Into The Drone Zone With SB81

The next release on DROOGS sees Metalheadz regular SB81’s debut for the label. Inspired by artists like Boymerang and the glory days of No U Turn, expect plenty of sci-fi atmospherics and chopped breakbeats. We caught up with the producer to discuss his past, DROOGS, Headz and remixing J Majik’s “Your Sound”.

“The Blue Room/Drone Zone” is released on UVB-76’s sister label DROOGS on 7th August 2020, available on 12″ and digital.

Downloads can be pre-ordered from the labels Bandcamp now.

Some people may not know but you used to record as Nolige, can you please tell us a bit about your background and journey up to now?

I’ve always loved music from as far back as I can remember really, but when I first heard tracks like Inner City “Good Life” on Top of The Pops as a kid I switched onto that rave vibe. Also Prodigy’s “Charlie”, that one stands out a lot; the good vibes, very themed and colourful music. By 1991 I was fully hooked by early Reinforced, Production House, Brain Records, etc. The main thing I was fascinated by was the breakbeats, especially amens, but generally breaks that had that real funky bounce to them!

After listening to all this wicked music from the early to mid-’90s, it was a natural progression for me and my mates (Skitty being one of them) to take things more serious and get deeper into actually being involved in this music thing.

In 1998 I started buying vinyl pretty much every single week, that was before I even had turntables. Ed Rush & Optical’s “Wormhole” album was what really did that for me, I just had to own that. I then started learning to DJ around a mates house who had a pair of turntables. After being so inspired I got “Music 2000” for the Playstation a couple of years later, just for a mess around really; I think that program did a lot for me, it showed me some of the fundamentals into how to lay out breaks and how a track is put together. Around that time Skitty and I used to get studio time from a local hip-hop guy, 2003 was when we all got our studio setups. At this time it was all being done in the box, without spending tons of money on outboard equipment.

In 2005 I got one of my first fully finished tracks signed to Bassbin; massive thanks to Rohan for taking me on! That one gave me a lot of confidence to get on the right track. I have to give a big shout out to Loxy, Ink and Bailey as those guys used to give me a lot of love in my early days. Loxy and Ink always used to give me feedback and advise, and Bailey used to play a lot of my stuff on Radio 1/1Xtra, which was a big boost!

Around 2010/11 was when my life was taking on a bit of a different direction outside of music with a lot of changes happening, so I took about a year or so out. In 2013 I changed my name to SB81 and I intentionally approached making music a bit differently, more stripped back and modern. I had a new perspective on things after a long break and my first Metalheadz release showed that change of direction from making very ravey/Jungle influenced DnB to a more fresh take on it; I felt like I wanted to get back to being more creative and looking more into the future as an artist. I just wanted a change and getting on Metalheadz to kick start it was the best start I could have ever wished for!

Apart from Headz you’ve recorded for some of the most respected labels in the scene, namely Sci-Wax, Foundation X and Narratives. What has your experience in the music scene been like and give us an idea of some of your career highlights?

I’ve been very lucky early on in producing music to be accepted by those labels, I appreciate it greatly. They are labels I’ve always wanted to be on as I feel we share the same vision in this music. My biggest highlight so far has most definitely been getting signed to Metalheadz. That was a big deal to me as that was my main goal pretty much from the get go. Headz always felt like such a far reach due to my lack of confidence in my music and just the heritage of the label. Goldie has given me that extra push I needed, not only for letting me express myself as an artist on that label but the advice and encouragement I have been given along the way. With Goldie being from the same city as myself, I’ve always felt a big connection with him and the label, so for me, it has always been something very close to my heart.

Talking of Headz, you remixed “Your Sound” by J Majik for them, how did that happen and can you tell us a bit about the remix process? Fun or daunting?

I like a challenge to remix an old classic now and again (sorry!), but on this occasion it happened as an accident, to be honest. If I remember I was going through a folder of Oldskool sounds I’d recorded years ago and there were a run of samples from the original and the remix of
“Your Sound”. Before I knew it, it was all finished and laid out, it flowed and came together very quickly. I did have in mind halfway through that I wanted to keep it very close to the original, but with a modern twist, which is the switch after the first initial drop of amens. It was fun more than daunting producing it because I didn’t intend for it to get released. The daunting part kicked in when I sent it Goldie, ha! I didn’t actually give it to him until about 6 or 7 months after I’d made it because I wasn’t sure about it. If I remember I’d sent over my “Blueprints” remix first, which Goldie and Ant both liked so I thought, lets just see how my remix of “Your Sound” goes down, and so they both came out on Razors Edge as a 12″.

