dBridge, life is an inspiration
Drum and bass is a hybrid genre with deep roots in acid house and breakbeat, all combined within the amazing culture of sampling. Rhythm patterns from funk and jazz, strange noises and long delays from dub and reggae have paved the way for one of the most energetic dance floor oriented music. This style of music has revealed along the years a lot of talented artists who became world wide producers and evangelist of electronic music. One of the artists that truly inspired and brought something new to the genre is dBridge, had honcho of Exit Records. What fascinates me is the story of this eclectic man and the versatile records he released and keeps on releasing. Born of Jamaican ancestry with his father being a reggae singer and his brother a soul-funk singer, dBridge is a path between worlds and genres. And you can literally feel that in his music. Modesty in front of his epic achievements is the best way to describe our talk. Music is about True Romance between passion and endurance!
It’s incredible when a producer uses and finds his own voice. Too Late, Gone Before Dawn, Better Than the Pain, Cos My Love Is are just amazing and different to what people would associate with your name. Is your brother Steve Spacek an inspiration?
Life was an inspiration! It took a while for that EP to come out, for me to be comfortable releasing it. It was a close and personal subject matter. I haven’t really spoken about it, but it was about a relationship ending; all my releases with my vocals tend to that matter. On Too Late I had finished a long relationship and I was kind of saying goodbye through the music. Some of it is about embracing my new relationship someway and since that material I haven’t sung again. It always is like my own personal therapy, like an exorcism. Some tracks are straightforward about me and my relationships and some are part about other people, as I’ve been talking to friends of the things they’ve gone through. There is a concept behind the recordings: the effects relationships have on people, that’s what Too Late EP is about. People have asked me why I haven’t sung lately and it’s simple: because I am really in a happy place right now. When you listen to the few times when I do sing, it is something like the blues, morose and me sort of wishing things are better. Ultimately right now things are good and so I have to learn writing about the happiness around. It’s not as easy as writing about when things are shit. With Too Late I was saying goodbye to a part of my life and now I am wondering what happens next myself. I can’t say I’ve approached it as a singer-songwriter but they were tracks I’ve been working on quite a few years. And as I said it took a while to be ok releasing it. It was a bit of a struggle, that music was meant only for me and sharing it to anyone else was hard. I did it though, I can’t say it was a success, but that doesn’t matter that much to me. It was the best way to move on.
If we got to this point, let’s speak a bit about the process of creating an album, because most people don’t understand how important that is in a musical career. How do you approach an album? Did your technique(s) changed over the years?
Yes it’s true. Young producers and musicians out there have to work a lot nowadays! Even my career is special. For example, I’ve been threatening to write a new album since Gemini Principle, and it’s like almost ten years now. I wanted to write an album and I am trying to do it since then, but the format of it doesn’t necessarily has such an appeal to me. How can I explain this? I write music for my own reasons, not for an audience, but I realise at the end of the day that this is my job, so I need to release music and continue to have a job. But lately I am thinking, I don’t want to release songs for the sake of it. Just for bookings. I am also at a stage in my life where I don’t know if I want to continue to do this much longer. Not music of course, but the DJ side of it. I am getting older, they are not! Haha, it's some sort of a dilemma for me right now. Some things you just have to let go and be ok with. The audience is always going to stay around the same age in this genre. If I am going to do this, take a step aside, I will have to embrace it or find something else to do. I love making music, I will never stop sitting in my studio and noodling and I am one of the lucky ones, having been doing this a long time so I don’t have to make as much music as people who came into this industry more recently. I have a heritage and history on my side, so I can and will get booked. But I am also going to recognize that it will not last for too long. I still have to learn new stuff and I have new ideas and projects on and off. If something comes out that I am able and willing to present it to an audience, cool, so be it. Or if I have to go and work in a supermarket then so be it! I look back and it’s been twenty years this year since my first DJ gig and twenty five years from my first release: I’ve done alright! I am really happy with all my back catalogue. Things like the scene and the environment are constantly changing, the whole dynamic of making music and releasing music. It’s weird to adapt to it on and on, but we’ll live, produce, compose, sing and see.
