Drum & Bass? Hip-Hop? Elektronische Musik? – Interview mit Stray
Etwas aufreißerisch ist dieser Titel ja schon, aber es passt einfach so gut zur derzeitigen Entwicklung von IT’S YOURS! Dank unserer Hip-Hop Korrespondenten ist dieses Genre zu einem festen Teil unseres Blog’s geworden und nun endlich haben wir einen Artist, der wie kein anderer die beiden Genres Drum & Bass und Hip-Hop verbinden kann. Stray macht so sein Ding, kann sich nicht wirklich einem bestimmten Genre zuordnen obwohl sein Herz eindeutig bei 175 bpm schlägt. Neben seinen persönlichen Aktivitäten habe ich ihn auch gefragt, was er denn so von der derzeitigen Situation in der Breakbeat-Szene hält und wie er sich in eben dieser einzuordnen vermag.
IT’S YOURS: Please give us some background Info, just to introduce yourself
Stray: I am Stray and also one third of Ivy Lab, 25 years old, born and raised in London. I think a lot of people know me as a Drum & Bass producer but I would probably consider myself as a producer of underground-electronic-music.
When did you start producing and going to Drum & Bass?
I’ve been making music since I was about thirteen. It was more just messing around with sounds, but I developed a kind of a taste for just making music as the best way to spend my time from quite an early age. It was a kind of developing an addiction, I guess. Drum & Bass is quite addictive as well, I got into it as I was about fifteen years old, and I started trying to imitate my favourite artists.
Could you give some example of artists you tried to imitate?
At the time I remember I was trying to imitate artists like Calibre, Sabre as well who I started working with and dBridge is another one. I can’t remember if I got into that rolling Drum & Bass sound first but I remember listening to a lot of IDM-music, that kind of Aphex Twin, Squarepusher stuff before I got into Drum & Bass. I think it all happened at the same time and I remember getting the Andy C Nightlife Series Number One, which really brought me into Drum & Bass
Looking at your earlier releases and at the releases now, I really can see a line of development.
Yeah there is, I think I grew to feel more safe in making music that was a bit closer to what I feel about. So, I would describe a lot of the stuff I am writing at the moment as maybe quite playful Hip-Hop and a lot of chopped vocals and Footwork stuff as well. To me, that feels closer to what I started writing before I started writing Drum & Bass so it’s really going back years and years ago before I had an awareness of structures or rules of a genre like Drum & Bass or electronic-music in general. I was a big beats and instrumental Hip-Hop head and a lot of the stuff I was writing sounded like that.
So, when you put out music then you gain confidence and like a trust in your fan-base, you are able to get away with doing a bit more and I feel like now I am really comfortable in what I am writing. I’m not saying that I wasn’t comfortable in writing the older stuff. I never really sit still with music: If I hear a new sound, maybe something that I never heard before and if I like it, then I think I want to try doing that myself. But I don’t want to just copy it – I want to fuse it with other sounds or get my own take on it. And if I listen back on my record and I think I was successful, then I probably not try that again, I would be like „okay, that’s done“ and then I’d move to something else.
What I started writing, what first made me my career in Drum & Bass was kind of minimal, very strict back sound. And I like that Autonomic kind of style and it’s not easy to make that stuff perfectly, but from a production standpoint it’s easier to make that stuff. I might be wrong but I think it opens the doors to a lot of producers who may be quite young and don’t have a good grip on making very big sounds. If you have a good taste, it will access whatever music you write but in that minimal Drum & Bass sound, I think you don’t need to push yourself too much in terms of a engineering standpoint. So that’s why I started out writing that stuff. Occasionally, I sit down and write something similar to maybe something that I would have released in 2008 or 2009, so I still love that kind of sound but yeah I think I’ve moved on. I think as you start DJing more and more, you do have a sensibility about what’s going to work on the dance-floor, not even the type of track but what type of engineering technique will work on the dance-floor and you get to know it a little bit more, so I think it’s going to change your sound when you start DJing.
In some Tunes you started playing around with vocals that much that even the beat starts to be confusing when you focus on the vocals while listening to this track.
Yeah, that is really Footwork inspired, that really caught my ear. I love using vocals as an instrument, so I use them as a tool and it’s a very natural sound for us to hear as we use it for speaking. I think it’s all inspired, from composers like Steve Reich, from classical minimal. They layered tapes of people speaking words and they drift over one another, so you have a voice, saying something and then another voice saying the same thing, being played at a slightly different speed over and over again so one would catch up with the other one, it’s really hypnotic! But yeah, I’d say I was pretty heavily influenced by the Footwork movement. I think that’s probably where a lot of the music you were talking about came from.
The most recent project you started is Ivy Lab and the 20/20-Events in London but it’s not the first time you worked together with Sabre and Halogenix, is it?
