciting and consistently challenges his own well entrenched position within an infinitely multifaceted genre. Alongside the likes of fellow artists Skeptical, Calibre and Instra:mental, Darren’s intentional troubling of his own musical generic tropes make him not only a fascinating contemporary artist but a musical pioneer paving the way for more fluid attitudes towards genre and style.
We caught up with Darren to talk technology, genre, collaboration and new music.
People tend to try a build this logical narrative around you; starting with Future Forces, leading directly on to Bad Company, leading directly to Exit Records and your solo career. Do you agree with this perspective, of each project building on the last one, or is all a bit more complicated than that?
It’s almost like life decided which way I was going to go more than anything. I suppose musically you move on. But if I think back to the transition between Future Forces to Bad Company, it was almost out of necessity more than anything. I’d been with Hardware for so long, helped build the whole thing, and then there came a time when the whole thing was threatening to take away autonomy from us, from me and Jason. We were forced to do something about that. If that situation hadn’t arisen then I would be on a very different path. I think musically though there has been something pulling me along which has dictated certain aspects of my career and my life but in terms of what that might have been, or be, I don’t know.
Can you tell us a bit more about that specific situation you found yourself in when you left Hardware and first got together with Dan Fresh and Michael Vegas.
Basically Hardware tried to make us sign these contracts with our individual names rather than as Future Forces. So anything that we would have done after that, they would have had claim to so to speak. So we were just like, no. Even though we were young and relatively naïve there was something about it that was just like, “nah this don’t feel right.” You know. At the time it was me and Jason in Future Forces, then there was DJ Kane, DJ Red, and a few others. We all left the label. Fresh had been coming down to the studio prior to that, I hadn’t met Vegas yet, and in some ways, one of the things that brought us together was, the fact that music then was so difficult financially. What brought people together was what you brought physically to the table in terms of equipment. We all had bits of equipment we could join together to make music but we didn’t have enough individually. And that in a lot of ways is how the scene was built. We knew we had some similarities with what Dan was doing musically and I think we borrowed some money off a mate of his to get the rest of equipment that we needed. So that sort of facilitated that whole thing really more than anything.
That sort of collaborative effort you’re taking about must be really complicated to get right in such a production heavy music style
It proved too difficult towards the end, for me anyway I can’t really speak for the others. I think we decided quite early on it didn’t really matter who was involved or who was in studio, it would all go out under Bad Company. But then towards the end I found that I personally wasn’t into the music that was going out under the name so I wasn’t comfortable being connected with it. But at the same time I was comfortable making the money I was making as a DJ… that was my dilemma at the time. Also the way it is with studios is, I mean it was no one’s fault, but the studio was at Dan’s house, so of course Dan ended up with more of a leading edge in terms of what was going on. The studio was built and geared around him. That was always difficult for me. It was collaborative, but at the same time it wasn’t really because if Dan wasn’t into it then it never went any further. But I think you’ll find this in any band, unless you’re in that situation where all four of you are ‘playing’ musicians and you’ve got the space to perform and be yourself in. With electronic music it’s a bit different… well a lot different… because studios are set up in such a way that whoever is in front of the computer is bossing it basically.
I’d never really thought about it like that before but I suppose you simply can’t have the same sort of clear independent roles as an instrumental band can you?
Yeah exactly, and that’s the thing. I love collaborating, it’s a big part of what I do but I’ve always found that the studios where I have most fun are ones where everyone can take control of something. As computers and technology moved on it took away all those roles and put it in front of one person. When I started working with Instra:mental it was really refreshing to go back to a studio which had synths everywhere where I could just noodle about on a synth trying to make something that fits in to what else is going on, and everyone had their own part to play. It felt more like a band – a really noisy messy band – but a band. And eventually something always came out of it. I definitely enjoy that process more.
I find that shift from hardware to software really fascinating. To go from having all these individual bits of kit that do very specific things to having one computer that does everything. Do you think that there’s a sense in which having that computer, in removing all the individual limitations, makes the creative process more difficult?
I think so yeah. Because it’s almost like putting too much power in people’s hands and they get lost in what they think needs to be done. Like with mastering. We used to think as long as the levels were ok we could send anything off to a mastering engineer and they would make it sound good. Obviously you’d have to get it to a certain level. But now its got to the stage where I’ve literally got access to all that equipment in the virtual world where I can do that myself and because other producers are doing it everyone else feels like they need to keep up. And we end up with a lot of amazing sounding music that is shit . Because they’ve lost the fundamentals. I miss dedicated units. It just feels nice to have a piece of equipment that someone has spent time building that does one thing really well. Software companies are still trying to emulate the originals. And that’s all that anyone ever really does is compare it to the original physical product. Is it is as good as that? That’s the end goal. Will it happen? I don’t know.
This interest in stripping back is pretty apparent in your more recent music that you’ve made. I read recently that drum and bass was the ‘victim of an obsession with acceleration’, however your story doesn’t fit this mould at all, if anything you’ve travelled in the opposite direction; stripping back, slowing down. Is this a conscious choice of yours to resist this trend?
