In-Reach & Sofa Sound in conversation with War

The amusingly titled Sofa King Sick compilation returns for Chapter 2 on DLR’s Sofa Sound imprint. Along with more recognisable names, there has been an emphasis on showcasing the rising talents in the scene which strengthens the labels position as a go-to source of stripped back but hard hitting Drum and Bass.

One of the more familiar artists that features on the album is War, someone who has certainly made his mark on the scene over the last few years. His productions are hard hitting yet delicately crafted, making him respected by producers and ravers alike. 

We caught up with War to find out about his approach to making music, his time living in Bristol and why he chose his artist name. DLR and Hydro also sent in some questions as we gained an insight into one of the most exciting names in Drum and Bass. 

Hey man, how’s it going? How have you been?

I’ve been alright, kind of busy in a good way. Pushed to finish stuff quickly because I have to, which is good for productivity. 

Has life changed much for you?

I’ve been back in France for just under a year now and that has changed things quite a lot. I can be closer to my family now and that has been a very good change, just for general energy. 

Yeah and I guess right now that’s even more important. 

Yeah, I was quite glad that I [moved back to France] before all of this happened. 

How are things for you in France right now?

It’s been okay and the pandemic hasn’t invaded my life too much. In general I’m not really someone who relies on going outside for my own balance in life. But it’s not been fun for everyone and it’s going to leave a mark in people’s minds. 

Where in France are you?

Montpellier, it’s where I grew up and my parents live around here. 

I guess it’s good to know that they’re close, even if you can’t see them. 

Of course, but it was also frustrating because I could not go to see them. 

You’re from France but you’re also involved with UK based artists. How did you get to know them?

I think like most people that live far away from an interesting centre for Drum and Bass, it was all based on the internet for me. I was on Soundcloud a long time ago, over a decade now, which is quite crazy. Then there was AIM and I met a lot of people through that. 

Was there anyone in particular that you first started speaking with?

Well the first people that really had an interest in releasing my music were Broken Audio, so DBR UK. On AIM there was a lot of just sending stuff around and people got back to you or they didn’t. In terms of real back and forth support there was DBR. There was Skeptical, my first colab was actually with him. We never finished it, it was a bit shocking actually if I’m honest [laughs]. 

No way, do you mean the tune was shocking or the fact you didn’t finish it?

Yeah the tune was not really up to the levels [laughs]. But this is all stuff that happened that was quite interesting. I think DLR was on my first release too, it was a V/A on Broken Audio. There was this bunch of people that all started out at the same time if I’m not mistaken. But definitely DBR were like a vector in getting me out there a bit more. Then Breakage played my tune on BBC in his Essential Mix in 2010 and this enabled me to get out there a bit more. Without the internet I don’t exist basically. I would have had to travel with my little mixtape. I’m really glad I’m in this generation and not starting out in ‘93, it would have been a lot harder. 

I think a lot of people have a similar story, even people that are in England. That fits in quite nicely with one of the questions that DLR sent in. He says “You were in Bristol for a few years, it’s an inspirational place even if it is a little cold and rainy. Why did you leave? To be honest I can’t blame you because your life in Montpellier does look idyllic!” Was the only reason you moved back to France to be closer to your parents?

It was in a climate of Brexit and rising rent prices in Bristol to be honest, it weighed in. But mostly it was to get back to my family. It’s something that grew in importance for me. 

Why did you move to Bristol in the first place then?

I’m not really taking it from the beginning but there was this night starting up called Collective and somehow it was the combined forces of a lot of my heroes and friends. I knew that Bristol was the place to be for Drum and Bass, it’s like the other London. The other scene with the other sound. A bit funkier, a bit cheekier and that resonates well with me. So that did it for me. I’ve been making Drum and Bass for a while, quite seriously now, and there was this kind of centre forming. It was already a thing but this really pushed the strength of the city for me in terms of what I like. The fact that this started is what made me make the decision to move. It was a big deal, I had to drive up there in my car with the studio so it was quite something but I’m really glad I did it. The years I spent there were inspirational. I met a lot of interesting people. I saw a lot of studios and seeing where [producers] make their music is very interesting. Seeing their methods and how they connect … maybe it seems a bit more obvious to someone who is British but there was a bit of a disconnect for me because I had to imagine a lot as I was so far away. But I didn’t have to imagine anymore! It helped me get the vibe and process together, it was a very important move.

