In Conversation with…Break
When you think of Drum & Bass in it’s purest form – heavy rolling basslines and layers of deep sub bass with chopped up breakbeats, proliferated by relentless rhythms reverberating around the darkest corners of a sweaty, packed dancefloor through the depths of a seriously big night out might spring to mind…
The ‘scene’ as it is referred to, is epitomised by these sounds and situations, cultivated carefully by the producers and delivered by the DJs to create an atmosphere you simply will not find in any other area of clubland.
Epitomising this energy and experience is one of the most respected producers in the genre – Break aka Charlie Bierman and with the recent release of his fifth artist album this November, he is certain there is ‘Another Way’ and joins Data Transmission to provide all the details…
Hi Charlie, hows it going?
Yeah all good thanks, busy!! We’ve got loads on! We’ve just released the new album and we’re coming off the back of one of our ‘Collective’ events which are always fun, very sweaty and energetic! It’s a monthly Thursday Drum & Bass night in Bristol which has been running for a couple of years now.
We hold them in a small and very cool venue where we get DJs down to play what they want and the crowd are just fantastic. It’s a really good chance for people to play an intimate gig with a really receptive, clued up and vibey crowd where they can test out their new tunes – the venue is called ‘The Crofters Rights’ and it really is perfect for doing our thing there.
It’s a solid crew working behind the scenes made up of myself, DLR, Kyo, Total Science, Alex from Bassic, Hydro and Mako with Gusto who is our resident MC and we always have guests too, so there’s always someone cool on the mic – I think that’s everyone. We are all mates, we all work in Drum & Bass and bring something different to the table so it’s a pretty good team working on it together, we do the door, the sound system and everything else in between – it’s nice.
Given the size and layout of the space, the crowd all bump into us when we are down there, so there’s a really cool Drum & Bass crew sort of vibe down there every month.
Bristol has always been held in very high regard for quality Drum & Bass with very good reason, what’s it like over there now?
Really good! There’s loads of parties happening in town and not to jinx it but you can have two Drum & Bass nights on ten minutes apart in the same city and they can both do well, which is a useful indicator as it proves how many people are up for going out to these events to support the music.
Behind the scenes, there’s lots of quality producers, promoters and sound systems on top of everything else that goes with it that mean the scene is really healthy and strong locally.
In terms of musical styles and sub-genres, is it healthy across the board?
Yeah, there’s a bit of everything, big jump up nights, quality liquid nights and whatever we would class our stuff as – across the board, rolling, deep… in fact, I don’t even know what sub-genre my stuff falls into but yeah everything is definitely covered and there are really good events for everyone in town.
Another reason it is so healthy is the variation!
You’ve just released your new album, ‘Another Way’ – what’s the response been like?
It’s been really, really good – I’ve had some incredible feedback sheets from the mailout to the DJs which is always just so amazing to see when your D&B idols give it ten out of ten, it’s a real nice feeling to see that!
I’ve had some info from the distributors back today letting me know that we are top of the release charts on Beatport and doing really well on iTunes and on other platforms so that’s always relieving and exciting to see.
The tracks have received some really solid radio and club play too, so it seems to have all gone to plan and it is pretty satisfying overall, so yeah – really pleased!
The intention was definitely to traverse the line between the dance floor and listenable music and that’s partly because I don’t just like one style or sub-genre, so just like as a fan or as a producer, you have different moods and different vibes and luckily Drum & Bass covers a lot of that spectrum of music in itself.
So, yeah I just wanted to represent all those things that I love about the genre and yeah although they definitely have a time and a place, I would definitely say that every track on the album, I have and would play out. Whilst saying that though, there are definitely tracks that are enjoyable to listen to in the car or in your headphones, so that was the challenge really to try and essentially have the best of both worlds.
The album format is so useful in this instance then because there are those people that would only listen to Drum & Bass on a night out whilst others might not absorb it in that environment and choose to stream it instead, providing a totally different experience of it…
Yeah absolutely, we were aware that Spotify and other platforms like it are becoming a bigger thing, so that’s a whole new kind of market to tap in to, similar to MP3’s in their early days but its probable that more people just happen to come across music on there than seek it out, given the way it works. So, yeah some might work better on one platform than another, and it’s cool that as you say – someone might hear one on a night out whilst another might draw them in more through radio play – it’s interesting to be able to tick a few boxes with different platforms.
