Friction interview: Making Connections

Before he plays at Creamfields, Marko Kutlesa caught up with Friction to chat remixes, Rocket Man and reality TV.

Skiddle Staff

Last updated: 29th Aug 2018.
Originally published: 21st Aug 2018

Image: Friction

Ed Keeley aka Brighton raised DJ Friction is not one to rest on his laurels. Having secured a name for himself in the top flight of drum n bass DJs relatively early on his career, he has spent the last half decade learning the ins and outs of studio production. Not content with allowing an engineer to assist him with his overall sound, he has been putting the hours in himself, the result being the soon to be released album 'Connections'. 

Friction also runs the Shogun Audio and Elevate Audio labels, plus a new one Maraki, set up in 2017 with My Nu Leng. He spent six years as Radio 1's resident drum n bass show host and is know for using three to four CDJs for his sets. He also has a bass house alias FineArt. Recent remixes have included Fatboy Slim and The Prodigy and the debut single from 'Connections' is out now. Featuring JP Cooper, it is entitled 'Dancing'

It's only been the last half decade that you've taken 100% control of the sound of your productions. But the trend for artists over recent times has been to earn more from performance and merchandising, stuff like that. Why did you want to concentrate so much of your energies on learning all of the things required for sound production, perhaps a less profitable side of your endeavours?

I think it had got to the point where I'd been DJing quite a long time, enjoying it and I'd had some tunes, done a few collabs, but I didn't feel like I'd nailed the production side of things. It was when I worked with Camo and Krooked, around seven years ago, and I was, like, wow, these are the levels you need to be at if you want to be a producer. Everything since then has been pushing towards that goal, in order to get me to the point where I am today, where I can write a track from start to finish. It's taken a long time and it's been a lot of hard work, but it feels worth it. The satisfaction I now get is incomparable to anything else.

Elton John recently played your new single on his Rocket Hour on Beats1. If you had to return the favour and play one of his tracks in one of your sets, which one would it be?

Ooh. Trying to think what the most drum n bass like one is...

I think you could possibly do a drum n bass version of Rocket Man...

Well, yeah. We could give that a go. It would obviously fit his show too! Ha!

After so many years of success with Shogun Audio, why did you decide to launch Elevate Audio and, having not so many releases on Shogun since 2016 do you think, with the benefit of hindsight, that launching Elevate Audio marked the end for Shogun?

I think, if anything, Elevate has breathed new life into Shogun, rather than mark the end of it. What I've ended up making, since I've been more hands on in the studio, wasn't really suiting Shogun. Elevate is more about energetic, more full on, intense d n b and it made more sense to have another imprint I could do that with. My role with Shogun is more A+R. I might do something in the future that's more soulful, more mellow, but for the new album especially,  it didn't feel right to be releasing it on Shogun. But, Shogun's release schedule coming up is probably busier than it's ever been. It feels stronger than it has for a long time.

You and Killer Hertz did the remix of Fatboy Slim's 'Right Here Right Now' this year. Were you able to do that because he's your neighbour?

Well, it certainly makes it easier getting the parts! Ha! No, I've had those stems for about 4 years. I was going to remix it for a Skint project, I tried to do it a few times, but I never quite nailed it. I was having another little go when the Killer Hertz guys heard it and said they'd love to do it with me. 

Did you play it to Norman? Do you know him socially? Brighton's not that big a place.

I didn't really know him that well. We've met a couple of times briefly. But since doing the release, I've chatted to him a few times. I have a bass house alias and he's played a couple of those tracks. As legends go, he's up there. It's great to get approval for a track from someone like that, not just some guy in a record company. He personally approved it, both mixes.

Being good neighbours doesn't explain your ability to use Gorillaz 'Dare' on your 2016 'Dare (Hold It Down)' track. How does something like that come about? Do you ask permission before putting all the work in or do you just do it any way and hope they'll agree to a release?

I found a dodgy acapella of the original vocal for that, and so I made a little bootleg, but people were telling me I should try to clear the sample. We cleared the vocal, then got Rosie Wilson, who sang the track originally, to re sing it and got all that cleared. I feel lucky to have such a great team around me doing stuff like that, because that's what makes it possible.