As a DJ and a producer, how does living in France compare to the UK? In terms of the clubs and the crowds, but also your productions. Did you notice any differences in the kind of tunes you were making?

Well coming back to Collective, that was an interesting place to be every month because I was making a lot of new tunes and had a look into the future of a certain type of Drum and Bass that I’m interested in. That definitely influenced what I was making at the time and still does to an extent because you hear stuff there that never comes out, which is something that anyone that goes to any decent party can say. Everyone hears these tunes, but I had the strength of going to Collective very regularly and talking to the people that I have a lot of respect for who were making the music. Obviously there was a lot of Caribbean influence, there’s a big community in Bristol. I lived in St. Paul’s for a year and a half which is a very Caribbean neighbourhood. There was also St. Paul’s Carnival, which is supposed to be every year but was cancelled multiple times and then it happened and I was like “Yes!”. That’s something that you don’t see in France either. A big gathering of people with loads of different sound systems and really loud, really sick sounding bass. That’s another thing, there are some people with sound systems in France and they do come out in the outskirts of towns, but it’s not that common to hear good, bassy music on sound systems as much as I would like in France. 

Yeah I guess hearing it in public is completely different.

Yeah, and people getting it. Just people being there understanding, knowing what a rewind is. Not to spit on France. Thanks to the internet there’s a lot improving in terms of what people know, what they listen to, the parties, everything. It’s actually a good time [in France]. But it was good to see the reaction of the crowd [in Bristol], understanding what resonates because there’s a culture behind it. 

Bristol is definitely the place for that. I actually caught your set at Balter Festival a couple of years ago and me and some mates were blown away by your selection. When we ran into some friends later, we just said “You should have been there for War’s set.” They were like “War? Sounds terrifying.” Where did the name come from?

Oh … oh no. That question comes up more often than I would like [laughs], mainly because it’s just a name I chose quickly when I was 15. As I get older it becomes harder and harder to justify, especially knowing there is quite a famous funk band with the name. There are a bunch of reasons. I don’t know if I should list them or keep it as a mystery … I’ll give you one. You know how on some flyers, names are stacked on top of each other and have the same width?

Yeah [laughs].

Well, War. 3 letters, that is kind of a power move. 

Interesting to know, we’ll keep the rest a mystery. Your music is generally rhythmic and fluid but still heavy and at times, tribal. Where does your inspiration for this come from and is it something that you intentionally set out to achieve?

That’s a very good question because I’m making music and the music I make is ultimately down to my taste, but it’s interesting to think about. Is the music I make an influence on my taste? Or do I just make what’s inside of me that I want to hear? It’s a very philosophical question. I think copying people is a great way to start out making music and hearing something and being like “That sounds sick, I want to make the same bass” or whatever. That’s great, but for me there needs to be an extra step that hasn’t been heard or doesn’t exist or hasn’t happened in that way before. That element, where does it come from?

That is a good question, you’ve thrown it back in my face [laughs]. Hmm …

I literally don’t know. 

It’s interesting to hear how you think about your productions. I guess another way of asking it is if you have any influences that spring to mind? 

The biggest influence on my music is in the way I make it, the method. So that’s learning from working with people. Very early on I started a duo that became a trio called Arma that was with a guy called Mateba, who’s a friend from Montpellier, and Overlook from Bournemouth. 

No way, I’ve heard a tune by you three but didn’t realise you had an alias together. 

Yeah, we ended up just doing tunes under our own names because we realised that having a blanket name didn’t help us individually when we were also trying to do our own thing.

But ultimately, if the product that you make reflects what everyone wants to make then you have to communicate and collaboration is a big part of my discography, even though I am someone who wants to make whatever I want to make. Go crazy on my own in the studio and vibe on whatever without any restrictions. There’s a lot of collaboration in the studio because after that trio, I made a lot of tracks with Hydro and I engineered his album for Utopia. I lived with Smithy from Total Science for a bit in Bristol and again we made some tracks that were quite successful. They all work differently. 

So you learnt a lot from that and it’s influenced your current output?

