Whenever bass heads gather to pick over the new blood pushing drum & bass right back on top, Dub Phizix is one of the few names everyone can agree on. Over the last two years the Manchester-based producer has had an insane string of hits, including the filthy, ubiquitous bashment 'n’ bass bomb 'Marka' (alongside Skeptical and MC Strategy) — which burst out of the scene and rampaged into record boxes worldwide. Whilst his profile has gone international in a relatively short space of time, George ‘Dub Phizix’ Ovens has been honing his craft for over a decade to get to this point. As such he’s got plenty to say about where drum & bass is, and where he wants to take it…
With the scene split into so many disparate strands, is drum & bass a useful genre name at all anymore?
“It’s a tough one, because to a lot of people drum & bass isn’t cool anymore. To me it’ll always be cool cos it’s the music I was into from fairly young, but to a lot of people it’s almost a dirty word. They think it’s just that shit old guys are into. There seems to be a bit of a stigma attached to it nowadays, which is a shame.”
But at the same time the music is killing it in the charts like never before...
“(Chuckling) Well maybe that’s why it’s not so cool anymore… really there’s two sides to it, the commercial side and the underground, and maybe a lot of people only see the commercial. Sometimes when someone asks me what kind of music I make, I say drum & bass, and I can feel ‘em switch off a bit. In actual fact drum & bass has got — and always has had — the most groundbreaking artists out there. For example, if you look at what someone like dBridge has done over the course of his career, he’s got to be one of the most influential people in electronic music. It’s such an innovative style of music. As you say, there’s a lot of d&b in the charts, which, in my opinion, is great — the scene covers so many different bases, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere. Or at least I hope it isn’t. Cos’ if it does I’m fucked…”
It’s one of the few genuine UK born and led sounds, so it feels crazy that people would switch off to it...
“Yeah, so much stuff has come off the back of it — I don’t think you’d have grime or dubstep if it wasn’t for d&b. For me, it’s the first real urban, inner city UK music, and that’s something to really be proud of. When I write there’s something in the back of my mind, maybe just from the music that influenced me, that makes me think ‘this is street music’ and I do feel that in certain sounds of drum & bass that’s got lost along the way. When jungle first came out it had an edge, and that’s something I feel needs to stay.”
Where’s it been lost?
“OK, well maybe I wouldn’t say lost, but d&b has gone worldwide, and those people may not have that thing that jungle had, those same inner city UK influences. But that’s the shit that influenced me, so that’s why I try and put it in my music. I’m not saying you’ve got to have it, or that your track is shit if you don’t, I’m just saying it’s something I like and want in there. It’s what I like to hear in a lot of music to be honest, that inner city gritty thing.”
You can really hear that in 'Marka', and in the new track with Chimpo — in many ways they seem more like dancehall than d&b...
“Well, a lot of people say my music’s quite like bashment, but in all honesty 'Marka' was one of the first tunes I did like that and it was Skeptical who came up with that idea, he made the original bed for the beat and it just resonated with me.
It all came together quite quickly, which I think the best things tend to. If you sit down and get a vibe, the longer you spend on it the further away you get from that original vibe. Often the ones that inspire you the most are the ones you finish the fastest.”
It does have that distinctive skittering d&b percussion you use. Is it hard to keep an original voice in a scene rife with clones?
“Well a few years ago there were a million pretend Dillinjas, and I hear a lot of people being a copy of someone else, so I think, why do that? For every person on planet Earth there’s only one person that lives in your house, gets up at the time you do and goes to do your job, and has all the things that influence you, and that should go into the music. To be honest, if you make music from the heart it will sound distinctive, and there’s a lot of people in the scene who I can listen to their music and know it’s by them. That’s something that really drew me to drum & bass, going back to people like Digital, Dillinja, Marcus Intalex, Calibre, dBridge — all these people you can hear their tunes and instantly know it’s by them.”
But there is that thing where artists get caught into replicating their styles — even Dillinja, who has written hundreds of classics, started to bang out tunes that just had his ‘sound’ without necessarily being great, almost as though he was trapped by his aesthetic...
“This is something I’m battling with at the moment. People get used to your sound, and a lot of them then want to hear that sound, but then there’s also a lot of other people who’ll get bored of it quite quickly. A problem with a lot of drum & bass, and a lot of dance music, is that it’s got a very short shelf life — things can be popular for a couple of years then people wanna move on and hear something different, but for the artist that’s done it, it’s like, where do I go now? Cos that’s me, that’s what I make — how do I stay relevant without my music becoming contrived?”
Are you going to consciously sit down, pull apart your template and do something from a different angle?
“Yeah, you don’t wanna be doing the same sound over and over, but people do expect a certain thing off you, and finding the balance can be quite difficult. There’s that thing where you supposedly have your whole life to write your first album and then no time at all to do your second. With me I’ve spent my whole life writing my first bunch of singles and now I’m like, right.
What do I do now? Still, something that makes drum & bass great is that most people in it aren’t scared to try something different, to throw out the rulebook and go fuck it, let's try this. It's something that makes it so strong. I’m probably going to experiment with different tempos, but it’ll always have that drum & bass feel to it. I wouldn’t do stuff under a different name or anything — you’ll always know it’s me. In fact I’ll let you into a secret, I’ve recorded a collaboration with some Jamaican dancehall artists and it might be my next single. Maybe. “
Can we say who?
“Hahaha no! Not yet…”
And would you be interested in producing straight-up bashment?
“Yeah but I think, there’d always be a bit of drum & bass in there. I heard a Shaggy tune the other day that sounds like drum & bass, and it turns out the producer is a massive fan of d&b. I think that’s really interesting — considering how much drum & bass has taken from Jamaican music, the fact that it's now come back to Jamaica and influenced them is testimony to how strong the sound is. “
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