Last week I reviewed Smyla’s forthcoming “ASYLM” LP.
This week, as promised, myself and the big fella sat down with a crate of beer and put the world to rights.
Now before we start, I want to state that I personally have very little time for the current “tried and tested” format of most written DnB interviews, so if you’re looking for a list of studio equipment and production tips, its probably wise to fuck off now because you won’t find them here.
We sat down and after 3 beers and some general banter I suddenly remembered to switch the audio recorder on (bare with me people I’m new to this interviewing lark lol), technical’s dealt with, we press on.
GCB … First off lets start with some basics, its clear that a lot of time and effort goes into your music. Do you make music “full time” or do you have a 9-5 job as well ?
SMYLA … I have a 9.30-4 job at a market research firm in London. The hours are not too long and it gives me plenty of time to make music in the evenings. I find if you remove the reliance to make a living off your music it will allow you to make music solely for yourself, and remove the stigma of thoughts such as ‘will this sell’ and ‘will these drums be too hard for that big label?’.
GCB … Ok, is making music “full time” and earning a living from your craft something that you’re working towards ?
SMYLA … I never think that way. If the opportunity arose to go full time with music I would still think twice. I have the luxury of a job where I can reduce my working hours to suit me.
GCB … How long do you spend (roughly) working on a track, from start to finish ?
SMYLA … Depends. Some tracks just happen quickly. Some take months. I always tend to have about 6 tunes on the go at any one time. Jumping from project to project. But if you consider most evening studio sessions are 4 hours long I reckon a good tune, with detailed edits and loads of immersive elements can take 10 to 15 sessions. But there are generally no rules in music, well, in my music, and I have never really thought about this before today. I tend to spend loads of time on improving work flow, and I feel I have got pretty quick now when it comes to putting together the main bones of a track. But the fine detail is what takes up the other 90% of the time.
GCB … You’ve released an impressive amount of music in the last 3 years, a lot of producers would consider it a risk to approach an album project so early on in their careers, so with that in mind, what made you decide to make the album and why now ?
SMYLA … I felt it was right. I always felt many drum n bass albums were just a collection of tunes a producer has built up. I made the decision to make the album to be one seamless piece of music, where the track listing if it was mixed would make for a perfect mix taking you on a journey and painting a whole picture of emotions. I’m always looking for that next big thing to challenge me. An album was the only choice. Plus its always been my dream, and I find its best to live in the moment, not dwell on the past or worry about the future. If I died tomorrow, I’m glad I made my album yesterday and released it today.
GCB … Although you’ve been involved in Mute:8 Recordings as an artist from the very beginning, you’ve recently taken on the main A&R role, how did that come about ?
SMYLA … Mute:8 is a label first conceived by my 2 close mates Mark & Tom back in 2004 (or earlier I think). It was built on the love for drum n bass and had the intention of being something that would be fun and an avenue for them to mix, produce, and dj. It wasn’t until recent years when Mark and Tom as well as myself started finding some early success in music that we felt it was time to take it seriously. And with the combined skills or the 3 of us, we set up the business account, built a website, wrote watertight contracts, and established a real drum n bass label. Mark was always the superb businessman, with skills with web design and a keen eye for accounts. Tom was larger than life MC/DJ/Producer who was a wiz with A&R and a drive that got results with regards organising events and signing music. I was just the spare wheel banging out the beats that would be the staple in the labels early days, plus I had built up friendships with some amazing producers who would take a risk by releasing on an unknown small label.
I took over the A&R as we felt it was the best choice for the label. Tom had signed some great tecky influenced drum n bass, along with some other deeper tracks, but we found I was the one to be getting sent more music without chasing it, and with my own music being the backbone of the label, it was easier for me to plan the future of the label. Mark is still working like a crazed robot behind the scenes, designing a new website, chasing distrobuters, researching codes for things I honestly have no clue about, not to forget sending out statements, contracts and payments. The label runs smoothly because of this. I’m forever thankful for his passion and honesty.
I also need to mention our friend Paul who does all the labels artwork. He does a cracking job.
