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FIVE STEPS: Billion & Codebreaker MC

FIVE STEPS: Billion & Codebreaker MC
Jack Smith

Following on from the belated release of Defence and the Skeptical remix last week on Alignment, we caught up with Billion and Codebreaker MC (two thirds of the former Fathom Audio crew) who gave us their Five Steps from origins to present to future.

Step 1: Origins

Billion: For me it all started with Drum & Bass in Vicious Circle‘s studio, i was at that time playing oldskool house music. Simon was making some awesome beats and it got me thinking… The tracks that got me into it were Universal Project – Jackhammer (Vicious Circle Remix) & Standing Room Only which was a collection of artists. Sense MC my housemate was always playing loads of D&B and started to give me beats to listen to. It was a matter of time until I was fully submerged.

Codebreaker MC: Definitely pirate radio stations to start with. Don FM, Trance FM, Kool FM, Flex FM. I was completely addicted to them as a kid when it was hardcore and early jungle. We were too young to get into proper clubs, so we used to go to under 18’s raves instead. I have a vivid memory of seeing Stevie Hyper D live at one of them and he completely blew my mind. I then went to Peckham Lazerdrome which was in full blown jungle frenzy around winter ’94 – remember walking through the doors and just grinning from ear to ear when the bass hit me. I knew then that this was something I wanted to be involved in. Nothing’s changed.

Step 2: Introducing

B: The first track I made was a UK Garage track in 1998 called Funky Buddah, I had it on dub-plate and played it all the time on Flex FM, it sounded great on radio but in a club it was horrid, all you could hear was the bass, no drums haha.  I was influenced by Dem2, Grant Nelson, Todd Terry, X-press2, MK, Chez Damier & Masters at Work. For my production process I tend to start of with a white noise and play with filters and a few different plugins and get a rhythmic pattern running, I then go for kicks and snares then start with percussion. Once I’ve got a loop that sounds good I’ll then look towards adding a baseline.  When I’m happy with the amount of elements in I then start with the arrangement. Normally I tend to knock up about 90% of a track in a couple of days but then the last 10% to get it finished can take ages haha. Defence was different though as it was finished in a week, although I did spend around 18hrs a day working on it so i guess if you worked it out on hours it may have taken as long as normal. I always go into the studio wanting to take things further than the last track so I don’t have any presets that I pull from all the time.

C: The first track I ever made you could barely call a track to be honest. I managed to get enough dough together to buy an old sampler, an Akai S950, with no manual! You have to remember there was no internet in them days – it took me about two weeks to work out how to get a crappy sampled bass and drum break to work together. The eureka moment was pretty special though. Started ramming my voice through it and doing the classic Akai timestretch etc etc.. Fast forward to now – there’s no set way to approach doing vocals for tracks. I have a pretty extensive repertoire of lyrics which i’m continually developing, but I would say that I usually write something specific to the track im working on. ‘Live’ rhymes dont tend to work so well on tracks, it’s a bit of a different skill.

Step 3: Foundation

B: The track that I get the most recognition as an artist would have to be Clear The Mist on Dispatch Recordings, although I was involved with I Don’t Smoke with DJ Deekline but was not credited but did tour the UK performing it live and and on TOTP. Clear the Mist was a massive boost for me and definitely opened lots of doors for me and getting our music onto podcasts from all my favorite labels like Metalheadz, Shogun etc… The track got signed to Dispatch recordings after being spotted by Ant TC1 while BTK played it on D&BTV.

C: Haha that one’s easy – The Grand Theft Auto work with Rob Playford for Moving Shadow/Rockstar Games in 2000. I know many people have a lot of love for this still to this day, but to be honest I’m glad to have stepped out of its shadow now (no pun intended).. It was a mad experience though, carving it out in Rob’s studio in a plush penthouse apartment on the river, trying to stick to the script that Rockstar Games gave us and blending it with my usual junglist chat from back then. It was a bit of an acting job really I suppose.

Step 4: Present

B: Me & Sense were going to start a label called Freedom35 but i was just too busy with my working life to even think about running a label. We had Defence lined up with the Skeptical remix to be the first release but then after meeting Mat on our Kane FM show we decided to let him take it and put it out as the 10th release on Alignment  Recordings. We used to just put tracks out under Fathom Audio but I felt that it would benefit me better if I put my name Billion at the beginning and Fathom Audio at the end as it would help get my name out. My studio set up has change dramatically, I used to be fully Midi with an Atari ST running logic 3.5 with loads of rack mounted synths and compressors. Used to bounce to D.A.T tape too. Nowadays I just have an iMac, Apogee Duet and USB Keyboard. My sound has changed massively as I was making House & Garage music when I started, to now making Drum and Bass.

Step 5: Future

B: I have got 31 tracks that are almost finished that I have made with Sense. We’ve been in hiding for quite a while. I am yet to really preview anything and learned that its best to hold back until the track is 100% before you go showing it to too many people. As for the tune that’s changed the game and raised the bar, I think that the whole genre itself has raised the levels up a gear or two over the last couple of years. I think that it is because modern technology has made production much more accessible to people that would not have had the money to fund hardware studios. Also now you have soft-synths and computer versions of most of the rack mounted equipment I was using in the late nineties. I think that Drum & Bass is in a really good way at the moment, there is so many of its sub-genres that are all full of amazing new producers which is good for the scene as a whole.

Billion Ft. Codebreaker & Sense – Defence / Skeptical Remix is out now at Surus.