There are few producers who’ve managed to stride through two decades of dance music with the confidence and success of Darren White. From his early days of working with elder brother Steve Spacek, White has gone from his learning his trade as a sample obsessed hardcore and jungle producer, right through to becoming a defining voice of drum n bass, first as part of the techy, murderous sounding Future Forces Inc, then later, triumphantly, as a quarter of Bad Company; arguably the greatest group DnB ever produced. When Bad Company parted ways, White could easily have rinsed their winning formula for diminishing returns- instead he branched out. True, as dBridge he’s recorded Drum n Bass veering from the most melodic of anthems to the most vicious of gutter growlers, but he’s gone well beyond this, firing out house, electronica, techno, and broken beats under a wealth of names, singing over his tracks, playing live instruments, and doing everything in his power to kick against the stereotype of DnB producers as tunnelvision tempo-obsessives.
After finding out dBridge was on the bill at this year’s Born & Bred festival, I realised that it was a chance to go right into the history of one of the DnB scene’s OGs, and to try and place White’s music specifically in London’s physical and musical landscape. Darren’s quite possibly the most affable man in jungle, so we soon settled into a chat about South London roots, East London jungle schooling, and worldwide DnB takeovers…
You started out as Sewer Monsters, right?
We did. We did an EP – one of the tracks was called R2D2, but it was awful. After that I was in the Dub Hustlers, me and a guy called GMC Blood. That was around the time I was knocking around with the Armshouse Crew (Lenny De Ice’s label). I had a release through their subsidiary Do Or Die, and another release called Crash Test, although I can’t remember which label that came out on.
I had a mate called Gary I was making music with – this is the early 90s. Gary started knocking around with Lenny De Ice, and I was always just tagging along, going up to Lenny’s studio in Leytonstone. I was always South London – I was born in Greenwich then used to hang around Deptford and New Cross. I moved away to the West Midlands, then, when I moved back and started getting into music I lived in Ladywell. My brother lived round the corner on Sandrock Rd, which is off Lewisham Way.
-No way, I lived at 2 Sandrock Rd in the late 90s…
We were number 18. Saxon Sound were just around the corner as well.
Did you used to knock about with Remarc? He lived just round the corner in Brockley.
Not really, he was more established at this point, and I was more just a raver. I used to love his stuff though, his and the stuff Kemet were putting out.
Where were you going raving?
I used to go to Lazerdrome in Peckham, and sometimes venture up to Roast at Astoria, Orange at Hippodrome, and the Moving Shadow one in Leicester Square. There was also the South London crew Desert Storm – I did a couple of PAs with them when I was with Armshouse, they put on raves around the Lee Valley. Me and Gary did a couple of our own parties – we were called Little Light Crew. We convinced a couple of people to let us use their houses and would charge people to get in hehehe. They were really sick, really good parties, those ones where the floors are nearly buckling. I remember one of them was in a council estate somewhere in Catford. I was in a children’s home for about 2 years in Catford, when I was about 10, 11.
So, I used to knock around with Lenny when they used to do that stage at Carnival, they had that tune Carnival ’93 at the time. I used to hang around with those guys, PSG, MC ID – at the time you were either into Kool FM or Rush FM, and I was into Rush – the DJ I liked was called Red Ant, he was a badman. Then I started to get into radio a bit, there was a station called Shocking- they were South London based. When I started to get into radio I managed to get a show on Shocking in the early days. The only tape I’ve got from back then is one of the house parties we recorded, a Little Light thing. I have a feeling it might be a little bit chewed though…
Tell us about your production in that era-
Jungle was still in its infancy back then – it was all sample based, so people were digging through their parents collections, recording off all these different sources – it was all about who could find the sickest sample. There was the whole ragga phase, then the whole rare groove phase – you could tell the people who were getting more sorted, who had the better equipment. It’s why I loved going up to Lenny’s place, cos he had a really cool set up. It was literally all I did. I was just signing on; back then you could sign on and make music. I’d spend all my dole money on travel card and weed. Hahaha… It was all I needed.
What sort of thing were you sampling?
I was sampling everything – radio shows, video was a big source, TV, just anything I could connect my recorder to, I’d record from. I didn’t really have the money to be collecting records as such at that time. Lenny had a pretty decent record collection, so I’d go through that and find sounds. Also, back then in jungle everyone used to sample each other. I had a friend called DJ Lucks, he was the one who’d collect records, and literally, you’d sample a break from a tune that had come out a week before. It was ruthless. The best example of it is the amen break – the reason why there’s so many different versions of it is cos of the resampling. There was the Reinforced one, the Photek one, the one that SS did, Dillinja’s amen – the versions are all so far removed from the original. We all used to sample each other. It’s kinda frowned upon now, but I’ve never had that big an issue with it. I come from that world where it was a given.
You’re stuff doesn’t really have as strong a reggae influence as people who were going through their mum and dad's collections- I’m assuming you didn’t have that resource to draw on, and instead you were taking stuff from around you, from the radio or from the telly, and I’m wondering if maybe that made it slightly more futuristic in it’s outlook. Maybe I'm reaching a lot here…
Yeah, I mean maybe. I've never looked at it that way, but you might be onto something. I never had my mum or dads record collection to go through – it was always other peoples, a case of finding things they’d not necessarily heard and thinking ‘this sounds cool’. I never really thought about it. I suppose it would make sense. I lot of my production comes from learning from my brother. We started off with an S900 Yamaha and a DAT machine, so I got used to trying to use sounds off a keyboard quite early.
