With the breaks maestros back in full effect for 2016, we catch up with Lee Rous to discover the secrets of their return to form
Plump DJs are back!
Well, we say back... technically, they never went away. The London duo have steadily delivered at least two releases a year on their own Grand Hotel imprint, and have always maintained a busy international DJ schedule. But in comparison to the heady days of the 00s, when they took the then-burgeoning breaks scene around the world and held down a legendary residency at fabric, their name hasn’t been quite so dominant.
Until this year. Since last December’s star-gazing Spheres, there’s been a new energy, drive and sonic consistency to the veteran bass-hounds who first gatecrashed the dancefloor psyche with Chunky Plumps in 1999, delivered four of the breakbeat genre’s most noteworthy, time-tested albums and set the scene’s production benchmark.
There have been more releases, for a start: January’s IOU One, March’s Yes Yes and next month’s Lose Your Mind, all delivered on the Stanton Warriors' fast-rising Punks imprint. There have also been key performances. such as the 20,000+ crowd that gathered to witness them close down the notorious Arcadia spider at Glastonbury with the Stantons. Perhaps most pertinently, though, they’re making breaks again. Proper broken, strong-arm breakbeats that hit as hard as Scram, Creepshow and System Addict did in the last decade.
If anything, they hit harder. As house, techno, dubstep, trap and many other genres apply a little broken beat spice to the mix, and labels such as Punks drive a new busted-drum energy into bass music, Lee Rous and Andy Gardner’s return to breakbeat couldn’t be more timely. And with five years' experience exploring other genres themselves, they’ve found they’re in an ideal position to get stuck in and push the new breakbeat sound with a vision and attitude they felt they’d lost for several years.
We caught up with Lee to find out more...
It feels like you’ve found your groove again...
"Yeah, we’ve found the breakbeats again! We were moving more towards house, tech-house and electro for a few years, but we’ve been really inspired by what’s happening musically the last few years. You’ve got guys like Special Request and all the new artists coming through on labels like Punks, and sounds that very reminiscent of the early Bingo Beats stuff we were enjoying 15 years ago. It’s all really inspiring and driven us to experiment with the beats again."
Yeah, 2016 will go down as a bit of a shit year for lots of reasons, but musically we’ve had a banger...
"We have. And what’s really similar to those early days when we first came through is the way you can dig through lots of different genres and find weird little experimental b-sides and remixes on that breakbeat tip. Our Elastic Breaks mix CD was a hotch-potch from all over the place in this sense, and it’s that thing of bringing all these genres together which has helped us form a sound. We’re doing that again: our next track Lose Your Mind has an even heavier, rougher vibe, for example, which has been inspired by the family we’ve found ourselves working with."
Ah yes, Punks. I was never sure, back in the day, if you guys and the Stantons were rivals. As in, not the friendly kind...
"Ha! Never - we’ve been mates since putting on breakdance parties in the late 90s. The only difference between us is the sound - Dom and Mark have had this amazing consistency since day one and I think we’ve been a little broader and had a less consistent musical path."I disagree. The Stantons’ cornerstone has always been UKG, where yours has always been funk and disco. I could list many classic reference points your productions have given me when I’ve researched the samples.
"Okay, yeah. I’ve never tried to define what the main link in our music has been and I’ve often described it as house! But house is rooted in disco anyway. Plus our disco vinyl collection is much bigger than any other section and we’ve sampled shit loads of them, too."
You’ve always had a strong sense of samplecraft. Do you still sample now, or do you keep your noses clean copyright-wise?
"Actually, I’m surprised more people aren’t sampling now. It seems that now, if your track does okay on download stores but isn’t on any big compilations or getting sync’d for films or any of that, then no one cares. There’s so little money in releases now that people can’t be bothered to sue you! I mean it’s good that people are making their own original material - that has to be good for the depth and penetration of electronic music. But sampling is an artform in itself - a sample can inspire a whole new tune and lead people to the original source."
