TFword In Conversation With Calyx & Teebee

While drum & bass in today’s day and age keeps getting technical and mechanized, Calyx & Teebee are one of the few artists who are championing the soul and grit of the genre with all their might.

After knowing each other since 1998 as individual producers on the legendary Moving Shadow imprint, Calyx & Teebee decided to join forces in 2004 and make the music they love, as a duo. Since then, they have commanded themselves a reverent position in drum & bass thanks to their frightening ability to deliver music on both sides of the genre’s spectrum with supreme perfection.

Upon signing exclusively with RAM Records in 2012, their debut album, ‘All Or Nothing,’ was a kaleidoscopic array of music that blew the scene away with its jaw-dropping display of creations and collaborations. The album also marked the beginning of including Calyx’s vocals in their productions in the future.

The pioneering duo have now brought their famous ‘Plates’ series to a close by turning their string of releases that aimed to take listeners back to the original ethos of releasing music, into an album, which is now out on RAM Records. In today’s era where good records get swept under the carpet, the ‘Plates’ series was also the duo’s attempt to let their music have the necessary time to breathe within club spaces.

We spoke to the duo to know more about their inspiration while writing the album, the transformation of their sound, and a potential India tour, and here’s what they had to say:

Rolling back the years a little – you guys were the ones who inspired some of the biggest names like Noisia to make music. How has the Calyx & Teebee journey been in your eyes?

Calyx & Teebee: It’s been an epic journey that started when we joined together after almost a decade as solo artists. We had been close friends since our early days of releasing in the late 90s and loved each other’s music, but it wasn’t until 2004 that we discovered such an amazing creative connection in our first collaborations and we soon realised that we wanted to see where we could take our music when we merged our minds for bigger projects in the form of albums, sets together with 6 decks, and delving into more varied creations.

Since then it’s been an incredible journey of music writing and touring. We released our first album ‘Anatomy’ on our own label in 2007 and had planned to continue with our own imprint before we decided to join RAM with the album ‘All Or Nothing’ which took our careers to a whole new level: we hadn’t expected to achieve the exposure and awards that came our way following the release of that album and since then we’ve managed to forge a path that is still all about ‘underground’ music but has opened up a much broader audience than we had experienced before.

Our journey together has seen DnB go through so many phases of being in and out of fashion (often rising in some parts of the world while it falls away in others) and we’ve seen the music industry go through unimaginable changes as the internet / digital era transformed how our music is consumed, sold and disseminated.

It’s insane to think back to when we first started signing tracks to labels – demos were old cassettes sent by post in the remote hope that we’d get a call from DJs and labels on a landline phone; DnB was only sold on Vinyl; DJing was optional for income as record sales generated enough money to live on; unreleased music could only be played on dubplates; getting to gigs involved some serious map-reading skills; the only press was a few magazines; the only radio for DnB was pirate stations – the list of mind-blowingly different circumstances is endless when looking at where a career in music and DnB is now.

But despite all those changes, our existence remains remarkably similar – the ‘norm’ is still mostly long studio hours in the week and weekends travelling to clubs and festivals all over the world. We’re still so lucky to love what we do and to earn a living from it – we’re still as passionate about DnB as we were when we got into the music; and that shows no signs of ending: as we all know -‘DnB will never die’

It’s always the pattern. Just when we think Calyx & Teebee have smashed it with their release, in comes a beaut which tops the previous one. ‘Warehouse Days’ is a stunner, to say the least, but what was the inspiration behind the track’s name?

Calyx & Teebee: Our ‘Plates’ series has sought inspiration from the days that got us into DnB: sound systems, illegal festivals & warehouse raves. So our latest plate continues this take on the vibes of yesteryear – a track that gradually evolves like a house tune with hypnotic pads, throbbing basses and dark soulful vocal vibes – it gave us the nostalgic feeling of music taking a packed crowd on a rolling journey in a dark packed warehouse late into the night as dawn breaks outside.

Who were your biggest inspirations when you started making music?

Calyx: I started making music really young as I’d studied 5 instruments since I was a kid, so my inspirations cover a smorgasbord of genres. My main instrument of the 5 has always been the guitar, so my influences varied as I went through the genres – in my early teens it was Jimmy Hendrix, Joe Satriani, and early Pink Floyd to name a few.

Then I progressed on to funk, and jazz-funk and eventually I fully immersed myself in Jazz. Before writing DnB I had been building a career as a jazz guitarist so my biggest inspirations were Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Emily Remler and of course the true jazz icons like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Theolonious Monk and too many others to mention.