The Ivy Lab project isn’t so new, we’ve been writing together for about 5 years but I think it was only 2011, so maybe 3 or 4 years ago that we actually called ourselves Ivy Lab. But yeah you’re right, before that, we released a few tracks. There was Oblique on Critical, that went out as Sabre, Stray & Halogenix and there was a record on Noisia’s Invisible Label. You know we got a really good reaction from the public from the tracks that we’ve released together and we enjoyed each other’s company and we liked writing music with each other. We also like talking and we thought there was a similarity and we found ourselves able to spend a lot of time together without getting too stressed out. So, we decided to give the project a name and kind of commit more and more to writing a lot with each other. It seems like a good idea, ‘cause it’s also a case of strength in numbers. Any project that you decide to start, be it a night club, promote a night, do a label, merchandise, artwork or just for the music project itself: the more people you have, the better. You know we’re looking to build the collective, the kind of 20/20 collective, with resident DJs, who we’re going to start booking more and more at our nights and bring them with us, should we ever start doing 20/20 outside of London. So I personally feel it’s really good to be part of a collective, ‘cause of the strength in numbers and you are able to achieve a lot more.
Based on earlier releases I know Ivy Lab as Liquid Drum & Bass and then you guys started the Bootlegs and for me there is a big gap between those things.
Well, there is and there isn’t, I can see, how from the perspective of someone outside there is this gap, but in fact we’re all brought together by our shared love of Hip-Hop, we all come from Hip-Hop in terms of what else we like apart from Drum & Bass. So the three of us have always written a lot of Hip-Hop, I recently put out a mix-tape of Hip-Hop and that’s old music man, that has been lying down for like three years and I just wanted to get it out. As we came together we were doing the liquid Drum & Bass sound on Critical but there were little signposts to the Hip-Hop stuff, for example Sunday Crunk. We have a new Critical EP coming out soon, I can’t say too much about it but it will have a lot of Hip-Hop on it as well. At the moment, we are writing Hip-Hop-tunes individually but we’ll soon be releasing them as Ivy Lab tracks, so people won’t know that maybe one track is just by Sabre, the other one just by Halogenix and another one just by me, it’s all going to come out as Ivy Lab. Maybe people can guess if they want, but I think we all see each other’s music is all melt into one, so we all feel like the same artist and obviously I love their music. I think it might start to become a bit less confusing for people, because as you say, we had all this Liquid Drum & Bass stuff and then we do the Bootlegs but none of them were Drum & Bass Bootlegs but, you know, we did them as 20/20 bootlegs and for us the 20/20 sound is more like a Hip-Hop-Drum-&-Bass fusion.
Is it maybe different because it’s connected to an event?
Yeah it started off as a way of promoting the event, but it’s a promotional tool as much as it was for us to just have fun choosing old RnB tracks to bootleg. I think the tracks have to be able to be played at an 20/20 event, but we didn’t set very strict rules for it. You could have a track, which is quite abstract and didn’t work on the dance-floor, but kind of show the Drum & Bass to Hip-Hop-hybrid mention.
You already told about your Free Hip-Hop mix-tape, are you planning to do more out of Drum & Bass in general?
It’s nice to feel like you have a sort of ownership over the music that you make and release and when I say ownership I mean feeling like you belong to that sound. We were talking about House and Techno before the interview. I like House and Techno and I actually write quite a lot of it, but I’m not sure at this stage how comfortable I’d feel releasing it. I never grew up listening to House and Techno, I didn’t understand the way the scene worked. Maybe I know a little bit more about it now and I like it and actually, I probably choose more often to go to a House and Techno night, if I’m not DJing on the weekend, if I want to go out with some friends. I probably choose that more than Drum & Bass, not because I don’t like Drum & Bass, but because it’s something different. But I didn’t grow up listening to it, it’s not running through my veines, my internal clock is not beating at 130 BPM. Pretty much all of the music on that Hip-Hop mix-tape is at 85 BPM which is half of the Drum & Bass speed. I like every style of music and when I say that, I don’t mean I like every track in every style of music, but there will be good tracks that I would like, be it Jazz, Funk, Classical, Rock, acoustic music to electronic music, Hip-Hop, Drum & Bass and so on. And I feel like I have some level of ability, if I wanted to, to maybe write something in that style. I don’t think I can do it as well as people, who write in that style every day and have years of practice. I would write other styles but I just don’t want to be more confusing than I already am to people who like my music so I think you need to keep a certain level of control on it. I can’t expect everyone who likes certain tracks of mine to like everything. Maybe a few people have the same taste as I do, but mostly I think it’s reasonable to expect there are people who like some of my music and really dislike other music that I write and that’s fine. But if I would start releasing a lot more different styles, I’d be only going to make it worse, but I’m not close to it, I write what I want to write and put out, but at the moment, that’s kind of limited Hip-Hop in Drum & Bass speed.
