40 minutes of breakbeat fire ahead of our Rough Tempo birthday show
With just one week to go until we host our first anniversary celebrations at Planet Wax and Rough Tempo, Anna Key comes blazing into the fray with this absolute tear-up of a mix.
An unbounded bag of pure breakbeat energy, it’s a scorchio snapshot of what we can expect when Anna joins us at Rough Tempo’s Attic Bar on Sunday June 18 alongside the likes of Zoner, R3IDY, E-lisa, Simulate, Stonx, Shayper, Guzi, DJ Zent and Trauma DBC & Juiceman.
With an energy that’s rooted in metal and incubated by hard dance before arriving in drum & bass in more recent years, Anna brings a unique take on the drum & bass sound as both a producer and as a DJ. In fact just weeks before this mix and interview she experienced a health scare which has amplified this energy and sense of focus even more. Press play, read on and we’ll see you next weekend at Rough Tempo.
I saw you’ve had some scary health stuff!
Yeah it’s essentially a mini stroke. I’ve had them before, too. You’re right, it is really scary. I’ve got to have an MRI to investigate it further but the doctors think it’s stress. They said my blood pressure was high and I explained some my personal circumstances and they said it sounded like intense stress. It’s made me take a massive look at my lifestyle. I’m generally pretty healthy but it’s about how I handle stress. I take too much on. I need to manage my time better and be more realistic with my time and be easier on myself.
Being able to lose yourself in a mix must be cathartic?
Oh absolutely! That’s what I love about mixing. Whatever mood I’m in, I just get so absorbed into the music. Whether I’m feeling happy or sad, I just feel the music and it takes me somewhere else. It’s like reading a book isn’t it? Pure escapism. All the stresses forgotten about. I’m in the zone doing what I love to do best. And yeah I’m really happy with the mix.
You can feel it! So much energy!
Haha. My arms were going everywhere, I was head banging. It’s like I’m possessed! My hands are playing the drums or doing that bass manipulating thing people sometimes do. I feel like the conductor driving the orchestra.
Haha go on. I guess all producers are conductors and the DAW is your orchestra. What was the last track you worked on?
Oh a tune which was actually played on BBC Introducing last night. I was with my friends in the pub listening when it came and they all started clapping which was very sweet. It’s called Bitter Sky but it was originally called Say What? I’m hoping it might be part of an EP eventually. I’ve been getting some amazing advice and inspiration from people lately. Sam from Natty Dubs has been giving me some amazing advice and tips and James from Sola is another really inspiring guy. He went to so much effort and made a video to explain a few techniques. I love that so much. Criticism is really important isn’t it? That’s the best help because people want to be the best you can be.
Yeah absolutely. Once you get over your ego innit!
Totally. The first bit of advice I ever had was to have thick skin. And that was before social media added the pressure and intensity. Before then it was more music focused because you’d usually be giving mix CDs to people.
It’s very different now isn’t it?
Yeah like I said, it’s so intense! You’ve got to be everything: a promoter, a designer, a media maker and that’s before you even get into the studio! There’s always so much to learn isn’t there? I’ve been learning a lot about label etiquette lately actually. So if you have a demo with a label and they have shown interest, you shouldn’t send the tune on elsewhere. The thing is, though, is that some labels take so long to get back. Like how long do you wait for a label to get back to you before you decide to push on with another label.
Ah and each label is different and will have their own way of doing things.
Exactly! But I’ve got a release coming soon with US label Geomagnetic coming soon so that’s something I’m very happy about.
Tell us about that!
It’s two tracks; Shock Horror and Masquerading Hell. Really randomly, I got inspiration from the old Sabrina The Teenage Witch show. I love the creepy, slightly twisted spin on things and in episode she goes to Hell to see her dad and there’s a masquerade ball with strings and dark haunting music. It just hit me, I thought ‘I’ve got to do a track with these elements!’ That’s how it came together. There’s a lot of strings in there which gives it drama. I do like a bit of darkness.
That’s definitely a theme in your image and output. Embracing everyone’s darker side.
That’s exactly it. I want to bring more of that into my images. I’ve just linked with someone who’s going to take some new pictures of me and she comes from metal and totally gets where I’m coming from and the image I want to create that really resembles who I am and what I’m about.
There are pretty substantial parallels between metal and D&B aren’t there?
Massively. For me it’s the heavy drums whether it’s metal or D&B. Those powerful drums that smack you in the face. Like very hectic and busy music, you know? The busyness of it. Like in that first mix on the mix I’ve done for you. I was worried it would be too chaotic but it really worked.
I love when it you surprise yourself like that!
I love that with DJing! When you’re in the zone and you’re just trying things out and something comes out of the blue and blows you away.
I have to write them down or I’ll forget the mix!
Oh totally. I do that anyway but, with my mini stroke, my memory has gone a bit weird. I say random words sometimes and I don’t know what they come from. When this happened the first time I even forgot how to spell my name for a minute.
Very. Something I’ve known my whole life! It really makes you think about life. I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching as you can imagine. Like asking myself ‘What’s important? What can wait? How can I manage my time better?’ Doing something like this mix really helped though. It gave me energy and a focus that I really benefited from.
Let’s focus on next week. What can people expect from your set next week?
I want to play some of my own tracks so I’m dabbling with the idea of maybe having the first half of the mix as my own productions and then maybe the second half of it made purely out unsigned and rising artists and give them a boost.
Sick! You had a regular show on Rough Tempo didn’t you?
That’s right. I was on every Friday before Jumped Up Audio. I was there supporting some friends and they threw me on. I wasn’t expecting to play at all! But I’ve spent many hours in that place. I’ve even been there in my PJs before! I love Rough Tempo, it’s always really friendly and welcoming. Tarque is such a good man. He’s like my rave dad. He’s been amazing for me and so helpful. So supportive.
Yeah Tarque’s the man! Speaking of parenting, did I see you post about making tunes with your son?
Yeah we’ve got three tunes on the go at the moment. Josh loves it. He loves being in the studio and says he wants to be a DJ when he grows up. It’s beautiful. I want to be careful though with his hearing levels. Young ears are so sensitive aren’t they? So we have a fixed hour in the studio but then stop wherever we’re at. I don’t want to knacker his ears. You’d be so gutted if you gave your kid tinnitus wouldn’t you?
Oh gosh yeah. So with your health and everything in mind are you giving yourself a break?
Yeah I want to bring The List up to a place where that can be paused. So I’ve got to get the final posters out and a canvas for as many artists to sign. Then I want to do an event for that and auction the canvas off. But yeah I do want to take a break and focus on myself, my music and my DJing. DJing is where I started and I want to make that more of a priority as well as constantly learning the studio craft.
Every day is a school day!
It is! I always think of one of the earliest tracks I made, it was a collaboration with the hard house guys Organ Donors. They had this amazing complex with their studio and a soundsystem in there. I remember one of them saying me that even after being an engineer for 25 years he still learns something new every day. I found that really inspiring and it’s stuck with me. It’s so true isn’t it?
It really is! What was the last thing that inspired you?
Just everything I listen to all of the time! I’m constantly getting goosebumps and I’m fascinated by the emotional effect of music. Especially with film scores and classical styles. All the strings and the lower brass section like French horns. I find it incredible that from sounds, and something that’s totally instrumental, you can feel such strong emotions. That’s what it’s all about really isn’t it?
1 More Thing’s birthday weekend on June 17-18 is what it’s all about right now. Join Anna on Sunday June 18 at Rough Tempo Attic. Full details.