Interview: High Contrast

We caught up with the globetrotting DJ, writer, filmmaker, book collector, pianist, producer and self confessed control freak to find out all about the man behind the beats.

Jayne Robinson

Last updated: 9th Feb 2011.
Originally published: 21st Jan 2011

We caught up with the globetrotting DJ, writer, filmmaker, book collector, pianist, producer and self confessed control freak to find out all about the man behind the beats. 

So, do you know what records you’ll be playing at the Hospitality Event in Leeds in February?

It’s always good playing in Leeds, and up North in general. The crowd seem to be more up for it. It’s always really good. I think quite they’re clued up as well. Although it’s quite a trek for me, from Cardiff. I’m working on my next album at the moment, so I should have few new things of my own to play at the gig.

How is the new album coming along? What sorts of things can fans expect?

It’s taken me longer to do this album than usual, just because I’ve started getting into film making as well, and that’s taking up a lot of time. But I still really want to get the music out there, and the fans are hungry for it, so I’m keen to get some material out there. There’s enough of the classic High Contrast sound in there, but I’m also trying to take it somewhere else as well, and go deeper into it musically, try some things out.

What sort of new ingredients are you thinking of, specifically?

I think I’m using less samples, and writing the music myself a lot more. A lot more focus on piano. That’s what I’ve played since I was a kid, so I’m taking it into a melancholic, lone pianist vibe! But also working with some vocalists as well, who are bringing out a whole new dimension to it. Kind of Kate Bush-esque.

Which vocalists are we taking about?

I’ve been working with a girl who sings in a band called Kid Adrift, who I made a music video for in the Summer. They’re young guys, just starting out. We just clicked, I really liked what Becky was doing.

The classic ingredients of the High Contrast sound are drawn from quite a big palette.

Yeah. People know me for my strings, I think. And chopped up vocals, and a cinematic, uplifting vibe.

So, there’s a different area you’re exploring this time?

I think it’s still uplifting. There’s a new twist on it. I find it hard to talk about music. It’s one of those things that you just have to listen to it. You can only really describe music in terms of other bits of music. Talking about my own music is a quite weird, I mean, I just do it.

You have a real interest in film soundtracks and classical music. Tell us about that, and how it relates to your output.

I found some kind of parallel between classical music, film soundtracks, and drum and bass that I make. There’s some kind of through line there. In it generally being something where the structure and atmosphere are more important than a three minute verse/chorus. I like the longer pieces of music that you can have a real evolution in, and create a strong atmosphere in the mind of the listener.

What are your favourite film soundtracks?

I love anything by Ennio Morricone, so The Good The Bad and The Ugly soundtrack. Also, Bernard Herrmann, who worked a lot with Hitchcock, on Psycho, North by North West, and on the Taxi Driver soundtrack.

You mentioned you’re involved with making films. Tell us about that.

I’ve made five or six music videos, and then a couple of months ago, I shot a short film which I wrote as well. I’ve got a few feature length scripts written out, and ones which are in development. I’m trying to get them made, but it’s a long process, a lot trickier than making music.

Going back to the music, what sort of contemporary artists are you interested in, across the genres?

I like Joy Orbison, people like Ramadanman, Chilly Gonzales.

Out of your own remixes, which are you most proud of?

I think the remix for Adele’s Hometown Glory has been the biggest I’ve done, in terms of the amount people that are into it, and the way people that spontaneously sing along to it in the clubs. It gets a great reaction. But I’ve laid off doing remixes for a while, because I wanted to focus on my own stuff, working on the album, and every remix you do is an idea you can’t use on one of your own tracks.

What do you think of the whole ‘Liquid Funk’ description, and that period? Are you happy with that term, and being associated with it?

I don’t really feel too strong a connection to that term. What I make is really is just jungle, for me. I think if you look at my back catalogue, there’s a variety of styles in there. If you’re gonna say there’s any one style that is the High Contrast style, I don’t really feel part of liquid funk. But if people want to call it that, it’s fine by me as well.

On a personal note, I understand you don’t drink, smoke, or take drugs, or even drink Coke. Where does that influence come from, and is it hard to keep that lifestyle in the clubbing world?

It’s not hard really, because it’s something I never felt I needed. I’m interested in truth and understanding things, and I feel those things are a way of distancing yourself from the truth. It’s just never clicked with me. It just seems to be quite an alien thing to me, whereas the rest of the world seems to find it quite normal. I’m a bit of a control freak, and I like to know what’s going on.

You’ve got a passion for collecting a very large range of books. Tell us about that.

(laughs) I collect a lot of books. I probably haven’t read most of ‘em, though. It makes me look like an intellectual. I like old things in general. I think there’s so many books out there, that it makes sense to wait a hundred years before reading it.

What are the sources for your samples? They seem quite esoteric, drawn from a lot of different places.

I guess one of the things that got me into drum n bass was the way you could just find these disparate elements, and piece them together to make something that just sounds right, as if they were meant to be. Take something from one old film, something from a disco record, things that would never normally cross each others path. And you come up with something useable and hopefully interesting.

I understand you recently got back from a DJ tour of Australasia? What was that like?

It was really good. New Zealand, Australia, and Japan. Playing a lot of festivals, with 10,000 people. It was a world wind tour, and kind of mindblowing. I had a really good time.

What are your favourite places to DJ, and what are the crowds like there? 

I just love DJing in Tokyo and Japan. I just find it an endlessly fascinating place. The people, the food, the culture, everything. I just love it over there. The gigs are always really good as well. The crowds are almost hyperactive. The Japanese seem to dance more frenetically than anywhere else. I just spent six days there and had a great time.

And are there any major events you’re looking forward to this year, in terms of DJing, or production?

The album should be out in September. I’m going to have some kind of live show, although that’s always an ambiguous term in electronic music. I’m still figuring out what that’s going to be, but it’s gonna be something more than just a DJ set up. The problem is always the bigger the show, in terms of how live it is, the more expensive it is to put together. We’ll have to see about a happy medium. The tour should be leading up to it, playing the festivals across the Summer, all over the place, and around the time of the release.

Interview by: Abbas Ali

Follow Abbas on Twitter: @abbasali5000

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