Best Of British: Best Breakthrough Producers - Instra:Mental | Skip to main content

Best Of British: Best Breakthrough Producers - Instra:Mental

Best Of British: Best Breakthrough Producers - Instra:Mental

The Second Coming: the finest d&b seduction

'Breakthrough' producers of the year Instra:Mental may be, yet Damon Kirkham and Alex Green are no overnight success story. For the first records bearing the Instra:Mental  imprint emerged a decade ago at the end of the 1990s when the pair embarked upon a series of collaborations with Source Direct for the Demonic label, bringing them a taste of money, success and the temptations of both.

"Record sales were a lot better back then so suddenly we had all these cheques coming back for thousands of pounds every few months," Damon remembers. "We were very young and thought we were really rock & roll so we just partied far too hard and quickly burned out."

Recently, a new Instra:Mental phoenix began to emerge from those previous hedonistic ashes however - older and wiser but into a much different world. Whereas their first records had been created at what Damon calls the 'high watermark' of experimental drum & bass - a time when producers like Photek and Boymerang were bending the music into bafflingly intricate new forms - when Damon and Alex stepped back into the studio four years ago they were faced with a scene which, as Damon puts it, "was stuck in this weird loop. The experimental stuff that you could listen to at home had been lost and people were just copying each other and making music purely for the dancefloor. We didn't listen to any drum & bass for ages because there were simply a million better records in other genres instead."

In fact, the duo might not have returned to drum & bass at all had they not heard a couple of sets from D-Bridge, whose unique and innovative productions both sounded thrillingly fresh and recalled some of the music's older and more adventurous attitudes to their ears. That's something Instra:Mental have themselves attempted to capture in their own subsequent recordings, from 2007's 'Comanche' on Darkestral Recordings to their most recent 12" 'Wonder Where/No Future' on their own Nonplus Recordings label.

"We thought about where we could take it that was different from what other people were doing and also how we could inject some other forms of electronic music into it," Damon explains. "Everyone else was using breaks at the time so we got back on the drum machines and we tried to work some Warp Records-style glitchiness into a drum & bass tempo. We also set ourselves a 'speed limit' of 170 bpm because we found it too difficult trying to programme music above that.

"People say that our music is minimal but it's not because it's emotion that's the most important element. With a tune like 'Photograph' we tried to give people a nostalgic feeling, like looking back at a photograph album of older and more carefree days."

But whilst Instra:Mental's music might hark back to the drum & bass halcyon era in some respects, Damon and Alex haven't been afraid of embracing certain aspects of the modern world. They've paid keen attention to the production techniques of dubstep, for example - even if Damon is adamant that "we're not going to jump on any dubstep bandwagon because there are too many crap dubstep tunes out there now" - with the result that they've been name-checked by the scene's elite players like Loefah and Distance, some of whom have upcoming releases on Nonplus.

Equally crucial to their success has been their Autonomic podcasts, which now have upwards of 60,000 downloads a month. Damon believes Autonomic not only appeals to new acolytes but also to members of their own older generation who have become disillusioned with drum & bass yet who are rediscovering its joys thanks to the pair's blending of their own and other Nonplus productions with influences such as Detroit techno and '80s electro on the podcasts. The very people whom Damon believes Instra:Mental have started seducing back into the clubs again and at whom their forthcoming 'Fabric: Live' mix and debut artist album are squarely aimed, as well as those whom Damon gratefully acknowledges voted them into first place in the Best of British awards.

"At the last Autonomic night the majority of the crowd were between 24 and 35, so it's probably people who had given up going out when the music changed who are checking us out again now," Damon claims.

"When a lot of DJs play out they want to see the crowd going wild - not loads of people standing around. When we first started DJing again we were clearing dancefloors but rather than playing more uptempo we stuck with our guns, and if you feed people something long enough they begin to like it and now it's totally the opposite scenario. You don't have to have a crowd with all their hands in the air going beserk to have a good night; so long as there is a crowd and they're enjoying and absorbing the music."

Mature tastes are best slowly savoured it would seem.

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