iDJ meets a producer whose work has been capturing – if not defining – the D&B zeitgeist for over 15 years
Ever since he emerged onto the drum & bass scene in the mid-2000s, Alix Perez has had an uncanny knack of expressing what a lot of D&B fans are feeling at any moment in time. Most the time we didn’t know we felt that way until we heard his music, and it’s certainly not intended by Perez himself. But look back over his 15-year discography and his movements frequently capture the character and mood of the moment perfectly.
When the Belgian-born artist first broke through, he captured the raw soul of that never-since-repeated liquid golden age of the early/mid-2000s perfectly on labels such as Bassbin, Spearhead, Horizons and eventually Shogun, where he was a flagship artist for several years. His two artist albums capture the times they were released, too.
His full-length debut 1984 galvanised the most exciting aspects of D&B in the late 2000s and the growing interest in deeper sounds and other tempos (dBridge & Instra:Mental’s Autonomic movement happening at the same time is a perfect example), while 2013’s Chroma Chords reflected the era in a different way. As the drive towards mainstream radio cheese and the rise in popularity of the much harder neurofunk sound left D&B a little soulless at points, he joined the dots with a whole other musical world and production aesthetic.
The launch of his 1985 Music label in 2016 also served to illustrate a larger picture: it was one of the first of the artist-founded indies that characterised the last half the 2010s in drum & bass, and the shift from big labels dominating the genre to a surge of DIY energy. In Perez's case, the label has been especially meaningful as he designs all of the label imagery, artwork and highly collectable limited merch himself. He’s also encouraging a wealth of exciting new-generation names who’ve come through in recent years: Monty, Cesco, Bredren, Submarine and Visages, to name a few.
There are many other Perez creations we could name, each capturing a different moment in time. But Without End is the most recent and most poignant. Even if accidentally, its title alone accurately catches the feelings of coronavirus frustrations, uncertainty and lack of hope. But musically, it resonates on a much deeper tip.
Sober, contemplative, melancholic… at a time when most D&B is digested in every other way but in the environment it was first intended for, and raving is done in our living rooms in groups of no more than six, these beats are the perfect tonic and once again capture where we are at in the genre. It captures where Alix is right now, too: eight tracks deep, comprising collaborations with Liam Bailey, Workforce and Halogenix, Without End is the most substantial drum & bass release he’s written since 1984. In terms of how it’s been received, it feels similar to how that album caught D&B fans’ imagination, too.
That’s where he’s at musically. Where he’s at physically is yet another fine example of capturing what so many of us are thinking right now: he’s moved from London, his home for the last 17 years, to New Zealand, a country where the clubs are open once again (and have been since June), where the leader doesn’t seem like a scary late-capitalist egomaniac and whose crowds and artist communities are widely regarded as some of the heartiest and most spirited in music, full stop.
Halfway through a two-week quarantine when we spoke to him, Alix took the time to look back over his career and tell us more about one of his most significant releases to date…
Congratulations on the move to New Zealand! What took you over there?
“My fiancé is from over here. She moved to London and we were going to stay there a few years, maybe go to Europe for a bit and then move here. It was always part of the plan. But with everything that’s happened this year, and how well this country has reacted to it, we’ve fast-tracked and come straight here.
“I haven’t moved here just to play gigs but the fact I can actually play gigs is a huge bonus because there’s been nothing at all in the last few months. But I’ve always loved this country and had ideas about moving here since I first toured New Zealand – there’s something very special about it.”
Being able to actually play out must be a nice prospect right now…
“I am pretty excited, I have to say. I’ve really missed the connection with the people and hearing the music through big systems like it’s meant to be played and road-testing things. Like all of us have, I guess. I can’t say I miss the late nights that much – I’m enjoying having a normal routine and getting more sleep! But yeah, I’m looking forward to getting back into it.
“There are some really sick shows lined up over here. The scene here is incredibly healthy, with guys like The Upbeats, State Of Mind, Truth. There’s a lot of great national talent here, it’s exciting to be part of that and I feel really fortunate to do that again soon. But that wasn’t the reason I moved here. I wanted a better quality of life and I haven’t been feeling London for the last five years. It doesn’t seem like the London I knew and feel in love with years ago.”
Echoes of that excitement you had when you first moved to the UK years ago?
“Definitely. There’s nothing more refreshing or inspiring than moving to a new place. I’m lucky to have done it a few times now. From Belgium to France to Devon to London and now here. Everything is exciting for different reasons.
“London had that city buzz, and the whole music thing and all these opportunities and everything. But here the inspiration is much more from nature, the surroundings and the people, too. Everyone is so welcoming here. I’ve always had a connection here. Every time I left here after a tour, I’d feel like I was leaving something behind. So yeah, definitely very exciting to start this new chapter.”
A new chapter and a new release! You and I last spoke around the 10th anniversary of 1984, almost a year ago. You said then that another album would take up too much energy, so I guess ut a mini-LP is a good compromise – big enough to tell a story, but not so big it drives you to the point of obsession?
“Totally. It felt like an album to me, as a body of work. It’s weird because the reception I’ve had to it aligns with the reception I had to 1984 as well. There are a lot of similarities between the two releases. Musically and how people are receiving it. That’s nice.”
Was the new album written during lockdown?
“No, none of it was, actually – I work really far ahead of myself! Running the label has made be that organised and look that far ahead, but I’m a lot like that anyway – I like to know what’s coming and have things set up.
“I’ve already got next year’s first EP ready and I’m working on some collaborations. I have to work well ahead of myself – just for the vinyl pressing aspect alone. I like that, though. It means I have to be organised, I have to be on-point and I have to be confident that the music will stand up that far ahead in the future. So this release was written last year, apart from one tune that’s three or four years old which I’ve updated. It didn’t take too long to write, though. It actually came together very naturally.”
