Chase & Status Talk Their New Album, Working With Rihanna & The Sampling Craze
Why are we driven to create? Are some of us just genetically predisposed with the compulsion to fill blank pages with our thoughts? Or transform jumbled sounds on our computers into cohesive melodic arrangements? Those that find themselves afflicted, will know that the obsession comes in many forms. Is it the desire to create something that outlives us? Bolstered by a constant awareness that our time on the planet is fleeting, so we create in an attempt to ward off the looming evanescence that inevitably awaits us all.
Two British producers were certainly not fuelled by these existential musings, but have nevertheless achieved the timelessness that eludes so many that dare to create. Saul Milton and Will Kennard are the architects in question, who have etched (they’d probably say bombed), their better known monikers, Chase & Status, into the history books. They got there by piloting a pastiche soundscape, comprised of some of their favourite elements from cutting edge dance music.
But before all that, they were just a humble pair of budding DnB DJs, trying to put themselves out there. Aside from being musically obsessed, the pivot to production came with the hope that they’d be able to secure more bookings, if they produced their own music. A bold move, and certainly no mean feat considering the fact that this took place almost two decades ago; in a time when the sheer amount of equipment required to even consider producing, was only eclipsed by the technical difficulty of actually knowing how to use it all. Youtube tutorials and guides were non existent, but Saul and Will had the affliction. The desire to create, was greater than the seemingly insurmountable task that lay before them.
Although the world has moved on a lot since then, Chase & Status have remained an ever present force no matter which way the zeitgeist shifted. Putting out five seminal records, three of which were in the top ten, the duo have consistently been able to make music that artists; and more importantly people, have gravitated towards. The company they’ve kept during their faultless run further cements their exalted status within British music, working with the likes of Kano, Giggs, Plan B, Tinie Tempah and more recently BackRoad Gee. This is where we picked up the conversation with the guys, having just announced their sixth studio album - What Came Before - we did our best to discuss the last 20 years, the new album, and their thoughts on the sampling craze that has dominated online discourse over the last few months.
Can you remember what first drew you to music?
Chase (Saul): “I was playing guitar from 12 years old. The first song that made me think, thats interesting I wanna hear that again, was actually a tune by Steve Miller Band called “Space Cowboy”. And I was so enthralled by it, it really blew my mind. Then over the years, I started to learn how to play guitar, and basically my dream as a kid, was to one day play guitar in a band in front of like a 100,000 people at a festival. And by doing what we’ve been doing, we ended up doing that, so it really has come full circle. But yeah I haven’t played guitar in a long time, but I didn’t know anything else; it was always gonna be music in some sense. When we really fell in love with dance music and jungle, thats when everything changed.”
Status (Will): “You know whats funny, I realised recently there was a moment, the first sort of subconscious sign that I was obsessed with the electronic side of music. I think I was about ten or something, I’d gone round to a kids birthday party, and they’d been given a little Casio keyboard thing. It had few preset keyboard sounds, and it had some rhythm drum sounds, you could play rumba or a salsa beat or waltz beat; and you could play along with it on this little keyboard. It was a super basic thing, but I remember now, I was so obsessed at this kids party with this thing he had, all the kids were just running around and I just sat there with this thing, didn’t know how to use it, didn’t know how to play keyboard or nothing.
“I went away and I begged and begged my parents for a similar thing, and eventually for Christmas I got it, and you know like all kids I lost interest after six months of playing with it or whatever, but I was so fixated by this machine, that could play electronic sounds and instruments, and buttons did stuff rather than a guitar or a piano. It was weird, I guess inside me somewhere I had this fascination of technology and music, but without even knowing it when i was like ten years old.”
You’ve both said previously that you’re not the most musical guys in terms of technical ability. How did you make the jump to then become DJs? Something which obviously requires a lot of technical ability?
Status: “We’re not that musically trained, even though Saul is a good guitarist, but will probably not claim to be classically trained, and I’m really not. But I think what we both do have, and what’s important for a DJ in particular, which isn’t a classical instrument, is just having a good ear, and thats clearly we do have and lots of people do, whether they realise it or not. I think DJing is about a basic understanding of timing, which just came naturally to us for whatever reason, I guess if you love dance music you probably have a natural sense of timing because its all built around quite structured timing, if you know what I mean?
“Understanding how to count music is something which probably comes natural to some people and completely unnatural to other people, so we both just had that I guess. DJing just didn’t require having training in music, it just required an insane obsession of collecting music, curating music, thinking of mixes and just being across all of the music physically possible, also faster than anyone else, getting access to new music, finding ways to have unreleased music, other versions of music. The best DJs are good at that more than anything, they have a better collection, than other people and they know how to utilise it in a way thats more interesting than other people. Back then particularly, thats all we did 24/7. Whether we were watching other DJs to see what they had that we didn’t, or trying to go to record stores to blag unreleased stuff from people, or trying to even do deals with people do get the music. You know everything in our power to listen to music, and work out how to play other genres in our genre, and speed up records and stuff. That obsession and compulsion is why we become friends obviously, and I think that is what all DJs have in common, more than just musicality.”
