While there’s no question that ENiGMA Dubz is best known for his fine line of dubstep creations, there’s always been an air of ‘expect the unexpected’ about his prolific and consistent output.
Whether it’s the broad range of flavours and different tempo adventures on his last album Awakening; his lo-fi, downtempo project Itona; or much earlier drum & bass works like Island Hopping on his Journey So Far album in 2015, James Vine has never been shy of an audio excursion or musical curveball. In fact he welcomes them.
Even as far back as 10 – 12 years, breakthrough EPs such as Slaves, Fresh or Back To The Future have always carried a strong garage element. Behind the scenes, meanwhile, James has been working across a whole spectrum of genres for years as a ghost writer and engineer. Go back to the very very start of his musical journey, you’ll even find him flexing the cello at a conservatoire level in his hometown Birmingham, smashing out classical on a seriously academic level.
It’s safe to say that ENiGMA Dubz has never been a one genre man. But with his latest project Connect, there’s definitely been a little more amplification on that front. Stretching his musical repertoire further than he’d previously showcased under this alias, Connect is a full EP strictly comprising drum & bass.
Laced with liquid and that strong sense of dynamic musicality he’s shown in everything he’s done, it’s another exciting twist in his ongoing enigmatic tale.
To mark the moment, we asked him for a D&B mix. He didn’t disappoint. His first ever publicly uploaded D&B only mix, it flexes the full range from dark rollers to reggae-splashed jungle bubblers to emotional soulful heart-rattlers. It goes like this…
We called him up to find out more.
I think you’re just back from a US tour. How was it?
Yeah man, back yesterday. Very short trip this time but very sick. Three dates over one weekend and back home. I normally do a longer tour but had a festival offer I couldn’t refuse so made the weekend of it.
Loads of stuff going on over there!
The market is huge out there. It’s such a huge country with so many cities popping for music. I’ve never been short of requests over there. I get out there as much as I can really. I wish it was the same for dubstep over here.
I can see the landscape changing here – more artists exploring other genres. D&B producers making dubstep. Dubstep producers making D&B… Like yourself!
It’s only been the last few years I’ve been fully comfortable doing multi-genre sets and playing the full range of sounds I make. I felt there was a bit of pressure – probably from myself more than anyone – to go in with the dubstep and the big tracks. My last album Awakening was multi-genre and I’ve always done that as a producer. Dubstep, garage, a bit of downtempo, a bit of D&B. So when I announced that tour I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to play the full range in my sets too.’
How did the album go? The last time we spoke was when I wrote an announcement for it on UKF
That’s right. It’s gone so well, thanks. We released the album on our own label Morii Records and it was great to have full control of the album. It was an experiment to see how far we could push it just from our own network and it was really well received.
The feedback from people about the sets was also very fulfilling and made me realise I had to do that more often. I’ve got enough music to cover more genres. It’s a confidence thing too isn’t it? If people aren’t losing their shit you sometimes wonder if you’re doing a good job but you’ve got to respect that people sometimes just want to soak up the vibes. They’re not skanking hard but they’re still loving it.
Agreed! I think when you break through in an extreme genre like D&B or dubstep where the whole reaction is a big part of it, it’s easy to forget that. From a house or techno perspective, that’s a given that people might not lose their shit to every single tune being played. They’re just lost in the groove.
That’s right and we underestimate how important the journey part is. People want to hear things they don’t expect or be taken to places they didn’t even know existed.
Yes! Is that what inspired the Connect EP then?
Kinda. With Connect, I was listening to D&B before I even got into dubstep. When I was 15/16 I was immersing myself into anything that was breaking the mold of what I had previously been exposed to or been instructed to listen to while practicing in the orchestra. Funnily enough I’ve just found an old Breakbeat Kaos CD which was a huge turning point for me. I remember this CD like it was yesterday, having it on repeat on my Sony Discman in my pouch in my Kickers hoodie. I’d listen to it over and over and over. It changed my life!
Go on! Memories!
Yeah, D&B has always been there for me and before the Connect EP I released four or five D&B tunes as ENiGMA DUBZ. But what triggered this EP in particular was a track I’d made under my Itona alias called You Are So. It’s a half-time lo-fi hip-hop tune which is 86 BPM which, as you know, is exactly half the tempo of D&B. So to find my sets I’d play a few D&B tunes and mix this in but hold it on top of the D&B so it kinda sounded like a remix. My manager said, ‘You’ve got to do a D&B remix of You Are So, it’s got to happen.’ So I did that and thought, ‘Let’s do a full EP of this!’ That’s how it came about.
