In Conversation with…DLR
Following his stellar release on Dispatch Dubplate, we had a lengthy chat with the man DLR himself. We covered all sorts of interesting topics including the backstory behind the name DLR, funny festival stories and some absolute gold advice for producers – definitely worth reading to the end! Check it out below:
So I’d like to start off by asking about your musical background, how you got into music, did you have a musical upbringing?
Cool so yeah in regards to my musical upbringing, I have a lot of friends where I’m like “oh shit where did you get that sample from?”, and they’ll be like “oh my parents had these records when I was young” – and I never really had that in regards to my parents being big soul/funk or reggae, or whatever, fans at all. My Dad was more into like Dire Straits and Pink Floyd, which was really cool. But at the time it didn’t seem to resonate massively with me. He had a real passion for music, he used to take me to the church choir where he used to go singing.
My Mum and Dad have always been really supportive and always pushing me for new opportunities. Me and my brothers always had these opportunities to learn instruments. They were really patient with me, every few years I’d always want to move on, cos they’d never tick the box in regards to fulfilling me. Plus I’m that sort of person, when I was young I always struggled to settle down.
I learned a shit load of instruments over that time. Michael, one of my brothers picked up on those opportunities and became a great instrumentalist and music collector – Future Sound of London, Roni Size, just stuff like really good dance music at the time. He also had a really early version of Logic as well, with a sort of MIDI set up, he was really obsessed with it. I always remember at the time being really intrigued by what he did and really intrigued by his music selection. Although again at that age it didn’t particularly resonate with me.
So yeah, by the time I was 15/16, I had the urge to try something. So I got something like Dance EJAY and just rinsed out some beats on there. It’s so old school now. You could basically just bang loops together, which was a really cool way to learn.
I’d suggest anyone who wants to trial the idea of making tunes, you don’t need to jump right into the deep end, you can paddle a bit by playing with these loops and banging them together, just feeling what it’s like to do that. Then after that, you can decide whether to get seriously deep.
After EJAY, I just thought okay I’m really vibing on this making some beats, and I was like “Mum, Dad, I want a computer”, and they were like “ok that’s cool but if you want something you’ve got to go and get it yourself”. So basically they encouraged me to get a job, starting to try and save up some money. I never learned to drive or anything, I spent all that money on Vinyl and decks. Then I got my computer as well. So they kind of came in time of each other. I hadn’t thought about what I was gonna DJ, make or anything – I just started making really random beats.
Strangely, one of the first things I made with my mate, Matt Bird, was the tune called Dirty Leroy, I don’t know why – he just had some stupid lyrics when he was mashed or something ha. I wish I could play this tune, it’d be hilarious, this started my career! I mean, that’s why I’m called DLR aka Dirty Le Roi.
Ahhh, so that’s the backstory behind the name DLR!
Haha yeah, it’s really weird man!
It was a really steady progression, and even by that point I’m only 16, and now I’m 33. So that was another ten years of just fucking around and wasting time really, just sort of feeling the waters, just trying to figure out what was going on.
If you were 18 and came into the scene now, say came to Collective, our night, and immerse yourself in the scene you’d immediately be involved. I didn’t have any of that until I went to university and became part of this crew called Central Beatz with these guys when I was 20. Ruckspin who is the engineer and producer in Submotion Orchestra and some other guys including LD50 who started the night/event, they were all really good at what they did – and I was just like ahh okay, I’m actually really shit – so I just kept on pushing and pushing.
Then I got to this point where I was actually just quite pissed off with it all, to be honest with you, so I just gave it all up for a year at uni and just got quite mashed. Just fucked around really. In a way, it was a bad move, but it also took the pressure off, to not do anything and not worry about it, and just get my thoughts together.
After a breather, I really sort of figured ‘Ok no I really wanna do this’. I started pushing harder and met Ant TC1. Ant was super enthusiastic about everything, gave me a lot of opportunities. I met Chris Octane at the time as well. Got in the studio with Ant and made a tune, and that’s kind of where it all kick started really. It was a real steady progression for me man. I think that steady progression has really defined me and my sound.
So you said you played a lot of instruments, do they come into your productions?
