There are some artists in the darker end of the DnB spectrum who are so underrated, its actually borderline criminal.
My next artist is no exception, with a career that spans well over a decade, multiple releases on labels such as Offkey, Position Chrome, Ohm Resistance, Vampire, Perkussiv, MUTE:8, Synchronize, IM:LTD, Nocid Business, etc. Alongside a staggering slew of releases on his own “Surround Sound Recordings” label. This artist has been floating under the radar, churning out some of the most highly charged and innovative DnB to ever grace the dance floor.
So, without further ado, it is an absolute fucking privilege to introduce one of the most original and consistent artists in DnB. The mighty … Lethal.
GCB … Firstly, I hear you’ve just put the finishing touches to your first album. Can you tell us a bit about the concept behind the album, what made you decide to make an LP and could you put us all out of our misery and give us a rough idea of a release date?
LETHAL … Well it’s the first album I’m happy with as a complete project and it’s still being finalised, but it’s a good 95% there now. It’s called ‘The Sprawl’ so I’m sure the science fiction fans out there will know the concept, but it’s a loose soundtrack theme to bind it all together. It’s got a techno vibe throughout which I don’t expect will come as much of a surprise, but it takes in a lot of other influences too so should have a little something for everyone hopefully. I’ve wanted to complete an LP for a few years now but haven’t found the inspiration before to make the tracks work as a cohesive whole. Previous attempts have ended up just being a collection of tracks, where I just put the tracks out separately or ditched them completely. Release date wise I would say around June/July, just in time for our 5 year birthday. We have the next couple of releases scheduled for Surround Sound and then the LP will follow.
GCB … Ok, next up. You have a wife, a son, a full time job and probably a whole list of shit that comes above DnB when it comes to priorities. How do you find the time to be so consistent and regular with your output and can you give us an insight as to what “has to give” in order for you to maintain such a presence?
LETHAL … First thing is having a supportive wife, then it comes down to just using the opportunities you have to make music. I’d like to say I have a regular schedule and hit the studio x amount of times a week but life doesn’t work like that, so I get what I can. For me though my attitude goes back to when I ran a studio, I have this little part of me that still sees it like a job; time is money, get your head down and crack on! It makes you focus and I find I’m able to work on tunes quickly. I wouldn’t say much has to give, but it comes down to a choice; do I chill out and do whatever or do I fire up the studio, even if it’s only for an hour … That hour can be all you need sometimes.
GCB … A lot of artists in DnB spend a fair amount of time at various events “networking” … Or “ass kissing” as I like to refer to it. It’s clear you don’t fall into this category as you’re rarely seen unless you are booked. Do you think this reclusive nature and self-contained approach has had an impact on your career, bookings wise?
LETHAL … Reclusive sounds a bit extreme but some people probably see it like that. I guess this comes back a little to the last question, and if anything ‘had to give’ for me it was the going out to clubs, etc. but then as you said it’s about how you set your priorities, and like Renton I chose life … Seriously though I just never had time for the whole kissing arse to get somewhere, it works for some people (clearly) but DnB isn’t unique in that sense, it occurs in any industry. What does tickle me though is the shamelessness of some people these days, social media has put a whole other spin on things and it’s comical to see the public brown nosing going on. Networking in music is a necessary evil and it’s down to the individual how they go about it, yes my choices have had an impact on my music career but I never enjoyed the politics that goes along with it all. I’m happy now just doing my own thing.
GCB … Can you name 2 producers in DnB that you would like to collab with in the future and could you tell us a bit about why you rate them ?
LETHAL … That’s a tough one, I’ve been lucky enough to have some good collabs over the years. Off the bat I would say Prolix. I think Chris has consistently been putting out solid quality bangers for years. His productions always been on point, he’s a good DJ and an all-round decent guy. We spoke a couple of times in the past about working on something but unfortunately never found the time to make it happen. Second I would probably say Audio, I’ve always got time for his music. Again he’s been consistently putting out quality, well produced beats for years. Our paths have never really crossed but I have a lot of respect for him as a producer and would be interested to hear the outcome if we hit the studio.
GCB … You were a releasing artist on the legendary Offkey Recordings. Can you tell us a bit about your involvement in Offkey and give us a bit of an insight as to how you felt as an artist when it all seemed to come to an abrupt end?
LETHAL … Offkey was a great experience, being part of a collective and pushing a new sound. I say new, it wasn’t really new, techno inspired DnB has always been there but we definitely took a new approach. There was so much energy in those tracks, especially the early ones, it was about the vibe and not technical perfection. Most people will know that I was involved in running Offkey for a while, Raiden had asked myself and Ichi to become partners in the label. Unfortunately it didn’t work out, Chris and I had different approaches and we both had strong visions about how things could go. At the end of the day it was his label so I walked away from the management side. It all ended peacefully so there’s no big drama story there, but it’s a lesson in how two people with similar tastes and influences who got along couldn’t do business together. It’s a shame but that’s life. As far as how the label ended well I was sad to see the forum go, we’d built up a decent community around our music and it was great for promotion too. Overall I look back on it positively, I learnt a lot about myself from it, got to know some good people and it gave me the opportunity to set up Surround Sound.
