As Viper drop 'The Sound Of Drum & Bass 2016', label boss Futurebound picks his Top 10 producers to watch
The sound of drum & bass 2016? That's easy to say, but much harder to actually define.
Behind the current dominance of all things dark, techy and neuro there's the woozy, seasick suckerpunch of half-time, the soulful, rolling consistency of liquid, a heavy presence of classic jungle rudiments, a devil-may-care attitude to tempos and a ridiculously big jump-up scene that plays by its own rules and doesn't seem to care what's going on elsewhere.
The chart-busting spree of the last five years continues, ensuring more prominent positions at larger events and capturing the attention of a whole new generation of fans. And this year has seen a wealth of originators and oldee statesmen returning to remind us of the scene's 25-year-deep roots - the likes of Bad Company UK, Full Cycle, Commix, Pendulum and J Majik.
The scene has never been so consistently exciting internationally, either. Holland is currently running things from north (Liquicity) to south (Noisia), America has never delivered such a solid slew of acts from deep (Submorphics) to dangerous (Sinistarr) while our eastern Europe counterparts dominate the tech side of the game to such a degree that the Czech Republic has been home to the world's first D&B-only festival for over 10 years (Let It Roll)
It's safe to say that drum & bass is in an exciting state of creative flux around the world. And that's before we start detailing the many artists and labels right across the scene carving sounds that are much more unique and creative than any catch-all feature openers can possibly represent.
To capture and articulate the genre's current diversity in one album is therefore a tricky challenge, but UK label Viper has risen to that challenge once again. With the second in what's shaping up to be an annual series of densely-packed year-igniters, Futurebound's 11-year-old label has bulldozed into 2016 with a collection that does well to tick the genre's many boxes: The Sound Of Drum & Bass 2016. Easy to say, harder to actually listen to without leaping around the room pulling so many gun-fingers your digits might just fall off.
With 29 tracks from artists who hail from Peckham to Perth, the sounds in question range from electrified tech (Mob Tactics' Return Of The Snitch) to startlingly emotional euphoria (Koven's One's Own) by way of epic arena-melting bangers (Killer Hertz'sAll Out), slippery synth funk (Dossa & Locuzzed's Bad) deep, soulful steppers (Insomniax's Do You Remember) and everything between.
Licensing key tracks that helped to define the last 12 months (Rene LaVice's remix of The Prodigy's Rebel Radio and Noisia & The Upbeats' jaw-breaking Dead Limit), digging deep into their own pre-2015 vault (Maduk's Life, ShockOne's Universes) and securing exclusives from exciting new artists, The Sound Of Drum & Bass 2016 reflects the genre's dizzying trends and tendrils while compounding the label's own distinctive hype-sizzled, festival-firing signature. They're even playing a role in this year's aforesaid forefather takeover bid, with the first release from J Majik in over three years, Drop It.
“It's funny,” laughs a jetlagged Futurebound when we Skype him in his Tokyo hotel room. “I used to release music on his label, now he's releasing music on mine! Like me, he was into this scene before it was drum & bass. He's given his entire adult life to the scene. So he took a break for a while to recharge his creative batteries and he's come back with some absolute belters. He's sending me tracks every week. This won't be the last time you see his legendary name on Viper!”
Old-skool heroes aside, The Sound Of Drum & Bass 2016's biggest coup is the sheer amount of next-generation talent. Some names should already be on any D&B fan's radar (LoKo, BMotion, Toronto Is Broken), other names potentially aren't.... yet. Either way, they're the key to any scene's on-going development and vitality: new guns will ensure the scene's exciting creative state of flux continues for years to come. From Futurebound's perspective, it's about identifying, signing and nurturing the ones who'll last those years.
“I never like to rush things with people,” he explains. “I like to see where people's heads are at and get to know them before I work with them. They can be the most technically gifted person in the world but I need to hear creativity and I need to know what their work ethic is like. I'm very honest with every artist: I tell them Viper can take them to wherever they want to go, but they need to give it their all. They need to go to bed thinking about music and wake up thinking about music, just like us.”
So these are the guys who are giving their all right now. From the sound of drum & bass to the sound of the future, get acquainted with 10 names Futurebound believes will help to ensure D&B's current super-fit health diagnosis stands for the foreseeable...
