In Conversation With Total Science

Total Science; a household name in the world of Drum & Bass, a duo who have firmly cemented their place in the genre’s hall of fame with more than 20 years of music that is not only staggering in quantity, but is also of almost unbelievably consistent quality. To be honest I don’t think there’s much more I need to say about these guys, their music speaks loudly enough for itself. We’ve been lucky enough to have Paul aka Spinback and one half of Total Science here to pick his brain about history, influences, new music and much more.

Hi Paul, how’s it going this morning?

Yeah not bad thanks, still a bit tired but ready to go! haha

Ok awesome, lets get straight into it then. We’ll kick thing off with a bit of history. I’ve read that you and Quiff were brought together by a mutual love of hip hop, but what was it that drew you to the hardcore scene?

Well first and foremost it was mainly drugs! haha

Haha I can imagine that was a big part of the scene at the time.

But seriously, we started going out to a pub in the town centre of Oxford which used to play a lot of early house/bleep music, like Warp Records and that sort of stuff, which was new to us at the time and got us into that sort of sound. For me though the big switch was going to a Raindance event in Jenkins Lane back in 1990. I heard this track I cant remember the name of now, I think it might have been an SL2 track, but whatever it was it had the Apache break sped up on it, and hearing that sped up I was just like wow! It was like a new world for me; it was mainly the break beats in hip hop that I loved, they really caught my imagination, so hearing these sped up again was pretty mind blowing.

So it was all about the beats! 

Yeah pretty much! That’s what really drew me in anyway.

That covers how you got into the music then, but what made you start producing?

Well I think Quiff got some equipment when he was about 14, he had a DMX drum machine, an  SH101 and some other bits of gear and was trying to make some early electro hip hop stuff; this was before I’d met him. Then after we’d met we had another friend called Dougie who bought some turntables. We started going round to his house and mixing and stuff and I fell in love with it. Mixing was my first port of call really, I was into the DJ’ing part before the production. But then I got in the studio with The Invisible Man, who was a guy that used to make some early hardcore and then some Good Looking Records tracks, he had some big big tunes, but yeah he was a local producer and I just got in the studio with him and that was what started me in the production. But in the early days it was really Quiff who was the producer and I was madly into the DJ’ing.

Sounds like the perfect combo! So we’ll move onto the drum and bass scene now. Obviously you guys have been involved since the beginning, but have there ever been periods when you didn’t like the direction the music was going in?

Actually there have been quite a few times when we’ve had that feeling where the sound just doesn’t really grab you, or whats popular at the time shall we say. Before our early 2000’s sort of old school period, the sound got really dark. I mean you’d go to a club and it would be really male dominated and there was just something about it that just wasn’t grabbing us. Then during this period we went to a club down in Oxford, it was called… Ahh my brains not working very well this morning, we had a late night in the studio last night!

Valid excuse.

It was a night called Source, and the club was called the Zodiac! Digital came down and played one of the best sets I’d heard in fucking years! It was lots of breaks, lots of bass lines and subs, and that really kicked us off again. So yeah that was a big period in particular where we went from a state of finding it hard work and not really gelling with the sound that was going on, to hearing the sound we fell in love with in the first place which got us vibeing again. So yeah I’d say that probably like 1999 sound was a bit too dark.

So the sort of TechStep era?

Yeah some of it but you know saying that there was some of it we did like, it’s hard to explain. It was just that there was so many people doing it that it became all that there was. When it comes down to it we’ve got such a varied taste, so when a movement gets very samey it gets boring, so this felt very boring and very cold. Don’t get me wrong, I like a bit of dark stuff, I like that sound, but it needs to be mixed up or it just makes me think “oh god get me out of here” you know.

It’s interesting you’ve mentioned this period actually, as that was around the time your champion sound remix came out and you had that sort of hardcore revival period.

Yeah very much so.

So what brought all that about? And what made you do the Champion Sound remix?

Well that remix was mainly because we got Bad Company to do a remix of it and we thought, well we need to have a go at doing this, because even though they’ve done their version of it, we felt we could really do a good update; a sort of rawer breaks orientated version. So from that and like I said hearing that set from Digital down at the Source, we were on this little hardcore vibe. A big thing for us in that period as well was where Quiff was living, he had a load of old hardcore and jungle vinyls in the garage. We would just grab a handful and go through and sample it, but as we were sampling we’d be listening to the tunes and getting all nostalgic, and then it was just so easy to write tunes after that. It would get us into a mind set and it made it easy to take these bits of music that we loved in the past and are still fond of now, and write your own newer versions.

