- Fri, 2011-03-25 12:33
Breakage, a.k.a. James Boyle, is a beat-making force to be reckoned with. From drum and bass to dubstep, he moves effortlessly through styles and has proven himself to be one of the most versatile operators in either scene to date. He already has a number of classic tunes under his belt – such as the recent release Fighting Fire – but continues to push himself to develop new sounds. Combining rich tones and a sense of spaciousness in the mix, Breakage’s music is both subtle yet devastatingly effective.
We caught up with Breakage to discuss the controversial breakthrough of dubstep into the charts, finding drum and bass through Led Zeppelin, and his musical OCD…
"I Like Music because…apart from my family, it’s the most important thing in my life. I’d probably kill somebody if I didn’t have music." Breakage
ILM: Your new single Fighting Fire entered the charts at number 34, were you expecting that?
Breakage: No, not at all! Don’t get me wrong, it’s really nice that it happened, obviously. I’m sure nobody gets upset about getting in the chart! But yeah, I didn’t really expect it so I‘m really happy. It’s good stuff.
ILM: The impact of dubstep on the charts has been more and more frequent, leaving some fans of the genre a little wary of its development. Where do you stand on that debate?
Breakage: I understand why people are skeptical, sometimes it can be a bad thing. I think as long as there’s a healthy scene and the right tunes are getting in the charts then really, it can only be a good thing. The more people listen to music the bigger the scene gets, the more people are pulled into it. You look a bit deeper into the scene, you get to know more about it and discover other people, and your eyes are opened to a whole load of new music. I’m sure Magnetic Man brought a lot of people who may not have known about dubstep into the scene. Tunes getting in the charts and on daytime radio is really important for any scene to survive. There’s more demand for that kind of music in general, which means there’s more nights, which means DJs can work more and there are bigger turnouts. I think the pros definitely outweigh the cons in the grand scheme of things.
ILM: You’re in the process of producing Jess Mills’ album…
Breakage: Yes. Well, producing part of it…
ILM: What’s the level of your involvement?
Breakage: On the tracks that we’re doing I’m writing the music and she’s writing the lyrics. I’m terrible at writing lyrics, so I just let her get on with it! If there’s something I don’t like or if there’s something she doesn’t like then we help each other out. But it’s pretty much a 50/50 split of music versus lyrics. Then I’m doing additional production on some of the other tracks, and then some of my stuff is having additional production done on it. So everything’s sort of being passed around to make sure everything’s right, and everyone’s just working to their strong points. It’s going really well so far. I think that because of Fighting Fire everyone thinks it’s going to be quite housey sort of dance music. There’s definitely an electronic edge to it, but I wouldn’t classify it as dance music at all. I like that. I like the fact that it’s different from what most people are going to expect.
ILM: Is that something you’d like to do more of – producing people that aren’t necessarily in your genre?
Breakage: Yeah. It’s not that I don’t love making drum and bass and dubstep, it’s that I’ve always made a lot of different styles of music. There’s only so much you can do with it – you can make it and play it to your mate or something, but the likelihood of a lot of those tracks coming out is minimal. So it’s been great to have that phase where I could be like “ok, I’m gonna wake up and I’m gonna make something that sounds like a folk tune or a jazz tune,” and to know that if it sounds good there’s somewhere to take it is almost – well, not quite a weight lifted off my shoulders, but a very nice feeling to have. I feel free to make what I want regardless of tempo or style of music.
ILM: Foundation’s been out for just over a year now; are you looking towards making a new album?
Breakage: Yeah, I’ve actually already started. It’s still in the early stages, still just figuring out what it’s going to be. I’m really excited about it. A lot of people are like “oh, you’re making another album pretty quickly!” But it takes me a while to make an album. If I keep to my deadline it should hopefully come out about a year from now. It’s hard to explain; it might come out a year from now, it might come out two years. It just has to be right. It’s so easy to be like “ok, strike while the iron’s hot,” and then you deliver something really crap! In an ideal world it would be great to deliver something in the next few months, but it’s not realistic. I could probably deliver an album in three months, but it’d be awful! So it’s about slowly building it really. Hopefully it’ll be out in a year.
ILM: So it’s too early to give us an idea of what direction it might take?
Breakage: Oh yeah, way too early! It hasn’t got a name, none of the tracks have got names yet… They’re all just descriptions or bpms with the kind of mood that it is. It’s very early days, but it’s coming along nicely for how early it is.
ILM: You had some amazing collaborations on Foundation; have you got your eye on anyone to work with this time round?
Breakage: Oh yeah! No-one that I can say though because I like to keep everything quiet. Word travels so fast nowadays, and people are a bit too free and easy with stuff. You might go onto Twitter and someone’ll be like “I’m working with such-and-such today.” That’s wicked but I’m not gonna hear the tune you’re working on tomorrow, so I shouldn’t really know that just now. Stuff gets built up so much over months and months and months. If I was to say to you today “I’m working with whoever,” then people for a year are gonna be like “imagine what that’s gonna sound like! It’s gonna be great!” And then they hear it and even if it is great, it will never live up to what they built up in their head.
ILM: Right, no-one can live up to a year’s worth of anticipation…
Breakage: Yeah. And I also just like the element of surprise. You see the track listing and you’re like “wow” and there’s no real indication before of who’s gonna be on it.
ILM: How would you describe your process of making music? Does your approach differ greatly if you’re collaborating?
