His sounds have been oozing out of the speakers of many a BtB head for the last few years, some of us have even been lucky enough to see him perform live a handful of times. His output on the label 2nd Drop has consisted of a series of forward thinking and beautiful EP’s as well as the masterfully crafted LP Seven Lies. Despite trying his hand to such a multitude of genres, there is still that underlying sound that is undisputably his own and instantly recognizable across the bpm range that he traverses. The late John Peel once explained that The Fall were his favourite band because they were ‘Always different but always the same‘, and I think that statement perfectly sums up why I’ve got so much time for this producer. His name is Felix, you probably know him as DjRum (pronounced Drum) and he has been kind enough to answer a few questions for us this week.
Without further ado…
DjRum; DJ, producer, mohawk enthusiast. It’s a pleasure to have you chatting with us today, how have you been keeping?
– I’m very well thank you.
For someone who considers himself more of a DJ than a producer you’ve had new music coming out thick and fast lately. The Miracle, your last EP for instance, showcased a beautiful mix of influences from hip-hop to techno through to drum and bass and gabba which is no small feat considering it contains only three songs albeit one of them is over 15 minutes in length. It’s this epic title track that I want to learn more about, split into three parts, it takes the listener on a journey through various tempos and styles. Could you give us an idea of where you were trying to take this piece of music from a technical viewpoint as well as its listener emotionally?
– That’s quite a big question: I could probably write an essay on that EP. As with most of my music it started out quite organically. I was playing around with some string samples and I wrote a plinky plonky synth line to go with the chopped up effected results. That really effortlessly lead to building a housey type track, but as it grew I was throwing so many samples and ideas at it that its potential grew outside of that. So I worked from scratch a few times over with the same ideas as starting points and came out with some different material. Then I thought about structuring it all. Initially I had a short breakdown after the housey bit and then went straight into this slowfast 170 beat. I pretty much finished both of the beatsy sections and then decided I wanted to separate them with a longer breakdown… that ended up being the ambient section in the middle. I was worried about keeping peoples attention through the ambient section to a sufficient degree that when I brought the beat in at the end it wouldn’t come as too swift a change in pace. I think a sense of pace, as distinct from tempo or mood, is really important when structuring a track. One way of dealing with that was by adding a monologue through the ambient section. Another was by using lots of foley to introduce the percussive elements as they came in. I also brought more in of the melodic elements from the 3rd section than from the 1st. That made the transition out of the ambient section smoother.
I was really feeling the Onoe Caponoe remix you put out recently and I’ve heard a collaborative EP may be in the works. How did you two come across one another and what do you have up your collective sleeves?
– 2nd Drop put us together. We’ve made a few tracks together, and I’ve been sitting on them for a while. I haven’t quite managed to round the whole project off yet, but as soon as I do we’ll be releasing it.
You’ve been known to stray into d&b territory with your productions every now and then and it’s always an absolute pleasure when you do. The closing track from Seven Lies, ThankYou, is a personal highlight. What do you think about the 170bpm scene at the moment and do you see yourself experimenting at this tempo more in the future?
– I’ve made loads of stuff from 160-175 so you’ll definitely hear more in the future. It feels very natural for me writing at that tempo. I’ve been listening to d&b since I was a teenager, and I’ve never really stopped. I’ve always mostly been into ’92-95 jungle. I think that some of the most innovative music of today is being made around that sort of tempo. I love what Stray, Rockwell, Sabre, Machinedrum, Fis, Indigo, Om Unit and loads of others are doing.
It’s always cool when a producer has a sound so personal that you can listen to a track that you’ve never heard before and recognise who it’s by. I think it’s definitely fair to say this applies to you. I always consider the dark and moody string sections which you use so well a tell tale sign that it’s your work I’m enjoying. When you’re in the studio is this something which naturally occurs or do you consciously try to give your material a trademark sound?
– It’s definitely a bit of both. Sometimes I’m working on something and it’s good but it sounds a little derivative or generic so I deliberately do what I can to make it sound more Djrum-like. Sometimes it just comes out sounding completely as you’d expect from me. If it sounds too much like my previous work I make an effort to push myself into new territory… to keep things fresh.
Quite a bit of the music you’ve produced is sample driven. It must be difficult to combine so many elements into a tune without it sounding cluttered but the way you layer sound in Honey, yet maintain such a sense of space, is masterful. The volume of distinctive and beautiful percussive sounds alone, in that track, is truly impressive. How did you begin to put it all together and which parts came first?
