Interview with Black Sun Empire

There are two things in life that are absolute certainties and one of those is change.  Whilst looking back at the last ten years in the drum and bass scene alone it’s staggering to think how many great artists and labels have been and gone, but what’s even more staggering is to acknowledge how many have stayed. In an age where the average career within drum and bass lasts no more than a matter of years it seems only right to celebrate and pay homage to those that have made us lose our minds in the dance for over a decade and there are none more deserving than the mighty Black Sun Empire.

Hailing from Utrecht in the Netherlands, Black Sun Empire rapidly built a name for themselves after exploding onto the scene with their debut single Voltage/Skin Deep on Dutch label Piruh in 2000.  Gaining recognition for their hard, instantly recognisable interpretation of the early tech step sound Black Sun Empire quickly went on to form a sub genre of their own by fusing their relentless, pummelling drums with an almost euphoric use of atmospherics.

Over ten years on and Black Sun Empire have achieved some absolutely unbelievable feats such as setting up three record labels, a world wide event, a string of successful albums and EPs on some of the scene’s most well respected labels, not to mention playing DJ sets at some of the most prestigious dance music festivals across the globe such as Sun and Bass, Let it Roll, Outlook Festival and even the mighty Glastonbury festival.

Ahead of their upcoming sets at Fabric Nightclub, London on Friday 4th July and Boomtown Festival this August we caught up with Milan, Micha and Rene AKA Black Sun Empire to discuss tech step, Accordions and tinlickers!

Hi guys, thanks for joining us!  It’s fair to say that as a trio you have had one of the most successful careers within the drum and bass scene, and as a follower of the harder side myself you always seemed to have been the driving force behind the sub genre, pushing it forward and forcing it to evolve. Looking through the BSE back catalogue you’ve touched upon a number of styles over the years from tech step to early tear out, militant drums and jungle breaks to the more rolling sound with tracks like Chaingang and Salvadore.  Which decade of drum and bass do you feel was the most exciting and inspirational for you as producers?

As fans it was probably the time from 1995 – 2001.  Listening to Ed Rush & Optical, Stakka & Skynet, Konflict, Bad Company etc for the first time and getting infected (falling in love) with drum and bass in general.  As producers probably the period around our first album as everything was new, the feeling of hearing your tracks being played in front of a big crowd, building a fan base, getting great feedback on releases and shows was amazing.  Besides that there was a lot of freedom because the chance of copying yourself wasn’t something we had to worry about at that time.  Eager to learn and not afraid to be predictable, yet frustrated of the lack of skills we didn’t think we had 😉

Well, I hope when you listen back to your old productions you realise how untrue that statement is! Speaking of your older tracks, whilst perusing through Beatport a few months ago I was pleasantly surprised to see a Phace and Misanthrop remix of your track B’Negative from 2002!  Were you surprised when the idea first came around or did you guys instigate it?

We instigated it. It was part of a big ‘Black Sun Empire’ Remix album called ‘Variations on Black’ were we asked our favourite producers to remix one of their favourite BSE tracks.  It basically ended up being the best of Black Sun Empire remixed by what we consider 24 of the best producers out there. Amazing!

Wow, what a testament to you as producers!  Now, as any follower of Black Sun Empire will know you’ve formed a number of record labels over the years including Black Sun Empire Recordings, Obsessions and the latest instalment, Blackout Music.  If you could go back in time and steal any drum and bass track from another label and sign it to yours which would you choose and why?

That’s a hard question!  Over the years there have been many tracks that ended up being the pillars of this genre.  However nostalgia always wins, so i’d probably pick either: Ed Rush & Fierce – Lowcust, Stakka & Skynet – Side Fx, Konflict – Messiah, Kemal – Gene Sequence, Bad Company – The Nine and tonnes of others.  They reflect what we love in drum and bass and have inspired us to start making it ourselves.

I’d agree with you there!  Whilst taking a look through your back catalogue it’s incredibly humbling to see how many releases you’ve had, even more so when you take into consideration that we’ve probably only seen a small percentage of the music you’ve actually made over the years!  Has there ever been a particular release that far exceeded your expectations?

