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As part of a new multi-part series, we’re taking an in-depth look at the American drum and bass scene. Getting things started, our US correspondent Melissa chatted with Method One, an “elder statesmen of the American drum & bass scene” who’s been in the game since 1992. The seasoned DJ, producer, and label front man took the chance to talk about his introduction to drum and bass, how the US and global scenes have changed over the years, as well as commenting on what’s both right and wrong with the D&B of today. He also shared a few choice words about dubstep and piracy, while sharing some sage advice for those looking to break in to the scene….
TiD&B: What got you interested in music?
Method One: I didn’t have any formal training; I just started experimenting. I have always been very much into art, but around high school I got tired of all the classes and rules and wanted to go in a different direction. So I decided to try my hand at music.
One thing I loved about the early days of techno was that there weren’t any rules. The whole genre came out of a bunch of people with a DIY aesthetic; making music in their bedrooms with whatever gear they could scrape together. It was a kind of punk rock philosophy around the premise of not needing to follow rules or have proper music training. Now, over the years, my priorities have changed. Obviously for the type of music I do, I rely on chord progression and layers and synth elements, so I have learned over the years what works and what doesn’t. These days, I like the idea of trying to write music as opposed to just sound collages, though I do miss the innocence of those early times.
I got started in music by playing keyboard for various awful high school bands, but when I was at home I was listening to electronic artists like 808 State, New Order and Depeche Mode. I tried my hand at writing terrible techno, but what really clicked for me was going to the University of Richmond in 1992. There was a British exchange student on the college radio station who had a crate of hardcore records like The Prodigy, Suburban Base and Production House – just really good underground dance music. I ended up buying some used turntables and some records and started working those sounds into my original music projects. The stuff I really liked was the classic hardcore and breakbeat stuff that eventually evolved into jungle and then drum and bass.
There was a good small scene in Richmond, but in those days, the places to go were Baltimore and Washington DC. Back in the 90s, Baltimore was one of the best scenes in the country. It had Fever on Thursdays, Scott Henry, the Ultraworld shows…so much going on!
TiD&B: Your first big break was your remix of Deee-Lite’s ‘Call Me’ in 1994 – how did that come about?
Method One: I had given my demo cassette to Deee-Lite’s DJ at an Ultraworld campout rave in Maryland, and they apparently listened to it later on the tour bus. One day out of the blue, my roommate told me Lady Miss Kier was on the phone and I thought he was joking..it was actually her.
TiD&B: Would you say as an American it was much harder to get a start in drum and bass?
Method One: It was definitely harder. Now everyone is easily connected through the internet, so it’s a little different these days. But back in the early ‘90s, before Facebook, Myspace and Soundcloud, to push my music, I had to hand out demo tapes when DJs were in the States for gigs. Or, I had to send music to UK label addresses that may or may not have listened; I had no way to follow up.
Especially in those days, many people thought drum and bass was a uniquely British thing. In a way, it’s like how some Americans have traditionally looked at rap and said, “Why would we want to listen to an English guy throwing rhymes around?” Abroad they thought, “Why are Americans trying to come up and ruin this thing [drum and bass] we created?” Things are much different now, you have producers from across the globe and it’s commonly accepted.
TiD&B: Once you got your foot in the door, how did it progress from there?
Method One: I ended up doing a lot of DJing all across the East Coast while keeping up with production on the side. I moved to the Philly area where I helped run Konkrete Jungle in the late ‘90s, and had a few releases here and there. I worked a lot with Kaos under the name Atlantiq and we both moved to California in 1999. From that point on, things happened pretty quickly. I signed some tunes to Nexus and some local labels like Elite and True Intent.
After the Atlantiq partnership dissolved, I focused on my solo career and had a breakthrough around 2004. From then, I’ve had a pretty consistent flow of releases on labels such as on 31 Records, a collaboration with Seba on Secret Operations and other releases on Vampire, Absys, Covert Operations, Red Mist, Offworld, and my own Levitated Recordings label.
Right now, I’m doing a lot of work for ASC’s Auxiliary. I’m doing less D&B…well, it’s at drum and bass tempo, but it‘s something that can’t be easily categorised. It’s more for listening instead of the dance floor, as I look to incorporate new influences and work in a new direction. I terms of my latest work, I recently released a 12” on Auxiliary as part of the Symbol series and have a tune on a Vampire digital compilation.
TiD&B: You’re now based in San Francisco, what’s the drum and bass scene like there?
Method One: San Francisco has gone through ups and downs as far as D&B goes. There’s a core group that is committed to putting on quality shows and bringing in top talent, but it’s not as consistent as it used to be. It’s been impressive what Lukeino of Bachelors of Science has done with his Sunday (Stamina) weekly – he’s been putting his heart and soul into that, and it shows. There’s a great amount of talent in this city; you have the Bachelors, Gridlok, Aphonic, Jamal, Warbreaker…all working really hard to make great music.
TiD&B: You mentioned highs and lows…
Method One: Back in the early 00s, drum and bass was going off so hard in San Francisco that there would sometimes be competing shows the same night and each would get really good crowds. We had D&B headlining some of the most respected venues in the country. Then things calmed down a lot. As with other dance music genres, people moved on to other things – they grew up, got interested in other genres, etc.
