Violet Nights Recording’s (VNR) second vinyl release of the year showcases two phenomenal tunes from legends in the Atmospheric D&B universe, Blame and Lucida. This news has captivated our hearts, as the last time Graham Fisken, a.k.a Lucida, released a solo track on vinyl was back in 1994 on the famed label Production House. If you haven’t heard of Lucida, I urge you to go back into the vaults of that mid-nineties Atmospheric D&B sound and dig for Mouly & Lucida tunes.
Lucida came back into the world of D&B in 2014 with a digital track called “Helical Flow”. Since then he has released a few more dazzling Atmospheric D&B tunes that you can find on his Bandcamp page, Lucida Audio. Watching the VNR livestreams recently, I noticed they teased us with a few of the tracks Lucida has signed with the label—and in my opinion, Lucida is on a league of his own. Showing the new school that even though he might not have been producing publicly all these years, his raw talent for the lush soundscapes of Atmospheric D&B has continued to flow through his soul without skipping a beat. The big VNR reveal in 2020 has been hyped for so long that finally on Friday, April 2nd, you can scoop your very own copy of VNR002 on VNR’s Bandcamp page.
Thank you for taking the time to speak to me, G. I have been patiently waiting for this release since it was first announced back in fall 2020.
It’s an absolute pleasure Meaux. Thank you so much for inviting me.
Let’s catch up: What have you been doing musically all these years since your last vinyl release with Mouly?
Well, it’s been a long time, hasn’t it?! Once Alex made the leap Stateside in 1997, I pretty much hung up my production hat for a while. I had an idea that I might seek some sort of proper musical tuition, but after a couple of failed attempts to get placed at college on a media course and the resulting knock in confidence, I abandoned that plan. During his first stint in the U.S., Alex had entrusted his Technics to me for safekeeping, so that was a great opportunity for me to get into vinyl mixing. I already had a growing collection of D&B twelves but had previously just been listening to them on a standard hi-fi setup. Unfortunately, the decks weren’t ever going to be mine to keep, so I had to hand them back the next time he was in the country, several months later. By that point though, I had become proficient enough to play out and was able to get a few local gigs playing an eclectic mixture of genres. At around the same time, I also bought myself a drum set which I taught myself to play in the family home to a reasonably competent level — much to the annoyance of my younger sister who was right in the middle of studying for her exams! During this period I gradually lost touch with drum & bass and was getting more into other genres of dance music like deep house, broken beat, lo-fi, and nu-jazz; as well as classic jazz, rare groove, and soul; and continued my love for hip-hop, predominantly with an East Coast flavour.
By about 2003, having offloaded a lot of the hardware that was used for the Mouly & Lucida production, I dipped my toe back into using software alone for making music, initially using an early version of Cakewalk, later progressing onto Reason 2.5. This really was just an occasional hobby for about the next 7 or 8 years, and I didn’t feel that any of my limited output then was professional-sounding enough to take any further. In 2011, I discovered Soundcloud and uploaded some of my music there purely for fun, to share with a handful of mates. To be honest, those tunes were still fairly lame! It wasn’t until 2015 that I revisited a form of drum & bass in my own production, but between then and the end of 2019, I probably was only finishing a track once in a blue moon. In parallel to all this, I was involved with a variety of different amateur bands as their rhythm section, playing anything from folk to acoustic hip-hop, before finally making the decision to retire my drum sticks in 2017.
In this new age of Atmospheric D&B, how does it feel to come back to the scene with such a tremendous release? In your opinion, what has changed from how the scene was back in 1996 to how the scene is currently?
You know what?! It almost feels like I’ve been reborn musically, and I’m so delighted that there seems to be such an appetite for the type of tunes I want to produce. In hindsight, I wish I’d kept up the momentum that I had built with Mouly, but lacking the ability to turn back time, I intend to grab this second opportunity with both hands! I feel so honored that my first release on vinyl in such a long time is sharing the same piece of wax as a Blame track — it truly is the stuff of dreams. I’m still pinching myself!
It’s difficult to be objective about how things have changed because I have also changed so much, but back then, it certainly was different. My opinion is also quite clouded by the fact that everything has been happening in a virtual sense over the past year. The epicenter of drum and bass in the mid-nineties was predominantly in the UK, and it was so fresh and exclusive. The latest tunes were being played on dubplate by the top DJs months or even years before the average Joe could get hold of a copy (if ever), whereas now, of course, its popularity has expanded throughout the world, and the genre has been around for decades. In that era I guess there were a couple of thousand D&B producers, but now, there’s probably several hundred thousand, if not more. There are so many more ways for producers to get their own music out there now, but ironically, there are also so many people looking to grab attention that it’s clearly more difficult to get your material noticed. In the 90s, it was relatively rare to hear D&B beats on mainstream, daytime radio, but now it’s quite common, certainly in the UK. Back in the day, you were either into jungle/drum & bass or you weren’t, however, there are now so many sub-genres that I can barely keep up!
How did the connection with VNR start? How many tunes have you signed with the label? Can you share with us the concept behind ”Freefall”?