In his Tumblr, dBridge said that he thinks of keeping distance to the genre Drum & Bass, ‘cause what most of the people are expecting when they hear the term, is not what dBridge is representing and he even thinks that: „This narrow-mindedness surrounding the term DnB has made me want to distance myself further, as it feels the term ‘DnB’ no longer reflects me and what I’m about.“ (Source)
I think it’s probably the same for a lot of styles of music, musicians and DJs will feel misrepresented of what constitutes the mainstream of their sound. So for me sometimes I find myself almost embarrassed to tell people I am a Drum & Bass producer, not because I feel like Drum & Bass is embarrassing but because I feel like people may only know the type of Drum & Bass I might not want to be associated with. I don’t have a problem with what DJ Fresh or Sigma are doing, but I don’t think it sounds like what I write. Some people may hear the term Drum & Bass and think of those guys and maybe that’s no bad thing. I also think that Drum & Bass has a very small scene, so you can’t go to crazy splitting up all of the different styles, because you need to stick together a little bit. So I like the idea that a Drum & Bass DJ could cover almost all of the spectrum of Drum & Bass in one set and not have to break it down into sub-categories.
Maybe what dBridge was saying is that he wants people to know the kind of deeper ends of Drum & Bass. Some music is not accessible enough though really: A lot of people who like music maybe haven’t spent their lives dedicated to listen to music and developing their taste. So what that means is they enjoy music which is a little bit easier to listen to, a bit less challenging. There is no problem with that, that’s popular music right? It’s very very predictable and that’s a good thing because you’re looking for predictability at the music. I spend a lot of my life, being really into music and it’s probably the same with you. But we are only a certain type of person, other people don’t have that so I don’t want them to have to turn on the radio and hear one of my experimental Footwork tunes, because maybe it’s not right, they are not going to be into it. In order to get to a place where they like that sound, they need to go on their own journey of sound. They might spend years and years of developing a taste and not everyone likes music enough to do that. You know, popular music exists and in the same way popular Drum & Bass exists and it’s accessible to most people. Do I like a lot of it? Not really, but then I’m someone who maybe has more of a fine taste. That sounds a bit arrogant but I actually don’t mean me in person, I mean someone who spends a lot of time listening to Drum & Bass. But I don’t disagree with anything dBridge was saying.
Most people in Drum & Bass most probably do know dBridge, but maybe most people who’ve heard Drum & Bass the first time probably wouldn’t have heard dBridge first and they definitely wouldn’t have heard me first. And I’m not sure if I want to be the person who people hear first when they first listen to Drum & Bass, maybe, but I don’t feel dissatisfied with the amount of people who like Drum & Bass, but don’t know who I am. I really like the idea that people who only are into Hip-Hop but have a neutral status to Drum & Bass like my music and that they hit about it through a Hip-Hop avenue. Because at this very moment in time, I would pull myself more of a Hip-Hop producer, ‘cause everything I write is Hip-Hop and a little bit of Drum & Bass. The thing is, I’ve always had a bit of an identity crisis when it comes to considering myself as a Drum & Bass producer. I happily operate in the Drum & Bass scene but I think I rarely released Drum & Bass Tunes straight down the line, I did it with Ivy Lab and I like it, I like DJing it but a big majority of the music I’ve released is not really been like standard Drum & Bass. I like the Drum & Bass scene and I like the people in it, but I don’t like the idea of being branded a Drum & Bass producer necessarily. I don’t want to just leave the scene and I don’t necessarily not want people to know me as that, but yeah I like it if people would just think of me as an electronic-music producer.
Out of any genre defining?
Yeah, I mean it is useful to define. I mean it more like not so much out of genre defining but have it maybe under release by release basis.
What’s coming up next in the Stray universe?
Another EP on Exit probably next year. An album, be nice if that was released next year but I’m still working on it and it still keeps changing you know, I head out to tracks that I don’t like any more, so they need to be bend and new ones are starting. And I’m not very far in the process, really, and it’s going to be quite a big jump for the way that I write music to write an album. But I think it’s the next step for me. Then a lot of Ivy Lab and 20/20 stuff. There is the Critical EP then 20/20 will almost likely become a label that will have some releases on. I don’t want to say too much but that’s kind of in the pipeline. I think it would be good if we really begin to expand the brand 20/20 more and more, do more merchandise like clothes, bigger club nights, features, do club nights abroad, tour the 20/20 brand and maybe think about expanding into different territories when it comes to live shows, maybe live audio and visual shows, either as Ivy Lab or myself. It’s all stuff that’s in the prototype stages or even before that but in the immediate future, there is the Ivy Lab EP, that’s finished, that’s going to come out soon, the Exit EP hasn’t been finished but I’m working on it and then an album and yeah that’s it for now.
Do you try to focus equally on your different projects or is there one, you prefer?
Well, that depends, if we catch a wave with the Ivy Lab, 20/20 thing then I don’t mind donating a lot of the next couples of years to that, I’m happy with that because it’s me as well you know. But in the same time, if I find myself really vibing writing solo and maybe I’m writing material that the other two don’t like but I like it -which is rare but maybe sometimes- then I will focus more on that. I think I would like to do a solo artist album, a Stray album, but we do an Ivy Lab album as well. It’s constantly up and down and I actually don’t think about it too much because you just have to see how it goes and be kind of natural with it. And there is no problem so far to keep it balanced and it’s good to have the two different projects because it means I will DJ more (laughs) and I like working on my own, as much as I like working with other people – so it’s the best to run both.
Thank you for the Interview!
No Worries, Man!