Djrum: Innovation through diversity

The enigmatic experimentalist speaks on techno, soundtracks, and jazz.

Djrum, (aka Felix Manuel) does nothing in half measures, be it his extensive knowledge of music, and his application of said knowledge to his productions, or his relentless release schedule. The Oxford-born, London-based producer has been an acclaimed proposition since the beginning of his tenure as a producer nearly a decade ago.

Having grown up on a diet of R&B, later studying ethnomusicology at university, and finally finding his place in the bass-heavy heyday of London’s 00s club scene, Djrum’s rich musical heritage has enabled an incredibly varied output. His eclecticism is perhaps his most endearing prospect, as his casual disregard for genre boundaries allows a channelling of his huge range of influences into a sample-inflected blend of noise.

After a hectic release schedule this summer with a trilogy of solo releases; kicking off with Forgetting in June, LA in July and most recently the Space Race EP, we caught up with Djrum to talk eclecticism and changing musical landscapes.

You’ve been releasing a lot of music over the last few years, what’s been your favourite release to date and why?

That’s a tricky question. I’m pretty hard on myself and when I listen back to old stuff, I often just hear things I wish I’d done differently. Having said that I’m proud of my releases. Perhaps the little white 10″ I did on 2nd Drop with remixes of Onoe Caponoe and Royce Wood Jr. I love how different each side of that is, and I think both tracks came out really well.

Where do your eclectic music tastes and influences come from? Can you talk a bit about your earliest musical experiences?

I went through loads of different phases growing up. I was listening to and playing jazz from around the age of 9. I got into Michael Jackson and then R&B in general when I was quite young. Then trip hop, downtempo beats, and jazz fusion, then jungle and garage, then breakcore, gabba, and D&B, then dubstep, breakstep, and wonky techno, then ambient, modern classical, deep techno, dub techno, and so on and so on…

You were a DJ before you started producing, what initially made you want to become a producer?

I guess I always wanted to produce, and I’d tried my hand at it many times since I was 17, but DJing was always a priority. I’ve always had a strong idea about music that I want to hear, music that I wish existed but doesn’t. I used to only make these ideas real through layering other people’s tunes in DJ sets. I didn’t really take production very seriously until around 2008.

Why are TV and film soundtracks such a big influence on you? How do you incorporate them into your music?

I’ve always loved atmospheric music, and that’s what I love so much about soundtracks and incidental music. I get samples from soundtracks a bit, but the main way these influences are incorporated into my work is through layering spoken word samples and foley sound effects. This is what really gives the impression that there’s something visual going on in the music, even though you can’t see it.

2013’s The Miracle is a great example of the way you straddle different genres, where did you find this inclination to mix up different styles?

I’ve never been content with listening to just one style of music. When I go out to a dance I get very bored if the same style of music is playing all night long. You’ll never catch me sticking to one genre for all that long in my DJ sets.


How did your studies in ethnomusicology influence the way you make music?

Hmm… that’s hard to say. I don’t think I’ve really thought about that before. I learned to play in a Gamelan orchestra, which was pretty inspiring. That’s where I was first opened up to the idea of polyrhythm, something that underpins a few of my productions; Plantain, for example.

How do you feel UK club music culture today differs from when you were coming up in the ’00s?

It’s always changing isn’t it. Things have come in and out of fashion. Jungle for example. I used to play a lot of jungle out, but then after the Mountains EP I started getting booked for a lot of house nights where people weren’t expecting to hear jungle – they didn’t even really want tempo changes. I’d play garage, techno and housey stuff, but I’d find a place to slip in some melodic jungle, and I could see people baffled. Not to say it never worked, but I definitely had to be very cautious about it, and it was hard to judge. This is around the time when deep house was becoming trendy I guess. Skip forward a few years and the jungle and house crossover thing is all the rage, so I now feel very confident about dropping jungle.

You’ve spoken before about the parallels between jazz and techno, what do you believe the two genres share?

Well in many ways they are worlds apart. Over the years there have been a lot of artists that have successfully fused them. I don’t think I would put myself in that category. I can only really comment on it from the perspective of my own productions. For many techno producers improvisation plays a big part in their process. My approach to techno doesn’t really incorporate any improvisation. I plan things out, try different patterns, and build up layers over a long period of listening and re-listening.

What inspired you to return to the techno sound with ‘Untitled 9’?

I don’t actually really see that as a return to techno. I was sat on ‘Untitled 9’ for maybe two years before it was picked up by Ilian Tape. I initially sent it to 2nd Drop for the Miracle EP. The way tracks get released at different speeds creates a false chronology. Genre-wise I’m trying to do everything at once, rather than go in any one direction for too long.

You produced a trio of EPs this year, what was your motivation behind this? Why did you decide this route rather than one release of all the tracks together?

I had a whole bunch of tracks that I’d made over the course of a few years that I wasn’t sure what to do with them. They weren’t conceived as an album, so I didn’t feel that it was right to put them out as one. But I was very keen to just get them out into the world. Some of them were getting on a bit!

What have you got planned as far as releases go for the near future?

I’ve got a few interesting things on the pipeline, but mostly they’re not ready to announce. My next release is a remix that I did for the very interesting duo Grandbrothers. That will drop in October I think. In the studio I’m starting to work on some ideas for another album, which is very exciting.

Djrum’s Space Race EP is out now, get it here.

Images: Oliver Clasper

Words: Richard Lowe

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