Fast-paced drums, intricate compositions and rolling basslines: those who thought drum ‘n' bass was just a hype couldn’t be more wrong. Or how else could you explain 15.000 ecstatic fans at Sportpaleis raving to the latest beats that emerged out of a blossoming local music scene? One such talent that made a name for himself is Bram Schrooyen aka Phase. This young Ghent-based producer already has an astonishing list of achievements, but he’s about to up the ante with his first solo EP on what has to be one of the most respected drum ‘n' bass label in the world: Metalheadz. As he’s getting ready for his second Rampage performance (Sportpaleis Antwerp, March 2 and 3), we spoke with this beat wizard about the current trends in the genre, his jam-packed release schedule and random wake up calls from Goldie.
2017 has been one spectacular year for you! How are things looking for this year?
"2017 will look very quiet compared to what I have in store for 2018. Basically, all the music I have produced in the last 12 months will be released this year. I’m pretty stoked to see what the people will think of the new output!"
This genre has been declared ‘dead’ for 2 decades now. How (un)dead is the current drum ’n' bass scene in Belgium?
"It’s very much alive. I think the fact that an event like Rampage can sell 30.000 tickets (spread over 2 nights) speaks for itself. Veteran parties like Star Warz still fill up Vooruit in Ghent, and the legendary Fuse club opened its doors again for drum ‘n' bass this year, with Bredren Invites, where I am a resident at the moment. Brand new concepts run by young promoters are sprouting across the country - and a lot of Belgian talent is rising in the ranks of drum ‘n' bass record labels these days, which is really amazing to see!"
Where can the innovation within the genre be found nowadays?
"Drum ‘n' bass is an amazingly versatile genre, since it basically only relies on the tempo, and a focus on core elements. That’s why it’s constantly evolving and never ‘dead’. One of the trends this year was a resurrection of the heavily distorted and monstrous basses à la Dillinja, with people like Serum and Benny L at the forefront. It’s a type of drum ‘n' bass that can be played by DJs across the entire scene, as it really gets people going on the dancefloor. Liquid is going very strong with people like Calibre, LSB, Lenzman and Spectrasoul churning out absolute beauties on a very consistent basis. A lot of artists are starting their own label, which diversifies the landscape even more with different takes on the genre. Lenzman has his multi-genre EP imprint ‘The North Quarter’, while Alix Perez strips the genre to its core on his 1985 imprint. Ulterior Motive is bringing back the techy funk on Guidance and Spectrasoul just released an album on their imprint Ish Chat. The list goes on, really!"
You have a forthcoming EP on what can be counted amongst the most important record labels in drum ’n' bass: Metalheadz. Please tell us the story of how this came about.
"I’ve released a collaborative EP with Villem back in 2016 on Metalheadz’ sister label METHXX. Since the release did so well (the vinyl was sold out completely, ed.) I aimed at doing it all over, but with a solo EP this time. I finished the production around April 2017. Goldie called me in the middle of the night, saying he was really happy with my work, which, obviously, gave me a huge confidence boost!"
Is the music on this EP going to be any different from what you have released earlier?
"It’s a bit tougher and more rugged than my previous work, with a lot of homage to 90s drum breaks and arrangements. Metalheadz’ slogan is ‘Sine Tempore’, which means ‘timeless’, so I wanted to make timeless music for the label I’ve been looking up to my whole career. While all the tracks would go well in a club setting, I’ve made sure they’re also nice to listen to at home. The EP consists of 3 solo cuts and one collaboration with the legendary Zero T."
How do you usually go about making a new track?
"This really depends on the mood I’m in. If I’m bored, I just start to make drum loops – and sometimes that sparks an idea. Other times, I start with arranging a funky bass loop or writing vibey chords and pads in Omnisphere. When I feel like I’ve reached a dead end with a track, but I still like the vibe, I often outsource it to a collab project with producers I like to work with (like Villem, Nymfo or Zero T). Additionally, I’ve noticed I started to use much more samples again, probably because I find a lot of sample-worthy music by watching Netflix in my spare time! (laughs)"
You have another upcoming track on James Marvel’s brand new Space Pirate Recordings. We have our interest.
"Space Pirate Recordings started after James Marvel released the soundtrack he made for the popular virtual reality game Space Pirate Trainer. The future is looking very bright for the label, since James isn’t taking an ordinary route in terms of releasing music. It’s much more than that! I guess you’ll find out more soon. (smiles)"
That release indirectly resulted in a booking on Rampage alongside the whole Space Pirate crew. How does it feel to be booked in Belgium’s biggest venue?
"I’ve played Sportpaleis once before, in 2014. It’s an awesome feeling, playing for so many people! You only really realise what happened after it’s over. Time goes by so quickly when you’re on that stage!"
What could be the next step after moves like this?
"The week after Rampage, I’ll be playing a gig in Dubai, which also marks my first gig outside Europe. With the upcoming releases lined up, I hope I can make this a regular thing. In 2018 you will also see me perform more around Europe and hopefully in North America as well. Some big nights are already being planned for 2019 too, which is nice to look forward to!"
Any other things on the schedule we should know about?
"A lot actually! You can expect my first solo EP on Metalheadz dropping in March, followed by an official remix of Goldie’s ‘Prism’. Currently, I’m working on my next EP on the same label, which will feature some very talented musicians. There’s another forthcoming collab with Zero T on Total Science’s CIA Records, a 12 inch on the American record label Prestige Music, an EP with Villem on Vandal Recordings, a track on Spearhead’s sister label Future Retro, that track on Space Pirate Recordings and a few remixes. And there’s more stuff that I cannot talk about yet. (grins)"