Crate digging was obviously a big part of what you guys were doing. But it’s a bit of a lost art these days with the digitisation of music, do you feel like that has effected the way that music is being created in anyway? (sampling become more linear, formulaic)
Chase: “A few years ago I might have agreed with you actually, but I don’t think so now. Because that was all part of the madness of the obsession as well, like going to record shops five days a week knowing whats dropped where at what time, and knowing where to get the obscure samples from was a big part of it. “Yo I found this mad sample in East Finchley in the record shop no one fucking knows about it” – that became a song “Against all odds” on our first album. But today what I’ve noticed as well with how production has changed, and how the sources for it have changed, is there is a hell of a lot of sampling going on. And young producers are really interested and intrigued by it, and they are finding these samples in amazing places, places like Tracklib, which basically for a monthly fee, you can sample any fucking amazing old rare tune or whatever.
“What is good about it now is, the artists who are being sampled are getting paid more, and they’re more part of it, and it’s a massive community. So actually that has also gone back in time, its almost reignited the original flavour for production, theres a hell of a lot of sampling, kids making melodies, those become new samples that other people use, and that I find incredibly exciting myself, and inspiring. I think actually, we’re in one of the best times for innovative production we’ve been in for a long time.”
Status: “I think as well, people always ask was it harder back then, without the internet. But actually its just as hard now, we worked hard back then to find original stuff, but now it’s the same for young people, everyones got the internet, just like everyone knew where the record shops were. You’ve still gotta hunt, its still difficult to find new stuff, just like it was back then, it’s just a different way of doing it. I think people do spend a lot of time finding those little niches, those little corners online or whatever it is where there’s access to cool stuff, and you do have to work hard, it’s not just there on Spotify. Obsessive people are finding music and culture and samples or whatever it is in obscure places, so that is still a hustle definitely.”
How did you know when your first tracks were good enough to release?
Chase: “What’s always been important for us, even at an entry level, is that we didn’t wanna grow up in public, like here’s our first three years of shit tunes! Ideally we wanted people to say: ‘What the fuck is this? It sounds sick!’ I think we got to a stage in 2003 where the production was there, and I also think the first things we released were kind of early dubstep. It was all pre dubstep kind of stuff, so we loved that scene as well. We cut our teeth on that quicker than making drum and bass, cause making DnB is very difficult and especially getting it to sound authentic. The thing about DnB is that it’s got to sound legit, its got to sound proper, cant have like weak sounding drums, its really got to be proper. And to really get that down took a bit longer than us getting down the 140bpm stuff.”
“We started doing loads of pirate radio around then, and we basically had no releases we were in Manchester, and I think we got a slot on Freeze FM in London. Think it was…doesn’t matter where it was actually, in case its still there! We cobbled together every pound we could fucking find, and we got like £50, and we came to London and got a twelve inch dubplate from Music House, which is unheard of, cause you only normally go in there with £30 and get a ten inch, but we got £50 somehow! We came down, got this dubplate, and then went to Black Market Records, to play it to the young DJ in there. DJ Youngsta, who was one of the big DJs at Forward basically. We’d been going into Black Market since we were real small, they already knew us, so we were always gonna play our first tune to them.
“We walked in there and Youngsta looked at us like absolute dirt, how dare you even ask me anything. We put the tune on and his tone changed very quickly, and he was like fucking hell bruv, if you can get me these tonight we got Forward at Fabric I’ll play them. We were like we can send you the MP3 you can play it on CD, and he was like ah bruv I don’t play CDs, only play dubplates (that didn’t last too long). So we agreed on an absolute madness to give our dubplate to some guy in the record shop, who was fucking rude to us, on a whim that he might potentially play this song. Got a phone call at 3am from him and his sisters going mental, saying the tune went crazy, got x amount of wheel ups, and they need to see us Monday morning in the Ammunition office (that was their company), and thats where it all began, that was the start of it.”
Back then you were working with the likes of Kano/Dizzee/Tinie in a really credible way. What was it that drew you to work with these artists in the first place?
Status: “I think obviously we’re known I guess predominantly coming from the DnB world, but the thing is DnB music and jungle music particularly, share the same kind of energy as grime music did back then. I just think that energy, that really predominately comes from the dancehall culture in Jamaica. It was just so evident and seeing artists like Dizzee and Kano, just make the most disgustingly grimey music, with such energy and the big crowd reactions of pull ups, and the DJ culture around that as well it just resonated with us so much, and we instantly became just massive lovers.
