Drumsound & Bassline Smith Interview: Derby Days

Ahead of hitting Tranz-Mission Festival in September, Marko Kutlesa interviewed one of the drum&bass scene's true veterans, Simon 'Bassline' Smith about his long career in UK club music.

Mike Warburton

Last updated: 27th Jul 2016.
Originally published: 7th Jul 2016

Photo: Drumsound & Bassline Smith

Drumsound & Bassline Smith are a trio of drum&bass producers, Andy Wright and Ben Wiggett (Drumsound) and Simon 'Bassline' Smith, from Derby. They met in 1998 and within a year had issued their first joint release. 

They released their debut album Nature Of The Beast in 2004 on their own label Technique Recordings, which celebrated its fifteenth anniversary in 2014. Also in 2004 they released the track 'Odyssey' on Grooverider's Prototype imprint, the track being acknowledged as one of the year's strongest dance tracks in any genre.

While concentrating much of their efforts on Technique Recordings, since their beginnings they have also released on LTJ Bukem's Good Looking Records, Bryan Gee's V Recordings, Renegade Hardware, Creative Source, Trouble On Vinyl, Formation Records and New State Music (Suburban Base). Their remix of DJ Fresh's 'Louder' reached number one in the UK pop charts in 2011 and they are one of the most popular drum&bass festival acts in the UK.

However, Simon 'Bassline' Smith's contribution to British dance music stretches back much further than his association with Drumsound. A DJ since he was 17, Simon set up his first label Absolute 2 in 1991, before drum&bass had even been invented.

Absolute 2 put out house, techno, rave and breakbeat music during a time that was pivotal to the development of the UK's own unique sub-genres of dance music. Some of its breakbeat tracks were key pointers in the transition from breakbeat rave to jungle then drum&bass, alongside contributions made by the likes of Fabio, Grooverider and 4 Hero/Reinforced Records.

The label also issued the first ever releases by long serving drum&bass innovator Doc Scott, early releases by crucial contributors to the genre like Ray Keith, Grooverider and Jumpin' Jack Frost and several anthem status rave releases including Orbital's remix of 'Kinetic' by The Pied Piper (who re-released it on R+S Records having changed his artist name to Golden Girls).

After he took his attentions away from running a label in order to concentrate on producing music, Simon made a healthy contribution to drum&bass music, both as a DJ and by releasing his own productions across several labels, before he hooked up with Drumsound. Simon 'Bassline' Smith is also the father of famed UK MC Youngman who, in his early days, used to regularly tour with his dad as an MC.

Marko Kutlesa caught up with Simon 'Bassline' Smith prior to his appearance with Drumsound at the 2016 Drum&Bass Awards and Tranz-Mission Festival for a chat about some aspects of his career to date.

Find Drumsound & Bassline Smith tickets.

What were your intentions with Absolute 2 when you founded it? 



At that time I was Djing out a lot, a lot of parties and raves up and down the country and I was very aware that there was a lot of music that was out there that wasn't really getting a platform. I realised at that point that I wanted to set a record label up.

I'd DJ'd for many years and for me it was a natural progression to try and set up a label for music I'd fallen in love with. There was no particular style or genre that the music would be, it would just be music that I liked and wanted to play.


Absolute 2's early releases were always a main 12 followed by a remix 12. Why did you decide on that format?



It was a combination of things. Because at that time everything was in its early days, its infancy and experimentation, you could get more out of one track by going back to it, twisting it up a different way for a different audience. Music seemed to have a lot longer life as well. Generally the timespan between the original release and the remix was a fair amount. It just felt like the right way to give the music the longest life possible.



How did you come across Doc Scott?



I was playing at a rave, I think it was Donington Park, and an MC I knew from Coventry came over and said 'I've got a mate, he's making great tunes, here's a tape, will you have a listen to his music?' I took it home, listened to it and thought straight away this is great music, it needs to be heard. That was the starting point, I met him, had a chat and decided to put his music out on Absolute 2.



His 'Surgery' track had a lot of the classic rave elements in, but the track “Night Nurse” was the one that played around with the sub bass and breakbeat combination.



Yeah, that EP had a few different dimensions to it, which at that time was great because, like I say, back then there were no rules. He was putting a dominant kick drum in some of the tunes a la Detroit house and techno, Strictly Rhythm and Nervous Records, but he'd also quite happily put a breakbeat in there from his hip hop influences. 'Night Nurse' (below) was a big tune.

