Features I by I 09.07.16

Drum & bass pioneer dBridge traces his musical evolution

dBridge is one of electronic music’s greats, influencing generations with his pioneering drum and bass productions. Laurent Fintoni talks to the producer about the most important moments of his 23-year career.

Even if he might not admit to it, Darren White is an institution in British dance music. A quiet giant of the game, White has been a driving force in two generations of drum and bass under the name dBridge, first as part of Bad Company in the early ‘00s, then with the Autonomic trio later in the decade, and today with his own Exit Records, where he nurtures new talent and continues to collaborate.

Beyond drum and bass, White has also been a singer, produced for his brother, Steve Spacek, turning his hand to soulful beats and electronic-minded hip-hop, and written for other artists within dance music, including Martyn and Jon Convex.

Speaking from his current home in Antwerp, White takes a trip down memory lane to recall the most important releases from the past 20 years and how they’ve helped shape his sound and approach.

dBridge will be playing at this year’s Dour Festival in Belgium on July 13-15. For more information and tickets head to the Dour website.

The Sewer Monsters
(Self-released, 1993)

“The first record I did. I went to college and studied computers. I could write computer languages at the time, so I understood them. Programs like Cubase, on the Atari, weren’t alien to me. I moved in with Steve [Spacek] and lived on his floor for two years. He’d just got a publishing deal and bought a lot of equipment, that’s when we started making all this stuff.

“Moving to London, I was surrounded by all this emerging dance music. Steve took me to Lazerdrome in Peckham, Roast at Astoria, and a thing in Lea Valley called Desert Storm. This was early days of jungle, coming out of hardcore. But then we also lived two roads away from Saxon Sound, reggae all-dayers down at Brockwell Park. That seeped through into what we did. Steve and our flatmate Frank were dreads. We also listened to the early ‘90s electronica, stuff on Warp. It was all rubbing off on me.

“The track ‘R2D2’ was my attempt at hardcore, it’s awful. The other tracks on there had 4/4 drum patterns going on, about 145bpm. This was at a time when labels were coming out of the jungle scene so we borrowed some money to press it up, 500 copies, but it didn’t sell very well and the guy we owed money to wasn’t happy. It got a little messy. As fucked up as it was in some respects it set me on this path.

“Growing up in the ‘90s, I was on the dole, couldn’t be bothered with getting a job. Smoking weed, being apathetic. But then I found music and the government was paying my way to allow me to keep doing it. I couldn’t afford any gear so it was an ongoing search for places where I could make music. Steve went to work on the Curvatia album and I linked up with Lennie De Ice and used his studio.”

M.C. I.D featuring De-Ice & D-Bridge
‘Rare And Jazzy’ / ‘Crash Test No.2’
(Armshouse, 1994)

“‘Crash Test No.2’ was another step telling me I should be doing this. I heard it played at Lazerdrome. It got a rewind and it literally blew my mind. Seeing all these people go batshit to something I made was an affirmation. I liked this feeling.

“This is the first release under D-Bridge. My full name at the time was D-Bridge Flipski, don’t ask why. I was also in Dubb Hustlers, a crew with Lennie De Ice and GMC Blood. East London, Leystonstone, where Lennie was from. Timmi Magic was around then too. I did the artwork for the Dubb Hustlers Poison EP and it says The Sewage Monsters on the label, which was the original name. The first release [mentioned above] says The Sewer Monsters ‘cos we got the wrong stamp done. Typical, ‘90s and weed for you.

“It was fun hanging around with Lennie. He was a character. They [Lennie, Timmi] used to run the stage at the Notting Hill Carnival, I think it might have been the All Saints stage, and that’s when I met them. I’d get my bus pass with my dole, go to Leytonstone, and spend my day in Lennie’s studio with Gary, GMC Blood. I was still really green, just a little kid in the corner. One thing I remember from then though was Navigator, Grooverider, and Hype coming to the house and feeling like I was let into this inner circle. This was from 1993 to late 1995, when I moved to Trouble on Vinyl.”

Future Forces
‘Dead By Dawn’ / ‘Point Of Origin’
(Renegade Hardware, 1996)

“Jason Maldini was already working at Trouble on Vinyl out of their place on Wandsworth Road. I spent time upstairs finding my feet before we were allowed to use the big studio downstairs. Jason and I were influenced by the Blue Note parties, going there pretty much every Sunday. A split was happening in the music – you had ‘intelligent’ with LTJ Bukem and then the jump-up with TOV. We convinced Clayton to start Renegade Hardware to fit in the middle. And again, I designed that logo too!

