[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or those avid followers of Function Records and its head honcho Digital, his forthcoming album entitled ‘Synthesis’ will have been running nonstop on their soundcloud for weeks, with heads rolling as they eagerly anticipate the albums full release. For those of you who’ve been slow on the uptake for this one, get ready to wrap your ears around a 16 track tirade of brutal drums, pounding basslines, grooving vocals and flexing synths from the original phantom of drum and bass! The past 12 months have been huge over at the Function Records camp; with the 20 year anniversary release: ‘Respek Da Foundation’ EP signalling the end of the labels 5 year dormancy and setting the tone for the wave of exciting new music to follow. With one fell swoop, Function has burst back onto the frontline of the underground scene, wielding only the finest cuts of tech drum and bass, with ‘Synthesis’ being no exception. All 16 tracks are coming at us on a 4 x 12” release split into 4 parts, with huge collaborations from the likes of Klute, Response, Spirit, Total Science and loads more. So without further ado, let’s delve into the drums.
Kicking things off with part 1 of the vinyl release, we’ve got the legendary combo of Digital and Spirit sending out the smooth vibes with ‘Stolen Desire’. The track sets off with an elegant drum break that rides atop some long atmospheric pads before winding up towards the deep rolling bassline, with all elements kept in check by the consistent presence of the knocking drums that finish each bar.
Sharing the A side on part 1, Digital and Spirit are joined by Om Unit on the deadly half time number, ‘Skull’. The intro here wouldn’t be far from home as the soundtrack behind some intensity building movie scene, with the deep synths growing in prominence throughout. The dark and heavy drop comes in with heaps of attitude packed in the punching bass drum and boisterous sub bass, all the while maintaining a delicate edge.
On the flip side we have one of my personal favourites from the album, ‘Jungle Jaw’. Coming straight in with a real organic and weighty drum break, it’s not hard to see how Digital and Nomine came up with the title for this one. The jungle vibes continue as we move towards the drop; the ragga soundclash vocal moves in as the track rolls on, before chants of “Massive!”, which heads will instantly recognise from Capone’s jungle classic ‘Massive’ back in 1995, introduce the steam roller of a bassline, rounding off an absolutely MASS…! err, huge tune.
Finishing off part one of the vinyl release the vibes are switched to the slightly more minimal side of things with ‘War’ featuring Kiat. The intro almost has the feel of a dub track with popping drums and flat bass hits laced with an echoing reggae style vocal. Make no mistake, this one’s definitely not for the laptop speakers; if you’re lucky enough to catch this on a big system then you better hold on to your cap, or the subs might just take it straight off!
It’s not much of a surprise for us at In-Reach, or anyone else who knows their Digital, that this album is such a fantastic selection of drum and bass. So with this in mind, we had a few words with the man himself about the album and his influences.
Hi Digital, thanks for taking the time to chat to us about your new album ‘Synthesis’. The first thing that strikes us about the album is the quality and consistency maintained throughout, which leads us to the question of how long it took to put the album together?
A long time. Next question!
Naa it wasn’t too bad actually, I reckon it was approximately 12/15 months because the majority of artists on the album are friends and people I talk to regularly so I got squeezed in their schedules no problem. It’s not that long when you consider I was living in Thailand most of that time. (Well I was meant to be.)
That’s not bad going at all. Did you begin the project with a list of artists in mind who you wanted to feature on the album? Or did the collaborations come about more naturally?
Most of the tracks came about naturally. I loved the social benefits collaborating in the same studio gave me so I knew I wanted to take the vibe further, so that’s how the idea of Synthesis came about. Some studios I visited were more social than others, some all nighters were had and some relaxed daytime sessions too.
Speaking of collabs, you’ve worked with lots of different artists on many different projects over the years. Would you say that you prefer to make music alongside other artists rather than solo? And if you could team up with any artist past or present, who would it be?
As I was saying, I like the social aspect of collaborating but completely zoning out solo in the studio is another vibe all together. It’s therapeutic plus I can get as weird as I want without anyone moaning lol.
The artist I’d like to team up with is Photek, because he’s bloody good ain’t he!
Yeah he’s not bad haha.
One artist Digital has teamed up with a few times in the past is Respone, always with devastating effects, and its business as usual with the first track on part 2 of Synthesis: ‘Lost Life’. This is a big contender for tune of the album for me; starting off with a stomping drum break while the morphing pads and the smooth muffled vocal set the ambience, before the bouncing bass comes in and has your head moving with it. This teamed up with ‘Rise’ on the A side displays the production range on the album on one side of wax. The vibe switches completely on this one with the progressively uplifting rhythm through the intro, culminating in a perfectly echoed vocal over contrastingly sinister high pitched tones. The almost robotic stepping drums tame the grooving bassline through the drop to complete an awesome piece of production from Digital, Mad Vibes and Audio Habitat.
