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Zensation Interview

The second vinyl release on Return of The Vibe is from new artists Zensation & AmeliA X, keeping up the label’s mission to produce original oldskool style hardcore. But these tracks don’t sound like a first release from a new bedroom producer, so how new exactly an artist is Zensation, what are they on and where do they come from? We found out after locating Zensation at a remote jungle resort in Sri Lanka – we kid you not…

Q. So these tunes sound like they were made by someone with a bit of a track record, we understand you’ve actually been putting out records for nearly 20 years – can you tell us a bit about how you first got started in music, first exposure to the scene and previous projects?

A. To cut a long story short:

Q. What was working at Next Generation with hardcore legends Brisk & Ham like?

A. Becoming part of the label, and an evolution of music that I had loved and respected from my teens was definitely a huge and exciting milestone. Brisk and Ham have always put that something extra into their music which stood out for me, so it was awesome to be working with them!

Rather than forcing me to conform to their label’s current sound, they gave me creative freedom to develop my own style and flavour. This naturally included higher BPMs, a few distorted kicks and an energy I found lacking from other labels at that time, but I guess with my own take on things instead of trying to emulate the intricacies of Brisk and Ham’s creative genius.

I’ve always been into many styles of music, so it was natural for me to be writing gabba one minute and ultra-cheesy vocal anthems the next… And everything else in between!

For me still, Brisk and Ham will always be names I associate as pioneers of the rave scene and with some of my favourite tracks of all time. It is great to see that they are still actively involved in music production and DJing, as they clearly still have what it takes to get dancefloors moving!

Q. What key memories & lessons did you take away from working with a big underground label like that?

A. Some of the key memories had to be hearing Brisk and Ham working on new tracks (my studio was next to theirs) that would soon become hardcore anthems. Also Brisk getting me to give Ham wet willies while he was in the zone engineering! That never went down well (sorry Ham, he made me do it…) but we were never short of laughs at the NG headquarters. Working on tracks with Brisk was also key a memory, especially seeing how well they were received by the hardcore scene.

One of the important lessons I learned about the music industry at NG was the importance of quality control – Brisk and Ham would only put out material (their own, mine and other artists) which they believed to be absolutely top-notch. I believe that this level of quality control was key to keeping the label strong, and the release schedule exciting. In the days of vinyl, quality control was extremely important due to the overheads involved in pressing records.

Without wanting to sound like a whinging old man, quality control is something the electronic music scene is severely lacking now in my opinion and would do well to learn from experienced labels such as Next Generation and other successful vinyl labels who put out killer tunes. Anyone can write a substandard tune in their bedroom, release it on their own label, and distribute it to Amazon, iTunes, Beatport and many other outlets without any financial risk… saturating the online music stores with tunes that would not have seen the light of day if the 4 figure investment required for a vinyl release was involved.

Another factor I learned is the power and influence which well known DJs such as Brisk have in the scene. Thanks to his dedicated support of my music, Vagabond quickly grew to be a known name in many countries… I even had one fan from Australia travel all the way to the UK to get studio tuition from me! Without the support of Brisk, and other key players in the scene such as Kev Energy, it is unlikely that my music would have received anywhere near the amount of recognition that it has. Thanks guys!!

Q. We understand your first studio was in a shared house with the Organ Donors in the early days of yours and their careers. Can you give us a brief glimpse of life behind the scenes of a house like that?

A. Ummmmm… let me try to think of an “internet friendly” story to give a bit of insight into what living in a studio house with the Organ Donors was like…

One Saturday night almost 20 years ago, I was partying at the Manor with Scott from The Organ Donors and Cliff (hardcore resident DJ Nexus, our housemate). Scott and I didn’t drink and decided to leave early (2-3am probably) and let Cliff to get into whatever state he was rapidly working towards. We got back to the house and saw an opportunity – Cliff would be home in an hour or two, absolutely smashed, so we had plenty of time to abuse our clear and non-intoxicated states of mind.

