An interview with iDJ's very own D&B reviewer, from before he became our D&B reviewer
He first really pricked up our ears with a split EP (Catatonic/Day And Night) with J2B on Plush Recordings a couple of years back, but Altered Perception has been producing drum & bass and running his Terabyte Records label for half a decade.
Over that time, he's produced a range of styles from jump-up to more minimal, techy bizniss to, most recently, liquid funk. And slowly but surely, first in Leeds and now in Bristol, the lad who hails originally from Wood Green, North London has been edging his way towards D&B's upper ranks. Not least because he's also involved in running the Alchemic Breaks, Transmission Audio and Sub:mission Audio labels.
Back in January, another EP for Plush, Your Truth, saw him developing an increasingly funk- and jazz-tinged sound, and it was at this point that, noting his newfound status as a fellow Bristol-dweller, we caught up with him over a pint at local hipster hangout The Canteen. By the time we'd finished, we'd somehow talked the producer known to the taxman as Sam Gartside into becoming our new D&B reviewer.
But before that happened, this is what he had to tell us...
Tell us a bit about how you got into making music in the first place...
"I first got into D&B aged about 15/16, because I had a mate who used to DJ on Origin FM, one of the bigger pirate stations. He used to DJ jump-up, jungle-y mid-2000s drum & bass and that really got me into it, so I picked up a copy of Reason.
"At the time I was studying at the Guildhall School Of Music & Drama. I was originally going to do jazz saxophone at university, but when I got into drum & bass that sort of went out the window. I got well into production, got a set of decks and started DJing. And then I moved up to Leeds, where one thing led to another and I started a record label called Terabyte Records with one of my schoolmates.
"Our first release was a track I'd made called Holographic Universe. That was in July 2012, but I didn't have another release for about a year or two after that, until I started making music with my mate John Imprint, who's had a couple of releases on Plush.
"We started making music together, and again one thing led to another: the Leeds D&B scene is quite tight-knit, so gigs started coming up and I started playing for nights like Jungle Jam and Central Beats. And then I just kept going from there, got some more releases together, started to get my style down a bit better, and then me and my missus both got made redundant so we decided to come to Bristol, and I've been here about 18 months now."
How would you describe your style?
"For the first four years, all I made and listened to was jump-up. The sort of techy stuff that I'm into now, I couldn't get my head around at all. I thought it all sounded the same, just weird noises and crazy bass, which ironically is sort of what I think of jump-up now! Personally I think my style is deep, dark and minimal, with a little bit of a techy edge to it?"
That's what I'd have said until the new EP, which seems to show a more soulful, jazzy side…
"Yeah, that's something I'd love to do more of, because that's where I come from - jazz and funk. I love Parliament, Miles Davis, John Coltrane... that's what I was brought up on. I think some of the stuff I was making before was still sort of reminiscent of jump-up, but I'm starting to try and bring in more influences now.
"Literally just before coming to meet you now I was working on a track for an EP on Automate, and that's more sort of a throwback, Metalheadz-y thing with big Dom & Roland-style breaks… not that I'm comparing myself to Dom & Roland! I'm just trying to switch it up a bit and do some different stuff. I've been listening to loads of jungle recently, like Photek, and I've just finished another EP which again is a sort of throwback to mid-90s, deeper, Movin' Shadow-type jungle."
So you're keen to dip your toe in different waters?
"Definitely, because I've been doing the same sort of thing for a while now. I've had about 45-50 releases and they're all sort of in the same vein, that kind of 2010-ish sound. That's my favourite era in D&B, sort of 2008-2013, sub-heavy minimal drum & bass. But I don't think I was a good enough producer to move out into other styles before."
You mentioned the Leeds D&B scene being quite tight-knit... what was it like moving from that to Bristol, with its long D&B heritage?
"Really cool, I like it a lot. I've not really been here long enough to get massively involved but I've had some gigs at Blue Mountain and Thekla, and again it's the same sort of thing, every time you go there it's the same sort of crowd and I might bump into an artist I've signed to Terabyte, or people that have supported my releases or they've supported my releases... it's cool, you just turn up and it's like, 'Oh, I know you from that Facebook group!'."
So it's been pretty welcoming?
"Yeah, I think the drum & bass scene is like that. Well, outside London, anyway! My first experience of it was the London scene, and that's pretty shut off - if you don't know certain people, forget it. From what I gather in the old days it was like, turn up at a rave, give the promoter a tape and if they liked the mix you could get a gig, but now it's like, 'Who are you? Altered who? Nah mate, never heard of you'. The only clubs really playing D&B now are the big places like fabric, and if you're not already involved in that scene it's really hard to penetrate it.
