To Those About To Rock, Rockwell.
Thomas Green aka Rockwell has just unleashed his debut album Obsolete Medium (Shogun Audio) on a well-aware Drum n Bass scene but it’s fans of the wider Electronic spectrum and Punk and Metal who will be totally blindsided by this release. Not withstanding that Rockwell has always been pretty liberal with his interpretation of Drum n Bass, one only needs to hear the four or five other genres of Electronic music he’s squeezed into the first single ‘Please Please Please (Play This On The Radio) to get a taste for what’s in store.
Hey Tom, congratulations on your debut album, it’s everything we hoped for and more. You talk in the press release about the type of music you think people are expecting of you and the traps of being an electronic music producer. For a guy who’s just produced an album with seemingly no boundaries or rules, we’re keen to find out what some of these doubts or traps might be?
Thank you for the kind words! I think one of the major pitfalls of being an electronic music producer, and especially one (rightly or wrongly) filed in the Drum and Bass section, is the common view that unless you're writing tunes that are designed to completely smash the arse out of a nightclub or writing music to easily fit into a bedroom DJ's mix alongside all the other tunes that they own, then sometimes people don't really give your music a chance. I think that a certain type of person, usually in the majority at clubs and festivals, doesn't want 'different' - they want what they expect. They expect to go out and hear dance music that will make them dance and lose their shit but in a kind of obvious way. I've seen some of the most critically acclaimed drum and bass producers of recent memory clear entire dance floors because they weren't playing what was the popular perception of drum and bass - does this mean their music is bad because large club crowds won't give it a chance?
There are a lot of people that are writing lots of music for this purpose, and I think in catering for this you just end up with a batch of really impersonal homogenous music - with the same sound palette, same drums, same kind of vocal in the intro, same arrangement so the DJ's can spin it, and to me it sounds so creatively dead. You can go on Beatport and hear 1000 Culture Shock / Sub Focus / Rudimental rip-offs and by listening to them not have a clue who wrote them, but you can't deny it works in a club or at a festival. There's the tired joke that 'all Drum and Bass sounds the same' and to be honest right now it’s kind of true. A lot of producers are being creative in a very safe set of parameters and deliberately not taking any risks because maybe they're concerned ‘such and such’ DJ won’t play it, or they won't get booked for such and such festival.
I'm not claiming that with this LP that I'm reinventing the wheel here by any means, but in the writing of this album I tried to give an honest reflection of my wide, and often very disparate, tastes and influences and write a personal LP that i feel reflects me, not what people expect from a Drum and Bass album released on a Drum and Bass label, whilst not trying to surf on anyone else wave and just writing what makes me catch a vibe in my studio.
Since we heard ‘INeedU’ last year, we knew you were cooking up something special. When did you consciously decide that your music was going to move away from a more traditional Drum n Bass style to what we’ve heard lately with so many styles thrown in? That being said, you’ve never really made a traditional style of Drum n Bass, right?
I think some of my tracks like 'Tripwire' and 'Sick of it all' you could say were more traditional, in a sense. I made those tracks just to prove to myself that I could make a passable attempt at that type of music if i wanted. I think it’s important to challenge yourself as a producer and an artist, and I've never wanted to bang out 1000 similar tunes, as I think it would be boring to constantly be doing the same thing day after day in the studio. When things are constantly repeated and repeated and repeated they completely lose their impact and I've wanted to stay away from doing this as much as is possible.
In the years before the whole minimal thing kicked off I can remember being at The End once and hearing 2 step roller after 2 step roller and saying to my mate next to me "this is really boring". I've always worked best when I've been when I've been trying to write weird stuff and I often have the concept of what i want to do before I even sit down and turn on my computer. With ‘INeedU’ it was a reflection of the very vanilla House music that was around in the UK at the time, and also me getting quite tired of the almost uniform moodiness of Drum and Bass. I had wanted to write a quite technical House tune at 170 for quite a while, being influenced by US DJs like DJ Assault and DJ Funk who play really fast incarnations of House music, and marry that with the almost saccharine vibes of what was going on in the UK. It was one of the most fun tracks I've done in the studio as I had no idea how, or if I could actually make it work. I was definitely pleased how it came out, though.
The Punk vibe is definitely alive in the live drum fills you use, the samples of bands’ interviews and the overall energy of the music on the album. What are some of your favourite punk bands and what other contemporary electronic artists do you think embody this spirit?
