Behind the Decks: Interview with Hybrid Minds
For many, the term 'drum & bass' may conjure up images of a raucous and intensely immersive style of music; one that serves only to facilitate raving at the heavier and more abrasive end of the electronic music spectrum. Whilst the genre for the most part is indeed a high- octane display of harder sounds, it's not to say that drum and bass cannot offer the tranquility and trance-like ambience that others genres may be more commonly known to embody. Heroically demonstrating this with unrelenting passion and notable skill are DJ and production duo Hybrid Minds. Consisting of Josh White and Matt Lowe, the pair have now released two albums and an impressive multitude of singles, firmly cementing themselves as indisputable heavyweights in the world of liquid drum and bass. Since their first release in 2012, they have succeeded in crafting a distinctly ambient yet driving sound, effortlessly fusing crisp rolling percussion with the ethereal vocal echoes and dreamy keys that we now associate with the genre. As they continue with their Outline Tour, we had a chat with Matt at the Double Tree hotel, where he gave us an insight into how Hybrid Minds first came to be, the stylistic development that has since occurred, and what the future has it store.
Now I wanted to begin by finding out about how you and Josh first encountered one another, and how Hybrid Minds was born. Could you tell us about how this all began?
So me and Josh met through doing radio. We were both doing an internet radio station years ago, over 10 years ago now. So we met through that, and we were making completely different music. Well, Josh wasn’t making music, but I was making really different music back then- more dancefloor orientated stuff. So we were both completely different style- wise, but then we both decided that we didn’t want to make heavy stuff anymore. On the side we were playing that stuff in clubs, but we were always listening to softer things at home so we just thought ‘let’s try and make something’. There were no plans for it to go anywhere, it was just a passion project more than anything.
You’ve previously mentioned certain artists that have influenced your sound- artists such as Calibre and Alix Perez. Aside from the artists that had a role in shaping the sound of Hybrid Minds, are there any specific releases- be it track or album- that you remember being a strong source for inspiration to you over the years?
There were so many albums. To be honest, I was really into hiphop. Well me and Josh both still are, but when I was young I loved albums like Jedi Mind Tricks, Dr Dre- a lot of hip hop rather than drum and bass. I got into drum and bass in about 2002 which is when I first heard it. My friends introduced it to me and I remembered being like ‘what the hell is this?’ Then it just spiralled from that pretty much. Album wise in drum and bass, I can’t really think of any that I really listened to religiously to be honest. I used to listen to a lot of compilation albums and things like that.
Outline Tour 2020 (Manchester)
You’ve talked before about how your influences are not constrained to a single genre, and you make a point of being open to a variety of sounds. What genres do you go to outside of liquid to find inspiration and to keep things fresh?
For the most part, when we’re making music now, we’re not really listening to drum and bass when we are at home. I mean we listen to what we get sent to our inbox, and I guess we take some inspiration from the genre, but we like to draw inspiration from outside of drum and bass predominantly and I think if everyone was just purely inspired off each other we would just have so many different clones of different drum and bass artists. So yeah we listen to artists like Daughter, Ben Howard, and at the minute we really love the soundtrack from Mr Robot. Now I don’t know if you’ve seen Mr Robot on Netflix, but it’s really good! We’re getting a lot of inspiration from that at the moment, but yeah there’s not really any sort of particular style that I’d say we listen to. Sometimes Josh will just show me a new album by someone and I’ll be like ‘Yeah I like that’. We share a very similar music taste so I don’t necessarily know the genre of music when he sends me it, it’s just a case of ‘Yeah. This is good.’
What’s your take on the current direction of the drum and bass scene and culture itself? Are there artists that you think are really shaking things up at the moment?
We both really love the fact that jump up’s getting really quality controlled again. You’ve got people like Kanine and Bou coming through, and it’s reignited our love for that harder stuff. I think drum and bass is in a really good place at the minute, and there’s so much diversity and different popular styles. You can listen to Shy FX, and as I said, people like Bou and Kanine, so yeah I’d say it very healthy at the moment- probably the healthiest I remember it being to be honest.
