Naphta Interview from 'Slick DJ'
Great interview from July by Steve Tyranny, taken from the pages of Irish 'clubbing' mag 'Slick DJ' (the best thing in it is Tyranny's D+B reviews btw). In anticipation of the release of Naphta's 'Long Time Burning' album, Tyranny has kindly granted us permission to reproduce the unedited version here...
Tyranny: So... why can't you just do Source Direct knockoffs, like the rest of the bitter old Junglist crew?!
Naphta: Good question! I don’t know... I loved old Source Direct (although I used to love that kind of stuff more than I do now) but I also always loved hardcore and ruffneck Jungle, and unlike the London cru, the social implications of those choices were all similar from where I was standing: it was ALL great shit for me.
Being in Ireland we had that distance didn't we?
Yeah... ruffneck interlopers from the ragga scene bustin in on the dance just weren't an issue… [laughs]
It was all filtered across a sea and a different vista…
Yeah, the only ruffnecks bustin up the dance in Ireland preferred hard house, so allegiance to breakbeat / jungle music in Ireland was never really a class thing exactly, or a race thing. It was practically all white, all middle class... very safe... unfortunately! [laughs] But I do also remember buying the 2nd Photek Form & Function 12” on his own label (great record)… that was in ‘95 I think, and even at that early stage, although I did love it, I began to feel that the music was becoming more linear, more traditionally 'musical'... and that the beauty of hardcore and Jungle might be getting replaced by a new idea of what the form was. So for the longest time, I missed those vibes when DJing; and in my own productions, I've consciously tried to work back to what those influences were.
Did you feel it was a consequence of the scene waking up and feeling subconsciously that it had to compete with those Detroit notions of “self importance” and a more studied approach to their form, perhaps?
You mean the 'new' musical style as typified by those Photek 12”s?
Yeah, in awe of Detroit, rather than Chicago maybe – an important difference, as I think I discovered years later, when I found out about Ron Hardy, and the early jackin’ house stuff… I mean, when I first heard Ron Hardy mixtapes (only about a year or two ago) I literally couldn't BELIEVE them... the best and most “out there” dancefloor mixes I'd ever heard, for sheer ambition: second to none... playing to a mainly black and gay crowd at a time when it really wasn't cool to be either, and mixing old foot-stomping emotional classics with crazy shit like the very first 303 tunes. The sheer mix of styles and the range of what he was at just blew me away, and it seemed to be at its peak when it was still a mutant, still a mix of so many styles! Whereas the classical Detroit style always seemed to have aspirations BEYOND the dance (gallery exhibitions, yadda yadda), Chicago seemed down ‘n’ dirty - at least in the shape of Ron Hardy. And when you listen to old Foul Play, Omni Trio… it was always Chicago they were sampling, not Detroit!
You spoke of those Ron Hardy mixes capturing a form in its infancy… You called it a “mutant”. It’s that sense of the beauty of the nascent “Frankenstein” form, welded together by a Scientist – it’s really the core aesthetic of the practitioner of sample-based music, isn't it?
Well yes, it certainly is for me. I like to 'hear' samples, not to have them disguised necessarily - but today that goes against the Drum and Bass logic of trying to become assimilated by the music industry! 'Sampling' nowadays equates with “getting sued”! [laughs]
I read a critique of Calibre's music recently; someone was saying that whenever they heard a Calibre tune, all they could hear was his record collection - and they meant this in an AMBIVALENT way!
