WHP FEATURE 033
CHASE & STATUS
CHASE & STATUS
“People always ask us what was it like working with Rihanna and Jay Z, what was it like when you signed a major deal blah blah blah… And these things are amazing, but we never like to dwell on them.” Saul Milton is on the phone and in full flow. He’s explaining why the major highlight after more than a decade of Chase & Status isn’t necessarily the big name you might expect.
“But the one thing that really, really stands out was when we signed to Ram in 2007. We were like, YES! That was such an important moment for us. Andy C has always been a hero and an inspiration. That shit will never die.”
Anyone who has followed Chase & Status over the years would understand why being given the nod by the king of DnB would matter so much to Milton. Alongside artists such as Redlight and SubFocus the duo of Saul ‘Chase’ Milton and Will ‘Status’ Kennard have been responsible for the rise of the ‘bass’ as a genre, a name well suited to music where pummelling low ends are more crucial than the speed or pattern of the rhythm on top. Over 13 years, 38 singles and 3 studio albums the duo have turned their hand to everything from poppy dubstep to aggy grime, all layered over low frequencies that switch between the sweet and brutal. But throughout that career, drum n bass has constantly been the foundation they built from and the home they return to. And now, when Milton is talking about their as yet unnamed forthcoming album – their first full length since 2013- it’s the drum n bass tracks on there that he wants to talk about first.
“There’s a lot of drum n bass on the record. There’s an instrumental called Tribes that’s been doing the rounds, and there’s a song with MC Fats called Step Away that’s on there. There’s another drum n bass song on there, featuring a very exciting singer from Sweden, and these three songs are killing it in the clubs. Andy C’s been smashing them, Hype, Friction, ‘Rider, Fabio, all the boys, all the old gang. It feels great to load up those guys’ record bags with our tunes again. We’re always mad passionate about drum n bass, it’s always good to get it back out there. The demand is massive, the energy it has in a club is incomparable. When we’re at a grime night, a rap night, yeah kids are moshing and going nuts, but there’s also the element that it’s like a concert; you’re watching these artists rap and perform, it’s more voyeuristic. But going on a Friday night to rave to watch Jumping Jack Frost, it’s a very different all-encompassing feeling. Raving to drum n bass, nothing really touches that energy in a club. It’s always going to live on.”
This leads us to a question that junglists regularly have to ask themselves; if it’s “always going to live on”, how is it possible to keep on refreshing a sound that has been mined for over twenty years now – especially one as rigid in tempo as drum n bass? Surely we eventually come to a point where everything that can be said, has been said? Unsurprisingly, this is something Milton has thought about. It’s also something that he’s confident can be dealt with.
“The thing is, drum n bass is cyclical. It blows up, becomes the biggest thing ever, on main stages everywhere, people come in, rip off the scene, make cheesy versions of it, and what happens? Drum n bass goes underground again. But when it does that, it thrives. All the DnB nights we’re playing at the moment are packed out. Drum n bass is massive in the commercial realm, but it’s also gone back underground and the scene is thriving worldwide. If you said to Andy C tomorrow, Andy have you noticed the scene get quieter in the last couple of years? He’d say ‘Geez! I’ve been busier than ever!’”
All of this is true. It doesn’t, however, address how drum n bass can keep innovating after more than 20 years of producers smashing bass into breaks at 170 bpm. For Chase & Status, you deal with this problem and create something fresh by putting a new twist on what’s already there.
“How can we do something different with drum n bass?” Milton muses “I guess, yeah, it’s difficult to think up ways of making a 2 step drum and bass tune, with a sine wave and a cool midrange noise different from the last. There are ways; in 2005 when we bought out Duppy Man we felt like we were doing something different with that half time ragga sound. We did Hood Rats the same year, and again used that half time, almost early drumstep sound. People like Paradox were doing it back then as well. When we did No Problem, if you get rid of the vocals it’s just a tune with an arpeggiator, a cool bassline, and some cool notes, and a good energy. But it’s the character that Takura bought with that African vocal, that Voodoo character that he made, and the way he projected the vocals, that made it very different. You add character, whether it’s a sample or a groove, or a sound, and that makes a tune stand out.”
This quest for character has ensured that Chase & Status have a long history of writing drum n bass ‘songs’. This means that whilst they may still get booked to play in deeper DnB venues, and their heavier tunes may still get rinsed on the underground, their wider appeal has been shaped by an ability to turn out a pop song that can play on daytime radio without alienating their core fanbase. Current single All Goes Wrong is a case in point. The track opens with ringing piano chords and searing, blue-eyed soul vocals from new comer Tom Grennan, a sound that wouldn’t be out of place on drivetime Radio 2. It then switches up into a typically soaring Chase & Status drum n bass roller, Grennan’s vocals still running throughout. It’s a tricky balance to pull off. With its verse - chorus – bridge structure All Goes Wrong is closer to a traditional pop song than it is to a rave anthem, even while it maintains enough forceful energy to head off any accusations of ‘selling out’.
