Breaking Sound Barriers With NameBrandSound

Like many others my original love affair with Drum and Bass came to an end around 1997/98. Despite being the most forward thinking of UK electronic music things had begun to get stale. Tech step was taking over the big events and formulaic rollers were dominating the “intelligent” scene. Experimental Drum and Bass whilst still being produced was greeted by a lack of DJ support. This led to some artists leaving the scene to pursue alternative genres like downtempo or the new kid on the block, UK Garage. It was around 1999 that some of the original pioneers of jungle got involved in the start of a new movement that was eventually dubbed “Broken Beat”, most notably, Dego from 4hero and a host of other artists from Reinforced including G-Force, Seiji, Sonar Circle and Nubian Mindz.

IG Culture was also fundamental in creating this new sound. Once again beats were being sampled then edited in an incredibly scientific way. These were then fused with jazz, reggae, techno, soul… much like the early days of jungle but at a slower tempo. The rule book of electronic music had been torn up and producers set work on new fusions that led to an incredibly vibrant and soulful West London culture personified by its famed club night “CoOp”.

Fast forward to the present and two of broken beats original pioneers, IG Culture & Alex Phountzi, have teamed up to once again shatter preconceptions of UK electronic music. They formed NameBrandSound in 2014 to disregard the constraints of genres and create a new breed of modern fusion. Adopting a no rules approach “Spell T.H.I.S.O.N.E” is anarchic yet soulful. Upping the tempo on some of the tracks to 160 they have added jungle and footwork into the mix with electrifying results.

We caught up with them to discover more.

IG Culture At Co-Op By Alex Coley

The scene you are both commonly associated with is Broken Beat which was born out of a desire to fuse styles and a love for collaboration, do you see NameBrandSound as separate to that journey or a continuation of its progression?

IG: We’ve definitely fused styles, but to me NBS is definitely more rooted in pushing the boat out and finding new directions, we experiment a lot with sounds and ideas, and are probably open enough to go with something that many might see as going nowhere, but we love that beat journey, because when the magic happens, you always return with some incredible stuff. We may hit a dead-end at times, but usually theres always something out there, the trick is to recognise it and reel it in.

Alex: I see it as a continuation of that progression. The approach in the early days of what is now called the Broken Beat movement was always open-minded but so is this, just not in a way that we were conscious of it. It was more an approach to jam in the studio and a style emerged from that.

To me the NameBrandSound style seems lawless and grittier than Broken Beat which is bold a statement in itself. How would you describe it?

Alex: In some ways it is but we have also produced some stuff under NameBrandSound that could be classed as broken. In a sense the idea of the project was to create a platform where anything goes and have fun with it rather than just being restricted to one sound.

IG: NBS sound is a chameleon, we jump from style to style and the only rule is that we got to end up with something serious, whatever the style.

Your latest EP “Spell T.H.I.S.O.N.E” is an unpredictable journey through techno, rock, reggae, soul and jazz but is still firmly rooted in bass culture. What was the concept behind putting the six tracks on this EP together?

IG: We originally hooked up to do one album, almost four years later we’re still forming the sound, but for me the six tracker is almost like a mini album showing exactly where we’re up to now. It was also important to get this release out on vinyl as well, I guess its a luxury item , but at the same time music gets taken more seriously if you release it on vinyl these days.

Alex: The EP really just represents a specific time period that we worked on the tracks and what we thought represented our best work over that period. It was originally going to be a four tracker with another label but that didn’t work out so we added more and wanted to make the connection between the faster juke inspired stuff and the newer bruk style we’ve been doing.

There were moments when I honestly thought “Whats going to happen next???” which is rare in modern electronic music. The fusion elements on this are very expressive, the crazy unexpected jazz freakout in the last section of “HarvestForYourManor” for example. You take a lot of risks on this EP you think the worlds ready?? How do you see the current music scene?

IG: NBS is probably seen by some as breaking ranks, we’ve got to do it regardless of who’s ready… it’s the job of the DJ to lead people to great and interesting music. Anyways, being ‘not ready’ is irrelevant nowadays… for every one that don’t get it there’s twenty others that will.

Alex: Because of what we are known for it’s taken time for some people to get their heads around the NameBrandSound stuff. When we launched the project with Ninja Tune it was great to have them push the EP and it was well received but probably by a new audience. Some people got it and others saw it as a radical departure.

The current music scene feels exciting from where we’re at, it’s hard to have a perspective on the scene but we have been doing this long enough to stay excited about what we do and sometimes that means locking off everything else that is not related to what you do.

Alex Phountzi At Co-Op By Alex Coley

Like Broken Beat the footwork movement is largely centred around dance culture, how does that influence the production and arrangement of your music?

Alex: This project came together in the studio and we were aware of the dance culture around footwork and were really taking inspiration from that but at the same time we wouldn’t say we are making that music as we’re not from Chicago and have not been part of that culture, we’re just paying some homage to it and vibing off the energy.

