The Drum & Bass pioneers release a brand new album on the mighty Ram Records
Calyx and Teebee, aka Torgeir Byrknes and Larry Cons, are one of D&B’s most revered production outfits. With over 15 years experience in the game they have been responsible for a slew of seminal anthems like ‘The Quest’ and ‘Follow the Leader’ as well as landmark LP ‘Anatomy’. Now they are poised ready to storm the scene once again as they return with a kaleidoscopic array of fresh material that promises to smash genre boundaries. With their inimitable dark yet soulful sound their productions unite heads from across the electronic spectrum. Motivated by a stringent creative integrity, they have an uncompromising ethos to release only the finest DnB. As they release their album, we touch base with the duo to wax lyrical about their unique six deck set up, why they don’t play Dubstep and the ‘All or Nothing’ mentality behind their lovingly crafted new album.
Words : Toni Tambourine
Hey guys, welcome to DMC. Where are you both based at the moment?
“Hey Toni. TeeBee is in Bergen and Norway and Calyx is in Tooting, South London.”
How do you make it work in the studio if you’re apart?
“We were both solo artists before a duo and being separated allows some of the individuality that we had before to shine through. Sometimes it benefits a project if one of us can go on a tangent for a couple of days and submerge himself in an idea. We send projects back and forth, talk on Skype and when we are together we sit down and debate whose going to do what and how.”
Do you think it would be different if you were in the studio together?
“With our last album, ‘Anatomy’, we largely worked on each track in the studio. But when you’re in the studio on borrowed time, sometimes you end up ploughing down a root that could have been better if you had gone somewhere else.”
TeeBee: “I definitely prefer to be in the studio with Calyx because we have such a great vibe, but being separate has benefitted us or at least led to a different outcome for this album than if we’d been together the whole time.”
Calyx, I hear you’re a classically trained musician, how did you learn your craft?
“I learnt several instruments when I was very young – piano, guitar, saxophone, bass and drums. That’s how I got into dance music, I was a jazz guitarist before I started making Drum and Bass.”
What about you TeeBee?
“I’ve been faking it since day one!”
Previous to getting signed to RAM, did you have your own labels?
“Yes we had two. We had ‘Momentum’, on which we released our first album and TeeBee has ‘Subtitles’, which is a multi-artist family label. This album was going to be on ‘Momentum’ until RAM swooped in.”
So you’re now both exclusively signed to Ram?
RAM Records is obviously an epic name in the DnB scene. Why do you think RAM is such a perfect home for you?
“RAM was a big influence for us when we first started making Drum and Bass as it has always been a flagship label. The King of DnB, Andy C, is the figurehead and they’ve achieved so much in the last 6 years.”
Calyx: “Personally, I used to be on ‘Moving Shadow’ that was similarly a family collective label. I didn’t enjoy going down the ‘do it on your own’ label root myself. Now, I feel like I’m back on ‘Moving Shadow’ – having an office of staff representing me and pushing my music so that I can focus on being an artist and not a label.”
Creatively, how does RAM affect the output of your music? Did they suggest any changes to the album and do you get A&Rd by them?
“No not at all, we will be A&Rd by them but they signed the album on what we took in and played to them. That was it. Since then we’ve started 5 new tracks.”
Calyx: “I think they want us to bring something different to RAM. Rather than wanting us to conform to what they’re about, they’re keen to give us artistic license. For example, we’ve been talking about doing an out and out house album, perhaps under a different artist name and they’re up for it.”
Are these five new tracks going to be on the album?
“Three of them will go on. One of which is with Foreign Beggars, two of which will be instrumental. We don’t have a vocal in time for the remaining two.”
What is the album title?
“‘All or Nothing’.”
How did you arrive at that name?
“After ‘Anatomy’, we wanted to take some time out, evolve, and rise up to our potential. Instead of releasing everything we wrote, we wanted to take our music to another place.”
How has your sound developed and refined since then?
“In Anatomy we wanted to have a signature sound – a red line throughout where you could listen to any track and know it was us. This album is way more diverse and reflects more what were into and play in our sets.”
Does it have a philosophy behind it?
“The philosophy is everything we love about drum and bass!”
TeeBee: “It’s to be the best we can be. Some of these tracks have been through about 10 different versions before they ended up how we wanted them. We’ve been ruthless and pushed ourselves both mentally and physically trying to get this album as good as we possibly could. That’s why it’s been delayed and why it’s taken all these years. We had to make sure that every aspect of the music, from the sonic quality of today’s standard of dance music to the musical integrity that we represent was confined into one piece. I think we’re at that point right now.”
‘Elevate This Sound’ is a wicked track. Is there any story behind it or its video?
