Remixes, processes & influences: Break tells all
The next instalment of Break ‘Another Way’ LP remixes is here, with 2 dance-floor killer tracks to add to your collection!
Break flips the script with ‘Whispers In My Ear’ stripping back to a more minimal sound with wolf-like basses and meaty subs. Keeping MC GQ’s weighty vocals as the key feature was important and his middle 16 hits close and personal direct to your ear.
Break & Total Science’s ‘Dog’s Dinner’ was already a heavy club tune, but the master of power Mefjus has taken it up to a new level. Reworking all the elements of the track with his trademark production results in a monster version that always delivers.
To go alongside the release of these two epic tracks, we sat down for a catch up the don that is Break. It’s been a couple of years since we last spoke to him when he released his ‘Another Way’ LP (read that interview here). In this new interview Break talks about how the remixes came about and how he developed his signature sound, amongst other things.
So Charlie, could you please just give us a quick rundown of how you got in producing and DJing and then how you got into Drum & Bass?
It pretty much started because I wanted to be a scratch DJ, playing hip hop. When I first saw that I was blown away. It was that mid-90s era when scratching was really a thing so I bought some decks to try and do that. I got pretty good at it but at that age, I was buying all sorts of music on vinyl. I was buying house and garage and, y’know, Drum & Bass and obviously got into mixing, which I really enjoyed as well.
I was into all sorts of music at that stage but it got to the point where I was like “I want to make some of these tunes for myself!” So, producing started fairly soon after getting decks and DJing. I was already well into music; I was a drummer and I learnt piano from about the page of 10. Music was already my passion and so I think getting a sampler was the first real taste of chopping up beats.
When’d you get that?
I think that I got my first one probably around 1997/1998. At that point, things were going to what was hardstep at the time and I wasn’t really into it because I just loved jungle. I’d gotten my sampler to chop up Amens with and that was like the first thing I did and the real excitement for me. I made 100s of tunes and just slowly worked out what I was doing. But I think a lot of it back then was just you had to work it out for itself.
I think the first break I got was meeting DJ A Sides, who had a record label called Eastside Records. That’s when I was 18 and he heard some of my tunes and said: “yeah I’ll put some of these tracks out”. That became ‘Cocktail’, which was my first release.
From that point he was a really cool guy and released a few more of my tunes but he was happy just to link me up with more mates of his, who were Klute and Marcus Intalex and people like that who started to take tunes off me as well. A Sides was a great guy to meet and opened all kinds of doors for me which was really handy.
Alright, so between your early releases on Eastside and DNAudio, what happened between then and starting Symmetry that made you want to start your own label?
DNAudio was Silent Witness and Squire’s label and, at that point, I was working a lot with Silent Witness. He taught me loads of stuff and we’re still good mates so there weren’t any hard feelings but I saw what they were doing and I just really wanted to do my own label.
I had all these tunes and people like Klute and Marcus all said that it was quite easy like “just speak to our distributor. If you’ve got good music and you want to release it yourself it’s not actually too difficult to do it”. I got excited by the idea that I could just release my own tunes and, financially, obviously you don’t have to give half your profits to the label. Which was appealing as well because I had committed to music being my job and DJ fees weren’t really big for me back then. So it was a good point to try and make a living off my own tunes.
Sure sure, since we’re here I have to ask how you feel Symmetry has changed over the years and was there a conscious decision to start releasing music from other artists?
Like I said originally, I thought it would just be for me but comes the point you do a collaboration or you’re thinking about doing a various artists album. I think it was just to be able to give back to other people the opportunity that A Sides gave to me. You know, you’ve got a platform that you can use to shine the light on someone’s music that people might not have heard of.
Obviously I’ve released music from lots of known artists over the years, but the main appeal has really been trying to help out some new artists to get their first release or get recognised. I like it, but there’s a lot more work involved because I really feel the obligation to make the release a success for them. And I’m not a natural label manager so that’s the part I struggle with as that’s really not my forte.
Well speaking of your forte, how about we talk about your life as a producer? I’ve always been interested to know how you arrive at that very distinctive Break sound, and how you have kept that consistently over the years while moving with the times.
I think it’s partly almost as simple as “that’s how I do it” and I think that applies to anyone else who has their own sound too. That’s just the way they do it! That’s one simple angle but I often say to people as well, that a lot of it is the decisions and the choices within the process and you notice that more when you do collaborations with someone. You’ll be going through some samples and they’ll say “I like that one and that one” and you think “I’d never use that” and it’s the choices of whether its a kick or a vocal or whatever.
