Interview With: Distance

Interview With: Distance
October 25, 2016 / 2:14 pm

If you know much about anything in underground UK music you’ll most probably know the name Distance. One of the originators of the original dubstep sound and an artist who has, along with his Chestplate imprint, always occupied a very unique (and instantly identifiable) lane.

2016 heralds the release of his long awaited third studio album Dynamis (available HERE VIA TECTONIC) and sees the veteran producer exploring both new and uncharted styles and tempos underpinned by the scale and drama of film scores and soundtracks.

Bayfield caught up with the Chestplate chieftain to talk in-depth about the record, the future and organising coffee mornings.

Ahoy!

Yagga

Okay, so let’s start at the top: what’s been gwanning in past few months?

Last few months I’ve been getting everything tied up and ready for the release of the new album Dynamis, plus mixing and producing for some new artists.

Oh yeah the album is an absolute triumph by the way. Been on constant rotation for about a month. I think it’s probably my favourite of all three of your full lengths. How come there was such a huge break twixt this one and Repercussions?

Things just kept coming up. Back then I wasn’t signing artists to Chestplate; it was solely a platform for my own music… So that introduced a lot of work I didn’t plan for haha.

I’ve also been trying to get into the world of mixing and production on a larger scale; not just my own work. It’s really quite tough and very time consuming. When I wrote “A Result Of Sound” that really sparked a whole new aesthetic and direction for me. That would have been the perfect time to write an album but as I said time wouldn’t allow it.


Yep I hear you. Running labels (as I’m currently discovering) is a bloody blackhole for personal time.

A Result Of Sound definitely did feel like a real shift, I remember it dropping and thinking it was almost closer to cinematic music than dancefloor business. Dynamis is the same in large portions. It feels far bigger than your standard club fare.

Well for me personally that’s what albums are: It’s a bigger representation of your sound. 12’s are mainly for the dance but I’ve always looked at the album as a whole piece of work which you should be able to listen to in its entirety. It is important that a good part of the album still works in a sound system environment too of course… It’s bloody hard I won’t lie. The key is to trust yourself.

Sonically it’s an interesting direction you’re moving in. As well as it having that widescreen filmic design to it, it’s also got a strong vein of hip-hop running through it. Certainly, seems to have more swagger than your other records. Paradigm is a particularly good example. That’s that proper head nodding shit.

It’s always been quite hard for me if I’m honest because I’m not a dub-head and I’m not originally a d’n’b head so I feel I’ve always been on a slightly different path from others in the (dubstep) scene.

The production and mixes in hip-hop are just crazy! In the last four years or so I’ve really taken notice of what’s been going on in that world. I worked on a project for Riz MC a few years back and he introduced me to a lot of cool artists that would probably have passed me by otherwise.

Film scores have always been a big influence on me too: I spent quite a long period really studying them for this album. Their dynamics and mixes and so on.

What sort of soundtracks were you studying?

Ahhh man. Loads of stuff, particularly stuff by Hanz Zimmer and Cliff Martinez

What sort of hip-hop were you listening to alongside the soundtrack influences?

Stuff by School Boy Q, Drake, Arca stuff, bit of Kendrick Lamar. Frank Ocean.

Ahhh yea some of that Arca stuff is banging. New Schoolboy Q is probably one of my albums of the year. So, was it that hip-hop influence that led to the creation of the vocal tracks with Killa P and Beezy? The Beezy one particularly felt very much like a hip-hop piece, both structurally and thematically. A bit more to it than just spitting bars; It’s probably my favourite thing I’ve heard Beezy on too actually.

There has been such a good response to that track and his vocal. And yes…. that kind of music was a definite influence on it but Beezy really made it though. He knows how to deliver everything I need from a vocalist. Same can be said for Killa P, the guy is so professional.

Yeah Beezy has a unique quality to him. He actually tends to get overlooked when people talk about the scene. Particularly the early days.

Yep true. He’s a ledge.

Although same can be said about you to be fair. I’ve read a fair few long-read articles about the birth of dubstep and your name regularly seems to be MIA.

I really like the idea of putting vocalists on track people wouldn’t expect them to be on.

Yeah for me it’s definitely a winning formula. It’s always a bit of a yawn fest when an album has a vocal track bang in the middle (usually about track six or seven) and its just standard club beat with standard verse about “having bars” and “lenging the dance” etc.

Yeah I’m not about that really. These vocal tracks are there because I really love working with vocalists. Mixing music you have produced around someone else’s vocal can be eye opening. I learn something new every time. It’s about finding that new thing. Finding new flavours.

