An Interview with J Plates

To celebrate the latest release on In-Reach records, which comes in the form of J Plates’ massive ‘Brian Drain EP’, we’ve taken some time to really get to know the man behind the music. Check out the conversation below, where J plates gives us an in-depth look into his background, influences and more.

Hi Jeremy, thanks for joining us for a chat ahead of your upcoming release for In-Reach Records. I thought we could start with a little introduction. Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your journey in Drum & Bass up till now? 

Sure thing and thanks for having me!

I turn 33 in June, which means I’ve been producing and releasing music in one form or another now for around 14 years which is crazy to me; I only just feel like I’m getting into the swing of things now.

I grew up in the north island of New Zealand in a marina town called Whangarei surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery and beaches in the country, before moving down to Hamilton for high school and then onto tertiary study. I’ve been actively involved with performing music all of my life and started at a really young age, but it was always from a band perspective; club culture wasn’t on my radar until after I left high school, which perhaps sounds a bit backwards to what you might expect here in the UK, but it just never crossed my path until much later on. Actually, my earliest memories of hearing electronic music as a child (beyond Pink Floyd & Michael Jackson) was watching a cartoon called ‘Bots Masters’ on TV, the soundtrack of which had acid/techno running non-stop throughout the entire show, and then hearing ‘The Fat of the Land’ on cassette for the first time when it came out, which immediately inspired me to climb to the top of the nearest tree!

Definitely gonna have to check out Bots Masters! So when did you first get into production?

I first got into Drum & Bass and started seriously producing electronic music around 2007 after I attended my first two day, non-stop, outdoor bass music festival; a new years party called ‘Phat’ in the middle of the Inangahua forest (northwest of the south island). I was already into the 2nd year of my Media Arts Degree (I majored in Music Production) and although I wasn’t old enough to really experience the 90’s scene, the line up of that particular year was certainly an indoctrination into Drum & Bass for me, with artists such as Grooverider, Digital, D-Bridge, A-Sides, Black Sun Empire, Concord Dawn, Klute, State Of Mind, Cern and The Upbeats appearing on the bill. The second stage was a wingspread Pterodactyl sided by bass bins; you can’t get much more badass than that for a first festival experience!

I’d started hearing some Bukem/Good Looking Records material towards the tail end of high school through friends who started getting into more obscure electronic sounds, so my first impressions of Drum & Bass were initially based off of that style – more atmospheric/ethereal pieces of music that developed over time. However everything really clicked into place for me once I attended that festival (and subsequent club events & festivals soon after), not just with the music but also with dance music and sound system culture as a whole. I distinctly remember standing in the middle of the crowd just observing everything and could feel this intense and overwhelming energy as the entire dance floor collectively anticipated and reacted to the changes in the music. It was unlike anything I had experienced musically up until that point; the way the sound system was tuned, the oneness, inclusivity and anticipation of the crowd, and how just one single person on a stage could influence the feelings and reactions of thousands of people just by playing a single track! I diverted my own musical path towards trying to create that kind of music shortly after and simultaneously started working professionally in the live sound and events side of the industry, which I was heavily involved with over the next decade.

That festival sounds pretty amazing! What was the DnB scene like in New Zealand as a whole?

It’s safe to say there’s always been a healthy Drum & Bass scene in NZ dating back to the mid 90’s with festivals like ‘The Gathering’ and people like Geoff ‘Presha’ bringing international acts to the country during those early years, then clubs like Fu Bar/Zen pushing those sounds throughout the 00’s, but I think it’s a comparatively smaller scene to other parts of the world if you’re talking purely numbers. Despite producing a whole bunch of really successful acts and events over the years, it’s just a different demographic and history with the genre compared to the UK. Still, there’s an equally large enthusiasm for the sound which has always existed without a doubt and the success of artists from NZ are a testament to what goes on down there and the fact that it’s still a desired destination for international acts. When you start looking at the influence created by artists coming out of Manchester, Bristol, and London, the reggae/dub sound systems scattered throughout the country, and the impact all of that has had on electronic / dance music culture over previous decades, it’s easy to draw the conclusion that the UK really is the ‘home bass’ for this music and a massive musical influencer. That’s one of the reasons why I moved back to the UK at the start of 2017, to be part of the source that pushed Jungle and Drum & Bass music around the globe over the past 30 years; there’s just so much musical history over here, and across many genres too!

We certainly are lucky to have such a rich dance music culture here in the UK. So, if I’m not mistaken, you’re based in Yorkshire now; have you ever been tempted to move to a big city like London, Manchester or Bristol for example?

That’s correct, I’m about a 40min train/bus away from Leeds and Manchester, which is super close compared to some of the travel you have to do for gigs back in New Zealand; the UK is really densely populated in comparison and the train system here makes commuting and travel between main centres really straight forward.

