Sparse rolling hills and Jack Wilshere. Apart from inhabitants of the eastern county, and possibly even some of those, most would be hard pressed to associate anything else with Hertfordshire.
This unassuming land hasn’t relentlessly spawned musicians either but a steady stream of important drum and bass producers has been drip-fed to us from the area over the years. LTJ Bukem, Alex Reece, Photek and the latest artist in this line, hailing from Letchworth, is 170 maverick Skeptical.
With releases on Exit, Dispatch, Renegade, Ingredients, Commercial Suicide, Metalheadz, Soul:r and Samurai, Skeptical has made music for a cocktail of labels and here at Bite the Belt we’ve been drunk on his catalogue of beats, which span from energy-expending to mind-transcending, for some time.
We pinned down Skeptical to talk about where he’s been and what lies ahead for a producer who’s making real waves within d&b and beyond.
Yes Skeppy. Thanks for taking some time out and allowing Bite the Belt to grab a word. How are you?
Glad to hear it. Now let’s start at the beginning. Since a young age I’ve played bass guitar and have been in a couple of bands in school but generally music was never deemed particularly important within the education system. Do you think enough emphasis is placed on nurturing young musicians especially within the underground scene?
When I was in school I didn’t take as much notice in music lessons as I wish I had. Obviously I picked up the basics but there was so much more to learn. It’s something you should be taught as a child so I think parents are partly responsible for musical training too. I never played an instrument and still don’t, maybe that would be different if I’d taken more interest at the time. Back then I was too interested in smoking and playing records with my mates rather than actually creating anything musical.
Whereas now you’ve found a respectable balance between the two, spinning records and making music that is, not mixing and smoking haha. Being originally from Letchworth and now Hitchin could you tell us a bit about your local scene? I’ve always found the music, locally in Luton, to be frustrating with drum and bass more focused on the jump up side of things than the darker style that yourself and DBR UK are pushing. Who are the artists from the Hertfordshire area that helped to shape you into the musician that you now are?
Well years ago there used to be a pirate station called Perception FM which influenced me back then. I used to record it every Sunday without fail. Also Nookie used to own the local record shop in Hitchin called Daddy Armshouse which was run by Concrete and Barrington. I’d literally be there every weekend spending my pocket money or money I’d earned working weekends with my old man on vinyl. These however were the only local things that played a part in my growing love for the music.
Yeah it’s a pretty stale area although, as a Luton boy, I am a big DBR UK head and also a fan of Broken Audio on the whole. As it happens it was through those guys that I was first graced with the Skeptical sound. How do you feel about the label and would you consider releasing with them again?
I’ve got a lot of love for Broken as they signed my first tune Lost Soul. I remember when I sent it to Loxy he then went on to play it at the last Renegade Hardware @ The End. That was a proud moment for me though I doubt I’ll release with Broken again due to other commitments but I’ve always got time for them and the DBR lads. Love you!
Nice to know the love is still strong. Those boys were right there to witness your first production baby-steps towards becoming a professional musician and now making beats and collaborating with other heroes from the genre. Working with MCs on d&b tunes is now far more commonplace than it was ten or fifteen years ago. It’s more than just a recurring theme, MCs seem to stir great success, some of the biggest 170 hits from the past half a decade have featured someone on the mic. How can using MCs in production alter a track and who do you envisage yourself teaming up with in the future?
Although some tunes are better off left alone there are tracks that work much better with MCs. They bring another dimension to a tune which can totally switch it up. I’d like to work with SP:MC at some point something which we’ve discussed but we’re both busy and are yet to pin down some studio time. I’ve done tunes with MC Fokus which you may have already heard and I also have a new tune on DRS’ forthcoming album.
A lot for us to look forward to. Talking about collabs your latest release on Soul:R, the Fourfit EP, is one of my favourite releases of 2014 so far. I had a hunch female vocals over Skeptical beats would work wonders. How did you go about getting Collette Warren on board?
Thanks! One night at Renegade Hardware, when they were doing events at Area, we discussed making some music together which resulted in Always Been Mine. That tune took two or three years to be released time during which time we’d made various other bits including Desire.
There is a large amount of growing excitement within the Bite the Belt camp regarding your forthcoming LP on Exit Records. Will female vocals be making a return? We love the prospect of a Skeptical featuring Riya collab in the future.
You’ll have to wait and see…
It’s like Christmas all over again! Your tune with Dub Phizix, Deeper Love, from the latest Platinum Breakz is quite stunning. It demonstrates the skill and drive both of you share as producers to venture forth from dancefloor anthems to what I refer to as music for the mind. Will the album be a Jekyll and Hyde blend of the two Skeptical approaches and can you drop any other names from the album?
Again I’m not giving too much away. I’ve always liked the idea of my first album being just about the artist so I don’t know how many or even if there’ll be any collaborations.
