With their new ‘Joy/Theme’ EP about to drop, we spoke with Birmingham’s answer to Underground Resistance…
Production collective Bruise made a huge impact last year, with their anthemic Grand Hi turning up in many DJs' end-of-year charts as well as being included in The Guardian’s best of 2020 list. Grand Hi was the standout jam on their deep five-track Presentation EP, a collection of Detroit-flavoured underground house that was simultaneously retro and future-facing.
They’ve also turned in a huge piano-drenched remix of Lady Blackbird’s Collage, a re-rub that could easily have been a club anthem if only clubs were open. The Bruise remixes of Terri Walker & Raf Rundell’s Always Fly and their take on Buoyancy by Petals In Sound were similarly euphoric, mixing that stately Detroit sound with an almost jazz-funk sensibility. It’s a small but, to date, perfectly formed back catalogue, and one that's just itching for a set of warehouse walls to bounce off.
The precise identity of Bruise has been, if not a closely guarded secret, then not exactly common knowledge. This is down to Bruise being a loose collective based around producer Christian Campbell (AKA Sona Vabos), and styled on Detroit’s Underground Resistance. Much of their output to date has been by Campbell and Darren House (better known as Diesel from X-Press 2 and The Ballistic Brothers), but Campbell plans for Bruise to be "an ever-evolving collective that brings in like-minded artists and creatives".
Bruise are about to release a two-track EP on Ross Allen’s Foundation label, a killer double-header called Joy/Theme, so we thought now would be a good time to have a talk with Christian about the Bruise vision…
First of all, please can you tell our readers who you are and what you do?
“Hello, I’m Christian Campbell and I head up the electronic music collective Bruise. I’m like a Brummie version of Mad Mike Banks from Underground Resistance! I’ve made music for as long as I can remember but my first commercial release was under the moniker Sona Vabos. The first EP was on Norman Cook's Southern Fried Records and I had some singles on Snatch and Main Course and a load of remixes for various artists.”
When did the Bruise story begin?
“The first ever Bruise release was back in 2015, and was a remix of a track for James Kumo called Believe (on K Music). It’s something I produced with Darren House aka Diesel who I met through work at PRS For Music. We both are really into tracks that reference that classic Detroit sound, and so have collaborated on and off for a few years.
“The first EP came about from a series of tracks I wrote that were all quite different but collectively had a nod to Detroit. Diesel sent the EP to his mate Nick Williams from Phonica Records, who was thankfully into the sound and eventually released it on his Meda Fury label.”
Tell us about the ‘collective’ aspect of Bruise…
“Who’s involved really depends on the time and what the track is, be it an original Bruise release or a remix. The initial Bruise release involved myself writing the music and producing the beats, and Diesel in an executive producer role providing feedback on the sound and arrangement. The most recent release, Joy/Theme on Foundation Records, is a solo production, but the plan is for Bruise to be an ever-evolving collective that brings in like-minded artists and creatives.
Grand Hi has been your biggest tune to date – tell us how you put it together?
“Grand Hi was one of those occasions where something came together really quickly. The main hook of the track was written in a couple of hours. I had a cool flanging percussion loop that I had created for a totally different track which ended up working really well under the main riff and gave the track its vibe. Then I added the main string melody from a really nice Kontakt patch called ‘Solo String’ which I layered and processed with a lot of saturation. And finally, I sustained the chords from the main piano riff and played on a synth patch from Xpand 2 and added some more strings to make the main breakdown and it was then pretty much done.
“Fun fact: the track was originally simply called Grand, in reference to the main piano sound, but due to the mastering settings, one of the demo files read as Grand Hi which Nick at Meda Fury thought was a much better name so it stuck.
So what’s the Bruise creative process? How do you begin when you start on a new track?
“Other than when working on a remix, initially there tends to be no clear objective of what is going to be created or any intent to make a certain sound. The music-making process always starts with a blank slate and maybe some ideas will evolve from a particular sample or instrument. I guess now the Bruise sound is beginning to get established, I naturally gravitate to starting the writing process with some piano, strings and maybe a choir or two!”
How do you know when a tune’s finished?
“I often get asked this and to be honest it is a really hard question to answer. For me, when you get to the stage you have a groove that maintains your interest over five minutes, and you find your head and foot is tapping throughout, then you know you’re close to a finished track.”
Tell us about the Bruise studio and where the magic happens?
“I’ve got a really nice home studio at the bottom of my garden. I work mostly in the box, using a lot of the Arturia and Native Instrument products with an ever-growing collection of found sounds on my hard drive. Everything is put together in Ableton Live on an ageing MacBook Pro, with Push 2, Maschine and Maschine Jam used to build the groove at the start of most tracks.
“But I’ve now started to get a few bits of hardware, with a Polyend Tracker and Behringer's 808 and 303 clones. So sometimes I'll jam on these, record the audio into Ableton and then splice away!”
You've only released a few tracks and remixes but already there feels like there’s a very clear direction and a particular flavour. Would you agree?
“While the initial EP had a few varying styles and sonics, I think Grand Hi and the Lady Blackbird remix have helped to cement the sound of Bruise as raw grooves with a big focus on pianos and strings. But I think while future records will still lean heavily on this sound like Joy does, Bruise is also going to explore a few other directions sonically – as on Theme."
How would you describe the music of Bruise?
“Dusty electronic soul from London with some stolen Motor City DNA.”
Tell us about the musical influences that go into your productions…
“Most things I listen to probably have some influence, big or small, on the creative process. Whether the influence is apparent in the tracks is another thing, but I’ve always admired the sonics and production skills of artists like Amon Tobin, Future Sound of London, Jamie XX, Burial, Moodymann, Theo Parrish, Titeknots, SAULT etc.
“I also love the radio and shows such as Benji B and Gilles Peterson or Ross Allen on NTS – all constantly uncover influential records, so I think this, on some level, oozes into the consciousness when producing.”
And is there a particular record, producer, or sound that you aspire to with Bruise?
“As I say, there is no real plan when producing, but initially the Bruise sound was most inspired by the Belleville Three and Underground Resistance.”
Theme, to me, is a unique sounding record: it has hints of rave and UKG as well as techno, but all presented in a very contemporary format. How did that one come together?
“The genesis of the track goes back a few years, when I first made the hook from a cut-up break playing under the main arpeggiated synth riff. It then sat on my hard drive for a while doing nothing, but reappeared when talking to Foundation about putting out some original music. I sent the label a load of demos for consideration and Ross Allen really liked Theme and suggested a couple of ways I could turn the demo into a finished track. So that's maybe why you’re hearing the mix of the old and new.”
And Joy is a HUGE tune – but isn't it hard to turn out dancefloor bangers like that during a global pandemic, when we’ve all been away from clubs for so long?
“I love making music and it’s something I do all the time, so the fact that the clubs are all closed was never going to stop that process. Plus, the inspiration of Joy was to write a celebratory record to play out when everything goes back to normal, so the absence of any nightlife was if anything a big inspiration to make a big old banger.”
What’s the Bruise story in a single sentence?
“Music that punches.”
And finally, what plans do Bruise have for the rest of this year?
“More music, more remixes and hopefully some live gigs.”
Words: Harold Heath
Joy/Theme is out now on Foundation Records and via Bandcamp