So it’s the choices you make that, over time, build up into a sound. I think that applies to your influences too, and the influences that I bring into Drum & Bass like Hip Hop, Jazz and Reggae and all those things. I also think it’s a case of that’s how you want it to sound, like if you had only made 3 or 4 tunes then that’s probably not consistent enough to have a sound but when you’ve done 50+ tunes you start to develop that pattern that’s recognisable…If that makes sense?
Yeah I follow, it’s like a process.
It’s strange, I noticed that when I was listening to other producers you’d think things like “they always use the same drums!” but when you actually get into it you realise that they’re all actually all different but they end up sounding like that because that’s just how they do things. It’s like your process ends up defining your sound eventually.
Sorry, what was the second part of your question? I’ve just rambled on!
Haha it was top tier rambling, but the question was how you’ve managed to achieve quite a consistent sound that’s still managed to change with the times?
Partly it is a conscious decision; when I moved from the whole mixing desk, outboard equipment set up and went more “in the box” for a while, I was aware that other producers had done that and had lost their sound and you can hear the before and after and I was really conscious of not wanting to lose that and go all digital sounding. I guess a lot of my work in the computer has still had that ethos of trying to sound real and more analogue and as time has gone on, I’ve integrated more and more of that hardware back into my set up.
I’m also fairly stuck in my ways in terms of certain techniques, like I usually always put breaks in a sampler in logic, which is always what I’ve done, and I usually always use recycle to chop up beats. So I think a lot of it is just sticking to the techniques that work and that gives consistency as there’s a consistent method that always gets used.
You’ve touched a couple of times already on some of your influences, so would you say there’s anyone in drum and bass who’s really influenced you?
Ha! That’d be a long list for sure…
Let’s pick a top 3
Ooh, Calibre, Dillinja and Konflict. They’re three people who’ve really inspired a lot of what I do, amongst others.
I think it’s a useful outlook to have where you take things your influences do and apply them to your tunes, or where you look at what they do and how that works for them in their tunes.
Changing tack slightly, you’re really well known for your DJ sets and I wanted to ask if there’s a particular way you approach DJing and structuring your sets?
I’m pretty keen on key matching tunes that need it, like vocal tunes or more liquidy stuff that’s more musical. Years back I used to have sheets on the wall with lists of tunes in keys so if I was planning a big set or a mix I could see what tunes would go with what and wouldn’t clash. That’s a lot easier now with Rekordbox where you can organise things by key. So if I’m planning out a set or even laying out a rough playlist I’ll find tunes that fit well together.
Saying that the key thing doesn’t always work and some tunes that shouldn’t work together do work so, like most DJs, a lot of it is just trying combos of tunes and seeing what goes together. I’m also definitely into a flow of a set that maybe starts with some excitement but kinda builds up more from there. You’ve got to have ups and downs I think, with a few lulls and a few high points to keep it from being flat or just blaring in your face. So I’ve always tried my best to play a bit of everything to keep my sets more three-dimensional.
For many years I never planned sets, I just turned up with my tunes and just played what felt right at the time and that’s still often how I do things but I think having batches of tunes that you know fit well together does always help because you can find those amazing blends that almost create a new tune out of two tunes.
As an artist you’ve become really renowned for your remixes as much as your DJ sets, was that a conscious decision to work as a remix artist or has that just happened naturally as you’ve been approached for them?
A bit of both really. From early on, from before I even had releases I was doing ropey bootleg remixes of tunes I liked just for fun. I’ve always really enjoyed that aspect of putting your own spin on something you already know. I think it’s just gone hand in hand with where I’ve had some really good remix opportunities which in turn helps to perpetuate people hearing those and wanting me to do one for them too.
I definitely really enjoy it, especially with vocal tunes where you can reharmonise or restructure the chords with the vocal and turn it into a new song and I guess that people have been pleased with the remixes and the offers have kept on coming in.
I wanted to talk a little bit about the new release on Symmetry; the ‘Dogs Dinner’ remix and the ‘Whispers In Your Ear’ remix. First off, why did you decide to go back in on ‘Whispers in Your Ear’?
I did really like the original and it’s one of those tunes that just ended up how it did but I often thought at the time that a harder, or more dancefloor, version could work. When I looked back through the list of the album tunes I was thinking of what does and doesn’t need a remix and again, because that’s got a vocal I thought I could do something different with it. I did want other people to do the remixes but I also wanted to do one myself so it was partly which ones were left for me and which ones could work without ruining the original too much.
Break & MC GQ ‘Whispers In Your Ear’ (Break Remix)
You’ve hardly ruined the original but, on the flip side, you’ve got the Mefjus remix. Did you approach him about that or was it one of those things that just happened?