Yes because it’s not just about how to work with them, it’s also what they care about. Which bit of production catches their attention? Do they want to use hardware? What’s the focal point of their arrangement and their sound? It’s something that you might not even learn in the first session, but maybe after you get to know the people. Then when I’m on my own and making my own tracks I think “Oh, what would he do?”. This is the strength of making tracks with so many people. That’s a major influence on me. I mean I could talk about the music I heard when I was a kid. There are all of these normal answers that are also valid, but this is something I wanted to point out because I’ve been supported by great people who are very talented and I have to shout them out. 

You’re not just a Drum and Bass producer though, I’ve heard some of your dubstep work and some Hip Hop tunes too. Do you generally work on whatever tempo or genre you feel like? You must have project commitments, but when you’re just making tunes for yourself do you work on whatever you feel like? Or do you see yourself as a Drum and Bass producer that occasionally dabbles in different genres?

I used to see myself as [a Drum and Bass producer that dabbles in different genres]. Some days I’ll feel like I want to make Drum and Bass, so I’ll just do that because that’s what I’ve made the most and maybe that’s what people are interested to hear from me. But more and more there have been days when I have a melody in my head or a rhythm, something that inspires me, or a sample that I find and I’ll let the project determine its own BPM. So I’ll start working on something and want the drum pattern to be a certain way but I will change the BPM until it’s the funkiest or the heaviest and if it’s 112 BPM, then so be it. So there have been more and more tracks like these. I think I still want to make Drum and Bass but as it goes I’m really getting super interested in making whatever music I want to make and ultimately putting together projects that have these collections of tracks that I have made that don’t have to relate to a scene. If you want to make music and all of your DJ friends are playing Drum and Bass and maybe you want them to play it, then you’re going to make Drum and Bass so they can drop it in their sets. They don’t have to pitch it around like crazy and then it sounds different. So more and more I’m disconnecting from that mindset, making whatever I want to make. I’ve got two techno tracks forthcoming for YUKU, which is the new MethLab. Something that I haven’t ever released. 

I guess part of that must be due to you becoming more confident in your productions as well?

Yes, I’d say it’s due to me becoming more confident in my productions but at these tempos. Because, especially with something like techno, there are so many people that have been making it for so long. It’s the same for Drum and Bass but I’ve studied it through and through. I know a lot of people’s discographies [laughs], I’m a bit of a discogs nerd. Not in the sense of like catalogue numbers, but I want to know the most obscure track that Optical’s made for example. So I know the whole process of how it’s evolved and at this point it’s become a big strength, in terms of production and ideas because you know what’s already been made so you can cross that out. Maybe other people will be like “I’ll just nick that, it’s been long enough”, but for me I don’t want it to have happened before. 

I think that’s a good thing for budding producers to hear, do your own thing. 

Definitely. I mean it’s a very good personal achievement to remake the bass that made you fall in love with Drum and Bass but ultimately I think this isn’t where anyone should stay. I think people should keep that scene as creative as it’s always been. That is one of the main strengths of Drum and Bass, it did its own thing and sounded like nothing else when it appeared and it still mostly does. It’s like the outcast of electronic music in many ways, there are others too but there’s no reason for the existence of the scene if people are not making brand new melodies, sounds and rhythms. 

DLR sent another question in and he asked: “Your Dad was a music producer and you grew up in this atmosphere of music and culture, did you ever get much of an opportunity to get on the buttons as a little boy? What is your earliest memory of music production?”

Interesting question, you have to bear in mind that he was making something completely different. He was mostly involved in French punk music and he was quite important in that scene as well. So that’s not like where the big bass comes from [laughs]! I remember there was this red master fader on this recording studio console and he said not to push it up too much otherwise the speakers will blow but as a kid you just want to turn everything up! I also got on the drums when I was like 3 or 4, for like 2 minutes. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t think we have done the same job, they differ a lot. It’s important for me to know the technical aspect really well, the numbers and spectrum analysis. I do mastering as well so there’s a big emphasis on all of that. Whereas he was just like “Take your guitar and play something that sounds good and I hope I’m recording.” It was a very punk attitude as well, it’s how people wanted to make music. Not to say he didn’t do other things but I used to come to him with questions about compressors and how he used to do certain things and he has no idea. 

So you were asking him this recently?