Nah, it’s the same like I learnt a lot of languages when I was young as well man – I just never really paid attention, just like a fucking useless kid. It’s that mentality of throwing a lot of opportunities away when I was young, I remember having a chat with my Mum when I was around 20, saying like ‘I’m not happy, I feel like everything I’ve done and all the opportunities you gave me when I was young were wasted, a bit depressed about it really because I feel like you gave me everything and I did nothing’. And she was like “Well yeah you can feel depressed if you want, or could just say well that’s what I did then, why not do the opposite now?” So I used that anger and disappointment towards my youth to push even harder.
More than anything I remember the musicality of it all and the mentality of my teachers, and how I learnt about songs, songwriting, structuring, arranging – and my ear just being tuned in over the years.
So I think there are two parts to that, obviously at the time you thought it was a waste, but looking back the dots join up and lead you into the final product that you are today, and secondly I think that is a great mindset to have – using the past to drive you forward rather than dwelling on it
Yeah exactly, at the time I just totally didn’t get it mate. My parents are just amazing people. It’s cool man, I’m very much the same person now but also very different in a lot of ways, because in ways I’m successful, I work really hard, and I’m happy about that.
It absolutely paid off, great advice from your Mum there!
Haha yeah if anyone wants any advice or help she’s fucking amazing for that!
Haha there you go, hit up J’s Mum for life advice! So you’ve just come back from playing 3 festivals – how was the vibe at Outlook? I bet it was incredible!
Yeah, I’ve been to Outlook for 11 years in a row, they’re really good friends of mine, we’re like family really. I’ve seen the progression of that festival over the years, it really represents our side of bass/dance music. They’re all about the sound system, providing the crowd and the artist with the best platform for this music. I feel like Drum & Bass is the undisputed rave music, all the drum & bass stages were just rammed. The music and the diversity, and the energy from the people said to me that we are very very much on top again. So that was amazing to see man.
It’s always a pleasure to go and play over there, we play on the Void Stage – the Neuron Audio rig is fucking insane, it’s great to have people to hear your music in that context. Someone said to me if you had that Void sound system everywhere in the world, Drum & Bass would be 5000x as big as it is because people would actually get it.
And then also Sunandbass, every time man, the energy is just crazy, you know, the people just love that shit so much. Really good times over there man, I personally had an amazing time with the extended drum & bass family, we all had an amazing time together. So yeah man, mega successful times over there!
Brilliant! Any funny stories you can share from the festival…?
Haha! There’s a tune on Charlie Break‘s new album and all of us just refused to accept what the lyrics are, we just made up our own. There’d be videos flying back and forth between Smithy Total Science, and us lot, and it got pretty out of hand. On stage one night, he played it and we all came on stage and had a big sing along. Randall popped up as well, it was just hilarious mate. I’m glad Charlie understood the piss take!
A lot of people in the drum & bass scene man, you ask them that question and the whole thing is just a complete piss take the whole time. That’s why we love the scene man.
Ha! Will we be seeing a DLR vocal edit being released then?
Hahaha mate, I’ve got this auto-tune app on my phone, there’s about like 10 different auto-tuned versions on there from various people it’s hilarious. But I don’t think those will be coming out, unfortunately, no, sorry mate haha!
We spent a lot of time with Randall as well, and he just embodies that attitude man. He’s just so happy go lucky about it all, always on a good vibe, always willing to take the piss and be jovial.
He’s always got a smile on his face!
It’s ridiculous man, he was playing his set on the Clearing Stage and we all went up with him. At the end of his set, I’m on the side of the stage a bit mashed and he’s shouting after me, “Come do that fucking ending that you do with all the reverb and delays and that, mash it up and stuff! Yeah yeah come now and mash up the end of the tune!” I was like “…alright! If you want mate!” Do you know what I mean, it’s that sort of attitude, like who’s gonna do that in Techno? He’s so inclusive and just wants that family vibe.
So let’s talk about your EP now…
Yeah man since I finished my album it’s my biggest body of work in one package. I’m really happy with it man, I just want shit to be different really, I just do stuff that I wanna do. You can spend your whole life worrying about everybody else and what they think and what they’re doing, but it comes to a point eventually where you just have to get your head down and do your own thing – and that’s the only way you’re ever going to achieve any sort of originality in the sound.
So I really tried with this EP to do that. The drums are big, they’re breaky, the songs are different, they’re weird in many ways, and they’re a throwback in some ways, but also updated with that new production and super loud mixdowns and all that sorta shit.
