Filed under: Interview
It doesn’t seem so long ago that breakbeat’s characteristically underground sound with its crunching cuts, bass-heavy drum-lines and feverishly devoted fans was about as far from the mainstream as could be – that was, of course, before the appearance of the Plump DJs. Having rocketed from the sweaty dancefloors of London institutions like Fabric to the record boxes of just about every major DJ on the planet and releasing two ground-breaking albums plus countless signature remixes along the way, the duo from London seem to be indestructible. Higher-Frequency caught up with the boys on their recent Japanese tour to talk breaks, live outtakes and who really was the toughest act to follow.
Interview : Kei Tajima (HigherFrequency)
HigherFrequency (HRFQ) : It feels like ages since we’ve last seen you how have you been?
Lee Rous : It’s been a quick year for us and we’ve had a lot of things going on, but it was a good festival, Fuji Rock. We had a really great time last year.
HRFQ : I think you we’re quite tired when you played last year at Fuji Rock?
Andy Gardner : Well, it was two days after we’d flown, so we had a hang over from the previous night, and got jetlagged. And we were in Japan at this funny festival, so it was all a bit surreal (laughs).
HRFQ : So is this the first time for you to actually play in a club in Japan?
Lee : Yeah, last night, we played in a club in Osaka, and it was brilliant. I think they had about six or seven hundred people which is the most they’ve had in that club, so we felt very privileged to be there and the crowd was very, very responsive – It was really good.
Andy : It was in quite a small club called Triangle which only has about 500 capacity, so it was quite packed but had a nice vibe. We’re looking forward to Womb though, as we’ve heard so much about it!
HRFQ : What kind of stuff?
Lee : Yeah, colleagues of ours from the Finger lickin’ Label; “Soul of Man” and “Stereo 8” have come over here as well and enjoyed it, so we’ve heard nothing but good things.
HRFQ : Well, we’ve had a chance to listen to your live mix at Homelands on Radio One. How would you describe your impression of that performance?
Andy : Well, it’s a big festival for British people, the first of the summer, so it’s a kind of “here comes the sun” vibe for a lot of people. We were actually annoyed because (our set) only went on air for an hour but we played for two hours, so we actually had about half an hour before hand that wasn’t on the radio. And suddenly, they just joined in the radio broadcast half way through meaning it was a little bit annoying for anyone who wanted to hear the whole set.
Lee : Also, the programming was quite strange. They put Terry Francis and Lee Burridge on before us and they played very sort of deep, tecky house and I don’t think it really flowed very well in terms of the musical content. It went from very dreamy and tripped-out and them having a really good set to all of a sudden there was breakbeat and Pete Tong saying,”You’re live on Radio One with the Plump Djs!”.
HRFQ : So how would you describe the audience in Britain?
Lee : Well it really depends where you go. We’re playing a lot of big house clubs these days, because we’ve got a sort of cult following that’s big enough to be able to fill venues like that. However, we’re finding it quite strange on occasion because some people aren’t used to breakbeat and you have to be a bit diplomatic sometimes in what you play, as other times, we play very underground breakbeat at clubs with real ‘breaks heads’ in there.
Andy : It does seem to be growing though, and the audience seems to be getting bigger and bigger because a lot of popular house DJs are playing breakbeat nowadays. A friend of mine went out to see Sasha recently and he was playing 80% breakbeat, so I think it’s really getting bigger and bigger.
HRFQ : As pioneers of the style how do you feel about the fact that so many big house Djs are playing breakbeat these days?
Andy and Lee : It’s cool!
Lee : I think the house scene is branching out, not just into breaks but also into different sorts of house sounds now. People are incorporating a lot of different styles into what they do and due to over specialisation it may have beome a little bit stayed, but there are people like 2manydjs who have come along. They’re playing quite a lot of different music in their sets and winning a lot of appreciation because people are listening and changing their own sets a bit.
HRFQ : You supported Orbital’s last gig in the UK recently, how did it go and how do you feel about them breaking up?
Andy : We’re gutted, absolutely gutted… I mean Orbital man, they are legends aren’t they?! But It was really cool. After their live set we played until 3 in the morning and had Paul (Hartnoll) coming on and hugging us, so it was really fantastic. We finished off with Orbital’s latest song as our last tune and everyone there just went absolutely mad.
Lee : It was so tough coming on after Orbital because they’ve got their surround sound and whatnot. But it was a real privilege and they’re such nice people. They actually asked us to do it which really meant a lot to us. They actually said “We want you to play”.
Andy : I reckon they’ll be back
Lee : Yeah, they’ll be back in some form, I mean it’s like when a boxer retires, isn’t it? (laughs).
HRFQ : Can you tell us a bit about the structure of your sets? Do you play back to back?
Andy : It averages out at about three records each, but we don’t really play back to back, we’ve never really done that. If someone’s on form and is thinking “I’ve got loads of records I really want to play”, then the other person will happily sit back for a bit – we’re quite democratic.