Then while at university I discovered Jungle  / Drum and Bass and started writing some as I loved the creative contrast to jazz – DnB just captivated me as it was so unprecedented and futuristic, whilst simultaneously being a melting pot of all the varied genres I had loved in my musical journey that had led to that era. My initial inspirations were the likes of LTJ Bukem, Big bud, Omni trio and the more deep, vibesy and what was called ‘intelligent’ (cringe) DnB at the time.

But as soon as the Blue Note / Metalheadz era came to the fore that’s when my obsession with the ‘future’ sounds exploded. Artists like Source Direct, Hidden Agenda, Photek, and Dillinja just blew my mind and inspired me to really pursue DnB production more seriously. Then along came the ‘Prototype Years’ era of Dnb as Optical, Ed Rush, Fierce, Matrix, Trace etc made the most mind blowing futuristic funk that inspired my early releases.

A new album now, can you guys tell us a little more about it?

Calyx & Teebee: The plates LP has been much more of a labour of love and a journey than conventional albums have been in the past for us. When we started out as artists, albums were mostly listened through from start to finish – especially in cassette and CD formats. Nowadays they are mostly cherry-picked for the immediate ‘favourites’ by streaming listeners, whilst the spotlight of online media focuses mostly on the album singles derived from an album.

Some of our favourite tracks by other artists have been the ‘growers’ – album tracks that we fell in love with after listening to an album over and over – those tracks don’t get the same chance to grow on people in the streaming age but we wanted to change that with this album. We decided to step away from putting the spotlight on a few singles or A-sides; we wanted to give each track its own time in the spotlight by giving each one an individual ‘Plates’ release – it didn’t matter if it was super deep or a huge dance floor tune, each track would get it’s time and opportunity to be heard.

Releasing the tracks this way was so much more rewarding for us than just heaping all the exposure on a few singles that lead up to an album, so we’ve loved being varied and unexpected with the music we’ve made and haven’t felt any pressure or need to focus on what the most successful tracks have been – we just want to keep turning the page with each release. We’re also loving that we’re doing a 4 piece box set of vinyl ‘Plates’ tracks when the LP drops – the vinyl fans are often as passionate about our music as it gets 🙂

Having started with the techstep-y style of Drum & Bass to the more jazz-fueled excursions since ‘All Or Nothing’; us as Calyx & Teebee fans have thoroughly enjoyed the ride, but how was the transition like for you guys?

Calyx & Teebee: We’re incredibly lucky to have maintained a following and support that has stayed with us as our sound has evolved down the years. We both have eclectic tastes and influences, so just sticking with the techier sounds that we started our first collaborations with would have bored us to tears – we’ve always tried to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and to keep adding more diverse sounds and feelings into our music, so the transitions through different styles of our DnB have been a gradual and constant evolution and have never felt sudden for us.

In many ways it has helped us have so much longevity in our careers as we never represented a single style of DnB and that meant we were never pigeon-holed into one sub-genre or niche that fell in and out of popularity – we rep all styles of DnB in our sets and our music as there are amazing tracks in all the corners of DnB’s multi-faceted sound.

Having overseen the Drum & Bass scene for more than two decades, what is your opinion on the genre’s modern-day stature?

Calyx & Teebee: DNB’s reach is riding a huge wave right now – the audience and following for it are at record highs in so many parts of the world, and that goes for almost all the different styles of the music – many of the lesser-known ’underground’ niches within the music too.

There are so many exciting new artists coming through at the moment and so many sub-genres of DnB that are thriving – so obviously: long may it continue, but in many ways, it has always gone through these repeating cycles of growth  – we’ve seen DnB rise and fall in popularity so many times that today’s ‘stature’ is just a snapshot in time – it will always go in cycles of being ‘cool’ until it gets so popular that it’s perceived as ‘uncool’.

Then as the years pass it rises up once again. What sets DnB apart from other genres is that it has such a unique tempo and energy so it can’t morph into another genre as many other types of dance music have – it will always have a feeling of its own and that is a big part of what has kept us obsessed with it for all these years!

Lastly, having been lucky to witness your show in India in 2013, can we expect Calyx & Teebee to return to the country anytime soon?

Calyx & Teebee: Our trip to India in 2013 was a career highlight for both of us – it was our first time performing in India and we didn’t know what to expect from the shows in Mumbai, Delhi and Pune. The passion and excitement for the music at all of the shows were just incredible – the buzz in the air felt like the excitement of DnB’s early years in London.

We’ve talked about that tour so many times since and dream of going back, so hopefully it will happen again soon. If any Indian DnB heads are reading this then please don’t stop telling your local promoter and club to book us – we are so keen to return!

Buy/Stream Calyx & Teebee’s ‘Plates’ – HERE 

You may also like: Calyx & Teebee Drop A Vocal-Drilled Single on RAM
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