DJ Trace and Kid Drama pay homage to jungle's most atmospheric era
It started with a mixtape… It’s now a full-blown album. It’s Nine Windows – Rule Of Thirds, a beguiling debut album from two pioneering sonic mavericks from two very different eras: Kid Drama and DJ Trace.
Both followers of the genre since its earliest jungle incarnations, Trace is credited as a huge influence on the techstep sound in the mid 90s (he pretty much triggered it with his Mutant Jazz remix) while Kid Drama (among many other aliases) was a powerhouse in the autonomic movement as half of Instra:mental during the late 2000s / early 2010s.
Forever contrasting and overlapping in their styles over the years, the pair have been collaborating since Trace returned in the late 2010s but Nine Windows should be regarded as something entirely different from what you’d expect of a Kid Drama and DJ Trace collaboration.
Both heavily inspired by the atmospheric jungle sound of 93-95 (think labels like Good Looking, Lucky Spin, Dee Jay Recordings, Fresh 86, Legend Recordings) the pair have gone in intentionally to pay homage to that short-lived era, celebrate its unifying qualities and how it overlaps into almost every other substyle and flavour of jungle drum & bass and explore its potential further.
Written during lockdown (saving both artists from the brink of gigless/isolated despair) and featuring collabs with the likes of Tim Reaper and Skream, in Trace’s words “it doesn’t really matter which background you come from musically, Nine Windows is for everyone.”
DJ Trace + Kid Drama = winning combination. Please discuss this proven mathematical equation and tell us why it works so well.
Kid Drama: I’ve followed Duncan’s work since the early 90s. Whatever project he’s been involved in has a certain vibe that just works. When you listen to all the tracks with various engineers (Pete Parsons, Optical, Dom) you can hear the engineer’s work but you can hear it’s Trace, like he’s got an amazing dish and brings all the ingredients for a chef to cook up. And I just knew after some online banter that we would work well together.
DJ Trace: We both know the history of the music from its inception. There was a mutual level of respect for each other’s previous productions. We are able to bounce quick ideas oﬀ each other fairly easily and it just seems to work well without much stress, an upside of online production.
How did you first both link?
DJ Trace: Damon was playing a gig with Spirit, who was playing some tracks from my Zone EP in 2018. One of the tunes caught Damon’s attention and he asked him for my contact details. The rest is history…
Kid Drama: Yeah RIP Spirit. I had been speaking to Duncan Spirit on and oﬀ since the early Instra:mental days. He said I should hook up with Trace as he’s been making some great music again and I heard him drop a couple of bits at a gig we were playing so I tapped him up.
RIP Spirit! Having spoken to both of you at length on numerous occasions, a strong refusal to compromise and a deep love for original aesthetic and spirit of D&B is something you both share…
Kid Drama: People who know me know I’m a stubborn but fair man, a no nonsense person. I pride myself on the fact I’m anti-bullshit and an honest person and that is a direct reflection of my music. I take music seriously as it’s my therapy and has also kept me out of a lot of trouble. It’s always been there for me. So I treat it with the respect it deserves.
DJ Trace: Yeah I feel like our journeys in this music have stayed true to the craft. It’s within us to stay pure to our original sources of inspiration and it’s something that comes naturally to both of us.
How did you both arrive at the Nine Windows concept?
Kid Drama: After making so many dark steppers and Autonomic tracks, I really wanted to create something that sat between the two and I’ve been lowering the tempo more and more over the last few years. The opportunity to make atmospheric rollers just seemed right as there was a lot of new Jungle and I felt I wanted to hear the more atmospheric side of the 95/96 jungle.
DJ Trace: We had made a few darker tunes together and were speaking about dropping down the tempo to 160 and bringing in more atmospheric musical elements. This led to Innersense which was oﬃcially the fire-starter for the whole project and ultimately the LP.
Where did the name come from? What reference am I missing here?
DJ Trace: The oﬃcial story is that I had a dream about a house with Nine Windows. I woke up that morning and typed it to Damon who instantly said yeah that sounds good and it just stuck. Someone also mentioned online was it a reference to a window into the 90s which I quite like. Because it is!