Lee : Yeah, about three tunes each, a bit of a team thing going on there: One person waves their arms around, the other one plays and then we swap! But it works in terms of what we play, since breakbeat is still such a general term in music and within the umbrella of the breakbeat world there are a lot of stars, so when we’re playing 2 or 3 records each, it’s good because one can go off in this direction for a few tunes and can then go back in another direction, meaning the changes are gradual. So, it’s given us a sort of unique set really – Hopefully! (laughs)
HRFQ : What kinds of signs do you look for between you to know when to change direction?
Andy : Well, we’ve DJ’d a lot together now for quite a few years, so we’ve pretty much formulated a common understanding about what we want to do, the sort of music we’re trying to play etc. And although there might be the occasional disagreement about what tunes are good and what aren’t, generally it’s quite good between us.
HRFQ : You’re best known as DJs but what about your production? Does it come equally from both of you?
Lee : Andy’s got a studio in Soho, London, so we do all of the work there.
Andy : Yeah, we do all the tracks together while we’re both there and then and produce the whole thing. I do the sort of technical stuff and then we both make the descisions about what we’re going to keep what we’re going to get rid of, what the tracks should sound like… the arrangement – all that sort of thing.
HRFQ : You receive so many offers to produce remixes so how do you decide what to work on? Do you have any sort of criteria?
Andy : Well, it’s got to be something we really like, that’s the first point. And it also has to be something that’s different to our style, so we can do something different with it. If it’s something too similar to your own style, you’re not going to be able to do anything with it. We turned down Papua New Guinea (Future Sound of London) for that very reason – what can you do with it? It’s too much of a classic, and I think certain things are just too sacred to us to touch.
Lee : Other things like “Humanoid” (Stakker Humanoid) which was a big remix of ours from a few years back and a big old tune that we enjoyed when we were younger, although the energy is similar to a lot of the stuff in the original track, we felt that the drums needed beefing up and there were a few things that could be changed. Electronauts’ “Bumper” was a funny track simply because it’s one of the first track we got asked to do and we found a vocal in there that was just so “hooky”. And although it was a very small part of the track, it was enough to give us the enthusiasm to do it.
HRFQ : Have you finished any interesting remixes recently?
Andy : “Push Up” by Freestylers was a really good one for us because the original track is great. It’s a real pop track, but we really love the vocal as well as the arrangement. On top of that, we’ve recently also done a remix of Rennie Pilgrim, but we’re actually trying to do some more of our own stuff at the moment and not do the remixes. We’ve actually got about 6 or 7 new Plump Djs tracks finished so far with “The Soul Vibrates” to be hopefully released in August or September of this year with a B-side called Bullet Train inspired by the experiences we’ve had here in Japan. There might also be another release before Christmas, and we’ve got a lot of tunes lined up besides that; one called “The Pressure” which we’ve been playing regularly and has been going down well, and another called “Space Base”. It’s really good, as it means that it makes our sets that bit more individual.
HRFQ : Do you have any plans for a mix CD?
Lee : Possibly early February or March next year we’re hoping to release a compilation of some kind and then maybe see how things go from there with possibly another artist album the following year. It’s nice when people ask us where we see things going and our take on the future of breakbeat, but it’s just important that we keep on enjoying what’s going on at the moment.
HRFQ :You mentioned before about breakbeat making it’s way into the mainstream, how do you see the immediate future for beakbeat?
Andy : I don’t think it’s ever going to be as big as house. There is just a natural thing about people liking that ‘bang, bang, bang, bang”, yet it’s growing in a nice way. I think about 4 or 5 years ago we thought it was really going to take off, but it hasn’t got as big as we thought it would. It’s still quite a small scene – even in the UK, but it has a very dedicated following, a really, really hard core of people who love it in places like Australia and Spain. Funnily enough they don’t really like it in Germany. I don’t think they really get it, as they like techno over there.
Lee : I think the good thing about the breakbeat scene is that it’s not a fashion-led scene. It’s just a scene where people are involved in because they love the music, and from our perspective as producers and DJs, that’s somewhat of a heavenly situation because we’re not exactly fashionable (laughs).
HRFQ : Did you expect Finger Lickin’ Records to become as big as it has five years ago?
Andy : Well, I was making music on Fresca Nova before that, which is a little subsiduary label, so when we actually went to Finger Lickin’, it wasn’t because we believed that they would expand into some kind of massive company. We were just so chuffed that they understood our music and got what we were about that, and never thought about where this label was going to.
Lee : We were just making stuff that we liked and needed a vehicle for putting it out. And it just turned out that the first people we took the music to, we got on really well with and it’s just happened that everyone else on the label, Stereo 8, Lee Coombs, Krafty Kuts, Soul of Man are all good friends. We have a lovely situation, we all make what we like, and we’re all enjoying some popularity.
HRFQ : Do you have a message for your Japanese Fans?
Andy : Well, if they’re already into breakbeat then “arigato very much”! It’s so nice to come to what is almost the other side of the world and people get your music, that’s really special.
Lee : Thanks for everything, it’s been an amazing experience so far. It means a lot to us and especially when the cultures are so different, it’s great that music can transcend that gap – it means a lot to us.
End of the interview
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