It’s difficult to describe the ups and downs. San Francisco has really good events but it’s not as consistent as it once was in the past, and it’s probably the same in a lot of cities right now. Drum and bass isn’t exactly the flavor of the month as when Roni Size won the Mercury Prize and everyone was into it as the “next big thing.” That said, drum and bass deserves a lot of credit for being around in some form for over 15 years. Whilst not where it was in the past, it still has a committed user base and tons of people trying to break into the music.
It will be interesting to see what happens to dubstep when the inevitable contraction happens…it happens to every genre. I want to know what will happen when the wobble kids grow up and they’re not out there living life around the drop anymore. But I’m just an old moody f*ck.
TiD&B: What do you think is the big difference between the US and the rest of the world, when it comes to drum and bass?
Method One: In Europe, people are more receptive to dance music as popular music. American dance music, while still popular to certain crowds, is still a minority in the larger scale of things. For example, in Europe, people are used to Tiësto, almost as if he’s a rock star, playing sold out stadiums. In America, even though he’s popular, he’s not going to be as popular as, say, a top country artist. He will be a popular DJ, but being a popular DJ means spmething different in the US.
Another example: almost every major city in America will have a classic rock radio station, but how many have dance music stations? In America, you’re not going to turn on the radio and hear underground dance music. In England, they’ve been used to this for ages. Look at the Essential Mixes that came out – we never had something like Pete Tong or BBC Radio 1 pushing these sounds. It’s all a bit different when it comes to where drum and bass music fits into the pantheon of popular culture.
TiD&B: Who do you think is the most influential US drum and bass artist globally?
Method One: That’s a tough one. I’d have to say Gridlok, but there are dozens of US artists putting out solid music.
TiD&B: So after being in the game for 20 years, what are your thoughts about where the global drum and bass scene is today?
Method One: There are too many people chasing after the same style and the same sound, especially the whole kind of steppy, dark, minimalistic roller thing. I happen to like this style, but there’s a lot of a paint-by-numbers mentality going on with certain producers, trying too hard to copy the styles of popular artists instead of developing their own voice. If you’re making drum and bass and all you listen to is the same genre, then you don’t really develop a lot of outside perspective. You react to trends, rather than having a wider view, and wind up making music that sounds exactly like everyone else.
There’s a whole palette of music you can put into D&B aside from the obvious reggae/dub and other electronic music genres. One of my biggest influences as a producer is my background as an alternative rock kid, listening to Joy Division, The Cure, Slowdive and so on. It’s amusing for me to weave those sounds and memories into my music. Straightforward dance floor tracks have a time and place, but there’s a much wider palette available at this tempo.
I’m really enjoying being part of Auxiliary ― it’s a very close-knit group of people and since ASC, Sam KDC and myself all bounce ideas off each other, it’s easy to get inspired. When I sit down and turn on the gear, all those influences get added in.
TiD&B: What are your favorite hardware or software tools?
Method One: I have a Mac computer with Apple Logic 9 as my main platform, plus a lot of software instruments and some hardware synths as well. I’ve collected a lot of hardware along the years and there’s something to be said about a real synth versus an approximation coming from a computer. A downside of today’s technology is that you can get lost in the complexity and sheer number of sounds you can create. You can spend days going through sounds and options. In comparison, if I turn on my Juno 106 it’s a much more direct, hands-on process – old gear sometimes forces you to use simple tools, and stripping away the complexities can help you look at things in a different way.
TiD&B: What advice would you give to producers just getting started?
Method One: 1. Take time to develop your own voice.
2. Make sure you listen to a wide range of music outside of D&B and allow yourself to be influenced by it.
3. Remember, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of people trying to hustle in the same way you are. Be cool, be friendly. Nobody’s entitled to anything so don’t expect that you should be.
4. Do music because it comes from the heart. If not, why bother?
TiD&B: Anything else you would like to get off your chest?
Method One: The advent of the Internet has many advantages and disadvantages. We are much more connected, but easy access to music has devalued it in many ways. Piracy is a huge problem in drum and bass, and it goes with an attitude of entitlement that I hear all too often these days. Certain people feel that they are entitled to get music for nothing, and don’t really care that such decisions have wide-ranging consequences. When people aren’t buying music, the ramifications go up and down the scale ― the artists don’t get paid, the labels don’t get paid, and the distributors start freaking out and wind up clamping down on both artists and labels. When people refuse to buy music, labels and distributors become less willing to take a chance on unknown artists or non-mainstream sounds. They become less willing to release music on physical formats. They become scared of doing anything risky, because the margins are so razor-thin. You ultimately get a bunch of labels releasing the same stuff and living in fear that the distributor will bring down the axe. Piracy ultimately stifles innovation and strangles any numbers of industries, which is kind of an odd result from people who like to call themselves fans of this music.
As for DJing, if you can’t mix live, you shouldn’t be up on the stage. Technology is a wonderful thing, but pressing buttons to play a pre-recorded set is play-acting. There’s something to be said for spontaneity in what you are presenting to a crowd, and the best DJs are always those who can respond in real time and let the music ― not the image ― do the talking.