You get a lot of people who are coming up on your sound & are super inspired by it, maybe struggling to find their own sound and they wanna do your sound, take Skeptical for example – everybody wants to do that sound. Then Skeppy’s like “Ok cool, if everyone wants to do that, you do that and I’m gonna move on”. So yeah that’s what I tried to do with this one.
I think it’s important here to say like if you wanna do that, that’s cool but I think it’s always going to be difficult to stand out from the crowd unless you really push to be.
What you said really resonates with me in that when you’re creating, you need to forget about other people and stay true to yourself. To expand on that, do you have any advice for new producers in terms of finding their own sound?
Man, this is really difficult. I was speaking to Dillinja about this and he confirmed this idea of just keeping your head in the sand. You immerse yourself in this world, like I mentioned about the year off, I wasn’t making beats but I was more going out to raves, getting fucked up, listening to music, doing all this stuff, and just sort of tuning the ear in really.
It’s just a subconscious thing that’s there inside of us. If you just trust that, if you really love it and you’re really involved, it’s all there. You’ve just gotta find this way of being relaxed enough for it to be accessed, you know what I mean? When you’re at the computer you’ll find yourself working in a certain way with sounds, and your music will sound a certain way, and you just need to allow that to develop.
But it is a balance, of course, you want to do your studying, you want to have your knowledge and know about what you’re doing, then you’ve got to reach a point of just shutting off, locking yourself away and getting on with it, not worrying about everyone else.
Like people back in the day would’ve said to Dilly your tunes are distorted, and he’d be like “that’s my tune, I don’t really give a fuck, that’s what I wanted”, you know what I mean? And now that’s the sound that we all try and follow.
That’s really good advice. Trust the creative process and go with it.
Yeah man, it’s super difficult but yeah that 100% is my advice. You’ve got the find the moments to shut yourself off from the world. Sometimes I’ll get all my work done, throw the phone out the studio and just get involved. It’s the excitement and the drive of wanting to create that allows me to ignore everything else.
It’s super difficult though, and every year gets more difficult in terms of my life and the things I take on. I’ve had to learn again recently how to achieve that creativity. I was getting mega frustrated I just couldn’t do it. I’d throw my phone out and I’ve had a ton of messages like “J we need this, J we need that” – it’s difficult to manage.
Definitely, I think you need that, to just shut everything out for a while and have that space-time oasis to really get into it
Definitely man, and I don’t think it’s common to have that thought in our side of the scene. I think it’s really common with bands, bands have always done that – like go to a studio in Wales for a week. It’s something that me and Steve (Mako) for OneMind want to do because we just want to have a bit more space to just create, you know? It is super difficult in this day and age and I think that’s sometimes what stops people from achieving.
So we touched upon it earlier, I wanted to discuss the track titles of the tunes on the EP, they really stood out. Is there a meaning behind all three?
I think because I’ve been having a hard time creating and finding that time like we just touched on, and having to relearn how to start a tune again, so I started calling stuff quite frustrated titles, like “Do I know what I’m doing?”. Also “Looking in from the outside” is maybe just the point of view of taking a step back to just appreciate things.
Sometimes it’s cool to just look down on it all and be like, “Ok what’s going on here” – like I said about me having that break when I was younger, I did that again recently, tried to step back a bit and just enjoy DJ’ing, running Collective, running my label, finishing the OneMind album, and really over the past 6 months just trying to take that all in. So that’s actually been really helpful and the tune name kind of reflects that idea. But it’s all based on the frustration of reaching this point and not really having a clue what’s going on, or what I’m doing, or whether I’m any good – which is so silly, but you get so deep in it eventually that you just don’t have a clue really man.
“When I’m Tripping”; is just because we’re all fucking tripping, over shit all the time, like mad shit, just getting too fucking caught up in shit and worrying.
It happened a lot with my last album Dreamland, I had around 6 tunes done at the time Gusto bought his vocals to the table – and what I realised was that a lot of those tune titles pointed towards this concept that Gus had of about ‘Dreamland’, which was about the idea of being a white middle-class person living in a dream, not realising all the shit going on around me, living in a bubble really. Sometimes, although difficult its good to step back and take a look at the World that surrounds you, it’s hard to really appreciate the harsh realities of the World if you are blessed, but the first step is trying to learn and educate yourself about others and their situations.