Milton is pleased with how the track is doing (it’s already passed a million plays on Youtube), praising Grennan as adventurous in the studio, and talking about how the video -a striking short film that opens with Grennan singing from inside a coffin, then reverses through time to show how he got there- had to match the ‘depth’ of the lyrics. This raises an interesting point; rightly or wrongly, rave in general and drum n bass in particular isn’t considered to be a typical port of call if you’re looking for deep, meaningful lyrics. With the wider world seemingly lurching through a series of chaotic fits, do Chase & Status ever feel like trying to communicate ‘real world’ concerns in their music?
“It’s an interesting one,” Milton considers. “It depends on context. If I was a grime artist I might come at this from a different perspective. We don’t really think about what we can and can’t say – we’re very outspoken people anyway, for instance, with the terrible situation with Fabric we’ve been extremely outspoken about that on social media, and with giving interviews on the BBC. Will and I are also involved in a charity to help the refugees in Calais. There are lots of topics we’re passionate about and we want to talk about, but to be honest, do we need it in the music? Not always, no. Music is often – and it should be – a release, an escape from whatever is going on in society. It should be your moment of hope, a bit of happiness, even if the song content is dark. It should take you away from life and whether this moron is in charge of America or not. Hopefully music should be your way of side stepping all that.”
As to what other ways the new album will manage to ‘side step all that’, Milton is staying tight lipped. He cites two reasons for this, one practical – the final tracklisting isn’t settled on yet and he doesn’t want to announce a tune that doesn’t make it onto the record – and one more personal;
“I like to keep things a bit of a surprise. In today’s society everything is so out there and so instant, because people are Instagramming from the studio and so on. I like to keep things a little bit close to our chest. Back in the day, before Twitter and Instagram and all that shit, there were drum n bass forums were people would be slating artists, being very rude about us all. Sometimes you’d get caught up and post something back, like, Pendulum would post, Fresh would post. But Andy C would never say a word. He managed to maintain that mystique of ‘oohhh the legend Andy C’ and I think that mystique I always felt he had from that has stayed with me forever. In the same way, when I was a kid and I was listening to Nirvana, Kurt Cobain wasn’t speaking about the fucking tea he was drinking in the morning! He had that mystique, and he’s left that legacy of a legend. Whereas now people are like, ‘hey guys, I’m having some orange juice! Who thinks I should have an apple?’”
While he won’t reveal what the band have got planned for the album, he will at least admit that they’re going to be playing new material live, along with “some old stuff you haven’t heard for a long time”. You get the feeling he’s really looking forward to the tour. Whilst they’ve keeping a typically busy DJ schedule with festival dates and regular Ibiza shows through the summer, this headlining show is the highest profile event they’ve taken on since winning Culture Clash in 2014 with Rebel Sound, the super group of Chase & Status, David Rodigan and Shy FX. Unfortunately for clash fans, it doesn’t look like they’re planning on going up against current winners Mixpak to settle who the ultimate champion is- Milton laughs at the idea.
“There’s no debate over who has the crown- we absolutely smashed it hahaha… I’m not sure if we can better that clash though. For us it was a 10 out of 10, and we’re really happy with how we performed. I’m kinda done with clashing people I know really well, it does lead to bit of a fall out. People get quite emotional- it’s hard not to. My view for the future is that if we were ever to clash again I would like it to be the UK vs USA vs Asia, so Rebel Sound and all the UK bods vs We the Best from America vs Mighty Crown from Japan, and we do this big time. That’s the kind of level of clashing I’d do again. We cut dubs every week, and I’ve got lots and lots- but I’d rather not be clashing people who are in the studio next door to me …”
Instead, he’s happier focussing on positive outlets for his energies. As we wrap up our chat, he mentions an exhibition of vintage Moschino clothes he’s involved in putting together (Milton is an avid collector of the brand that was so synonymous with 90s garage) – and somehow this leads him back to the eternal power of drum n bass-
“This exhibition, it’s not just about the clothes for me, it’s about the story they tell, it’s about the culture and the music and how it’s come full cycle, so that in 2016 kids are dressing how we dressed in 1996. There’s a shop in Peckham called Wavey Garms who are really trendsetting, they’re young, and they fucking love jungle. They’re massive fans of Bassman, of Shabba, they’re getting into jump up tunes from DJ Hazard, they’re going to raves, not just little club nights. That fills me with a lot of joy. The youth always dictate what’s happening and what’s not happening, and they’re finding jungle again. They’re in love with this magic. It makes me proud to be a part of it.”