Well, I guess that's someone who has no understanding - not just of sampling but of DJing! I mean, a lot of people in dnb are still attached to the notion that musical 'progression' means playing 'real' instruments, or using minor chords in a certain style, or adhering to the same production rules as dictated by others... Obviously I think that these things only serve as creative limiters on any scene, and the more people wise up to that, the better shape dnb will be in! Having said that… a scene DOES need to have things in common too; as evidenced by drill n bass / IDM and its joyless lacklustre vibe, at least in comparison with Jungle at its height…
Ultimately, I guess I just took 93-94 Jungle as my creative yardstick - that era to me had the most potent vibes, vibes that I felt others might also be able to relate to. Some see that merely as an alternative form of creative re-hashing - at least I'm sure it's open to that accusation anyway... but if you’re going to pick a bubble of time to be influenced by, why not go for the best? [laughs]
Indeed! The other elements of the scene at large who seem to do so are those soap-less Neo ragga jungle producers that you find in Canada, the USA, Eastern Europe, that whole 180 bpm amen and ragga sample crew... how closely do you find yourself aligned to them? Do you identify with them at all?
I haven't really followed that music at all to be honest, so I'm pretty ignorant about it. I'm certainly not bothered with trying to talk like a yardie or with pretending that I'm a rasta, and my ambition as a Junglist is not to make the hardest/most insane Amen track either... so I dunno! (laughs) I'm down with any people who know there's more to Jungle than that. I do aim to slow Jungle down for sure, if I can.
What is "Jungle" to you, at it's core... Is it an attitude to sampling? Is it a tempo? Is it a culture?
Certainly not a tempo! An “attitude to sampling” would be a big part of it for sure… and an attitude to your audience: not treating them like fucking morons! Believing that they have a bit of suss, a bit of musical sophistication… believing that they desire a bit more in the dance than “bing bang boom wagga wagga wagga”... [laughs] But the slow stuff I've done for “Long Time Burning” also feels Junglistic to me… so I guess I'd like 'Jungle' to evolve into something a little more Reggae-like, where different tempos can be dropped, different styles can coexist etc. That would be cool.
Do you think the marginalisation of breakbeat in Ireland meant you had a charter to experiment by the very nature of your audience?
I don’t know, maybe! I was quite old when I got into the music, and it excited me so much that I went on a mission to convert people. But I never thought: “I’d better not play this track or that track because I need to break people in slowly"... [laughs] Inconsiderate of me, perhaps!
Whatever - it kind of set a pattern for me anyway. I kind of figured that if I could get it - on a tape, in my bedroom - then surely others could get it hearing it out loud? Plus there was no Jungle scene to speak of in Dublin, so when people like Don Rosco and myself started, we had to sort of make up our own rules about what might get heard and not get heard!
But do you not see that in the environment of the city that you were in - where Jungle was seen as something “alien” that people had to search out - that you automatically were blessed with an open-minded audience?
Ah ok, I get you now. Yeah, I can appreciate that for sure... But I never played any other sound, or went to Techno / House nights (a few, but not many) as a prelude to getting into breakbeats, so to me, it just seemed perfectly natural that people should care about it if they heard it! Because it was that good!! I suppose it’s like Warren K [veteran Irish techno DJ] said to me years ago - he was talking about how he used to love hardcore, but that people in Ireland just went more mental for the 4-to-the-floor stuff, so that's where he went! Same for loads of old Irish house DJs - they all abandoned the breakbeat ship before '93! [laughs] It just made sense for them as guys who were trying to make a living from DJing I guess…
The way Grooverider does now?
[laughs] Exactly! And nearly all of the rest of ‘em!
"As long as you lot keep dancing to it, we'll keep playing it!"
Yes! Load of rubbish of course… and when you read the shit those guys used to say back in the day, it seems like they're reading from a cue-card nowadays.
I know.... [laughs] I remember Grooverider saying "the only cheese I like is the cheese in my fridge!" I don't even know which of these smileys would best express the sheer irony of that...
Yes! [laughs] I really couldn't believe that rock and trance would become the two biggest influences on dnb: both were previously reviled by the dnb cognoscenti… I don’t know… I've got a lot of stick for it from certain quarters, but I can't actually believe that that the old school dnb originators cane that stuff for any reason other than fear of losing money. Either that or they all had lobotomies and forgot what they used to believe in. But I think there's a communal bond on this one, like: "If we all just say nothing and just pretend it's normal, we'll get away with it!" [laughs]
"Yeah mate, dnb 2007, still cutting-edge!!!"