Kid Drama: Yeah Duncan had a dream about nine windows and when I Googled it, it was some kind of workflow concept that fitted with what we were doing. Also in photography you can have nine windows to frame the scene which also ties into the rule of thirds concept. Framing this vision of the project.
Damon you recently said in an interview with me about this atmospheric jungle re-focus was blatantly going to happen as we’ve been through such a strong hardcore revival. What are both of your memories of this era in jungle drum & bass?
Kid Drama: Fortunately/unfortunately being an old head, you get to see the cycles of repetition within music and fashion and after watching the whole 92 thing being rinsed years ago, and then moving through 93 and then 94 jungle being in the spotlight again, I was saying to some friends about the whole Logical Progression vibes probably coming around next. I was talking to Duncan about it and how we should revisit his Lucky Spin era with Pete.
DJ Trace: I was in the thick of it managing Lucky Spin Records on Hollloway Road and holding down a weekly show on Kool FM. I was pushing deeper sounds on the radio and producing with Pete Parsons who was instrumental in the progression of atmospheric D&B. I think out of all of our collaborations in 95 the track that stood out the most from that era was By Any Means Necessary on Dee Jay Recordings.
What I love about this sound is how it touched on so many diﬀerent styles and was a great transition from hardcore to the pure futurism that Trace you were a HUGE part of. Deep atmospheric jungle was a real solidifying / coming of age moment for the sound and culture wasn’t it?
DJ Trace: Yeah 94-95 was absolute fire! Producers were inspired, dubplate culture at Music House was at its peak. You could literally hear jungle blaring out in the streets wherever you went! The summers were scorchers which just added to the vibes and it was Speed at the Milk Bar that pioneered the midweek West End spot to hear all the latest dubs.
It felt more ‘out out’ going uptown to hear some ‘intelligent’ jungle played by Fabio and Bukem. I remember the crowd would dress up with a nice shirt or dress sacking oﬀ the slouched hoodie and baggy jeans fashions of the previous few years.
Kid Drama: Rolling breaks, big 808 subs and emotive breakdowns that stand the test of time.. what’s not to like? Haha
What are your thoughts on the term ‘intelligent dnb’?
Kid Drama: Tags back then didn’t really bother people as much as they do these days because it was pre-social media, it was just a way of saying that its jungle but with more ambient vibes. I think people have a bigger problem with the tag these days than back then, hence the atmospheric jungle re-branding.
DJ Trace: For me it was just a cheeky tag for the exploding technology around us at the time. Production studios and equipment were updating at a rapid pace, especially with samplers and synths. New techniques and processes were coming into play and the sound was evolving and maturing.
That’s fair. What I do love is the fact it never got rinsed to death in the club because of its deep nature. It eventually led to liquid and soulful D&B, but this particular mid 90s style was popular at nights like Speed but generally it was preserved from over-caning because of its depths. What are your thoughts on this?
DJ Trace: At the start it was slightly limited as jungle was still going strong and it wasn’t to everyone’s tastes and didn’t seem to work everywhere. Swerve and Progression Sessions flew the flag for deep nights. Eventually the turning point was Metalheadz at the Blue Note which changed everything. It inspired me to write a slew of tunes with Nico, Ed Rush and Fierce for No U Turn and led us into the techstep era.
Kid Drama: I think Good Looking Records had a bit of a stranglehold over the whole movement, but I remember “intelligence” being a universal sound that the world understood. Those nights that did play the style were always packed and great vibes.
Kid Drama: I’d been sitting on a lot of ideas and sketches for a while, I was originally going to write a throwback album for my solo Headz LP but scrapped it, so had a folder full of 160 beats and sketches and really wanted to do some 160 but didn’t feel it was right for my debut Kid Drama album.
I put an idea to Duncan about revisiting the more atmospheric sound of the 90s and he was game to switch it up from the darkness for a while, reset the palette. The whole process took a good two years as I had to engineer, and also had my own solo album and a load of other stuﬀ on the burn at the same time. There were a lot of 10hr a day sessions where I just got into the zone and got on with it.
DJ Trace: It started in 2020 when the pandemic was just getting into full swing. We were bouncing sketches to each other via the internet. After making Innersense we had a clear vision for the project and the other tunes came together organically, before we knew it we had more than 10 tunes.
