Jet-lagged and laptop-laden, Fred Vahrman types away to DJ Mag on behalf of himself and his production partner Josh Jackson. Fred V & Grafix have been busy. Having just completed their debut album, the Devonshire lads are living the privileged, although sometimes gruelling lifestyle of touring DJs.
"We have just got back from a 12-date US and Canada tour and now we're on a train to Sheffield." Fred writes. "I don't remember the last time we had a chance for a lie-in.
Our schedule is very hectic for the next few weeks, then we are off to Australia and New Zealand in May. We spend lots of time on planes and trains and in hotel rooms. If we are lucky enough, by the end of the year we will have enough points to get into the BA lounge so we can hang with the cool DJs and get free grapes.
"Going to America is always amazing fun, although it's pretty exhausting! You kind of get into a routine of waking up after six or less hours of sleep, going to an airport, having dinner, DJing and then sleeping again, which feels like it's never going to end.
But one of the best things about the tour was that we had four days off in LA in a house we were all sharing, and we went to a theme park called Magic Mountain, which is a bit like Alton Towers on steroids."
Being paid to fly across the planet and play a selection of their favourite music is a dream for many aspiring DJs, but in reaching the dizzying heights of success Fred V & Grafix have stayed truly grounded and don't want to stop pushing forward.
"It's an amazing feeling to go to the other side of the world and speak to people that love your music. I certainly never thought we'd get to this level, I clearly remember watching interviews with people like TC back in 2008 thinking 'That's what I want to do'.
I think that at every level you get to, you naturally always want to reach the next level though, so I definitely don't think 'We've made it, sweet'.”
But we want to know a little more about these young lads who, with their debut release in 2010, are relatively new to the drum & bass game.
"We met through a mutual friend, he'd known Josh (Grafix) for a few more years. We have always had similar music tastes that have evolved in the same way. We were both already making music and started making music together.Our first tunes were really bad," Fred remembers. "I can still remember them very clearly!
"We built up a bit of a profile within the scene by getting releases on smaller labels and radio airplay by DJs like Crissy Criss and Grooverider. We had been sending tunes to Hospital from the very beginning, I hate to imagine how Tony [London Elektricity] reacted to the first ones we sent when we were 16/17. I'm sure they were swiftly deleted never to be heard again. Eventually they signed us as a duo, which was very cool."
Hospital is a unique label with a very distinctive sound. Known for their recognisably mellow and musical style of drum & bass, they have become one of the most important and influential imprints within the genre. Founders Tony Coleman and Chris Goss clearly have a certain je nais se quoi when it comes to selecting tracks, but do Fred V & Grafix think their style fits in with Hospital's distinctive sound?
"I think Hospital's sound has branched out so much to the point that now there isn't a 'Hospital' sound, but I do think each artist is easily identifiable," contemplates Fred.
"It's a natural progression. When Hospital first started it had a very defiant loungecore sound to it. Since about 2008, I think the label has really started to branch out into other sounds, but I still don't think we'd be fully at home on any other labels."
There's been a surge in drum & bass producers releasing full albums. Despite the increase, it's still not the norm, with a majority of producers creating strings of EPs. After the success of their prior Hospital output, Fred V & Grafix were given the opportunity to release their debut album, 'Recognise', which is a vast tapestry of modern drum & bass, entwined with a varied plethora of cross-genre influences including Flying Lotus, J Dilla and Jimi Hendrix, as well as label mates Logistics and High Contrast.
"We've been working on the album for the last 18 months or so. We never had a 'concept', we just tried to make the best collection of tracks possible,” Fred explains.
“It was worrying at times, because the collection of tunes is so varied but I think the production style manages to hang everything together nicely though, so I think we are both pleased at how it has turned out.
“We are both always listening to as much non-d&b music as possible, which we hope rubs off on our tunes. Sometimes I think the influences can be heard quite clearly — for example, people keep telling me that 'Green Destiny' sounds like 'Kiara' by Bonobo, which is exactly what inspired the string parts in it. Sometimes the influences are much less clear.
The guitar in the breakdown of 'Clouds Cross Skies' was inspired by 'Going to California' by Led Zeppelin, but it's probably not obvious.”
Whether it’s your first album or you're a seasoned pro, any album will always present its up and downs. “I think every time you do something that hasn't been done before it feels good,” muses Fred. “I think that as we've gained a more individual sound it's become an even more enjoyable process. Getting positive feedback from the A&R team is always very rewarding.
“The whole A&R team has a massive influence on us. It's usually Chris and Tom who give us feedback on all our small ideas, even if they're just 32-bar ideas. Tony tends to come in when we need help with mix-downs. He helped us mix the vocal in 'Recognise' which we were having trouble with. Getting vocals properly nailed is always tricky,” confesses Fred.
“Especially as a writer, you always have a pretty specific way they should sound in your head, and it's never going to be exactly the same as how it sounds recorded.”
From jet-setting across the globe to attending all the most sought-after festivals, and signing to the label which is home to their own personal d&b heroes, in a short period of their time on Earth Fred V & Grafix have achieved the dream, but these boys are showing no signs of slowing down in the following months after the release of ‘Recognise’. Only time will tell what the future holds in store for the duo, but if their fellow imprint idols previous successes are anything to go by, the forecast looks good.
You can catch the lads in the legendary Hospitality Tent at Global Gathering this year as well as at Hideout in Croatia, Manchester’s Park Life and many many more festivals across the summer season...
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