Having already linked on multiple tracks in the past, it was about time Amoss & Fre4knc cemented their sonic love affair with an official collaborative release…
Presenting Watermark Vol. 1 – the first in a series of EPs on Dispatch which dropped earlier this month.
A powerful unity of their signature sounds, the release is 4 tracks deep and weaves menacing atmospherics with growling textures and gut-wrenching basslines.
We caught up with James Amoss + Bertran Fre4knc to get the lowdown on the release and what’s coming up next…
Watermark Vol. 1 is powerful, hard-hitting and straight-up haunting at times. What was the catalyst for this collaboration?
Fre4knc: Thanks. We’ve done a lot of collabs before, and they worked out really nice, so we thought maybe it was time for an album, but we decided to split it up in to several EPs. So, this is the first part and more will follow!
James Amoss: We’ve been working together for some years now and always had the idea in the back of our minds to work on a bigger project rather than the odd collaboration here and there on various releases. The initial thought was to put it out as an album as Bertran mentioned, but whilst writing our own album at the time it was just too much work to juggle alongside a full-time job. Dispatch felt like the obvious home for this and Ant has worked closely with us on the inception of the Watermark series and how the project is going to develop.
The project is truly a perfect melding of the minds. Your sounds work so damn well together! How have you split the creativity between you on this one? Who does what?
Fre4knc: Most of the time either me or James start a project and half-way through we send stems to each other. I don’t think we have our own specific tasks for collaborations as such, we just start working on it and see what happens! We are mainly solo producers, so both of us know the tricks to build a whole track solo. I think we automatically push each other to make great tunes though, and I think we both have a similar taste for D&B and vibes in general, so that’s why it’s working so smoothly.
James Amoss: It’s hard to say exactly who does what as it’s so different for each track, in some you may be able to hear more of an Amoss groove or growl and another you may hear that Fre4knc bassline or drum style. We bounce off each others styles and are very much inspired from what the other might produce that this also then invites new ideas we may not have thought of individually.
Have you guys been able to take your time in the studio together, or has it been an online effort?
Fre4knc: I visit the UK every now and then, and I always try to visit the Amoss studio when this occurs. Animal Rain was made together in London. Knetter was partly a stem bouncing process, but we finished that together when James was in The Netherlands. I think both have their pros and cons. If I work solo on a collab with stems I can focus really well and I can dig deep and feed my perfectionism. If we are sitting together you get instant feedback, which is also beneficial of course!
James Amoss: Luckily through gigs we have managed to get over to each other’s studios quite often which is always great to blend ideas together and have a real vibe going in the studio even if what we’re working on doesn’t take shape that session. Most of the work we do is online though, and we like to keep it fresh and communicate on tracks a lot during the writing process and especially the mixdown side of things. Day and night Bertran is hitting up my phone just to see if I’m ok… 😉 haha!
What’s the vibe like when you do get in the studio together then?
Fre4knc: It’s mostly jokes, and they are laughing at me when I make midbass sounds with my voice or when I’m beatboxing a drum pattern really badly. We are also focussed every now and again though too…
James Amoss: Get the snacks in, sit in the room for 12 hours each day, make sure the windows are shut to keep that studio energy, vibe and smell locked in, haha!
James, you and Andy worked together for over 10 years, how was it having to shift your dynamic to working with Bertran on a full EP?
James Amoss: Not a lot changed when working with Bertran, I think the main thing is that we all get on really well, have a very similar idea on the final project of how it should sound and also the aesthetics of the art style.
What about you Bertran – was it challenging to deal with other minds on a project like this?
Fre4knc: No, not at all. Sometimes I’m missing a music partner to talk about progression or new plugins. Like I said before, we both have the same idea about how our d&b should sound, so it’s going very smoothly. I love to work with James (and before with Andy as well).
Planarian is devastatingly haunting. Seriously powerful stuff. What’s your creative process like on tunes like this? Is there an initial inspiration or brainstorming session, or does this magic happen out of nowhere?
Fre4knc: I started Planarian after I heard a great drum-loop in an old funk track. I sampled this and tweaked it loads to make it d&b heavy. In the meantime I went to several industrial techno events where I heard a tune with a repeating evil-ish metallic scraping sound, which was progressing throughout the whole track. This inspired me so much that I tried to do something similar in my own way. That’s how the idea started. I worked on it for so long that I was a bit stuck, so I sent it to Amoss, and they nailed the rest of the tune and progression. We also worked on this one together in the studio, as far as I remember. So, it had nothing to do with brainstorms in this case. I just get inspired by music and sounds I hear, and then I start to make a tune.
