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Spectrasoul – Chatting Ish

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“Do you want the post rationalised answer or just the answer?”

Wait… Has the interviewee suddenly become the interviewer? Well, no.

But in a world full of PR ready soundbites I guess it’s nice to at least be given an option. The voice at the other end of the line attempting to turn the tables is that of Jack Stevens who, alongside Dave Kennett, make up the two talented halves of the duo most affectionately known as Spectrasoul. They have a brand new label: Ish Chat Music. They also, more importantly, have brand new music out in the form of the four track Only You EP.

However, I still needed an answer to my question: Why did they choose to name their label after a 2 and half minute long track from their debut album? Which, to anyone unfamiliar with the excellent Delay No More, is largely made up of ambient studio noise. “What we really didn’t want to do is put too much focus on the label itself,” Jack continues. “Essentially it’s just a platform for us to release our music so we obviously had to have a name – you can’t have a label without a name. You can’t just call it Label. We went through our back catalogue of track names and Ish Chat sounded a bit more interesting and different so we went with that.” Other names under consideration included Memento Records / Memento Music (already taken) and the rather obvious, if largely uninspired, Spectrasoul Music. Fortunately it wasn’t only the fact that as a name it sounded fairly arbitrary that put them off using it. “It did cross our minds but we realised pretty quickly it would limit us in terms of our scope if it came to a point where we wanted to release other peoples music. If we were to put out a record by a producer on Spectrasoul Music… I think it has to be a slightly separate entity for it to work if you’re going to do that.”

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After turning in their sophomore album The Mistress last summer, Jack and Dave, like labelmate Alix Perez before them, flew the Shogun Audio nest to forge their own path with Ish Chat Music and the Only You EP being the start of the next chapter for the Brighton pair. In doing so it means forsaking (no pun intended) the security and all of the other advantages you get from being signed to take a leap into the world of label ownership, and the complete independence that comes with it. “We’re treating this as kind of an experiment,” explains Dave. “In that we’re really testing the water to see how we get on. The industry – whether it be music or just drum & bass – isn’t a sure fire thing so it can be a risk. It’s nice to have total control and the rewards from doing it yourself are a lot greater. There’s excitement in a new challenge and we’re both confident in the music that we make. It would be arrogant to say there’s no fear in us doing this but there’s definitely more excitement than any anxiety.” This confidence is pivotal in Spectrasoul choosing to do it themselves. “The best way to put it is just backing yourself,” states Jack. “I’ve found trusting your instincts and the music your making gives you a more positive outlook. There’s something to be said for taking a gamble on yourself. I’ve felt better about our music than I have for a while because we’ve done it all off our own back and took a punt on ourselves, which makes it more gratifying.”

The four tracks on the Only You EP are the result of Spectrasoul’s continual workflow following the release of The Mistress. “It was all written in the second half of last year and most of it was written when we moved back to Brighton at the end of September.” says Jack. “We did a couple of remixes and I seem to remember that spawned some new sounds and some new ideas,” continues Dave. “For the EP we had quite a varied batch of music to choose from. With our second album we focused quite a lot on vocals and trying to build actual songs, which we’ve always done. But on The Mistress we tried to really push it to a certain point. The tracks on the EP go the other way to take things in a more club-centric direction.”Jack too welcomed being afforded the opportunity to write tracks minus constraints – not only mentally but also technically. “There was a period in the writing process of The Mistress where we were overworking stuff a bit. I don’t necessarily think it was to its detriment but it got to a point sometimes where it was a bit tiresome. I would talk to Teebee or Break about real techy production stuff and then I would go back and tweak, but for this EP I think the track Only You was finished a week before we went to mastering. In hindsight it’s the one where I hear little changes I’d like to make but I like the rawness of that. There’s a rawness to all of them and we didn’t overthink the mix downs.” I segue briefly into the topic of production, discussing what appears to be the seemingly ongoing quest for the loudest mix down possible, a hot topic in Drum & Bass, and fairly reminiscent of what happened when Pendulum kicked off the ‘loudness war’ in the mid 2000’s. Major players such as Friction have voiced concerns via social media about certain tracks being technically impeccable but lacking in any actual music. “There’s a trend at the moment of stuff that sounds really impressive on a club system – but that’s it.” Jack says. “It’s tricky. Part of the reason why something is well received in a club is how it effects your body. There’s a big part of that side of the production process that is very important and I do want to get stuff sounding really punchy and loud. As soon as you start sacrificing the music that’s the line that’s got to not be crossed.” “You can have the best four minutes of music but if it doesn’t come across well in a club then there’s no vibe. There has to be a balance between the two.” states Dave. And when it comes to the Spectrasoul studio dynamic? “I’m much more slap dash with laying things down, throwing things in and seeing what happens.” says Dave. “Jack has more patience with the technical stuff.” “If Dave has written an idea it’s been known that I’ll come in, look at the Logic page and go ‘what the fuck is going on here!?’” laughs Jack. “Dave and I argue… a lot. We’ve been arguing today about silly little sounds but it’s healthy. It’s a healthy thing.”

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It would be remiss of me to not discuss Spectrasoul’s near decade long association with Shogun Audio. Alongside Alix Perez and Icicle, Jack and Dave were part of the famous first wave of artists signed to Shogun who helped to sonically shape the sound of the imprint throughout the mid naughties. While they are no longer contractually bound to the label having fulfilled their two album deal, their affiliation – and more importantly their friendships – will always remain. Ten years is a long time: how could it not? “We’re still really tight pals with Ed and Keir; our new studio is above the Shogun office. We catch up with them all the time now we’re back in Brighton,” says Jack. “Even though we’re not working full time with Shogun we’ll always be mentioned in the same breath for the rest of our careers. They were a big part of our lives so there will never be a total disassociation.” From being, as they put it, “wet behind the ears” when they had their first batch of tunes signed to growing into one of D&B’s premier acts, what have been their fondest memories of their time on Shogun? “Meeting Ed and signing our deal,” says Jack. “Playing at The End – there was a vibe there I don’t think has ever been matched and all the Shogun crew would be there from start to finish. And the two albums we released which were huge highlights for us both.” “For me a lot of it is the bits in between,” Dave explains. “Obviously there’s the music we’ve released but it’s things like hanging out or doing tours with Ed and stuff – because we we’re all such good friends touring with those guys was always a laugh and it never felt like work.”

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Something the boys are hoping to achieve with Ish Chat Music, which was something spawned from their time on Shogun, is trying to restore the sense of community within drum & bass again. It’s no secret there’s probably more fragmentation than ever before: be it by sub genre or the ever increasing ‘camp mentality’ from labels, this new found confidence and independence has given both Jack and Dave reason to feel that there’s a need, now more than ever, for artists to share their music and ideas for benefit of the scene. As Jack explains: “There was a period of time when I’d be talking to Alix on AIM and we’d be sending 30 second clips of stuff to each other all day and I think we need more of that again. We need more producers sharing their music and getting other peoples insights into what their working on. I know there’s some fucking good music about to come out and there’s loads of really exciting stuff again.”

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Grahame Farmer

Grahame Farmer’s love affair with electronic music goes back to the mid-90s when he first began to venture into the UK’s beloved rave culture, finding himself interlaced with some of the country’s most seminal club spaces. A trip to dance music’s anointed holy ground of Ibiza in 1997 then cemented his sense of purpose and laid the foundations for what was to come over the next few decades of his marriage to the music industry.

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