How does the production process work for you? Where do you start, and how do your tracks tend to take shape?
So usually, although it does vary from tune to tune, I tend to start with the drums. Don't know why, I think it’s just gives me a bass layer and a starting structure. If you start with melodies, I’m not really sure how to work a beat around it, whereas the other way round I can sculpt it around a beat. As far as how tunes start, it’s either me or Josh and we just send it to and fro and keep going until we are happy with it. We use Dropbox a lot as we aren’t really in the studio together too much as we live so far apart. He’s down south and I’m near Leeds, it’s pretty difficult to meet up all the time. So I’ll start an idea off and send it over, and if he says he likes it he’s carry on with it and vice versa.
The themes of a lot of your tracks are quite introspective and emotionally engaged- what sort of headspace do you need to be in to be create this type of sound?
Yeah we’ve spoke about this before actually, so it’s not the sort of music where you can just go out and make something. We have to sometimes because it’s our job so we can’t be emotional wrecks all the time, but I’d say the times when you make tracks and you’re just making for the sake of making it are the tracks we tend to sort of dismiss. It’s not that they’re bad, it’s just they just don’t have ‘something about them’. You can make nice keys and they sound nice, but they don’t give you that special something. Sometimes it happens without being an emotional wreck, but it just takes a bit of time and a bit more work. I find that if you’re in a good headspace for making music, it just flies out the door. Whereas if you’re trying to write a track and you’re not in the right space mentally, you need to look for inspiration elsewhere to try and get that feeling from it. It sounds a bit cheesy but it can be a bit emotionless if you’re not feeling anything.
So you’ve touched on this already, but building upon that, what would you say are the key differences in your sound and process that you've noticed since you started out?
Well, unintentionally, it’s sort of gone more vocal. When we started out, we were big fans of people like Calibre and, as you said, Alix Perez. A lot of the Shogun sort of liquidites, Spectrasoul, people like that. So we were always aiming to be this sort of underground liquid. Then it’s just unintentionally changed over time. So how it will work is that we’ll get an instrumental of a track together and then we send it to a vocalist. And then because our vocalists are so good, we usually struggle to trim it. We’ll struggle to take anything out of it and that’s how I think it’s evolved to more song-based music. But then I think that helped to separate us from the liquid we consider to be ‘real’ liquid, and it’s given us that niche- the ‘songs of drum and bass’ sort of thing. So it's a blessing in disguise I think, but it’s mainly down to the fact that it’s hard to cut down. Tiffany Juno on ‘Touch’ for a example. She sent us all of that, and we were talking about which bits we could chop, and then we were like ‘I like it all!’. We weren’t planning to have the vocal on the drop, but that’s probably the main part of it now. It’s a defining moment in the song, so I’m really happy I didn’t cut that, because it probably would have been a completely different track.
Well it was vocals that I was going to ask about next, and I was going to ask you about how important you consider vocals to be in your tracks, but it’s clear that it plays an integral role. So in terms of how you go about incorporating vocalists into your work, how do you go about it? Are you involved in the process of writing lyrics, or do you allow singers to both write and perform their part?
With any track, we try and never restrict anyone. We don’t give anyone any sort of direction. We may say ‘we’re going for a bit more of a stripped back approach to this one, just a bit more vocal on the intro’ or something like that, but we won’t say ‘try and sound like this’. So we’ll make the instrumental and then we send it to a bunch of people that we think might work on it. They’ll then have total control over what they do on it, and then they’ll send it back to us. Usually it’ll be just a quick mockup on the laptop or something and not properly recorded just to give us an idea. Then after that, we may give them little criticisms and tweaks, but to be honest we don’t believe in holding people back. We know what that’s like from have been on record labels, hence the reason we went off in our own direction and set up our own label. There’s nothing worse than when you’re trying to be creative and then someone’s saying ‘don’t do that, do this’. I don’t like that, and we’ve always been firm believers in letting people do what they want to do creatively, and it’s worked out for the best for most of our tracks. I’ve heard all sorts about people directing too much when it comes to the vocalist, but the creatives are just like the producers and they need space to create and you’ve just got to give them that. I think criticism is good, but not complete direction and an overload of instructions.
