A small blog based out of Glasgow, Scotland has been showing up quite a bit in Facebook feeds in the US over the last year, featuring a number of Los Angeles and other US producers. Hex is the name of the DJ and producer who runs DnB Dojo, and the blog is gaining steam as it crosses the pond and is also on the promo lists of every major drum and bass label in the UK and Europe. On top of this, Hex runs a dnb club night in Glasgow, does a podcast and almost all the content on DnB Dojo, and recently put out an EP of remixes for his track “No Forgiveness”. Hex has a lot of interesting ideas on the technical aspects of producing, and he sat down with Your EDM to talk about the EP, his process, and what’s next for Hex.
For US audiences who may not know about you and DnB Dojo, can you let us know how you got into drum and bass and what your background is?
I got into drum and bass around 2004-2005, originally with the first wave of dubstep, sort of before it really hit stateside. I was really into Skream and Benga who were really pushing the music at the time, you know before it got really wobbly. Before that I was into weird stuff like Aphex Twin and then punk and metal and hip hop all really influenced me when I was a teenager. I actually started collecting vinyl records around that time, and I would just play dnb and dubstep singles on this like $50 turntable. At some point it occurred to me, “these are all 12” singles, they’re meant to be mixed. I should really get a set of decks.” So I started mixing on like a shitty pair of belt drive decks around 2008 and started doing gigs around Glasgow.
Were there a lot of drum and bass and dubstep nights around Glasgow at the time?
Yes and no. You definitely had to know where to look. I hooked up with a couple of guys who ran this night called Symbiosis who gave me my first set, and I got into it from there. Now I’m actually running that night for about the past five years or so. But yeah I got into it from there.
And when did you start making your own tracks?
That came much later on, and it was sort of a completely different thing. I’d always been into music like I said, so I knew people who made all kinds of music like rock and hip hop and electronic as well. A few of the guys I know who made electronic stuff encouraged me to try writing since I was already out doing gigs, so I started working on Ableton, mucking about around 2012. (Laughs) I actually found it really hard. The learning curve on music software for me, I just found it horrendous. I got really frustrated and quit for a full year or something, and then another friend of mine sort of pushed me into trying it again.
How did you find it the second time around?
Well, when I went back to it, I thought “OK, if I’m ever going to make any headway here, I don’t want to be mucking about for hours trying to create one sound, because I’ll just get frustrated, so I need to come up with a way to sort of constrain what I’m working on so that it’s manageable.” At the time I was really into a lot of, like 8-bit music, you know old songs for like Gameboy and stuff? And that music is really constrained in tone because it had to be at the time. The computer making it could only do so much, because the computer playing it could only make so much sound. You basically have two synths and a snare making the stuff. So when I thought about it, thinking that I like that music, I just thought I could start with it that way – I mean I’m oversimplifying a bit – but I just thought if I could take one synth and just play notes and then add just a few layers, it would get me started on something where I’d have a product quick enough that I could learn the basics and still feel like I was achieving something.
Did you actually release some of those songs?
Yeah I did actually put out a couple of EPs of 8-bit stuff and I performed that a little bit around Glasgow. We had 8-bit nights around the city. That was under a different moniker, though. I always wanted to do drum and bass though, so again it was just a way of getting myself there.
What was the first drum and bass stuff you released?
Maybe around 2014. That was out on a stateside label, actually, called Mindstorm. I think that label has gone all house now, though. I don’t think the back catalog is even for sale anymore. But anyway since then I was just signing tracks to small labels until I found Black Tuna when they were first getting started.
Black Tuna is the label that this EP is released on, and it’s all remixes of the same song, “No Forgiveness”, correct? The original also has a VIP from you as well, so there’s a lot of versions of this song now. What about it has made you want to have it remixed so many times?
Yeah so it’s three remixes by other people and then two VIPs by me on this EP, and the original release was two different mixes of the same track as well, so yeah I guess we’re up to like seven mixes now? (Laughs) The way that came about was basically that I wrote the bare bones of that track a long time ago, like maybe 2014, and it was the sample from the HBO show Boardwalk Empire, I thought that was a really cool sample at the time but it just didn’t really click with what I put together at the time. I never throw anything away, though, because you never know when one day you’ll open something up and it’ll fly, so I came back to it about a year or two ago and I managed to finish it. That was the “gloom” mix of the track, kind of a halftime deep sort of vibe. I was happy with how it came out at the time, but it’s just such an ominous vocal sample and I just felt like it needed to be more threatening. (Laughs) So that’s when I went back and stripped everything down again. I took everything out except the pads I think, but like the drums and the amens I did completely differently. With that second mix I wanted to make something that was more, not exactly terror because no one really does that sound anymore, but just something that was quite threatening. More like punk and metal. So that’s how I ended up with the initial two versions of the track.
And that one was released on Black Tuna as well? How did you decide on who would remix the track?
Yeah, they’re a label out of Canada. I met a producer, Hedway, who was working with the label head when I went to Shambhala out of Vancouver and I got in on the ground level with them. So after the initial release they also approached me to do the remixes. I had a couple of guys in mind who I’d met in Leeds when I was down there with Symbiosis, Redpine and Solo. They make sort of more jungle tracks, like 140-160 kind of tempo and so I sent them the stems and they put a remix together. The other two are from the label’s sort of group of DJs out of Canada. And then of course when it looked like we were getting all these remixes together, I decided I should get a couple of VIPs together as well so that’s how all those different versions came about.
So you talked about the versions you made, but what did you think about the remixes the other guys did? It seems quite diverse, so how did you feel about it going so far from the stems?
I really like all the remixes, actually. What I love about it is that all the artists definitely put their own stamp on it, but I think it still sounds recognizably like me. I mean maybe it sounds a lot different to other people, but I can hear all the bits they’ve taken from the track and which bits they made up themselves. So the Redpine and Solo one is probably the softest remix, more ambient, so they took it down to about 160 and put that jungle spin to it, and smoothed off some of the edges but it’s still got the same samples in it. I think they did a really good job of making it sound like them but it still sounds like a version of that track. I feel that way with the other two versions as well. The Tunes Auto version is quite technical and quite complex, so he did a sort of halftime thing but with really crazy rolling drums so it still holds up to drum and bass. Then he added this sort of carnival music in the background so it sort of sounds like a twisted circus. The Aversive mix – I wasn’t really sure what to expect from her, because I’ve heard some of her stuff in the past and it’s quite varied. I guess I know her more for the sort of tech rollers she makes, but the way she took this track in the end was sort of really rock. I think it’s a really interesting progression the way she composed it as well.
So what else is going on with you at the moment? You have a drum and bass blog called DnB Dojo which also has a podcast, so anything new there?
Yeah, we do the Podcast once a month, and the most recent one is from June on the Soundcloud. Sometimes we have guests but it’s also cool just to play stuff I wouldn’t normally play out. They’re not club mixes, so that’s fun for me. Other than that, I have a lot of stuff in the works but not much I can talk about at the moment. Bookings coming up for summer and that sort of stuff. I’d really like to do a tour or bookings in the US, so anyone who wants to do that I have bookings to trade! (Laughs)
Hex’s EP of remixes for “No Forgiveness” is out now on Black Tuna Recordings.