It sounds like it. You used a term ‘perpetual tones’ on a post about it, which I really liked…
“Yeah, like 1984 it’s got its own sound palette. The treatment and the gear I’m using are all the same, which creates coherence between the tracks. it’s got a beginning and an end and there’s continuity running throughout it. That’s important for me.”
Liam Bailey’s voice creates continuity. He’s obviously been on 1985 before – with Dogger & Mindstate – but this is the first time you’ve worked together, isn’t it?
“Yeah. I knew his voice since the Chase & Status track he did years ago but didn’t know him. Then Rob and Dave [Dogger & Mindstate] sent me Broken Home and I signed it instantly… such a great piece of music! So I got to know Liam through that and he came to perform at a few 1985 shows. I didn’t want to step on the boys’ toes, though… it’s cool to collaborate, but they'd just brought him to the label so it felt rude!
“But they were happy, and Liam is such a natural in the studio. I played him the tune and off the bat he was jamming and recording. The second tune was the same, if not quicker. Put the tune on, press record and done in an hour or so. He’s an amazing writer. Just jamming and reacting to the music. Incredibly natural and very inspiring to work with him.”
There are more inspiring collaborations on the EP, with two artists you have a long history with – Halogenix and Workforce.
“Yeah. They are both inspiring producers but, more importantly, they’re good friends and great to work with. With Laurence [Halogenix] we wrote a few things – this one and something for a release of his. With Jack [Workforce] we go back a very long way and have written a lot of music together. As half of Spectrasoul, Jack and I have worked on things together since 2007. He’s been part of my career and musical world for most of my career so far.”
You’re obviously tapping back to your roots, but in a way that builds on those early works. Do you think this is because you’ve reached a stage in your career where there’s been enough time and space to reflect? Or have you been inspired in other musical ways?
“I think it’s just revisiting something that I know. It’s very natural to write this music, but to be happy with it, I can’t do it constantly. It demands a lot. The samples and the writing… it takes a lot of my creative space. I’d reached a point where I felt ready to make a larger project within this sound.
“It’s not necessarily because other people were making those vibes, it was a personal thing. I’ve been doing bits like this anyway since the Exit EP Recall & Reflect. That was in 2015, so a release like this has been building up since then. What I do find, though, is that after I’ve written something of this size then I usually want to write something entirely different for a while. It felt good at the time and I wanted to make the most of the creative flow I have going on.”
I’m remembering an interview around Chroma Chords where you said you may never write D&B again. You’ve got to go on your gut reaction and make what you want to make, haven't you? Not what you might feel is expected of you…
“Yeah. I’m not surprised I said that… sometimes you need a complete change, and to listen to yourself as an artist. You need to make the changes that will facilitate your freedom. For example, I recently did some 140 things, and now I don’t feel any particular urge to write anything like that again for a while.
“I’m not sure what triggers things and makes me go back to certain sounds but I think stepping away is the key to it and then something will happen that will reveal a bigger picture in your head and you have a fresh approach.”
Glad you mentioned the 140 stuff. There’s a great soundsystem and dubstep culture in New Zealand isn’t there? Truth, Headland, Akcept…
“There is, also FIS, Kamandi, Ebb and Epoch and loads more. I’m actually working with Gene Headland on something and there are loads of other guys I’m looking forward to linking up with and collaborating with. I’m going to playing some shows with a lot of these guys and hopefully booking them, too. It’s important for me to invest in the local scene and community and talent. There’s a buzzy scene here for both the more dubstep and 140-style acts and the drum & bass.”
Yeah, even prior to this year’s weirdness, New Zealand was getting a lot of glowing reports from DJs touring there. People talk about a very excitable energy from the audience…
“It’s absolutely popping here. It always has been. Any tours I’ve done in the past have been stand-out. They’re an open crowd. Very energetic. I get a lot out of playing here and always have.”
Do you think UK and European crowds have had it too good for too long? I’ve found scenes thousands of miles away are very appreciative of touring artists…
“Yeah, there’s definitely a different appreciation. But saying that, before the pandemic, the UK and Europe had a very healthy scene with some amazing parties too. Everything goes in waves and you get a new energy from time to time from a new generation, but I’d say the crowds in Europe and the UK definitely appreciate what they have. It’s strong everywhere really. The pandemic has changed a lot of things and made it uncertain but there’s still a lot of love from fans who keep this whole thing going."
Has moving across the other side of the world changed how you run the label?
“Not at all. My distributor and management are all in the UK but it’s just a case of working slightly different hours to catch colleagues in different time zones. The events will change, of course, but there aren’t any to hold in most places right now anyway.
“In fact I have to say that running a label has been great during this time, as it’s given me something to focus on and it’s given people who usually would come to a show other ways of supporting the music. Buying records or clothes and things like that. During this whole time we’ve gone through, it’s nice to get something through the mail. It’s exciting. So 1985 has been doing really well during this time and I want to thank anyone who’s supported the label and all the artists on it.”
Beautiful! So, what’s coming up next? It’s been release after release this year – what follows Without End?
“The next release will be the next Folio EP, which completes the trilogy in that series. We also completed the trilogy on the Edition series earlier this year. So we’ve got some new concepts coming, which I’m working on at the moment. There are a few other things in the pipeline, too. There’s definitely another Monty record on the way, another Visages one and loads more lined up from all the talented people I work with on the label.
“It’s a case of running the tightest ship I can. So much of the success of the label is down to the music, so we’re putting out the best we can and pushing the artists as much as possible and just staying humble.”
Words: Dave Jenkins
Without End is out now on 1985 Music – buy it here