Taking their name from the Star Wars ‘Black Sun Crime Syndicate’, Black Sun Empire are a dutch trio that have been tearing up d&b with their signature dark, techy and hard style since the mark of the millenium. One of the most prolific Dutch d&b outfits, they’ve built a name for themselves worldwide not only through production and DJing but also running three labels of their own, BSE Recordings, Obsessions and Shadows of the Empire.
Having already released four full length LP, they’re fifth, entitled From the Shadows, is coming out on October 15th. While their last album, the 2010 Lights and Wires, showcased their versatility across a range of tempos, this one goes back to their roots for 12 tracks (plus one bonus track) of pure drum and bass, instead experimenting more with vocals to bring a development to their already unique sound. Collaborations with producers such as Noisia, Rido, Audio and N. Phect as well as vocalists such as Foreign Beggars, Thomas Oliver & Youthstar and Inne Eysermans ensure there’s plenty of variety within the album, moving between all out dance floor destruction and more laid back offerings.
While it’s always nice to hear more of their heavy tearout tracks such as the Noisia collab Feed the Machine and the state of mind collab Tripel, I’m really enjoying some of the alternate styles they’ve bought to this release, collaborating with Rido for a deeper and more stripped back sound for example. Adaptation also takes things much lighter then usual, creating a more euphoric dance floor tune. Killing the Light is a real standout for me, combining with the vocal talents of Inne Eysermans for a track that blurs the lines between beautiful and filthy, stripping back into long vocal sections accompanied only by pads and atmospherics before slowly building back up into drops with surging bass and technical drum glitches. Foreign Beggars also know how to bring straight up vibes to any track so their input on Dawn of a Dark Day is an ever welcome addition, polishing off a atmospheric track that builds into all out warfare with swooping bass synths combining with mechanical stabs.
Although it sometimes goes a bit too screechy for my liking, such as on All Is Lost where Thomas Oliver & Youthstar provide nice vocals that are slightly drowned out by high pitched synths, it’s otherwise a really strong release that delivers on the high expectations I had of such a talented and prolific trio. There’s plenty of variety while it still stays very true to their roots and will keep long time fans happy while still progressing and experimenting with their sound. A primarily dance floor based album, almost every track is sure to cause massacre on a dancefloor.
Our fellow Dutch resident of all things bass, Monika, sat down for a chat with brothers Milan and Micha Heyboer to talk D&B, their thoughts on remixes and of course, the album. Unfortunately the third member, Rene Verdult, couldn’t be there, but Milan and Micha come with all the information you could ever wish for.
Let’s go down memory lane. What are your first memories of Drum & Bass?
Milan: I really started to like Drum &Bass when The Prototypes came out. I had heard Drum & Bass music before but what really got me into it was a track by Ed Rush & Fierce called “Locust”.
Micha: We used to go to Tivoli in Utrecht, our hometown; there was this party called GabbaJungleWar where they played Hardcore and oldschool Jungle. That was actually the place where we were infected by Jungle and at some point music started to switch. Beats became two step’y which we really liked. This was around ‘94, ‘95.
So when did you start producing?
Micha: Well I don’t know if you can call it producing, but when we were in high school we bought a soundcard and started to make music. Our Soundcard back in the days had a memory of approximately 16MB.
Milan: It was a really cheap one but you needed it to make beats. It was probably around ‘95 when we started to make all sorts of stuff. I think it was around ‘96-‘97 when we started to produce Drum & Bass. We produced a whole album. It was our demo for record labels; a complete, produced album. But it all got thrown away by the label managers in that time.
Who did you send it to?
Micha: To companies like Sony, honestly we had no clue.
Milan: To a few smaller ones too.
You started big!
Milan: Yeah we had no idea!
You’ve been in the scene for quite some time now, how do you think it’s changed? For better or for worse?
Milan: Well it got more international. Back in the days it was just a British thing and now you see producers from all around the world. Also you can see a lot more people making electronic music. It used to cost quite a bit of money to get started and the only thing you need nowadays is a computer so it’s become a lot easier to produce.
Micha: Technology has changed it; it’s so much easier to get in contact with anyone and much easier to make music. There are so many online tutorials explaining how you’re supposed to make a certain sound. Back in the days there were no tutorials, you had to read stuff in the magazines and still it’s different than actually seeing someone doing it.
Do you think that this has influenced the quality of music?