You’ve got Skream on it. That’s pretty dope. How did that come about?
Kid Drama: I’ve known Ollie for a long time and have collaborated with him as Instra:mental and also played alongside him god knows how many times as Jon Convex. He’s constantly 100 miles an hour with his workload but sometimes he’ll just hit me up and be like, “Check this autonomic thing I’ve started!” And be sending me like 10 sketches in a day and then disappear for months. I caught him one day when I sent him Innersense and he loved it so then we smashed out Miss U in the same day.
DJ Trace: I released Tim’s first vinyl release and we’ve been mates ever since. It was a no brainer to get him on the project!
Kid Drama: I was introduced to Tim Reaper through Duncan as he does all the art for 117 / DSCI4. I sent some beats and loops over to him and he smashed it out, sent it back and I mixed it. Super quick process.
Which tracks stand out to you both as real persies or ones that truly capture the vibe you were both sculpting?
DJ Trace: I think all of the tracks really hit deep but if I had to pick a couple persies it would be Galaxian and Cohesion.
Kid Drama: For me Looking Back and Mirror Image. Looking Back is an obvious nod to the Good Looking era, mainly the classics like Music by Bukem and Invisible Man’s The Bell Tune. Both use an old house sample for the bell loops, but I didn’t really want to use samples on the project and just went deep and found the original synths used in the house tune and recreated my own bell loop. Mirror Image has the same preset from Sands of Time by Source Direct and just really captured the emotion of that era for me.
Which tracks were the hardest to push over the line?
DJ Trace: I think when you are working with tunes like this there is a certain magical element involved. It’s like a special seasoning you put in your favourite dish! The pureness of the vibe and respecting the past makes it an enjoyable process and not taxing.
Kid Drama: Because of the lockdown I had nothing but studio time and got into a routine where I was just putting in 8-10hr days and the workflow was so fast that there wasn’t any sitting down scratching my head time.
Duncan… You once told me an amazing story about the time you made the Torque album and how everyone was so blazed you felt like you were in Blade Runner. What amazing stories or circumstances will you take from this album?
DJ Trace: That had a lot to do with the 3D murals by Toby Brace (RIP) in the NUT studio. That really added to the virtual reality vibe. For this LP, I will remember it as something that helped me get through the pandemic as a safe place to release a lot of anxious energy during that period.
We also kept the banter consistent throughout, catching jokes and discussing various TV shows or games. We kept the project mainly to ourselves and by the end of it, when the mixtape came out, it was a really special moment. It seemed to drop at the perfect time as the seasons were changing to the autumn.
Damon… The stand out thing I take from Nine Windows is the strong musical link to work you’ve done as part of Heart Drive and Instra:mental. Those pads and chords and that lush clean stirring of sad euphoria is very much a key ingredient here too isn’t it?
Kid Drama: The easiest way for me to express my emotion is through music, I feel a lot of emotion but can never express properly, it just crystallises inside me, which seems to be the power source for musical inspiration. I never really plan what I write, I just sit down and let it flow out.
Does it stop here or will there be more Nine Windows creations?
Kid Drama: There are a lot of sketches left from the first mixtape and album, plus a whole new batch of music with some artists I consider friends and get on with in the industry; dBridge, Lenzman, Fixate, Fracture, Submotive and the Space Cadet crew.
DJ Trace: There is a next wave of tunes in production at the moment and the plan is to release another mixtape to showcase them probably late this summer.
Amazing. What else does the world need to know about Rule Of Thirds?
Kid Drama: I think people need to hear this in various environments. In the headphones floating away to being carried on a wave of subs and nostalgia on a big rig in the club.
DJ Trace: If you like feeling good when you listen to music, or you’re in need of some uplifting deep vibes, give the LP a try. I think it doesn’t really matter which background you come from musically I feel Nine Windows is for everyone.
Kid Drama: Thank you to Andy and Army of Few for bringing the project to life visually and bouncing back and forth through the whole process and also huge respect to Del DRS for blessing the vocal drops on the mixtape and doing the logo. Absolute legend!
DJ Trace: Yeah, massive shout to DRS, Army Of Few and everyone that has been supporting the LP!