How Drum and Bass Saved My Life (An Interview With The Founder, Jason Bakes 𝐁Ꮯ⚡︎➒ DNB◉UNITED RECORD
𝐁Ꮯ⚡︎➒ starting his professional career in music as the the guitarist for the infamous Pittsburgh punk band Thin White Line in 1986. Co-producing, song writing, and touring with the legendary front man Robert C. Porter for 10 years, I learned a lot during that decade about every facet of the entertainment industry, from recording, production, branding, marketing and touring. Playing in front of large crowds and discovering that the sheer energy thrown back at you when you're performing live is as much as a part of the songs ingredients and sound as the chord structure and changes. The relationship between both the audience and the performer is paramount in the final sound. As a DNB producer working in the studio, some of the greatest moments are left unseen and unheard during the actual process of creation. Until the songs are performed live there’s an element missing. I always follow the rule: don’t produce anything in the studio that can’t be performed live. The experience I bring to producing from an the perspective of an organic musician is really beneficial. Sometimes learning how to make things work digitally, that you could easily produce with an organic instrument, isn’t easy. Finding balance between the two is the art of production. After twenty years of playing and touring as a musician, I eventually made the complete leap into being a digital DNB Producer. I have never been happier. When you have the power, experience and tools to make it all work, the feeling is so complete. Audio production applications are always changing. I change with them. We evolve when we participate in that process. With my first full-length DNB release, Aquasonica, I used the platform to express my new found sound. After signing the recording contracts that followed, I have been able to spend most of my time growing and taking part in the journey. Musical exploration, composing film scores and soundtracks, as well as producing other artists, has given me new experiences that I never would have had if I had stayed just a guitarist and songwriter. Like I said earlier, the audience is a vital part of your ultimate sound and energy. So is bringing the experience from those early years into the foundation and production of what I do today. I feel blessed and grateful to now have a platform to provide a community at DNBUNITED.COM for others. DNB◉UNITED RECORDS will give other artists the opportunity to be heard as well. This is all about serving something much bigger than me. It always has been. The difference now is I'm old enough to know it. 𝐁Ꮯ⚡︎➒
Q: What was the first Drum and Bass album you ever listened to?
A: That’s an interesting question…not your favorite, but your first one…in 1993, I was in London, England attending a rave with two fellow Dj’s from Zimbabwe and India. We went to Portobello Market on a Saturday morning still up from the night before lol and I purchased some cassette tapes, memorably DJ Junior, Junior Vasquez, who was originally from NYC and The Dark Side - Hardcore Drum & Bass Style. On the tape a continuous mix from a warehouse party. The other was a real record from a now well know vinyl shop.There weren’t many albums, per se, but mixes and sets and singles that I began to collect from various places. Those were the first DNB recordings that I listened to.
Q: When did you first find your love for Drum and Bass?
A: That’s an easy one. In the early 90’s,Piccadilly records in Manchester was a great place to get the best vinyl back then The only problem was it moved three times that I can count at least. Searching for it was part of the fun back then.Not like downloading today.Give me a break.You had to make tracks back then and travel for your sounds.I used to say that Piccadilly records was the Eides Pgh,Pa and Bleeker Bob’s N.Y.C. of Manchester.I went to a lot of raves in a lot of warehouses and heard a lot of what was then called breaks, jump, dub and jungle music. It was mostly DJs and was considered quite underground and was still finding its own genre. Artists like Adam F, Dillinga Aphrodite and still Roni Size and Krust broke the floor.Also UK Garage had an influence and still does.I love HVOB and NUAGE today.Fast forward circa 1996 Syncopated City dropped from London Electricity and Hospital Records was born, DNB as a genre had started to officially form and reached the shores of the US in a big way. Keep in mind that in the early 90s, I was playing for Thin White Line, the infamous punk band from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and from the same zip code, DieselBoy came up as a drum and bass DJ. So Drum and Bass was all around me, from my home town and across the pond in London as I was traveling back and forth. Drum and Bass had always been a large part of my life.Pittsburg is a steel town with lots of warehouses too.Lotts of great music and young turks that spun and played it.Pittsburgh is known as the three rivers city steel city.It all flowed in from those three cities from all over the world.Lol I think Im ready for another question.Stop me before I start talking about the record graveyard…Pgh,PA.I should also tip my hat to Diesalboy for making the 412 proud.The first Monsters of Jungle tour featured Dieselboy, the Upbeats (New Zealand), Evol Intent, Ewun, Demo, Infiltrate, Joe Way, Mayhem, SPKTRM, MC Messinian, and MC Dino.So DNB was right where I grew up also.
Q: Coming from a Punk and Rock background, what inspired you to begin producing DNB?
