The RAM Records signee on his journey to ‘Arrhythmia’.
Chords getting his moment on RAM right now is a real treat for me. Growing up as a Black dnb fan in the States, I’d always see Black folks in the dance, always grooved to Black DJs, and always known Black producers are around. Sadly, it always felt like that was the “older guard”. Imagine my surprise when Chords got signed to RAM in 2013, especially since there’s no denying it: dude’s just good.
With a steady string of singles, Chords has moved from strength to strength, gaining new fans and building the foundation that continues this week with the release of his three-track EP, Arrhythmia. It’s a dynamic blend of the musicality that makes the classically-trained Chords stand out in a sea of dubs, as well as an homage to both the institution that took him in and the influences running through him. Again, Chords is just good, so it made sense to holler at him about the new EP, life at RAM, and the importance of the Black Junglist Alliance.
HRDNZ: I read that it was your older brother who got you into drum & bass. Had he just been blasting dnb in the house, or was he more sitting you down saying “here’s Andy C, here’s Goldie,” etc.?
Chords: Ha! it went back into the jungle days when I was really young. He was a DJ and played a bunch of Moving Shadow, Reinforced Records, Tom & Jerry, stuff from these legendary labels. I had a taste for that tempo by then, and followed that trend into my own discovery of the dnb world.
You had classical piano training as a kid; were you already making music before you got into drum & bass?
Yes, lots. I was making pop songwriter-type stuff, and jazz, more downtempo hip-hop. Drum & Bass was more of an endeavor; wanting to learn the production skill of something so technical. It’s easy to become obsessed with dnb and the effect it has on a rave, and trying to recreate/replicate that effect is a lifelong pursuit!
Ain’t that the truth. How long had you been producing before Andy C caught wind of your material? And how soon was the transition of you being Chords, unsigned hype to Chords, RAM Records signee?
It was pretty quick. I had released some tracks around 2012 with the legend Matrix, who I am eternally grateful for teaching me so much; the occasional remix and odd credit. Soon after that, my music got into the hands of the RAM team, and while I was at university I got a call from the Boss Man himself asking me to sign! The dream come true.
It’s crazy to think that that turned into you going on seven years of you being in the RAM fold. What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned—either as a producer or as a human being—in that time with the RAM crew?
Lots of things. DnB is a community of like-minded people but the spread is massively diverse. I was lucky enough meet some of my dnb heroes and peers, and learn a lot of production, business and DJing lessons from them over the years. The main lesson is to write music for yourself and yourself only, and don’t write to achieve status or effect or to “fit into a sound.” That never succeeds because you aren’t being genuine and you can’t write your best music that way—a battle I still struggle with!
Earlier this year, the Black Junglist Alliance kicked off their BJATV series with your tune “Strip”. With the year we’ve had within the scene and as Black people on Earth, talk about the importance of both the Black Junglist Alliance and you being involved in it at its inception.
It was a honor to be in the company of the other people in this alliance—Fab & Groove, Randall, Loxy & Ink just to name a few—so to write music for the BJA was and is great. The BJA is important because as with a lot of culture generally, Black people over time get erased from the story unless they are victims, or villains. This is a longstanding, slow to change problem across society, and isn’t exclusive to dance music, although it’s evident here too. For example, when people think techno, they think Berlin, when techno is from Detroit. Drum & Bass is by no means the worst in this aspect and I personally think dnb has good representation and even so, still wants to push its inclusivity. But all music and society-writ-large has a long way to go in this respect. BJA highlights and reminds us of the contributions of one group, making it clear that we all love and make great music.
Amen. You’ve got a three-tracker dropping this week, Arrhythmia. What do these three tunes represent at this point in your career?
Three different styles that I love. “Arrhythmia” is a full on track with some musicality sprinkled in, “Throttle Up” is a straight roller, and “Ultra” is an homage to the big RAM dancefloor sound of 2015.
No one asked me, but I think “Throttle Up” might be my pick from this release. It does a good job of straddling your current vibe while marrying it to deeper, older neuro vibes—unless I’m tripping entirely. Can you give us some inside on what Contakt and yourself were working towards?
I’m glad you picked up on that! Wayne Contakt and I (and nearly everyone else in dnb) are obsessed with a label from the early 2000s, Quarantine, which put out classics by Break, Fierce, dBridge, Gridlok etc. The vibes of the tracks were always pure; just dark rolling, progressive drums and bass. We wanted to pay respect to that label, and also try to bring back some of that vibe into modern production. We also plan to make a bunch more like this one.
I, for one, am ready. What’s next for Chords? One would imagine an album may be on the horizon, but is there anything you can speak of for where you’re headed for 2021 and beyond?
I would love to do an album. I’ve been saying it for years, but honestly probably never been in a position with enough diverse, good material to make one. But I am getting there, finally. I think we’ll see a few more singles first before it.
Wise move, honestly. What do you get into outside of making music? What are some of your hobbies?
I am a student and lover of architecture, I’m an avid reader of all kinds of genres, and have done some work in the film/art world.
What’s your favorite tune that’s come out in 2020 that you didn’t produce, and why?
Camo & Krooked + Mefjus’ “No Tomorrow”. A masterpiece of three styles: C&K in the first section, Mef in the second, and somewhere in the middle this blend of the dynamic range and hugeness of classical, meeting the sharp silences and hi-fidelity of electronic. Beautiful track!
Chords’ Arrhythmia EP drops via RAM on Friday, November 6, 2020.