As I listened to this masterpiece of an animated audio journey that tells tales of haunting spirits as well as our better, angelic presences, the messages became easier to comprehend. Each act, in it’s description of the human struggle we all live, making decisions every day, in every way, to either rise up and accept the inner conflict that at times, we all feel a pull to embrace the dark side, which can profoundly conflict with the equally compelling desire to walk toward the light and experience the feeling of our higher selves winning the battle, perhaps for that day only.
The perpetual war in each of our minds and souls is often a struggle that doesn’t end until fifteen minutes after we are returned to ashes. Drum and Bass is ever evolving into a much bigger and broader genre, with sub-genres that have significant cross over appeal.
Toronto Is Broken is a perfect example of this beautiful art form, expressed with sophisticated layers comprised of layers of lush soundscapes and complex stories that leave the listener engaged, rooting for both sides by the time the final act unfolds.
DNB UNITED is a celebration of the art, culture and evolving sound of today’s Drum and Bass. You Are (Not) Alone is a perfect example of what comes next. Brilliant. Jason Bakes/BC#9 founder of DNB United Records/ dnbunited.com/The United State Of DNB. Edited by Xtene16.
Review by Jason Bakes founder @dnbunited.com on Wednesday May 23/2018. BC⚡︎➒
Q: In the early 2000’s, I lived and worked on Bloor and Young, and I found the city of Toronto quite progressive and cosmopolitan…like New York City without the grit and gloom, which I also love in its own way, but which I definitely never experienced as a part of life in Toronto. Can you tell us about your artist name, how you chose it, and what it means to you?
A: Well unfortunately my answer isn’t going to be as deep and sentimental as yours haha! Back when I first began I did everything through MySpace and at that time you could feature a song on your profile which played every time you went onto it; I remember when I first signed up to Facebook and said to a friend “This is crap, you can’t even have a song on your profile!”. However, to feature a song on your profile you would take it from a band’s profile and if they didn’t have that song uploaded (artists were limited to about 4 or 5 songs on their profile) you couldn’t link it to your personal profile. I knew someone who worked around this issue by creating a fake band page to upload any song they wanted to later link to their personal profile. They went under the name “Detroit Valentino” and I asked them how they came up with that as I was struggling to think of a decent name for myself. It was made from getting a random place name and word and sticking them together. I tried the first exercise and “Toronto Is Broken” is the first thing that came to mind and it stuck; 10 years later it’s a bit late to change it now!
I can understand how people see the literal meaning when they first hear of my work, and probably the most popular comment on any Youtube uploads of my work is “Why is Toronto broken?”, but to me it’s lost its literal meaning and is nothing more than just a name that I identify my music under. At the end of the day, the name was generated randomly and doesn’t mean anything at all; however, it is brilliant at coming up in suggested Google searches!
Q: In composing such a complex work of art as You Are (Not) Alone, did you find that your inspiration changed throughout the process of recording, or was the evolution of its mood and tone your vision from the start? Did the work evolve into more than what you first expected of the songs, or where they ultimately took you?
A: The physical album itself actually began as just an EP for Viper to bridge the narrative gap between albums 1 and 2. However, this quickly spiralled out of control and became a release of about 8 tracks. It was basically what I wanted to achieve for album 2 and there was half an album there already so Viper was awesome and let me develop it into a full LP.
The track titles, concept and album title were decided upon long before I was officially given the green light by viper to focus on this record, it was towards the end of writing my first album “Section Nine” (before you ask, yes I do have the title, track names and concept about 90% of the way there for album 3 haha!).
Of course there were a few tracks that I never expected which appeared on the record and some that I had planned for which were later cut or never finished, but about 80% of the album is what I more or less intended to write back in 2013/14 when I was planning this record. This was definitely down to present day influence as it’s kind of hard to write a record over such a long period and not get inspired by what’s current!
Unlike the first record which was very cyberpunk, sci-fi and neurofunk for the most part, I wanted to move away from this for the next record. Firstly in terms of narrative it made sense, but also there’s so much neurofunk out there nowadays. A few years ago, neuro used to be a sub-genre of drum & bass and only a few people could make it and make a good job it, but now it just seems to be the norm and standard of the genre. In my eyes it’s lost its value due to the immense saturation of that style, and I'm just bored of straight up dancefloor “bangers”. I really wanted to focus on the atmosphere and melody of this album, as I’ve been listening to a lot more ambient, techno and more out there electronica, I’ve also fallen back in love with rock and metal and decided to get my guitar refurbished and get as much guitar on this album as possible. I wasn’t overly focused too much on getting a super crisp and technical mixdown on this record, even though there was still certain standard of quality I set myself, but to make it all about vibe and the story, be it through sung lyrics or the spoken word interludes between tracks. I got this idea from the works of Dawn Wall and Mohican Sun, their mixdowns can be quite rough and organic sounding, but God, there is such a vibe to their music!