I think what it is is I know my limitations. I know what I’m good at. And that’s why I like working with other people because they bring things to the table that I can’t. And vice versa. And that way I am able to concentrate on what it is that I want to do. I’m not concerned about whether this bass line is going to cut through on a club soundsystem. Have you noticed how suddenly everything is in the key of F because that’s the frequency that works best on industry standard sound systems. But I’m like, so what! It’s just boring you know. And you know you say I’ve stripped back and yet my studio is probably the most full it’s ever been. I have so much stuff! But I love that individuality that having each piece of kit gives me. I’ve always said that the problem with producing on a computer is that everyone has access to the same palette of sounds. And that bores me. I don’t want anything to do with that. That’s why I think the whole modular thing is really cool (even tho I personally steer clear of it because it’s a money hole I don’t want to go down). But I can understand why it has become so popular because you can individualise and personalise your own sonic palette and create something that you know no one else has got and can’t be recreated through a patch.
So what you’re saying is you don’t really see yourself at the moment as part of the wider club music scene and you’re happy just to do your own thing?
I often wonder where I’m at at the moment and I think I just like turning on a computer and seeing where it goes, I don’t care about the club environment. It is the last thing on my mind. It really surprises me that somehow I still get booked. The music that I make is not built for clubs. But I suppose I counteract that by having really good producers on my label who do. So I’m thankful of that.
I wanted to talk to you about your ‘Too Late’ EP which is super fitting with the sonic shift we’ve talked about today. Where was your head at when you put this together and, considering the sonic change you’ve made, was the producing process particularly different on this to previous projects you’ve worked on?
Too late’ was in some ways was a sort of signing off on an old relationship and the signalling of a new one. Sonically it was…. I find it really difficult to describe… DnB as a tempo is really adaptive. It’s one of the only genres that can literally take from everything else. Maybe it is because it is so sample based but it is able to take from so many different sources and create so many identities. DnB has a distinct ability to be so many different things and I just wanted to explore some of that with ‘Too Late’. And I think a lot of people don’t realise that it is still DnB tempo a lot of the time. There was a lot on that EP that I just needed out of my system. I had been trying to put it together for bloody ages and I’m not sure what took me so long. And maybe that’s where the title came from, asking myself was I too late to put this out. Because even Exit, my label, it’s seen as a DnB label but in my head it isn’t. It doesn’t bug me but, if you look at all the albums I’ve put out, they’re all very varying and different, so in my head my label is a whole other thing in its own right. But I’m still… trapped isn’t the right word… within this world of DnB, that I don’t see myself belonging in. So in some ways this EP was me trying to break out. It’s also a precursor to what I am working on now. So hopefully people aren’t too weirded out…
…So a sort of easing people in gently to a new style?
Sort of. It’s the same weird dilemma that I find myself in again and again, where I’m seen as the figurehead of this record label that puts out a particular sort of music which I also play as a DJ, but the music I make myself is very different from that. I don’t always represent myself as much as I should, and it’s something I’m only just learning to do after all these bloody years. I think I just need to not worry so much.
What is it exactly that worries you? And how exactly does ‘Too Late’ address this?
Too late helped me get out there with something different and say “you guys okay with this?” It’s weird that I should think that when I look at all the people around me and the sort of music they’re putting out. I think it’s because I feel like I’m connected so heavily with DnB I put up this barrier of “you can’t do that”. But now… I’ve got nothing left to prove. I need to just get over myself basically.
This new project you’re working on at the moment then, can we expect to hear it this year? What can we expect to hear? Have you done any more vocal stuff in the studio?
Yeah basically it’s pretty much done, I’m looking to have it delivered by March and to have it out this year. And the stuff on there is more of me exploring new equipment and new techniques. Not as much singing as I’d like because I haven’t sung for a while. I started singing the other day and it sounded God awful so I’m a bit dubious about putting any vocal stuff on there at the moment. So we’ll see.
To finish up can you give us a little insight into what you’re listening to at the moment? Who in the scene is really killing it for you?
A lot of unreleased artists who I’m working with on the label at the moment:
MXM is doing some amazing house and techno stuff. On the next Pleasure District there’s a girl from Berlin called Poison Arrow who is amazing. But personally I’m really into Erased Tapes – The Label, love all the stuff that’s going on there. The stuff that Calibre does that’s not the traditional DnB stuff, really into that. My brother’s done some new stuff as well, Blackpocket, which is really good. Oh and ‘Dolor’ he’s amazing.
I’ve been listening to a lot of old stuff actually. A lot of soul, a lot of Teddy Pendergrass, Donnie Hathaway. One of my favourite songs of last was “Close But Not Quiet” by Everything Is Recorded featuring Sampha. I love it to bits. His new album has just come out and I can’t get enough of it.
I suppose I should mention some DnB while we’re here. Skeptical’s forthcoming LP is really good. And of course Fixate as well with the EP ‘What Goes Around’. So yeah there is a lot of good stuff at the moment, it’s a good time. You’ve just gotta be bothered to go and look for it. And weirdly for me, very little of it at the moment is DnB.
Well maybe, to put it frankly, it’s just not helpful for any artist to think of music in these limiting genre categories at all.
Yeah I think in terms of categories, if I want to keep getting booked at DnB events I need to stop complaining about it really. It’s on me to challenge that preconception I suppose.
Words: Oscar Lister
Catch dBridge for the Exit Records takeover at Electric Brixton on March 9.
Tickets and more info here.