On the flip side we’re graced with the refined musical input of Klute on ‘Lightworks’ and Total Science on ‘Catch’. Klute and Digital have come out with huge roller in ‘Lightworks’ with crashing drums and a deep metronomic bassline forming a track that fits any listening scenario. Moving on to ‘catch’, the funk levels are sent through the roof by the smooth vocals of Sofi Mari. Her soulful voice flows perfectly with the sharp jittery drums and bellowing bass to round off part 2 of the album in style.
Throughout your 20+ years of releasing drum and bass, you’ve maintained a certain signature sound that adds a prominent recognisable quality to your music. Could you pinpoint any major musical influences from your past that helped develop this style?
I can pinpoint 2 eras. Late 70’s – mid 80’s Dub and Reggae and late 80’s – mid 90’s electronic house, techno, rave and jungle.
When I hear good reggae and dub from this era it warms me more than any music. The thing is, I love the rough with the smooth, this track is a good example because it has a rough and tuff riddim with a smooth vocal:
(However you won’t know what I’m talking about if you listen to this on a phone or laptop speakers.) Oh and of course, I love bass, not just the frequency but an actual bassline!
It’s been a busy past year for you with lots of releases on function and many other labels, as well as big projects like the album and now the launch of the sub label Function Dubz. What made you want to start up Function Dubz and what can we expect to see from the label?
I wanted to be blatant about making tracks with the Function Dubz sound so I thought I’d present it in a different way. While Synthesis is doing its thing I’ll work on tracks for FDubz and furthermore, FDubz will free some space up on Function so I can release some music from other artists.
I’m sure a lot of listeners out there are keen catch you spinning some of these huge tracks from ‘Synthesis’, have you got any events coming up?
Yes check me here:
April 9th Helsinki Jungle Mafia
April 15th The Qube Project – V Recordings
April 22nd Volks Brighton – Carbon vs Function Records
April 29th – Leeds – 15 years of Dispatch Recordings
Part 3 of the vinyl is jam packed with tracks you’re gonna want to look out for if you’re heading to one of these events. Comprised of four dancefloor destroyers featuring the huge production talents of: Drumsound and Bassline Smith, Villem, Spirit and Need For Mirrors, this plate’s gonna be getting rinsed by many a selector. The tension building pads on the intro of ‘Fire’ lay down the red carpet while another wicked ragga sample announces “Fire!” before the entrance of the salute worthy bassline. This one’s sure to have you moving with barely any rest before the wild break on ‘Infinity’ rolls through. Things kick off quickly here after the ambient intro moves aside for the menacing drums to lead us towards the runnin’ bassline.
Next up another one of my picks from the album, ‘Bug Eye’; a track packed full of surprises. The electronic pads subtly fade as some punchy sub bass gets your head bouncing, before things get altogether more serious when the attitude filled bassline struts out of the speakers. Digital and Spirit are teaming up again on the slow moving but highly dangerous ‘Out Of Time’. The spaced out drums link up perfectly with the rapid jolts of bass on the first drop, followed by a short breakdown that moves in to the rumbling bassline and twisting drums on the second.
The fourth and final plate kicks off with another irresistible slice of jungle from Digital and Nomine, this time joined by Theory. The 90’s style drum break and eerie vocal set the atmosphere for the powerful bassline filled with old school vibes. The next track, ‘Primal’, which Digital has named one of his favourite’s on the album, has had the basis laid down by Flava and Dissect with Digital and Spirit putting on the finishing touches. The grotty beats and electronic growling synths combined with the deep rolling bass make this one in to a proper chest rattler.
On the flip, the prolific Resound comes in on ‘Shadows and Dreams’. This one has a progressive vibe to it, starting off with tight rattling drums while the whispering vocal introduces a relentless low frequency bassline. The final track of the album features Sight Unseen, whose Techno influence creeps through and team up beautifully with Digital’s inimitable jungle drum and bass style. The drum break on ‘On My Head’ pumps out with the odd amen flutter topped with well timed pads and another dose of deep deadly sub bass to round off one of the biggest albums we’ve seen in some time.
This is a release you’re definitely not gonna want to sleep on, so head over to the Function website and bag your copy on digital, or if you’re a vinyl enthusiast you’ll want to take advantage of the 4 x 12” + T-shirt bundle!