These old school vibes that we saw you bringing back all those years ago are also coming through strong on your new EP. There’s something extremely familiar about the winding drums on the intro of your track with Break, ‘Big Time Winners’.

Well actually what we did with that was we got this old little FX unit that we used to use, we don’t really ever use hardware anymore, even though we’d like to and we will again, but we brought this little FX unit that does that sound and brought it up to Break’s. It’s just like a drum going through a flange so it sounds like its being pitched up. It gives it that sort of Wots My Code drum sound.

Yes! That’s what it’s been reminding me of!

Actually that bit of hardware, the alesis midiverb, was something we used on a lot of tracks back then and we thought we’d bring it out again, so it’s cool that you can hear that coming through on the track.

Definitely! So how did the collabs with Break and DLR come about? Did you seek them out specifically?

Well we’ve known them for a while but since we moved up to Bristol about 2 and a half years ago we’ve become really good friends with all of them. We’ve even started a night together here called Collective which runs on the second Thursday of every month, so that’s run by ourselves, Break, DLR, Mako, Hydro, Kyo, and Onset. We decided to start the night because we’re all good friends and we’ve all got a similar taste in drum and bass, not to say that our sets won’t all be different, but there’s a continuity to it if you know what I mean. So yeah it just made sense for us to get in the studio with Jay (DLR) and Charlie (Break).

Big Time Winners was actually a track that we’d started back when we we’d made ‘Betamax’, which came out on Charlie’s ’10 Years Of Symmetry’ LP, but we never finished it. We actually forgot about it to be fair, but we dug it up again and thought it sounded great! So we thought why not get that finished. It was a similar thing with Jay, we’d done a few collabs before and we thought lets get back in the studio, so we started messing with a few samples and it just worked.

The thing I think is really important is having fun in the studio and thats what we get with those guys. We’ll just be messing around watching stupid videos and we’ll be in stitches. I mean there’s a time and place to be serious but I think if you’re having fun when you’re making music it’s gonna help bring out some of you’re best work.

Haha. A lot of clowning around then.

Yeah a lot of clowning around but at the same time there’s always one of us at the computer taking the reigns while the rest of us are messing about or whatever.

So despite being in the game for such a long time, do you still pick up tricks in the studio when working with guys like Break and DLR?

Well you will always always always learn something new, no one can ever know everything. Even if its just a little shortcut or Logic or Ableton, or some distortion plug ins or techniques, it’s endless! I mean thats the beauty of this thing; I think if you ever think you know it all then you’ve fucked it.

Too right! The EP also features another legendary producer in Calibre with his remix of ‘Walk The Same Lines’. Am I right in saying you guys have never actually had a collab with Calibre?

No we’ve never collabed with Dom (Calibre)! We actually spoke about that when he was over last year, we were talking about trying to make that happen this year.

Yeah I think it’s well overdue!

Well yeah it just never happened. In all honesty we didn’t do many collabs for years, I mean the first proper collab was probably with Baron even. I’m trying to think… But yeah we’d worked in other peoples studios and done other things but after the 2000 period we didn’t do a lot of collabs until S.P.Y I think. He was one of the first people we really started going in and working with. Oh and of course we did some collaborations with Marky earlier on, but it just never happened with Dom. I mean he was rarely over in Oxford and if he was it was just flying visits and whenever we went over to see him or we were over there [Belfast] it just never materialised. We’ve been friends for about 20 years now so hopefully we can do something this year, I’d love to get in the studio with Dom.

Good to hear, I’m sure a lot of people would love to see that happen.

There’s also some great vocals on this one from the fantastic Riya and I’ve been wondering what goes on with those. Who writes the vocals when you do a track like this?

