DNB Vault

Decoder & Substance Interview

decoder & substance

Anyone who has been an avid DNB fan for over a decade should be familiar with the work of Bristol-based duo Darren Beale and Mark Morrison A.K.A Decoder and Substance. They made a huge impact on the scene in the mid to late ‘90’s with releases on Doc Scott’s 31 Records, Moving Shadow’s sublabel Audio Couture as well as their own Breakbeat Culture imprint, which also doubled as a record store. They soon went on to form the cross-over band Kosheen with vocalist Sian Evans, quickly gaining mainstream success from their album ‘Resist’ on Moksha Records and major label BMG. A string of high-profile singles and music videos for such hits as ‘Hide U’ and ‘Slip & Slide (Suicide)’ propelled the trio into the limelight and solidified their place as one of dnb’s iconic groups from the early 2000’s. While Kosheen continued its output through to the present day, it would seem as though Darren and Mark took a break from DNB… that is until very recently.

Upon discovering that Decoder and Substance were back, we felt it was more than necessary to catch up with the duo. Their latest single on Technique Recordings, ‘Red’, featuring Jakes and Susie Ledge has been getting a lot of attention from elite tastemakers such as Friction. It just came out on May 3rd alongside remixes from Document One and Kronology.

So tell us about the so-called golden era of drum ‘n’ bass in Bristol. How easy was it to get your foot in the door and what was your first big break in the industry?
Ha ha! start with the simple ones! Funny you’re calling it the ‘golden era’  it was a good time, but also a stuggle and a fight to get the music heard, definitely a ‘do it yourself’ kinda vibe, people were doing what they believed in and it created such a positive vibe and excitement that it swept you along. Getting Into the industry involved getting a distributor to put out your records and driving up to pressing plants and carrying 1000 vinyl copies and putting them in the back of run down motor to take them up to Vinyl or SRD not knowing it they were going to take the records!! Remember you’ve written recorded pressed and paid for all this yourself! I’ll always remember sending Phil at Vinyl a test press of the seminal Circuit Breaker by Decoder on Tech Itch and saying now we’ll see if Phil knows his tunes…..the phone rings….”Markee the tune’s blazing!, I’ll have 3000 to start with” happy days.

A tremendous amount of work must have been required to run a record store, labels and promote events on top of all the DJing and producing. How did you guys manage to balance everything?
It was a life out of balance to be honest, it became overwhelming, we only ever wanted to write music but it’s not as simple as that sometimes.

I’m sure a lot of the readers would be interested in knowing what kind of equipment you were using in your studio during this period. With the transition from dedicated external/hardware devices to Digital Audio Workstations (DAW’s), which can handle the entire production process with simply a computer, how has your workflow changed? What kind of gear are you rocking these days?
Yeah It has changed a lot, and it’s been an ongoing transition for the last 20 years , back and forth between hardware and software. It’s always been about the software trying to reach the sound quality of the hardware, but the possibilities with digital are also endless, it’ll never stop! I’ve swung hard in both directions, now I use a laptop and UAD and then all my analog synths and pedals. Our main piece of kit back in the day was the Akai S3000, with 16Mb of sample time and two filterboards, using 10 channels out from that into the desk and the outboard fx Lexicon MXP1, Ensonique DP2. Simple and the sampler was always loaded and ready to go.

Tell us one of the funniest or most memorable experiences you’ve had gigging or being on tour?
That would take a book! But I do remember Fabio playing at Trinity Hall, Bristol at Ruffneck Ting back in 1993, and LTJ Bukem at Malcolm X Centre 1994.

Now that success in the music industry has become very much based on social media marketing, has your approach to self-promotion changed at all? What sort of ratio of time spent online to time in the studio do you feel is required to connect with your fan base and sell records?
Well obviously thing have changed beyond recognition, from when we started but some things remain the same 😉 make good music and everything else follows, but you definitely have to have a presence online now, like an online life, which I find quite weird sometimes and I can’t help hiding in my studio haha!

Is there anything you would have done differently back in the day and what advice can you give to today’s up and coming DJ’s and producers?
Yeah, definitely took a lot on, but it was an amazing time, we had 3 record labels an office and a record shop and the top night in Bristol, at an amazing time, so no I wouldn’t change anything!!
Advice time: The time is always now! And the future is waiting to be written, don’t wait around for it to happen to you, you have to make it happen.

What else do you have planned for the near future?
We’re continuously writing music and have a few things in the pipeline, we’re working on new material as a follow up to Red , we’ve had such a great response, Technique have been great and we’re really looking forward to doing more with them! Susie Ledge has written some new vocals and Jakes is working on his parts I think it’s a good combination, alongside the remixes from Document One and Kronology it’s a winning combo! We’ve also got an album of our Breakbeat Culture era stuff being released, stuff that was only ever on vinyl and more unreleased stuff from the vaults with some new mixes, so it’s exciting time to rediscover some of this stuff and it to spur us onto writing some new material.

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