Once known as a breakbeat duo, Beat Assassins are back - as a one-man band making drum & bass. Here's how it happened...
Beat Assassins: a new(ish) name to drum & bass, but one that's been entrenched in the footnotes of UK bass for well over a decade.
Established by longstanding, long-bearded London DJ, promoter and fanzine magnate Jimmy Mofo and Joe Lenzie (the pony-tailed one out of chart-topping D&B popsters Sigma), they enjoyed dominance and unified cross-scene salutes in breaks throughout the last decade.
“Then dubstep happened!” laughs Jimmy, Beat Assassins' now one-man army. “Every promoter we spoke to seemed to switch overnight. So we knocked it on the head. Joe was already killing it with Sigma and I set up a trap project called Koshii. We were one of the first trap artists from the UK. That was exciting for a few years but the genre felt very limited. It wasn't enough of a melting pot. So I stepped back and worked out what I want to do musically.”
Cue: drum & bass, his first love right back in the mid-90s. Jimmy's career in bass began promoting D&B events at Soho venue The Borderline, and now he's come full circle. Solo for the first time in his production career, Jimmy went to ground between 2014-2016 and studied the craft he's been following as a collector and fan for over 20 years.
Since re-emerging in March, he's drip-fed the genre with consistent slew of cuts every six weeks. Ranging from the skank-packed ragga jump-up of Ramm Out to the Bingo-style organ slapper War Dem, Beats Assassins' output this year is the sound of a man in his element, exploring a genre that perhaps he should have jumped into right back at the start.
With his final release of the year - To The Top - out next week, we caught up with Jimmy to find out more…
What took you so long?
"I didn't think the D&B scene would have me! I've spent the last two years in the studio working solidly on getting up to the right standard. I was really apprehensive because it's such an established scene and you can't fake it. But it's been going really well."
Did you consider a new alias?
"I spent ages thinking of new names, but all of them were shit. Friends asked me why set up a brand new project when you've already got an act with a fanbase? Most breaks fans love drum & bass anyway, it's not an illogical leap sound-wise. And existing followers and peers from breaks have been really supportive."
There are less walls between the genres than there were back in the breaks heyday. The internet and DJ technology have helped that.
"Money, too. Back in those days the walls were solid because running labels was a lucrative business. People were more select and conservative in their decisions. Less money means more creative risks are taken. People aren't threatened, they welcome opportunities and collaborations so much more now."
How did you earn a living when you were on studio lockdown, then?
"I'm a qualified dental technician. Before I started my life in music I'd qualified as a dental technician and I've always kept that going on the side. I always will - it keeps me grounded and secure. I can do this for love and not worry about making music to pay the bills."
I bet Mr Lenzie has passed on a few cheeky production tips…
"I've been working with him for years, so picked up so many skills from the off. I always knew at one point he'd go on to much bigger things. I enjoyed the ride while it lasted and soaked up as much as I could - technically and motivationally. And yeah, he gave me some great feedback when I made the switch to drum & bass, it was really encouraging."
The releases have been consistent since you came back - almost one a month. Are these the result of your studio incubation?
"Yeah, it's been one every six weeks and I've got a good wealth of material lined up. It took a long time to get to the stage I'm confident at but I've not forced things, I've let the tracks build up naturally. Now I can enjoy the momentum and keep putting out dancefloor tracks and reminding people I'm here."
The remixes are getting bigger, too…
"Yeah, it's been great to have Trei and DJ Rap working with us. MOFO is an unknown quantity in drum & bass so having respected names remixing is a way of letting people know what we do. I've always loved A&R'ing remixes. Doing research and really working out the right person from another genre or subgenre who will complement what's been done. I'd never get heaps of remixes on spec, I do my work and pay outright for one fucking amazing one."
Proper A&R. There's an old school DIY mentality about you – you've run nights, had a fanzine, set up a label. How do you fulfil that need for extra-curricular activity in the digital age?
"You're right. Whatever I'm involved in, I'm all or nothing. I'm not about knocking up tracks and putting them out blindly on Soundcloud. I want wicked visuals, the best possible remix, maybe vinyl units. I've been in total studio hibernation for two years working solidly on getting to this level. I've never worked harder than this. Why go in half-arsed?"
To The Top is out on 14 November on MOFO Records