He’s been on the scene for years – DJ Fresh, aka Dan Stein is a Drum n Bass veteran-turned-household name. You’ve heard his tunes ‘Louder’ and ‘Hot Rite Now’; so we talk to Mr Fresh about his future plans – but not before going back in time to get to know the man himself.
You’re a legend on the drum and bass scene. For the youngens, tell us about your journey.
I started releasing records when I just 17, so yeah, it’s been a couple of years. [laughs] I was part of a group called Bad Company, who made many of the big, historic Drum n Bass tracks, like ‘The Nine’, which was voted the best Drum n Bass track of all time. They were with Renegade Hardware, so I went down there [to the offices] because they wanted to help me mix my stuff as I was still learning. They said I was good at writing chords and so they started working with me on other stuff and we started Bad Company. It was first Drum and Bass group.
We did that for 6 years and then it just ended up that I was writing most of the stuff myself and they didn’t want me to use my own name. They weren’t happy because we would put an album out and I would have written about a third of it; and they felt that it didn’t represent everybody’s input. They didn’t want me to set up my own name, although that’s what I thought the solution was. You either fall into line and accept that lot of your tracks aren’t going to come out or you’ve gotta leave. I couldn’t handle that so I left. It was a massive thing at the time because Bad Company were enormous in the underground scene. So that was really tough to say goodbye, it was a tough period. From there I started doing stuff on my own and set up a label.
So how did you start your label, Breakbeat Kaos?
I left Bad Company just as we were planning some live shows. We did a show at Maida Vale for the Radio 1 Grooverider show. That was our first live thing, but we never got further than that because we stopped working together around then. One of the reasons was that unfortunately, the bands drummer had a falling out with one of the guys in the group… It was all a bit messy.
When I was at Maida Vale studios doing the show there was a lot of industry people in the audience. Adam F came down, and I’d never met him properly. He came up to me and said, ‘wow man, that was fucking amazing’. He was really excited about what we were trying to do live.
We started chatting and we realised we were similar in terms of our music in some ways. We hit it off and wanted to work together and set up a label. At the time there was a lot of potential in setting up a label like that, it was just the right time and the idea we had was to set something up that would a catalyst for the D&B crossover; this was in 2002.
At the time we thought there was so much potential but it was largely being ignored, so we were going to invest into getting it into people’s heads. It was a movement; people in the scene were using their positions to try and invest in the music and the scene and promote it properly. We wanted decent PRS and music videos. Pendulum was really the first big thing we had on our label; they’re nearly gone double platinum now. We were the first independent D&B label to do that.
I wasn’t really focusing on my own music at that point. I only really started off last year when I released my most recent album ‘Kryptonite’ with the single ‘gold Dust’ on it; that was the beginning of me really focusing on my music again.
What was the inspiration for your sound when Drum n Bass was so new?
I was a rebel when I was younger; I still am in some ways. It was very rebellious and almost like punk, you know? We rebelled against everything including the press, I was on the whole vinyl scene and I just loved that because it was all about the music, not the glitz.
That’s what I fell in love with; and the music itself because it was so forward-thinking. One thing people keep saying about bass music over the past couple years is that people like me and Pendulum, Chase and Status and Sub Focus blowing commercially is that it just shows how much talent there is in this scene. That’s why most of the younger, talented kids gravitate to it because it’s the most forward-thinking, challenging music from a technical point of view, you know what I mean?
D&B/Dubstep is so mainstream now. How do you feel about the eventual breakthrough?
It’s amazing; I can’t really describe it! There have been so many times when I just felt like I couldn’t do it anymore, I couldn’t keep fighting this battle that I had been fighting for such a long time. However, it was starting to pay off as Pendulum and Chase and Status started breaking though; we were involved with both of them. We nearly signed Chase and Status’s first album; we’ve signed their latest stuff, same with Nero, Sigma, people like that.
It was great to see them blowing up, but I was frustrated that I have always been a musician and all of the sudden I found myself running a record label… It was a challenge and really interesting, but I found it wasn’t making me happy because I only really feel happy when I’m making music. I knew I was doing well running the label but I didn’t feel fulfilled, you know? When I did ‘Gold Dust’, it was in the top 40 for 14 weeks or something. That was the moment that everything changed and I really felt back on track again. When you’re as passionate about music as I am it’s the only thing that’s gunna make you happy, to focus on your own music and to make it.
What can we expect from you musically in the future?
My angle since I’ve started is that I always want to be progressing. It hasn’t made things easier for me, especially when I first started. Like, if you have a massive tune, people are more likely to support you if you come back with something that is similar to it. When people hear something they like, they want more. But I went on a mission to challenge myself, because I didn’t wanna get stuck in that rut of doing one thing and being scared to break out of it. So for years I would completely change what I was doing with every record. At the moment I am writing songs and that is a new thing. I feel like there is a lot more for me to explore. As I’m now song writing and producing, it’s difficult for me to say which direction I am gonna go in, it’s different now because it’s about songs rather than instrumental tracks. I’ve discovered that I have a lot to give in the writing scenario, my confidence is building with that. Its great getting in the studio with people I can feed off.
Any collaborations we can look out for?
Umm… I’m gonna throw you a bit of a curveball. There are these guys called the Fleet Foxes, they are still growing, they are effectively quite rock/indie/folk, it’s not like anything that I’ve done but I love their music and I’d really like to do something with them. The kind of people I’d like to work with are on the rock/punk scene – It is something I haven’t done yet so I’m excited about that.
Anything we should look out for in the near future?
Unfortunately I can’t really talk about that, but there is some really exciting stuff in the pipeline. My first few singles might have been with people that most listeners might not have had on their radars… But the people that I’m working with on for my forthcoming stuff are a lot more well-known… I wish I could say who they were, but yeah. It’s exciting!
Where can we see you live?
All over the place. We’ll be playing at a lot of festivals over the summer which will be posted on my twitter page, keep an eye out.
What can we expect from Dj Fresh in 2012?
The unexpected… [Laughs]
‘Hot Right Now’ featuring Rita Ora is out on itunes now. See DJ Fresh live at BBC Hackney Weekend 2012 @ Hackney Marshes on 23/24 June
DJ Fresh live in the UK:
Monday 7th May – Leeds University Stylus
Tuesday 8th May – Sheffield Tuesday Club
Wed 9th May – Oxford 02 Academy
Thursday 10th May – Bournemouth Old Fire Station
Friday 11th May – Birmingham 02 Academy 2
Sat 12th May – Liverpool 02 Academy 2
Tuesday 15th May – London KOKO
Wed 16th May – Camden Junction
Sat 19th May – Glasgow Arches