Breakage: I really like collaborating. For my own personal tracks I’ll usually make the outlines of the music myself, get a rough draft together of how I’d want it to sound - sort of like a skeleton of the arrangement - and then bring someone in and tailor it to them. But then when I’m producing stuff for other people I really like having them with me whilst it’s being made. You can just feed off each other’s ideas a lot more freely. You can be quite self-indulgent for your own album or single, because it’s meant to be exactly as you want it. If you’re working with someone else, the most important thing is that they’re happy with it. I like being able to play some chords or a bass line or a beat and then ask “you feeling it or not feeling it? Where do you hear it going?” I find it flows a lot better that way. But both ways are a lot of fun.
ILM: I read that you first got into music through bands like Led Zeppelin. What made you move away from rock towards jungle, drum and bass and beyond?
Breakage: It never really moved away, I just turned slightly. When I was younger I used to play guitar in a band, then I went to the BRIT school. I went there playing guitar and I came out knowing how to use Cubase and samplers and wanting to make dance music. I got into music very young; when I was a kid it was the only thing I found remotely interesting. I was the kid that didn’t want to go and play outside and play football. I just wanted to sit at home and play really crappy tunes that I liked at the time. I got to about seven or eight and my parents got a foster brother. It was round about the time of early rave scene, and he started playing me this stuff and I was like “this is amazing!” I didn’t really understand it, or the whole culture behind it of going out to a field and taking loads of drugs, but I was just like “sounds great mate, sounds like a great old time you have at these rave thingies!” I was the only person I knew at my age that had a bedroom covered in fliers. It was really weird, looking back at it! So I was sort of into both rock and dance, then when I got a bit older rock took my focus a bit more. I still listened to dance music, but I was more focused on wanting to be Jimi Hendrix! Then I found computers and realised I could make dance music and I was like “ah this is great, I can make a whole song by myself!”
ILM: That is the attraction, isn’t it!
Breakage: Yeah. I think now - especially since I’m producing for other people and feeling a lot more confident - I have the sort of confidence to be like “you know what, I wanna make a rock tune today,” then the next day turn around and say “I’m gonna make a dubstep tune today,” and “I’m gonna make a house tune” the day after that. “I’m gonna make some Bulgarian folk music” or whatever! So now they work in tandem a lot more. I can sort of draw from all my influences a lot more than when I first started. Hence tunes like Fighting Fire, that old ‘90s, Ibiza-house thing from about 13 years ago. A lot of people I know who didn’t even like it at the time hear those tunes now and there’s that big sort of nostalgic element to it, like “oh my God, I remember this!” It totally changes a lot of people’s views about those tunes when you hear them 13, 15 years on.
ILM: It’s like a lot of UK garage nowadays…
Breakage: Yeah. I’m 28 now, and I remember hearing those tunes when I was like 14, 15. I didn’t like all of them, but going back to that stuff, 99% of it, even big chart tunes, were so much more… I dunno, just totally different. You listen to it and it’s refreshing. But you can do that all day I suppose; you can go back to the 70s and 60s and 50s and listen to the tunes then and be like “these are great, why don’t people make tunes like this anymore?” But, going back to your first question about dubstep being in the charts, I think it’s a big sort of cycle. It still cracks me up when I see it though. It’s like this thing that’s hardwired into everyone. There must be about a thousand producers who separately decide “I’m going to do this, I think it’s really going to work!” Then it all comes out and it seems like everyone has been thinking and doing the same thing. It’s a nice feeling really, when you hear someone else do it you’re like “ok good, I’m not an idiot, someone else wants to hear this too!”
ILM: What are your plans for the near future?
Breakage: I’ve got a live show kicking off at the end of May; I think six dates in total. It was something that was suggested a while back and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I brought it up with my agent and my manager and I feel like I can do it now. DJing is brilliant, except sometimes you just want to perform. I know that sounds really weird, but I’d like to actually perform as well as DJ. It’s become more and more frequent now, but really, there was never that performance element in dance music. You’d go and see a band or a singer go through a set list and have encores and all that… With a DJ set you just turn up and play some tunes. People still turn up to hear you play certain tunes but I think it’s a different world. It’s something I’ve been figuring out how to do in my head for a while and it has finally come together. So that’s gonna be the end of May through to the end of summer. Then I’ll probably do another run early part of next year or late part of this year, haven’t really thought that far ahead. I’m sure everybody else around me and involved in it has already thought of my next five tours but if I start thinking about that I’ll just go crazy. This thing drives me mad as it is; getting things exactly how I envision is a lot harder than I thought!
ILM: You’re a bit of a perfectionist then?
Breakage: Yes, yeah. Well, a lot of people think I’ve got OCD. I’ve definitely got the definite hint of musical OCD, and I think there’s definite hints of real life OCD. I think to get what you want out of the music you make you have to be that way. Like earlier in my career, when I was 17, 18 – I’d do tunes and I’d do them to the best of my ability except it was always like “ok, it’s good enough” and now it’s sort of like “well, no.” I’ve been making tunes for – well, not professionally but since I started making tunes – for over half of my life. I should in theory be able to get bloody close to exactly what I want. And until I get that, I’m not happy, I’m not happy at all. Drives everybody crazy because they’re very small things but to me it’s the small things in a tune that count. You could have a brilliant idea but if you haven’t got those small things down perfectly it can just ruin the execution of everything. And I like to make sure everything is executed 99.9% exactly as I want it to, which leaves me re-making tunes a lot; I’ll sit down, make the tune, realise it’s not as I want it or as I envisioned it and I will make it again from scratch. Which, saying it out loud, is a bit stupid. Oh well…