In August this year The Rave Generation caught up with Vibes and Hattrixx at their North London studio to discuss their forthcoming classic-style album.
Shane Lavan (AKA Vibes) and Owen Palmer (AKA Hattrixx) have worked together on many occasions over the last 12 years but never on a project of this scale. The project, dubbed "The Next Chapter", is limited to only 200 copies and due for release just before Christmas, offering more than your typical album release (more on this later).
While spending a couple of hours with Shane and Owen, their passion and commitment to this project soon becomes evident. Shane gets animated when describing the feelings and textures that they want to achieve, while Owen briefly loses himself in the moment while demonstrating how they've arrived at various pads and pianos (using original hardware for that authentic sound).
Exclusivity is key to the success of this project - this is for true lovers of the soulful breakbeat sound that Vibes made his own in the early to mid '90s. It comes at a premium but we should expect no less - this is, after all, a premium product aimed at a niche audience, requiring nearly six months of preparation and dedication. Those that "join the firm" will be part of an exclusive group with access to behind-the-scenes video diaries, bonus tracks, remix packages, and ultimately the main album (with 10+ tracks).
In an industry that has the potential to inflate egos and create prima-donnas, you couldn't hope to meet two more down-to-earth guys than Shane and Owen. As someone whose bedroom wall was plastered with flyers in the mid-nineties, bearing the DJ Vibes name, there was something quite surreal about being sat in their studio (think "Golden Ticket" and "chocolate factory" and you won't be far wrong!) However, I was quickly made to feel welcome as we started an interview that played out as an easy conversation.
It's clear with Shane and Owen that image is irrelevant, music is paramount...
Shane (Vibes): The best music I ever made was twenty years ago now, with Wishdokta, and all the Asylums... They were brilliant, and still get played now. I play them all the time, they stand up really well. There's nothing more of that style around now and it's not that I'm getting bored of playing the same stuff, I just want to do it again. Owen loves the stuff me and Wishdokta made, he always has done, that's how I know him. He always loved the stuff and admired what we'd done, and he said "how's about just going again?" We just wanted to go back and relive it, and do it again, but different, totally different, not the same old samples and no remixes. So we're in the process of doing that right now... We've got ten or twelve tracks to do and it's, you know... everyone thinks you could maybe do that in a couple of weeks...
Owen (Hattrixx):...Well we could do it in a couple of weeks, but it would be guff! The bar is already high because there's a pretty strong back catalogue for these tracks to go alongside.
Shane: The driving force is the people out there that will say "that's no good" I can't have that.
Owen: And I'm the main one that's going to say if it's no good.
Shane: If it's no good it won't go out, and I can't have that. It's a big undertaking, and it's daunting and it's nerve racking and even now I sit at night thinking "Oh God what have I done".
Owen: [laughing] I'm not nervous...
Shane: Tunes don't make themselves, and we've spent months now just planning...
Shane: [Gesturing to Owen] His word is "resources". You have to have resources, you can't just go in and make a tune…
Owen: You've got to have sounds ready. All kinds of sounds... pianos, pads, bass, stabs, beats... and we want vocals that no one's ever heard.
Shane: We've really gone deep. We've spent days sitting making no music, just listening and finding. Whereas in the old days when I made stuff we'd just go in and do it because it was new, but we have to make this fresh and really fruity.
Owen: I feel confident but Shane and I are not the same in that respect at all.
Shane: The ball is rolling. I was very stressed before we did anything because of the time it was taking to get everything together. But I want to be under pressure. What a brilliant thing to be doing... There's millions of people out there that would love to be doing this. And I know this is a project that's costing some money for certain people who are interested, but they've got to realise that we're going to be here in the studio, where we are now, you know, one hundred times one hundred days... a hundred times ten hours. It's exclusive, and we're making great effort, we're not scrimping, we're not cutting corners, we're not taking it lightly. Our quality control is me and him [gesturing to Owen]. Well me especially, with my name and reputation... I can't say that everyone will love it but I'm going to make sure I do the best job I can, and if I love it they'll love it.
Owen: And I'm going to guarantee you'll love it. In my experience it's the pressure that turns out the good stuff.
Shane: He's got this idea recently of moving on, and leaving tracks...
Owen: I say we should get at least 80% of a track done before moving on. We've gotta get 80% of the first five before the end of September and then 80% of the 10 by the end of October, that's the plan.
Shane: I've got nothing in the way. I've got four events this weekend and once that's done we are really going deep, and you won't hear from me other than on that screen [gestures to the studio monitor]. I want to be really in here.
Shane: It's going to be fully breakbeat like the early Asylum and Ravers Choices... and not modern sounds but just different, amazing sounds. I want real wow feelings so you can put headphones on in a dark room and you just float away... that sort of soulful, jazzy, tuneful sound, not just boom boom boom.
Owen: But some energy here and there as well.
Shane: Oh yeah, uplifting definitely. The first tune we done of this collection, after leaving the studio I've been singing it.
Owen: I've got it stuck in my head as well.
Shane: It's a killer... the vocal is a killer, and I'm not saying that lightly.
Owen: He wrote a piano on it and I did a piano on it so it's got two pianos that interchange...