“We were already into the whole garage scene, which again had a similar thing, a bit less grimey maybe, but there was energy in that scene as well, and when the grime thing popped off you know also, the MC culture resonated with us from the jungle MC culture, the Skiba’s and the Shabba’s a lot of those guys, I think Dizzee is open about his influences being from the DnB scene. The crossover was there, and those guys just took it to just another star level, they had a charisma. You talk about charisma in someone like Kano, we were watching the practise hours stuff and all the Risky Roads. Kano coming out in a dressing gown spitting bars behind a trailer drinking a cup of tea, I mean these guys became quickly like heroes to us, and we’re the same age!
“These kids are so sick, and then the thought of getting them to work with us as people not directly in our scene, and trying to keep it real, keep it hard, keep it grimey and not just instantly lean towards the pop thing was exciting, and I think thats why it resonated for them to work with us cause we weren’t just saying lets do the pop thing, lets get a top 40. So yeah it was easier for us to bring them into our world, because like you said, we just wanted to keep it authentic.”
Chase: “What predates that though, we worked with Kano in 2008 for More Than A Lot, and Dizzee in 2011, we’re quite far in now. We actually worked with Roll Deep in 2005, on the flip side of our song “Duppy Man”, we put out basically an early grime/dubstep tune with Roll Deep. So we’ve been very close with that scene since then really, it’s been a real passion for us.”
On the topic of collaborations, you’ve recently worked with BackRoad Gee on one of your latest tunes. What do you think it is about your sound that always attracts the next generation?
Status: “We have had a long career now, so we’ve kind of crossed generations before. So whats nice about that is even though some of the artists we’re working with are definitely not our generation, and they are very much younger than us, and are in a whole new scene that we have not come from directly; theres always a link cause they’ll have older family members, or older friends. We hear it all the time when we get in the studio with a young rapper or an artist, and they’ll often say, and be very complimentary, and say you guys were like legends to the olders when we were growing up.
“So while they might not be direct fans of us now, because they’re 20 years younger, or whatever, there is this kind of nice acceptance that we were important, and we’re a big sort of legacy act in the UK scene, whether its jungle, grime and all of that crosses it. That’s always a really nice compliment to have I think, when you have a young artist, who might not be going to the raves that you DJ at, but they are aware of what we mean to British music and therefore they’re keen to be a part of what we’re doing, whether their friends listen to us or not. That is a real honour I think, and we’re lucky to get that.”
Chase: “We’ve been fortunate enough to work with some incredible artists, and also very well respected artists from that world. You don’t get much more respected than Frisco, Giggs and Dizzee – and these are people we did some serious records with. We were very fortunate I guess with the company we kept. The company we kept is also, still right now, incredibly relevant and incredibly important in the soundscape of UK culture.”
Outside of that, you kept some pretty legendary company by producing for Rihanna. How did this come about?
Chase: Just before that happened, we released More Than A lot, and there was a track on the album called “Eastern Jam”, which Still is one of my favourite tunes that we’ve done. I was just up until 3am or whatever just making beats, I checked Myspace, and there was a message on there from Snoop Dogg, he just wrote, “Eastern Jam, Church” or something crazy. I don’t normally call Will at 3am unless something horrific has happened! But I rang him and said, I think Snoop Dogg wants to do something with “Eastern Jam”, and very quickly we realised it actually was Snoop, he had genuinely reached out.
“Will was flying to Miami for a conference, but then he’d linked someone, done something and before you know it the song had fucking been recorded, Snoop had recorded over this song basically, and printed T shirts saying: “Snoop Dogg Millionaire” and yeah it was awful, it didn’t work. But what that did, actually funnily enough opened us up to a shit load of people over there, not just us, but the whole dub step thing. It’s the same tempo as rap and hip hop, it’s exactly the 140, so it’s familiar, just mad sounding.
“Off the back of that, unbeknownst to us, Jay Z had heard “Eastern Jam” and actually wanted to do something with it, but him and Snoop were tight so he wasn’t gonna step on his toes. But More Than A lot did get in the ears of Jay Brown, who is basically the president of Roc Nation, and would obviously go on to be Jay Z’s manager and Rihanna’s manager, and our manager at the time was very chatty with him. So Rihanna heard the album, liked a load of tunes on there, and then I get a phone call at 3am from Jay Brown, saying hey man hold on one sec, then Rihanna comes on the phone, I couldn’t believe it. Two days later Will and I are in studio AM Metropolis, with every single huge producer and song writer at the time, in a room to craft Rihanna’s album, and they’re there thumping “Eastern Jam!”