Production-wise, you’ve recently released Fashion Dread & Digital Dread (Sentry Records) which make you seem a big fan of dub music. Do you get a lot on influence from here? Do you like any particular group or producer in this genre?
I listen to dub a lot, but I am not a collector. I have grown up listening to it, feels like it’s always been there and I was enjoying it from the start. But my approach is different, I don’t necessarily remember names, not only producers, but also songs names. My memory is bad that way. But I do love it as a practice, the production side, the technology and imagination put into it. The attention to sound and the way it is processed. As a genre is brilliant and it’s been a huge part of my development. I met Jah Shaka and his sound system through my brother and I will always think he was playing it and twisting it superbly, but that was enough. My mum was very keen on dubs from Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown, John Holt and stuff like that. Sly and Robbie doing all the instrumentals and rocking it hard. I loved the vocal side of it too, mostly in my childhood from my parents. To the dub side of things I got hooked in the early and mid nineties. Apart from everything, I was more into early jungle, because that was my path. As I said before, dub music has always been around me, for example my father is from Jamaica, he was a musician and he released, at home in UK, music on Ackee Music Records as Uncle Ben, just check out Too Much Conspiracy.
Talking about music as a heritage and collective. You also curate albums not just the Exit Records catalogue, somehow 2016 was a really good year with Who is Richie Brains, the “electronic punk character” project you’ve released and executively produced last year. Some of our favorite artists and vocalists are in there: Rider Shafique, Killa P, Sam Binga and Om Unit to name a few. Do these kinds of musical experiments feel like a relief? Is an ensemble like that more effective in getting music closer to a pure art form? With Black Rhino we have too such a similar blitz sessions between at least two bands and they proved to be pure exorcism and empowering.
Yes it is about connection. I have said it before, I am a big fan of collaborations. Working with other people is a constant learning process and it is what I like the most. With Richie Brains it all started because I was releasing Stray’s, Om Unit’s, Chimpo’s, Charlie’s, Fractures and Fixate’s music on my label and I felt a common thread between their stuff. So I literally send them an email with the push to get them in the same studio and make music together. “It makes sense that you guys do that. There is obviously some chemistry and spark.” My studio and Charlie’s were in the same building, so we got them all together to write some beats and then it all evolved into three studios going in the same time. People in all of them, just throwing out ideas, beats and just keeping a close contact, creating. Originally I was part of the project, but I realised I don’t need to be. “You guys are so much better at this.” I told them to go on with it. It took two years, but I think that having that patience and letting people do what they’re doing, is really nice. I had a personal satisfaction in seeing these talented producers get together and write stuff. And then with the involvement of the visual art studio Utile and Harry who we’ve worked to do the character.
I just remember like a holy zen trinity: Suspicion, Fashion and Rumors, we promoted this project by just working those three angles. And I love talking about stuff and teasing things.We are living in an age where everybody wants everything NOW. And they can have it now. They want all this information and I’ve continued to do that throughout all my career, even with the Autonomic and Heartdrive podcasts. They were a way to get a better connection with the audience.
Back from the early days everybody just goes “Who's this track?”. It doesn’t matter, listen to the music first, enjoy it.
Do you like it? And once you got it or learn who made it, you make a move and not just move on from it. I remember growing up just hearing tunes and wondering what it is. I always tried to make this a part of the Exit Records ethos. And Richie Brains is a good example of that. It doesn’t matter who he is. We created a character that satisfies the people’s need to have just one name. To get that name and satisfaction. When in truth, Richie Brains is seven people. So all that matters is if you liked it, we tried to prove that is all that matters. In some ways it was an exercise in learning to fuck with social media. Once we have decided we don’t want everyone to know there was more than one person, we came up with the idea of Who is Richie Brains and left it like that. It just feed into itself. It was fun to see unfold and just watch.