I’m constantly hungry for new music but I’m quite fussy and have a very specific taste. I think the shift in styles was part of that. I think I was just getting too bored so had to move outside of 140 and dubstep. To me it’s all still UK underground music. People do need to realise that this isn’t me quitting 140: it’s more a case of feeling confident enough to make what I want. It’s still my sound.

Yeah for sure. The album moves around tempo / genre wise but I think aesthetically it doesn’t do anything to alienate dubstep fans. It sits quite happily alongside any number of releases on both Chestplate and Tectonic without sounding out of place. You can still trace the sounds of dubstep throughout.

I think it’s time all this specific genre shit was put in the bin anyway to be honest. In terms of both labels and club nights I think the longevity always stems from the variety. Labels like Hyperdub and Tectonic are great examples.

Yeah true mate, I totally agree. I mean dubstep wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for people experimenting.

I find it interesting how it literally started life as a weird mongrel genre, of loads of different things slung together, but slowly over the past few years it seems to have painted itself almost completely into a corner. Not saying there’s not some great stuff out there but nearly everything that gets submitted to GetDarker currently is either “minimal/dungeon” or proper ridiculous thrashing bro stuff. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of strange fringe bits anymore. People like Guido, Various Production, Scuba or whoever: all those guys with really odd and unique sounds who have now (largely) moved on don’t seem to have really been replaced. It’s kind of homogenised for me now.

Yeah it’s true mate. But the problem is when someone does try something and it’s a bit too new and experimental for the dubstep scene a lot of the hardcore heads boycott them, so they have no choice but to move on to other scenes.

Yeah definitely I hear you. I suppose that’s why so many artists run under so many aliases. It does seem that dubstep has generated a rather stubborn core audience in recent times.
In terms of the new direction of your sound how do you work that into a set in a club then?

As the tempos are so varied it will be some kind of live show. I’m already on Ableton working it all out. I may even start DJ’ing with Ableton too as you can do so much crazy shit with it, but currently I’m concentrating on using Ableton with NI’s Maschine studio in a live context.

Ah that sounds like it’ll be pretty epic! Are you rolling out on an album tour then after the release?

That would be great yes but nothing like that planned as yet. Still working it all out.

So how did the album’s release on Tectonic come about? Was it not something you had time to do via Chestplate or did you not want to?

I don’t want to release my own albums. That takes so much time and effort. When I’m writing music that’s all I want to focus on at that point in time, not plan how I’m going to promote it etc. I need my head in one frame of mind. It kind of came naturally to release on Tectonic as Pinch and I are good friends and very like-minded when it comes to beats. I have huge respect for him and the label in general. Chestplate also hasn’t really stepped outside of dubstep land at present but that could be coming very soon… Not leaving, just expanding.

Yeah I saw you put out a tweet about that recently. That’s great; I’d be really interested to hear the Chestplate aesthetic but outside of usual dubstep structure.

I’m even sure yet what I will end up releasing, but it’ll definitely be whatever grabs me at that moment.

I think Tectonic is a good home for the record. As an A&R I rate Pinch highly. The album projects on Tectonic always seem to be so fully formed and balanced. Circadian by Jack Sparrow is one of the most brilliantly sequenced records I’ve heard in dance music and Better Strangers by Acre last year was also amazingly well balanced. Got criminally slept on too.

Ye man Rob has a good ear… just the one though. On a side note. Wait ‘til you hear the new Deleted scenes beats we’ve been writing.

I clocked you mention that too somewhere at some point. That will be bloody smashing I’m sure! Well looking forward to seeing y’all on the vinyl thing at GD10 too as it happens.

Yes can’t wait geeza.

I’ll try and keep my trousers on this year (editors note: Bayfield managed to get so drunk he lost half of his trousers somewhere during proceedings at the GetDarker 9th Birthday)

Good lad.

So what do you do to break up the creative process when you’re working on a full scale project like this? You’re a bit of a badman barista aren’t you? Seen on Instagram you roast your own beans and hardcore shit like that.

In the summer I tend to more, but yeah.

So what does the process entail?

I have a machine which roasts the beans. Then I use a grinder to grind ‘em ready for putting through my espresso machine.

Jesus man. The bloody hell’s wrong with Kenco?! Do you get the beans in bulk? Straight, uncut Columbian shit?

Nah. Normally from people on Ebay or online shops.

So technically could you do your own roasts and stuff and sell them? Like mix types of beans up and whatnot?

It’s only a small roaster, it would take me too long! But yeah hypothetically you can do that; make your own blend.

