By the early 2000s dBridge had cemented himself as one of the world’s most original drum’N’bass producers, and has since gone on to explore other realms if electronic music, writes Oliver Clasper.
When the late Gil Scott-Heron challenged the trend for pigeonholing music or putting it into compartments, he called what he made ‘midnight music’. “We call it the first minute of the new day. And we badly need some first day music,” he said. dBridge is a natural continuation of all of this: a man who makes midnight music.
Earlier this year dBridge launched a new six-part podcast series alongside Instra:mental’s Kid Drama called Heart Drive. Trying to second-guess or explain what genre of music they play on the show is fruitless, and that’s the point – as White says over the phone from London: “The problem with new sub-genres is not only are they given labels which can be restrictive, but people start to reverse engineer it and think that it has to be this kind of sound with these kind of drums for it to officially be the genre they think it is, when in reality music doesn’t always work like that. In terms of Heart Drive, we don’t see it as a sub-genre of drum’n’bass. When we approach people to make music for it, it’s usually people who have nothing to do with d’n’b. I want to see what Techno artists are doing – like Deep Child and South London Ordnance.”
Darren White grew up between London and the Malvern countryside, falling in love with music through his older brother Steve (aka Steve Spacek, the highly underrated singer-songwriter). “He always was, and still is, my biggest influence – vocally and musically. We went down very different paths, but if there were times I was doubting what I was doing, or falling out of love with drum’n’bass, he’d be the voice of reason and tell me to take a break from that sound and produce something different.”
By the early 90s White was witnessing the birth of jungle, and by 1995 had begun producing music of his own – releasing the single ‘Let That Shit Ride’. Not long after he teamed up with DJ Maldini and formed Future Forces Inc., but the real breakthrough came in 1998 when the two joined forces with Fresh and Vegas to form the legendary Bad Company. The foursome put out some of the most arresting music of that era, with their single ‘The Nine’ being voted by Knowledge magazine readers as the greatest d’n’b track of all time.
But as much as White enjoyed collaborating, he admits that it was rarely a smooth ride, and by 2004 Bad Company had split up. For White it came as a relief. Towards the end of their time together he had begun to feel distant from the others, both personally and creatively, and disgruntled with the direction the music was going. Many readers may be aware that Fresh has since become one of EDM’s biggest stars, making catchy dance music for the masses. “I sent him a message to say I was proud of him because I knew all along that that was what he wanted to achieve,” White says. “But it doesn’t mean I have to like his music.”
In the aftermath of the breakup White admitted to feeling lost, but almost out of nowhere he started Exit Records – which is still going strong today. His production output and style also began to change as he started to explore different tempos and rhythms within drum’n’bass. More importantly still was that he had started to sing on his records, beginning with featuring on ‘These Words’ from Martyn’s excellent Great Lengths LP and continuing through to his debut album, Gemini Principle, in 2008. According to the man himself it’s something he is keen to explore more on the follow-up LP.
Not long ago White wrote an open letter about Spotify, which he saw as a major threat to the way music is consumed and purchased. When challenged about it during the interview it was clear that he had changed his tune. “I got a Spotify Premium account with my new phone, tried it properly for the first time and was pleasantly surprised. Suddenly I could access all this great music, and discover new stuff. Besides, if all my music is up on YouTube for free – and often at low quality – then it didn’t make sense for it not to be on Spotify where the quality is high. It was a no-brainer.” But when it comes to illegal downloading, he says the effort just simply isn’t worth it (‘a real ballache’, to be specific). Besides, since he started to self-distribute his records business has improved, so it’s happy days at Exit HQ.
As for what the future will bring, it’s hard to know what to expect with dBridge. In the past year he has released Techno under his Velvit moniker, and needless to say, the split 12” ‘Nudge/The Act’ is one hell of a release. “I think I just started to feel comfortable enough to put them out. I’m quite honest about the fact that I’m quite naïve to the scene. I can critique d’n’b because I know structurally how it works, and I know what I like in house and Techno, but when I write it sometimes I have trouble working out how it is. I don’t know all its subtleties.”
And when it comes to his set in Hong Kong, expect the unexpected. But one thing we do know is how not to behave on the night. Don’t ask him to play ‘The Nine’, for starters. “To be honest, the crowds are getting younger and I’m getting older,” he says before hanging up. “It’s nice to play to older crowds that aren’t sticking their phones in my face or telling me to ‘play harder’.”
Magnetic Soul 9 Year Anniversary x dBridge, XXX, 20th September 2014.