I moved up north due to financial reasons (after initially being based in Surrey) and have grown to really love it up here. The scenery is easily on par with NZ, but there are differences of course; it depends what you’ve grown up with I suppose. It’s really great though to be able to walk 5mins down the road, hop on a train and be in a large city within an hour and enjoy all it has to offer while living in a smaller town which has it’s own benefits; it seems to suit me best or at least is what I’ve been used to. Having said that, I’ve been more recently considering Bristol as a potential long-term situation should I decide to apply for settlement and remain in the UK going forward, or if not, perhaps somewhere in Canada would be a nice change, but it’s all a bit up in the air right now.

You just can’t beat those cheap northern pints.

We’re obviously in a strange time for the music industry right now with everyone stuck inside. How has your quarantine experience been so far? Have you been spending a lot of time in the studio?

It’s certainly a strange and uncertain time for everyone at the moment.

There are obvious negative impacts for our industry during this time, but I think it’s also a great opportunity for independent artists to establish themselves to their audience and for everyone to release new music and start new projects, and we’re certainly seeing that in spades at the moment.

What I hope to come out of this situation is a renewed appreciation for the arts and culture (especially within the music industry), and that there is continued financial support funnelling directly into artists pockets by purchasing their digital & physical music and hopefully by attending more events in the future. It’s going to take some time to get to that point, but there’s real potential and opportunities for smaller towns & venues to perhaps host more ‘grass roots’ events and build up new territory for the scene, which would be really positive for those smaller businesses, areas, and for new artists coming up. Either way the best way to work towards that end goal and to show continued support to artists & musicians going forward, at least from my perspective, is to buy their music if you’re in a position to do so.

In terms of my own output, the first week of lockdown mentally threw me against the wall a bit to be completely honest (like most people I imagine), but over the past few weeks I’ve started to regain focus and get back into the swing of producing new music, alongside promoting my upcoming releases and developing new projects. Music has always been a crutch for me in that I treat it as an extension of myself and what I’m feeling at the time; it’s all I know how to do, so I think the most productive thing for creatives to do at times like this is to invest even more in their art and figure out new and interesting ways to get it out to their audiences.

Speaking of different ways of sharing music, I’ve spotted that you’ve posted your old Back To School mix series on your mixcloud recently, which is an awesome little journey through DnB history from ’96 to 2012. Have you got plans to release any more mixes in the near future? Maybe a new volume of Back To School is in order!

Yes, thank you. I’ve had a couple instances of “social-media-suicide” now, so I’ve gone back and pulled a few old mixes that I think are worth a listen. A lot of that motivation was based on not having a solid image (or brand for lack of another term) to stand behind, something I’ve struggled with for a while, but I think I’m far more confident with it all now compared to when I recorded those mixes, even though I’ve experienced some trying times over the past few years. I also think it’s easy to get lost in the pace of current releases and what’s happening ‘right now’ that you inevitably miss a lot of quality material (tracks or otherwise) that get buried in the pile; there’s so much amazing music out there that it can become overwhelming to keep up with it all, so I tend to just do my own thing and stumble on “new” music when it suits me, even if it came out 5 years ago!

As for a new mix or addition to the series, I might look at doing something fresh later in the year but I’m not really sure. If I revisit the Back To School series it will likely be a few years away so I have time (and money) to catch up on my ever expanding ‘to buy’ list to add to my record collection.

So, we’re all massively hyped here at In-Reach for the release of your upcoming EP on In-Reach Records. The EP seems to have quite a late 90’s tech step sort of vibe running through it, which is definitely right up my street. Would you say this is an era that’s been a heavy influence for you? 

That’s really great to hear and it’s always nice to come across like-minded people who are into what you’re doing, so it’s a fantastic opportunity to have more of my music reach a larger audience and to have music out alongside other artists I admire for sure!

The 90’s era has certainly been an influence on what I do, not just from within Drum & Bass/Jungle music, but also the bands and artists I used to hear on the radio growing up as a child. There’s definitely an edgier timbre running throughout that particular decade which is for whatever reason attractive to my ears, and comes down to the use of technology for that time I suppose, with early digital sampling and sequencing being a huge contributor.

The thing that does it for me personally though is that Drum & Bass/Jungle tracks from that time are a bit more off the cuff, raw/organic, and not so overly polished, at least compared to today’s standards and styles, but again, evolving technology has an obvious influence on all that stuff and there’s definitely still tracks and labels pushing a more vintage sound. I’ve always tried to look back and figure out where certain influences came from, who produced or worked with whom, and what they themselves were inspired by, so I think that also helps clarify the intention of the music and how you can create your own angle on it. I guess the reason why my music has some of those traits is because that’s just what I listen to and what I’m inspired by for the most part!