“This 12” felt like another moment in my career because it came at this specific time. People were more established and these mini-beefs were happening, splits. Before, everything would get played in the same raves. Things got more segregated. ‘Dead By Dawn’ was picked up by Grooverider, Randall, and also Hype. For us it was sick, we’d made a tune that both sides of the scene liked. We were still finding our production feet and that 12” made people take notice.

“I began DJing around that time too. 1997, in Norway. I never really saw myself as a DJ and in some ways still don’t. I have a lot of respect for the art but it used to scare the shit out of me. The fear of clanging! There’s a picture of me playing at The End back then with an absolute look of dread on my face.”

Bad Company
Inside The Machine
(BC Recordings, 2000)

“Future Forces led to Bad Company. Dan Fresh and Michael Vegas had been hanging around the TOV studio. Then on April 22, 1998, Black Thursday, we all left Renegade Hardware. They tried to sign us all with this deal and we said no. It was sign or leave, so we left. It was nerve-wracking at the time. We had the security of working with a crew and I still didn’t have any equipment of my own. ‘Shit, how do I keep doing this?’ I’d just started DJing and the money was going on weed and trainers.

“In the summer of 1998 we began writing music together. We set up BC Recordings and ‘The Nine’ came out December 1998. After summer we wrote Inside The Machine. That album came out of nowhere, we did it all ourselves. Jason and I designed the logo. Thinking about it, I could have had another career! Dan and I did the artwork, really shabby early Photoshop stuff. That was a fun time. We were at Dan’s parents house, it was almost like a holiday, hanging out and writing music. And before we knew it this thing came together. It all felt easy, four of us in the studio. It got harder later on. Inside The Machine was a mixture of all of us, there was never a rule that it should be the four of us producing at the same time but we all had to be in it and we were all involved in some aspect.

“We felt like the music was becoming stripped back again. The energy had gone and we wanted to bring it back. We had all these little mantras: bring the energy back into the raves; we don’t want to go overground, we wanna make the underground bigger. All that kind of idealistic dumb shit. The album led us to two years of touring the world but a lot of people hated us.

“The stand out track is ‘Nitrous’, obviously, the sheer relentlessness of it. I was always a big fan of ‘Trick of The Light’, it had the highest hi-hat in the world. We really didn’t know what we were doing in some respect but the groove’s there. We were using outboard, MIDI, and Cubase so a lot of it isn’t super tight despite it being electronic. It had a looseness that gave it a feel. It’s a weird little form of unquantise. If you remake it now it doesn’t sound the same. That’s why I’ve got the old equipment out to try and replicate this feeling recently. The naivety and rawness adds to the beauty of it.”

Vintage Hi-Tech
(Studio !K7, 2003)

“After all the BC stuff happened I started to get a little disillusioned with what was going on. I needed a break. And every time I’ve needed a break I would go hang out with my brother. He was writing Vintage Hi-Tech and I helped out. I wrote ‘La Bougie’, which is a duet with Mpho Skeef, and also did ‘Motion Control’ but got left off the credits.

“I liked that I could take what I knew from D&B and try to incorporate it into what Steve was doing. Nothing direct, but taking what I had learnt from samplers and computers and then getting my head around musicality, being able to write, watching how Steve, Morgan, and Ed put songs together.

“Being a part of that album was a real big deal for me. It definitely influenced what I ended up doing with Exit Records. Throughout my career Steve has always been my biggest influence. I lived with him again around that time. He introduced me to J Dilla, he was getting all these beat CDs and the shit was blowing my mind. Driving around with him and Morgan and hearing all these beats. Early Sa-Ra beat CDs too. They came to a couple of parties at Plastic People and I met them in the studio in Battersea where we were writing. They were badass. I sampled one of their old beat CDs recently. Just a bad sound. At the time I was also really getting into Herbert, Hefner, and Kyoto Jazz Massive.”

D-Bridge & Vegas
‘Bellini’ / ‘True Romance’
(Metalheadz Platinum, 2004)

“It was always about ‘Bellini’ for me, that was the song Goldie lost his shit over. But then ‘True Romance’ is the one a lot of people mention. It came together quite quickly. I’d come back from Fabio’s night at The End and there was a guy there called Marlon who quoted this phrase ‘aggressively beautiful’. I pinched it from him. That pretty much summed me up. With Steve I did all this beautiful stuff and with BC I’d done all this aggressive stuff. I was trying to find a way to meld the two together and I’m still trying to do that, contrast of light and dark.