Micha: Technically the music sounds much better nowadays; back in the day you only had a certain amount of memory on your computer for your samplers so you could only do a certain number of activities. Quality wise, the level is always growing. You had to be more determined to really want to make music. Now everybody can just try without really diving into it.
Milan: I don’t think its better or worse, it’s just loads more.
Why do you think Dutch producers are better known abroad than in the Netherlands?
Micha: Dutch people tend to look at the artists outside of the Netherlands and at the same time it’s just a small scene compared to England. I don’t think it’s a problem, though it would be nice to skip the flight and airport wait times and make enough money to live, but at the same time it’s nice to see the world.
Milan: Media pays more attention to bands nowadays, even Noisia don’t really get support from radio, and it’s just the way it is. I think the Drum & Bass scene in Holland itself is very good, there’s tons of really good parties, good producers, etc.
You’re a producing trio; do you guys have assigned roles?
Milan: All three of us are capable of starting and finishing a track, it’s not like someone makes a beat or bass. We sometimes work in duos or sometimes the track is more or less a solo track. I think it’s a really good thing that we can all produce well, so that we are not dependable on each other.
Micha: Making something is a process of experimenting, so when one of us is producing the other two can’t really be like ‘oh let’s do this’; it just takes time to create a track. It doesn’t work like a band where someone plays drums and the other one plays piano, the other one guitar and then all of it makes a tune. It’s more like everybody can participate on a track, you just leave someone producing until he’s stuck, or start changing everything and then you can give advice on what you think of it, like: ‘I liked that part better before’; then you can start to interfere.
Do you follow a sort of structure when producing or do you totally improvise?
Milan: Yeah it’s improvisation, you can start with the beat, but you can also start with the sample, there’s no fixed formula.
Micha: Sometimes it’s the sound you hear; someone else did something and you’ll be like ‘lets try to recreate it’, not just copy it but find out how it works, then you’re close to that sound and can turn it into something totally different and you’ll start to make a track. Most of the time we haven’t got any clue of what we’re going to do, but sometimes we might have an idea where it should go. You could probably work on one track forever and every month it would be a different track. Every now and then you have to call it done. Some tunes change so much you wont even recognize them two months later.
You have your club nights, three labels, you’re producing, DJ’ing , doing your own artwork. What do you enjoy the most?
Milan: It all started with making music, because of the love for making music. I like DJ’ing a lot, sometimes DJ’ing can be a real job but it is a very privileged job to do. Running labels is all connected to making music… So what do I like best? I guess it’s making music.
Micha: Same here. I think none of us would be a DJ if we weren’t playing our own tracks. We never started out as DJ’s, we were like ’look we’ve never done that before but we can give it a try’. It was pretty scary. I still don’t consider myself as a DJ.
What were the reasons for founding three labels?
Micha: First reason because we are three different persons, so you make a lot of concessions with the three of us already, and if there is another external company involved which controls when you release and how it looks, you have to make more concessions. Back in the 90’s Drum & Bass wasn’t really professional. I mean there were all those kids who started producing Drum & Bass and all of the sudden started making money out of it and I think most of them kinda lost control. The financial part of the industry looked like sometimes you would get paid and sometimes you wouldn’t and we weren’t really entertained by this part.
We thought it could be more professional and we would be more in control so we just wanted to start our own label. We decide when a track comes out and how it’s going to look. That’s why we started the first label; this was around our first album. And we were getting bigger and bigger and we were receiving all these demos, and there were a lot of tracks that we liked, but were maybe a little bit too experimental or not really dance floor orientated. So we said let’s start a sub label for that so we created our second label, Obsessions. Then we started to make Dubstep so we needed a different label for that genre as well. That might change though.
Are you releasing anyone elses Dubstep?
Milan: We haven’t signed any Dubstep artists yet; we had Camo and Krooked. They made a great Dubstep tune, but they signed to Hospital, so it never came out on our label. Main focus recently was on the new album, which is completely Drum & Bass. We didn’t lose our focus on Dubstep though.
Micha: Drum & Bass has always been the music we fell in love with and Dubstep is nice, but it’s just everywhere now and the Dubstep we make is not really the popular one, it’s not like Skrillex, it’s not like 16bit.
Have you signed any new artists recently to Obsessions?
Micha: We signed some Telekinesis tunes, a Nouwa 12 and there are a few other tracks coming out soon. We’re not sure what to do with the labels now; we might end up connecting it to our party and combine all three into one. It’s just a discussion point.
