Distance - I'm A Big Fan Of Gary Numan
Written by James Balf
Monday, 27 October 2008
Distance aka Greg Sanders is somewhat of a scene lynchpin. He was one of the original seven artists selected by Mary Anne Hobbs for Radio One's seminal Dubstep Warz broadcast, his debut album, 'My Demons', was voted by Dubstep Forum's purest public as the album of 2007and his label Chestplate has rumbled its way into the hearts (and record bags) of many a fan.On the eve of the release of his second album for Planet Mu, 'Repercussions', Distance clocked in for a chat with James Balf, who managed to get him to admit his love for industrial power tools and reveal a hidden passion for the work of gloom pioneer Gary Numan.
James Balf: We all know you as a bit of a legend in Dubstep circles, you’ve been on the scene for what seems like forever now, tearing up places like DMZ, FWD>> and anywhere with a big enough soundsystem, not to mention on your Rinse FM show, tons of 12”s your own label Chestplate. But what got you into this music, pushed you into DJing and making your own beats?
Distance: Well as most people know I was a huge metal fan I listened to bands like Pantera, Sepultura, Fear Factory and didn’t really have any interest in dance or electronic music. It wasn’t until I started college that I began listening to loads of different styles and started going to raves. I picked up on a few D&B artists, mainly Dillinga… I could really relate to the live drum sounds he used in his tracks and he had an energy about his sound which reminded me of metal. From there I got into Aphex Twin, Redsnapper, Portishead and Prodigy but the tunes that stuck out for me were always the darker more atmospheric edged ones.
A close friend of mine Phil used to play me loads of garage and 2 step beats and that kind of started things rolling. I bought decks, a drum machine and started using my PC to build a few loops but I didn’t take producing that seriously. I became a massive DJ EZ fan and would record his Kiss FM sets every week. Bit by bit these slightly darker sounds crept into his shows. Most were produced by Wookie, Oris J, Zed Bias, Ed Case and Zinc and I would desperately hunt for these in records shops.
I used to go to a load of garage nights and would always be waiting be for the dark beats drop like Narrow’s ‘Saved Souls’ and Wookie’s ‘Little Man Rmx’. I then found out about a new rave in London called FWD where I could hear what I was calling "dark garage" being played all night. I religiously went every month, it was a night purely about the music not about shiney shoes and over pressed shirts and trousers.
Producing was naturally the next step to take. First real tune I made was called ‘Trust My Logic’ and EZ was the first person to drop it. I still have the tape somewhere. Things just grew and grew from there.
JB: What was your first set up like for making tracks compared to what you use now?
D: I had a pretty standard PC running Cubase v.5, a Terratec sound card which wasn’t bad… my first 2 tunes where made with just 1 stereo speaker - ha ha. The first monitors I had were Fostex PM1s which done me proud but now I’m on a Carillon PC, with an RME sound card, running Cubase V4. I upgraded my monitors early this year to a set of Genelec 1032a's… that was a special day.
I don’t think it is so much the equipment which makes the biggest difference it’s your self, training your ears and getting your mixes sweet. You could be sitting in a 30 grand studio but if you don’t know about your frequencies then that equipment is worthless.
JB: Dubstep takes a lot of influence from all over the place, what other kinds of music do you love listening to that you find influence your sound?
D: I listen to so much music, loads of metal, rap, dnb, dub… I’m a big fan of Gary Numan, Kate Bush and Prince I have my Dad to blame for that… I would say my main influences come from Metal though. I love the sound of live instruments, the natural distortions and Harmonics are what I’m all about. I always try and create a live feel in my tracks.
Films have played a huge part in my music too; I pay a lot of attention to the way music is used to create tension, emotion and suspense. I try and inject some of that into my beats.
JB: Who are your favourite DJ and producers in the scene pushing it all forward and keeping it exciting for you right now?
D: Pinch, Mala, Jamie vex'd, Cyrus, Benga, and Skream. They never stay in one place, they are constantly progressing. Plus there are loads of new artists coming through who are keeping the whole scene fresh. Joker, Ramadanman, Peverelist, Silkie and Quest really stand out.