Yeah! We talk about music. He listens to what I make and mixes of mine when they come out. He’s quite supportive which is ultimately the best thing about him having done that work. He gets it, he’s not like ‘Oh you’re just making music. You’ll get a real job one day.” It’s not like that. It’s something I’ve seen in other people who are successful in the scene, having supportive parents. Even at times when [music production] was less normal they were still supportive. Being like “Yeah great, you’re making music! This guy is playing your tune now, it’s good!” That is super important, they can potentially get financial support to keep doing it instead of having to get a job. Ultimately, these people can become great producers … I can’t really remember the question but yeah my parents help [laughs].

Hydro sent a couple of questions in too, he asked “What are two of the main influences on your music?”

This is Hydro with the essential questions here. There are too many influences. It’s always down to trying to make something good whatever the influence is, it can change a lot. Like what is going to be the main influence on the track that I’m making? Maybe there’s a motive behind it, maybe there’s a certain sound that I just discovered and I want to incorporate that. There’s too many, but two of the main? That’s just a silly number, there’s probably like eighty [laughs]. 

What about right now? The first two that come into your mind? I guess we’ve mentioned a few people already. 

People are an influence. Recently, I have to shout out Dave Hydro because he’s been extremely supportive and I run a lot of what I make by him just to see what he thinks. He can be quite blunt with me, which is a testament to how much we’ve done together. But also Mako, he’s been extremely supportive. When I was getting closer to these non-DnB tempos, I was considering not making Drum and Bass for a while and maybe that means not having music come out as easily because it’s not for the same labels. When Mako was in a Metalheadz interview recently he was saying “Big up War, I just want to make sure he’s making music for as long as possible.” I was just like “Oh sh*t!”. 

He’s a legend and the label is amazing as well. The second question from Hydro was “If Drum and Bass was like wine, then what would be your prefered region and year?”

It’s funny because you have to bear in mind that even for a region and year that might have been good to you once, there’s a possibility that if you buy another wine from the same region and year that it might be cr*p and that is exactly the same with Drum and Bass so I think that is quite appropriate as a question. There is the obvious London and Bristol in 1997-99. You could throw in a random Hungary 2004, big up Spinline and big up Tactile. Wherever Break was living in 2006 or 2007 was clearly a good region too! But the real answer with this, not to be too cheesy, was the time that I was in Bristol. 2016-2019 is probably the one that I prefer right now in terms of how I connect to it and how much it has made me grow. 

Just to finish off, I wanted to be a bit cruel and put you on the spot for a quick fire round. So just give me the first answer that comes into your head.

Oh god …

Beer or wine?

Beer right now. It changes. Sometimes you drink too much beer and you want some wine. Sometimes you drink too much wine and want some beer. You have to keep it moving!

Drums or bass?

Drums.

Favourite club?

I’ll have to go with Collective. I don’t want to stay in a loop but Crofters Rights, which is a pub in Bristol. Big vibes!

English cheese or French cheese?

French cheese. I’m not a big fan of cheddar even though it’s quite close to Bristol, it’s not really to my taste. 

I guess you grew up in France [laughs].

Yeah of course and I can’t judge all British cheeses since I don’t know them all but so far I haven’t been that impressed with anything. 

Sampling or synthesis?

Sampling, just because you can do just as much and there’s always the ghost of what was recorded which is an added value for me. But both are great.  

Dream collaboration?

I was thinking about this today. Commix would be an interesting one, I respect them a lot. 

Favourite tune that you’ve produced or worked on?

There are things that haven’t come out that I’m not going to talk about which I’m excited about. Maybe it’s never going to come out. I have a dub right now that I’m quite proud of called ‘Guilt’. For stuff that’s come out recently, ‘Heat VIP’ on Dispatch and ‘Duped’ on Sofa Sound which is kind of a heavier, more cutting edge take on the Bristol Sound. So my most recently released work basically.

Yeah the Come Cross VIP is big too. Your favourite DnB at the moment?

These are really hard, there are too many in my head! It’s not like I’m struggling to find one, they’re all flirting with me in my brain right now. It’s hard to decide. I’m just going to big up a classic which is the Konflict remix of ‘Animation’ on Architecture and it’s untouchable. I get goosebumps every time I hear it. It’s too much. It’s way ahead of its time. 

Favourite non-Drum and Bass tune?

Recently, ‘Rain’ by bôa. That’s a random one but I like it. 

Cool! That’s it, thanks for that. Anything we should keep an eye out for?

Watch my feeds. Soundcloud, Facebook and Instagram

That’s it, thanks for your time!

Thank you man.

Sofa King Sick Chapter 2 is out now