You've just released a remix of 'Need Some1'. Just how do you go about approaching a remix for a band as revered as The Prodigy?

That's a funny one. Because you don't approach them at all. They approached me. Which was quite crazy, considering they were the people who first inspired me. I mean, my first record was 'Everybody In The Place'. Back in the rave days, they were the biggest thing. All the way through it I was worrying, is this going to be good enough? You see an email from Liam Howlett, saying he approves, and that means everything. I've been doing this a long time, but moments like that you have to pinch yourself, they make it all worthwhile. Being accepted like that by someone you've admired for so many years, that is everything to me.

What was it about JP Cooper that made you want to work with him on the new track 'Dancing'?

I originally heard a track called 'Shivers' by SG Lewis and JP Cooper about three or four years ago and I thought, wow, that guy would sound great on a drum n bass record. At that time, he hadn't quite blown up and so we managed to get a little session in with him. It was quite difficult to get it released, because over the last couple of years he's got really big. But, he loves the tune, his team loves the tune, so we've managed to get it out there. He's probably one of the most talented vocalists I've worked with. He can just do anything.

Did either of you go into the studio with any ideas or was it all spontaneous?

Totally randomly, I bumped into him on the tube, on the way to the session. I saw him on the train, I mean, he's quite easy to spot, and so we were sitting on the tube together. We got taking and it turned out that he had family in Brighton, so he'd travelled up from there too. He was telling me some of the ideas he had for the session, I loved the idea, the concept, it fit the beat pattern I had in mind, so we went in the studio and got at it straight away. It was an easy one.

You've taken three or four years to complete this September's album, Connections, which 'Dancing' is taken from. What else can we expect from it?

Ideally, the plan was for it to do what it says on the tin. For me, it's trying to connect lots of different sub genres of drum n bass. There are elements from when I first came on the scene, the Renegade Hardware style stuff is represented on a track called 'Killing Me', then there' an old 140bpm rave tune on there. It's trying to cover everything, from straight up dancefloor like a track called 'Ultrafunk' and to connect all the subgenres. Everything that influences me, I've tried to put on there and turn it into a bit of a story. 

There are only three tracks on the album which don't have a featured guest. Does that make the proposal of live shows problematic?

It would be interesting. I haven't really got into the live show aspect of things yet, but it's something we've been talking about. I mean, yeah, if you could get all those people together it would be an interesting show! Although maybe you'd have to have someone else singing a couple of tracks; it's very hard to collect all those vocalists together as one. But, if I hadn't done that and use so many, I think it would have been hard to get the variation I wanted to achieve. I think I'd leave it to management to get all those things together, that can be their headache, ha!

'Dancing' appeared on a UK reality TV show, that I won't mention the name of, because this is supposed to be a serious interview, ha! How does something like that happen and are you 100% comfortable in that kind of modern marketing of your music?

Music marketing in general has changed. Whether you like it or not. There's the way it is now, and that is it. You can't change it. So, yes, if it appears on some TV programme that my missus forces me to watch, then so be it. I'm not going to go against it. And, really, if people are enjoying the music, that's all I care about. You sit in a studio for months, slaving over it, so, as long as people like it, that's my main concern.

With so much of the near future taken up by the album release and everything that entails, where does that leave relatively recent new projects like your FineArt alias and the label Maraki?

To be honest, I've got so much more time to work on them since I left Radio 1. That was the point of leaving, so I could focus on all these different things. It was an important decision. As much as I miss it, that whole family, it's enabled me to have that much more time for studio stuff.

I'm excited by FineArt, it's a nice little change, something different. But, after the album comes out, maybe I'm going to work on a more underground dancefloor drum n' bass project. Something that's not really based around vocalists, stuff that I can play in my DJ sets. I'm going to do a few bits of production for some other people too. There's loads to do.

Grab Friction tickets below.

In:Motion Bristol with Friction - Friday 28th September

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Friction presents Connections Birmingham - Saturday 29th September 

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