Is the new album finished? Are you pleased with it?
Yes and Yes, absolutely! It comes out on October 15th.
Who else features?
Noisia, Bless, State of Mind, Rido, Foreign Beggars, N.Phect, Thomas Oliver & Youthstar, Inne Eysermans (Amatorski) and Audio. It’s a pure Drum & Bass album.
What were your main inspirations during the production process?
Micha: I wanted to have vocal tracks. Whether Hip-Hop style or just vocals, we’d never done either before so I thought we should try. So we did. It wasn’t always easy but the end result is really interesting. Vocals just add something special to the music; they can make a tune a lot better or a lot more memorable. That was interesting.
Will there be more vocals on your tunes in the future?
Micha: Yeah hopefully, we want to keep making tunes with vocals, not as a commercial thing, more just to add something special to it. It’s an extra part to the production because it’s the only analog thing we do, it’s also an interesting step to get outside of the computer, communicating with someone and it’s also hard because we cannot sing. We can say to each other that the bass or the beat is not good and we can all alter that, but we can’t sing and telling someone what you don’t like about their singing is pretty difficult sometimes.
Have you ever done something with your vocals?
Micha: I used to sing for a band while Milan was the drummer, but we’ve never used our own vocals for BSE tunes.
Anything more you can tell me about the album?
The track with Amatorski is more like a song than a dancefloor banger. Some of the tunes are pretty loud and some of them are more easy listening.
How do you come up with the titles for your tracks?
Micha: Sometimes you just watch a movie and you hear someone saying a specific sentence. I write a lot of words down and keep them in my phone, then when we need a track title I just go through them. I think Rene does the same. It kind of has to fit the track afterwards. If there are vocals on it, it’s easier because you just take out a little piece of what they are singing. If it’s instrumental, sometimes the title might mean something, sometimes it totally doesn’t.
Now that your club nights are hitting Europe’s dance floors, which Blackout has been your favourite?
The most memorable probably will always be the first one we ever did. For us it is a special thing to have a night in London. The English are pretty self-centred and focused so to have a night being a foreign artist with a foreign label in their capital city is pretty cool. Hopefully we’ll keep on doing that.
All the parties were cool, the Brussels rave is great and the night in Eindhoven was really cool as well. We sold out in presale; the lights and sound were amazing. We hired VJ’s so we had this big 3D sculpture on stage; it was mental. We started expanding because Tivoli de Helling is just small; you can’t invite really big names because it’s just too expensive and also you can’t do extra lighting for the same reasons. It’s really cool though to let people hear an upcoming artist and new underground stuff. People know about our party, it’s been going for about 10 years, somehow it just started rolling.
Who would play at your ideal night?
Micha: Prince, Bruce Springsteen and maybe Radiohead.
That’s far away from DnB!
Micha: Yeah, it’s because we are into Drum & Bass; we make it; we play it, so I guess something like this would just be more special to us. We’ve also played with most of the people from the scene quite often, not only at our own parties but also at different venues. So it does get less special to see people like that.
It’s like being a film director: you know everything about how films are made so you look at things differently, therefore not all the magic is gone but some of it is gone and it just becomes a routine. But it’s nice; we still love it. Seeing Radiohead is just something else because you have no clue how they do what they do.
Milan: We always put a lot of effort in our line-ups, like for example at our last Blackout (@Tivoli de Helling, Utrecht) we had Gridlok and Optical, I love their productions, it was wicked. We always try to book artists for our parties we like, maybe it’s not always the ideal line-up but it’s definitely a good one!
How’s the response to your club night in England?
Milan: Well a lot of people were talking about Blackout, which is good. Cable is a pretty prestigious club. Shogun Audio has their own night there as well. So yeah, there was quite a buzz about our party, because no one really does parties there with line-ups like that. I think that’s really good as I think this is a strong sound. Maybe it’s just under promoted. You see Hospital records or RAM records, for example, with big PR around their parties, but in this corner with Neurofunk or whatever you wanna call it, there is no big PR behind it, but that doesn’t make that music bad and it doesn’t mean that the party can’t be good.