A: I laugh, because I can answer that in one word…OK Computer.Radiohead released OK Computer, I was producing my podcast Hooked on Tronix and was reviewing almost every electronic album released monthly, for iTunes. I’m not saying it was just one album, but it was a combination of albums and producing music myself, but, it was that album, and artists Brian Eno ,Kraftwerk,The Talking Heads, and London Elektricity.Blue Note ,Verse Free Jazz, Funk were the influences in Liquid drum and bass I was recording at the time. Syncopated City by London Electricity was the album that made me go all in.I walked into the rehearsal studio and literally announced to my bandmates that I was playing with in Miami,Fla that I had quit the band. When asked why I simply replied I was going digital.They all gasped and I laughed as I drove off.Now I could focus all of my creative energy into creating electronic music. When my father died at 62 years of age, six months after being diagnosed with an inoperable form of brain cancer, it was Syncopated City that I listened to to get through that time, and it was Just One Second that I listened to on the long drive to that funeral. I forged an emotional connection to Drum and Bass that was very deep. Once I buried my father, I wrote a long, two page letter to Tony Colman of Hospital about how his music had guided me through a very dark time in my life. Just like punk rock, we started playing in warehouses. Social media was running around the city posting flyers to telephone poles. It was a close knit community in the underbelly of the city we grew up in. But it was a lot of smart, political people with important things to say, like Jello Biafra, Swans and countless others. The same social attitudes that were directed at punk rock, were the attitudes that I encountered in the drum and bass scene. Most of the time when people look from the outside in, they may not have a clear perception of what is really going on.
Q: What was your inspiration in starting DNB◉UNITED RECORDS?
A: Currently, DNB as a genre is growing rapidly. In the UK, with labels like Hospital, DNB has reached a level of accessibility like we’ve never experienced before. But in the US, the number one question that I hear from artists that I work with is why DNB is not as accessible here as it is in the UK? So, like anything, nothing changes if you don’t do anything to change it. For all those people before me who took their money, time, and a big chance to start labels to give artists the opportunity to become part of a thriving genre globally, I wanted to do the same thing for myself and also to create a community and a support base including artist development, promotions, merchandizing, etc, in a business model that specializes in DNB, not just a side venture of a larger, more diluted electronic company. Living in Miami for ten years, I went to Ultra every year, and saw shows with 100,000 kids waiting to see DJs perform all weekend, but at the DNB show, there were only 200 kids there to see those acts. That puts it in a clear perspective from a ground-level view. With the age of the internet and the ability to co-produce releases with other producers in the UK that I work with on a regular basis, my own releases inspired me to create DNB United so that more collaborations could be created and supported officially and exclusively for our audience.
Q: What is DNB◉UNITED RECORDS all about?
A: The original idea for DNB United was to create a record label for a friend and I who were co-producing our tracks for release in both the US and the UK. We wanted a way to publish and distribute our work globally, without paying thirty percent off the top to a parent company. Out of that, the website DNB United was born, because in searching for a platform to make that happen, I didn’t find anything dedicated to not just discussing DNB, but to making it accessible and available, not just to fans, but between artists and producers as well. What DNB United is all about is essentially creating a space where DNB artists, producers and fans can come to read artist interviews, album reviews, as well as to discuss technology and its applications to the work that we do. It’s all to answer that age old question, “How did he get that bass sound?” LOL. What DNB United is all about is essentially creating a space where DNB artists, producers and fans can come to read artist interviews, album reviews, as well as to discuss technology and its applications to the work that we do. It’s all to answer that age old question, “How did he get that bass sound?” LOL. Whether I’m in the studio or on tour, I often trade and share music with my contemporaries in the industry, as a form of currency more valuable than money. DNB connects us all with some sort of cosmic synergy, that when we hear that track, that one song that changes our day, it changes our whole perspective, and it gives us the ability to create in a new way. I suffered two strokes in 2011. I had lost the total all use of both my arms and hands for over two months. I didn’t know if I would ever play music again.During that time the people who I thought would show up in my life to help did not. It was again the friends online from my podcast Hooked On Tronix that subscribed to my show did.The album Yikes by London Elektricity featuring Elsa Esmeralda on Electricity Will Keep Us Warm. That songs is what would keep me going. My online drum and bass circle of friends made me not give up and stayed connected.They showed up online with donations and links to assistance in respect to my physical recovery. All the way through my recovery and physical rehabilitation I listened to every Hospital release that year night and day. I would also meet my currant soul mate Xtene at that very time as well.via that online circle. So when I say DNB saved my life! Im not joking. I had written a long email to Tony Colman to thank for him the musical inspiration following my total and full recovery. Hospital records music and the people within the industry really did save my life! I would then in 2014 release Aquasonica worldwide. My first full length DNB release. I became the second most reviewed artist on drumandbasslines.com of 2014. The single from that release Going On which was inspired from my recovery after my stroke went on to be a huge hit climbing to the top 50 on iTunes. Followed by signing a recording contract with 3 labels that same year. So to those who think when releasing a song it’s the amount of sales that indicate its total success.I would ask that each artist and label consider the impact that I experienced after my stroke from Hospitals releases that year. That doesn’t appear on you’re quarterly sales reports. What we do as artists and record label owners makes a big difference in many peoples lives that we often don’t see, hear or aware of. If after I’m long gone and my music or one of my artists music that I helped provide a platform from which to release from continues to touch, inspire or gives someone the strength to keep on going on even when the deck is stacked against them, well I have done my part well.That is everything to me. That is what keeps me humble and grateful when life makes it harder to be on any given day. DNB Saved My Life!