In the recent Channel 4 interview that Goldie did he said that 'drum and bass was the Punk of this country' and he's completely right. Before Drum and Bass I was listening to Punk, and Hip hop, and the DIY aspect of Drum and Bass, coupled with the speed and uncompromising energy of the music were the things that attracted me to it. As soon as I went to my first proper rave I was completely hooked. I think the fact that he specifically said 'WAS the punk of this country' also hits the nail on the head as it has definitely lost a lot of its rebellious streak recently!
I'm an avid fan of the 1980's punk scene in the US, both musically and in the manner they put out music and the ethics that they shared as a scene. If you look at a label like Dischord and bands like Fugazi, who enjoyed commercial success whilst keeping CD, vinyl and ticket prices low and affordable, and only putting out their own music and what they were into from others, not what they thought would sell, you can still see elements of that in electronic music, but now to a lesser extent. I think the Grime scene at the moment in the UK is definitely reaping the rewards of a similar no-compromise stance towards both the creative and business side of music, and I really rate that approach.
Do you face criticism from the old guard of Drum n Bass that you’re doing things so differently? In turn, do you pick up more casual Drum n Bass fans or even rock fans because you’re incorporating more elements that they enjoy?
Not really, everyone has been supportive as far as I know but I suppose you can never really be sure! Whether certain DJ's like my music or not is none of my concern, really. If I'm happy with what I'm writing then that’s the main thing. Trying to cater and write things for specific DJs is something that's going to back you into writers block in my opinion, and I always try to write as free from any constraints as is possible at the time as this is what i find is easier for me. I think it is ultimately more satisfying when someone completely out of left field says "oh I loved that track" especially when you were writing it you weren't trying to steer things into their direction.
90s rave culture shapes a lot of the album with the piano stabs and high pitched vocals - what do you remember from the early 90s?
Not a lot because I was very young! Probably Italia 90 and the constant battering of 'Nessun Dorma' is the only thing i remember from that period. Big tune.
There’s so many twists and turns in some of the songs that you’re really making it easy for DJs to switch things up and really go adventurous places in their sets. How much do you think about nightclubs and DJs when you’re making your music?
I do think about nightclubs and dance floors when I write, but I think you have to be conscious that it isn't your only focus. I mainly try and write things that I would play in clubs, or want to listen to in the house. When I wrote some of my earlier tunes, I hadn't DJ'd in a club for maybe 3 years, so in that context it was less of a focus as I had no ulterior motive for creating them.
I think some of the complexities in my music are sometimes lost in the club so listening to some of the more upfront things I've written at home makes you hear things you maybe would have missed through a loud PA. My selection when I play out is quite wide and I like to play things that i know won't exactly set the dance floor on fire every now and again! This definitely reflects what i create in my studio as well. Not everything has to be a banger, and i think it’s important not to try and force things down roads where they don't want to travel. Of course if the bangers write themselves organically then that’s alway lovely.
For such a ferocious album it does play out very well from start to finish. Was the decision to include vocal tracks to kind of round it out a bit more?
We only included vocals on the LP if I had a demo in that completely knocked my socks off and that I completely loved. To be honest the only track I was dead keen to get a vocal on was 'Faces' and I think Lauren L'aimant did such an amazing job with that.
The collaboration with Jams F Kennedy I've been sitting on for a number of years and I have done many versions of it, but I didn't really nail the beat until just before the album deadline. I love his style and think he's amazing, he reminds me of a weird cross between E40 and Missy Elliot and I hope we will do more things in the future - although hopefully any future projects won't take as long as this one! I had other tracks demoed and probably could have squeezed on a few more vocalists but to be honest I was against having vocals on tracks for the sake of it, or because that’s what you should do, so I was very selective.
Any last words or shout outs you want to give?
Shout outs to my family, friends, anyone who has supported me since I've been about, and last but no means least everyone at Shogun for putting up with me and my weird ways in the completing of this project.
Can you please provide us with a playlist or tracklist we can use to make a youtube or spotify playlist? It can be any theme you like but perhaps something unexpected like your favourite punk rock songs?
1. Misfits - Horror Business
2. Poison Idea - Feel The Darkness
3. Minor Threat - Betray
4. Black Flag - My War
5. Adolescents - Wrecking Crew (Demo)
6. Fugazi - Bad Mouth
7. The Dwarves - Free Cocaine
8. Bad Brains - Big Take Over
9. Youth Of Today - Potential Friends
10. Suicidal Tendancies - I Want More
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