With Perfect Moments EP out now on Peer Pressure, we talked to drum & bass producer Philth about its making, using it as a teaching tool in the classroom and responses to the EP from his pupils and peers alike.
One thing that struck me immediately about your sound is the ability to create really interesting bass lines that are abrasive and roaring, whilst simultaneously seeming fluid and rolling. Is this the sort of intriguing, audio contradiction if you like, you're aiming for when making music?
I guess so yeah, I like the juxtaposition of rough and smooth, tearing bass with beautiful chords and other musical elements. I want my music to convey emotion but maintain a high energy level. I love hearing my bass described using those words, you're right, I want to capture all those elements at the same time. I want my basses to growl and rip but at the same time contain powerful, fluid moving subs that will work well in a club.
What importance do you place on making these elements? Do you see them as the crucial first stages in terms of dictating momentum for the rest of the track?
It's drum & bass, if you don't get the bass right you're wasting your time. So although obviously I want to create engaging and interesting music, I spend huge amounts of time working on the bass. First getting the subs right, the right weight, not fighting with the kick drum. Then the mid range area to give my bass lines an evolving organic quality. Then I spend forever working on the movement, layering sounds until the texture and the motion of the bass is right. It means I work really slowly because I can't just roll out a simple sine bass and play a melody, it has to have this texture and movement. I want the bass to be alive.
On the other hand Motion, despite having some of those rolling elements, also has moments of extremes with acute oscillations in frequency. Is switching your style like this an active approach to keeping your sound fresh and evolving?
That's the whole point of the tune. I wanted to call it Never Stay In The Same Place For Too Long but it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue does it? After the smoothness of the other two tracks I wanted to finish with a bang, to show that my sound is constantly changing and evolving. I spent weeks working on the layered bass in the second half of the tune, I wanted them to compliment the subs but also to grab the listener's attention and provide some unexpected moments.
From what I've heard so far your music has a lot of depth, how fine is the line between achieving this and making a tune that sounds cluttered? Is it down to pinpoint mastering?
It's a very fine line. The key thing is knowing your frequencies and then arranging music with the mix in mind at all times. If two sounds have the same frequency content then they can't play at the same time or you're going to cause problems, no matter how gifted an engineer you are. If two elements aren't working then play one after the other instead of trying to magically glue things together with the EQ. This can actually make tracks more interesting instead of having everything playing at once all the time.
When it comes to mastering, I leave it to the professionals, one in particular. I work with the same Mastering Engineer on all of my tracks, I've built up a good relationship with Bob Macc (email@example.com) and I trust his judgement when it comes to the final stages. A fresh pair of ears is much more effective than a multiband, superloudness ultra-maximiser.
Is mastering not something you know a lot about then being a music tech teacher? Have you ever been tempted, when you've had enough, to set your students the task of mastering one of your tracks as homework?
More the other way around! I keep finding myself working on their tunes in the studio and then remembering I actually have to grade the work. It works both ways though, One Perfect Moment is actually one of my student's coursework, I just changed the artist's name and sent it to Peer Pressure.
On a serious note, is it great to have a day job that pays you to refine and perfect your skills as a producer?
Yeah it's amazing, I absolutely love my job at Westminster Kingsway College. I spend my days talking about music, working in the studio and inspiring people to express themselves through music. The inspiration is mutual, I get lots of ideas from working with my students, young people look at music in a refreshing way and I'm exposed to new styles of music that I wouldn't hear otherwise. And the facilities ain't so bad either, I do all my final mixes at work in the main studio.
Are your students aware of what you do on the side? Have you seen any of them raving it up on a night out? If so, I guess it must be pretty reassuring to know that their teacher is passionate and successful at what he does.
I offer my students the opportunity to boost their grades by buying my music. Their results have been outstanding this year. I actually use my own music as teaching tools in a lot of classes. I think it's important that the students know I'm an active musician, that I'm not teaching them from a textbook. If I want to show them how to mix vocals for example, I will bring my laptop and show them the work I have done trying to get my new track sounding good. I also think it's important that the students know how hard it is to balance a career in music with a stable income. The YouTube generation tends to think that you make one tune and you're set for life, if only it was that easy!
As someone who works at the forefront of the industry, what new piece of technology or equipment are you most excited about? That you feel will make the biggest change to the sound of music as we currently know it?
I'm most excited about my new egg poacher, it's revolutionised my mornings. You can poach four eggs at a time and you don't have to mess about with cling film or any of that nonsense. However, coming back to music, I'm really into the digital DJ revolution, having the ability to carry your whole library and remix and edit tracks live at a gig. My favourite toy at work is the Traktor S4 controller; I finally have a tool that betters my previous DJ setup of two Technics and two CDJ's. I can DJ the way I want to play without carrying records, CD's and always having to ensure there are four decks in the booth.
Speaking of DJing, what kind of DJ support have you been getting on these tracks? How important is this support as a commercially fledgling producer?
One person who has really got behind my music is Bailey. He has been pushing myself and all the PPR guys on his show for a while now and it's amazing to hear your own music being played on BBC Radio; so massive shout to Bailey! I'm sad to hear he's moving on from 1Xtra, he's always played deeper and darker drum & bass on the radio, he'll be sorely missed.
Other people who have been playing my tracks include SPY, Ant TC1, Kasra, FD, Nymfo, Need For Mirrors, and Break . All of these guys are pushing some serious tunes and it's nice to know my music works in their sets. Having my tunes played out by people I have looked up to for years is a great feeling, it tells me I must be moving in the right direction,
Out of all the artists producing at the moment, who do you feel is making the most impressive beats? Who are you excited about and who currently influences your own sound?
Instead of listing everybody I'm feeling at the moment, I'll narrow it down to a few who blow me away. Gridlock, Ulterior Motive, Xtrah and Culture Shock. These guys are constantly pushing drum & bass forward with their own unique sounds. I've picked up everything they've released for a long time now. Sometimes when I'm in the studio I have to really try not to be too heavily influenced by my peers. Labels I buy on sight are Critical, Dispatch, Ingredients, Exit, Subtitles. Techy and forward-thinking.
Attraction, Motion and One Perfect Moment are all forthcoming on Peer Pressure. Can you tell us a little bit more about this label and what it's been like working with them so far (watch this space for a full length label profile)?
I've known Facing Jinx for 10 years now, since we studied music tech together at college. We would always see each other in the pub and bore everybody waffling away about music and when we finally made it into the studio, Peer Pressure signed our first tracks. At the time all I knew was that they were a US based label who liked smooth and soulful drum & bass.
Since then we have developed a great relationship with Matt, the American founder of the label, and have built up a UK crew based around London. We share a Dropbox and use that to give each other advice and feedback. It really feels like a team rather than just a collection of releases, even down to the Christmas party where Jinx cooked and Styla showed us just how much he loves eating; that man is a bottomless pit. We're all working together to build up the label as a long-term project. It's exciting to be a part of the crew!
Finally, where can we get hold of the EP?
The EP is available right now, you can find it on iTunes, Beatport and all other digital download stores. Watch out for my next few releases, I have a single coming on Flexout Audio in August, tunes on the next instalment of Breaking Ground on Peer Pressure, some interesting remixes and many more bits in the pipeline. Once the college year ends I'll be disappearing into the studio for a month to get them all finished.
Finally, if you're in London you can catch me playing at Brixton Jamm, July 21 with the Flexout Audio crew.
Words: Sam Oliveira
Download Philth's Perfect Moments Promo Mix here
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