We reached the special moment in our interview, when we talk a bit about the Exit Records crew: Dub Phizix, Skeptical, Kid Drama, Stray, Synkro, Mark System, Alix Perez, Instramental, very important producers and performers of eclectic genres. What can you share with us about forthcoming releases?
Well, like I said it before, collaborations are a big part of what I do, compilations and podcasts too. It is because I have grown in music that way with my first project, a collective, The Sewer Monsters which was me, my brother, a guy called Frank Gary. Then I started working with Lennie De Ice as part of his Dubb Hustlers crew and I released something with him on Screwface Recordings.
After that period I met Jason Maldini and we made Future Forces Inc, we were putting out music on the Renegade Hybrid label. The next team I met were Clayton and Mark, I’ve collaborated with their label Trouble on Vinyl, who had an amazing crew as well, I met there: Hype, Navigator, Grooverider, DJ Reality, Friction, Dilinja, Red, etc. That whole figure and style of rolling with a collective was at the core of my existence, development and making music. Then there was Bad Company and all this collaborating is an important part of what I do and I carry that through, in terms of my own Exit label. The Mosaic compilations are in the same vein, the Exit verses, Modulate, all these releases are my way of clinging to that ideal. About what’s next on Exit this year and maybe next year too.
There is a kid called Dolan who has done an EP for me that I have programmed for release. Zed Bias has done an album called Different Response with lots of amazing collaborations: Eva Lazarus, DRS, Bahia, Harleigh Blu. There is also from Germany an artist called Poison Arrow, from Berlin, who’s done a techno EP with a DnB undertone that I want to release soon. There is a kid called Ital who’s had some collabs with Crypticz, released on the label Cosmic Bridge, and he is now doing an EP for me. As the artists that I am pushing find their own feet, or at least are able to move on, they usually start their own labels and I always encourage them to do that. This year is one of those that I am putting out music from new people that probably won’t sell well but it doesn’t matter. I am all about that crew mentality that I’ve grown with and I like having Exit Records gigs with smaller up-and-coming artists and bigger headliners. All over the world, the best thing that I have satisfaction for is that, Exit being represented all over, the whole year. When people write to me and say “hey, congrats, Exit is represented over here too!”, I just love that shit!
You are coming from a London background sound, could you please talk a bit about the importance of sound systems and the culture that comes with it? Did this culture had influenced you in any way?
It influenced me and Steve, my brother, in the sense that I was always there, a big part of our teenage years. Steve took me out at Jah Shaka dances, the Notting Hill Carnival and good sound has always been close to us. In spite of that, I do not imagine having my own sound system. My brother was more into that and he just got me into the culture. He’s been trying to create his own sound system for years now. What I think is that sound systems and public sound, as a whole, are very important in every country and for each community. The music is best experienced when you have quality and we’re lucky in Europe that it is a lot better than in other places, but it’s getting better worldwide each year. I respect the art, but I feel weird when after you stick to the dance, you would have to pack the sound system away. Haha, I pity on the people responsible.
Mentioning community like that, how important is it in any kind of music and which are your dearest memories of people gathering like that and creating something out of thin air?
See, like I mentioned above, collaboration, collectives and community are some of the most important things for me personally. I reckon I am in a lucky position where I am quoted as a figurehead with Exit and my whole past. But that is not really the point for me. I like that I’ve got people like Skeptical, System, Fixate, Charlie and the others around and they are able to showcase what they do, but like I said, I also encourage them to start their own labels because I can only put out so much, and their music needs to be really heard all the time. Because I come from that sort of early nineties jungle style of drum and bass, it was always crews. In the early beginnings I met Maldini on Trouble on Vinyl, and we decided to start something new and fresh: Renegade Hybrid, that is how that came out. We created something because there was no U-Turn Records, Trace Recordings, Rymetyme, Ed Rush, Optical and all those guys yet.