Calyx: “There’s a story behind the lyrics. I sing on the track and it was the first thing that I’d sung. I’ve always known I have a good voice and sung goofing around in the studio but I have to give credit to TeeBee for pushing me to sing. The lyrics are about me overcoming my own inhibition that was stopping me from singing and pushing myself to have more expression. It’s in the feel of the whole album. If we ever find ourselves doing something that we’ve done before or a cliché that you’d expect from us – we don’t do it. We’re constantly trying new things and singing was a part of that.”
The video is quite creative, how did that come about?
“RAM handpicked 12-14 different companies and directors to pitch to us and we selected the Japanese director Taichi Kimura who was great to work with. We loved the end result.”
Tell me about the other album singles you’ll be releasing.
“The first single was ‘Scavenger’ and ‘Stepping Stones’ which was a nod to the past to where we’ve come from and what our fans want. Our second single is ‘Elevate This Sound’ with the flip side ‘Hurting’. The A side is liquid, flavoursome and soulful whilst the B side is twisted and gutrel. However, there is still is an evolution in the way that we write music so it was a natural step to put ‘Hurting’ with ‘Elevate This Sound’ – the latter being a track that no one expected of us. The third single is ‘Pure Gold’ and features a Hawaiian MC called Kemo. Kemo’s narrative is about growing up in the nineties in the States, with Hip-hop culture and its background. It has a big dirty double bass line and you’re going to hear it soon!”
Are there any other collaborations on the album?
“Yes. Apart from Kemo and Foreign Beggars, Beardyman features on ‘You’ll Never Take Me Alive’.”
Obviously you are known for your DnB around the world but do you venture into other styles too?
“We’ve been making everything except Dubstep!”
Why this dislike of Dubstep?
“There’s no dislike whatsoever! It’s just not for us.”
Calyx: “I like the deep and left-field Dubstep, not the mainstream. The biggest factor is that if we’re going to take a break from Drum and Bass, which is all about basslines, beats, drop, intro and the little formulaic clichés that have so many similarities with Dubstep, I want to tell a different story with something new. The House, Hip-hop, Downtempo stuff that we’ve been doing is so different to Drum and Bass. Dubstep is too similar and related.”
But if they’re similar, don’t you want to explore that area?
TeeBee: “We don’t want to be pigeon holed as just another Drum and Bass act that does the obvious by venturing down a Dubstep root. If we leave our comfort zone, we want to display true musicianship. It’s not necessarily about the drop – it’s about the structural musical piece. We’re not saying that our music is overly serious, but if we’re going to do something else we want it to be music that really appeals or influences us and Dubstep just doesn’t do it.”
Calyx: “We love some Dubstep! We just want to tell a different story for example with a house track which can take five minutes to reach this beautiful place, rather than Dubstep that is all about the drop.”
If no to Dubstep then can you explain to me what Techstep is?
TeeBee: “I’m a pioneer of getting rid of every subgenre within Drum and Bass. I think the more that you subgenre a genre, the more you mess with its foundation. If you really want a description of Techstep, it’s a more metallic, brutal and rough sound but I don’t think the term is valid anymore – it’s all Drum and Bass at the end of the day. People need to enjoy the music instead of arguing over what’s what.”
Would you classify yourselves as a duo that is more underground in essence?
Calyx: “Yes, I think we have always been but now we’re crossing over.”
Are you happy with that?
“Absolutely. We’ve always been underground but now when we go more mainstream, we make sure that where we’ve come from still shines through.”
TeeBee: “I always have this saying, ‘you can’t discuss taste but you can discuss good or bad production’ and I don’t want anyone to point at our music and say ‘that was poorly produced and the effort was not put in’. If someone likes it or not then that’s cool, but what’s been a benchmark for us even when we made our most underground tracks, is that we really go deep into production and showcase a love for the craft. Even when we go more mainstream and catchy, there are loads of layers. When you hear a track for the tenth time, I’d be disappointed if you didn’t hear something new.”
Are you touring anywhere new this year?
“We’re doing the usual circuit of club nights. We do all the usual big London clubs, such as Fabric and Cable, the big student towns around the UK, all the main European cities, as well as America and Canada a few times a year. We also frequently tour Russia and Australia and New Zealand every year. But mostly we’re really looking forward to playing Outlook festival!”
Why haven’t you done a live set up yet then?
“That’s coming next year! There are lots of tracks on the new album that we could perform live, but only now are we starting to write music with live in mind. If we’re going to do live, we’d really like to make it ‘live’. Sometimes it seems that the better the light rig the better the live show. Of course we’d like a good light rig, but we’d also like to include several instruments, singing and live renditions of tracks, to create a sort of an unplugged version.”
What’s the DJ set up where you can best show off your skills?
“We do a six deck, two mixer set up and to our knowledge, there’s no one else in Drum and Bass who does that. We mix the old with the new and have moments that are really choreographed and really spontaneous. Every 16 bars we’re shouting at each other about what’s happening next or any ideas we have in the moment. It’s much more spontaneous and better to look at as an audience.”
Calyx and Teebee ‘All Or Nothing’ album is out now on Ram Records.