In just over half a decade of releasing music, Grey Code has racked up an impressive catalogue. The UK producer has credits for the likes of Dispatch, DIVIDID, Vision and the holy grail of drum & bass labels, Metalheadz. It’s no wonder Goldie’s legendary imprint snatched him up so quickly; with an impressive ability to jump between genres and synthesise new styles, Grey Code has the sort of deep, well-rounded sound the Alchemist looks for.
With two EPs and a load of tracks already out on Headz, Grey Code embarked on another milestone this past year — an LP. Out at the end of January, if fans thought the Grey Code bar was lofty already, the high-concept, well-balanced and intensely emotive ‘Renewal’ raises it even further.
“I wanted to make a statement piece,” Grey Code (given name: Spencer Warren) tells DJ Mag. “My sound has evolved a lot since I started. I wanted to capture where it was at that time. I had done a lot of smaller projects prior to this and thought it'd be a good idea to tie my journey so far together with an album.”
But ‘Renewal’ is more to the London-based artist than a snapshot or a benchmark. It’s clear from first listen that this album tells a story. “The concept for the album came together during spring 2020,” he says. “I was thinking about the lockdown ending and what it would be like for everyone. It made me think of post-war modernist movements where new art forms and philosophies emerged. I was on the phone chatting to my oldest friend and we were talking about words that could capture that optimism and opportunity. He came up with the word 'Renewal' and I agreed it was a great title for the album.”
While he’s not the only artist to draw inspiration from lockdown, the optimistic tinge to ‘Renewal’ is rare, as is the way Warren put it together. Like a piece of classical programme music, the album’s tracks create their own story. “I wanted to express a journey because it's reflective of how I listen to music,” explains Warren. “I like hopping between moods and styles, but for there to be a cohesive theme under it all. I wanted there to be enough detail so that it was good to listen to again and again, but not so detailed that it was a difficult first listen.”
And how did he accomplish this? “I added varying tempos to the tracks to try and change the listeners’ perceptions of time throughout the album. ‘Interlude’ and the long ambient sections are meant to stretch time so that once you've finished it, it feels longer than 40 minutes.” It does indeed feel like an epic album journey, capped off, appropriately, with a closing track called ‘Iliad’.
The composition and emotion of ‘Renewal’ aren’t the only things that set it apart. While Grey Code’s style has become easily recognisable — it’s minimal, yet still offers intricate sound design — this album brings through an analogue synth sound. But as it turns out, all is not as it appears. “Everything in the album is done inside the (digital) box!” Warren insists. “There's a lot of analogue-sounding synths in there — a sound I love. I used the Arturia collection, which emulates a lot of the classic hardware synths. I play everything using my keyboard and lightly use quantisation to give it a more organic feel.”
As our conversation comes to a close, we wonder what Warren wants listeners to take away from ‘Renewal’? “I want people to feel excited!” he says, without hesitation. “I hope that people think there's exciting stuff happening in D&B at the moment and that there's room in the scene for the many different implementations of it. I don't think my sound really fits the ‘typical’, so I'm grateful I've been able to carve a niche for myself. I want to thank everyone who's supported the album so far and I'm excited to start thinking about the next one."