JB: I want to ask you about Metal. I hear strains of metal or heavy guitar music in your sound at times, even a bit of Doom laced heaviness at times in the form of someone like Sun O))) or Khanate as suggested from your Marry Anne Hobbs mix with Vex’d. I’ve even heard your stuff to be called Mosh-Step, I think the metal sounds and influence work well in dubstep, I mean it isn’t that far a step from a skanked out head nod to a full on headbang session is it?
D: I get approached by a lot of people voicing how they are metal fans and are feeling what I am doing. That’s mainly because they can hear my metal influence coming through. I’ve been playing guitar for 18 years now and use it where I can in my beats. The riffs in ‘Headstrung’ and ‘No Sunshine’ are me on guitar.
I never forget Joe Nice telling me how he played ‘V’ in Belgium and started a full on mosh pit… it also happened to me in Rotterdam. The moshers got asked to stop by the promoters - ha ha. I don’t know how but I think im able to inject the same energy metal has into dubstep.
JB: Some of your stuff sounds quite industrial, do you dabble in a bit of DIY? What’s your favourite tool? I’m pretty fond of lump hammers and the monkey wrench myself…
D: Well I am a builder so that might be why, favourite tool hmmmm???? Has to be the circular saw, it’s a beast. I truly fear it as much as I love it.
JB: What influences you outside of music?
D: People influence me most definitely. If it wasn’t for certain people in my life introducing me to different sounds and experiences I probably wouldn’t be here.
Films are on a par with music, they’ve have had such a big influence in my music. My Dad was heavily into films, and most of my childhood was spent watching films I shouldn’t have. Omen, Blade Runner, Alien… I’ll never forget, my Dad had Nightmare On Elm Street taped after Snow White, that’s enough to traumatise any 7 year old.
JB: What was it like being picked up by Planet Mu and what’s it like releasing on such a big electronica label?
D: If I’m honest I didn’t know that much about Planet Mu previous to be being signed. That’s mainly because I was listening to metal more than electronica. I was aware that Mark One and Vex’d had released albums with them but that’s it really. I did my research though and soon found out how big they were and felt privileged to be offered the opportunity to produce an album for such a respected label. Mike’s got an ear for great music.
JB: How did it make you feel when all the heads at Dubstep Forum voted your debut album, 'My Demons', the album of the year in 2007?
D: Completely unexpected… I went to the awards just to go and support, at about 12am someone came up to me and says “congratulations on the award”, I was like, “what award?” he said, "Best Album of the Year Award...!"
I had no idea I was going to win or even that I was nominated. I was gutted I wasn’t in the room when it was announced though but it meant a lot to me.
JB: You picked Cyrus for Generation Bass the follow up to the pretty damn huge Dubstep Warz on Radio One with Marry Anne Hobbs, what drew you to him? Did it make you think about the state of the scene now compared to way back when you first spun on Warz?
D: Cyrus provides a much needed side to the scene. He has his own unique style and he’s a sick DJ as well as a producer. When I got asked to pick an artist he was the first person I thought of. The first Dubstep Warz was very much about 7 individuals with very different influences and styles, and I think Generation Bass adopted that brilliantly. Every artist stood out and made it very clear that Dubstep will continue to excite people. Cyrus was an important part of that.
JB: What can we expect from your forthcoming album Repercussions, how do you think your sound has progressed from ‘My Demons’?
D: Its a little darker then ‘My Demons’. I went in deep on the percussion arrangements, hence the name ‘Repercussions’. I wanted to take it back to what dubstep was originally about: beats, percussions and bass.
I wanted the album to be more of a listening experience rather then straight up club bangers. My production as a whole has definitely improved; I find it hard to listen to my old beats without cringing. I’ve spent a lot of time mastering my mix downs and I’m a lot happier with them now.
Words: James Balf
'Repercussions' is out 24th November on Planet Mu Recordings.
With thanks to Greg and Jonas.
With thanks to Greg and Jonas.