When I look back on the tune titles for this EP, it all pushes in one sort of direction, which is really strange to me because it’s all so subconscious at the time. It always comes around in a really thoughtless way, but always has a lot of meaning.
Really cool that, it’s like the subconscious manifests itself in the music, and then you later understand the subconscious through the music
Yeah! It’s really fucking weird mate. It’s honestly really defined my life over the past three or four years, through tune titles and stuff on the Dreamland album and that mentality and I see it fucking everywhere now, like we’re all living in this dreamland like “oh it’s all fine”, and it’s not fine at all, in a way everybody’s fucked, just because you’re a white middle class doesn’t mean that the whole world isn’t fucked, do you know what I mean?
Yeah like living in a bubble…
Yeah exactly, just because Theresa May and Donald Trump aren’t particularly affecting my life directly right now at this point, doesn’t mean they’re not ruining many other peoples lives. Doesn’t mean that in like 2 years’ time that everything won’t go to total shit, and then it’ll be too late.
So going on a different tangent, I’m curious – what does a typical DLR studio session look like?
Hmm, preparation is mega key. So I’m prepping up all the time in terms of making drums, making basses and making sounds, having shit there ready to go. Then when it comes down to it, you’ve prepared so much that you can just perform in the studio – like a Sportsman on game day or something. Even with prep, I don’t always achieve this…
So for me, it’s just constant work and constant disappointment really, of making a load of shit – drum breaks that sound no good, kick drums that sound shit. Then being like, okay that was cool, what did I learn from it? Let’s try again. And again. And again. Then eventually you get some good ones, and you bring those to the table in the studio. That’s my process really, it just takes a lot of prep.
I’m really obsessed with creating everything that I do, except for like the key vibe samples, something from a film or something that gives you that path. My process is very long and frustrating, and not very fruitful, especially when I work on my own. I see it like me being in the lab, pressing and learning, making those mistakes. Like someone in the lab trying to cure cancer; like you’re gonna be on that road for a long time and every day. Imagine being a scientist trying to cure cancer, your career is full of 0.1% of a success and 99.9% failure. You just keep pushing and then one day you may be the one who cures the cancer, or gets very close to doing so. That’s the drive, isn’t it?
So yeah from all that pre-prep, all that time in the studio, or the lab, researching, doing all that shit – can mean that those sessions on the right day with the right people can be super quick and super fulfilling.
Interesting analogy J!
Haha, I’m obsessed with analogies man, you can’t really explain shit to people in this world without analogies I don’t think!
But yeah it’s important to remember that not everything you make is gold, just keep at it.
Exactly man, we’re just all making a lot of shit all the time! All of us, whether it’s Perez or Skeppy or whatever, you just don’t hear it. You have to make those mistakes to move forward, and it’s how you navigate these things that define you.
I saw an interesting stat a while ago, claiming that Michael Jackson wrote 120 songs for one album and only put out 12. I don’t know how true it is but I think it rings true for every musician – you’ll make a lot of rubbish, and the gold will come
Exactly man! I think the art and the challenge of it all is to reach past all of that frustration and disappointment and to keep on driving until you get to the point where you’re not disappointment anymore.
We’ve all been there, any time one of us is super frustrated then we’re all talking to each other. Like Charlie (Break) will come over and be like “Argh I’m so pissed off, I just can’t get my shit right”, and you’re just like… that’s Break! People don’t think that Break struggles. But he goes back home and nails it, and that’s what we all hear in the club!
I think it goes for anyone in the world who wants to be successful, you need to navigate those points of difficulty and learn how to get through them, not let it drive you into a state of depression where you feel like a failure. You’ve got to try and use it as a fuel to make you want to work harder and achieve.
Absolutely! I think it’ll be reassuring for a lot of our readers that artists like yourself and Break struggle at times… simply put you’ve just got to power through and crack on.
So moving away from music quickly… now I’m not sure how much time you have for this what with Sofa Sounds, OneMind, DLR, but what do you like to do outside of making music?
Umm… I am really obsessed with music man. A lot of my other time can be spent enjoying music rather than drum & bass – I don’t really listen to drum & bass, I don’t sort of engulf myself with it outside of the rave, or being with people who are really into it. I just listen to and enjoy other stuff. Which is a big part of my life. Other than that I love watching football mate! I love watching Tottenham and I’m obsessed with that, it’s a really nice escape for me. I like to keep semi-active man, play some sports, go on holiday with my wife and my friends, going for walks, enjoying really nice food.