To relate it back to what I do with my tracks (and regardless of the style), I try not to overcomplicate my arrangements wherever possible. If I can get the feeling or musical point across by using a minimal amount of elements and let the harmonic or melodic parts of the music stand on their own (often in one sitting), then I’ve achieved the goal and I’ll move onto the next project. I can always come back to it later, but I’ve found that not getting too hung up on things works best for me, otherwise I’d probably go nuts tweaking stuff to death, I’d never release anything, and all the fun would go out of it. A lot of that has to do with how I set up my sessions and the hardware instruments and certain software I use for each track; after a while you just know your tools well enough to know where to go with it, how to get a particular sound or whatever, and just get down the skeleton of the idea as quickly as possible. That in itself goes a long way into creating your own “sound” I think, even though my stuff is pretty varied.

I couldn’t agree more on the raw 90’s sound; I think Drum & Bass is best served rough. Are there any other periods or styles of music, or even particular artists, that you feel are a heavy influence on your work?

My musical mood and particular influences are constantly changing so it’s hard to single out a few examples, however I think you can definitely hear certain influences and nods to particular styles running throughout my tracks as you’ve already suggested. It just depends on what’s influencing me at the time; the music I gravitate towards becomes ingrained and a part of what I do by default. There’s obviously amazing new music coming out all the time, and I still want my own music to be relevant by today’s standards, but there’s just something about that 90’s era that I connect with over and above anything else, not just with Drum & Bass music but with all the Rock, Industrial, and Down Tempo music that was coming out at that time as well. I guess it’s where I feel most comfortable sonically speaking.

One track that doesn’t quite conform to the techy theme of the EP is the blissful ‘Emotions’, which feels more akin to the early Good Looking era. Would you agree? And is this a particular vibe you were looking to achieve when writing the track?

Without a doubt that label has certainly had a huge influence on my more atmospheric tracks. That one in particular was actually inspired by Basement Records’ ‘The Masters’ series releases. I was casually listening through some of those records again a couple years ago and really focussed in on the arrangement and how the pads and breaks were being used, so I tried to capture that musical essence, but in my own way.

That’s one of the things I love about the atmospheric sub-genre (or whatever you’d like to call it) is that there’s a bit more room to breath within the music at those slightly slower tempos, you can just sit with the arrangement and let it wash over you; it’s more of a passive listening experience compared to the more boisterous styles, so in a way this track sums up that whole notion for me.

After a bit of investigation, I’ve discovered that two of the tracks in the EP (‘The Search’ and ‘Emotions’) contain vocal samples from the philosopher Alan Watts. Are you something of a philosopher yourself? 

Ha-ha, I wouldn’t ever make such a claim!

I do however think it’s important to critically investigate varying points of view and ideas, and I personally enjoy coming across interesting people who hold different opinions and thoughts about all kinds of subject matter. Sometimes you need a different perspective in order to shift or further clarify your own; we’re all learning as we go after all.

The fact that two tracks on the EP happened to include a bit of Alan Watts wisdom is by pure coincidence I can assure you, and I’m just as fond of some good old-fashioned sci-fi movie dialogue as much as the next guy!

When you find a vocal sample like that, does it provide a lot of inspiration for the direction of the track, or is it more of a case of writing the track first and then finding a sample that fits it?

I don’t often start with a vocal sample like that, it’s normally something that I look for at the very end of the process to sort of “seal the deal”, or add a final statement to the track if I feel like it would be stronger than just a purely instrumental piece of music. Sometimes it reinforces the track title or helps solidify the musical idea, but it’s not always necessary or even appropriate.

It’s funny; literally every time I’ve gone to add some dialogue or a lyric like what’s on those tracks, it just fits in right where it needs to be, like it was meant to be there or something. Sounds a bit ‘new-age’ I know, but it keeps happening like that. I’ll flick through a few clips, some phrase or word jumps out, I drag it into the arrangement (or sampler), almost randomly, and it just seems to work, even down to the pacing of the phrasing and everything!

Once you find a sound like that, it could be any sound really, it’s sometimes hard to imagine the track without it and you know instantly if it’s supposed to be there or not. Call it intuition or luck, either way if it sounds good, it sounds good. I try not to over think it.

Other than your upcoming In-Reach Records release, is there anything else people should look out for from you in the near future? And where can people keep up to date with all things J Plates?

Apart from the ‘Brain Drain EP’ release on the 15th, I have a forthcoming limited run 12” titled ‘The Eternal State EP’ which is the next release due out on Silent Force Recordings later in the year (tentatively scheduled for October).

I’m also planning on casually self-releasing some rarities and unreleased material from over the years via my bandcamp that kicks off at the start of June, alongside further label releases currently in development.

The best places to reach me are my Instagram and SoundCloud and a complete list of social links & highlights can also be found via the following link: https://linktr.ee/jplates.

Again, thanks for having me, and a big shout out to everyone who’s recently supported my music, I really appreciate it!