One of the earliest remixes was the one of 'Kinetic' by Orbital. That remix is fantastic, an anthem. Can you tell me how it made the transition into being re-titled as Golden Girls for its R+S re-release?



To be honest I don't really know what happened with that. Michael Hazell (The Pied Piper) made a few tunes for us, but it came to a point where Absolute 2 was starting to move towards that breakbeat direction, towards jungle. He wasn't particularly following any kind of format, but he had out that first EP “Hooked On Hope”, we hooked up for that and the remix 12” and then he went his own way.

He was friends with the Orbital guys, I think he lived round the corner from them. This was 1991, so a long time before those guys were massive. Looking back it was a significant milestone to have had them on the label. 



How did you come across Nookie?



I used to buy all my music from London. I'd drive down on a Friday, go to Black Market, Music Power, Red Records... drive across London and pick up all the white labels and promos from that particular week. Most of them would save stuff under the counter for me so I had the most upfront stuff, along with a few other people who were Djing at that time, people like Grooverider and Fabio.

I picked a load up one week and there was this white label in there, I played and I loved it. It had 'Give A Little Love' on it and he'd pressed up a few hundred copies himself. In those days you'd put your mobile number on your records, so I called him up, went down and met him the next week and he was up for me putting it out on Absolute 2.


The way I would sign things, even to this day, is a really organic thing. You have to trawl through so much music, more so now than then, to try and find something you think you can take to a wider audience. Not just the track too, you have to try and find someone you think you can take to a wider audience so they're in a position where they can make more music. That was the ethos at Absolute 2 and it's still the same today with Technique Recordings.



On Doc Scott's NHS mix of “Give A Little Love” you can really start to hear him chopping the breaks up in a pretty radical way in combination with that sub bass. After that, the next release was Doc Scott's NHS EP volume 2, which came across three separate 12”s. And it was the first CD you did. That disco mix of “NHS” on the first of the remix 12”s is a stone cold classic, anthemic, euphoric. Such an in demand tune, even now. The price is really high on the secondhand market. Have you never considered a re-release?



Well that's a good question! I’ve had them all remastered, they're all nice and cleaned up so I can listen to them when I want and I've got all the vinyl over there.

Do I have plans to re-release any?  It's not something I've really thought about because it's always been one of my ethos's to look forward. Maybe that's one of the reasons why I'm still here today? Looking back into the past is not something I do too often, so we shall have to see.

Some classics are classics for a reason. With some it's just best that they be left alone. If the secondhand market is selling a tune for £100/£200 do you really want to re-release it, so it brings the price down and maybe it's no longer considered a gem? I don't know.



Ray Keith and Jumpin Jack Frost were two big names to have some of their earliest releases featured on Absolute 2, thanks to the Armageddon 'News At Ten' track. In hindsight you managed to put out quite a lot material by people who would go on to have a great contribution and longevity to give to UK music. Were you just lucky?

 

No. It's not about luck. In 1991 I had a good idea of how I wanted to do things. With people like Ray Keith, Jumpin Jack Frost and Grooverider, who also did something for the label, I was reaching out to friends, people who I liked and who inspired me. It's all about collaboration and taking things forward. That's the way I saw it. It was all quite natural.



As that sound moved from breakbeat hardcore into jungle, who would you say were the chief contemporaries of Absolute 2?



You had Reinforced and they were a massive influence on the music moving forward. Dego and Mark were making some amazing stuff, their sound was a massive part of rave culture and the music that was being played. Also, the Production House guys, again from London. They were putting out some amazing tunes. And they were putting them out on a regular basis too, much more frequently and consistently than Absolute 2.

The E label too and the Ibiza label. Ibiza was an integral part of the jungle movement. They were really taking things to the next level in terms of samples, breakbeats, incorporating old soul and funk tunes and ragga into the pot. I'm trying to think of others...



XL maybe?



Well, Reinforced was independent, so was Absolute 2, Production House and Ibiza. XL wasn't, so it was always one of those labels that I looked upon as being way above where we were. They were in a position of having a lot more resources, they were getting their tunes played on Radio 1. Their musical ethos was a lot more house, a lot more friendly than we were.

On all those independent labels, we may have had some releases that went on to become more popular, but I don't think that was necessarily the plan. If it happened, great. But with XL I think they were handpicking things in order to deliberately try and take them further. 



Why did you end the label?