IG: I didn’t hear juke before I saw ‘Footworkingz’ (a footwork dance documentary). There was one track in that documentary where the Kingz danced to a juked up version of John Coltrane’s ‘My Favourite Things’ and the way Prince Charles and his crew danced to it, along with the way they were dressed was reminiscent of that old school UK Jazz dance scene. Our  production has toyed with that full on one sixty twisted dance juke element but we also made music at one sixty tempo and eighty BPM’s that has more to do with UK sound system culture than Chicago Juke.

I know you like to jam a lot in the studio, can you tell us about the process of producing a track, what set up etc do you have in there?

Alex:  We just find some kind of energy and start from there, so it could be a track we listen to in the morning or a conversation we have. It might start with a sample, a chord progression or a beat but it’s a case of putting a part down and jamming to it. Often we will lose the initial part later on, some formulas have emerged as well but we try and stay open minded. Working collaboratively is what leads to some of the fusion of styles that you’re talking about on this record because the group ethic gives us the confidence to run with those ideas. We rotate who is on the controls with one of us always sitting back and listening so there is always a perspective. Set up is really whatever we have access to but we’re not operating out of any flash studio, so it’s a case of making do with what we have.

For the bruk purists you have Patience, Version and It’s True on the EP. The CoOp night is currently going through somewhat of a ressurgence partly through the Boiler Room live streams and a renewed vibrancy in the music which these three tracks certainly demonstrate. It’s an exciting time for bruk! How does it feel?

IG: It’s good to come full circle and do what we’ve always done, we’re getting more and more into the building of the community which is always an important element, we’re nurturing new artists and passing the torch showing them that, it doesn’t have to end with broken beats as such. It’s up to them where they take it.. that’s the exciting thing about building this new community.

Alex: It’s feeling good and putting parties on has been a good way of relinking some of the old crew and bringing together a new generation. There’s a lot in the pipeline with two six track EPs of new music coming on a CoOp Presents label which is about to launch. We started working together again in 2013 and for a few years it was just us in the basement making tracks and not really linking with anyone or getting out there so having a physical space to play music and a receptive audience has been a positive.

The pair of you feature on Worldwide FM and NTS Radio where you drop classics, influential music and new dubs. What producers do you currently rate and where do you see the music going?

IG: Our New label CoOp Presents is bringing through a whole new breed of producers, they form what we call the Selectors Assemble and carry that torch I mentioned. I’m into producers like DJ Spoko, Spoek Mathambo Major Notes, Boddhi Satva and EVM 128, big up DJ Gilla from First Word who is helping us out with the label.

EVM128 At Co-Op By Alex Coley

CoOp was legendary in London but the sound has expanded with club nights focused on Broken Beat around the world and the UK (Birmingham’s Bruk Up for example). Where have you enjoyed playing and is there anywhere in the world you would still like to go to spread the sound?

Alex: Well I played at Bruk Up recently and really enjoyed that. Amsterdam was always a favourite back in the day. The past few years I have not been playing out very much at all with the exception of the new nights that we have been putting on. We played out at Dimensions Festival last year and hosted a CoOp Presents stage which went down really well and it’s always good being able to go out with a crew of people you know and like. We were invited to play at FWD last year by Josey Rebelle alongside her, Dillinja and Cooly G where we got to really showcase the NBS sound. We are open to going anywhere where there is a diverse and open minded audience that want to let off.

IG: Japan used to he a hot bed of the music, I’m not sure whats happening out there now, but it was always good to play and tour in Japan. I recently played at an event in Amsterdam and the dancers were literally losing their minds over the music… I posted some vid’s on Instagram, the place was fully lit…

Your DJ sets mirror the sound of your music fusing styles whilst maintaining a heavy focus on bass. What should people expect from a NameBrandSound set?

Alex: Quick fire mixes going from two-step soul and dancehall to jungle and bruk with a lot of energy. There are a load of mixes online to check…

You recently compiled a chart for us in which you included a NBS remix of “Once In A Lifetime” by Talking Heads, how can we hear that…??!!!

Alex: Live streaming maybe on Worldwide FM for the Selectors Assemble show or at one of the parties. It got played recently at the CoOp Carnival party and Bruk Up…seek us out.

IG: One of those secret dub weapons to destroy a dance!

You started your own label called Arena Yard with this being the third release. “Spell T.H.I.S.O.N.E” is available on six track vinyl and download, are you glad to see your music returning to vinyl in this very digital age?

Alex: Yeah we are but it also takes a lot longer to turn around the production these days and it’s expensive to do it. It’s encouraging that people are willing to spend money on music and the cost adds an extra risk.

IG: Vinyl is ok… I play reggae sevens and stuff at home but for new stuff and DJ’ing I’m strictly playing digital… can’t pay ten quid for a twelve inch… them days are done for me… man gotta eat…

Whats next in the journey for NameBrandSound?

IG: Plenty things in the pipe line. Maybe we’ll launch the CoOp Presents night on a monthly basis next year, lets see how things go. As for NameBrandSound, we’re back in the studio, cooking up new material…

Where can people pick up the EP and back catalogue?

Our Bandcamp, everything is there apart from our first EP “Nowadays Pressure” which shouldn’t be too hard to pick up elsewhere.

Photo credits: Alex Coley Photography