She will write the vocals, but on occasions I have given her, and other singers that we’ve worked with, melody ideas. It sounds fucking awful but there’s a melody there. You know me and Quiff we grew up on Hip Hop, but we also listen to a lot of Soul and R&B, so I’ve got a lot of melodies in my head just from listening to stuff. I can listen to a piece of music and I can put an idea down. It’s not necessarily always good but it can help on occasion if someones struggling. What I do try to do  if I’ve got a musical idea is back off initially. I’ve had one recently where I had a melody idea so I did it in my phone but I didn’t give it to the singer straight away because I want to see if they can come up with an idea first. So if they come up with something great then we can just leave my idea where it is, but if they’re struggling then that might give them the little bit of inspiration they need.

I guess you don’t want to influence their thoughts too early.

Yeah well its just one of those things that once you hear something it’s hard to un-hear it. It’s like when people change something in a track, like take a pad out or something, you’re so used to it with this thing in it, it’s hard to get used to it without it. It’s the same with a vocal or melody, when you hear the track on its own you’re probably gonna have that stuck in your head.

Yeah I know what you mean there.

Lets jump into a few style and influences questions now. You guys have always had a distinct and recognisable sound, even when producing across multiple genres. Would you say this sound is something you have in mind when you get into the studio?

Well I think its just something that we’ve adopted you know? There are sounds we’ve liked, for example we like our drums to snap a little bit and thats something that will just happen because its something we like. We never try to overthink. I mean its weird with producing, a lot of times we’ll just be messing around with sounds and then something gets created, but then on occasions like with ‘Turn Around’ which is on the EP, I had an idea that was I wanted to make the helicopter break… well I call it the helicopter break, its actually the the sesame street break but I know it as the helicopter break. But yeah I wanted to make that sound different  because I always found that every version of it I’d heard just never had a certain punch to it. So we went around and EQ’d it differently and layered it and stuff and got it how we wanted it to sound. So we just had an idea and turned that into the track. But most of the time we just go in with a collection of samples in a folder and try and use them to write a track, so that kind of dictates what you make. It’s good not to be rigid but I guess we’ve just got a certain sound in general and it always just comes out that way.

So you mentioned you often start with samples. Do you still sample a lot straight from records?

Yeah very much so. There’s just something about an authentic sample over trying to play it. I mean we’re not trained musicians; we can play bits and bobs but thats not what we do. Even so the equipment that this stuff was made on, like I dunno… if you’ve got an old 70’s Rhodes in some sort of classic studio or something, you’re never gonna recreate that. To be honest I just love samples. Some people you can hear they make a track and its just all synths and drum machines and it will work, but on a whole it gets a bit dry for me after a while. Samples for me just spark the ideas if you know what I mean.

So we know you guys are into Hip Hop, and you’ve said you like your Soul and R&B. Are these your main musical interests other than D&B? Do you draw a lot of influence from these?

I love listening to old Funk records and stuff. In terms of newer stuff a lot of it is still Hip Hop. You have to dig because you know there’s good and there’s bad Hip Hop, just like there is good and bad Drum & Bass, but there is really good stuff out there still. I don’t just drive around in the car listening to Drum & Bass all the time. You know we make it, we listen to it, we play it out, I don’t wanna hear it all the time. So yeah mostly Hip Hop, Soul, some old Funk and also I did like some Techno and House. We’ve gone through periods of really being into Techno and House; years and years ago we had a label called Skindeep where we did more of a broken beat kind of thing. We still love all that but you know its so hard to keep on top of all the music thats out there. Well It’s impossible actually! You cant listen to all the good music thats out there, but the thing that does really still get us going is Hip Hop, and I think that does reflect in our music. When you’re writing music it comes through when you’re listening to loads of different stuff.

I’ve heard the best Drum & Bass is made when the influences come from other genres, so I suppose you’ve backed this up!

Yeah well when you listen to a lot of Drum & Bass nowadays, because its so easy to learn the techniques from youtube videos and that, it always just sounds like somebody else. I hear a lot of stuff and I think thats cool but it sounds like this tune or that artist; it’s just another version of something else. Whereas when you bring in other genres to what you’re doing, it just gives it a different fresh kind of sound. I mean I don’t want to sound like anybody else, thats never been a thing that we’ve done, you wanna do something thats unique to you, and I definitely find that listening to different types of music opens up different channels of creativity. Like you might hear something and think well imagine doing that but at 174 you know.