  1. Get all the downstairs furniture from sofas to massive wardrobes, and pile them along the hallway against the front door
  2. Switch the electric off at the fuse box
  3. Pull up the stair carpet fully to turn the staircase into a slide
  4. Completely rearrange Cliff’s bedroom

Soon enough, we hear a taxi pull up outside, so we go and hide in Scott’s room. Next thing we hear is a key in the front door, then the door hitting the wardrobe we had propped up against it…followed by a shout of “What the f**k!?”. Around 20 minutes later, Cliff had managed to open the door enough fit through and had clambered over all the furniture in the pitch black.

Next up was the sound of a light being clicked multiple times, with no light coming on, and a rather confused voice saying “Oh for f***’s sake!!”. We knew what was coming next… a few footsteps on the stairs and then the sound of a rather large man tumbling down to the bottom. At this point we couldn’t contain our laugher! I can’t remember how many attempts it took Cliff to reach the top, but somehow he did, without any broken bones.

Desperately wanting a bed to collapse in, Cliff opened his bedroom door and thanks to the street lamp outside his room, could see that his bedroom now looked nothing like what he remembered. With the help of his inebriated state of mind, he burst into laughter… at that moment Scott and I jumped out of hiding to revel in the success of our 4am creative antics! Scott found it so funny that he forgot what we had done to the stair carpet, stepped onto the top stair without looking, and fell all the way to the bottom. By some miracle there wasn’t one injury that night, just a very late morning waking up and huge mess to clear up.

Moral of the story – if you live in a shared house, be wary getting of hammered around sober/straight housemates!!! A clear mind will always win the day (and night)!

Q. How did you end up releasing on Return of The Vibe and what is the back story to these tracks you’re about to release?

A. I had not long got back from 3 months in Sri Lanka, which had topped up my tan after a very cold, wet and dark 3 months of Welsh Winter. Back to the sunny South Coast of Dorset I went to catch up with friends and family. At this point I was in no hurry to write music as had a good fix of it over the winter, so was focusing on my consulting/marketing/software work.

Fancying a break from working from home, I decided to hire a desk at a nice modern shared local office. After a couple of weeks or so, I woke up one day with a sudden urge to start making music… before I’d even eaten breakfast, I was looking at high quality studio headphones to take to the shared office and start making some tunes.

Within a couple of hours, I had bagged myself an awesome half price pair of AKG headphones from a local store and collected my monster audio PC, 88 key MIDI keyboard plus audio interface from storage…everything I needed to silently start making music without drawing too much attention to myself in an environment full of web developers who barely seem to see the outside world!

When I pulled up to the office in an SUV loaded with audio making goodies, I looked at my phone and on my way to the office had received a text from an old friend I’d not seen in over a decade… none other than Olly from return of The Vibe! He was looking for someone to write some new old skool tracks for the relaunch of his label and asked if I was interested. That morning I had no idea what music I wanted to write, I just felt an urge to set the studio up. At least now I had a juicy project to get my teeth into!

I managed to write 2 tracks on headphones at the shared office before getting evicted for “not fitting in”. I can’t be sure if it was for abusing their 24/7 access policy and recording vocalists at midnight, annoying web developers half my age with the high end of breakbeats all day, or being slightly aggressive during aircon wars (really, who wants to shut the blinds, close the windows and blast cold air when it’s only 19 degrees outside?!), but either way I was prompted to find a unit far more fitting to my needs… and some pounding Genelec 8020B monitors that were itching to kick out some sub bass.

After a couple of months at the new unit, there are now 8 oldskool hardcore tracks ready for release on ROTV! It’s been awesome working with some talented singers, and great getting involved with legendary junglists Dark Dean and Stevie A!

Q. What other projects have you got on the go?

A. If I have any other music projects on the go, I’m sure everyone will hear about them in good time…

Q. We see you are doing a live PA in the old skool room at Destiny in Bournemouth in December. That’s a night that started 25 years ago – what memories do you have of Destiny, and what can the crowd expect from your appearance there?

A. My first night at Destiny was described very briefly above, and it was the first of many! Every single month, without fail, we would be on that dancefloor destroying our ears and jumping about with sweaty strangers who quickly became good friends, until 4am. I met so many awesome people and got inspired by so many amazing sets, I know that those 2-3 years shaped the rest of my life in so many ways!