Q: There is a real and present spiritual message and presence that comes through the songs. There are angels and demons that bring their part of the tales told within the tracks. How closely did art imitate life, personally for you, Christian Hoffmann, in this story?
A: I came up with the concept of the record, title and majority of the track names long before I officially began writing the record, towards the end of writing my first album “Section Nine”. I knew that this one was to be a narrative continuation of the first, essentially a sequel so I had to keep that in mind fairly early on.
At that time I was going through a bit of a rough patch in my life. I went through a pretty rough and emotionally draining break-up that definitely changed my view on relationships and how I view other people in general even to this day. My life was also a bit all over the place in terms of work and not really knowing what I was going to do with myself in general and as a result my self- esteem and confidence was at an all-time low. I don’t want to say I had depression as I never got my mental state formally looked at for doctors, but I definitely wasn’t the happiest I could have been in life.
I am a lot happier now and when I was writing the vast majority of the record, but depression, anxiety and relapse were all still definitely something I wanted to base this new record on. I’d done all the hard work back then by coming up with the story and concept, now I just had to put pen to paper.
Unlike “Section Nine” which told the story of civilisation’s downfall due to technology on a more global scale, “You Are (Not) Alone” zooms in on one individual who is trying to find their purpose in a world which was destroyed generations previous; I suppose I was a bit similar in that regards as I was unsure of my purpose in everything.
The title is also taken from the first Evangelion film by the same title, one of the anime greats. The main character in that suddenly has immense pressure thrown onto him and he simply can’t cope and struggles with it all, mirroring the personal struggles the main character in this album is going through. The title of my first album “Section Nine” was also in reference to another anime, “Ghost in the Shell”, and the third and final album in this trilogy of records will also reference another favourite anime of mine albeit a lesser-known one.
Q: As the music and lyrics poetically and evocatively tell their story, a myriad of visuals flood my mind. Are there any plans for an actual series of videos or other visual art to eventually accompany this incredible story line?
A: There are no plans at the moment as unfortunately the reality of these things is that it costs money which I don’t have. If you look on my Instagram there’s a line of lyric or spoken word taken from each track that’s been uploaded daily running up to the release of the record which I’ve been using as a story telling medium. There may be plans in the future to develop the narrative of this album further; we’ll just have to see how the record goes!
Q: Continuing with the incredibly visually suggestive and story-telling qualities of this piece of work, I am reminded of Swan’s release Love of Life, on which a couple of tracks include a similar type of disembodied voice as part of the production. Swans used the work of the painter Deryk Thomas on their releases, as covers, as well as insert art and tour posters, t- shirts and other related materials. Do you have any visual artists that you feel are either inspirational or could be representative of the imagery that goes through your mind as you compose?
A: There was definitely one massive inspiration in terms of art, it’s quite common practise for musicians to get inspired by visual art forms and this album is no expectation. I discovered Beeple and his “Everdays” series and there were a number of images that basically screamed out the vibe of the record to me- dystopian, ethereal, and ancient. When it came round to coming up with the art direction for the record we contacted him and he was willing for us to use his art for this singles and album itself and provided us with ultra-hi-res versions of the images. The images we used aren’t original pieces at all, but it was such a great feeling to use the actual images which inspired the album as part of it as opposed to trying to get someone to recreate something similar as it just didn’t feel right to do that.
Exclusive You Are (Not) Alone Album Mix by Toronto Is Broken for The United State Of DNB.
With the release of Toronto Is Broken's You Are (Not) Alone, Jonathan Loeser aka Invalid has created this video mix. Using the exclusive album mix for dnbunited.coms monthly podcast The United State Of DNB. This video mix was produced live using a technique that is becoming Invalids trademark style. Just a month after creating the video mix for the March edition of The United State Of DNB Mefjus inspired mix that was produced by Jason Bakes aka BC#9 and co-produced by Invalid. This installment is Invalids second live mix in two months. We at DNB United hope Invalid keeps being inspired to create more to add the visual experience to the live audio drum+bass experience we all love so much.
Q-What DAW did you use to create the tracks on You Are (Not) Alone?
A – I use Ableton Live 9 for all of my production. Some of the older tracks like “Remnants” and “An Image From The Outside” were started in Ableton Live 7 as it took me a very long time to upgrade.
Q-What are your three most used plug-ins for bass used on this release?
A- NI Massive, Ableton's Operator & Image-Line's Harmor running stand-alone in Ableton.
Q-What plug-in has become your first choice this past year?
A – Depending on what I want to make, most likely Massive as you can just never go wrong with such a classic! Another piece of audio software I really want to shout out is PaulStretch, which is basically and ambient music generator in a box. A lot of the pads on the album were made from vocals which have been slowed down by huge amounts in PaulStretch and later brought back into Ableton. The best part is that it's also free, so definitely worth checking out!
Q- Please tell me three artists that you would like the opportunity to collaborate with?
A – Jon Hopkins, Dead Letter Circus, Northlane
Q-What genre of music do you listen to (in addition to DNB) that you would like to produce and record?