100% freshly squeezed Skeptical sounds to quench our musical thirst. That’s refreshing because we have so much time for you production which is, at present, predominantly based at around the 85BPM framework. This tempo is sometimes a sensitive issue with the old jungle heads but I’m personally enjoying the halftime sounds from the likes of yourself, Stray, Om Unit and several others. Will half-paced be a main feature on the LP?
I guess a lot of my production is based around that tempo but I never go out of my way to make it like that. I write music that I like regardless of what tempo or structure it is. As for the album I’m not telling.
Well then all that is left for me to do is to patiently keep inscribing the Skeptical LP countdown tally into my bedroom wall until its release. In the meantime though a little birdie mentioned that this month is going to see a BPM change for yourself. Can any truth be found in this?
Yeah my next release is a 140 production. When I got my new monitors I wanted to test out how they sounded in my room so I slowed the tempo down to hear things more clearly and with a bit more space. Chain Reaction was the first thing I wrote on them and when I sent it to Yunx he was up for signing it for Tempa so that was how it all came about. Echo Dub and Chain reaction are both due out on August 11.
There are bags of producers working under multiple aliases at different tempos these days, Marcus Intalex as Trevino, Instra:mental’s Al Green pushing things forward as Boddika, dBridge with his extensive ensemble of musical entities. At BtB there are a few techno and house heads who are interested to know if you dabble in any similar fields of production?
I do have a techno alias but I’m not telling you what it is so you’ll have to do your homework. My tunes have had support from Blawan and Velvit so far so I’m pretty pleased with that. It’s something I’m taking my time with because it’s hard to find extra time around everything else I do. I’m also working on a project with four other producers called Module Eight. That’s all I’m saying.
Harry Houdini, Kim Jong-il and Skeptical. Three men shrouded in parallel degrees of mystery. Definitely going to be keeping our eyes and ears peeled but, steering it back to the Skeptical sound, let’s talk about your current label occupation. Along with Metalheadz, Exit is one of our favourite labels. For a long while we have felt that Exit is the main label pushing the boundaries of 170 and for that we applaud it. What is it like working with the legend that is dBridge?
Exit Records consistently releases great electronic music which makes it one of my favourites too. It’s an honour to release on Exit and it’s nice to have the backing of such a great team. I’ve always been left to my own devices and have been told to ‘do your thing’ which works perfectly for me. As an artist you don’t need to be told by management ‘yeah make this because it’s current’. If I need to know something both Darren and Will have advice for literally anything I need. I couldn’t ask for more. Maybe another few Easter eggs at Easter would be nice though.
dBridge if you’re reading this give the man his chocolate! Your sets are always extremely unique and have that raw Exit sound which we know and love so I’m always very pleased to see your name on the line-up for an event that we’re attending. Do you consider yourself to be a producer fist and DJ second or vice versa?
I started mixing when I was 13 so yeah I’m a DJ first. Producing came after because I wanted to better myself. Though I love both equally as much as the other.
I know it’s hard to envisage yourself in a life outside of music but if Skeptical had never materialised what road do you think you would have gone down?
I was a painter and decorator before this so I’d probably still be doing that. I do enjoy cooking but being a chef is hot work and you have to do long hours so fuck that. Animals are pretty cool so maybe working with them. But envisaging myself outside of music, no way.
If we ever get some offices and the place needs a spruce up you’ll be the first on our list though in honesty if you came to visit we’d rather have you spin us some beats. Being the respected DJ that you are you must be exposed to a colossal amount of music. What artists or tracks are your current favourites or is there anything which you feel deserves some more recognition?
I was sent some music by a guy called Interline the other day which is pretty good and not that he needs more recognition but I’m looking forward to Clarity’s album.
And if you could play anywhere where would it be. What’s the dream set location?
Brazil! That would be the one. I’ve always heard good things about the parties. Even if I never play out there me and my fiancée will go for a holiday one day.
If you could collaborate with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
Two musicians at the top of their game. Actually writing a track alone, let alone collaborating, is the next step on my own musical path. What software do you use and do you have any advice to impart on aspiring drum and bass producers?
I use Cubase myself but it’s about what feels best for you. My advice would be to take your time learning and not to rush it. The whole music thing is a slow process. Try a couple of plug-ins at once otherwise it will become overwhelming. Finally be happy with your music before you send it out and always aim high.
What else can we expect from Skeptical in 2014?
Next up is my Tempa release on August 11. After that I have an EP out on Exit. A tune called Offline that I wrote a few years back will finally see the light of day on the 31 Records LP. I’ve got another 140 bit on J:Kenzo’s label, Artikal Music, called Skavenger on the way as well as various remixes including ones for Sizzla and Jubei. Then there’s that tune I’ve got on DRS’ new album too.
This month I’m playing in Vienna, at Fabric London, Dimensions, Outlook and Sun and Bass and I’ll be on Youngsta’s Rinse FM show on August 11 celebrating the Tempa release.
That’s a maelstrom of a schedule Ash so once again thank you very much for your time. Best wishes for all that is forthcoming and try to take it easy! Skeptical, a pleasant man and a musical pioneer, it’s been our pleasure.
Jack & Ryan