And of course, it’s been nice to see the DJ feedback that shows there’s quite a lot of different tracks being chosen as that person’s favourite rather than one particularly obvious one over and over again. It’s nice to see different people picking a different favourite which is actually really cool as you don’t feel like you’ve had an album off the back of one big tune or whatever.
Just focusing on what you’ve just said about your idols a moment ago, care to elaborate on who you have in mind?
You’ll always forget names so it’s hard to make a complete list but of course artists like Dillinja, Konflict, Ram Trilogy, Calibre – I mean, I could go on all day but the people that I grew up buying their records basically and of course DJs on the scene such as Marky, DJSS or Kenny Ken, names like that which popped up on the list who are legendary figures for me as a kid getting in to Jungle and Drum & Bass, so it’s nice to see that they have taken the time to listen to it and left their feedback too.
It’s always cool to see as I am still a fan and always will be and I grew up watching them so getting their recognition is really special.
Can you tell us about the creative thought process behind writing the album?
Well, I had started with what was possibly an e.p with around four or five tunes and I thought it could be halfway to an album and decided to try and double it up to make it into a full album, but it was much harder work than I had first thought at that stage.
There were a few tracks that were near enough there such as the one with Cleveland and Fats which was an instrumental before they did their bits, but I had to fill in the gaps and think about which style or kind of tune was missing.
Then, rather than just writing thirty-five odd tunes and then picking the best ones or picking the ones that got a rewind, instead it was more me trying to tick boxes that would fit the concept of the album as a whole and tunes that I wanted basically. So where you are like, ok, I’ve got a half-speed dubby one but maybe I need a bouncy, Jungly, dubby roller so that’s where ‘Looking For That’ came from and is called that, as I was kind of looking for exactly that and found it for that particular point in the album.
In some ways I suppose it’s kind of like a DJ set where it’s got that journey progression going on, by starting with the epic intro and working through to a deep outro, although I probably wouldn’t play them in that order in a club – it’s having a nice journey that takes you through a few different vibes and touches on all the elements of Drum & Bass that I love really.
With that said, how do you arrange the tracks when they are all individually completed? Is it an easy process where they place themselves naturally or can it be difficult to get just right?
It’s interesting, the tracks kinda just reveal themselves sometimes as maybe an ideal opener or maybe the last track as they have a certain quality to them. There are some things that you have to bear in mind, such as not having three tunes that are in the same key one after the other so you end up feeling like you are stuck in G or F for example for fifteen minutes.
So when one track ends and another one starts you want to get that feeling that the album has lead you somewhere else. That’s something I try and implement, having a key change in the right place can definitely help switch the pace of a vibe between the tracks, which you never want to become monotonous or too similar as the album progresses.
In the same way, you don’t want to have three vocals tunes in a row or the second half of the album being all hard and the first half is soft – it’s like anyone trying to piece anything together, you want ups and downs and a sensible flow to it.
Trial and error is the one, of course, like in most things but with this one, it was fairly easy and natural. It probably only took a few hours overall, I played it to some people for feedback and Calyx and Kyo were a couple of the people I played the order to that suggested a couple of useful changes, so getting a second opinion always helps. Fortunately, with this one, it was only twelve tracks so not too much of a Rubik’s cube this time around.
Given that you can be somewhat of a perfectionist when it comes to music and production and what you are trying to achieve, so how diligent are you in the track selection process and were there tunes that didn’t make the final cut but still feature in your sets and may end up lost on dub forever?
Well, there’s a few that were in the running for the album and one of them is a more obvious dancefloor tune that I still play out but it didn’t make it on there in the end. The reason for that is I’ve learnt through the other albums that although you may know it could be bigger than some of the others that did make it, do you want to live with it knowing it is on there forever?
So I could have put a couple more crowd-pleasing bangers on there but they just don’t feel as poignant or mean as much to you as a track overall and it is easy to fill an album up with club smashers but it loses that personal quality you tend to want your album to have.
Also to be fair, I just didn’t write that many tunes this time around anyway, I just wrote what I needed and it was quite efficient overall and worked out well. I probably made fourteen or fifteen tunes and whittled them down to the twelve and made each one as good as they could be and just picked the essential selection when I was ready and I’m pleased with how it has worked out overall.