But you know, it’s my career, a lot of my life is spent on music. I’ve got many years in the future I’m sure to not be doing that, so at the moment it’s really important for me to do that.
Enjoy the ride for sure!
So it sounds like there’s not that much going on outside but you know, that’s a big part of it, like filling your life with family time, going to see brothers, my nieces, my nephews. Just trying to not be up all night with drum & bass and getting mashed and having that real nice escape. Every time I do take a break, I always feel like fucking hell I need more of that!
But yeah again you can get yourself too deep, like if all you do is music, that’s when everything becomes really negative, and it becomes difficult to write. It’s at times when you’re lying there in bed, or chilling with your family, that all of a sudden you’ll have these epiphanies sometimes, and you’ll be like “Ahhh yeah! I could do that!”, or you’ll just get little ideas on how you want to work, or on a certain sound you wanna hear. You know what I mean? It just all of a sudden opens your mind up when you just remove yourself from it a bit. I think it’s really important for people to remember that, because it’s one of the hardest things to do.
Is there anything else in particular that you’d like to talk about?
Umm… I think it’s important to say that there’s a lot of new labels about, something that we all believe is one of the reasons that the scene is so booming at the moment, it’s really opened up the creative doors! Spectrasoul, Alix Perez, Lenzman, Me, Ulterior Motive, Kid Drama, we’ve all got these labels, and there’s loads more, and we’re all feeling so creative and energetic about it at the moment. The music is really at the top of its game. I feel like it’s almost as good as the late 90’s because of the diversity and the core sound is just so fucking sick.
But at the same time, I don’t think people should misinterpret that as us lot not wanting to be a part of, or respecting what those labels like Dispatch and Shogun have done for us, and the road that they paved for us. Also especially in regard to me, in no way am I turning my back on Ant or Dispatch at all, I’m very much in tune with Ant and what he’s doing, and I want to be a part of that. But at the same time, he respected that I’m one of those artists that’s got a lot to give. He appreciates that and always knew that I was sort of going to peel away a little bit, but I have a lot of respect for Ant. Without him and Chris Octane, they gave me so much in the scene, they helped me get to this point. Ant helped me a lot with the label, he advises me, links me up with various people, and he’s fully behind it.
It’d be easy for people out there to think that all of us are turning our backs on those labels but it’s important to state that it’s not the case at all, it’s all very amicable between all of us.
It’s a great time for drum & bass with all the artists doing their own thing, great to hear and see all the creative freedom
Yeah man, it’s something I’ve thought about a lot, I thought it was important to say that in this interview so little Anthony knows that he’s loved.
Hahaha – I’ll make sure to get that in there!
Haha yeah, you can throw that in the end as a little conclusion. “Little Anthony is definitely loved, bye everyone!”
Ha, one last question then, what’s coming up next for you?
I’ve actually fucked my plan a little bit, I was talking to one of the legends in the scene who’s been running his label for a number of years, and everybody knows the label. He was really keen on one of the tunes I had lined up for Sofa Sounds, so probably going to scrap that on Sofa Sounds and give that to him!
So I had everything planned out but that’s all switched now. So next up, I’m working on getting the next release out by me, War and Hydro on my label called ‘It’s Not Too Late’ with another track called ‘Trick’.
After that I’m working with an artist from France called Mateba, his 12’s all wrapped up on the label and that’s going out digital.
I’ve hopefully got a little bit on a future, very special project that Metalheadz are doing, as DLR.
And then I just want to get some more bits done for Ant, for Sofa Sounds, as OneMind for Metalheadz, and also working on various projects with other people – one, in particular, I’m working with Hydro and Smithy from Total Science. We can’t actually think of a name, got a couple of really fucking good tunes, so everything’s ‘Unknown’, ‘Unknown’, ‘Unknown’ at the moment! So we’re really excited about that, the tunes are really cool and it’s buzzing us out, everybody else is really into them.
Lots of cool merch coming, lots of cool releases coming, got some ideas for a real cool obscure 7″ release that’s going to be really collectable I think.
Alright, cheers J that was a pleasure mate!
Big ups mate, thanks so much, peace!
Buy DLR’s Dispatch Dublplate EP here