Q. Why do you think there is still interest in a musical style that is now at least a quarter of a century old, and is this kind of dance music still relevant?

A. Yes and Yes. If anyone involved with this project thought the answer could be no, there wouldn’t be so many tunes lined up for vinyl release 😉

Q. What advice would you give to any new artist/producer just starting out?

A. Be true to the music and sound that you love, rather than trying to sound like everyone else.

Make every sacrifice you must to help you get to your goal (sleep and relationships are often top of the list, but it’s only temporary!)

Everything is possible. You get the life you choose, and just have to make it happen…nobody else will do it for you… and there isn’t a person in the world who can stop your success, apart from you.

Q. Is it true you just spent 3 months in Sri Lanka, came back to the UK for 1 month, made an album’s worth of material and disappeared back there again… and are you coming back?

A. Pretty much! I was back in the UK for a bit more than a month though, but as soon as the cold weather landed I flew back to Sri Lanka… will be home for Christmas and Destiny of course!

Q. Your Vagabond material seems to have a strong following still online – can you see yourself making any more faster happy hardcore like you used to, or has Return of The Vibe made you sign a contract with a speed limit on it?

A. If Return of The Vibe has enforced any speed limits or happy hardcore bans, they will also have enforced a vow of secrecy about it!

I still love the old hardcore tunes I used to make, but there doesn’t appear to be much of a calling for it these days. I used to make music that I would want to hear on the dancefloor, rather than trying to sound like other hardcore producers.

From what I’ve heard, what people call hardcore these days isn’t really doing it for me, and doesn’t have that uplifting vibe and energy that the old stuff did. That’s one reason I’ve enjoyed writing oldskool so much – it’s all about uplifting energy, melodies, powerful vocals and happy pianos etc! And interesting beats of course. It also has far more room for creativity and variation, just like there was in the early 90s before 10,000 pigeonholed sub genres were born…

Q. There’s a rumour you did a live PA for Jedi’s old rave Oblivion in the early 2000s, and he has got a previously unreleased recording of it – are you happy for it to see the light of the day? What memories of that night do you have if any, and memories in general of the Bournemouth rave/club scene with the people you met and raved with?

A. I remember doing the PA there, but have no idea what tracks I played! This was before my Vagabond days so would be great to hear a recording as I remember very little of the night.

My top memories of the Bournemouth rave scene have to be Destiny at the Manor, as everyone else who ever went there would say. It took us all a while to get over our loss when the amazing venue was knocked down to build flats, however we certainly had a lot of fun playing underground music and partying at various nights around town for years after. I met so many amazing people in the Bournemouth rave/club scene over the years and had some of the best nights of my life in and around that legendary south coast town! It’s great to be getting reacquainted with some of them… although we are all getting old and grey, and prefer to be in bed at 10pm instead of getting home from a rave at 10am, we all still have that love for oldskool and are doing our best to bring it back!

Q. The Zensation release is going to be a vinyl one. There is a current demand for vinyl driven a lot by collectors and the repress movement, when was the last time you had a tune out on vinyl, and does it feel different to releasing tracks only on digital?

My experience with digital only releases has never brought the excitement and enthusiasm of vinyl. It always seems a bit of an anti-climax seeing tracks just appear overnight on online stores plus Spotify, amongst thousands of other new tracks. Getting a hardcore track to number 1 in the hardcore charts of Track It Down by selling 7 copies really put everything into perspective!

I can’t be sure what the last release I had on vinyl was, but it would have been on Next Gen / Blatant Beats over 10 years ago! So, it is great to be getting more tracks out on 12 inch after all this time.

I’ve never liked the quality of MP3s personally, and hearing a 24-bit studio master get ruined by MP3 compression and Spotify always makes me cringe! Although you tend to lose everything over 15kHZ on vinyl, the finished result always sounds a lot more real and warm compared to an MP3 to me. I’m all for the evolution of technology and music, but ultimately you have to go with what sounds and feels best… in my opinion it’s vinyl over MP3 every time.

Big thanks to Zensation for his time, you can pre-order ROTV 002 here. And don’t forget to check out the next Destiny event: https://www.facebook.com/events/367309064204891/