Do you not get the sense that there are people still trying to carve out their own identity within fast sample-based breakbeat music though? Without being TOO arty-farty about it, or without being too self-consciously unimpressed with the output of their peers?
Well I've come across a few online recently, and obviously I do rate some dnb producers out there: Martyn, Martsman, Fanu, Macc, Fracture & Neptune... people like that. I recently came across a chap called The Law - not self-consciously old school, just doing his thing. But 'drumfunk' and 'choppage' for example are dangerously close to one-idea musical movements, so on their own, they aren't going anywhere. I mean, despite my abiding love for all things Foul Play / Omni Trio / L Double / Bay B Kane etc, by ‘99 I found myself in a position where it was Paradox alone who was singularly keeping me in drum and bass. But the more he found himself isolated, the more his resistance became centred on which breaks he used and on how he used them... An obvious point of difference around which to rally a resistance to the Bad Company inspired shit that was fouling up dnb I guess, but a real limiter on both what he was about and on what dnb as a whole might do if it wasn't stuck in its trance/rock-schlock rut. Paradox certainly got a lot of stick for being stuck on 'the breaks' and while sometimes I think it was justified (I have tunes of his from back then that are little more than programmed drum-solos), it should also be remembered that he had to almost single-handedly maintain musical integrity in dnb and keep alive the memory of what it could be. No easy task for one man on his own!
But I do think that adding Seba to the equation later on did succeed in balancing that out a good extent...
I remember your essay in the DEAF [Dublin Electronic Arts Festival) programme a few years ago where you wrote that you longed for Paradox to "temper his militancy with a more seductive approach"...
Yes indeed. Which is what he ultimately did, I think… So although I kinda lost track of exactly where he was at (as I stopped buying dnb a couple of years back), I do respect Paradox for digging in his heels and forcing the scene to pay attention - for interacting, rather than merely walking away like so many others in dnb who just got pissed off... and hopefully he'll continue to do that - once Twisted or some gang of dnb hoodlums don't gang-bang him first! [laughs]
Speaking of which:
And I think this is an important question, given that your "Soundclash” series were all such DANCEFLOOR tunes, why is it exactly that the current popular Jump up sound is unchallenged? Why is no-one apart from Photek trying to answer it on its own terms?
A few reasons I think. One is that anybody who wanted to do something that broke from contemporary dnb in the last 10 years has faced an ever-increasing ostracism from the Scene proper, so the dancefloor became almost off-limits to many of them - which of course is a terrible state of affairs for creativity in dnb. So, as many retreated to the margins (where there were few or no dancefloors to accommodate them), they kinda lost the dancefloor imperative, the functional aspiration. Also, many of the more interesting current dnb producers never experienced, say, the Blue Note at its height, so they have no experience of where form and function can really strike sparks off each other.
Do you not think that the "wobbly" Twisted Individual type sound was a huge breakaway from the angry Techno-rock of the likes of Bad Company?
Teh MOAR WOBBELZ
I guess it was swapping one hook for another...
It was also swapping one groove for another...
Sure, I can appreciate that some of that style has a rubbery groovy quality to it. It's just a shame that the beats are so fucking horrible.
A few of the records even have a rhythmical quality that's a lot cheekier than the nadir that Bad Company's "The Nine" represents to these ears.
Agreed. Overall, I'd sooner wobbel-sauce than pseudo-hard rock cheese. If I was still DJing dnb I'd probably have a bit of something wobbly in my bag... in fairness though, probably just some old skool ‘wobble’ - because it’s just so much better! I do think that anyone trying to stay with contemporary dnb in all its flavours has to dip a toe in wherever they can, combine tunes that only do one thing each and try to make the mix compensate for the lack of tunes that do both. ZT (Zero Tolerance) was saying as much to me some years back… how he played some records that were kinda shit but would try to mix them so fast he'd get the energy out of them anyway.
He's one of the only producers I can think of who has never stopped doing EVERYTHING. I think he's going to run out of labels to release on pretty soon!