It always seems that the names of your tracks and albums have a particular meaning you are projecting – is that the case with ‘Another Way’ and if so, what is the meaning behind the title?
I guess although not in a self-indulgent way, it’s kind of my opinion on the scene in the sense that there is another way that you can do it, meaning that you don’t have to sell out and make total cheese or jump on the bandwagon of whatever the popular trend is right now. I’d say it’s me doing it my way and saying this is my take on how I do it basically, like others may have said ‘My Sound’ or how they do it, then this is mine.
I had considered the name ‘Spectrum’ beforehand and that was kind of the idea behind the album, with it covering the whole spectrum of Drum & Bass styles and vibes but I thought it may have been a little bit too on the nose and obvious so ‘Another Way’ is a slightly more abstract way of referencing the spectrum and I’m happier with how it has turned out.
The process of naming something usually begins with an idea or theme and then I play around with different options, which often leads to me typing something into the thesaurus to find similar words and more often than not all the really good ones are taken and used for things that already exist like a company or a film or something and I’m sure there are other albums called Another Way but I didn’t spend too much time worrying about it.
Something pops into your head and one sticks, and you run it by a few people to gauge their reactions and if it’s generally positive feedback, then I go with it and of course the deciding factor in most things is time and when you are running out of it you just have to go with whatever feels right at the time! It’s the same with the artwork, you can keep tweaking it but eventually, you have to choose something, stick to it and get on with it to get it out there!
You recently held the album launch party at London’s XOYO nightclub – how was that?
Yeah, it was a great night! I love the venue and always have, it’s recently been refurbished and they have moved some of it around. Last time I played there was at Spectrasoul’s album launch last year and the decks were set up on the stage next to the DJ booth but they have since moved it about it and it makes a lot more sense, the way they have done it now.
The DJ booth is now on the back wall as you walk down the steps and turn left towards the main dancefloor and they have definitely improved the sound system too as it sounded banging.
So yeah it was wicked – very pleased with the response and it was packed too, everyone was on the level together and the atmosphere was great, the DJs and MCs we booked played really good music all night and I couldn’t have asked for more really.
London is my hometown so it’s always special to play there, there’s a lot of nostalgia for me having grown up going to my first raves and experiencing the scene there and of course London is a really busy, bustling place full of energy so there’s always a level of excitement that is so prevalent when you are in town.
One of the best things about all the album nights is all the loyal fans coming to see us who are really into the label and what we do specifically, instead of me being maybe a wildcard booking on a different line up and then I’ve got a much harder crowd to try and appeal to, instead everyone is bang on it and knows exactly what they want and what they can expect as they are in to the sound that we play out and represent, it really makes the atmosphere so much more enjoyable.
So yeah a ten out of ten night all in!
It appears overall that Drum & Bass is really healthy right now, especially a few years in since the EDM boom and the real digital switchover, what are your thoughts and experiences?
Yeah, it does seem really strong in terms of classic Drum & Bass if that’s what I should call it? I dunno, I’m not sure how I would define my style, its just Drum & Bass isn’t it? I mean I’ve been to some places where jump up is seen as a genre in its own right and not part of Drum & Bass overall which is kinda mad.
I think within the circle of people I work which is quite varied, everyone seems to be enjoying what everyone else is doing and the lines are pretty blurred between most of the sounds coming out now. I think there has been a problem at times where DJ lineups have been too one dimensional and a result, the vibe of the night suffers! I do like a varied line up if it can somehow work nicely together.
From festivals this summer and gigs this year there have been really solid lineups with a bit of jump up, a bit of Jungle, rolling deep stuff, a bit of liquid and that’s what I’d want to hear if I was going for a night out. I wouldn’t want to just hear Neuro for eight hours or just liquid for the whole night, so yeah this generation of producers are doing well at the moment – there’s a lot of respect and healthy competition and everyone benefits as a result, the scene is thriving!
I guess people have been influenced and grown up on similar stuff so there is a good common ground for reference and lots of really good music put out there. There are lots of young people that have great taste in music in general and are definitely well educated in the history of DnB. Without those people, we wouldn’t have a crowd to play to or people buying the tracks, so it’s really healthy to see that people are still loving the scene for all the right reasons.
