Rising to prominence as part of DJ Hype’s Playaz camp in the early noughties, Crystal Clear released a series of dance floor bangers and toured the globe DJing. After a foray into other musical genres, Crystal Clear burst back onto the D&B scene via the heavily respected Sofa Sound imprint.
This week saw his return to the Playaz label so we decided it was time to catch up with him for a chat…
You’ve recently exploded back onto the D&B scene with both a radio show on Kool FM and a string of killer releases on Sofa Sound, Playaz, and John B’s Beta Recordings… Where have you been these past few years? Why did you step away from drum and bass?
I was away for a long time so a lot has happened! I got the chance to do a pop/dnb crossover project that was signed to a major, like a precursor to what Sigma have done you could say. When that came to an end I sort of re-evaluated what I wanted as an artist and what was making me happy. I’d made d&b solidly for about 8 years with the Playaz camp before that, so I felt like I needed to do something else and stretch my legs as a producer to keep myself interested.
I’ve always liked a mixture of music and at that time was going out to a lot of house and techno parties, so it was a natural progression to try and make some. This all coincided with a relationship I was in at the time breaking down, so maybe part of me was just trying to leave everything about my “old life” behind.
What made you want to return to D&B? Get bored of hearing those 4×4 techno kick drums?
The thing about D&B is, once it’s in you it doesn’t leave and I grew up on this music so it’s part of the fabric of who I am. Al (Codebreaker), who I made some techno with, was still part of the scene and told me there was a place for me, so I started actively listening again to work out what I liked and where I might fit. I heard things that interested me again and it reignited a love for the sound.
Also, It had been about 10 years since I’d made d&b and although I had had lots of d&b releases, I never really felt like I knew what I was doing back then as a producer. In that time I’d learnt so much that I felt a certain amount of “unfinished business” and that I wanted to come back with some belters.
How does techno production differ to making drum and bass music?
It is quite different in a few ways. The hierarchy of what’s important is completely different. In techno the kick and the groove is the most important thing, whereas in D&B the bass is king so this flips your mixdown on its head.
D&B is a sprint too, with everything happening quickly, whereas techno is much more of a marathon, with everything happening over much longer timescales. That’s why playing a four hour techno set flies by, for example, as you’re playing three or 4 minutes of each techno tune as opposed to about a minute of each tune in a d&b set.
They are two very different animals and it definitely took me a while to relearn how everything fit together when I returned to drum & bass.
The Code On Playaz
I think I first heard of you through your releases on DJ Hype’s Ganja label back in the day, now you’re back with new music on Playaz, another of Hype’s labels. How did you first link with Hype?
I linked with Hype back in the early 2000’s on AIM (the old aol instant messenger). I was working at Kickin Records (the parent label of Hardleaders) at the time and I’d had some early releases with DJ SS and the Formation crew. I would spend as much of my day on AIM “networking” and sharing dubs instead of doing actual work. Playaz, Ganja and Frontline had always been favourite labels of mine, so I made a point of getting hold of Hype’s aim handle and sent him a bunch of stuff.
He liked the early bits and we got chatting and it turned out he used to work at Kickin too! He was into what I was making, so before I knew I was part of the camp alongside Hazard, Gdub, Taxman, Potential Badboy and Prolix.
Were ‘The Code’ & ‘Take It Back’ made with Playaz in mind? I get a real old skool Bristol flava from ‘The Code’
‘The Code’ was actually one of the first tunes I made when I returned to drum and bass, Hype has just been holding onto it for the last 18 months as a secret weapon in his sets! It was weird having him call me up after I sent him some tunes after so long away. It was like 10 years had never happened!
I’m not sure I really had any label in mind when I wrote it, it was more about me finding my sound again and figuring out what worked for me. I remember head nodding when I wrote the bass line though and thinking “ok…ok…this could work”.
For ‘Take It Back’ I wanted something a bit more rugged, harking back to my roots in Jungle. It’s actually surprised me how popular that tune has been, getting spun on Vision radio by Thys from Noisia and loads of people hitting me up on socials for the “ID”.
Sofa Sounds Bristol
Speaking of Bristol flavas we’ve got to mention your releases of Sofa Sounds Bristol! DLR is on fire right now both with his solo productions & his work with The Sauce. It must have been a real confidence boost having your first 4 tracks on your return to D&B getting signed by one of the hottest labels around at the minute?
DLR is a beast on the production buttons, so it definitely gave me an indication that I was back on the right track when he wanted to sign things. When I was deciding where my new sound would lie before I started actively writing D&B again, DLR, The Sauce, Submotive, Break and Hazard were all artists whose music resonated with me.
That EP on Sofa Sound also saw you back collaborating with Codebreaker. Is he someone you enjoy working with?
Can’t stand him…coming round here with his sharp essy vocals and perfectionist work-ethic! Pffft.
Ha! Yeah Codebreaker is a badman on the mic and in the studio so it’s always a pleasure working with him. I was really pleased that our track ‘Puppet Man’ got daytime radio play on BBC 6 Music, and the response to our mix for Sofa Sound has been unbelievable.
Another track we have to talk about is ‘Hoxton Square’… What a banger!! I’m getting straight Dillinja Blue Note vibes from this track. Did you send this to Metalheadz or did John B snap it up for his label before you had a chance?
Yeah it’s shameless Dillinja vibes and totally influenced by hearing Acid Trak for the first time at The Blue Note when I was 16. I really wanted to write something harking back to that era, that old skool feeling of a dark sweaty club and rugged bass hitting your chest.
Just after I finished writing it I saw John was playing a Blue Note set at Headz at E1. He’s a good guy and we’d been chatting on Twitter just before about some live streaming stuff, so I just sent it across for him to play. He played it that weekend and came straight back saying he’d sign it in a heartbeat if I wanted to….and that was that!
I never did send it to Headz.
Anti Tory T-Shirt Club
Let’s touch briefly on your t-shirts. I bagged one of your Anti Tory Techno Club tee’s a while back and people always stop me to tell me how much they love it. You’ve added a couple more designs to the Anti Tory T-Shirt Club range – I try not to talk about politics with friends, but what was it that got you so angry with the current UK Government that you decided to start making merch?
Yeah it can be a touchy subject politics! I started making them a while ago when I found myself getting angrier and angrier at the Tory Government wrecking the country. The corruption, the division, the scapegoating of minorities and the lack of actual talent in anything other than grifting for their personal gain. So I figured I’d stop getting angry and start channeling my anger into something creative and positive. So I made T-shirts!
Finally what’s next for Crystal Clear?
I’ve got a bunch of music scheduled for 2024 including an EP on Sauce Recordings, an EP for Nymfo’s new Love For Low Frequencies imprint, as well as collaborations with Creatures and Sweetpea.
Doc Scott has been supporting a lot of my music recently too and hit me up wanting an EP for 31 Records, so I need to write that. You never know, if Hype ever answers his phone you might see some more music on Playaz too!