Pendulum cover feature – Published as cover feature in ATM Magazine, 2005
Menace from Down Under
“We’re going to the UK to make drum n bass where drum n bass comes from – see if they like it – work with people that wanna work with us.” When Australian trio Pendulum uttered those words nearly two years ago they had no idea how true they would ring. By the time these words came to print (back in ATM issue 57) their first official release under the Pendulum moniker, the now legendary ‘Vault’, had started them on the path to dnb stardom and made them into a household name before most people had even seen them or heard their story. A couple of tracks later and the trio, composed of Paul, Gareth and Rob, were on their way to London town with hope in their eyes and a deal with the newly born Breakbeat Kaos label, fronted by Adam F and Fresh. In retrospect it seems only fitting they would end up on Fresh’s label, seeing as they first fell in love with the drums and the bass after hearing Fresh and Maldini play in Perth. As Rob explains “I heard ‘Messiah’ that night and I was like ‘fuckin hell!’” Gareth adds “we walked out of the club that day, looked at each other and said ‘fuck it, let’s do that!’” Fast-forward to 2004 and Pendulum is the name on everyone’s lips when it comes to dnb, from the most fervent raver to the most clueless newbie. With an original approach, concepts galore and a finesse and refinement in sound which leaves most other productions by the wayside, Pendulum have come and taken drum n bass to a whole other level, repeating the success of ‘Vault’ a few times over and laying claim to the genre like no other crew since… well since Bad Company maybe…
A bit of history may be in order to set the stage, even though like other antipodeans stars their story has since passed into dnb mythos. Rob and Gaz had known each other since school, and had formed and worked together in a band, “which was on some melodic metal type stuff”. Gaz then took Rob to the above mentioned club night which resulted in their developing a keen interest in electronic music and production, something Rob had already been experimenting with, and which Gaz happily fell into. The circle completed itself with the addition of Paul, who had been DJing since 1995, and had started playing dnb in Perth at the same time Rob and Gaz caught the bug from Fresh and Maldini. Whilst ‘Vault’ is the track that made the Pendulum name it’s also appropriately the first track they all worked together on, and which cemented their studio ethic. It got signed to Doc Scott’s 31 Records, made them into superstars and ultimately gave them the opportunity to move to the birthplace of dnb and continue on an already well-crafted path to success.
ATM headed over to High Barnet on a gloomy February afternoon to try and find out exactly what Pendulum and Breakbeat Kaos have in the works for 2005. Unfortunately Paul was still stuck in Australia due to some visa problems and was unable to attend the interview. So we sat down with a soft-spoken Gaz and a barely woken up yet lively Rob to try and see how Pendulum are planning to make 2005 the year they undoubtedly became kings of the pack.
Having largely built their name and fame in 2004 on the back of remixes and singles, an album is the logical progression for these guys, especially considering their already rich musical background. Seeing the state of their living room at the minute it seems that the album has been their number one priority. “It’s been in the making for the last two years or so” explains Gaz, “but in the last 3 months we’ve just locked ourselves away and totally focused on it, which explains the mess you’re sitting in!” Rob adds that “even back when we were based in Perth we’d have bits floating about we thought of using for something else later on down the line. ‘Masochist’ for example was the reincarnation of a tune we’d made like a year before. We’d scrapped it saying it wasn’t good enough. The concept was there, and we went back on it a year later and it happened. That’s how it works a lot of the time for us. We’ll start something, leave it and then take the best ideas and finish it. And that’s sort of how the album’s worked.” When you think of the popularity and impact ‘Masochist’ has had both in and out of dnb circles, it’s surprising to hear them describe its history and shows that above all Pendulum are a crew that pride themselves in a job well done and set the bar very high for what they do. Don’t expect a run of the mill offering from these guys. “I know what people are going to expect!” proclaims Rob with a grin on his face, “there is stuff on the album along the lines of what people will expect and some stuff which they won’t be. Stuff we’ve never done before.” Gaz adds “we’re giving people everything, there are even breaks on there.” Rob chips in “yeah two breaks tracks on there, one is a collaboration with the Freestylers. There is mellow stuff on there as well, half of the album is mellow tracks, half dancefloor.” “We want to give them some wide angles on different things. With the dancefloor stuff we’ve tried to go down the road of doing things that not everyone is doing at the moment. Try to keep things a bit new, hopefully that works out” explains Gaz. Indeed one of the downsides of their moving to the birthplace of drum n bass is that with it comes a constant exposure to the latest happening and sounds of the scene, something which most producers readily admit can become a problem when you’re trying to be creative in the studio.