Shane: It's so poignant... and that's what you get for searching, and for taking time. Something we were going for in the morning that day didn't quite work, so as we said, with our quality control we just shelved it. It was a great idea at first. I came here for seven o'clock ready to go and I had some minor doubts but he'd talked me into it, and then he got here and he had minor doubts and he talked me out of it!
Owen: We just said we'll give it half an hour and if it doesn't sound the absolute bollocks then we won't spend any more time on it.
Shane: If in doubt leave it out! Then I think we spent the whole day and evening finding one particular new thing. We got soaked going to a record shop to find a particular something but didn't find what we were looking for, but that's what it's all about, things don't just fall out of the sky, you have to grab them... and try and nurture them, and mould them as much as you can. It's very early days yet, there's still four months of work.
[Shane gives Owen a daunted look]
Owen: I'm not nervous, I know we can do it. When I look at the resources that we've got it's like Aladdin's treasure trove. We've said by the end of November we should have a minimum of ten tracks done to about 80%. The thing is when we've worked together before we've spent a long time on tunes because we didn't have the resources, and it kills the flow of things because if you have to start and stop, and start and stop, it's hard to enjoy the process. Whereas if you've got lots of resources...
Shane: To bake a cake you need ingredients basically.
Shane: I'm full of ideas - not all of them are great, some of my stuff is really outlandish and a bit silly, but some of it is so wild it's good!
Owen: But that's what makes it work, it's not just standard boring obvious ideas that flow between us...
Shane: And the extra effort has been made to make that first thirty seconds work you know what I mean?
Owen: See that crate there [pointing towards a large crate of vinyl], that's just one of Shane's crates.
Shane: Next week we'll be going through these ones. All the old classic songs, you know, loads of lovely vocals in here.
Owen: I would say it's the same as the old tracks, and I personally feel that those tracks, different from some other tracks around at the time, were more palatable at home because of the outros and everything.
Shane: There's no corner cutting or anything. I always say a quality set of headphones - not DJ headphones but studio headphones - to put those on and listen to a track is the test. And if you do that and you really love it, and you want to hear it again and again, and sing it even after you take them off... that's what I want to produce. But at the same time still powerful enough to work on the dancefloor because the breakdowns are what count to me you know? Not boring either, not drums running for too long...
Owen: That's why we did the interludes too. The interludes will make it more of a listening experience. You can just listen to the album as a whole, not just in a DJ set. You can listen to it as one piece.
Shane: I really want to play the first tune out. And I would desperately want people to play them out. The people who get them, I want them to play them out. I want them to love them, and I want them to remix them as well, because that's why we're going to give all the remix parts. I want to make sure they've got everything, and I want them to be fully into it and make their own stuff with our stuff, which would be an honour you know?
Owen: There's the meetups...
Shane: And a four-track vinyl. When it's done we're going to ask people to vote for their favourite tracks, and the ones that come out the highest will be put onto vinyl.
Owen: Track interludes, bonus tracks, the video diaries. The remix parts as we've just said...
Shane: And that's everything. Not just a few drums, but everything... all the vocals will be completely clean. But mainly the exclusivity for the people who have it.
[Although the guys couldn't play me any of the new material (everybody has to wait until Christmas for the main drop), they have uploaded clips of their bonus tracks to SoundCloud. Check out these samples of Come Home VIP and Fantastic VIP to get a small flavour of what's to come...]
Shane: This is an incentive really, it's for the interested people that really have to be interested, and really are by showing their interest with finance y'know. It's a horrible way to put it but it's a thousand hours realistically.
Owen: It's the exclusivity. The thing about exclusivity is it gives the music value, kind of inherently, and because it has value that almost gives us an extra high bar to hit. The whole concept is designed to make the best possible music, because first of all we've got the time, second of all we've got the resources, third of all we've got a serious stick behind our backs that says "you guys had better make this top drawer or you're going to have to face a lot of angry people with pitchforks and torches"!
Shane: The thing that would hurt most is someone saying it's no good. Alright, not everyone is going to love every single track equally, but I want them to all be of a standard so they'll appreciate all of them for one reason or another. But they'll all have their favourites of course...
Owen: And if there's one you don't like as much as the others then you can remix it!
Shane: We're not just doing it and legging it, we want everyone to be involved all the way now.
As the interview draws to a close Owen is keen to demonstrate some of the techniques they're using to ensure the album uses original sounds in the classic style. Taking a sample from an old funk record he effortlessly creates a rich, warm pad. Shane explains that together they've been meticulous in ensuring that the album isn't simply derivative of the classic tracks he's perhaps best known for.
The project is completely locked down to those who've "joined the firm", so I went into this interview knowing I wouldn't hear any snippets of actual album tracks. However, at one point, as Shane and I chatted about records, Owen idly riffed away on the keyboard - not playing anything in particular, just experimenting. And as he tweaked the sound, delivering a rich and soulful piano, for one brief moment I had a vague insight into the direction their new sound might take.
And that was all it took to elicit goosebumps.
Roll on December...
For more info on the project, and to register your interest, head here.
Read our album preview here.