“So that is how all of that began, we actually wrote a song in that session, with Drake called “RIP”, that ended up being Rita Ora’s first number one featuring Tinie Tempah. We ended up producing bucket loads of stuff with Rihanna, so we Co produced her album Rated R, had three tracks on there, something on Talk that Talk, and something on Unapologetic.”
I can’t really think of a time, when you guys haven’t been relevant – next year is 20 years that you’ve been releasing music, how did you manage to achieve such longevity?
Chase: “A simple thing that we’ve done, and I think that we still do now, is we never rest on our laurels. We’ve always had an extra goal to try and achieve, someone has always said how do you feel you’ve made it, that conversation has been going on for at least 15 of those 19 years. We’ve always been like we haven’t made it, we’ve got lots of things to do still, we got lots of achievements to do, we’ve got another album to write, I wanna produce for so and so, we wanna do that, wouldn’t it be cool to do this? There is a hell of a lot of stuff still to tick off, and I think we’re always inspired by cutting edge music.
“Something I’ve been waffling about for those 19 years is the UK has the most cutting edge innovative exciting music there is, and we’re surrounded by it everywhere. I’m hearing some new DnB these days thats fucking wild man, like some of the drill stuff is incredible, the difference in the MCs and how they’ve changed, and how they sound like the future, is all inspiring. Will was fortunate enough to set up ELAM, and that school has an incredible amount of talent coming through, and he can talk first hand about it. I mean we keep our ears close to the ground and all facets really and we are inspired by the new. Its great having new artists to work with and seeing them go onto something incredible, maybe they’ll even supersede what you’ve done but who cares? Thats what it’s all about. Just pushing great British music man, and not really getting caught up in your own shit really, I think thats the secret.
Status: “I agree with Saul, we’ve always had that thing we don’t think we’re that big, we always think are we that successful? We’re always worried, we always think we got more work to do to prove ourselves. I think we’ve naturally been like that, that wasn’t a decision. But I think the minute you do think, yeah I’m the guy, we’re the top dogs, you’re done. The amount of people we’ve seen get to the top and have one moment there, and start acting differently and then disappear off the face of the planet is incredible. The other thing that has helped with that longevity, is coming from a scene and being embedded in a scene and we’ve talked about this here today, about how we work with other musical genres and other artists from different scenes, but fundamentally we are part of the drum and bass scene.
“Our length of career is testament to the strength of that scene, you know DnB is still massive around the world, and all of the DJs in that are working non stop all around the world, and you know when things get peak, or it gets on top with major labels or numbers, or talk about deals, we can always fall back on that scene that we are part of, and we’re accepted in and we have friends and colleagues in, and we just love that scene and being part of that scene. So we’ve been blessed to have that you know what I mean? and not everyone has that, I think that has been a big part of our 20 year journey definitely.”
Talk to us a bit about the features on the new album, how did they come about?
Chase: “Pip Millet her track with Ghetts – we heard that and we were like wow, we gotta get in with her. We’ve also always had a love affair with Manchester, cause we had to move up there for six years, and obviously she’s from Manchester and its a real cool scene out there, that was a real pleasure. The great thing about that track is she chose the coolest beat out of the options we gave her, I was convinced she was gonna chose like a nice musical number that I’d expect her to sing on, but she picked something we didn’t expect.
“Unknown T, we’re big fans of drill, big fans of Unknown T, he is like many artists we’ve worked with in the past, he’s got such a unique, brilliant voice. It’s like an instrument, how can we use that voice as an instrument rather than just pepper the beat with a song, and I think we did something pretty exciting with that, and Popcaan whats to say there man? Who wouldn’t wanna do a DnB track with him? So we were very fucking happy and blessed he came down. And like with many things in the past, we recorded him over a dancehall track, and then turned it into something else, Irah also jumped on it and the duo together is sick.”
What Came Before is quite an interesting album title. Whats the reasoning behind it?
Status: “Everyone’s sort of had a lot of time off, a lot of people sort of had this time to reflect about where they are at, and what are they trying to do and you know we talked a lot. We started being reflective about the journey that has got us to this point, and how many experiences we’ve been blessed to have, whether its collaborations, whether its shows, all of the millions of millions of moments that lead to this point, that have enabled us. I think we decided that we would harness all of those lessons, all of that love and pain and just everything we’ve been through to get to this point, and just harness it to create something new, and something powerful.
“To create the next step I guess in this chapter, so we love that title because everything that came before lead to this moment, and it just resonated and it felt open and big, and it felt right for us as an act to where we are now in our careers, and I hope that this new project of new music and fresh sounding music, captures and sums up the journey we’ve been through our careers, and the people have stayed with us at that time, and so we like the title and hopefully it will make sense when it comes out.”