Micha: This music is just a little bit less commercial. I think the core of it will always be pretty strong, it won’t become really big and then small again like it might have with Jump Up now, it might be going down a bit, because loads of Jump up lovers like to see more Dubstep, because it kind of has the same feel to it: the instant party vibe. Liquid and what we make is not an instant fix; it’s more like an experience, it’s a little bit different, it attracts different kinds of people. Also I think that a lot of music we like is not from England anymore, I mean there are still a lot of producers, but a lot of European artists are making that kind of sound (Neurofunk) maybe that’s why England doesn’t have parties like that anymore. Drum & Bass is changing a little bit again, it was really about Jump up and Clownstep or whatever it’s called, but now peoples’ interests are switching again. Some of them are going to Dubstep or have gone to Dubstep. It always will keep on evolving and turning; nobody really knows where it’s going.
If I’m not mistaken you don’t do many remixes? Why?
Milan: We don’t chase it you know? People really try to do remixes for people; our focus just hasn’t been on that. We actually just finished the remix for SPY. We probably are going to do few more.
Micha: Remixes are really cool to do but sometimes you think: you don’t want to screw up the original and sometimes you would be like: “Why am I remixing this tune? It’s perfect like it is.” Also if we ask someone to do a remix, it can be hard because they might have taken out the parts you loved the most. You ask yourself if it’s good, it’s hard to let it go. Maybe that’s why we don’t do that many remixes because we find it hard when people do remixes for us. The whole remix culture is a little bit weird to me anyway, why does one tune have 16 remixes? You kinda spread it all out, you try to cover all scenes, really commercially squeezing it… If you have an idea for something, if you change this a little bit to make it more like that, add something, why not?
Who would you like to collaborate with if you had a chance to work with anyone from around the globe?
Micha: The Knife and many other vocalists, production wise maybe with someone like Stephan Bodzin, no one within the Drum & Bass scene actually. I mean, it’s always nice, since we are friends it’s nice to work with them. But I would love to work with people outside of this scene, someone like Patrick Watson, Thom Yorke and Tom Waits.
Milan: Barry White! That would be awesome. It also would be cool to do something with Kyteman. TC, he is a really nice guy, he makes completely different music than we do. It would be really cool to sit down and see if we can make something out of it. Try to make a track; it would be interesting. It can be really good or really bad.
Who would you say is really rocking it for you in terms of production at the moment?
Noisia, Gridlok, Audio, The Upbeats, Telekinesis, Mindscape, Neonlight.
Do you prefer to play at festivals or clubs?
Milan: Clubs probably. I would even say clubs up to 1000 people. If it gets any bigger than that you lose contact with the crowd and I like to get vibes from people. At a festival the set up is really good, but it is usually very distant; it’s hard to get a good connection.
Micha: Festivals can be really good. When the crowd is really big you are more like overwhelmed by it and there is always a big distance from the audience and it feels like you are at a different party. In the club it’s warm, you have the same temperature, however sometimes it might be really cold on stage while people are dancing in the crowd and are really warm; it’s a big difference. I like those events with four or five hundred people. It’s more intimate, more dark and smoky.
What have you been listening to recently? What’s on your iPods?
Micha: I have Amatorski, Ben Howard, Bombay Show Pig, Drive soundtrack, Patrick Watson, Radiohead, Oliver Huntemann, Fink, Fever Ray, Triggerfinger, Fuck buttons and some more techno
Milan: Mine is empty.
What takes up your time outside of the studio?
Milan: My son.
Micha: Friends, films, books.
What have been some of your highlights of 2012 so far?
Milan: Our Blackout night in Eindhoven, but Blackout in London was really good as well.
Micha: Music wise: finishing the album.
Micha, you started your own aside project Tinlicker, right? When is it coming out?
Micha: Yes I did. I don’t know when it’s coming out yet though.
What were the reasons? Did you get tired of Drum & Bass?
Micha: Well you get used to everything; we did five albums now so sometimes you just have to do other things to appreciate what you have. Widening your horizons can’t be bad for you. I just find it really entertaining to do. Makes me happy and also makes me more productive Drum & Bass wise.
Was the rest of the trio involved?
Milan: Yeah, every now and then a little bit. I think it’s really good to make different music. You can get inspiration from other genres.
Micha: Actually two of the tracks of the new album are techno tracks made differently. I just had an idea to turn them into Drum & Bass tracks; turned out to be good. We probably wouldn’t ever make them that way so it’s interesting.
What’s next for you guys?
Milan: We still have to do a lot of PR for the album. Production wise we’re gonna do a couple of remixes. After that, we will see, territory unknown.
Micha: We have some ideas but there’s nothing concrete.
To all the Dutch people that support us and always come to our parties! And to everyone that helped.
Find out more about BSE and grab the album on their website.