GCB … Ok, part of the reason I set up GCB was to ask the questions nobody else was asking, a lot of stuff goes under the radar in DnB and I want to provide my readers with the “whole picture” good and bad. So, with that in mind, I noticed that when you first made an appearance on the scene, you were playing a fair bit for Therapy Sessions and for a time you was part of the Anger Management roster, why did that stop and why are you no longer a part of the agency ?
SMYLA … I don’t know really. I was never really given an answer and I tend to not dwell on the past as much these days. I can only assume my music didn’t fit with what they had planned. There was never any hard feelings, things just run their course I guess. But I did have some fun times playing at Therapy events and not to mention Intent2Supply Events. Those 2 were pretty much the first step for me getting my music out there and heard. I tend to spend my days focusing on my own music and I find that’s the best way for me to work.
GCB … That seems fair enough, moving swiftly on. A lot of labels have gone under and ceased trading for various reasons over the years, can you tell me which ones you miss the most and why ?
SMYLA … Oh shit. Fucking loads. I loved Biotic and XXX records. And I once crushed some chav in Blackmarket Records because he tried to swipe my copy of a Penetration White label from the pile of records I was listening to. I also miss Outbreak Records and Offkey. But I also know that there are not many producers if any that are making the styles that these labels used to pump out, so it is really a case of the music I miss as opposed to the labels as such … In fact I may fuck off into the studio and make more biotic sounding beats tomorrow, best not to be one of those that moans about the ‘lack of’ and be one of those that ‘does’ … Only kidding. I’ll be making some Smyla music. It’s the only style I know how to make. Ooooh shit … I almost forgot … The most sorely missed label in all of dnb … MOVING FUCKING SHADOW!!
GCB … You’ve done a few collabs in the last 3 years, can you name 5 DnB artists you would like to collab with in the future and give us a bit of info as to why you’ve chosen them ?
SMYLA … Hmmm…. That’s a hard one. I have learnt over the last year you cant force a collab. Some producers think differently to me, and I tend to make tunes for the vibe and not the outcome. I may have released a fair few collabs over the last 3 years but I have as many collabs that have never been finished or seen the light of day. If I were to pick some producers it would be hard, as we may not gel … But at a guess, Black Sun Empire, Ice Minus, Nebula, The Sect, and Kate Beckinsale.
GCB … What’s the best event you’ve played at in the UK ?
SMYLA … I’ve played some insane events, and abused many ravers, but hands down the best event has to be Boomtown Festival. I am resident for the Jungle Syndicate crew in their prohibition den stage. The Jungle Syndicate crew are some of the hardest working lads in the UK rave scene. Their attention to detail is second to none and they have events spanning across the whole of the UK. I love that crew like I love my arse crack, and I will always show them off to the world whenever I can. I would also mention a few other events that have been an amazing experience like Tech:nology London (big up Oscar & Mike), and also The Intent2Supply crew (Tem & Garry).
GCB … What are your thoughts on crossbreed ?
SMYLA … Who cares what other people are doing. My thoughts are on my own music. And its not crossbreed.
GCB … You’ve done collabs, studio mixes and a fair amount of live sets with Hostile MC, he hasn’t been seen for a while, what’s happened to him and will you be working together again in the future ?
SMYLA … Hostile MC’s is ‘Tom’ who I mentioned him in an earlier question. He co founded and helped build Mute:8 and he was the first person to introduce me to DnB back in 2001. He has been a major factor in my musical journey and the only friend alongside Mark that has supported me since day 1. Hostile is still around but I think he found the business of music and politics of drum n bass dampened his love and passion for the music. We have talked loads about it and he ended up handing me the label A&R job and went and invested in a full blown studio. He may be out of the public eye for now, but I’m pretty sure we haven’t seen the last of him, he is in a much better place with music now that he’s not concerned about the business side of things. As far as us “working together again” that door is always open, we’re very close, long term friends and we’ve been through far more than just music together. Either way, that boy played me my first real dark drum n bass track, and if it was not for him I would be still trying to dj the darkest UK garage.
GCB … Which producers in DnB inspire you and why ?
SMYLA … Any producers. If you got the balls to go out there and sit and learn how to make music you are inspiring. If you sit around slagging shit off you are just another pointless sheep in the social media spectrum.