You had like crew after crew appearing those days - Full Cycle, Reinforced and Metalheadz, Goldie with his crew. It all helped move things forward. We were all in a constructive competition and in constant interaction, they would come to our gigs, we went to theirs. Ed Rush for example, used to come and love our tunes, he was always: “Can I cut this?”, and we were trying to keep it to ourselves, but after a few weeks we would give it to him. As a community we were constantly building, making new tunes so we had something fresh and moving into future projects. It felt like a friendly competition between producers as we were pushing each other. Like another example, Dillinja and Photek, with the ping-pong they were doing. Growing up in that environment, it was natural for me to start Exit and even if at first it was a personal thing, just me, it later turned out and transformed into a crew. If you take a look at the catalogue, I usually go through the stage of finding people and then moving on with them and their releases. I am now in another stage of shedding skin.
Fast forward to nowadays. There is no official dBridge video. How come? Don't you consider to be a good promotion method?
I don’t know. It’s not really my type of thing. Me and Calibre for example, we have no songs remixed either. I’ve had only So Lonely remixed by Morgan Zarate, who used to work with my brother and has some cool solo releases on Kode9’s Hyperdub.
I think I am a bit insecure about my music and by not doing an official video, I feel like I am not shouting to grab peoples attention. That type of approach make me feel uncomfortable and I think it depends on the project. If it is from the start connected to a visual meaning, and if it is something you need to express visually too, then I think it’s alright, but just for the sake of views and clicks I am not going to do it. I’m not going to stop anyone else doing it either, but I don’t think I’ve met the right person to give me the visual representation of my music. Look, with the Too Late EP, I was kind of meaning to make a video and I knew what I wanted it to be, but now I am afraid it is too late. Haha, maybe with the next stuff someone comes along and we click. If I think a bit, I am doing it with the Slick Tapes, my project that I am developing into something more than just music. So in truth I’ve got this concept of music and visuals going hand in hand right now.
I am working on the second mix now and these are visual aspects of my music. They are really personal though and completely resonate with me. They somehow coincide and represent what I’m doing, developing that side of music. So, on the second thought, I wouldn’t say I am not interested in the visual aspect of music, as now I am working with a talented programmer and web developer for the second edition of Slick Tapes. I would like to do it myself too because I am really into photography.
This is my last question, talking about videos, Marka from Dub Phizix, Skeptical and Strategy has an amazing video and the song is one of the hits of Exit Records. How was your first reaction to it before you released it, did you sensed its potential?
It’s still selling you know? It has a weird story though, because I had it for about a year before it came out. I was playing it a lot and I always liked it, the B-side Rags too. As I remember, I think Skeptical had written a lot of it before the other two got involved and it was really developed to a certain stage, so I just asked them to finish it together. Strats and George have embellished it, with the vocal and putting the finishing touches. The same thing happened with Rags, George had started it and I suggested Skeptical to add more and it’s weird, I’ve got some early versions of both tunes. And when they got together all three, they managed to pull off some sort of magic.
It came out in a strange way too, as we released it when the awards ceremony for the DnB Arena with The best of 2014 was on, in the winter, the year hadn’t finished and we launched it and it blew everything up. I think if we waited a bit longer it might not have had such an impact. As a label we released it in a bad time, December 11th. Two weeks before Christmas is never a good idea, everyone is saving for presents, none has time to pay for music. But it just seemed to catch this vibe and hit a nerve, people just wanted to be part of it, literally becoming it’s own beast. Then there was that video that went with it. When it comes to videos I like to completely trust the team and their work. Complete freedom always gives the best results, they were trying to explain it: “we want to get this and that.” I just told them, “Man, send me the invoice!”. I always do that, when we have the visuals, the videos, the artwork for the label, I don’t want to get involved, I know that how it looks is just as important as how it sounds, and when I work with people with vision I would not try to temper it.
When people send me music, I am definitely picky, but in the same time when another artist wants to do something for me I generally trust them. Because I am a producer as well, I don’t like the idea of someone telling me about my music, so I wouldn’t presume to do the same.
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