Well it kind of happened in the sense that he asked me to do the remix of ‘Uneasy’ from his album which I was really up for doing and I even said to him when he first came with the album “that one’s my favourite” so I was really pleased to be able to remix that. As we did it I said, “how about we do a swap and it just keeps life easy for everyone?”
He was more than happy to do a swap and, just looking through that list again, I thought that was probably one he could flip quite well and he totally came with the goods.
Break & Total Science ‘Dog’s Dinner’ (Mefjus Remix)
Did he ever! So looking ahead a bit, what’s next for Symmetry and what’s next for Break, if they’re not the same thing?
We’ve got one more remix single from that remix series, which is the Breakage remix of ‘Conversations’, by me, Fats and Cleveland Watkiss. He’s done that a while back and I played it at Sun and Bass and a few other festivals last summer and I know it’s snuck out there to a few other DJs so it’s been played on some shows and everyone likes that one. Breakage totally smashed it really.
The other side of that is a Calyx & Teebee remix of ‘Keepin It Raw’, that’s nearly done and I’ve played out some test versions of it but they’re just finishing that at the moment.
That’s what’s next in the pipeline for Symmetry but I’ve got a bunch of music that I’ve been working on. I’m just trying to work out how to release it mixed in with all this Coronavirus stuff that’s really shaken up everyone’s schedule and the whole attitude to music. We’re just trying to see how the cookie crumbles I guess.
Mefjus ‘Uneasy’ (Break Remix)
That leads me onto my next couple of questions about the current situation actually. How have you personally been dealing with it? Have you been making more tunes or taking your foot off the gas a bit?
A bit of both; there’s been a few weeks where I’ve been in a bit of a slump, wasn’t really that inspired and I’ve just been sat around watching telly and doing gardening. But for a big chunk of lockdown, I’ve had loads of time to be in the studio, and it has been productive in that sense.
In terms of wider drum and bass though, there are a lot of people who have had that struggle of the lack of clubs, events and no playing out tunes, seeing the crowds reaction and hearing other people’s tunes, that whole side of the culture has gone really. I think that lack can make inspiration a bit tricky or even sometimes brings on a “what’s the point? I can’t even play these tunes out” kind of feeling.
It’s interesting to see what’s going to happen with D&B. I’m pleased that this latest remix stuff has gone well and has sold well so people obviously still want banging tunes, which is cool because sometimes you think “oh no one’s going to be interested if they’re not going to be hearing them in clubs”.
It’s definitely had it’s pros and cons, let’s put it like that.
I have to ask, do you think it’s going to come back? Do you think clubland will survive?
I mean I definitely hope so. I think it’ll be too short a time for the whole world to want to stop dancing and going out and even though I know the government are pretty anti-clubs and there’s been years of trying to shut down clubs and this is the best opportunity ever for them to keep clubs closed, I think it’ll be even more illegal raves because people just want to rave.
The demand hasn’t gone anywhere.
I don’t think so but it does look like, from what I know, that it’ll be a while until we get to do what has been normal up till now.
I hope it comes back. I miss it.
Definitely, the sooner the better really.
That rounds off the big serious questions, but I’ve got a couple of quickfire ones here for you.
Ok, go for it.
Do you have any favourite plugins at the moment?
I do. I’m a big fan of the Acustica stuff in general, there’s one called Lime and one called Erin that are both EQs that I’m really liking. I love Soothe, which is another plugin by Oeksound. Soothe 2 has been a favourite for a few years. I’ve been pretty impressed with Saturn 2 by Fabfilter.
What is Break’s favourite break?
You can pick the top three if you like.
Someone asked me this is a radio show once and I’d have to say that the Think break has to be in there, mainly due to the tambourine playing which is the best tambourine loop ever.
I think you gotta have the amen or we wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t love jungle.
My other favourite would be the Let a Woman Be a Woman by Dyke and the Blazers.
Who are you really feeling in Drum & Bass right now?
DLR and The Sauce have got a lot of wicked stuff, Critical Impact’s got some sick tunes and Breakage, because he’s been killing it. I was really feeling Shy FX’s album too, that was a great release.
What was your favourite club to play in?
Of all time or recently?
Go for both!
Of all time was The End in London, and recently I’ve been loving Trinity Centre in Bristol.
The last of my quick questions is; if you could give one bit of advice to people starting out, what would it be?
Get prepared for the long haul. It all takes longer than you hope it does.
Well, that brings us to the end of our questions. Charlie, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me and all the best.
Wicked thanks, you too!