But producers and djs that make and have made music that I love in the past, well that list is huge, Bkey, Nebula, Equinox, DubOne, Black Sun Empire, Kitech, Gein, Hive, Keaton, Facs, Dom N Roland, Noisia, John B, Corrupt Souls, Lethal, DjE, Raiden, The Sect, Source Direct, Dillinja, Kryptic Minds, Proket, Technical Itch, Jakes, Ice Minus, and Hostile.
GCB … Do you produce other genres of music or is it just DnB ?
SMYLA … I do make other styles of music but never in the same volume or with the same passion as my dnb. I have been working with a close friend who is a fantastic up and coming film maker, producing music for his short length feature films. He has been been finding some success in his young career with his work featuring at film festivals worldwide. I find making music and soundtracks to fit a mood and visuals is challenging and exciting, and completely different from making music for yourself. This was a small factor in me deciding to make my album, as I had already sat down and worked towards a goal of creating music to fit a goal of a certain mood or ambience. Making music for film is definitely something I will persevere with over the coming years. Producing to a time signature and not a bpm is crazy.
GCB … On your album, there is a lot of wailing vocal samples, why ?
SMYLA … I find the female voice to be the most organic sounding component I can find, and in dark drum n bass its very easy to lose the soul from the music. I found most of the modern day dark drum n bass to be so extreme it has lost all of its soul and musical integrity. To make a track that will stand the test of time, and be played years to come, you need to give the listener something more than a just hard drums and a screeching mid range bass. I like to give a listener more than drums and bass, hence the vocals.
GCB … Name 3 things that you hate about DnB ?
SMYLA … I have said it before and I will say it again. From the words of my friends and mentors, don’t worry about what other people are doing, or your record sales, and don’t worry about what the big labels will think. Focus on your own music. I try to listen to modern day big labels music for inspiration, but it rarely inspires my own music. I think that’s a good thing as I’m creating my own sound, and not another labels sound. That’s kind of the reason I push the majority of my music into my own label Mute:8. It means me and Mark can build the brand from day one. If you look at all the biggest labels in the scene, they were built by djs when they were first starting out, which is my motivation with Mute:8. Its hard to tell a big label they cant have a track like ‘Temptress’ because I want to put it on my own 12 month old digital label, but that’s the sort of decisions that will make or break us. Going forward I know its best knowing my best work is going on my own label, and that I’m in full control of it all.
I would love to see more smaller labels grow in dnb, I think many get all their core artists poached before anything can grow.
GCB … In DnB, a lot of labels operate on a shoe string and a fair few don’t bother with contracts etc. As an artist, do you feel comfortable handing over music without a written contract ?
SMYLA … Not really, why should I let someone else make money off my own hard work and talent. If you are going to run a label it should be essential you have all the parts in place for it to be a success, like a business account, distribution, business plan, contracts etc. If none of these are in place it will eventually go wrong, and why should I release my music with a doomed entity. It’s just common sense really.
GCB … Apart from when you are booked, do you still go to raves/events, if so which ones ?
SMYLA … The one rave I have yet to play at yet in London that I absolutely love the vibe of is Rupture. The club, vibes, and beats are superb. It’s a proper jungle rave. Double O and Mantra do some awesome line ups. I still go to Technology and Jungle Syndicate raves even if I’m not booked as they are always brilliant vibes. I have been to more commercial events at Fabric but the music never gets me hard, that simple clean sound is just not my thing, but I can appreciate it, which is why I go to the events. I just won’t be down the front brocking out hard and knocking over the ravers like little fragile skittles.
GCB … Have you been paid for every release from the various labels you’ve released on ?
SMYLA … No. In my early days I was far too eager and would sign with labels I had loved in my youth, but that fantasy was soon rubbed out when the reality of the scene hit home. Although I didn’t get paid it did help my exposure, so it’s not all bad, especially when all you want in the early days is people to listen to your music. But going forward I have the luxury of my own label and some other superb labels to release on, which I know run their business properly.
Its also worth a mention that I have also given music away for free to Jungle Syndicate Recordings, as those boys have done loads for my progression, and invited me to crazy parties. Plus Paul who is one of the founders of JS does the Mute:8 artwork for me for next to no money, so I will bend over backwards for them, and I would rather see my track revenue pumped back into their label and brand.
GCB … Can you name your top 3 tracks that you have produced and give us some info as to why they are your favourites?