I had uploaded a few tunes of mine to Bandcamp toward the end of 2019 and also joined the Atmospheric Drum & Bass Revival group on Facebook. Having checked out a few links that I posted in the group, Neil Johnson got in touch with me at the end of January 2020 to let me know that he liked what he was hearing and to ask if he could cut a couple of dubs to play out at his Violet Nights Atmospheric D&B club night. Of course I agreed, and he invited me down to their next event as a guest, which was just over a month later. It was the first club night I’d been to for a number of years; Seba and PHD were on the bill and MC Conrad was on the mic… I absolutely loved it! Neil and I got chatting, and he spoke about a new vinyl label he had been working on setting up with his mate, Clinton Harcup. He suggested that I submit some tracks for consideration. Then lockdown happened in the UK because of Covid, and I haven’t been to a club night since. On the plus side, that gave me a great excuse to spend time working on music. As it turned out, it proved to be an absolutely essential way to maintain a healthy state of mind, and I’ve made more tunes in the last year than ever before. I sent a few tracks to Neil over the next couple of months or so, which were kind of okay, but then at the beginning of June 2020, I sent over an mp3 of “Freefall.” A few days later, Neil and Clint signed it up to release on what was to become VNR. So far, there are another seven tracks of mine in the pipeline for the label and counting…
It’s rare that I start any track with a particular concept or theme in mind, and “Freefall” was no exception. The name often doesn’t come to me until a track is at least seventy-five percent done. I normally start with a chord progression, a melody, or a selection of other sounds; try and figure out what type of rhythm suits it; then layer things up until it gives me “tingles”. If I don’t get those tingles early on, I will either put a track on the back burner or scrap it completely. Sometimes I can go from a blank session to a completed track within a couple of weeks, and other times I’ll start a track, get stuck, do something else for a while, then come back and finish the first track several weeks later. With “Freefall,” the sensations I felt when I had completed the arrangement were of growing anticipation and excitement, leading to a satisfying high-speed thrill, similar to the way I felt in the summer of 2016 when I leapt 12,000 feet from a plane over New Zealand!
A while back, you posted a photo of your studio setup. From the looks of it, it’s not overly complicated. You even mentioned: “No classic synths, no retro samplers, no valve amps, no mixer hardware, no acoustic treatment; compact, uncluttered, and bijou.” Can you tell me a little bit about your workflow? What sort of VSTs do you use to create these beautiful atmospheric sounds? Do you have any production tips you wish to share with our readers?
That’s right, my setup is reasonably basic in terms of hardware. Just as it was in the Mouly & Lucida heyday, I’m still a bedroom producer at heart and literally! I’m sure it would be lovely to have racks of synths and other equipment in a beautiful studio, but the reality is that a lot of it would end up being mostly decorative. I’d definitely benefit from a secondary display, some better monitor speakers, maybe a control surface, and a properly treated environment, but other than that, I’ve got enough to make a nice noise. I use Reason 11 suite currently, and there are so many great soft synths and effects straight out of the box that can be tweaked endlessly, it’s super powerful to begin with. In fact, up until the beginning of 2020, I didn’t even realize that I could use the majority of the same plugins I had seen people using in Logic Pro! Since that revelation, I have added a variety of compressors, additional instruments, and other funky tools. I’m loving Waves Factory Trackspacer at the moment, which handles frequency-specific side-chaining to make certain sounds stand out in the mix if things have become a bit muddy. I’m also a sucker for a freebie, so Vahalla Supermassive for effects and Slate Digital’s Fresh Air for dynamic audio processing are absolute must-haves. Tips-wise, I would say always keep experimenting and never be afraid to use automation!
List your top 5 Atmospheric D&B tunes of all time.
There’re so many I could choose from, including a lot of recent cuts that could easily be added to this. It’s pretty tough, but I’m going to go with a nostalgic selection of favorites from the mid-nineties:
- Photek - Rings Around Saturn
- LTJ Bukem - Horizons
- Intense - Positive Notions
- Chameleon - Links
- St. Etienne - The Sea (PFM Mix)
Any other projects you’re a part of that you wish to share with us?
Following the interview that Alex and I did for the Atmospheals podcast, Dan Hicks introduced me to a monthly, online music production masterclass with Lee Bachelor from Future Engineers. I have been participating in that class for about the last 6 months and it’s really helping me to take my production knowledge and skill to new levels.
I’ve produced a version of a track called “Holan” for Dleeb and Ahz from the Czech Republic, for a six-track remix EP that’s coming out on a very limited number of vinyl copies later in the year. I believe it’s currently in the manufacturing stage. I’m not sure exactly when or where it will be available, but you can check out my remix of the track on Soundcloud: Dleeb & Ahz - Holan(Lucida Remix)
OKEE and I have been chatting about collaborating on some projects, and I would also never rule out the possibility of working on something with Alex Moul again, but I do enjoy the flexibility of working solo
Keep updated with Lucida at any of the following links.
Check out Violet Nights Recordings at the following links.Facebook
Editor: Paul Skalleberg