Hybrid Minds @ El Dorado 2019
You’re playing O2 Academy tonight- have you had much to do with Leeds before?
Yeah so we play here quite a lot now. In the past 2 or 3 years we have been playing Leeds maybe about twice a year. Each time the clubs are getting bigger and bigger and its insane. I think we started in Mint Club, and then we’ve done Old Red Bus Station which I loved. Then it was Mint Warehouse which was wicked. So we’ve never played O2 before and I’m not quite sure what to expect. I’m expecting a pretty big upgrade! So I’m really looking forward to it and I can’t wait.
Well as venues go, O2 is certainly at the larger end of the scale, but from festivals to smaller and more intimate venues, what would you say is the type of crowd that you enjoy playing to the most?
I think they both have the pros and cons. I’d say it’s great to do those big festival shows just for the sake of having it under your belt and having that experience. I used to always get nervous before I went out on stage and doing those huge shows like Rampage, it takes all those nerves away. I’m very glad I did them as now I’m never nervous about other shows. Well, for the most part anyway! I’d say they are great for the experience, and there’s nothing better than seeing thousands of people in front of you, it’s just so surreal. However, there’s no connection with the crowd and things like that, so, although it might any me sometimes when someone’s got their hands over near the decks, it’s way more fun and more intimate. We really enjoy those shows. There’s fun to be had at both definitely, but I’d say we both lean towards the smaller nights.
What would you say is the most defining moment of your career so far?
I’d say a lot of that has happened in the last 6 months! It’s been absolutely crazy and me and Josh are still trying to get our heads around a lot of the stuff that’s happening. Even just tonight being here and doing O2 in Leeds- for us that’s crazy. We started out with the intention of selling out a 150 capacity club in London, and we were scared of doing that! So fast forward a year a half or 2 and we are here. So it’s a lot to take in. But I’d say the biggest moment for us that we still can’t fathom would be selling out Printworks in 24 hours. We’ve never had anything sell out that quickly, and like Brixton Electric, although it did sell out, it took a fair amount of time. With Printworks being significantly bigger, it was a big shock how it sold out so fast. We like to understand the science behind everything, and why things do what. We like looking at Spotify stats and things, and let’s say ticket sales are 60% women in one place, we can say that it makes sense because 60% of our fans in X are female. But with Printworks, we just can’t figure out a reason.
Well there’s so many factors, it hard to pin down a single reason I suppose.
Yeah, exactly. So maybe it’s just because there isn’t a lot of liquid events at Printworks? That’s probably the only thing we can think of. So that’s definitely the biggest moment so us, 100%.
Before we finish, following the release of your single ‘Drowning in You’ towards the end of last year, what can we expect from Hybrid Minds in 2020 after the Outline tour?
So we’ve been working on a lot of new music. We’re still in a bit of a transition period because we’ve just got management, and we’ve gone from me, Josh and our label manager to me, Josh, our label manager and a massive team of people! So it’s been really hard to know what we are doing, and Printworks for us was a long term end game plan that we still expected to be selling now! So beyond Printworks, we didn’t have much of a plan. We’ve been working on loads of new music, and we’ve got more music than we’ve ever had in our lives, but it’s still a bit up in the air at the minute. We are just working out what to do with it all. I know that’s a bit of a rubbish answer, but that’s the truth of it really, there’s no plan beyond doing this tour, and finishing all the music we have. Then we’ll just see what happens with all that music!