It just ran its course. When I started the label I was just DJing, but I wanted to produce. Towards the end of Absolute 2 I started to produce and DJing was taking up so much time and running the label was taking up so much time, that I didn't have as much to give to making music as I wanted to. It was a case of 'where's the time gone?' I needed to slow down on the label in order to improve my skills in the studio. It was something I'd always wanted to do and do well. 



What were the best lessons you learned in your time running Absolute 2 that stood you in good stead when it came to running Technique with Drumsound?



Like I say, you can't beat your own instincts with the music you like, the music you want to put out. Running a label back then was completely different to how you run one nowadays. Totally different ball game. Back then everything was on the phone, you'd go down to London and pick up your own records, drop them off at the record shops yourself.

The only similarity between then and now is the feeling you have for the music, your instincts and wanting to put out something that connects with the ravers out there. That's not changed from then til now. 

 

When you started working with the Drumsound guys you both still had your own separate studios. How long was it before you moved into one space together, before you committed to this being a collaboration that was going to endure?



I don't think it was that long, a year, maybe 18 months. Not long. We live in Derby and we were only 5 minutes from each other and we were going to each others studios 4 or 5 days a week, trying things out, experimenting, teaching each other things. I think we met in '98 and we had our first release out in '99. It wasn't long. We just clicked straight away.



Which of your releases with Drumsound are you most proud of?



It's a difficult question in that with the advance of technology a lot of the newer tracks just sound better to me. The technology we're able to use now really gives us the ability to make things sound as good as they possibly can. When I look back on some of the things we've done the vibe is so right, but the actual quality of the sound could be so much better by today's standards.

As a producer you will always fight against that, something that sounds great against something that may have a stronger vibe. 'I Need Your Love' (above), I really like that track. 'Stigmata' is another stand out track, the strings in that... It starts with an Amen then drops into this big euphoric sound, then it's got a proper jungle feel about it.

The whole Nature Of The Beast album was a very good snapshot of where we were as producers in 2004. We'd started to reach a point where we were really comfortable about what we were doing then, with the equipment that we had. Obviously one of the proudest moments was the 'Odyssey' tune that we did for Grooverider's label (below). It felt special at the time we made it and then for it to go on and do what it did... It ended up being one of the biggest tunes of the year, not just in drum&bass.

Mixmag were writing about it, they put it in their top ten for the year and it crossed barriers not just in the UK but around the world. So that's right at the top of the list of tunes that we've got a soft spot for.

 

How does it feel to have your son Youngman go off and do his own thing instead of touring as much with you as he used to?



I'm proud, man. I'm a proud dad. It's important for kids to stand up on their own two feet in anything they do. It's maybe a little harder to do that when you're in the same industry as your mum or your dad. It's a credit to him that he's been able to stand up on his own two feet and go about his business, take his own direction within the music.

I feel blessed that he's been able to do it and he's a good role model for any other young people who want to make their way through the music business. Because it's not an easy game.



What's your favourite release that he's featured on?



I like the stuff he was doing with Benga. That was sick. He's recently done a track with NVOY, who are more on a deep house tip and I really like that. But the stuff he was doing with Benga and Skream, them tunes were good. 

What's next for Drumsound and Bassline Smith and for Technique Recordings?



We've just released Technique Summer 2016. It's a compilation of 37 tracks. There's lots of artists on there that you will know like ourselves, Tantrum Desire, L Plus, The Prototypes, Danny Byrd, Digital & DJ SS but there's also a lot of producers on there that are unknown, handpicked tracks by some people who we think are very talented and who can maybe look forward to a good future in music if they continue to work hard, like Fade, Polaris, Stranger, and Gradual.

It's a summer album so all the tracks are meant to be mellow, you can have them on in the background while you're working, while the sun's shining or you're at the barbecue. Nothing too heavy.


Then, Drumsound and Bassline Smith, we've got a single coming shortly called 'I'm Gone'. It features the vocal talents of Bully. It's a big, hands in the air, festival type of drum&bass tune with a heavy drop that's been going down really well in the clubs.

Is that the one you put on your Facebook page where you played it at Glastonbury (above)?



Yeah. And on the flip there's 'The Truth VIP', so it's a double header. 

Catch Drumsound & Bassline Smith at the Tranz-Mission Festival on September 25th. Get tickets here or below.

More like this? Read Five of the best acts at The Warehouse Project 2016.

Tickets are no longer available for this event