Black Sun Empire started quietly producing drum and bass in the early 90s, but they’re not so quiet anymore. With three labels and a hugely followed podcast on top of their rapidly expanding discography, BSE are now widely considered one of the leading authorities and tastemakers in drum and bass. As their latest LP gains steam after its March 31 release, however, Rene Verdult and brothers Milan and Micha Heyboer seem less concerned with labels and more interested in impressing each other and pushing the already far-reaching limits they’ve set for themselves over the more than 20-year lifespan of Black Sun Empire. Your EDM sat down with the trio this week to talk about the new release.
Thanks for sitting down with us. The tracks on The Wrong Room all seem so different. If you had to pick, which track on the new LP is each of you most proud of and why?
It’s really hard to choose, because for us the main thing is the process of deciding what’s going to be on there and what’s not. After that they are really all our favourites! Now it’s more interesting for us to see which ones the people like. Also, we like to make album tracks, stuff that we might not play out, but you can never call ‘filler’. That’s a stupid term anyway. If they do well on their own terms that is sometimes even better!
Well if the Soundcloud numbers are anything to go by, it looks like “No Advance” with Prolix is a winner! Regarding technique, there seem to be new levels of grinding, syncopated bass synths on The Wrong Room. Can you talk about some of the processes you used in coming up with these basslines and synths? Ex: “Foundation”, “The Veil”, “Swarm”, “Abduction”.
Well on “Swarm”, the main synth and bass took a lot of work. Of course the melody is quite simple, but the processing is not. With that track the main issue was that we kept going in different directions with it, in the end we went with this one because it’s rather upbeat, almost happy and we tend to have a lot of moody, darker sounds so makes for nice variation. A lot of work also went into one of the smaller sounds reminiscent of Ed Rush and Optical’s older work, which is where drum and bass began for us. On “Abduction”, the track started with us as a kind of tribute to the rock and roll feeling that older drum and bass had. Some fellow artists like The Upbeats and Gridlok also know how to capture that feeling, kind of a tribute to that sound in a way. The trick was keeping everything simple, funky and still moving and changing all the time. With “Foundation”, getting the main riff and bass sounding good and still having a nice groove was the main problem here, that took a fair bit of messing about, editing and processing.
Same question for programming.
You mean drum programming?
Sure. The more technical aspects of the drums.
Well in “Foundation”, “The Veil” and “Abduction”, the kick and sometimes snare placement are not so standard. The standard for modern drum and bass is the two-step beat and “Swarm” is the only one from this list that conforms to it. Things weren’t always like this, in the beginning drum and bass had more complex drums and even though we don’t want to force going back to that, it is nice to stray from the mainstream sometimes. The collab with Audio also stands out for different drum programming.
Yes, I remember when DnB was much more syncopated as well. It’s nice to hear beats where it at least pays homage to that. That said regarding different drum styles, was there an overarching theme to the album this time? It seems the tracks are all tied in to each other in terms of a vibe, so was there a certain attention to creating that vibe throughout the record?
That comes sort of naturally when we choose the tracks for album. The collection that ends up there really fit together we thought, but we don’t know why, maybe more of a happy accident. If that is done we start thinking about album name and artwork.
Speaking of artwork and visuals, the graphics videos previewing the new release were simple but very visceral and had a real punch. Who did you work with to design that imagery and will that be applied to the live shows on upcoming tour dates, especially the NuForms festival?
We don’t have our own live visuals, but we see a lot of VJs who use our work when we play. The main artwork was done by Rutger Prins and his assistant Max Lehmann. We came up with the setup together, but the end result is very much his work. An old friend of ours (Max de Beer) used that imagery to create some videos and they worked really well.
It’s great to see a video behind the scenes for the making of the artwork. With it being such common occurrence to have artwork made up on software, what was the reasoning with really going that extra mile?
That is really the way Rutger Prins works. You should check out his other works, he likes to make things is the real world that people would associate with digital stuff. Of course he uses digital processing, but the basis is analog. Just old fashioned great use of light, objects, insanely good lenses and cameras and lots of time.
Wondered where the Wrong Room came from?
Posted by Black Sun Empire on Thursday, April 13, 2017
There are a lot of great collaborations on The Wrong Room. How did you decide which artists to work with? What were you looking for?
Some of the people we worked with are very familiar to fans of us and our label. Some are new to people, especially some of the vocalists. We normally make a demo for people to write/record to and we work with the ones we like. Simple really! We go purely on sound and vibe, sometimes fans ask us for the exact lyrics, but we have no idea sometimes.
Wow that’s a cool way of working. So it’s a surprise even to you sometimes. More specifically then with something like the “Caterpillar” State of Mind collab with Virus Syndicate, how did that come about? Did you and SOM give any direction to Virus about how you wanted the lyrics to fit the track, or did you design the track around his lyrics and unique vocal tone and timbre? It seems like a perfect match.
We made the demo version for them to work with and gave them feedback. The only inspiration they got from us was the track title, which wasn’t a lot of help I think! It’s great what they came up with and the changes we made in the final stage were quite minimal. We did an electro track together in the past that never came out, but we are very eager to work together again in the future.
Another track-specific question, how did you come to work with Sarah Hezen and what was the impetus for “I Saw You”? It’s quite different and will definitely challenge some more techy dnb fans’ perception of BSE. Was this on purpose?
It’s indeed not a neuro dancefloor killer. But looking back, we did this track called ‘Dark Girl’ a long time ago which we never released but somehow did make it onto the internet and now has tons of plays and likes. This track has similar vibe, so hardcore fans might not be too surprised. The dark chords, vocals and driving energy created with the bass and beats. We had a demo version of this track and were looking for a suitable vocalist. After finding Sarah, she just nailed it on the first take!
It seems like a few of the tracks were blending a lot of genres like neurofunk with half time or more conventional drum and bass. Do you feel like since a lot of fans look to BSE as an authority on neuro, you want to push the envelope and get people to see it and other forms of bass music in new ways?
Not really like that. We don’t see our music as neurofunk either. A description that fits early Matrix and Ed Rush & Optical, in our view. We don’t think in terms of genre really, just drum and bass we like and DNB we don’t like. We try to stay varied in our DJ sets as well. So pushing the envelope? Maybe, but only to impress each other (laughs). We don’t think about our influence on the scene, if you do you go mad probably. So we make stuff we like and see what it does.
Any final words on the album, the state of DnB today or anything for the readers?
We can only speak for the parties were we play and we have had some really great ones to say the least! The scene seems to be doing well in general, the success of recent drum’n’bass mega parties might hurt smaller ones, but I hope they don’t, they are the real thing that keep everything going.
Despite The Wrong Room’s being hailed as a triumph only ten days after its release, the boys in BSE are quite cavalier in their approach to how they view the album. They produce tracks at an astonishing rate, and are more concerned with pushing each other and being of one mind in the music they put out. After so many years and countless tracks, Black Sun Empire show no signs of becoming bored with their chosen genre and the musical process they love, so fans needn’t worry; Black Sun Empire won’t be slowing down any time soon. The next release is just around the corner.