Calibre… A producer, a songwriter, a painter, a thinker, a recovered drinker.
Few people in drum & bass, or the wider world of electronic music for that matter, are as elusive and enigmatic. Interviews with him are rarer than happy bouncer, yet he has more to say than most. Refusing to big himself up in any way, he’s as deep as his music… And when he’s in the mood he’ll chat with the same level of proliferation.
We got the opportunity to talk to him about his Fabriclive 68 mix. His first ever mix CD, it seems it’s just the tip of forthcoming release iceberg; he’s actually got three albums ready to roll this year! Read on for one of the deepest interviews we’ve ever run on this blog…
How you doing?
“I’m in Germany at the moment. It’s cold!”
Are you based out there now or have you just done a gig?
“I split my time coming back and forth between here in Berlin and Belfast.”
Does that keep you inspired, changing your scenarios?
“No, it keeps me stressed, haha!”
Haha, let’s talk mix CDs… Fabriclive 68 is your first! Why is that? Have mixes just never interested you?
“The whole idea behind them, to me, isn’t as creative as a DJ performance and certainly not as creative as an album. It’s not the natural process that’s always inspired me when I work. So I’ve always avoided the idea of making one. But when a club with a name and reputation like Fabric, who have this great repertoire of mixes and artists it makes my decision a bit easier!”
There are so many constraints such as licensing and the length of the CD itself… Is that what put you off before?
“I don’t think many people realise how many constraints there are behind these type of releases. You can never have enough time to prepare for one and you always want to change your mind. It’s a difficult album to manage, that’s for sure. But I don’t think they were the reasons. I’d just not had this opportunity before. At this point of my career, with such a vast catalogue of material behind me, I’m much happier to do this type of project now and try different things. For me, because I’ve been so insular and kept myself busy, it’s really interesting to occasionally spread my wings a little and learn from it. You only want to do the best thing you can and yes, I realised there are a lot of constraints behind a project like this. It’s quite stressful, I won’t lie to you!”
I bet. I read one of your original ideas was to include the singer/songwriter stuff you’ve done under Dominick Martin…
“That body of work is so removed from the drum & bass thing. I decided I wanted to keep it separate. The songs I’ve written are very deep and melancholic. They’re the type of songs you need to get to know and get to grips with. They don’t have the same impact that drum & bass has. At first I’d considered it because it’s a way of getting to know these tunes but then in the interest of keeping things simple, I kept them separate.”
So there’s a follow up to Shine A Light?
“Oh yes, it’s done, it’s mastered. There’s a drum & bass album, too. We had to work out which one would come out first. The drum & bass album will come first, then the Dominick Martin album. They’re both ready to go now though. The one or two people I’ve given it to have enjoyed it…”
Hold on. There’s a Dominick Martin album AND a drum & bass album ready to go?
“Yeah! It took me a long time to make. Usually I do an album a year but last year I took a little sabbatical and took a little longer over the whole project. I feel it’s a deeper experience as a result. Certainly from my point of view. When you’re doing an album a year you become subconsciously attached to that process. Your life revolves around an annual cycle of albums. I think it’s good to break out of processes like that, it helps you see things a little differently.”
And stops you from feeling like an album ‘machine’?
“Yeah maybe. But I write so much material that I could’ve made an album anyway! I think it’s nice to have a longer break and put a different angle on it.”
Can’t wait to hear it. Going back to the Fabriclive mix, I read you can’t actually remember your first Fabric gig…
“Yeah. I used to be a drinker. I don’t have a problem talking about it. I don’t drink any more but there are couple of years that seem very hazy.”
How does that feel; to not be able to remember some seriously pivotal points in your career?
“I think if I was drunk or not I’d have a hard time remembering things. That’s the nature of life; you remember your dreams more than you remember real life incidents.”
You do! Did your output or process change when you stopped drinking?
“There was a period of time when I thought it dulled my creative freedom in places. I’d sometimes drink in the studio and I’d start to sing; I’d never do that when I’m sober. It’s not about whether I think I’m good, I’m just trying to be creative and make something. But I’d only ever have it in me to get up and sing when I’m inebriated.”
Now you’ve gone so far with your singing you can do it sober? Or is it still hard?
“I find it hard to sing just like that. I have to be in the mood for it and the music has to be very specific for me to want to sing about it. There’s not a song for every tune, you know? I’m still working out how to approach a lot of things. I’m happy to say I have a lot to learn and it’s great to be in that position, I never think too highly of myself.”
If you don’t feel confident about yourself, how do you feel about the endless props from your fans and peers? For example, DJ Craze tweeted ‘Calibre appreciation tweet’ a few weeks back… It got retweeted by hundreds, many of them big name DJs…
“I don’t have a presence online. Years ago it became obvious to me that getting involved in your own bullshit wasn’t a good way to behave. It’s obvious in all walks of life. It’s important to find ways to lessen the effect of that. In some ways it could be detrimental because I’m not selling or pushing myself in any way but I love purely in having a love for my music and I hope that sees me through. In regards to hearing what people say, whenever I hear stuff like that it makes me feel fantastic, it’s nice people say that, but I don’t think that about myself. And I never will. I think ignorance is bliss….”
Totally. The trappings of fame are superfluous when your passion is to create things…
“Yes. I’ve been through some heavy shit in my life, so the reality of things is very prominent. I’m very keen to protect what I do; sales might go up and down but I can walk into my studio and make what I want to make. There’s no great philosophy; just don’t be pretentious, appreciate what you do and work hard to keep it that way.”
Agreed. So what else have you been working hard on… As if two albums and a Fabriclive mix wasn’t quite enough!
“Oh there’s plenty more… I’m just finishing a new Shelf Life project. That will be album number three this year. It’s the third in the series. There’s a lot of material with people in other genres, too; I’ve got a Deep Medhi thing coming out and I’m working on a project to get people from other genres involves. Something different to the whole album process, hopefully some really interesting things might arise from it. But first we have the Fabriclive mix, the drum & bass album and Valencia, the Dominick Martin album. Maybe a few remixes as well. I’ve just been busy man. I do a lot of painting as well, especially when I’m in Germany. It’s a different environment. Hopefully I’ll be able to incorporate the art and music at a deeper level at some point.”
Cool. So deeper than using as it as the artwork for album covers?
“I thought about an exhibition and other ways to display it. I was wondering about an animation; I’d love to make an animated video. I learned a bit about it in art college, it really interests me. There’s so much music going on, it’s great to have this to think about. It’s something totally different. My mum will be happy with that, too. She always wanted me to be an artist!”
Fabriclive 68: Calibre is out now. Listen and download.