Brilliant. So it came about through mixing? D&B is made to mix. The impact of it on the dancefloor, the whole thing with double drops etc. It’s pure music in that way isn’t it?
Absolutely. The whole chopping up the breaks thing. It is made to mix, you’re right.
So has this marked the start of a new chapter or more like another feather for your cap?
Another feather I think. I’ve always had a passion for D&B and it felt like the right time to do a full EP. The response to it has been great. Focusing on this side of my sound for an EP has been interesting compared to previous times I’ve released drum & bass because you can really tell what people are into. Like doing a D&B tune on an album is different because it’s on there with other styles – it’s part of a bigger body of work. But with this EP people have said they want to hear more D&B, which is amazing.
So yeah there’s definitely going to be more. And I’ve got a few dubs already which I’ve been playing. Some a bit darker than you might expect to hear from me.
Oh sick! And bringing it back to America, where we started this conversation, there’s a thirst for D&B out there and a new generation of artists smashing it. Have you found that type of response to it when you’ve played over there?
Yeah I have actually. The last 20 minutes of my set is usually D&B – the new tunes, a few dubplates, a few new favourites of mine. Its been really good fun just digging for the D&B I like too. Getting back in touch with the genre, in a way. D&B never dies does it? It’s constantly going – it has these peaks, it goes back underground and it never stops.
Very much like other genres but just bigger. It’s funny, you spend a lot of time in one genre and you don’t see how much else is happening just a few BPM up or down the spectrum. When you do take the time to look it’s like a whole other world and it’s like you’ve gone back to those originals feels you had when you first ever got into it with your discman at school!
Yeah it’s hard to chase that inspired vibe isn’t it? I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like to just refresh everything and start again with no reference points or knowledge and just be totally naïve to everything. Certain tracks I loved back in the day – now with the knowledge I have – I listen to them completely differently and they have lost a little bit of the magic.
Yeah it’s hard not to when you know how it all works! What can we expect from the mix?
I’ve been stacking up so much great D&B that I’ve wanted to play so I’m going to go in deep and really show all the sides of the genre I love.
Who has really inspired you when you’ve been digging the D&B and re-engaging with it?
The amount of artists I’ve been sleeping on is crazy! You’re right, you get very blinkered in one style so when I first heard Nymfo’s music I was blown away! I’m addicted to his tune Sleepwalking. I played it in LA and someone came up to buy a t-shirt at the end and they thanked me for playing that tune. I was like ‘yes! That tune is bad!’
He’s very similar to you in his approach. Very diverse in his style and open-minded. I liken him to a musical orgy in this interview.
Haha. Yeah I’m hearing that. And another artist who explores all the genres and does it so well is Hyroglifics. His album is just a whole other level. I messaged him to say how much I love it. Sustance, too. His album is fire. And there’s some nice 140 on that.
Two of the best albums released this year and a great snapshot of where D&B artists are at with tempos and boundaries etc. No one should tie themselves to a genre. Alix Perez has been leading from the front one that one.
Yeah, if it feels right, do it. Don’t tie yourself down. Alix and 1985 is a great example of that aren’t they? Alix makes it seem so effortless flipping between the styles.
Yeah! I guess it’s the holy grail for a lot of artists to have that really exciting ‘expect the unexpected’ vibe. Like now if an ENiGMA Dubz promo lands I’ll wonder if it’s dubstep, D&B or beyond!
100% that’s what keeps me brain going. It keeps me sane. I’m producing at least three tunes a week outside of my aliases as a co-writer or engineer. I’m just always going different music and it keeps me sane.
Yeah behind the scenes you do sooooo much music!
I never stop. When I’m touring I’m producing for people while I’m on the move or in the airport or hotel. I’m always going . It’s healthy, though, I’m in a good space with it.
Awesome! What’s up next?
After Connect I’ve got a 140 project which is all about collabs. Seven tracks with seven different producers and vocalists in the dubstep scene. It’s part of a new series. This one is focused more on the heavier side, the next one will be a vibey one. That’s coming up and just one of three big projects due to land this year. And I’ve also got enough music in my Dropbox to start thinking about the next album! And that’s before the dubs I’ve been playing in my sets which people have been asking about…