GCB … You play a decent variation of DnB in your sets, including the odd Crossbreed track here and there. What are your thoughts on Crossbreed and do you think it has had a positive or negative impact on DnB?
LETHAL … Do people care that much about it? If you don’t like something, don’t listen to it. I think there’s bigger crimes against music in the world going on every Saturday evening on your TV, or just flicking through music channels. I play music I like and that I feel works in the set. Not saying I like Crossbreed as a rule, it’s not my thing really, but there’s the odd decent track. It is good to see artists like Gancher & Ruin and C-Netik doing well for themselves though, whatever the genre. Crossbreed evolved from a common fan base between the Freak, PC and Offkey camps. That generation had initially got into the harder DnB styles and then took it harder which for a lot of us, myself included, wasn’t where we came from or where we were trying to take the music. So some were offended and rejected it, some jumped on the bandwagon and others just carried on doing their thing regardless. Yes it’s had an impact, whether that’s positive or negative depends on your point of view.
GCB … You run your label “Surround Sound” with Able Danger. Can you tell us a bit about how you divide the workload and who’s responsible for what with regards to the label?
LETHAL … We split things pretty evenly to be honest for the day to day running of the label, managing the releases, artwork, website, etc. Mike picks up the majority of the social media and promotional stuff though. We both deal with the A&R side, we’ve been friends for at least 10 years now since we first met on Rude FM and I know I can trust Mike to sign good quality material. The business end of the label is my responsibility along with the overall direction. It’s good having someone to bounce ideas with, collaboration is helpful and works well as long as you have agreed responsibilities.
GCB … Can you name your top 3 tracks that you’ve produced and tell us why they’re you favourites?
LETHAL … First I would probably say Cannibal Holocaust, which was myself, Khanage and Submerged. That was a one day session, we were just chilling out, had the film on then rinsed it for samples and hit the studio hard! That track was all vibe and it was great working with Kurt for the first time. We managed to capture something deep and primal in that tune, people went nuts when we played it out. Getting released alongside Rise of the Beast on Obliterati too, along with other crazy tunes, that was just a sick EP … Good times!
Second would be Jawbreaker with Khanage on Offkey. I just think we achieved something unique sounding with that track. It encompassed so many influences and was just a tribal wall of sound with those thundering drums. It’s got loads of little touches in it so technically I was very proud of that track at the time. We had some really positive feedback from Techno artists too, even a remix from one, getting recognition from the scene we were taking our inspiration from was totally unexpected and felt great.
I could name a few more to be honest, but I’ll give joint third place to Storm Break which came out on Position Chrome and Circuit which is on Surround Sound. Storm Break is definitely one of my favourites, it’s just got everything I like in a tune. Circuit is just one of those tunes you can get a bit lost in, it’s not technically perfect but it’s got its own sound and whenever I hear it I really enjoy it.
GCB … You’ve released on a fair few labels in your time. Which labels (aside from Surround Sound) have treated you well and which ones would you recommend to other artists on a business level?
LETHAL … There’s been a few Ohm Resistance, Position Chrome, Melting Pot, Perkussiv and MUTE:8, I’m sure there’s some others too. I’ve been fortunate in that pretty much all the labels I’ve released with have treated me well, most labels these days will give you a contract which is something too. Let’s be real here you’re not going to earn a living from sales these days, unless your shifting seriously big numbers on a regular basis and with frequent releases. Yes artists need to be paid their dues but I think it’s more important that a label who commits to release something does so in a decent time frame, as an artist you can accept that you’re not going to earn big money from your music, that’s just how things are now but music should be released when planned and not sat on.
GCB … What’s the best event you’ve played at in the UK?
LETHAL … To be honest the events I’ve played at in the UK have rarely been as good as the parties in Europe, but the harder sounds were always much more popular abroad. So I couldn’t really say one specifically, a fairly recent good party was Tech:nology and Hardware at Area. It was me and Mike Able Danger back to back for the last set, the room was heaving and the vibe was sick. Well it was until they locked us off early to make way for the next party, but what can you do when the bouncers steam the booth!
GCB … If you could sign any 3 DnB artists to Surround Sound. Which ones would you sign and why?
LETHAL … I’m going to cop out a bit and not answer that question, not fully anyway. I could easily pick 3 artists who are established big names and whose music I like and enjoy, but that’s not the main reason why I set up Surround Sound. I like being able to give new artists who are making good music a release, it’s great when you come across someone new who grabs your attention. I would like to start signing some more artists making music other than DnB to be honest, that’s what I see long term for Surround Sound.
GCB … Over the years, a lot of new labels have emerged and sometimes the scene does seem a little saturated. Do you feel the sheer number of labels and artists has had an effect on the overall standard of music being released?
