Chase & Status talk ‘Brand New Machine’ and their nostalgic evolution from drum & bass kingpins
If you want to start an argument about the lifeblood of drum & bass and its scattered sub-genres, probing its influence on the commercial market is a surefire way to start. For Chase & Status, this taboo subject has framed one of the most distinct leaps forward for British dance music and its live capacity. Bouncing back this month with their third artist album, Brand New Machine, even an act as inundated with success as Will Kennard and Saul Milton was sure to feel a pinch of pressure. After all, matching a double-platinum selling album such as 2011’s No More Idols was always going to be a nerving experience, let alone translating it into a coherent live package and maintaining a label around such industrious turbulence. Somewhere along the line, however, their nostalgic yet forward-facing agenda has captured the hearts of music consumers and festival goers across the globe – not bad for a duo who were not that long ago more likely found floating the main room at Fabric London than taking the UK charts and digital market by storm.
For an act immersed in early rave culture with unforgotten stripes as trailblazers of the UK drum & bass circuit, their decade on the beat has spelled positive convergence for a genre once seldom found outside of the nation’s abandoned fields and murky basements. The lines may have been blurred and the masses may have been summoned, but somewhere along the lines, Chase & Status have maintained a guise as one of the most influential national assets of late to match commercial success and musical integrity since bass music found its second wind. With their third artist album finally unleashed upon the digital market, their MTA label looking fresh as ever and North America warming to their instrumental wrath, Dancing Astronaut caught up with Saul Milton to explore the evolution of this well-oiled British machine.
A decade down the line, Chase & Status seems to have far exceeded that of your everyday UK drum & bass duo. How important was your homeland in the development of this commercially acclaimed project?
As you say, this is the tenth year of us as Chase and Status, so I would definitely be an advocate of UK as a place to make music. To me, it is one of the most exciting places musically and that has always been the case. Dance music here has been going on for decades and it has remained a hub of amazing culture and clubbing. I really can’t speak highly enough of my hometown because the energy and evolution has been so consistent and relevant to our creativity. There is exciting stuff happening all over the globe, but England certainly holds its corner.
Between your three albums, the concept of genre handles seems to have been taken particularly lightly. Do you see a general overreliance on these within the modern market?
There has been and there even was an element of that a long time ago. It used to be that if you made drum & bass, garage, breaks, or hip hop, you stuck to your corner. That was just how certain facets of the different parts of the scenes operated. Both Will and myself loved it all and that was a unifying element for us. We were lapping up bands like New Order, Pearl Jam, Biggie Smalls, Andy C, Joy Division, and of course the Prodigy. Eventually, we tried to put all that influence into the music we were making, simply because it didn’t make sense to not try and bring those worlds together. Some people were like “What are you doing? You have to make THAT music!” at the time. We couldn’t disagree more – we were just out to make music. We couldn’t face the idea of this dictatorial state where you make one type of music. Quite frankly, for a producer, it gets incredibly boring. In todays dance world and the opening North American circuit you find loads of people from different styles sharing the same line-ups, all coming from different backgrounds and specific genre facets. These days the line-ups can be so varied, and that is really exciting for us.
Being British, we have a considerable amount of bragging rights where the nation’s output of dance albums is concerned. That being said, the platform has suffered considerably over the years. Has this ever been a worry for you guys?
I hear what you are saying in terms of the album. Artists such as Massive Attack and The Prodigy really broke the mold big time, with even guys like Roni Size and Goldie emerging with those groundbreaking dance albums. Fundamentally, they all fell under the dance bracket. It felt like ever since that magical era, great dance albums have been few and far between. To this day I have no idea what happened with ours. More Than Alot just came together at the right time and seemed to be in sync with that generation. Then No More Idols exceeded expectations and went double platinum, which was absolutely overwhelming for us. The positivity is there with record number three, so who can shrug at those odds.
What do you think has allowed these full-length records to unite the mainstream market and your often overlooked rave / drum & bass roots?
Our music is quite nostalgic. I feel like we enhance the origins of rave culture, the music and where we come from. People of my generation will hear it and remember the places and people they were around when experiencing that music and hopefully reinvest in it. When people make albums of complete bangers that destroy on the dance floor, they give themselves a shelf life of six months – that is the mentality that is putting the album platform under serious scrutiny. If you can combine emotion and good productions then you can hit what people need the most – melody and long-term meaning. No matter what genre, that album should last a fans lifetime.
Mentally and creatively, how did the process of making and packaging Brand New Machine fare? Is it getting easier with age and experience?
Thought the name was fitting for us. Third time around, we definitely tried to do it quicker than the last album, but we failed dramatically (laughs). We tried so hard to not overthink things. Overthinking these things doesn’t help. This one fell in a good place for us and there was absolutely no pressure to emulate what else was going on elsewhere. Pushing what we are into now is a definite priority. Its hard – we do get worked up about making it the best it can possibly be. You never really have an enjoyable experience because you become so concerned that it won’t get finished or it won’t be the best it can be. We had the same with No More Idols – at times we were ready to scrap it all – even a couple of tracks that made it the success it was. With more perspective, I feel like we’ve not gone so mad and all the tunes still sound really fresh to me.
Your live dance spectacle has made a very prompt transition from the European festival circuit to North America. How are you finding the transitions and does it hit on par with the roadblock receptions you get in European?
Funnily enough the live band for dance thing doesn’t seem to be that strong in America. They seem to still be elaning towards the Ableton set-up. We did a live tour out there a couple of years ago and it was great, but the DJ thing seems to be exciting people. We’ve been DJing for decades, so we never object to ditching the band for a bit and jumping back behind the decks. The live approach definitely has its perks. Because we do it totally live, the set up can be really audacious and eye catching. Our front man has got so much energy and character on stage – he captivates everyone. We make a big effort to get the sound and visuals on par, so as to give the audience a spectacle that they enjoy in all aspects. We were with guys like prodigy and pendulum. There is no denying that as a performing platform, North America is right on point. Seeing the rise for it and the sheer amount of tours you can now embrace throughout the nation. I love the mass appeal of it.
Past the full-length platform, what aspects of your career have proven the most challenging where the leaps and bounds of Chase & Satus is concerned?
The biggest challenge is keeping sanity and not losing perspective. At that point, being able to trust those around you and value their opinion. With some tracks you hit this wall where you are ready to scrap them and go home. We nearly did that with “Blind Faith” all those years ago. The second album was so stressful, it came down to just trusting our management and the people around us. By the time we had seen it through getting it out there was amazing. You’ve hust got to keep close to those around you and embed with your squad to be one fluid team.
Chase & Status has already eclipsed expectations of those who saw you emerge from the British underground circuit. What further aspirations do you hold for the project past Brand New Machine?
When I was a little kid I dreamed about playing guitar to 1000 people, signing to RAM Records and touring the world. I have ticked those off now and it still leaves me a little breathless to think about it. There is so much prospective ground to take with the label, our publishing company, the artists involved, our writers behind the Chase & Status project and a lot of personal aspirations. We recently received approval from the UK government to go ahead with ELAM – project moving forward. More projects, more albums, third party productions, get into doing some scoring which is really interesting us. Always looking forward to new goals. People said to us that headlining the Glastonbury dance stage was a big deal, but the main stage is definitely on our radar now.