Tuesday 10 February 2009

Bristol is still very much a formidable stronghold for Drum & Bass, but the shadows of the giants of the past here loom large, even as new pioneers break through. Ironically, it can be difficult for the new D&B producers to find a foothold here when everything is held up against the past sounds of the city - as much a double-edged sword as can be. One anomaly in all this is the ascendancy of The Insiders, the pairing of Ben Payne and Joe Wills who have put in some serious hard work to rise to the top.

As well as running the hugely successful club night Intrigue, for nearly a decade now they have produced an incredible volume of music - featured on some of the biggest labels in D&B including Metalheadz, Frontline, Renegade and more. Now they've come to a crossroads in their career, and to take it to the next level they've launched their own label, Intrigue Music. BUG caught up with Ben from The Insiders to talk about Intrigue, the new label and the what the future has in store for both.

B: Take us back to where it all started. You debuted Intrigue at Bar Latino back in 2003. How did the night come about?

I: Intrigue came about after many trips up to Swerve at the Velvet Rooms in London, Fabio's night and the home of musical, progressive D&B. We used to go up there by any means necessary - trains then several long night buses to get home.

The vibe of the night was worth the mission every time though, and after a while I thought 'hang on, Bristol needs a night like this!' Somewhere where you could go and hear the freshest, deepest Drum & Bass beats on a good soundsystem in a small, intimate club.
So, along with production partner Joe Wills, I got to work on sorting out a venue in Bristol. Bar Latino was the obvious choice at the time, and we launched there in January 2003 on a Wednesday night.

B: Did you feel the Intrigue styles of D&B were being under-represented at that time in Bristol?

I: Yeah, that was part of the reason for starting the night. There was a lot of harder, more jump up D&B in Bristol at the time, which was cool - but we felt there was a need for something that regularly showcased the more musical side of it. There were lots of nights like Drive By and Movement where you could hear guys like Patife and LTJ Bukem, but no regular home for 'liquid funk' as it was often called back then.

B: Six years in now you're one of the best-loved nights in the city. What are your personal highlights from that time?

I: That's a tough one I always get asked that. One of my personal faves has to be the night we had LTJ Bukem, D-Bridge and A.I. down to Dojo's. It was the first time there had been a D&B all-nighter at Dojo's, and it went absolutely crazy. Great atmosphere, heavy tunes, and choc-ices on a warm summer evening.

Also the time we had Andy C down for our 4th Birthday, he played an unbelievably sick set and packed the club to the rafters. More recently, it's been having legends like Marcus Intalex and D-Bridge come down and play some of the best music I've ever heard. I also booked Die for an old skool set; he really went in deep, with loads of classic old Full Cycle being dropped!

B: Talk us through the evolution of the new label, Intrigue Music.

I: The label is something I've wanted to do for a while; it's just been about waiting for the right time. By that I mean waiting till I had enough quality tunes to release, enough support behind me from the scene, and the right distribution channels. It was important to wait until all these things were in place to ensure it would be a quality label that I'd be happy with. I'm a bit of a perfectionist at heart with things like this, so even though I'd have liked to start the label a while ago it just wasn't the right time.

The right time turned out to be late last year. We had produced 2 of our best tracks and had been road testing them in clubs for a while. One of these was a halfstep track that was heavily influenced by the minimal, synthy side of dubstep. The track was getting great reactions at dances all over the place. It even blew 2 soundsystems in its early stages - big bass! So I knew that one would be the A-side, and named it 'Stepdub' (dubstep backwards). I put 'Cold Harbour' on the flip, and the label came together naturally after that.

I'd had tracks from Break, Survival and Random Movement signed for a bit, so it was just a matter of working them into a schedule. My distributor, SRD, had been behind my idea for a label for a long time and was just holding off till I was ready. I hooked up with Eveson, original Intrigue graphic artist, to discuss the artwork for 'Stepdub', and just let him do his thing. What he came up with was really impressive, and became the flyer for our Motion launch party.
The label is shaping up really well for the year ahead, with more of our tracks, some brand new artists, and the artists previously mentioned. I want to support new artists and give feedback as much as I can; in the same way people helped The Insiders when we started producing in the beginning. I've set up a demo address for anyone interested, email: demobox@intrigue.org.uk

B: What does Intrigue mean to you?

I: To me it's about representing and pushing forward the music that I love, and not being afraid to try out new things. Over the years I've put on a lot of different nights, and in the beginning it was difficult, but it never stopped the drive to carry on and move forward! The community aspect of the night is really important, bringing people together from all over to hear the latest beats and party hard.

The original idea to use 'intrigue' as a name came from how the idea of a musical D&B night in Bristol would be different and we hoped, 'intriguing' to people. My friend Jon that helped me with the label press used the Intrigue dictionary definition in the press release for the debut, which really worked for describing what we're trying to do: verb: to arouse the curiosity or interest of by unusual, new, or otherwise fascinating or compelling qualities; appeal strongly to; captivate.

B: Where do you see the future of Intrigue going?

I: I'll be concentrating on establishing the record label this year, and am looking to do a mix CD at some point near the end of 2009. I'd like it to be similar to the legendary Progression Sessions series, with a vocalist - and record it live at the night. It would be a really strong showcase of the label and the night, all in one neat package.

With the night there are some interesting projects on the go too.
The Arc Bar (Intrigue's home for nearly a year before it went down) is re-opening so I'm looking into that. I'd like to involve different DJs from different scenes in Intrigue as well. The Motion launch party is an exciting one for that. Further afield I'd like to do more Intrigue stuff abroad, pushing the vibe to different countries where the scenes aren't established yet. I'll be taking it on tour to America in the summer, which I'm really excited about!

B: How do you feel about the evolution of D&B now? Do you feel Bristol is a better place musically with the genre than it was?

I: I'm happy with the scene in general, it's really flourishing with all the new producers coming through - guys like Lynx, Break Data and Survival all doing big things. There’s a lot more diversity within the scene, it's become much more open. The emergence of dubstep has helped d&b too, bringing new sounds and techniques into people’s productions. Bristol is a great place for D&B, and has been since we started out. The main difference now is there are more nights specific to each style within D&B than there were 6 years ago.

An edited version of this interview appears in Venue Magazine.