Coming from a background of promoting d&b (London heads may remember the night he had a hand in; Medium at Plastic Peope), FD burst onto the scene as a producer back in 2010, presumably using the ear, taste and contacts he’d developed over the years being so heavily involved in the genre to help shape his dark, up front sound. Developing quickly, it wasn’t long before he’d amassed releases on some of 170\s premier labels such as Metalheadz, Subtitles and Critical, an already impressive list that he added to last week with his debut release on Dispatch; The Visits EP.
His first excursion outside of the single format, it sees him delivering exactly what he’s become known for; crunching amens, seething synths and menacing atmospherics forming a warfare inducing sound suited perfectly to the dance floor. The deep, heavy rasps of Locked Out alongside Script kick things off quickly before giving way to the more rolling, weightless bongos of Luisa’s Move, giving the EP a traditional A Side/B Side format as we’re treated to the first half of a release that is evenly split between it’s more unforgiving side and slightly more melodic offerings.
Bleak does exactly what it says on the tin, crunching kicks and moody atmospherics introducing a metallic tinged track that’s unhurried in it’s approach, working through stomach lifting basslines and a variety of drum patterns in an exercise in percussion that manages to stay engaging through it’s constant switch ups and absorbing atmospherics. Lastly, my personal favourite So Real (alongside System) takes a slightly deeper approach with a haunting vocal, foot tap inducing drum patterns and it’s icing on the cake; a stunning and yet understating bass line that gives the track it’s groove.
With his first EP ticked off the list of achievements, we felt it was about time we caught up with FD to find out a bit more about his musical approach and get the full scoop into what went into The Visits EP. Read on to see what he had to say and grab the EP over at Surus.
Hi FD, thanks for coming through. What’s been keeping you occupied recently?
Thanks for having me. Mostly some music tech teaching, sorting all the promo for this EP and also helping fix up the new SUNANDBASS LP. Finally some time for new track writing in the next weeks!
I understand your taste in music and influences are wide ranging, what kind of stuff are you bumping at the minute?
Yeah, always a wide range of stuff. Recently got a bit hooked on the ‘Awesome Tapes From Africa’ blog and the new Moresounds EP on Astrophonica is great. Also some old stuff – Weather Report, Patrice Rushen. Also I was really feeling those Mark Pritchard old skool mixes, they were vibes!
Do you still dig for wax (either sampling or otherwise)? What’s the first section you’re drawn to in a record shop?
Yes, I’m totally into sampling from vinyl. I know some people who are funny about it, say that the audio quality wont be high enough, but I really don’t agree – and if it does have some grit to it, so much the better – as long it doesn’t completely ruin the sound. I’d love to still play records out, but set ups tend to really not be good enough – at worse, I turned up to a gig after digging out records for a week, and they had no needles in the club at all!
Tough call about the record shop – I guess it would totally depend on my mood. But probably either drum and bass or soul and jazz.
You had a hand in the influential London club night Medium (at Plastic People), is promotion something you’re still involved in?
I promoted for over 10 years, so when we decided to stop doing Medium (in 2008?!), I thought I’d concentrate on production. I still miss running parties though – it’s a strange thing, often a hell of a lot of work for not much return, flyering in the cold, people turning their noses up at what you’re doing, agents being dicks. But at the same time, it just has something about it that I love. I guess it’s nice to book the artists you really want to support (although you’ll never get to hear them at your own party!) and hopefully put on a nice party for people. There may well be more promoting in the old dog yet…
So when did you actually start laying down beats?
I actually made my first tracks way back in 1999, but that was with a friend who’s a damn fine engineer so he did all the hard work and I just vibed. I got my own set up in 2005/6 so have been really on it properly since then.
How do you feel your sound’s come on in the past few years, since you started properly releasing tunes back in 2010? What’s been the moment, realization, technique or piece of equipment that you feel most bought your sound and production skills forward?
I guess I’m a bit happier with how the tracks sound, so I’m talking about mixdown. I don’t consider myself to be technical at all so I’m just happy that they’re starting to sound a little better!
In the last year or two as well, I’m pretty happy with how I’m starting to make tracks with less stuff in them. Less elements, less layers, but still getting close to the sonic fullness I’m chasing. And I think as a consequence, I’m happier with the ideas too – they sound simpler to me but in a good way, hopefully a bit easier to get into or enjoy, but still with a depth that can make them interesting to listen to at home as well.
I’d say the biggest advancement was when I bought my mac and switched to Logic. I used Cubase on PC before, which I was happy with – but it had some real stability issues (I needed more RAM too I think), often crashing and just glitching out – it was not fun trying to mix down some of my early tunes while the computer is just glitching out the whole time!
You were the beat maker behind Collete Warrens first D&B track. How did that collaboration come about? Do you tend to change your style or process much when producing for a vocalist?
I first met Collette when she came to my house to visit one of my then housemates for a feed up – a hench amount of steak on a ‘Black Rock Grill’, look it up! We just got on, she seemed like a lovely girl and we had a laugh. I also was looking for vocalists at the time so I guess we just got talking about it and that was that!
I guess the style changes a little bit as you have to leave room for the vocal in the mix – so maybe a few less elements in the tune to leave space for the vocal, or mix the elements that are in the track a bit differently.
I don’t like to go for too much processing on vocals – I’d say the sound of an auto tuned vocal is one of my least favourite sounds in the world, but there’s a few methods to get them to sit on top of the mix nicely. Definitely nice to have some harmonies to work with though, be able to layer up the vocal and thicken it up naturally. I then tend to go for quite a traditional route so, some EQ, a gate, a bit of compression and some reverb to get it to sit right in the mix – but maybe just on one of the layers, I want it to be sitting right at the front of the track. Another little tip I found out a while ago, it can be good to have your main vocal in mono and then your other layers in stereo, again to get it to sit right at the front of your mix.
