Throughout the last few years there has been an explosion of creativity and innovation within drum & bass. One producer who has been dazzling us with his fresh approach to the sound is London via Leeds man Stray. With his debut set in Room Two coming up this weekend, and a swathe of brilliant new music on the way from him, we managed to secure an exclusive mix from him and got a little insight into his musical approach and myriad influences.
Can you give us a bit of background about yourself? What do you do outside of the world of production?
I grew up in North London, and am currently studying Maths & Philosophy at Leeds University. My brother bought me a midi keyboard when I was about 14, and I've spent an obsessive amount of time since that day locked in my room writing music! Currently, apart from the course I am studying, life is quite one-dimensional in the sense that I tend to spend as much of my free time as possible producing or just playing around with sounds, though I think this might just be a phase, and something that is necessary at this stage in order to get to a place I’m comfortable with.
How and when did you first get into D&B?
I was always into IDM and electronica when I was much younger, and finding that there was another, related, perhaps more accessible / hypnotic genre of music that let all the amens rest back, breathe and combine with sped up old funk breaks was pretty exciting. As clichéd as it is, I think it was a guy in a record store recommending I pick up Andy C's ‘Nightlife’ CD, which had just come out around the time, that turned me onto it initially. I was always heavily into jump up and wobble, the type you might hear on a Playaz night in Room One. The thing is, I STILL dig some of that stuff; some of it is just so raw sounding and is effectively music in its least pretentious form. Drum & bass for me has always been a single genre though with good tunes to be found in all its corners, from Hazard to Current Value, Noisia to Instra:mental, Congo Natty to Equinox, I've always been a fan of it all...
Who and/or what have been the biggest inspirations in the development of your sound?
Outside of drum & bass, my two biggest inspirations are my older brother, who is a pianist, and an artist called Luke Vibert who has released on numerous labels such as Warp, Rephlex and Ninja Tune. To cut a long story short, both these people have instilled in me from an early age a desire to find and make music in its purest form, specific and purposeful harmonic and rhythmic structures that avoid cliché whilst retaining the ability to hit the sweet spot. Of course, the same goes for the multitude of other great artists I grew up listening to; Herbie Hancock, Ravel and Radiohead, to give some broad examples, being a few more influential favourites of mine. Inside D&B, I think people like Sabre and dBridge always influenced me; again it’s the little things I’d listen out for and desire when it came to beats and harmony, though I’d have thought people like Hazard and Current Value have done that heavily as well. It might be hard to spot it at all in tangible form in any of my music, but it’s all there, hiding away in my percussion patterns...
Since you started producing have you always taken an experimental approach, or is it something that has developed over time?
Certainly when I started writing drum & bass I was trying to imitate other people, but I realised after about a year that I wanted to leave these sounds up to the people who were best at them. What I’m really digging at the moment is getting the opportunity to write in much the same way as I did in my early teens before I started doing drum & bass, but with the added production skills and a focus on the coherent 170bpm, intro, drop, breakdown structure. I think in many ways I have artists like dBridge and Instra:mental to thank for this, since they were a large part in expanding the scope of drum & bass to something that could include a bit more music. Personally I don’t find the tempo constricting at all; I love to explore all the little rhythmic intricacies you can get at this speed whilst trying to retain some jungle in the vibe in some form or another, no matter how abstract. Most times I sit down to write a tune these days, I try to do something I’ve never heard anyone else do before. Having said that, I’m a sucker for setting up a clean 2step break and just enjoying playing bass stabs or percussion over the top, regardless of whether it gets recorded.
How would you describe your sound, firstly to a first time listener that loves drum & bass, and secondly to a first time listener that has never been into what he/she would term D&B?
To a drum & bass enthusiast, I’d describe my sound as an attempt to inject as much musicality and influence from other genres as possible into a 170bpm template. But then depending on their tastes, I’d tell them how much I love either the wobbliest jump up or the most intense sci-wax amen rinse out and let them know that hopefully in some form or another it might manifest itself in the end product. To someone outside of drum & bass, I guess I’d describe my sound as an attempt at bringing together everything I love about good music, regardless of if that means the lushest ambient drones I can find or the glitchiest percussion loop I can muster.
Can you talk us through the mix you’ve done for us?
With the mix, I’ve tried to start it and finish it on a more abstract note, with what I hope is an enjoyable straight up techy rinse out in the middle. I kept this one fairly dark and brooding throughout, with a brief escape into the light with Lenzman’s absolutely brilliant ‘Open Page’. There are a couple of exclusives in there, like mine and Rockwell’s remixes of tunes off the forthcoming Sabre LP on Critical, as well as a couple of brand new things from me. I also want to mention Sinistarr’s ‘Emo’ tune; the drums on this track kill me, and I’m thrilled to get to support it here since the guy has been with me and my music, supporting me since day one.
You play your first ever set here on Friday night, what can people expect from your DJ set?
I tried to reflect in my mix how I like to play out at the moment; I think the further away you move from compromising both the crowd’s but also importantly your own enjoyment of any DJ set, the better that set is. I think it’s really important to read the crowd and try not to plan any tunes you’re going to play beyond what you’ve put in your bag. Expect to hear a handful of amens, a few techy rollers, some big snares, some small snares, no snares, alien landscapes, and plenty of provocative rhythms.
You’ve already had releases on Med School and Critical, as well as forthcoming bits on Exit - what else have you got coming up, and what are your plans for the future?
I have my first solo single 12” dropping on Critical in early April, which will I think be my tracks ‘Saturday’ and ‘Erase’, both of which you can hear in the mix. I’ve also just finished my remix of a Blu Mar Ten track off their recent ‘Natural History’ album. The remix should be out in the next few months. I’ve also remixed Sabre’s new track ‘Peril’ which will be getting a release with Sabre’s LP in March, and I’m currently working on a remix for the Cause 4 Concern guys. I’m also working on and have nearly finished collaborations with Data and Sabre.
Looking into the future, I think I’m going to be working quite closely with Kasra at Critical towards projects such as an EP perhaps later this year or next year. Finally, I wouldn’t have thought I’d want ideally to stay exclusively within the drum & bass scene for too much longer, but I can’t see my soft spot for 170 diminishing any time soon either.
Catch Stray at FABRICLIVE this Friday alongside Andy C, Shy FX, Commix and DJ Die in Room Two.