Q: Where do you see DNB◉UNITED RECORDS in the next 5 years?
A: Right now, I’m focusing on the website, building a community, and hopefully changing some hearts and minds about the perception of DNB. My girlfriend suggested the answer to that question was “total world domination”, but that might be a little ambitious at this point! This is not a scene from Goldfinger, but I appreciate her enthusiasm and support. Just as much as there are misconceptions about DNB on the surface, there are as many about American producers and their ambitions. We don’t want to usher in a NWO where everybody is goose-stepping to 172 BPMs. All we want is to create a community where like-minded industry professionals and fans can come together and become better educated on the world of DNB and the people who create it, produce it, and support it. It’s for that a kid whose been in his/her bedroom for the past 48 hours non-stop, recording and producing, who has the skills to pay the bills, that the opportunity is there for him or her. We just want to make sure that there is one more drop box where that music can be heard. When I was fifteen, the internet and the ability to connect was not there, and we had to work really hard, and luck and timing definitely had a lot to do with it. The industry has been good to me, but I’m 48, and I’ve reached a part in my career where I have the ability to do something more. This is it.
Q: What other labels are you currently signed with, and which was the first?
A: The first was Sony,Proton, then Spring Tube, then Chic, and I’m also on Juno in the UK. But I’m most proud to be signed to DNB United Records.
Q: Where do you see yourself as an artist in 5 years?
A: Hopefully, right here, doing the five-year interview, talking about how well we’re doing, and how many mistakes we made along the way, laughing about them in hindsight. Seriously, considering I have a young family, hopefully able to tour more, and to see some of our new artists growing and finding success.
Q: What is your favorite DNB song that you have created and why?
A: Good question…Plat Numb Night Crawler.
I wrote and produced this song when I started recording the first few tracks for my first NDB album, Aquasonica. That was around 2012. I was blending a lot of atmospheric sounds with a Hammond A3 organ from 1939. The A3 preceded the better known B3. These organs had two five foot spinning Leslies.
When the song starts, you can really hear the Leslies panning the A3’s deep, breathing sound. When I was a young boy, I would stay up late on Saturday nights to watch Bill Cardill on Chiller Theater. This show featured all of the vintage thrillers and horror movies, like the ones starring Vincent Price. The soundtracks to these films always featured that classic haunted organ sound. To this day, the hair on the back of my neck stands up when I hear the sound of that organ.
I often use the organ as a percussive instrument for layering with bass tracks. I many times add a little overdrive to get the classic DNB sound. So, back to the track-when the beginning of the track kicks in and the bass drop follows, I take on a layered approach of drums that brings subtle changes as the song moves forward, incorporating some kick-backs from individual drum strikes that I added delay and reverb to. A lot of space was given to allow plenty of room for pads to swell and synths to drop. The end of the track is almost another track itself. New bass, new beats, rim shots, DNB percussion and thick tribal bongos that I created from one-shots I recorded.
This type of liquid drum and bass is what I am really proud of for several reasons. It involves so many examples of DNB and soundscapes that I often use when Im creating or composing a film score or soundtrack.
Q: What is your favorite video from your catalog and why?
A: I finally started producing my own videos last year. My liquid DNB has a lot of colors and textures already. Producing them in a visual form was very natural for me. I am a huge fan of Kenny Franklin, a/k/a/ Tin Spider. Tin Spider produced an incredible amount of videos for many of Hospital’s artists, including Meteorites from London Elektricity’s release Yikes. The Sci-Fi inspired video is animated, with the voice of Elsa Esmerelda. I swear, when I first saw it I knew I wanted to create a video that was similar in style, as a novice, of course. So I did-Plat Numb Night Crawler was the video it inspired. I also gave formal credit to Tin Spider as well, on my Vimeo page. Little did I know that I would eventually befriend Kenny on Vimeo after liking his page. Kenny and I started messaging each other about our work. Kenny is one of the most talented artists I know and also the kindest. I also had the pleasure of receiving footage to use, edit and alter from Tokyo time=lapse artist Darwinfish 105. I am so grateful to be working in the video medium now.
Q: Finally, you are on a deserted island…you take your five favorite DNB records with you…what are they?
1. Syncopated City by London Elektricity
2. 15 Years of Metalheadz (Remastered)
3. Hospitality 2016
4. Are We There Yet by London Elektricity
5. Ten Years of Med School
One more, only because I can…
6. Fast Jungle Music from Hospital Records