You could just brand it up as “Small Batch Authentic Hand Roasted Chestplate Blend” or some waffle and upscale once the money starts pouring in.

…Maybe I should.

I’ll design some labels for you.

Take merchandising to a whole new level.

Perfect idea with Christmas just around the corner.

My brain is running like mad now thinking of ideas… Chestmas Pudding Blend would smash it.

We could do a Chestplate instore coffee morning with Tunnidge and the gang at Rough Trade East for the launch. Hahahaha, this is such a great idea!

They would fucking love that wouldn’t they though? Offer a beard groom as well.

Mate we’re half way to retirement with this idea.

Right back in room.

Oh yes that new album thingy… Something I was going to ask about was the track names. They seem rather descriptive of perhaps the intention of the record or its perceived reception. Was that a conscious thing or bit of a coincidence?

They all came pretty naturally. Some can be looked upon as symbolic I suppose.

The whole theme of the album is to embrace change. Being able to embrace it and maybe not even be particularly comfortable with it. Paradigm plays on that. Sink Or Swim… this could all go wrong and bite me in the arse. I think the only way you can keep going as a producer and DJ is to constantly try and change your approach. The dubstep scene isn’t what it was and may never be as healthy as in the past so what do you do? Grasp onto something that doesn’t exist or move forward?

Instruction To Survive fits in nicely with that idea as it has no real structure. I don’t even know what you would call it if you had to fit it within a genre. That’s what I’m aiming for: moving forward. Just make beats and forgetting all restrictions of scenes and genres
I guess some people might be really upset I haven’t made another My Demons or Repercussions… in fact I’m sure some people will be, but that’s life. Nothing stays the same.

No I totally agree. I’m a massive fan of both those records (Repercussions was potentially the first full length dubstep album I bought so always gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling) but they are both as they are. They capture your style at that time. If I want to revisit that I can, but if I’m dropping £25 on a record next week I don’t really want to spend that money on more of the same. I’ve paid for that stuff once already… You’d only spend it on coffee beans anyway.

Same goes for the music in general, regardless of genre. If I drop a tenner for a show ticket next week, as much as I love the old classics, I don’t really want to go out and hear all the tunes I heard when I was out spending my overdraft half a decade ago. Considering how new and progressive this music used to be considered I do find it quite entertaining that a large proportion of the events currently receiving any love / attention / shifting tickets are primarily the nostalgia based excursions.

I totally agree. The old catalogue of dubstep smashers are being played more and more. It’s an easy, safe option. I would rather risk losing followers then play it safe. Rewinds back in the day were given primarily for brand new, exclusive tracks: So good you had to hear it twice! Not tracks you’ve heard a hundred times and anyone who own a Spotify account can play at home.

Yeah that’s it isn’t it. I understand people want to try and make and living and whatnot but considering there’s next to no dubstep nights left (particularly in London) to even book half the artists in the first place it should technically make you even more liberated to push off in different directions and experiment… although that would perhaps mean people swallowing some pride and getting day-jobs / moving back in with mums and dads.

Very true. But if that’s what it means for me and I had to get a 9 to 5 again I would, no problem. I have to enjoy what I’m doing.

I honestly think long-term it’s the only way. Part of the reason places like FWD>> felt so much fun (and I only made it down in the much later days) was the sense that no-one was there to secure a booking or make a quick buck. How was it you initially got involved in early dubstep / FWD days etc?

I started off going to Fwd>> at the very beginning, when there were maybe 10-15 people in Plastic People. It was nowhere near being a scene and the word dubstep hadn’t even been spoken at that point. Sets featured a lot of garage and 2-step and at that time 8bar/grime was just evolving.

It was a crazy mixing pot of styles but all were very much a UK orientated sound. I actually feel we are in a similar space right now there; are lots of styles which are surfacing which don’t really belong anywhere…. so I doubt it will be long before a whole new scene is born.

Back to the Early days: I really didn’t know what I was doing in regard to beat making but just went for it and did my best.
All I hoped for at that time was for DJ EZ to drop one of my tunes on his KissFM show, and he did! First tune I ever made actually. That meant I made it onto the radar of some of the DJs on Rinse like Rossi B and Luca and Slimzee.

It wasn’t long after that I got offered my own show on Rinse along with the likes of Paul Rose (Scuba), Search & Destroy and maybe Plastician (Plasticman back then). This was early 2003 I think. I linked up with Mala very early on too, I remember him coming to meet me at O’Neils in Bromley and we traded beats…. God how long do you have for this bit lol I have too much to go through!

 

You can cop the phenomenal Dynamis by Distance right now HERE

 

 

 

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