In Depth
Emperor Presents His Debut Album, Dispositions

As an outsider observing the ascent of Emperor (aka Conor Corrigan) in the world of drum and bass, the journey has always appeared as seamless as any artist could hope for. Since emerging onto the scene in 2012 with Monolith – a debut track so ferociously progressive that it would be sacrilege not to mention even now – he has become nigh-on immovable from the Critical Music roster. Yet, despite having an impressive back catalogue of high profile signings and collaborations under his belt, Corrigan has only now tackled the album format, an achievement that always somehow solidifies an artists existence. With Dispositions slated for release this May, we caught up with the man of the moment to chat experimental production, the health of the scene and what we can expect from his upcoming landmark release.

So you’re releasing an album, congratulations! What are the similarities/differences to your previous releases and what does that tell you (and us) about your evolution as an artist?

Emperor: Thank you! It feels great to finally release it. I'd actually say that this album is a bit of a curve ball, I don't think many people are expecting what vibe the album is going to be. By that I mean that it definitely isn't 16 techy bangers in the key of F. I wanted to go somewhere different with this. I've always tried to be a bit more diverse with what I'm doing; I don't particularly like the way the heavier side of Drum & Bass is going at the moment, so this is my attempt at fusing a bit more into that scope of sound. Obviously the majority of the album is dancefloor friendly, but I hope that people accept the variance and ideas behind it.

Was there any particular concept, rationale or inspiration that acted as the backbone of or driving force behind this LP?

The title, 'Dispositions' is a culmination of several head-spaces and attitudes during the past few years. I wanted to write something that reflected all the different shades of what I've been through, and how I've progressed in recent years. A mixture of influences inspired me along the way, but I felt it more important for the album to just display me, and what I'm about.

What are you most proud of about the album?  Anything from its inception until now.

One thing in particular would probably be 'Infrasound'. I actually started this track about 4 years ago now, and I always wanted to complete it but never found a good time. Then one day, 4 years later I just finish it in one sitting. I'm pretty proud of the whole album, which is something different for me as I'm usually extremely critical of myself. Excuse the pun. It feels great to finally release these tracks.

What was the most innovative or complex process that you used in creating sound(s) for the record? Also, were there any elements in the production that you found particularly tricky to nail?  One of those where it takes you forever to ‘get it right’.

There's tons of Foley and live recordings in the album. I bought a Zoom H2 and recorded a lot. Lot's of the ideas came from travelling between shows, there are many samples of airports, trains, hotels even. I also recorded a lot of myself, such as the intro of 'Cold Snap' is all from my voice, with layers and layers of manipulation, obviously. A lot of the textures are made from my voice, come to think of it. The hardest thing was knowing when to stop, and render a final version. I never really feel like my work is finished till it's finally released, it's a producer’s curse that sometimes you'll spend hours and hours working on an idea, only to realise it sounded better at the beginning.

As an artist at the heavier end of drum and bass, what role do emotions play in your production process? For example, some artists are very analytical and technical – almost scientific – in their approach to compositions, whilst others admit to needing a significant feeling or event to stimulate them to write. Where do you sit on this spectrum?  Do darker sounds need darker thoughts?

I'd say I definitely sit on that darker spectrum. I don't like approaching a track with an overtly technical mindset. That's not to say I don't know what I'm doing in terms of technical skill, i.e. mixing, processing, and it's definitely hugely important. I feel I actually know a significant amount in regards to that, but I need attachment to what I'm doing for it to 'click' with me. I can't sit and work on individual elements for hours and hours, I just feel drained. My ethos is that if you have a track that is sonically impressive, but has no character, what's the point? You might as well be tracing another person's picture. What does it represent? At the end of the day, I want to make something that sounds like my own, part of my own head. If you get too hung up on technicality, your productions will end up lifeless; forgettable pieces of work.

There is a lot to be said about good technical production, but the standard is much higher, now. Anyone can learn to mix a track, but not everyone can compose something that resonates with people on a deeper level. I could've made an album of tech, but I'd rather have tracks that are individual and bring new ideas. This means that sometimes I won't produce anything for a month because I know I'm not in a creative mood, but then manage to create three or four tracks in the space of a week. I'd rather that, than be driven insane by snare drums for hours all day, which I've definitely done, and still have to!

"Just do your own thing"

What is it about a track that is guaranteed to get you ‘screw-face’: a sick drop, tight snare drum, a mean kick, a thumping bassline… what key ingredient has to be fully on point to make you go “euuhoi!”? 

I'm trying to think of a witty reply to this, but I simply don't know. I just try and catch people off guard with where the impact of the track is, I guess. A combination of structure, build up, and sound design. Finding sounds that resonate with people always helps.

…and where is your best example of that in this release?

I'd probably say either 'Haste' or 'Mindgames VIP'. Haste is specifically engineered for inducing a bass-face.

Producers are getting younger and younger; you yourself started out at around 12/13.  With the prevalence of technology and the increasing accessibility of dance music nowadays, competition for the limelight is only getting harder. What are your top tips for young d&b producers who aspire to get recognised and eventually sign to a major label?

The scene is saturated with clones, rip-offs, and only 'half-decent' tunes at the moment. Just be yourself. Quit trying to sound like the current big thing, because it's already happened and you already missed the boat. If you're constantly trying to be someone else, then the people who are important will see through it. Just do your own thing, and you'll make something far more timeless than most of the recycled bullshit that comes out these days. I think maybe a problem is that there doesn't seem to be as high a standard for your tunes to get signed, it seems anyone can release an EP. I remember when nearly every release on every label was inspiring and new, but nowadays there's so much less of that. But I guess it means that whenever something genuinely good comes along, it shines a little bit more.

On the topic of breakthrough artists, can you give us any ‘ones to watch’ for 2016 (DJs and MCs)?

Signal is definitely someone to watch, very interesting stuff. I actually see him being similar to how I was a few years back, so hopefully his future has many great tunes ahead. Kimyan Law is incredible too. In love with his tracks at the moment. MC wise I'd give a shout out to Mantmast and Codebreaker!

Finally, lots of d&b artists have started coming out with live shows, scoring out the tracks for bands to play as well as a DJ.  I’m intrigued – given the opportunity, what would the instrumental line up of your live neuro show be?

I don't think I'd do a live show with my sound really, I don't really think a band would be necessary. I don't really think drum & bass should stray too far from being about a DJ and a crowd, it's part of what makes it what it is, really. I'd love to do a live show for my Monuman stuff, where there are more melodic elements involved, but I'd probably head in the direction of it being an audio/visual experience than a live band. Flying Lotus, for example, or Amon Tobin. I'd still be performing live, but it'd be more about the 'show' rather than the live aspect.

Friday 22nd April

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