– Thank you! It’s pretty hard to explain. With Honey I think it was all about filling space. Building up more and more layers so that bit by by every gap got filled in. There’s a kick from a hip hop tune, a snare roll from a reggae tune, then there’s a fill which comes from the intro to a Turkish Sufi vocal track, a few little hits from funk breaks, and I think a few layered hits from a sample pack. Then some of the other percussion is made from foley.
Another thing that we have collectively discussed about your music is the way in which you manipulate silence, the space in-between the notes and the beats, what sort of artists do you feel influenced your ability to create such atmospheres?
– That’s a really interesting thought. I’m fascinated by the idea of impressionism in music. Debussy is often referred to as an impressionist. In his music I think the impressionism is a matter of harmony and key. He gives the impression of being in a certain key, or of a certain chord without being explicit… he leaves things a little ambiguous. You can do the same thing with rhythm. Once you’ve implied a certain rhythm or groove you can start missing out beats… take out a kick or a snare where one’s expected. Who Are You Fooling by 2562 is a great example.
Something that I’ve picked up on while listening to both your tracks and mixes is your love of creepy dialogue which turns your music into a really cinematic experience. Do you try to base your music around the atmosphere of the scenes you take the speeches from or instead maybe you search out dialogue that fits the mood of your music? And, by the way, where was that ‘medicine’ speech at the end of Thank You taken from? It was a great way to finish the album!
– The music always comes first. It can be really hard to find the right bit of dialogue and I always end up very heavily editing things to fit in. I miss out words from speeches to make them more ambiguous and often reorder conversations. I’ve had more comments about the speech at the end of Thank You than anything else. I don’t want to say where it’s from though. I like the idea of giving enough of a sense of there being a story behind the music without putting really clear images in your head.
We couldn’t let you chat to us without swooning over your mixes just a little bit haha. My first introduction to your music was that Resident Advisor podcast you did called A Soundtrack to an Imaginary Film. To blend music in that way, for an audience listening from home rather than a club, really changed my perception of how decks could be used. Have you ever considered working alongside a visual artist to make this imaginary film in your head into a reality?
– I’ve thought about it but that’s not really what those mixes are supposed to be about. It’s really a way of giving a bit of focus to a mix whilst still flitting about through genres, tempos, moods and atmospheres.
And as a man who clearly has a love for films, can you recommend us a favourite of yours that we may not have seen before?
– It’s tough to know what to choose. A film that’s really influenced the way I think of sound and music in movies is Xich lo (Cyclo) by Tran Ahn Hung. I first saw that film when I was a teenager and it blew me away. There are scenes where the focus shifts between background noise, silence, internal monologue, and music. That’s the first time I really thought about how a movie can play with having multiple sonic narratives.
Some of us were lucky enough to see you play at Outlook festival last year and it was a true highlight, hip-hop scratching over techno tracks, mad jungle and half time d&b. During sets which sort of audience do you find is most receptive to this blend of sounds? Do the techno heads fiend the jungle and are the d&b purists appreciating the hip-hop?
– I’m glad you enjoyed it… I know I did. It’s really not a predictable thing, and it really changes over time. A few years ago when I dropped ’93 jungle at a predominately house night It’d be really risky… these days a lot of house heads are discovering jungle for the first time so it goes down really well.
Half of the Bite the Belt crew managed to get tickets to see Goldie and the Royal Heritage Orchestra performing a rendition of Timeless at the Southbank Centre next month. There’s a really nice classical aspect to your music. Can you picture yourself writing music with the intention of it being played live either classically, acoustically, or with electronic instruments?
– Yeah, watch this space.
You’ve never been one to shy away from a good old remix but if you could have a collaboration with any artist alive or dead, famous or unknown, who would be your pick?
– Miles Davis ennit… or Don Cherry, or Alice Coltrane, or Jack De Johnette… don’t think people like that would fuck with people like me but there you go.
Have you played in any quirky or mad locations in your career so far?
– I played in a nuclear bunker like 10 floors below the ground in Prague… that was quite a mad location. There have been a few mad squats and things back in my early days.
Now, before we let you go, we know you have a reputation for crate digging and unearthing some of the lesser-known beauties of the dance music world. Could you name a track that you feel has gone criminally under-appreciated over the years and which you would like to see get that extra bit of love?
Thanks for you time, your opinions and the musical gems you have thrown our way. Its been an education and a pleasure.
Be sure to keep an eye on the horizon as I know we’ve a lot more to expect from this man.