Greg from Ulterior Motive may have underestimated the Australian winter. ‘Really?’ Bring a coat?’ he asks as I tell him his upcoming tour of the southern hemisphere will be chillier than expected. He shouldn’t be worried. The straight fire tunes he is bringing with him from the UK will keep us piping hot until Christmas.
Last year, Ulterior Motive broke off from Metalheadz to launch their label, Guidance, inspired by their Bournemouth based night of the same name. Most people celebrate birthdays with candles and cake. Greg and James celebrated one year of their label with a three track collab EP with their old mates Future Cut, who haven’t released anything in over ten years. So, how do you coax two veteran dnb producers out of hibernation? Well apparently, the old tasty
dubplate in a mouse trap trick just doesn’t work anymore. If you are Ulterior Motive, all you need to do is give them a call.
‘Years ago, we had remixed the track ‘Obsession’ for Future Cut.’ It’s the absolute seething pit of filth with Jenna G on the vocal. ‘Not many people know that we did a techno mix for some more pop style stuff they were producing also, which got released on FFRR. We always said we should do something together some time. Years later, it was a case of what you doing next week? Nothing? Bang, let’s get in the studio!’
Greg, James, Tunde and Darren holed themselves up in a Notting Hill studio for two days. They ironed out a bunch of concepts, the sum of which is in GDNCE003. The three tracks on GDNCE003 don’t just speak volumes of the immense variety of drum and bass as a genre, but more specifically of the creativity and depth of knowledge of the people who created it. The first track on the EP, ‘Flash Mob’, is like no spontaneous formation dance I’ve ever experienced. It’s a nasty-ass, snarly little teeth teeth gritter, something akin to their perfectly mixed 2015 molotov cocktail, Stepchange. For Ulterior Motive, it’s always been about cultivating that raw side of drum n bass
that’s almost an antique now, and, crucially, refusing to compromise on their sound.
‘Everything now is far too well polished for me. It’s all about mix downs and making sure it fits in a framework, rather than having attitude and keeping it organic. I hear a lot of churned out tunes these days rather than well engineered songs. We do everything we can to amp it up to make it as rugged as possible. It’s all about the screw face.’
‘Second Nature’ on the EP references that jazz influence that was so important to the Bristol scene. ‘We were knocking around exploring a liquid theme. It wasn’t really coming together. Then, all of a sudden, Darren busted out this bass guitar, made the riff then took the loop and turned it into what it is. It’s jazzy, but it’s still tough; it’s still got that energy.’
The other tune on the EP is a tribute to years gone by, named after Bagleys, the Kings Cross club that was for many a lynchpin in shaping a movement. With this in mind, you might expect Bagleys to sound something akin to the helter skelter rave of ‘Tape Pack’, but it doesn’t. I ask Greg whether with the reference, they are implying that things just aren’t as good as they used to be. His answer hits every nail on the head that’s been sticking out and spiking me for years. It proves there are no absolutes, and that the temptation to submit to running with the pack and diluting your art to pander to current trends should be avoided at all costs. Ulterior buck the norm, infusing their own aromatic, which is cultivated to a much more specialised palette.
‘The music we make still reflects the music we got into drum and bass for,’ says Greg. ‘It’s not super techy neuro; its not liquid or jump up. It’s not an emerging trend, which will ebb away. It’s true to our roots. It’s memorable and stands the test of time. We don’t feel the need to make boring techy rollers because everyone else is. Crucially, the common denominator in all of our tracks is funk and musicality. They’re not overly serious; they’re dancefloor-ready, but still classy.’
‘There aren’t many who have understood the timelessness of that raw, late 90s, early 2000s sound. We’re big fans of DLR, he’s doing similar, as is Kid Drama. We are fully aware that we aren’t producing a new sound. But we’re not trying to. What we are doing doesn’t pretend to be fresh, but doesn’t need to be. It’s something that wouldn’t sound out of place 20 years ago, in a set with all the old Bad Company or Ed Rush & Optical tunes.’
‘Drum and bass has changed drastically over the last twenty years. Compare it to techno, which hasn’t changed much in 20 years. For me, if it ain’t broke don’t try to fix it. You could play a techno tune from 20 years ago and in a lot of cases, might not be able to pick whether it was from 1998 or 2018.’
‘Drum and bass has actually been quite faddy, with fashions coming in and out. In some sub genres, it’s almost unrecognisable from its roots, with a whole different face to it. A lot of it is pop music now, which is great for the scene, but what got us into the scene so many years ago has been completely buried. A gap has emerged for organic drums… musical samples that are syncopated with the beat; they just add a character and depth that’s lacking these days. It’s something we always seek to retain.’
