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Commix On Dubplate Culture and Drum & Bass' Unpredictability


I've been a fan of the drum & bass scene for over two decades now, and no matter what new producers come along, I will always have a group of names who's released are "buy on sight" to me. You know, the producers who's tunes you always have to check for, and nine times out of 10 end up loving. Commix has been one of those names, for me, since the early 2000s.

While I don't remember the first tune I'd heard from Commix, I do remember being blown away by the then-Cambridge-based trio's "Satellite Song," as well as cuts like "Together" and "Talk to Frank." Their sound design was second-to-none (IMHO), but it was the energy that resided in their tunes that really captivated me. I was hooked, and not surprised when they became the first group to have an artist album on Goldie's legendary Metalheadz imprint, releasing their impeccable Call to Mind in 2007.

After some changes in both the group's dynamic and the different phases within the dnb scene, Commix is now just one man: George Levings. Since his return in 2016 with two Generation EPs, he's been working on the follow-up to Call to Mind, which is set to drop on Metalheadz as well. Before we get that, Dispatch Recordings snagged three Commix dubs (four if you count the digital-only exclusive "White Trash") for the sixth release in their Dispatch Dubplate series, which is out now.

We got a chance to speak with George about the tunes featured on this release, his thoughts on dubplate culture within the drum & bass scene, as well as how his sound evolved from what people loved in the early 2000s to now. He also gives us some thoughts on the direction he's heading with his next LP. Check out the full interview down below.

Your career goes back to 2003; what’s the span of time on the tracks on your Dispatch Dubplate release?
So, "White Trash" was written initially for the Call to Mind LP, but never made the cut in the end. I was keen for it to see a release though as it always sounded good out and there's something different about it. " Old School String" was written after the LP was out. Again, quite different for us at the time so it's nice to see it coming out now.

The other two tracks ("Shine Bright" and "Kosmos 2251") were written more recently as more conceptual ideas. So this release really shows an evolution of the Commix sound when i listen to it.

What’s your treasure trove of dubs like? Was it hard to sift through dubs in putting this one together?
I don’t really have a treasure trove as such. There are still loads of old ideas on my drive that I’m yet to finish, or I’m yet to work out how to finish, but I don’t really have loads of exclusive stuff under my hat. Maybe the odd weapon here and there though [grins].

The EP was very much A&R'd by Ant TC1, who headhunted the tunes off me for the release. [These were] tracks I had pretty much forgotte,n so was pleased to breath some life back into them.

One thing that’s always been a force in the dnb scene has been the culture of sharing–and hoarding–dubplates. What are your thoughts on the culture of exclusivity when it comes to DJing specifically?
Personally, I don’t think its a case of hoarding dubplates, really. Producers send their music to like-minded people in the scene for their opinion. This involves listening to the tracks in the studio, and playing the tracks out on the dancefloor. I send my music to producers I trust, and they send me theirs. This ends up meaning that we have a lot of unreleased—and sometimes never to be released—music in our bags. Nowadays, most of the music I get sent ends up coming out pretty soon after I’m sent it, because the industry has sped up tenfold since i started writing and sending my music out.

I personally preferred it when my music was being played in the clubs for a few months before it got released. Listeners have various memories of the tracks being played before they come out, which adds a certain sentimentality to them.

With the physical mediums dying out in favor of the easier-to-use digital mediums, it makes it easier for people who shouldn’t have exclusive tunes to have them. What are your thoughts on sharing tunes with fellow DJs and selectors? Have you seen a decline since illegal downloading has been on the rise? Is it something you take into account when sharing dubs and unreleased material with your peers?
No, I still send my music to other producers purely because I want [to], and sometimes need their opinion on where to take a particular track. These are producers I know would never share my music with anyone else. It's like an unspoken rule among producers/DJs, really.

With streaming and downloading, music has become much more of a commodity and much easier to access, which has its pros and cons. But the fact remains that producers still need feedback from their peers in order to progress.

Shifting gears, it’s been a decade since you released Call to Mind on Metalheadz. What’s changed for you in terms of making music these days? Are you looking for different things when you sit down to create? Do you still draw inspiration from the same places?
Making music is a completely different process for me now. After Call To Mind, I was very keen to completely change the way I did things. I stepped away from using Reason and bought some synths, drum machines, etc., and started writing my own samples rather than taking them from old records all the time.

In the next few years, I stepped away from drum &bass and focused on other music a lot more. Around this time (2008/9) there were various producers who were really testing the boundaries of certain musical genres. Shed (Osgut Ton, 50 Weapons) was one of the first that pricked up my ears with his different take on the old acid house/rave sound. There was James Blake who was doing a kind of singer/songwriter take on dubstep/garage. Burial, who completely redefined garage as we knew it. Actress was another big influence.

These producers, among others, have made me start thinking about drum & bass again and whether there are new directions I can take it. I’m interested in writing music with different dynamics and aesthetics to what people are used to in drum & bass, working with unusual musicians and vocalists that you would never normally hear on a 170BPM record. As soon as I started down this path, I was immediately excited and full of energy for the music that I love so much, so I feel like its the right direction for me.

In the decade since Call to Mind dropped, the scene’s gone through some intriguing phases. What are your thoughts on the drum & bass scene overall?
After years of being involved in drum & bass, and music as a whole, you come to a realization that its all just an evolution. Right when you think it couldn’t get any better, someone comes along and completely flips the script on it. From there, the music takes a whole new direction that you could never have imagined. Its volatile and unpredictable, and that's really what I love so much about it.

Do you feel there’s more freedom to experiment with sounds these days?
I think the freedom has always been there, but nowadays producers are constantly being influenced by music from all over the shop. Mainly thanks to the internet, I think. I personally listen to so much music now that I might not have known about if I was still relying on my local record store and dance floors for my musical knowledge. I really love that about the internet’s influence on music. I can easily dip into some early Japanese ambience, or some obscure Brazilian tribal beats at the touch of a button. Its certainly opened things up for me, musically.

Seeing that we’re 10 years removed from the only proper Commix album, do you ever have plans on dropping another longplayer? If so, can we get any details on what you might be working on?
Yes, I am currently working towards a new LP for Metalheadz which I am very excited about. I’m working with some really interesting people on it and my approach is very different than on my previous productions. As i mentioned before, I am looking to really experiment with what I can do with drum & bass as the route concept.

What else on the horizon for Commix, release-wise, in 2017?
Working toward this LP [is] taking up most of my studio time at the minute. I also have the third Generation EP coming out soon, which is the most dancefloor-routed of the three, so watch this space.

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