Sampling is only a small characteristic of your signature, though. The production has always been heavyweight.
"Thanks! Andy’s mixdowns are fantastic, aren’t they? We write and arrange everything together, then I bugger off and leave him to it, then I come back with a fresh pair of ears. That’s the reason those records sounded in that way: Andy’s mixdown and the level of detail throughout the process."
You’ve been updating a lot of your classic tracks. Was much work needed to stand up again modern productions?
"Shitloads, mate! The sonic range is much larger nowadays, systems are capable of playing much larger sounds and everything about the tracks just needed brightening and beefing up. They’re also pretty long, at around seven minutes rather than the standard four minutes most tracks are today, so we chopped them a down a bit. We’ve got them ready for any classics nights, or for a few cheeky classics at the end of our sets. It’s always nice to come back to those formative tracks and see 20-odd year old records still ripping up dancefloors or fields like Glastonbury."
Speaking of which, your Arcadia closing show at Glastonbury was the stuff of legend...
"What was really exciting about that was the fact that 60 per cent of the tracks we played we brand new and unheard. Seeing the results on tracks that have yet to be released really fills you with confidence and drives you to keep on experimenting and doing your own thing."
It sounds like you lost that confidence at some point?
"We did. As an artist you go through these periods. Sometimes you’re incredibly inspired and motivated, other times you’re not. Sometimes you’re hot, other times you’re cold. Of course there have been times when we’re less confident, most recently a few years ago. We tried a few different sounds and felt a little disenfranchised with it. Plus the breakbeat scene we’d been part of fell apart.
"So we explored the housier sound and, during that time, the EDM thing was beginning to emerge which we experienced first-hand in America on tour. The heavier 4/4 sound that was happening there at the time was inspiring and we wanted to put our own stamp on it. Looking back, some of that wasn’t quite as focused or directed as it could have been. But that’s the beauty of the journey – we don’t regret any decisions we’ve made because we’re here now and more excited than we’ve been in at least 10 years maybe more."
That brings me neatly to my next question. Take us back to that time, and fabric in particular...
"Gladly. I’ve been reluctant to add to the fabric bandwagon of comments because everyone has felt obliged to say something, but I can say this on record here: fabric made our career. We have such a close relationship with that club and the guys who built it. It’s been tough to see all that ludicrous disinformation flying around about the venue.
"We saw how well the place was run, and how they prioritised safety over everything else. It was a shining example on how a club should be run. I’m bemused that they’ve used that as a scapegoat to make the area more money from a shopping centre. If the government cared about the health and safety of youngsters in London, they wouldn’t shut fabric down."
Any particularly special memories?
"Our first Room 1 gig was really special - we stepped in at the last minute to play after Fatboy Slim. We’re very close friends with the guys at fabric but we weren’t allowed to just swan in and take a residency, even when our music was doing well internationally. We had to earn that. Then suddenly we’re playing after one of our musical heroes. I remember holding an acetate of Scram in my shaky hands and playing it for the first time. It kicked off and the rest is history!"
Didn’t Scram have a sample of bacon frying in it?
"No, that was In Stereo. It needed a little white noise rising and that was the closest thing we could find to sample. I’m trying to think of another fabric memory… Chemical Brothers playing The Push was a great moment. This was before we’d played there. I was there having a great party with my girlfriend at the time, they played The Push and I nearly imploded. I was running around headbutting the walls in joy!"
Finally... you’ve done some really solid albums over the years. Reckon we’ll ever see another one?
"Who knows? We titled Headthrash that way for a reason. You spend so much time on something but the music moves so quickly you have no idea whether it will still be relevant. So for us now we’re so inspired that we want to keep the momentum, keep things fresh and just concentrate on a steady flow of tracks that excite us. We’re not in the headspace you need for an album. We’re much happier being in the thick of it - releasing, remixing, touring and remembering what really drove us in the first place. Watch this space..."
Words: Dave Jenkins
Lose Your Mind is out on 14 November on Punks