An important bit of wisdom there for aspiring producers I think. This unique sound is something that spans across all of the numerous alias’ you’ve had in the past. Speaking of which, do you think you’ll ever bring any of these back? Could we ever see some new music from Funky Technicians?

Ummm? Well we have actually thought about doing some new Funky Technicians stuff, but it just depends on the volume of music we write, as well as the style. It’s only been this last year I think we’ve been as productive as the other years we’ve been writing, but it still hasn’t been as much as certain years where we were at our peak production volume. So it makes sense that this stuff was Total Science, you know it’s not like we’re gonna release every tune that we make, but the best stuff always needs to be Total Science. However we’re making more and more stuff now so I think at some point we’ll either say do some Funky Technicians stuff again, or maybe start another name. It depends; Funky Technicians was very much the sort of musical atmospheric sort of Drum & Bass.

Like that Good Looking sort of sound? 

Yeah very much so.

How about solo production. Do you guys ever do any of that anymore?

Well I’ve never really done any solo production apart from a couple of things which were like the first few tunes I did, which were engineered by someone else, I mean I’m still not very good at mixing down. Obviously Quiff had quite a big solo career, but at the moment it’s just not the focus. We’re very much focusing on the Total Science sound and just trying to keep that moving.

A quick look through your discography will show that you guys have released music on just about every Drum & Bass label there is. Do you tend to write tunes with labels in mind or do labels approach you to write tracks?

Yeah well when you’ve been writing as long as we have, all of that stuff has happened, but we’ve always been artists that have preferred to write a bunch of music and then we’ll think well this could fit on Metalheadz, Shogun, V Records or what ever label it may be. Then we’ll send the stuff over and they’ll either be into it or not. Back when we did the Renegade Hardware EP we got the first 3 tracks and he took those straight away, but we struggled with the last one because we were thinking it has to be Renegade Hardware sound. So sometimes you can try too much to do something for the label, when the label really just wants you to express yourself.

Another thing that popped out at me when going through your discogs page was the fact you haven’t had an album out for over 10 years now. Could we be seeing one soon?

There definitely will be! Maybe in the next year or so, but again it depends. I think an album needs to be special, it needs to be a body of work. It’s easy to just do an album full of EP tracks if that makes any sense. So yeah I would say there will be one getting made in the next year or so, but at the moment the immediate projects are EP’s

I also wanted to ask you about your current location. You mentioned you and Quiff moved to Bristol a couple of years back. Are you still living there?

I am but Quiffs not.

What was it that made you move there then?

Well It’s pretty simple really; music. Music and people. I was speaking to Steve Mako online and we talked about getting in the studio, so I came up for a couple of days with him and DLR while Quiff was in America I think. And what it was, in the early 90’s because we were friends with Suv and we used to come up here to see Roni Size and Die and Krust and it was such an inspiring time and an inspiring place to come to and I just got that nostalgic feeling when I did the session with Steve and Jay. Just everything about it; the area, the vibe, it made me think, I want this in my life, and I don’t wanna have to drive an hour and a half to get it. So we just decided to make the move and I haven’t looked back. I love this place.

It does have some serious D&B history. 

There’s something that I saw mentioned in a Youtube comment on one of your tracks recently that I thought was pretty interesting. A lot of your tracks seem to have very sexually suggestive names. Some of my favourites include: ‘Muff Diverz’, ‘Rim Job’ and ‘Rug Munchers’. Are there any stories behind these?

Hahaha, to be honest I couldn’t tell you. It would sometimes come from a joke we had in the studio that just stuck. I know we had one once that we brought to a label and they were like “we’re not putting that out”. I can’t remember the name of it now. But yeah we were partying a lot in them days so the track titles probably reflected that.

Haha, I’d love to know what that one was! Can’t imagine it getting much more graphic than ‘Rim Job’.

Ok, Ive kept you a while now so I’ll finish things up with this. I’m sure you have a very extensive record collection, but could you pick a favourite?

I think my favourite record would have to Roy Ayers – Everybody Loves The Sunshine.

Fine choice indeed! Well on behalf of In-Reach I’d like to thank you for taking the time to chat to us. It’s been an absolute pleasure!

No problem! It’s been fun.

You can click here to head over to the CIA site now and bag your copy of Total Science’s latest release ‘Turn Around’ EP