He's a hard working little motherfucker that's for sure... actually he's not little at all! Sorry ZT! People always say that! Ha ha!
It always struck me as a wonderful approach - someone who never let a sub-genre of a genre get in the way of him seeing what it might feel like to try and accommodate it.
ZT's very good at finding a way to fit in, for sure.
Your early releases with him are still something quite special I think... I've never managed to make "Penny Drop" sound right with anything but I still think it's one of the best things to come out on Bassbin…
Haha yes... that is a funny old tune! I had no idea what I was doing, and ZT didn't have a whole lot more, so something quite unique was definitely produced! And yes, it’s a nightmare to mix, sorry! I much prefer 'Cat n Mouse' myself, more successful all round I think.
Haha, fuck the DJs - the DJs should say "thanks" for a challenge!
[in 'Rider voice] "Thanks for the challenge mate" Hahahahahaha! Yeah… we tried doing a few more things together but it just didn't work out. I think we both were heading different ways then and trying to find our own styles, so... that was that.
But ZT was good to work with insofar as he's very decisive, which is essential in the studio… Nothing harder than working with someone who changes their mind after an hour or two!
Do you ever listen to much breakcore?
No, I hardly listen to any music at all these days! Sadly. Droid fills me in on it occasionally, especially the ragga-influenced end. Some great skills alright, but not many vibes that I can relate to really.
How does that leave you as a musician whose output is BASED ENTIRELY on the reassembling of your musical knowledge and memory?
[laughs] Good question! Not in a healthy place, but I kinda figure that as I'm a little older, I have a couple more years on most people that I was able to milk from my musical past! I listened to a lot of very different shit before getting into producing and these two albums are probably nearly the sum total of a lot of that listening experience. It certainly feels like it!
I'm not sure where I stand in relation to music-making now to be honest, but I absolutely do feel the need to go away for a while and refuel my tanks - to suck up lots more musical juice, as it were... It can be off-putting though, certainly while working on music. I constantly get discouraged about my own work when I hear the simple brilliance of so much other music out there...
Is that where "Paradise Now" [Naphta's third album, due 2008] is coming from?
At the moment “Paradise Now” is really just an idea, although I'm starting off with something more of an actual concept than I had for the other two albums. At the moment I just need to find out how to 'energise' it, particularly as none of it is dnb or Jungle so far. Not that it necessarily needs a functional dance-music type undercarriage - it’s just that it's still only a chassis, and I've yet to locate the engine…
Do you think that it's going to be easier to locate an engine for it now that people worldwide are showing a willingness to dance to slower music? (Dubstep etc)
Shit, I really don’t know, maybe! Although I do have a mate prodding me to pay attention to the likes of Shackleton and Skull Disco, I'm really not sure which way my non-Jungle stuff is going to go yet. I like the stuff that I've heard from those guys in particular, but as regards Dubstep, while I'm kind of glad it exists, I'm not really THAT taken with what I've heard yet (which I do admit is limited). I’m glad it exists because it does open up an interesting area for wider consumption, for sure... But apart from Burial's LP, nothing I've heard has really moved me emotionally. I've admired it, but I haven’t got lost in it… yet.
One thing I noticed about "Paradise Now" is that the titles are overtly political... I'm intrigued that a musician with your articulacy and fervency concerning your music and all that surrounds it has never attached a similarly (arbitrary in the case of near 99% instrumental music) overt political subtext to your Jungle excursions. Is there a reason for this?
Hmmm, good point. Yeah, I've dabbled with doing similarly-themed stuff in a Jungle/dnb context and I just haven't been satisfied with the result. Unless you do full-vocal tracks, you can never get to grips with the subtleties of anything political in an instrumental context and thus you're kinda reduced to sloganeering using sound-bites... Not that I'm against that necessarily: my ideal would be to be able to make 'political' jump-up in a Jungle-style hehehe...! But at this point in time, there's about as much demand for that in the dnb industry as there is for a giant own-shit-eating session… so I guess I see more hope of dabbling in this area in a non-dnb-related context!