James Amoss: Yeah I believe this all began from a break that Bertran brought over to ours when staying in London for a gig about 4 years ago. We then developed some long drones and screams to chop for samples. Andy and myself used to record a lot of sounds using a contact mic, mainly just the combination of using a violin bow and a clothes drying rack or anything else that would vibrate to create eerie drones. We wanted to chop a lot of these up for stab or fx sounds but ended up staying in there as one of the main hooks.
Warning is a naughty little number. What came first, the beats or Swift’s bars?
Fre4knc: I’ve known Arshad for many years now, and I can genuinely call him a friend. He hosted many of my sets, which also worked really well. When I think about our gigs together I see two big smiles alternating with two bass faces. A while ago he asked to join me in the studio and make a tune together with his lyrics. We discussed an idea, I made a groove and we recorded his lyrics. Then I worked on it a bit more and I sent it to James to finish for this project. After his magic he sent it back and I finished the whole thing…
James Amoss: Bertran was the one who sent this over with Swift already on the track, he mentioned he knew a mate who would be up for laying down a track for it so I asked to hear it. I was so hyped to work on it and pretty much finished it off my end and sent it back to Bertran to work his magic on the vocal mixdown.
Knetter switches the tempo of the release and delves deeper into your collective psyche. The growls and the way the track progresses is seriously menacing. What’s the story behind this one?
Fre4knc: James sent me a WIP of this tune and asked me if I wanted to finish it. After working quite hard on it we finished it together in the studio. We wanted to make an oldskoolish tune which sounded quite modern as well. I really liked working on the drum edits in this one. Making the old beats sounding punchy was quite the task, but I think we managed.
James Amoss: Knetter was such a fun track to work on which was eventually completed together at Bertrans studio in Groningen. We wanted to create that old drum-funk vibe but make it still sound clean and rolling for the dancefloor, so that’s where all the quick edits pop in and out giving the track a lot of energy. Also the Dutch to English translation is crackle, sputter and bonkers haha. It fit quite nicely!
Animal Rain is just pure roller. How did you guys come up with the track names?
Fre4knc: While working on this track we were searching for a track name. I have a list of potential track names in my Google Keep app as I always write these down after hearing a weird or interesting word or word combination. Animal Rain was in there too and it fit pretty well in my opinion!
James Amoss: This track features a lot of animal sounds in the track but also features some recordings Bertran took in a warehouse with a lot of pressurised machinery and blended together they created this really obscure atmosphere. Maybe it was also raining that day as we were all in our studio in London that day as well, haha!
Were any tracks particularly frustrating to complete?
Fre4knc: Not really. Everything went pretty smoothly from my side of things. Maybe Knetter was quite a task for me mixdown-wise, but nothing too major.
James Amoss: Planarian was probably the most annoying to mixdown just because of all the high and mid screeches and drones, just trying to get them to really peak out of the mix and to not distort any other elements in the drums too much trying to let everything sit nicely.
What are each of your favourites from this release and why?
Fre4knc: I think for me it’s Warning. I played this out with version 0.3, and the crowd response at the first play made me only more eager to finish it. I also love to mix this one which makes it all the more special.
James Amoss: Warning is definitely at the top just because of the reaction it gets when we play it out. I think we’ve been playing it out since late 2016. But Animal Rain was a lot of fun to work on, especially the second drop as we were completely messing around and seeing how nuts we could push the build up into the second section. For me that is always the best part of writing a song.
So what’s next then? How do you want to see the series develop?
Fre4knc: Watch out for Watermark Vol. 2 and 3, which we are working on already. We will just continue like we are doing now. My goal is always to make every tune interesting enough, so there are no fillers. I’m also working on many remixes at the moment which I’m really enjoying, and I have a little EP coming up on Flexout. Many more to come as well!
James Amoss: The series is going to have 2 more volumes which you can most definitely hear us playing out already if you come to see any of our shows. Release dates for those will come in time. Just enjoy Volume 1 for a while right now 😉
We certainly will! Any final words of wisdom / shout outs?
Fre4knc: Thanks to Drum&BassArena for the feature, shout out to Dispatch for the trust and all the hard work, and thanks to for everyone who’s been supporting! As for words of wisdom: let it be…
James Amoss: Big shouts to Drum&BassArena for asking us for the feature and to everyone else out there who is supporting the EP and looking forward to what’s next 🙂
Watermark Vol. 1 is out now on Dispatch – get it here.