On the 28th of this month (October) an EP called Matchsticks was released. The EP is the latest work of a young man called Stray. Stray is not your average Drum & Bass producer…I’m not here to make a meal out of Matchsticks, though a blinding EP it is, I know a certain Peterson who’s homed in on a write-up already, but before that goes live I figured I’d give you heads a flavour of the spice that is Stray and at least all that I know of him.
I believe he’s from Leeds, but that’s not something that I can confirm from knowledge or am willing to research at this moment in time. Lazy? Perhaps. Or perhaps I’d just rather leave insider info out of the person and keep Stray as the sounds in my headphones. The only real solid background info that I know about him is that he has an older brother who’s a pianist in an incredibly powerful modern Jazz Band.
But not modern in the sense of Modern Jazz… not in the MJAZZ sense of the word anyway. But I’ll give you more of the MJAZZ flavour in perhaps a week or so. Regardless, the Jazz right there came from a Modern outfit by the name of Dice Factory and the track was called Zout; Zout being a Modern phrase. Unless it’s pronounced “Zowt” (Sounds Like – Doubt) in which case I don’t know what that means, but I’m pretty sure it’s pronounced Zoot (SL – Hoot), which would mean that Stray’s Jazz Pianist Brother is on the level on another level.
Anyway, so my full knowledge of Stray as a person consists of an unconfident lock on his hometown and that he has a brother who shares incredible musical talent but on a very different end of the tune spectrum. Oh and his real name is Jon Fogel. “Fogel on the deckle… Fogel on the old ones & twos ladies and gentlemen, a Mr. Jon Fogel…” Do that in your best Leeds accent and then listen to this…
So Fogel has made it a far stretch further than playing out classic Northern Soul to a lonely Saturday evening bar in the dales. Did he ever play out classic Northern Soul to a lonely Saturday evening bar in the dales? Probably not. Instead he tears out furiously abstract 170 stompers to sweating, topless ravers at Outlook Festival. But Saturday is where my Stray journey began.
It must have been two or three years ago now, back when I was browsing the Dogs On Acid “Top 100’s” for my tunes, which by the way, were often not at all the Genre that they were labeled as and also definitely not the Top 100 at all. DOA sharing the same traits as Beatport… fassoolioage. But just to side-track a second; just went to link up Dogs On Acid, which definitely was alive a month or so ago, and it isn’t there at all. Trend Hype all over the shop about it’s possible death! Dogs On Acid may well be gone forever… almost as sad as when Woolworths disappeared from the high street.
But back to Saturday… So I was browsing the Dead Dogs On Acid 100 tracks that they were asked to host and I came across a track from a name I’d never heard of before (Something pretty regular back then as I was only just on the brink of breaking into real music exploration.). Suffice to say, it was very quickly downloaded and became a solid favorite.
It was rare that I’d come across such a clicky, techy, seemingly simple (but really not at all) and more importantly, horrendously dark tune. This was probably the most prevalent track of such a genre and became the sort of track I’d pull out within certain musical circles (One of those circles now being a large bulk of the Bite the Belt writers) to test their eardrums, always to great appreciation.
Saturday immediately sparked my Stray attraction and on downloading Saturday I couldn’t resist searching for more. And thus I came across another stomper. Three years ago I would have had many tracks to hand that I would now share much less enthusiasm for and a few of those tracks would have been made by ear-grinding, reece splitting Dubstep producers of the Circus (Who, by the way, madly enough have the next Submotion Orchestra instalment as a release, the first load of music that they’ve put out since their Fragments album… how fucking mad’s that!? Circus Records & Submotion Orchestra! But trust… more on that soon…), NSD orient. Dubstep tracks that would have definitely featured the Foreign Beggars. So of course, when I saw that this crazy, techy, darky Stray’y geezer had gone and remixed one of their tunes I was all over it. But what I heard was not what I expected at all, having come off the back of the Saturday mindset I was near enough blown away by what I now consider trademark and typical (But sick) Furious Stray Jungle Drum Pattern Madness.
But this was three years ago, I was at Uni and I was loving things like Bro-Step & Hard Hitting Electro, getting my Nero album download on and chasing after FuntCase & Bar9 (Though I still rate those guys production from back then tbf… it’s the new-era Brosteppers that are just plain awful.). Though at the same time I was discovering people like Alix Perez and his incredible and innovative 1984 album and starting to find people like Tokyo Prose & Lenzman so it was a mix and match time for me with music.
I bumped uni after one failed year of a backwards sleeping pattern, too much drinking & smoking and hardly any uni work at all. Then it was a couple more years of random jobs and interns and further musical progression. By the time I’d started Bite the Belt, my tastes were more refined, I still adored my vaults of music but certain things I would look back on and listen with more nostalgic sense of “Aww bless, younger me…” than “Yeah man that’s sick…”. But my exploration of the sound that was Stray was nothing more than a banger and a creepy monster in my music collection.
Then I went to Outlook Festival 2012.
I was sat on our apartment balcony of an evening looking out at the dying sun. The night was almost upon us and tunes were being passed between us on a pair of little but decent portable speakers. It was in this moment that my very closest of friends played a track that, every time I caught a whiff of, I would croon in musical adoration. A luscious liquid roller and a stand-alone iconic track of the year. It was a track that I didn’t know by name or artist but I recognised it from somewhere in the months past. It was a track that I needed to own and fiend on a daily basis. My friend told me that it was from a new outfit on a label name that I recognised, an outfit of three, all producers I hugely respected in one way shape or form and it was a track that got dropped that very same night in a set from the label itself. Well, the VIP got dropped, much to my distress, as now knowing the track I was desperate to hear it live and get involved with it’s incredible liquid melody but alas the VIP was a dark switch on the original and I didn’t care for it at all.