“‘Bellini’ was a bit of a love song for my missus at the time. ‘True Romance’ was just something we had for the B-side. It was an important release after the split of BC because, again, I was in this sort of limbo. Thankfully I’d bought some equipment by then. I was wondering what I wanted to do. I didn’t really feel the music in the side of the rave I was coming from. I felt more of a connection with what was happening with Creative Source and Calibre, probably because of working with Steve and the soul in his music.

“This release helped cement me as someone who can make different styles. Fresh had left BC by this point and I was still working with Maldini and Vegas. They wanted the 12” to go out under the name BC and I said no. Vegas helped me so he had his name on there but that was it. It caused problems at the time but I felt I needed to get out on my own.”

Steve Spacek
Space Shift
(Sound In Color, 2005)

“Steve, again. I produced ‘The Hills’ for this album. This is a bucket list one. Knowing I was on the same album as Dilla, a little personal moment, yes! I remember seeing him down at Plastic, he put on his remix of ‘Eve’ and the whole place went batshit. He’s a massive influence. Also all these other people on the album like Leon Ware and Morgan.”

Black Pocket
Steve Spacek Presents Black Pocket The Album
(Exit Records, 2007)

“In the early 2000s we did a night called Istickz influenced by Charlie Dark and his Blackatronica party at the ICA. Istickz was raw: get a record, take a lot of samples from it, stick them in the MPC, and put that in the middle of Plastic People and invite people to jam. Big 808 on one of the banks so people could play a bassline.

“Morgan [Zarate] would play, I would DJ, Jay Scarlett too, and Steve would plug in whatever he had at the time. Mpho Skeef came down, Abby from Soul Jazz, Charlie Dark. We did one on the last night before the smoking ban, that was really good. Fatima came out of nowhere from the crowd and sang. And Hudson Mohawke played too. He paid for his own flight and I paid for his hotel. Steve was really into his stuff. He played a wicked set.

“Around the time of Spacek’s Vintage Hi-Tech album we also started a production crew under that name. Some tracks were being done but nothing finished, loops and ideas. Raw as fuck. All these grand plans that never came together. Some of Steve’s Black Pocket album came out of that. In fact at some point the night was called Blackpocket. I love that album. It was finished a few years before it came out, I had to convince Steve to do it. I’m proud that it’s the first album on Exit Records.”

‘These Words’ (ft. dBridge)
(3024, 2009)

“This is the first time I sang on a track. First time I’d written a song, done it all. I was absolutely shitting myself. When he told me, ‘I’m gonna put it on my album,’ oh my god! It was this weird, falsetto, high-pitched voice. I didn’t know if I could really sing, I’ve always had this self doubt in what I do. That release was a real confidence booster to pursue this aspect of making music. It added an extra string to what I do. I did one for King Midas Sound a few years later and something on Dark Sky’s album too.

“As electronic music producers we all have access to the same tools in some ways, the same palette of sounds, but the voice is uniquely yours. Calibre really gave me the confidence to sing when he started doing it. I’ve fallen off doing it. Also, when I sang I was in really shitty relationships so I think I need to be in a bad place for it too. My missus keeps asking when I’m gonna finish these new songs but I’m too happy!”

The Binary Collective
The Binary Collective
(Exit Records, 2015)

“I like working with other people. It’s ingrained in me: my brother, Lennie, Jason, Bad Company. Groups have always been a big part of my life. Damon [Kid Drama] and I have written a Heart Drive album. I need to pull my finger out and do my own now. I’ll get there eventually. The Autonomic era as a whole deserves an honourable mention, the podcast for me more than anything.

“Maybe it’s the mantras from the BC era, the things we used to tell ourselves. I just want to keep myself interested. I get bored easily. I’m always looking to learn and try new things. As a label too, I want to keep moving forward, finding things that interest me and taking risks on them cos a lot of the stuff I’ve put out hasn’t necessarily sold that well. But I’m happy with it. I think that’s how Exit has ended up being what it is, me finding people and being curious about what they do. And it’s always a bonus when someone tells me they like it cos I’m quite selfish, I do it for my own reasons.”

Read next: The 33 greatest soulful rollers in drum and bass



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