“It’s a completely different environment from being in Perth, down there you’re a bit locked off from the rest of the world. Over here you’re hearing the latest tunes every week and being influenced by them a bit. So you just have to hold yourself off from that and decide not to let it influence you. Which can be hard when you’re playing in clubs week in, week out”, Gaz has the answer however “it just takes a bit of discipline really.” Ultimately their dedication to making singular music in a genre prone to basic music making and cloning is what sets Pendulum apart from a lot of production outfits today. As we chat about the success of tracks like ‘Vault’ the guys bring up an interesting theory. “What is unique about [Vault] is that we were locked off from the rest of the world, from what was popular and we just did what sounded good to us.” Rob adds “to us it wasn’t anything different but people over here were going crazy over it. Since then we’ve had to try and go back and think ‘what was different about that?’” Gaz concludes “We’ve had to think about the state of mind we were in back then, what were we doing, what were we thinking at the time? And then try to apply that to what we do now in London. And it goes as far as flying back to Perth for a week over Xmas, hanging out there together, going back into our old studio.” Rob finishes “and I think that this state of mind is not knowing what’s going on with everyone, and what tunes everyone is doing. You have to forget about all that and run with it. I think that’s how the best tunes are written anyway.”
In order to make sure the album will leave their name stamped on the year 2005 and beyond they’ve roped in some help from a few people, including head honcho Fresh who features on a track called ‘Tarantula’. Other guest spots include Jasmine Yee, the lead singer of a Perth band called ‘Halogen’. “She has got an amazing voice, I can’t even think of how to describe it” Rob tells me. “She’s just really smooth. As soon as we heard her we knew we had to put her in the LP. It’s a shame she’s with that band, because her voice is perfect for electronic music.” The guys went back to Perth to record her vocals, and in the process got more then they bargained for. “I went down to a studio with her. I had some ideas down and we recorded all that and then I said ‘if there’s anything else you wanna do just go with it’ and it ended up being better then anything I had planned, so we went with that instead and she totally blew us away!” Having been globe trotting on the back of their increasing popularity it’s a wonder they have found the time to sit down and lock themselves in the studio. As Rob explains “we wrote this album everywhere. We even wrote stuff on tour. And it’s also been recorded in so many different places as well. We’ve had to move house and studios three times in five months since being in London!” Gaz chips in an amazing explanation of their studio hopping. “What happened was that we moved once and it was a nightmare, the studio was just not working at all, so we had to make a real quick move to here. And it’s worked fine so far, it’s a great little place. It was just finding the right room really. And there are no police cars or ambulances going past when you’re recording vocals. That’s why we had to move out of Hampstead, because a police car would go past without fail every 15 minutes. And we had this kid’s clothes shop downstairs where the owner was always banging on the walls about the sub being too loud. It was like a dolls clothing shop. People dressing up like that, kids clothing, this prissy little place and you can imagine the type of people going in there and they’d hear this thump constantly! In the middle of Hampstead as well, in this mad posh area. You can imagine them hearing this gut wrenching bass in the middle of the day and thinking what the fuck!” And for Rob who does all the engineering and mixdowns for the tracks, it was a case of finding the right environment as well. “I find it really hard to work in that sort of caged in London area, where there’s walls side by side in every room, people next door, it’s really hectic. At least up here it’s a bit more chilled, there’s countryside, old people about.”
Finding a perfect spot in London is no mean feat, and neither is finding a deal like the one Pendulum found with Breakbeat Kaos. Having snatched one of the most talented crew around today has firmly put the growing label in the forefront of everyone’s minds and record box. But more than that, Breakbeat Kaos are also a label who pride themselves in nurturing their artists, something which has made a big difference for the trio, who made the move to London without knowing anyone on the scene or having barely met the people they would be working for. “It’s been really good, we get on really well with them. We were a bit sceptical coming over because we didn’t know them, and we were thinking ‘what have we got ourselves into?’ We were bound to be a bit anxious but it’s turned out for the best” explains Rob. Gaz adds that “You couldn’t hope for a better bunch of people to look after you really. Even just for little things like being able to work with Jho, the press guy, which has helped us out a lot. Thing is with BBK is that it’s run properly, like a professional operation. Even if the scene doesn’t always call for that they still take it to that level.” And even if there were speculations that their signing to BBK might influence their sound, they’re both keen to sweep any speculations under the carpet. “Some people have said they were worried about BBK affecting our sound and all that shit, but that hasn’t been the case at all. They’ve left us alone to do whatever we want to do, and said go with it. Joining the label had no bearing on the sound at all.” But more important than wild speculations about the label affecting their sound, what do they think about the weather over here? “Well we probably wouldn’t be in London if we weren’t doing this!”