A few months past and I was a couple of months in to trying to remember the name of the track and who it was by. I kept asking my friend what it was and trying to explain how it went and what it sounded like (By going “Ahh man, it’s like – Dooo… dooo… dooo.. sumthin sumthin sumthin…”), when he told me and when someone dropped a remix of it but alas he had no idea of what I was going on about. I searched the internet for months with no real words or idea of the tracks origin to go on and it amounted to nothing. It wasn’t until about several months ago, when my real exploitation of SoundCloud had began (My new and far greater Dogs On Acid music search tool) that I was listening to a Foreign Concept mix, perhaps a podcast, perhaps a show for Rinse FM that out of nowhere I heard those notes come rolling in, notes I hadn’t heard since the festival. Notes I scoured my own collection for, questioning my own memory as to whether I was listening to the right track or not, always uncertain but secretly sure that I still hadn’t found it. I tell you the feeling when I heard the track coming in was pretty much indescribable, but you can imagine I’m sure.
I can’t remember if there was a track-list or not but whether it was through some comment asking for a Track ID and a response or whatever I soon came across the track name and artists behind it. Life was good. Life was great that day.
It all came flooding back to me, Ivy Lab, a name I’d definitely heard of or at least seen floating around on Lineups and playlists and on inspection, just like I’d been told all those months before, was the name belonging to the old school D&B legend that is Sabre, big time producer Halogenix and of course, the man that I’d gone “Oh really? Yeah man he’s made some sick tunes, I don’t really know much about him to be fair…” to when previously told was a member; Stray.
That was the day that I listened to Oblique on repeat for an hour or so. A year behind its glory. It was a couple of days later that I decided to look into this Ivy Lab and pay more attention to the producers behind it. So I rolled through the Halogenix tracks on SoundCloud and downloaded a couple of the bangers and did the same for Sabre, found what I could of the incredible Ivy Lab (Including a Synkro Remix of Oblique that soothed me so and the re-discovering of the VIP which I now had the time to enjoy.) who were now into another EP release featuring Frank Carter again (Another Gem by the way and with Brat on the B-Side which I’d definitely come across in the mix before.) but it wasn’t until I came to stray that the real downloading began.
I went from top to bottom, the Ivy Lab Afterthought EP being on top at the time, followed closely by a very interesting release on Blu Mar Ten‘s label Blu Mar Ten Music (Which I was also just beginning to discover and enjoy in the form of the Blu Mar Ten Music Podcasts at the time as well and also where I later discovered that Stray had a Jazzy Zout Brother.) and then the next new favorite of my D&B collection, Timbre VIP.
It was with this tune that I began to recognise the mans love for ridiculous, explosive Jungle Drum Pattern segments. And if you know me at all, you’ll know that I have an insatiable soft spot for any form of wild broken drum patterns and even more especially Jungle Rhythms, especially when accompanied by a warm and heavy bass.
On seeing another release on Blu Mar Ten Music I made it my duty to delve deeper into the current BMTM EP’s and download ALL of them. I suddenly had my hands on his Halogenix collab, Poison, which I’d also heard but not known by name on my travels through live mixes. It sparked a greater interest in the bizarre production of Frederic Robinson (Someone who I’d found on a Hospital compilation album from the year before.) I came across the old classics that I already had (Saturday and the Raising the Bar Remix) and as I listened to the variation in Strays production I started to really understand the ability and scope that this producer has. I understood why he was there with Sabre & Halogenix (Two far better known names in the game) in the Ivy Lab. I suddenly had a much grander respect for the man than I’d first had on hyping over those two tracks I’d found those two years before.
And it’s not just me that holds him in such high regard, he’s been taken on board by some of the best labels in the game. Releases on the label belonging to the widely diverse and musically knowledgeable Blu Mar Ten who’s podcasts span the vast oceans of music in genres far and wide, old and new and with seamless mixing ease. Pioneer of the Autonomic sound, age old legend of drum & bass and owner of the genre defying Exit Records, dBridge has been putting out Stray beats out of the same respect, with Exit being the home of Matchsticks as well. And of course, being signed to Kasra‘s Critical Music, home to big Drum & Bass names such as Foreign Concept, Emperor & Enei.
He’s a man who I thought I’d pigeon holed into three unique Stray genres, “Unsuspecting Mad Stray Jungle Fury Tracks”, “Dark & Weird, Techy & Itchy Beats” and “Calm, Organic, Experimental & Floating Half-Time Tracks”. But he just keeps on making sounds that are completely different to the last, rhythms and patterns all over the place. He’s got a real ear for good music of all kinds (Just listen to the Podcast he did for Blu Mar Ten) and when it comes down to the tracks for the rave, he has a powerful knack for building absolutely stonking and creative sets. If you listen in to any guest mix he’s put out, you’ll discover major Hip-Hop influences, Juke, Footwork, Half-Step, Funk & Jungle… ALL of my favorite things that can be blended into ANY Drum & Bass set that just break up the rolling drawl and freshen up the ears, heighten the senses. He knows how to please a listener whether he’s DJing or producing, but more importantly, he knows how to please himself. He doesn’t just put out what’s big, he just puts out what’s gwanin’ in his head and those mad beats attract all the right heads.
I implore that if you’re a Drum & Bass head you make room in your life to involve yourself with all of the following tracks. Involve yourself with Stray. Even if you’re just a person about creative and wild sounds in electronics or in music in general… have a listen.
Oh and prepare yourself for our write up on the Matchsticks EP by listening to the Promo Mix…
Respect the good artists.