Growing up, living in the West Midlands, my music was very much influenced by 80s pop. Underground music didn’t really seep through. I loved Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Simple Minds. Things that are quite obvious, but had these melodies. I think that’s why the stuff I do now still has those kind of 80s FM Radio chord progressions, almost quite recognisable riffs.
There’s that real melancholy to a lot of that synth pop
Yeah, one of my favourite albums is Depeche Mode’s Violator. And that’s almost been my benchmark in a lot of ways. I’d still love to be able to get that kind of mix, but I don’t have millions of pounds to spend on an SSL. Prince is a massive influence as well, I used to research the kit he used – I bought the same mic he used, and all my vocal stuff has been recorded on that mic. I went through a stage of really being into The Doors and Hendrix, and I was into all the shoegaze stuff, Chapterhouse, and the Stone Roses, the whole Madchester thing. Musically, melody and hooks have always been a big part of my growing up.
So how did you end up linking with Maldini to form Future Forces?
That was through Lucks, Tony Luckhurst – he was a skater and knew Jason (Maldini) through skating. Jason was already at Trouble on Vinyl, and we were all going out as well, so there was just this mutual appreciation of what we wanted to do. We were doing the sort of stuff that was coming out on ToV but it wasn’t really what we wanted to do – it was more the jump up side of things, but we were from the Dillinja/ Photek school. Every day was just a learning experience, to one day be as good as these guys you looked up to. We kinda forced the creation of Renegade Hardware to cater for our sound. Me and Jason were just making tunes that couldn’t go on ToV and they were getting some love – I remember ‘Rider had started playing them. Then when we bought out Dead By Dawn, all sides of the scene were playing it – Hype was playing it, so was Goldie and Groove – I loved it, it felt like the scene was coming together.
And then you were suddenly in Bad Company- how did you join together with Fresh and Vegas?
That was a time when there was a mass exodus from Renegade Hardware. As I remember it, they wanted to sign us all into deals, and we didn’t want to sign –no one wanted to sign. They were a bit like sign or go, and we were like, OK, and went! ‘Black Thursday’ we used to call it, it was sometime around April. It was Future Forces, Genotype, Kane, Red who all left. Me and Jason were gonna start a label with Red and Kane – it was going to be called Nerve. But we knew that they were on the TOV side of things and we were on the Hardware side of things, so we knew we were going to run into the same problems of the label being confused.
Fresh and Vegas had come down prior to this happening and we’d made tunes together – we were on the same tip. They were doing stuff as Absolute Zero, and The Code was made around this time – Clayton [ToV boss] left me off the credits for that, something which I’ve still never forgiven him for. There should have been my name- as Monochrome- on there as well. In fact we wanted to record that tune as Bad Company but he didn’t like the name. So we were like alright…. We; Maldini, me, Fresh and Vegas, started chatting and decide to do something together. We pretty much spent that summer writing the Inside the Machine LP
Did you get the name Bad Company from 2000AD?
Yeah, that was me. I was an avid collector, I used to buy it every week. I’d collect that comic religiously.
So how does it work when there’s 4 of you trying to make something at once?
Somehow it just works..! I dunno, we’re doing it again at the minute. Someone sits in front of the computer and cuts up samples, someone can get on the desk EQing, someone doing the MIDI, someone sorting out chords and filters – it kinda comes together. It can be awkward and it can be complicated but somehow we managed to get it to work. Towards the end it changed and one person’s influence or sound would become more dominant, and it’d no longer be the BC sound. But in the beginning we were just doing it for the love of it- we didn’t have the fame or the notoriety that went with it, basically our thing was just trying to outdo Virus hahaha...
When did you feel like it took off?
Well, we never put The Nine out on duplate- we just gave the TP out and people were like, what the fuck is this! We had a certain calculation in our heads that if we wanted to establish ourselves we needed key releases – we wanted a release on Prototype, we wanted a release on Virus. There was a calculation there. But in terms of making the tunes we just made what we liked. At the time we felt like things in the scene were a bit too stripped back, and we wanted to bring some aggyness into it. We just loved distortion and guitar pedals, especially with the EMU, we loved driving it through the desk – me and Jason learnt a lot of that from Nico. We used to go to his studio and I’d sit in awe of the way he’d put things together –the way he’d manipulate the Reeses. I think I’ve said this before, but if you listen to a No U Turn record, no two Reeses are the same…
Those tunes were raw as fuck – when we did the reunion recently, listening to the stuff for the first time in ages, it was like, bloody hell! Part of the rawness was in the looseness of the tunes.
That’s where the energy comes in though!
Yeah, in some ways it harked back to jungle. In jungle people weren’t cutting breaks definitively, there were just looping them, which kept the human error in. that was something my brother always taught me, try and program human error in electronic music. There was a swing in the BC stuff we didn’t even know was there because MIDI was just a bit looser, it just gave it a funk. We’ve had these remixes done of the old stuff, and you can hear it’s super tight, but it just doesn’t sound the same. It’s hard to put your finger on it...Back in the day when we’d DJ them we’d be mixing them on vinyl, so you’d be kind of riding the pitch and you don’t really notice, but on CDjs when everything’s super tight, you’re like ‘kin hell, these breaks are loose as fuck..! hahaha...
Dbridge and about a billion other legends perform at Rinse's Born and Bred Festival in Haggerston Park this summer. More info here.