The first album ‘Driving Insane’ put us on the map and got us a lot of followers that were excited for this ‘new’ sound we created and that blew us away, but maybe our last album ‘From the Shadows’ topped that as it unexpectedly kept Deadmau5 off the number one chart on Beatport.  The amount of love this album got was crazy, but amazing!

And on a similar tip, would you say you have a favourite track, or ever created a particular sound that you felt was a landmark moment for you as producers?  One where you all sat back and went “Woah, we’ve really discovered something here”?.

Probably Arrakis, the first time I heard that bassline drop on a big sounds system gave me goosebumps!

Whilst discussing your influences in previous interviews you’ve mentioned a lot of non dnb musicians and artists you wouldn’t necessarily associate with the music you make.  In your spare time do you play in bands or experiment with live music?

We used to play in bands (drums) but now we just experiment with other electronic genres. Maybe one day we’ll go back playing live.

I hope so!  Especially as I read in an interview this time last year that you’d just purchased an accordion Milan!  How’s that been going?  Can we expect any solo albums from you any time soon?

I had no talent, so it ended up being a coffee table.

It’s a shame you say that because it’s a little known fact that one of the In-Reach team members can actually play the bag pipes, now I won’t mention any names but would you perhaps be up for a collaboration or b2b some time?

if they like playing with a coffee table then the stage is all yours!

You heard it here first guys! How about you Micha and Rene, do you guys have any unusual or hidden talents?

We’re real good at lunching and cycling without using our hands.

Over the years i’ve witnessed you play some incredible DJ sets, particularly at Renegade Hardware @ Area in 2009 but most memorably at Sun and Bass 2011 where, I have to say, you looked like you were having the time of your life! I think I speak for everyone in the crowd when I say we were all feeding off the energy you bought to that set, would you say that was one of your more memorable gigs?

Yes it was as cool as it was hot!

I noticed that you’ll be playing at the infamous Boomtown Fair this year, something i’m incredibly excited about! Do you have any other festivals planned for the summer?

We’ll be playing Defqon (The Netherlands) this weekend, Sziget (Hungary), Electrobotik invasion (France), Let It Roll (Czech Republic), Lost in nature (Switzerland), Nass festival & Boomtown (UK), DreamBeach (Spain), Ticibox & Griet Festival (South Africa), Upland Festival (Austria) amongst others!

Now, one thing i’ve often wondered and I was hoping you could shed some light on, what is it about The Netherlands that breeds such amazing drum and bass producers? It can’t be coincidental that yourselves, Noisia, Dj Hidden, Eye – D, Icicle, Nymfo and Lenzman all hail from the same region.  Is there something in the water over there or do you think it has anything to do with a difference in culture?

When you look at Electronic music in general the Dutch seem to breed a lot of amazing producers.  Our EDM, House, Hardcore and Techno producers are doing very well to say the least.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that electronic music was embraced here at it’s early stages, so being a teenagers everybody grows up with the possibility to go to a lot of dance parties, no matter what genre.  It became a normal part of our culture and maybe we’re just more use to it than some other countries.

Speaking of culture, what was it about the London drum and bass scene that inspired you to set up the second instalment of your event, Blackout?  Apart from the fact that we’re obviously all incredibly good looking of course.

England is probably still the country with the biggest following in drum and bass therefore it’s important for us and for the scene to be there as we think our sound is underrepresented within the UK party scene, while there are a lot of fans of this subgenre. However Blackout is not only spreading to England, it’s spreading worldwide as we now host parties in: Budapest, Berlin, Mannheim, Vienna, Toulouse, Brussels, Perth, Zurich, Cologne, Warsaw, Eindhoven, Utrecht and more

Now we’ve discussed the past and present, what does the future hold for you?  Do you have any up and coming releases? Either yourselves or forthcoming tracks by other artists on your labels?

We almost finished a collaboration EP with State of Mind, so that will be out before the end of the year, besides that Blackout has lot more releases coming. First up will be an EP by two fairly new Russians (more info soon), Optiv, BTK and Telekinesis are working on their second EP and more exciting artists are forging beats for us 😀

And lastly, anything you’d like to mention? Any inside information or shout outs?

Check out Tinlicker, Micha’s second project!

Don’t miss Black Sun Empire at Fabric July 4th, cop your tickets here.