LETHAL … I think that most scenes are probably a little saturated now, the reduction in financial risk to release digital music means that just about anyone can have a pop at it if they have the nous to set up a label. Do I think it’s had an impact on the overall standard? My view is it’s more than just the volume of artists and labels that has an impact. Production values on average are probably higher than they’ve ever been as people have easy access (whether legally or illegally) to high quality production software. Combine that with the amount of free tutorials on YouTube, Vimeo, etc. there’s no surprise that production standards have increased. However for me I think a lot of originality is missing in people’s music, certainly a lot of demos we get sent at Surround Sound reflect that. So I think the standard of creativity overall has probably dropped a bit, and the volume of music makes it harder for the good stuff to stand out when so many ‘artists’ haven’t found their own sound and just copy others. Joe Bloggs in a club is probably quite happy listening to hours of clone music while they are off their nut though. It’s like that EDM top ten that was floating around a couple of months ago where every track had the same sounds with a slightly different arrangement, that’s not a unique occurrence and it’s happening everywhere.
GCB … Do you produce any other genres of music aside from DnB?
LETHAL … I make all sorts to be honest … I have an ongoing project with my good friend DJ Lok called ‘Breaking Saints’ where we cover Hip Hop, Breaks, Jungle and just about anything else. We just mash up samples and make fun music without setting ourselves any boundaries. We haven’t released any yet but we’ve done an albums worth of material that we will probably end up putting out as a free download or something. I’ve been finding my way with a solo Techno/Breaks project which I hope to start putting out some tracks from soon. Having been focused on the LP over the last year has meant sidelining it a bit, but news coming on that when it’s ready. There’s some other stuff in the pipeline that’s too early to give any details on yet, revisiting the old hardcore 91-92 sound though with a friend so expecting to have some fun with that.
GCB … What was your main motivation for setting up your own label and are you happy with what you’ve achieved so far?
LETHAL … I had always wanted a label of my own, it was on my list of ambitions from day one so as soon as the opportunity came along I grabbed it. I guess my motivation was being able to run it on my terms, not sitting on a tune for 12 months and sticking to release schedules. I’ve definitely fallen into the trap a few times of ‘signing’ tunes to labels only for them to never come out, by that time the tunes so old that it’s superseded in quality by your latest material so you don’t even want it to come out. I’m definitely happy overall with what’s been achieved with the label so far. Mike tallied it up the other week and we’ve released 89 tracks, my LP will take it over 100. Looking back we’ve released a good cross section of artists, Surround Sound will be 5 years old in June so that’s not bad going I think. If I had to do it again I would probably do some stuff differently but I regret nothing … Now let’s see where we’re at in 2019!
GCB … Do you have an external studio/dedicated room or are you stuck at home, cluttering up your dining room table, living in the constant fear that one day you’ll come home from work to find your son has used your monitor speaker bass cones as small “paddling pools” for his action figures ?
LETHAL … I was fortunate to have a proper soundproofed commercial studio for a good few years but nowadays it’s a small setup in the corner of the living room. It’s mad when I think how big my studio was for so long and how over the last 7-8 years it’s got smaller and smaller. Especially as plug-ins have got better, you can get a better sound now out of the box than you could do ten years ago. I would love to invest in some nice bits of kit again but just don’t have the spare cash or the space for them at the moment. My son has been taught to respect the studio space, although that didn’t stop him from popping a tweeter on my last monitors! He loves his music though, I can’t wait till he’s a bit older and can start teaching him about it properly.
GCB … You’ve been in the game a fairly long time. Do you think the scene in general has lost the sense of community that seemed to be present back in the day?
LETHAL … It’s easy to look back with rose tinted glasses and say “it was better in my day”, it’s a bit like the new Star Wars film that’s coming out. If you loved the original trilogy as a kid you want the new one to recapture that feeling. It won’t of course, we’ve grown up, had our experiences and are more prejudiced and cynical. I bet our kids will love it though, because they are innocent enough to be pulled into it. Probably not the best analogy in the world but DnB is a bit like that, we’ve all got older, wiser and have other priorities. So naturally we’re not going to be the community we once were, although I would bet money the younger newer artists and DJs probably feel differently about things.
GCB … Finally. What’s next for you in 2014 and where do you see yourself in 2015?
LETHAL … Well after the LP it would be nice to break my reclusive nature and get some DJ bookings rolling again. Production wise I want to prioritise some of the other projects, take a little break from DnB and enjoy making some other beats. I would like to take some time to think about moving the label in other musical directions too. Then it’s pushing the day job, the one that pays the bills, spending quality time with the family, the usual life stuff. As for 2015 well I’ll still be here doing what I’m doing, hopefully continuing to grow my own and the labels output. People can keep up to date by following me on the following links …
Twitter … @DanLethal
SoundCloud … soundcloud.com/lethal
Don’t forget to follow the label too 😉
Twitter … @SurroundSoundUK
Soundcloud … soundcloud.com/surroundsoundrecordings
GCB … I’d like to thank you for taking the time to chat to me today fella, much appreciated. I’d also like to wish you the best of luck with the album release.
I shall be reviewing the album in the not too distant future so keep them peepers peeled people.
Until next time … Peace.