A – I've fallen back in love with Metal over the past couple of years, and more in particular a more progressive sub-genre known as Djent (pronounced Jent), which features loads of cool poly rhythms, odd time-signatures and super low guitar tunings. In particular its bands such as Northlane, Tesseract, The Contortionist, Monuments and Architects, which has really gotten me back into picking the guitar up again. I'm even eyeing up some 7-string guitars at the moment so I can go super low on my tunings, such as drop F! I'd love to just jam and maybe get a band together in this style, but I just don't really have the time for it at the moment.
I'm also really getting into the darker side of techno, guys like Pleasurekraft and their self named “Cosmic” techno style; their album earlier this year was so good!
Q - With so many artists releasing Neurofunk today, there is a “quantity not quality” factor that exists. I remember when DNB years ago went through a dark phase, and then came out of that period with a new musical melodic sound that had evolved into something new, yet again. With so many Neurofunk releases today, I feel so much of it sounds the same. Please name three artists that are releasing some of the best Neurofunk DNB today.
A – Mefjus' latest album is brilliant, and he's basically teaching us how it's meant to be done! I've also been a big fan of Billain, as he just takes things to a whole new dimension, as well as
of course Noisia, the godfathers of Neuro.
Q- Please tell us three of your favourite DNB releases from last year.
A – Ekko & Sidetrack - “Let in the Light” Kronology “Breathe”
Wilkinson “Only The Innocent”
Q-What are your three favourite DNB releases of all time?
A – Eric Prydz “Niton” (Metrik Remix) Smooth “Calling”
Dimension “Digital World”
Q-What is your favourite track from You Are (Not) Alone and why?
A – It all comes down to what mood I'm in, but one of my favourite moments on the whole record is the second drop on “Nothingness Lasts Forever”, there's tons of power in Becky's vocals on that and great to hear out live.
Q-There is a spiritual message in the tracks on this release about redemption, relapse and finding your way in life. Sometimes salvation is in the eye of the storm. Did you find yourself, and did your better angels win by the time you realized that You Are (Not) Alone?
A – I'm not really sure as it's hard to evaluate yourself, but I do think that life is massively better for me now than before I started the record!
Christian Hoffman, aka Toronto Is Broken, has become known for his ability to tell a story with his music, with releases like ‘This Way Up’, ‘Make Me Feel’, and ‘Zero One’ being strong examples of his recent success. Now, the UK based producer is finally ready to release his remarkable new album, ‘You Are (Not) Alone’ on Viper Recordings, since signing to the label last year.
An album with three distinct acts, ‘You Are (Not) Alone’ is nothing if not a work of art. A pivotal point in Toronto Is Broken’s career, the album seamlessly picks up the story set up in his last album, ‘Section Nine’, and focuses on the main protagonist’s struggle to find purpose in a mystical, dystopian land. Steering away from the traditional sounds of sci-fi inspired, post-apocalyptic neurofunk, Hoffman decided to instead focus on the more mystical, ambient side of the genre, and the result is truly stunning.
Focusing more on intricate, ethereal melodies rather than tech-heavy basslines, the album represents the unstoppable growth and success met by Toronto is Broken, first seen with the release of the first album singles: ‘Make Me Feel / Trying to Find Home’ in May last year, followed by ‘Spite, Lessons, Regrets & Promises / An Image from the Outside’ in December.
The first act (Tracks 1-6) sets the stage for the album with strong dystopian vibes; ‘I Am’ uses a text-to-speech emulator to play the role of god over a deeply resounding neuro sound. The second act (tracks 7-12), explores the themes of identity, depression, religion, and addiction as the protagonist battles with her spirituality, her epiphany materializing with ‘Aum’. Tracks like ‘The Space Between’ show Toronto Is Broken confidently tackling genres outside his usual drum & bass, another testament to his constant rise to success.
The final act (tracks 13-15), looks at the idea of letting go, of death, and of the main character’s spiritual awakening. ‘Weigh Me Under’ offers a unique, gentle, almost liquid-esque track featuring the stunning vocals of artist favourite,Jodie Carnall, all while still maintaining Toronto Is Broken’s characteristic fantasy inspired sound in a truly elegant manner.
Toronto Is Broken‘You Are (Not) Alone’
01. You Are Alone
02. I Am
03. Remnants (feat. Karina Ramage)
04. Nothingness Lasts Forever (feat. Deuce & Charger) 05. Trying To Find Home (feat. Jodie Carnall)
06. Make Me Feel
07. Spite, Lessons, Regrets & Promises (feat. J Swif) 08. The Space Between
09. An Image From The Outside (feat. MZKA)
10. Penitent (Wash Away) (feat. Lena Cullen)
12. Children (feat. MZKA)
13. Weigh Me Under (feat. Jodie Carnall)
14. You Are Not Alone (feat. Amy Kirkpatrick)
15. What You Do With What You Have [Digital Bonus]
Buy or stream You Are (Not) Alone Now. https://www.beatport.com/artist/toronto-is-broken/230117