The album, entitled ‘Hold Your Colour’, will be released on both vinyl and CD, giving their non-record buying fans the chance to own some of their previously released music as well as the new tracks. “The vinyl set will focus on the dancefloor tracks and we may put some of the other tracks on there too. The CD will have more bits. At the moment it stands at 13 tracks. We’ve had to do some CD mixes of certain tracks, like ‘Another Planet’ and ‘Still Gray’. We thought it was a good idea to put tracks like that on there too, for people who don’t buy vinyl to be able to listen to them.”
As our discussion is interrupted by Rob arranging the details of a horns section they’ve booked, we start speaking of the importance of live elements in their work, something they’ve all carried from their previous musical experiences. In addition to the horns, they’ve also got a guitarist to work with them in the studio and occasionally will pick up their instruments to add to the tracks. Rob puts it plainly: “we didn’t want to end up with an album that’s done on the computer from start to finish you know? So we’ve got a few different things, with different people playing on different tracks. We just want to make music that’s a bit more organic, not just using synths and reece all the time.” Their use of live elements is no big surprise and to them is just the tip of an iceberg they’re intent of uncovering once the album is done. Having focused on producing intense electronic music for the last few years has left them hungering for their roots. “We haven’t really tried doing anything live since we’ve been working in the studio. It’s hard getting into that live vibe when you’re working on computers. We’re planning on sorting out a project after the album is wrapped up, later on this year possibly” Rob tells us. “It’s where we come from ultimately and to be honest if you could make your own music live in front of a crowd of people and on a same level as DJing then it would blow it out of the water for sure. You can only get so far with records. If we could be performing our stuff live with the same sort of energy as a DJ set then that’s what we’d want to achieve.” Seeing the resurgence in live drum n bass outfits in the last two years is bound to have had some effect on Pendulum’s ideas for a live project. “I think with a lot of the live acts in dnb at the minute, most of them are quite mellow. I haven’t seen anyone as yet capture the energy of a live set that Andy C or Zinc would play for example. I haven’t seen anyone take it to that level and talking about this it’s what we’d hope to achieve when we take a live project out to the public. We wouldn’t want to be the band that you go get a beer at the bar when we come on because you’re waiting for Andy C! Obviously with dnb it’s quite hard because you can’t afford to be sloppy with it and the timing has to be on point, so it’s going to have to be a compromise between sequenced stuff and live elements.”
Whilst the album is their number one priority at the moment, they still find time to set up their next batch of singles, including quite a few collaborations that are seemingly made in drum n bass heaven. Before the album drops BBK will be releasing the first in a possible series of collaborations between Pendulum and Baron. ‘Guns at Dawn’ should be out in April and features the guys doing what they do best: dutty dancefloor business. “We’ve tried to have the most blatant aspects of both our sounds in this track. Nothing too deep basically, just straight for the dancefloor.” This should then be followed by a very tantalising face off between Pendulum and Sub Focus. With Sub Focus riding high on the back of his monster singles on Frequency and Ram, and the boys themselves having only got praises for him, this is going to be the total opposite of the Baron collaboration. So don’t think ‘Another Planet’ meets ‘X-Ray’. “That’s exactly what people would be expecting from us, so we need to flip it. It’s called Virgin Android so far. We’re all trying to do something different with that one basically. We went to him the other day and said that when it’s finished we want it to be the exact opposite of what everyone’s expecting!”
One thing that has been on a lot of people’s minds and tongues since Pendulum burst onto the scene, is their constant ability to come out with fresh new concepts and tracks that win the approval of DJs and crowds without a fail. Since ‘Vault’ they’ve barely put a foot wrong when it comes to releases and in the process have come to be seen as leaders of a new school, the kings of the pack if you want. Talking to people in and out of the scene it seems you don’t even have to like drum n bass to enjoy Pendulum’s offerings. Since being with Breakbeat Kaos, this has increased even more, which is hardly surprising when you look at the success Fresh has had with some of his recent tracks, which also take concepts in drum n bass to a whole new level. But what do they think of such praises? “Well hearing things like that is what makes it worth it for us” explains Gaz. “having people come up to you and say ‘I don’t even like dnb but what you do is amazing’ is what it’s all about for us. That makes it worth it.” Rob adds “and again that’s pretty much what we were trying to do from the beginning, make tracks that people who aren’t really into dnb can really relate to and appreciate. That’s also what we’re really focusing on with the album as well. It’s like… recruiting new junglists!”
Well time is running out for us and there is much more to be said about the phenomenon that has become Pendulum. However, all this will have to be kept for another time. In the meanwhile you can expect the album to drop around May and to be swiftly followed by a world wide tour with the trio dropping in every city that will welcome them. As their DJ schedule continues to increase they’re very keen to make sure that people who come to see them get their money worth, so you won’t be getting Paul in one town and Rob and Gaz in another. After that, well you’ve got another load of singles and collaborations to satisfy your hunger until the menace from down under unveil their live project. Any last words from the guys? “Stay in school and don’t do drugs!”