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SPOTLIGHT: Ruffhouse

SPOTLIGHT: Ruffhouse
Jack Smith

Ahead of their back to back releases on Alignment and Ingredients, we caught up with Bristol’s latest fire collective in the form of Pessimist, Vega & Cooper… a.k.a. Ruffhouse.

Pessimist, Vega, Cooper… Tell us a little about yourselves. How did the Bristol connect happen, and what facilitated the decision to form a trio considering you had been making a name for yourselves on an individual basis?

Vega and Cooper already knew each other before meeting Pessimist as they had moved to Bristol around 4 years ago. About a year after that Vega created the event ‘Abstractions’ and this was when they met Pessimist, I think he approached me whilst I was DJ’ing and handed a CD of his material to me which was all sick. From then we all became really good mates and soon realised we all shared a similar taste within Drum & Bass, and we started DJ’ing a lot together, especially Vega and Pessimist who held a residency at Renegade Hardware in London in 2011.

We spoke a lot about starting a production outfit together which we knew was eventually going to happen, but at the time it was logistically impossible as Pessimist had moved back to Cornwall for around a year and a half, hence it wasn’t the ideal time to get things going. He moved back in January of this year and soon after we created Ruffhouse.

With the Alignment release and a 12” on Ingredients too, you’ve really hit the ground running in the short time you’ve hit the public realm. How long has your development taken to come into fruition, and how does the triple approach work at a primary level in the studio? Do you share a workspace, or assign certain elements of the arrangement to a certain team member?

Well we started making tracks as Ruffhouse in February shortly after Pessimist moved back to Bristol. The first track we actually made together was Classified, followed by The Foot which particularly caught a lot of people’s attention. The fact that we already knew the right DJs and industry people before we became Ruffhouse has definitely helped us become recognised. It’s all happened so quickly though, which is wicked but that’s definitely down to the labels we’re working with as well as ourselves, it’s crazy to think that we formed in February and seven months later four of our tracks have already been released.

In terms of the three way approach, we all work together in the same room at Vega & Coop’s house. We don’t assign each person particular tasks or work in separate places it’s just a straight up collaboration. We like to keep it that way, so we can agree on every particular part of the track no matter how minuscule it is.

As you’ve stated elsewhere previously, ‘intro, drop, bass, mid range, breakdown… repeat’ seems to be indicative of a sort of stagnation happening within the broad spectrum we call ‘Drum & Bass’ today. Do you find the process behind being fundamentally ‘different’ a challenge? Is the Ruffhouse sound a direct reflection of this frustration?

It’s not something that’s too difficult for us, we’re all massive music heads and when it comes to Drum & Bass we’re pretty fussy, we just want to make something a bit different but not pretentious. The whole progressive Drum & Bass style is something that we’re really feeling and Pessimist has been crafting that sound for a while now, it seems like not many other people are doing it in Drum & Bass which is understandable of course seeing as its breakbeat music which essentially relies on a big drop, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – we just wanted to make something hypnotic and almost over-repetitive as we’ve been really influenced by techno recently.

It’s all still just basic syncopation and minimalism that slowly builds throughout the track, moving into a completely new section which gives it the feeling it’s a piece of music and not just something that’s been crafted for a DJ. Something that’s interesting from start to finish which we feel lacks in a lot of modern-day Drum & Bass.

We’re definitely a bit frustrated but that’s just fuelled the fire. We’ve had many a drunken rant to each other about all of this, we’re never satisfied.

You’ve also mentioned Eraserhead and Antichrist (two personal favourites) as key influences. What is it about the distinct mechanical dystopia that you’re drawn towards? Have you been experimenting outside of this dark soundscape too, or indeed outside of music within the 170-ish bracket?

To be honest there isn’t really any specific reason as to why we are drawn to the ‘mechanical dystopia’ of these films, there’s just something about atonal sounds that we all seem to be drawn towards when writing a track for reasons that none of us could really explain. It’s the sound design and intense textures that these films are so focussed around that when paired with some quite shocking images make for really intense viewing, and it’s these intense atonal textures that is something that we try to bring to our music to add suspense in much the same way as Lynch and Von Trier do with their cinematography.

At the moment everything that we do has a certain darkness about it, it’s not intensional really it’s just the way things seem to pan out when we’re writing a track together. Experimenting outside of the 170 bracket is something that we do individually when working on our own projects and is something we’ve been talking about and will be experimenting with in the future as a collective, but we feel Drum & Bass still has a lot to offer and at the moment we’re still experimenting within the 170-ish bracket seeing in which new directions we can take it.

Alignment has built a solid reputation for deep, meticulous sounds since its inception about a year ago. Tell us a about your relationship with Mat and how the release ended up on the label. Did you approach Alignment with the finished package or was it more of a complex process?

Pessimist was actually on the first release for Alignment Records with a collaboration with Arma (War, Mateba & Overlook) so we already had links there. When made our first batch of tunes we handed Pellet and Classified to Mat which he was really feeling and in no time got in contact. Its been great though, we all wanted our first release to have its own artwork to give it more value and spoke to Mat about it who was really up for the idea. The finished product came out on the 15th October – it looks great and we’re really proud of it.

Can you tell us exactly what your production set up is spread across the three of you? Is it completely software-focused or do you use a mixture with hardware too?

Not much to be honest. We have a pair of KRK Rocket 8’s, an iMac and a Dual Screen monitor. We’re fully software based at the moment but the plan is to build up some equipment whether it be analogue or digital, it’s just a case of the financial resources we have right now. We’re predominantly using Reason 5 which Pessimist has been using for a long while now and also a bit of Logic which is Cooper’s weapon of choice. We feel as a collective that Reason is far more suited to us, and although it seems to get a fair bit of bad press we find there’s some really unique tools on it. The way we use Reason, we couldn’t use it in that way on any other programme and at the end of the day it’s all down to how you use your prefered programme.

In terms of production technique, what are your 3 key tips heading into a new project? Are there any rules that you never stray from, or any DAW specific inserts you abide by?

There’s no specific routine when we start something new, we don’t know what we’re going to write even when opening a new project. Sometimes we’ll start with a beat, sometimes we’ll start with some atmosphere and padding.

We like to get as many bars into the arrangement as quick as possible so that we can start building the track almost instantly. A lot of the sounds we use are complimentary to the backbone of the track and so need a long while to progress – they’re not just stand out samples, and they all have to work together as layers otherwise it doesn’t work.

We always try and finish everything we make, this is probably again down to structuring the track. You can’t create a journey or a vibe out of nothing, it has to be finished in order to add those final parts which usually round the track off.

If a track isn’t going anywhere or we’re not completely feeling the samples and elements we usually just re-evaluate what is actually working in the track, and what can be taken out or replaced in some cases. We like call it ‘stripping it back’.

With very little information other than these two Alignment / Ingredients releases, and the Ruffhouse VIP of Loxy & Resound’s ‘Inversion’ (which you say might never be released! Sigh….), what else can we expect from the Ruffhouse crew moving towards the winter months?

Ingredients from the beginning haven’t pressured us with any deadlines on tunes so far, so we have the freedom right now to write as and when we like. We get in the studio at least twice a week, every week so we’re always working on music and keeping busy. At the moment we are finishing off the final touches of our third release on Ingredients and after that our first EP on the label which we are very excited about as we have big plans already underway for it. Expect our second single with Ingredients to drop soon and lots more to follow. Don’t forget to bag our debut single on Alignment Records – Pellet / Classified – which is out now and the first of our Ingredients releases.

Ruffhouse – The Foot / Bypass is out now (Redeye Records)