Lincoln Barrett, the man behind the High Contrast moniker, is one of the most respected electronic music artists in the game. In addition to 5 studio albums and 4 compilations, including the classic FabricLive.25, he’s one of the few to have released a Greatest Hits album. Though most well-known as a leading figure within DnB, an inherent eagerness to explore different genres has seen him incorporate rock and roll, Northern Soul, film soundtracks (Lincoln is a former film student and film obsessive), hip hop and beyond, into his work.
This hunger for musical evolution has led High Contrast to work with everyone from Underworld to DJ Fresh and Dizzee Rascal. It was his first involvement with Underworld on a collaboration for their 2010 album, ‘Barking’, that led to Barrett, alongside the duo and Danny Boyle, programming the music for the athletes opening parade at the 2012 London Olympics – a “surreal experience” that saw him reach an audience of over 1 billion people. Armed with a huge fanbase – both in the UK and internationally – Barrett’s incendiary DJ sets are a major draw. He recently headlined the Let It Roll festival and will perform this summer at Creamfields and other summer shows.
2016 sees High Contrast strike out on his own with a full live show being debuted at the O2 Academy, Brixton on October 28th. Ahead of the show, A&R manager Ian French spent some time in conversation with Lincoln to find out more about the live experience, his thoughts on the scene and his anthemic remixes.
Hi Lincoln, thanks for joining me. The Drum and Bass scene seems to be stirring up quite a storm at the moment with some incredible music from both established and new artists. What are your thoughts on the scene at present and how do you feel it has developed over the past 10 years?
It seems to be in a healthy place with a presence on the radio and charts but crucially a strong underground still going strong. Things like the Let it Roll Festival in the Czech Republic (a dedicated DnB festival) are also a brilliant thing to see happen and point to the music strength internationally.
Some people outside the scene still have the impression that Drum and Bass events are just full of tracksuit wearing, sweaty teenagers full of drugs raving their tits off to loud aggressive music. Those inside D+B would argue differently. What’s your take on the genre disconnect?
Drum and Bass is more than one thing, its many things now, it’s almost too diverse to contain within three little letters. But that’s one of the great things about the scene, it can cater to many different tastes.
Some DnB producers have had great success in other genres, most notably Marcus Intalex as Trevino. Have you ever thought of producing other styles of music? If so would you use a different guise?
Ive always dabbled in different genres but keep coming back to DnB, there’s something about in my DNA, having gotten into it when I was a teenager – crucial years than can ‘imprint’ you for life. But I have been making more things lately that aren’t DnB, though I’m not sure what genre they are, I’m hopefully refining my own sound and not being totally bound by genre.
Over the years you have remixed some huge names: Coldplay, Missy Elliot, The Streets, and more. Is there anything you find particularly challenging in selecting and remixing well-known tracks to make them your own?
It all starts with the song, regardless of how big the artist is. If I think it’s a great track, that sticks in my head and I feel I can do something interesting or fun with, then I’ll be chomping at the bit to remix it.
We really enjoyed your latest release from July this year. Could you tell us what have you planned for the remainder of 2016?
Thanks, that was the first taster of my new album which should be out early next year. The single from it should be with us sooner, hopefully this month!
At the Together Halloween event on Friday 28th October you’ll be debuting your live show. Can you tell us a little about that and the decisions behind moving away from a strictly DJ-based performance?
After DJing for many years, I wanted a new challenge as a performer but also a new experience to give to audiences, outside of the DJ format. Im also really looking forward to playing my melodies out live for the first time in front of an audience, like the piano from If We Ever. The show is going to largely be a ‘one-man-show’ with me operating various keyboards, synths, drum pads and effects units but will probably expand over time. That will be part of the fun of the process, seeing how it evolves once I take it out in to the world. I’m a control freak though, so I don’t think I’ll be relinquishing too much control to other people on stage! haha.
Social media appears to be taking over everything in terms of music management and distribution these days. What are your thoughts on the apparent new model of online music business?
Well, there’s pros and cons, as with everything. Music production and distribution is more accessible than ever before, so there’s not really the record label barrier that could stop people from getting their music out to the public before. But music has become devalued and the returns are diminished so it’s harder for artists to make a living from music. Theres also so much new music constantly coming out that things get lost and I think its really hard for new artists to stand out in all the noise.
After what happened to Fabric and the ripples it’s created across the UK, what are your thoughts on the future of British clubland?
Its a worrying time for UK club music with so much focus being put on festivals and with clubs getting closed down. Festivals are great fun but the experience of clubs is very different and should not be lost as its very important for nurturing music scenes. Not least because it’s much harder for new artists to break through if there aren’t clubs to give them a chance, festivals are very much geared towards existing and established names. The same also goes for new music / producers being tested out in clubs.
Regarding the behaviour of patrons, clubs shouldn’t be held responsible for them if they take all reasonable precautions they can to prevent drugs entering the premises. And shutting down the legal venues like clubs where there are people to help on hand if something goes wrong, will only result in clubbers going to illegal or unmonitored events to consume their drugs where they will in far more danger. If I thought closing clubs like Fabric would save lives then I would agree with it but I honestly think its going to result in more deaths, from people taking drugs in less controlled environments.
Lincoln, it’s been an absolute joy to spend some time chatting. We wish you every success with the live show and the new music. Long may it last! Let’s end on a happy note, could you tell us about the most unusual thing thats happened to you this year?
Thank you very much, good to speak with you. It might not sound that unusual but it is for me and people in DnB and electronic music in general – for the first time in my life I’ve picked up a guitar this year and am really getting into learning to play it. Something I never expected, as the guitar is so entrenched culturally in rock music; the antithesis in many ways of electronic music. So hopefully it will be making an appearance on stage with me for the live shows next year!