You’ve just released an EP on Dispatch; The Visits. Tell us a bit about how you’d describe that? What did you set out to achieve on its inception?
There wasn’t a plan as such at the beginning. We knew that Ant wanted to take Locked Out, and we talked about various options, 12”s, EP’s etc. I then sent him a couple more tunes and he decided he definitely wanted Bleak – and then with these two tunes, we had enough of a backbone for an EP. I was obviously up for that, Ant and Alex are doing great things with the label and then the chance to have 2 pieces of vinyl in a double pack with your own artwork – it’s quite prestigious in my eyes, it doesn’t happen so much anymore.
When we had then decided that the EP route was the way forward, I just wanted to have the strongest possible tracks on there – all killer and no filler (ideally!). It was the way Ant A&R’d it, that it became such a good mix of harder tracks and also more musical and deep stuff.
Despite some prolific output on the likes of Metalheadz, Critical and C.I.A, this is your first foray outside of single’s into the EP format. Why is that, and why did now feel like the right time?
True – but I also feel that the current spate of EP’s is kind of a new thing – basically give the customer added value by offering more music and hence incentivise the purchasing of vinyl – which is obviously a good thing. Whether I played CDs, USBs, a bloody ukulele, we all know that vinyl is the best sounding, feeling, looking format of the lot so it’s good to push that.
I also haven’t been that prolific at the start of my releasing career – I think this was down to not really feeling ready when the first releases came along and then being very hard on myself on what I wanted to achieve or hear. But this is something I’ve been working hard to change over the last year and so I had a bit more music lying about, and that was hopefully of a certain quality. And so when the chance to do a 2 piece vinyl release with it’s own artwork came along, I was always going to do it – it’s a prestigious thing and I’m super chuffed with the results if I’m honest.
It’s opened by a collab with Script, Locked Out. I understand you came up alongside people like Script and Keza, did you have a solid d&b network around you when you started producing? Do you think working alongside others is a good way to learn early on in your career?
I’ve been involved in drum and bass for a long time now I guess and just so happen to have had some friends who have become really great producers. I had people around me who were happy to check stuff for me and give me feedback and advice – this is obviously super helpful and useful, but it also made me really push myself, aim high with the tracks I was trying to make.
Working with others is such a great way to learn – one of the things I love about making music is that there is no right or wrong and everyone has funny little methods and intricacies to their production. It can be the quickest and best way to learn, and also more fun and less taxing.
I’m personally really feeling the soulful groove of the other collab, So Real alongside System. With that ending the release and the more up front sounds of Locked Out kicking it off, were you making conscious decisions as to the order of the tracks, or do you think that only really comes into play for LPs?
Yeah, it was totally a conscious decision. I wouldn’t always say that it makes sense to have the most ‘chilled’ tune last, but I do often try and play my sets like that – start kinda hard to get people into it straight away and not think I’m going to noodle it out too much – and then noodle it hard once you’ve got their trust ;)
Ant also said from the off that he wanted Locked Out and Bleak to be ‘A sides’ so to speak, so it was then a question of working what kind of went well with what. But we did definitely try and curate the track list and ordering with the thought of a flow to it all.
I notice you link to a website called Sample Genie from your Soundcloud. Is that a project you have a hand in? If so, tell us a bit more about it…
Yes indeed, you should check it out – sample-genie.co.uk. Sample Genie is run by a great guy called James, who also happens to produce under the name of Arclight. He’d been sending me tunes for a while when I finally got off my ass and got back to him. We started chatting more on aim, swapping tunes etc when one day we got to the conversation of ‘what do you do mate?’. He told me about his company he runs that does music teaching and about this Sample Genie idea. I really liked what he had planned and he seemed like a good guy so I decided to become one of the ‘Genies’, providing samples for the subscribers.
I’ve really enjoyed doing it – it was great fun making the sounds, exploring some sound design techniques and just reminding myself I can do it! And the take up on it has been great, it seems like people are really enjoying using the sounds we’ve made and have found them useful, so all in all a great success and something really fun to be involved with.
What release, outside of d&b, are you most looking forward to at the minute?
Tough one, I’m into so many different things, and then also feel like I know nothing too, and am totally at the mercy of what I find out there. There’s a guy called Positive Centre who is releasing on Sigha’s Our Circula Sound label who has some proper 110bpm slowmo-techno bangers though.
And finally, what else is on the cards for you personally?
After this EP comes out, the next releases are a track called ‘Look Through Me’ with Collette coming on the SUNANDBASS 10 Years Selection LP that I’m super chuffed about – the LP sounds great and it’s great to be on board. And then there’s a collab with Lenzman called ‘Joanie’s Theme’ that’s coming out on Platinum Breakz 4, which is obviously a massive massive thing and I’m so pleased to be a part of that.
After that, I’ve got a bunch of music I’m sitting on and just sorting out at the moment – watch this space for the next ones coming soon!
Cheers FD, anything to end on?
Thanks to you for the questions. Also big big thanks to those that have made this EP possible and come together so nicely: Ant, Alex, Vali for the superb artwork, Mikle, Markle, Samuel, thanks so much guys! And also everyone that supports me in so many different ways, thank you so much, I couldn’t do it without you! Here’s to an ever bigger and better 2014 for everyone!
Pick up The Visits EP over at Surus.