You could argue that the dnb industry has been caught up in a giant own-shit-eating session for the best part of a decade to be honest...!
I wouldn't argue! Either way, they evidently like the taste of it…
Even if the squelchy rubbery noise of it is leaving the likes of you to run away in search of tastier morsels elsewhere... We've now gone full circle back to Grooverider as Scatman John (so much for putting THIS interview on DOA).
DOA?! Hahahaha! Twisted would eat my children.
Well he did do a tune called "Poo Tash"!
Take us to the stars Twisted, raise us off our knees! Show us inspiration and joy! Share your VISION! Hahaha!
I don’t know what way I'll go as yet to be honest... “Paradise Now” may very well end up with Jungle on it - if I'm satisfied that it works the way I want it to... I'm just very wary of making stuff with overt political messages and then offering only my own soapbox for entertainment purposes. The vibe and the mood of the track should always take precedence for me, so...
There's a serious point lying under all these scatological jokes though.
Oh? What is it?
Well... there always seemed to be (to me anyway) in old Jump-up from a decade or more ago an intoxicating mix of joie-de-vivre and a strange righteous end-of-days RAGE - one that seems to be lacking the mainstreams of the dance right now. I occasionally hear it from the most humourless of the out-there military-industrial-complex-step Germans oddly enough, the likes of current value etc, but with none of the almost biblical dignity that some of the older Jump-up tunes managed to convey - while simultaneously putting a smile on your face... a curious mix of wronged i-ration and moral high ground, even in stuff that was merely designed to be Saturday night fodder of the time...
'Biblical Dignity' Hehehe, yeah... Well I guess that's because what's called 'Jump-up' now is just pure cartoon music minus the attitude... pure entertainment product. When the original Jump-up style took shape in 95/96, it was kind of political (almost)… so many samples from hip-hop rather than reggae, so much talk of guns, drugs, money, loyalty, betrayal in the samples... So what you have now is blunted, a zany imitation. It says nothing to drum n bass, nothing at all to the overall story of the music - whereas the original Jump-up style did, much like Techstep did originally around the same time... they were both part of the original narrative, going all the way back to Rave. For me, that narrative, that continuous story, all ended in '97 - when Techstep was an armoured reaction to the end of Rave in the music.
Do you think there's any relation between the end of 18 years of Conservative rule in the UK and the end of the busts of the '90s - and the creative death of drum and bass as protest music, or as music of the outsider?
I don't really know about in the UK as I never lived there.
... and that the creativity of the outsider was channelled into music that said 'no', until the economy seduced them into making music that said ‘YES’..?
I mean, dnb was never intentionally protest music anyway, right?
Never overtly - but if you dissect it, it sure looks political in it's origins…
If you're asking: do I think that dnb has been assimilated into the music industry and neutered as a creative force? Then, yes.
...or at least, there is a loose politics in dnb to be divined from reading its entrails!
Yeah, but ultimately one of survival over everything else. Which it has succeeded in doing - although at some considerable creative cost. Because I mean, look at hip-hop by way of a comparison… it's always the ghetto boys who want to get nice, to become accepted by rich people, by the industry, by popular middle class opinion... same in dnb really, and dnb is 'accepted' by mainstream opinion these days. It's just not respected by anyone who's ever heard more music than you might hear on daytime TV.
I don't think it's either at this point in time. Does it follow that it's inevitably the middle class white boys who want to be 'The Executioner'?
Well I'm not sure about the racial make-up of the dnb scene in the UK these days. I assume that most of the audience is probably white and middle class, but I could be wrong. I guess if you're into hip-hop you want to be 50 Cent and if you're into Dnb you want to be Andy C, or maybe Skibba / Shabba/ one of those guys. I don’t know... it's all just entertainment anyway - and there's nothing wrong with that. It's just a shame that it's so shit.
"It's all just entertainment anyway" - that's the token bit that will go in bold type for those people that are in too much of a hurry to read the interview!