It’s often said that when a big Drum & Bass track appeals to the mainstream which maybe cheesy or heavily Pop influenced that it is an intro point for people to get into the music and then start digging deeper, would you say that’s an apparent thing? And as a result, would you say that the commercial success of the music recently has grown the scene further afield? Are you now playing gigs that you wouldn’t have before? Is there a noticeable difference?
I’m not a fan of the phrases that I’ve heard over the years “that’s what the kids want” or “this will get people into the scene” – it seems more like an excuse for doing it than a charitable act, so I don’t generally buy that one. I do get that if a track is played on mainstream radio more people are going to hear it and recognise it as Drum & Bass, however, generally my opinion is that I just can’t believe that’s what people think Drum & Bass is, so the advertising of it through things that make it into the mainstream aren’t usually the best representations of it, however, I do accept that there are some exceptions of course.
To be honest, I’d say the further away thing is probably more down to people like you or me in those places that are really committed fans of the scene who want to start something in their part of the world. That’s what I’ve found with all of the promoters that I’ve played for in different cities, they are just the down to earth people trying to fill a club and put on a solid Drum & Bass night.
I’m sure you know if you are more in to the mainstream side of things then there will be more of those festivals and shows available to you and there is no question that Drum & Bass has got further into that realm now then ever before but then Jungle was really big in the nineties and there was loads of crossover then too, so I think maybe it just has waves of doing that.
Generally, most people I’ve met are doing it for the right reasons and they are just trying to represent what they like in their city or country and that’s really cool, basically.
Fair enough, moving on – how much time are you spending each week in the studio, on the road for shows and having some time to be yourself around all of that?
Yeah, there’s not much of the third one that’s for sure haha! But, saying that I’ve always known it’s a lifestyle business so that’s not a complaint for me and it is exactly what I’d be doing with my life anyway around a nine to five job if I had one, so it’s great that my passion and hobby is a job and that is a great luxury to have.
People think I don’t do lots of gigs, well I don’t skimp on gigs, I just don’t do four a weekend because when I’ve done that it does burn out Monday and Tuesday and by the time you get to Thursday you are getting ready to go away, so I’m left with maybe some of Tuesday and Wednesday in the studio if I’m lucky, so yeah I try and get a good Monday to Friday in the studio if I can.
I’ve also been doing mastering work as well which requires your ears being in a good state to do so effectively so that’s another consideration when it comes to doing too many shows. So yeah I love to have as much time as possible in the studio and now I’ve moved it home it means it’s far more accessible and convenient for me to jump on a creative streak and follow it when it suits me.
In the past, I’ve had studio’s away from home and in shared spaces and there is definitely pros and cons to both, which can result in varying degrees of productivity. Like for instance, there have been times when I’ve bought food and travelled to the studio but not felt particularly creative but given the time I have allocated, you want to make there most of it even if it’s not particularly easy to get something going. Or you might be trying to get something down and there’s noise coming through the wall from someone else, it’s finding that balance and ultimately what works best for you.
I think I’ve got that balance where I can do enough gigs to get paid and play the music, but I’ve also got enough time to make good music and not be burnt out and a wreck from all the travel and late nights.
Makes sense! Just a quick one, if you could remix a track off the top of your head, what would you choose?
Ohh, you’ve caught me off guard there – I may have to get back to you, there’s just too many options in the world to choose from! It’s a head scratcher and it may be your next question but Hard Noize by Dillinja is one I’d probably have thought of, but luckily I got to do that already, but that was definitely a box to tick!
If you could work with any artist of your choice, who would you choose?
Man, I am so bad on the spot! There are loads of people, let me try and think! Well, there are people but most of them are dead which is a bit of a problem…
Dead or alive…
Mmm, as a songwriter Rod Temperton but not on a Drum & Bass level – he’s someone I’d love to write a song with and I am definitely a closet Whitney Houston fan, so getting the opportunity to record a vocalist like her would be something else. Obviously, there is a tonne of other great singers I could think of, but who wouldn’t want to do a Whitney Houston session??
Well, you are firmly out of the closet with that one now, that’s going in print!
Anything you would like to say? About Drum & Bass? The Future?
Just thanks to everyone who has supported what I do as well as Symmetry, and generally for supporting the scene and making it healthier and stronger.
Let’s hope it keeps getting better and better!
You can buy Break ‘Another Way’ here