SMYLA … Unhinged. It’s the opening track on my album, and is everything I planned it to be when I first pencilled out my album plan on paper. Vocals, amens, atmospherics, intricate drum edits. I still play it on my speakers everyday. When I finished it, I was convinced I was going to achieve my goals I had set with my album. It’s definitely a ‘close your eyes and lose yourself in the darkness’ track.
Temptress. This was my first collab with Bkey. I really learnt so much in those weeks sitting in his studio down his garden next to his coi pond. My own tracks after that stepped up a gear. I ‘embraced the science’ as he would say, and I also smelt like mothballs for sitting so close to his old crusty mixing desk. I want one so bad.
Radiance. Again this is another anthem from my album. I’m sure it will make all the amen heads gush love juices down the inside of their legs. ‘Does it feel good?’
GCB … Is all of your production software paid for ?
SMYLA … I started out on a legit Cubase 4, then upgraded to Cubase 5. But as for vsts I will try them out with cracked versions and if they are the real deal I will buy the proper version. I often find demo versions don’t let you have a chance to see a Vsts full potential. I have been using some tasty analogue emulators Tech Itch told me about, but I cant say which ones otherwise I will have to kill you. And they only cost £19 and are used in all my tracks. I also use loads of freeware, stuff like Camel Crusher, Camel Phats free stripped down cousin. But these days I am 110% using Presonus studio one as my DAW. For work flow it is insane and everything about it is incredible.
GCB … Name 1 label you would love to release on ?
SMYLA … Tech Itch Recordings or Black Sun Empire Recordings. Both are labels set up by superb producers who built the labels alongside their careers. A philosophy I am trying to achieve with Mute:8. I also have some releases planned this year on Jungle Syndicate Digital and Aggravated Music.
GCB … Your music is very intricate and quite technical, have you been on any music courses or are you self taught ?
SMYLA … I have been all self taught, but have had the privilege to spend a lot of time and get help from some of my icons in dnb, Wolf and Roy… Or as most know them as Tech Itch and Bkey … Bkey has shown me the fundamentals of breaks science, from the history of production with analogue desks and samplers, to the fine detail breaks manipulation and knowledge. Tech Itch has shown me some awesome skills in terms of mastering and processing and synthesis. Both producers are legends in dnb but it is amazing how very different they are in the studio. I try to mix both skillsets in my music, I hope it is obvious in my forthcoming album.
GCB … Its common knowledge that when an artist gets to a certain level, they get sent a lot of “dubs” in exchange for their own. Do you still buy DnB, in either digital or vinyl format ?
SMYLA … I have not paid for music for a few years now, mainly because anything I really love is made by people I consider good friends who send me tunes even before they a fully complete. We like to bounce opinions and ideas off each other. But I’m not saying I would never pay for music again, maybe my mates should stop sending me their beats and maybe I would have to buy them. But I doubt they would do that! and you wouldn’t say no to me when I’m looming over you foaming at the mouth demanding your music.
GCB … If you could change 1 thing about the “scene” what would it be and why?
SMYLA … I would change the scenes underpants … Because its going to need a new ones when I’m done with it. UNLEASH THE BEAST!
GCB … What’s next for you, what are your plans for 2014 and where do you see yourself in 2015 ?
SMYLA … I want to make more music, and play it to the world. Money is not the motivation for me. When I talk to the true legends in music, all I ever hear about is the stories of places they have been, people they have met, countries they visited, tangles they got in, and many more stories. I have never heard them boast about the money they have made or status or how big they have got. Success is not measured by sales, nor is it how big the label is you release with, its measured by how far you can push yourself. I just want to live in the moment, and experience the world. I already have a few crazy stories to tell, but not enough. Have you seen my tattoo I got in derelict world war 2 children’s hospital at 5am in a massive techno and dnb rave in Poland? … lol.
I want to take this opportunity to thank Smyla for his honesty during this interview, some of these questions don’t fit the “normal” format for an interview, but thats what GCB is all about, I want to ask the questions that others don’t ask and I want to discuss the issues that are so often swept under the carpet in DnB.
This interview will set the precedent for future GCB interviews and will hopefully give the reader a bit more of an understanding of what goes on behind the scenes in DnB.
Until next time … Peace.