"But somewhere like Leeds or Bristol, everyone's just like, 'Oh you like drum & bass? Bangin'! Come to this rave, come make a tune, come have a mix'. So yeah, I really like it here."
Do you get about outside Bristol much with your DJing?
"A bit. I did this little festival in west Devon somewhere called Elements last summer. They're only in their second year and it was only about 300/400 people, but it was absolutely brilliant, I loved it! And I ended up playing for about 2.5 hours, because a couple of the other DJs didn't turn up."
And in D&B that pretty much counts as an epic set, doesn't it?
"Yeah, but it's good because when you play for an hour, I think you just look through your tunes and pull out the ones that are going to get the biggest reaction. But when you do a two- or three-hour set, you can dig a bit deeper, pull out tunes you wouldn't normally."
Why has that short-set culture emerged in D&B, do you think?
"I think it's the age of people that are listening to drum & bass now - it's getting younger and younger, and we're in that culture now where everyone wants everything NOW. You go to a rave and everyone's on Mandy and they just want it to kick big."
Some promoters have attempted to change it over the years...
"I wish they would! But I think not enough people want it. If you look at the actual songs, as well... if you look at old Photek or Moving Shadow tunes from the 90s, they're all about seven or eight minutes long. The intro's two minutes long, it's like a piece of art that sets the tone for the rest of the track. But with tunes now, every tune's a 33-bar intro, a bit of weird noise at the beginning with a hat loop, a big, standard, boring, obvious bassline drop and that's what everyone wants to listen to at the moment. But I feel there is a bit of a resurgence coming with all the old jungle stuff."
So is D&B in a healthy place in 2017?
"Yes and no, I think. On the plus side, there's D&B records getting into the Top 20, and some of it's pretty uncompromising stuff. That shows the strength of the scene, because that's the thing I love most about D&B: the people that are into it are proper hardcore fanatics.
"But right now a lot of labels are pandering to that newer style of neurofunk… it's like jump-up again, it's all so in-your-face! The whole mix is whacked up full, there's no dynamic range, there's no individuality to any of it - it's like the same format being applied to everything. It's become over-saturated and you've got labels that used to put out really deep, thoughtful releases that are pandering to that."
And yet at the same time, in the past 5-10 years we've seen the emergence of all the minimal, half-time stuff…
"Yeah, and I like all that, but that's all starting to sound a bit samey now as well. Ivy Lab came around - I love Ivy Lab - and they've influenced this massive new wave of producers. Really they've created an entire new sub-genre of drum & bass, because there was half-time before but it wasn't what it is now, that sort of hip-hop-based sound with massive boomy kickdrums, hip-hop breaks…
"But you go to a night based around that now and again, it's everyone playing hour-long sets and it all sounds the same. It's just my personal opinion, but for me it's the smaller labels that are coming through now that are pushing the more interesting, deeper side of D&B.
So the best thing about D&B in 2017 is the enthusiasm and the dedication, and the worst thing is the lack of variety?
"Yeah, I think people aren't taking any risks any more. Except for Metalheadz: I can't see an era in that label where everything they put out wasn't absolutely banging, and they're still switching it up, every release you hear is different. Some of it's nice deep, soulful liquid rollers, then you've got the Dom & Roland album which is just breaks and horrible 808s flipping out everywhere, then you've got their most recent one from Phil Tangent & Penny Giles which is this weird, old school minimal roller.
"And that's what it's about: it's not about, 'Right, this track did well, this got the most listens on Soundcloud, this has got the most revenue, so let's just keep putting that kind of music out'."
So what's next? Any plans for an album?
"I'd love to do an album but I want the right kit for it first. Right now I'm still producing on a bust-up 11-year-old MacBook Pro through some tiny little Mackie speakers that aren't even proper monitors. I've got a £40 pair of stereo headphones. If I was going to do album..."
...you'd need a £10K advance from Metalheadz!
"Yeah, maybe Goldie will ring me tomorrow and say have 20 grand! [laughs] But I'd at least like to be able to afford to hire a proper studio space out, because it's not really the right space is, it? Sitting in your living room... I don't even have a chair at the moment, I'm sat on an old coffee table. It's not really a very productive environment.
"So for now I think I'll keep doing four-tracks. I like doing four-tracks, because with a two-track, whatever message you're trying to get out it's like right, I've got two tracks to do it in. With four, you can get a bit more experimental, you've got a bit more space to work with, it's bit more fulfilling. So yeah, I think four-tracks for now and then maybe start thinking about an album next year, maybe."
Words: Russell Deeks