When I think of drum and bass, these come to mind: herbals, boy-racers, skanks and the Shot Shack. In Nelson I grew up going to drum and bass dominated dance parties, and I used to be fanatical about the genre. But over time, the scene has changed and I’ve grown out of it.
However, one act that has done exceptionally well since its inception, and who I still regard highly, is Wellington based duo The Upbeats. They are hailed as the heavyweights of the New Zealand drum and bass scene, and are making a name for themselves the world over.
With their sophomore album due for release in September and plenty of tours coming up, I caught up with one half of The Upbeats, Dylan Jones, who is currently in Wellington, while the other half, Jeremy Glenn, is touring in the USA.
Dylan admits he didn’t like drum and bass until he met Jeremy, who was (and still is) fanatical about the music. Soon enough, Jeremy managed to convert Dylan into a drum and bass head, and they started hitting drum and bass parties together. They soon figured they could make the music themselves. Jeremy moved to Nelson and played DJ sets for a while, and the two kept in contact and kept producing music. Around 2000, Jeremy moved back to Wellington and the two “decided to make a go of it”.
In 2004 their debut album came out on Loop recordings, and their success snowballed. Three years later, their (currently unnamed) sophomore album is a few months away, to be released on prestigious drum and bass label Bad Company Presents. Getting signed to this label seemed pure luck, as Dylan states “we got picked up on a couple of small labels overseas over the internet and then Bad Company ending up hearing us when they were on tour. One of the support DJs at one of their gigs played a track and they were like, ‘What’s this? What’s this?’ They just happened to be on their way to New Zealand at the time, so they met up with Jeremy who was here. They had dinner and sorted out a deal and that was the start of it all.”
Dylan notes there is a difference in the two DJs’ styles, modestly stating that “Jeremy is definitely the better DJ type out of the both of us because he’s been doing it for ages and I’m more the quiet one. He’s got the stage presence; he pretty much taught me everything I know.”
While their self-titled debut received much critical acclaim, Dylan says that “our debut was just things we had done in the past with no real intention of them being on the album.” However, their upcoming album is a concept album – a story told through the music and accompanied by artwork from local Wellington artists. Unable to find a better description of the concept theme, Dylan calls it a “fairytale”, explaining that “it’s a story that runs with the illustrations and the music, so you can pretty much read through the story and it goes through sort of like one continuous linked up thing.”
With a new album comes a worldwide tour, and with a worldwide tour comes some fresh performance ideas. “New Zealand will hopefully be the launching point for our live sort of show we are doing.” While they have dabbled with live elements in the past, this tour should see them as a fixture. “We are going to try and incorporate full on live elements – laptops, guitars, that kind of thing.”
Dylan notes the popularity of drum and base globally is quite volatile. “It’s definitely fading in places and growing stronger in others. In Eastern Europe it’s just going nuts at the moment – we have a tour coming up there. The scene is getting huge there. They have all these sort of stadium style parties in Russia, it’s just metal.” He believes that England (the home of drum and bass) is still steady, and in “New Zealand [it] is still surprising how steady it is. It hasn’t really ebbed with trends or anything – which is wicked.”
Regardless of the world tours, New Zealand is still a favourite place to go, says Dylan, especially Christchurch and the outdoor Phat parties. “The Phat parties are always awesome ‘cos they go mental. There’s crazy people which is always awesome.”
Half of The Upbeats will be playing at one of these Phat parties this coming weekend, at Inangahua on the Westcoast, along with Kora, Agent Alvin and many other drum and bass, breaks and roots reggae acts – or, if you are stuck in Wellington, check out the other half at Sandwiches, on Friday night.