But this isn’t bravado. Ulterior Motive aren’t too big for their boots. They still remain humble. ‘Future Cut are really great guys,’ says Greg. ‘I still can’t believe I am writing tunes with the people whose records got me into the music in the first place.’nUlterior are no strangers to the collab. With more new material on the horizon, Greg speaks of having had up to ten people in the studio working on projects at a time. James from Ulterior has recently embarked on a side project as Subjective with Goldie. What you might not know is that the pair were on Good Morning Britain last week chatting to Kate Garraway and Charlotte Hawkins over cups of tea, while perplexed housewives (and Coco Pop munching ravers who had chucked a mid week sickie) wondered what the fuck was going on.
‘Our first meeting came with Goldie came through Paul Jubei,’ recounts Greg of how it all began over a decade ago. ‘Paul was playing our tunes, which were coming out on Subtitles. We’d written a tune called ‘All that we are.’ We sent it to the A&R guy at Metalheadz, who at the time was called Chris. Goldie signed it. It went on an EP with two tunes from Alix Perez and two tunes from us. We launched it at Cable in London at a Metalheadz night there. Obviously we’d had a few drinks and it was then I got the balls to say to Chris let’s do some remixes for you. I didn’t think anything would come from it. Then on Monday a message from Chris ‘I’ve got the parts, get in the studio.’ We were getting texts from Friction going ‘whatever you do don’t fuck it up’. We left Subtitles and put out ‘Right Here’ on headz. Then Goldie said, “I want an album.” Let me tell you, it doesn’t get any more certified than doing an album on Metalheadz.’
Goldie may be Lord of All but it might be fair to say he’s a rogue firestarter who can’t help but creep up on his protogees mid-set to tweak a few buttons and have a little mix. If I was the Founding Father of all Creation, I’d no doubt do the same. So how do you cope with a beautiful, ideas crazy, record label boss juggernaut invading the stage?This question makes Greg laugh.
‘The first time it happened was the Jubei album launch. We were on a boat. Goldie gave us the team talk before telling us not to play too techy. We went on and smashed it proper Detroit and it went off. Then it was “Let’s ‘av a go then boys!” The rest is history.’
‘Next time it was at Dimensions in Croatia for our album launch. It was going really well. So guess who wanted a go. We were going full pelt, the crowd was loving it. We were running, it was rolling… then Goldie hops on and drops a reggae tune out of the blue. The crowd still loved it, but, well.. let’s just say it was certainly a change of pace. We thought on our feet and countered with Dom & Roland’s ‘Original Jah’ because of its reggae intro. It worked. It’s all banter… fun and games at the end of the day.’
With the European festival season in full swing right now, there’s no down time right now. Ulterior Motive are clocking in Poland’s Audio River festival and Belgium’s Tomorrowlands all within the same weekend, as well as Czech Republic’s drum and bass colossus Let it Roll to name but a few of the events that are the prelude to their upcoming Australian and New Zealand tour.
It all sounds like hard work. Surely a holiday wouldn’t go amiss? ‘Actually I went to Sardinia a bit ago,’ says Greg. ‘This time round it was just to chill. It was nice to visit San Teodoro [the gorgeous beachside village that hosts September’s week long Sun and Bass festival] and hang out on La Cinta and el Faro.’ Sounds like the complete opposite of the last time Ulterior Motive went there. Their 2014 album launch was at Bal Harbour, possibly one of the world’s most beautiful open air venues. Palm trees, loungers, decks and a sound system next to a villa overlooking a picture perfect pool. There;s a famous ‘island’ in the middle of the pool, where many a musician has played spine-tingling sets, seemingly afloat on the water.
‘At the time, I think it was the biggest event that had ever gone down there,’ reminisces Greg. ‘We had DRS and SP:MC. And somehow managed to land [hip hop don] Jeru the Damaja and Cleveland Watkiss on top. It was one of the most amazing and surreal experiences of my career. Everyone busted out their alter egos. Freddy played an alternative garage set. Jubei played an 80s funk mix. It was great.’
But who was on the little island in the middle of the swimming pool?
‘It was some German dude. Absolutely going for it. Doing the river dance. You know like when they kick their feet up? He was dancing from the minute he got there til the very end. It sure looks like it consumes a lot of energy. But fuck it, he definitely looked like he was having a great time!’
Kicking off in Melbourne on 3 August, Ulterior Motive are playing five dates in Australia and three dates in New Zealand as part of their upcoming tour. Check out www.chemistrytouring.com for more. GDNCE003 out now on Guidance records.