“It’s like they’re taking the black out of music.” That’s how Ryan Powell, the veteran drum ‘n bass producer/DJ better known by his stage name Gridlok, feels about the rapid commercialization of dance music. And that’s one of the main reasons why he, along with fellow drum ‘n bass producer/DJ Prolix (legally Chris McCarthy), created their new album that testifies in favor of the dirty, grungy niche of drum ‘n bass that they love – appropriately titled, Project Trendkill.
If you were to compare EDM culture to comic book culture, the festivals Avicii and Skrillex headline would be akin to the massive exhibits at ComiCon dedicated to the immensely popular comics, like Spiderman and The Hulk. Gridlok, however, identifies himself and his kin of drum ‘n bass warriors as the alternative, black-and-white comics such as The Sandman or The Crow. And that’s exactly how he likes it.
“[I] come from a generation where it wasn’t cool to be into the same thing everybody was into,” he explains.
And the evident reason why not everybody is into drum ‘n bass is because the loud, dark and grimy vibe the music has is an acquired taste; and while it isn’t for everybody, the music scene has its following of people who love the vibe.
“Traditionally, that’s what it was: dark, dirty music that was played in dark and dingy clubs – and that’s what was cool about it,” describes Prolix. He reflects on how the scene was over a decade ago, while he was attending those rugged raves as a college kid. “You’d be watching somebody DJ, and you’d have no idea who the motherfucker was.”
“And the more unknown they were, the more you were there,” Gridlok adds, laughing.
While Prolix acknowledges that the size and amount of those grungy drum ‘n bass shows were healthy back then, they’ve started to dry up in an era where EDM has been skyrocketing in popularity as the decade progresses. And while drum ‘n bass is getting much more exposure than it has before, the fact that it’s losing its original, niche appeal is disconcerting to Gridlok and Prolix.
“People are like, ‘drum ‘n bass is bigger than ever,’ but it’s not better than ever,” Prolix observes. As he explained about how prominent the dark, grimy vibe was in underground drum ‘n bass shows years ago, he feels that you just can’t replicate that at a festival. “You don’t get the intensity of the music, or the atmosphere where it’s smoky and grimy. And when you’re playing the kind of music we play, and you’re not playing at 2am, it’s just weird – this is darkness music.”
“Yeah: daytime and drum ‘n bass sucks,” Gridlok jokes.
Along with the reduction of those grimy, grassroots drum ‘n bass shows, the genre has started to fall into the popularity contest that has always come with mainstreamification. Seeing as Gridlok and Prolix knew those times back when people went to underground raves en masse without much regard for who was on the decks, they aren’t enthused by the new mentality that it’s all about- and only about- being number one.
“Drum ‘n bass really doesn’t use that as a gauge of who wins. That’s the complete opposite of what we thought was cool,” says Gridlok.
However, Gridlok and Prolix do not and will not chastise everyone for reaching the high echelon of popularity, nor will they shun all displays of commercial drum ‘n bass, because it’s not about what’s superior and inferior – it’s about spectrum. Gridlok and Prolix happen to invest themselves in the dark, dirty, anti-commercial side of the spectrum, not only because they have an affinity for it, but because they believe it deserves to live on.
“The most important thing with this journey and why I haven’t quit at this point is because this side of things deserves to exist, and it needs to survive,” Gridlok emphasizes. “When we’re making these tunes, we’re thinking ‘people in a dark and dingy club, most of them drunk, looking at their feet dancing their asses off.’”
And that’s the ethos behind Project Trendkill — the ethos that fueled several months of collaboration between Gridlok and Prolix, which resulted in their love letter to grassroots drum ‘n bass: eight tracks; composed, mixed and mastered in analog (in the words of Gridlok, “analog’s good for going overboard dirty”), and split into four vinyl records. They had this vision for the album from the very start, but, of course, the path from vision to reality would bring forth adversity.
While Gridlok and Prolix had their hearts set on the old-school, dirty, pure drum ‘n bass aesthetic of the album- from the songs, to the sepia-tone cover art, to the choice of making it vinyl- labels and distributors weren’t confident in the idea; thinking it was too risky of an investment and that it wouldn’t sell enough. But though the business-side of things wasn’t accepting of Project Trendkill, this certainly wouldn’t stop it in its tracks, and Gridlok and Prolix decided instead of seeking the conventional support of publishers, they’d seek support from those that believed in the same idea as them via Kickstarter.
“When you put that much work into those tunes and that amount of effort, you wanna hold it in your hand and go ‘we’ve made something great,’” Prolix expresses. “We just had to do it ourselves; it was the best thing for us.”
And though they were initially worried about this “Hail Mary” method flopping, it succeeded with flying colors. Setting a target of $5,000, the project got support not only from the die-hard drum ‘n bass fans, but from Gridlok and Prolix’s producer/DJ peers- such as Pendulum’s El Hornet, Andy C, Tony Colman, AK1200 and TeeBee- and reached a total funding of $13,525, resulting in about 1500 total vinyl records being pressed. And while Gridlok and Prolix were beyond stoked about the turnout, the downside was a large international shipping bill: approximately 3000 euros.
“It cost us a fucking fortune to ship these records out,” Prolix gripes, jokingly.
While Gridlok and Prolix haven’t a clue about the next musical endeavor, they do know that Project Trendkill will not be their swan song. They also know that there won’t be a Project Trendkill 2 Kickstarter campaign. While just about anyone in their right mind would choose a method that has proven itself viable, Gridlok and Prolix believe doing a follow-up in the same fashion would defeat the purpose of Project Trendkill, and that the album deserves to stand on its own.
“We had an idea, we kickstarted that idea, and we’re not gonna kickstart the same idea again,” confirms Gridlok. “We did what we meant to do, and it’s a one-shot deal.”
And they did exactly what they meant to do: release a drum ‘n bass album with their creative preferences completely intact and their beliefs unsullied. The music- though not commercial-friendly- was composed with the belief that it deserves to exist. The medium of vinyl- though being phased out by technology- was chosen with the belief that it deserves to exist. And the funding from its many backers was received with the collective belief that it deserves to exist. It doesn’t have to go platinum and it doesn’t have to be as popular as Spiderman – it just has to be true to its niche and touch those that love what it is. That’s what Project Trendkill is about.