DROOGS/UVB-76 has the same vibe to me as Headz, completely different in style but always pushing and striving to create something new and not afraid to take a few risks. How did you hook up with the label and what influence did this have on the tracks you produced for them?

Yeah, DROOGS has that Headzy vibe going on with that old but fresh sound. It’s the more rufige/breaksy side to their labels, which is what I like. I’ve known those boys for years, way before the labels started. Me and Skitty were booked on their early Abstractions nights in Bristol when they started those. Since Nick and the boys started UVB-76 Nick has been asking for me to get something over to him for quite some time now, but like most things, I guess it’s all down to timing! I wanted to get the right tracks over and at the time I was writing a lot of music for Metalheadz.

The previous releases have been purely for the dancefloor, contrasting the more techno/halftime sound of UVB-76, “The Blue Hour” is one of the deepest and progressive tracks DROOGS have put out. Can you tell us about it?

“The Blue Hour” was actually made around 2008! Around then I made a lot of tracks that were a bit different to what was coming out at the time and I think that was one of those, which is maybe why it didn’t get picked up. Those were the times when I was still experimenting with production, just before Skitty’s Foundation X label started and we delved more into the Jungle sound. Around that time the Dubstep thing was in full flow and it was crossing over into DnB, hence the halftime kind of flow in the track. I think Gremlinz has a bit of a soft spot for this one, he’s played it out a fair bit over the years. I’d recently rediscovered a load of WAVS of my previous tracks from a hard drive that didn’t get a release, so it felt like it made sense!

The track we are premiering today is called “Drone Zone”, reminds me of the classic Blue Note era and the Boymerang sound, tech-step but with lots of layers and atmospherics. What was it about this era you find influential?

I love the mixture of atmospheres, the dark jazziness, the breaks and musical elements from those times, there’s just something about the energy that struck a chord with me I guess. With artists like Photek, Optical, Matrix, Jonny L, Goldie, Krust, Dom & Roland, Boymerang, Deep Blue and all those Grooverider Jeep remixes, I feel like DnB had something really special going on with a futuristic sound that still resonates with me to this day. A lot of those tunes were way ahead of their time. Listening back to “Drone Zone”, it has a Dom/No U Turn vibe going on, which wasn’t intentional at the time of making it. Generally, I do try to do my own thing with production, but sometimes I do strongly gravitate towards my early influences. Hopefully, my vibe comes through the music as much as my influences!

As mentioned earlier, you are also a DJ. I know you enjoy putting together 90s sets, what era do you like mixing the most and why?

I started as a DJ, that was my first passion in music. I do love to mix Oldskool now and again, especially on vinyl AND live streaming it, ha! Now that keeps you on your toes! Particularly the very early 90s. 1993 is my favourite year to mix I’d say. That was a special time for me, there’s just too many classics and as the Blue Note era, it was another breakthrough year for the darker, slightly more technical sound from the more ravey sound of 1992.

What effect does DJing have on you when making music?

I guess DJing has affected my production over the years but it’s not really something I tend to think too much about, especially these days. I’m very much a process led kind of producer and I just like to go with the flow. It’s something new I learned about myself in uni when I did my Fine Art degree. I like to get in there and work through the process rather than have a set plan as such. It has its advantages and disadvantages I guess. It’s probably the reason why I haven’t written an LP yet because my idea of an album is for it to flow throughout and have cohesion. If I don’t bang out many tracks in a short space of time, I tend to have lots that all sound a bit different from one another. I love to get completely lost in music to the point where I don’t know what I’m making, which normally turns out to be the stuff that is not geared towards the dancefloor, but I’m happy with that!

I’m curious as to the effect that Lockdown has had on the music producers are currently making and what direction it might take the scene. Has it made a difference?

I don’t think I’ve really noticed anything, personally, but these days I’m a bit lost in the world of Drum & Bass anyway, I like to just get my head down and do my own thing. I haven’t really changed my process, let’s say that. I’d like to think it has shaken a few things up for the good, though. Maybe DJ’s who used to be amazing producers can get back in the studios again. Maybe it’ll give producers more time and the thought process to delve into themselves and put some real soul back into the music. Now and again I think we all need a bit of a change and a shake-up, in this case, it’s not necessarily the best kind, but hopefully, musicians can think outside the box and find some kind of strength from these challenging times.

Going forward, what’s next for SB81?

After my DROOGS release, there should be another Metalheadz EP by the end of the year, all being well. There are a couple more things in the works for some nice projects coming in the near future, which I’m really excited about! In the last couple of months I’ve also slowed the tempo down between 130-160bpm which has really inspired me so hopefully, I can get something to the right people for those to come out, possibly even start something myself, hmm, we shall see!

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