10 Viper talents taking D&B into the future
“BMotion signed with us 18 months ago; since then, he's become a firm member of the Viper family. He sent through his first track Something Something quite randomly on the day I was playing Glastonbury, and it ripped Glastonbury to bits! I wanted to sign him on the spot but asked for more tracks just to see if this was a fluke. Then he sent me Bear Hug! Done deal. He's great guy, very humble but so musically talented; he's a guitarist and a drummer as well as a killer producer who can smash different styles at the flick of the wrist.”
“We signed Cynematic a while ago and they've released some great tracks with us so far. They're brothers from Russia. They do this real out-there, uplifting, hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck thing which really works for me. They also have a lot of power in their drops. Perfect combination and a real no-brainer for Viper. Their sound ticks all the boxes.”
Dossa & Locuzzed
“Two relatively new guys from Austria. The most exciting times are when you have that fusion of ideas and styles; whether it's jump-up or tech or the deeper stuff, the best moments usually happen in-between. That's exactly what Dossa and Locuzzed are doing. They've got a really fresh sound. The scene is very dark and neuro and techy at the moment - which is great, I love all that stuff - but you need balance and variety to keep things exciting so it's a great time to support fresh sounds and styles like these.”
Ekko & Sidetrack
“Another act who've been bubbling away with Viper for a while now, Ekko & Sidetrack are from Perth, one of the most isolated cities on the planet that continually delivers seriously top notch producers: ShockOne who signed to Viper, Pendulum of course, Spekktrum who's on Technique. Now these guys. They had their debut single with us last October, it went down incredibly well and there's already a new single loaded for the near future. A seriously hot prospect.”
“I'm always looking for something a bit left-of-centre. It's something I say to the guys who check the demos before sending me the best ones: if there's one grain of specialness or something different – even if it sounds unfinished or isn't produced as well as it could be – I need to be aware of it. This was the case with Insomniax - we actually signed them two years ago. They've been honing their sound but I knew I was going to like them when I checked their very early demos. They had a sort of Bad Company/Ram Trilogy sound and it really struck a chord. So we gave them help with their production skills and it's paid off.”
“I can't tell you who they are, but these guys have actually been around for a while as solo acts. Their work as Killer Hertz is just a whole new level, though - All Out is the tip of the iceberg. I'm over the moon they've presented us with their tracks, because they've got some serious heavyweight music in store.”
“LoKo came through a while ago and caught my ear instantly. He's worked with us since appearing on our album ‘Summer Slammers 2014' and I love the really big vibe about his productions. I'm notorious for going back and forth with our artists, helping them get their tracks to the best possible standards. It pays off: we've got some serious sounds in store from LoKo dropping soon.”
"Two guys from Holland. I don't know what's in the water over there but the vibe is electric and the sheer amount of talent is insane. These guys alongside the likes of T & Sugah, Maduk, Nymfo and some new guys by the name of Noisia are really killing it. Any great scene in any part of the world has to have certain ingredients in place: great parties, great DJs and great producers, all in the right place at the same time. Amsterdam especially has all those components in place right now."
“This Bristol-based producer came through on last year's Sound Of Drum & Bass album. With Viper, I like to spread the styles. I know we've got our own sound that people identify with, but I love all styles and love to mix it up. The only thing that should be consistent is quality. So when this came through I was all over it; Octo-Pi's got this old school jungle vibe with his basslines, mixed with a touch of Calibre in there as well. A very exciting producer and I can't wait to hear more from him.”
Toronto Is Broken
“Another guy I've been watching for a while. He's a top guy, his technical skills get better all the time and he's very versatile. He also featured on the first edition of Sound Of Drum & Bass. It got a lot of love from DJs across the scene so I was excited to hear his next batch of music. He's got a really cool sound. Zero One has got a kind of neuro vibe but with some classic tech-step elements. Really fresh. We've got a single from him coming very soon.”
Words: Dave Jenkins
Tags: D&B, drum & bass, drum n' bass, jungle, Futurebound, Viper Recordings, J Majik, Bad Company UK, Full Cycle, Mob Tactics, Koven, Killer Hertz, Dossa & Locuzzed, Insomniax, Rene LaVice, The Prodigy, ShockOne, Maduk, LoKo, BMotion, Toronto Is Broken, Cynematic, Ekko & Sidetrack, NCT, Octo-Pi, Commix, Pendulum, Submorphics, Sinistarr, Let It Roll, Liquicity, liquid, neuro, tech-step, halftime