The long awaited debut LP of Dutch producer Lenzman dropped last week (16.06.14) on Metalheadz. From the initial whispers of its presence, turned speculations of its release date, ‘Looking At The Stars’ is an album that has generated scene wide excitement – and it has absolutely justified the hype!
Lenzman has been a core part of the Metalheadz family since 2010, the year in which his tune ‘Open Page (ft. Riya)’ dropped on the label to much acclaim. Now, unlike many of us, Lenzman is one of the lucky ones… his love for the genre was spurned largely by having experienced first hand the wonders of Blue Note. Back then, had he been told he’d be releasing an album on Metalheadz what would his reaction have been?
“Something like ‘Fuck off’, hysterical laughter and utter disbelief. I recently did my album launch party at Fabric, and seeing the Metalheadz logo – red eyes lighting up and everything – amidst these green lasers… It was a big moment for me.”
With a background largely of hip-hop, then discovering funk, soul and jazz, Lenzman has carved from his influences a style smooth, soulful and built on raw musicality. Over the years, having released on a number of drum and bass’ most respected labels, his music, although ever evolving and continually taken in new directions has maintained an unmistakeable individuality – something of a rare feat to achieve.
‘Looking At The Stars’ is a journey that explores multiple tempos and that plays on various styles and moods. It’s a body of work that summarises what Lenzman is about. There’s diversity in the tunes but it isn’t a collection of singles, the album maintains a subtle common thread, a developed intricacy that makes it flow as an engaging story and an inspiring piece of art.
“Over the years I guess I’ve crafted my own signature sound – that’s what people tell me anyway. Chimpo said to me once ‘Lenzman are you still writing those long-ass bass-lines?’ Well that basically! So with that sound in mind, I tried to explore the boundaries of that – staying within this sound I’d made for myself, but exploring all corners of it.”
An interesting fact to consider is that on the contrary to genre norms, Lenzman has purposely avoided using featured producers. Instead he has enlisted only the contribution of instrumentalists, vocalists, Jubei (on remix duties) and Makoto (who plays vintage Rhodes on ‘Anticipate’).
“This album, yes purposely without featured producers – was just something that I wanted to do, to see what I could do artistically. What I could do if I made a body of work.”
Looking at Lenzman’s catalogue, vocalists feature frequently in his music. I’ve always felt the use of vocalists in drum and bass is a difficult balance to strike. There’s a certain kind of all too frequently used vocal style that seems to be able to entirely obscure the production (no matter how good) and instead dress it up as the worst kind of chart music. Lenzman however is able to work a vocal perfectly; he’s able to accentuate the themes in the production and balance flawlessly the context of the tune.
‘Looking At The Stars’ is an album in which the use of vocalists undoubtedly contributes to developing engaging story lines. The vocals of DRS and Dan Stezo give the tunes in which they feature a nod to that old-school hip-hop vibe – the result, tunes soulful yet hardened. Martyna Baker’s poignantly beautiful voice is coalesced perfectly with Lenzman’s harmonious melodies. Steo similarly adds an element of smoothness but to one of Lenzman’s harsher productions, ‘My Tearz’.
“When I got into Drum & Bass I’d go and see someone like Rider play and he’d play across the board. Metalheadz as a label also represented that for me. It didn’t matter if it was dark or light, heavy or soft, if it was good music and they put it out. So for me it was only natural to have that variety in Drum & Bass. These days people seem very caught up in just doing one style. Anyway, for me a bit of soul will always be rooted in my music, but I wanted to use this project to show what I could do within my sound.”
Album themes are developed through multiple areas of Lenzman’s production, one stand out factor being his sampling. Having previously described searching for samples as ‘treasure hunting’, the album is a testimony to this. Lenzman is a producer that isn’t afraid to include thought-provoking topics in the story-lines of his music, the vocal sample in ‘Collapse’ raising controversial questions related to the downfall of our present system / society. I don’t feel there’s enough of this in music at the moment… does Lenzman feel there’s a place for politics in dance music?
“I don’t see why there can’t be a place for politics in dance-music. For me I just tried to put some things that move me, that mean something to me, to this album. I know it’s dance music, but for me my music is emotionally driven, it’s always made with feeling. And I do have strong feelings about certain political issues. The vibe I got off the music in ‘Collapse’ just told that story sonically and I wanted to add some food for thought there.”
In the traditional sense of the word, an album can be perceived as a body of work that takes you on a clear journey from beginning to end. For me personally ‘Looking At The Stars’ very much retains these principles. I believe there’s a value and satisfaction to be found in listening to this album and appreciating it collectively, as opposed to as individual singles. Unfortunately technology and trends have largely moved music away from this kind of structure – how does Lenzman feel to have released an album in the present climate?
“We live in a world of instant gratification meaning that people’s attention spans are short to say the least. And that really affects the way people buy and listen to music. I remember the days before the Internet, when you would have tapes or CDs, and you would put them on and just listen through the whole thing. Those albums are engraved in my soul, I’ll carry them with me my entire life. There’s a sample in the “1978”interlude which talks about this. So for me it was always something that I wanted to create too. I’m hoping that some people will experience it in that way too – that it will be linked to a certain place and time. But I also understand that to some people it’ll just be a medium that carries perhaps a few tracks they like, the ones they do will be added to a pool of music they will skip through for some time and think nothing more of it, and that’s okay!”
What has Lenzman learnt in the process of creating this album?
“Mainly it was to try to not think so much about things while writing. And that you have to know when to let go with these tunes. I’m not the most gifted engineer so it was sometimes a struggle to get what was in my head to come out of the speakers. And I would be tweaking and tweaking and just killing the vibe for myself. I don’t think it’s possible to write a perfect album anyway. You just have to do the best you can do at that point in time.”
“I think the next time around, I might work this way: write a sketch quickly, leave it for a month or so, and just completely refrain from listening to it. Once you have a few and you listen back to them, you’ll know what sketches will work and which ones won’t. At that time I will make it a point to turn that sketch into a finished piece quickly and then just leave it until mastering. Otherwise you will put yourself through a world of despair.”
“You might not think it as I’ve only just completed this one – and it was a struggle. But actually I am really looking forward to getting on with the next one. I have an idea of some things I’d really like to explore further, and it’ll be nice to try and write an album with the things I’ve learnt writing the first one.”
Check out the full album below: