Saul Milton and Will Kennard on generational shifts within DNB…
At this point, Chase & Status are beyond a household name, they’re a national treasure. Saul Milton and Will Kennard are the DNB trailblazers with a career spanning two decades and a fanbase comprised of millions of ravers.
Often spinning rhythm-forward tracks that resonate with every generation, Chase & Status are famed for their live performances. But what does a DNB duo do when their world is locked down, decks are unplugged, and live music is (temporarily) no longer?
They dig deeper. So deep, that they end up right at their own genesis. ‘What Came Before’ is Chase & Status’ sixth studio album, marking a return to their original junglist sound, whilst still pushing the boundaries of drum ‘n’ bass. Tipping in aspects of grime, dance, and rap into a whole host of rave-ready tunes, the duo seem to just keep getting better and we Can’t Get Enough. It’s a sweet life, dear reader.
Despite having had such an enormous impact upon music, it’s clear the pair are still very much in the thick of it, always looking for ways to keep audiences on their toes and expand their musical landscape.
Clash chats to Chase & Status about their thriving evolution, alongside misheard lyrics, spearheading women in music, and their developing creative process.
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When I first heard ‘Blind Faith’ in my early teenage years, I thought the lyrics were “ooh sexy Shaun” and not “sweet sensa-tion.” Have you had any other misheard lyrics, a.k.a mondegreens?
Will: I’ll tell you what’s annoying, is we did a big song called ‘Time’ with a singer called Delilah, and there’s a line in it in which she says “I’m stuck here, suffocating.” It’s a nice line, but Radio One every time they play it think she’s saying “I’m fucking suffocating,” so they mute it out. Even at Big Weekend, which we played two weeks ago, they fucking edited the whole thing out.
Saul: 11 years deep and it’s still fucking wrong.
So ‘What Came Before’ is about returning to your roots. Do you have any thoughts on how DNB is continuing to develop as a scene since your beginnings?
Saul: It’s a weird one to answer because every five years someone says to us, “Jungle is making a comeback” when it’s never gone; it’s never left. We’ve been doing this for 20 years next year, and people like Andy C will have been doing it for 30 years next year… The scene is incredibly strong and always will be, with or without the big players, I believe.
In 2018/2019 we did ‘RTRN II JUNGLE’ which now is like three or four years old, and I think that title in itself as well dictates where we thought music should go. It’s amazing to see such rejuvenation in the scene itself. But I guess I have a little bit of umbrage when you see all these articles talking about “drum ‘n’ bass is back” but people like us, SHY FX, Sub Focus… countless people have not taken their foot off the gas for a long time. We’ve been making big vocal tunes for a long time, so I’m always glad to see DNB and jungle in a positive light in the press, and the media, on the radio, and in people’s ears – it’s always exciting. But what’s really exciting is that the new age of producers from all genres is now able to tap into drum ‘n’ bass and jungle. There are so many resources online that you’re able to get samples and get beats a lot easier than when we started. It’s much more instant now. So I would hope that the future is looking very bright.
I think social media has markedly accelerated access to drum ‘n’ bass and jungle. Younger generations seem to be picking up DNB from social media rather than from going to raves and in-person.
Will: There’s also a natural cycle of new artists, like, groups of artists coming through at the same time. Obviously, when those moments happen, there’s a lot more activity. There’s a lot of excitement, there are always interesting stories to write about new people, and obviously, then those new people work for a few years and become less new. It takes time for another group to come in with a slightly different sound. And I definitely think we were part of a sound and a movement when we came on the scene (with Pendulum and Sub Focus – that kind of era)… and right now you’ve got this group of young people, like you said, a lot of social media people coming from a different angle. People like Nia Archives coming from a very jungle-y angle, and Sherelle… they’re all in a similar group riding a wave now, so suddenly it’s a real talking point again because there’s these new stars on the scene representing a new generation. So it does happen in waves, I guess, in terms of who’s new and who’s exciting. But yeah, we’re loving it.
As Saul mentioned, that return to the jungle-y sound we love because that’s where the soul is in the music for us. And I think that album ‘RTRN II JUNGLE’ was us telling ourselves to get back to that soul of drum ‘n’ bass. Bring it back into that realm of where it actually came from, that’s what’s it about. I love hearing Nia Archives and Sherelle and all these people just playing bonkers music to quite big commercial crowds – really bonkers jungle music. There’s drum ‘n’ bass and jungle like General Levy… and then there’s totally nuts breakbeat hardcore that’s just mad-sounding. And they were going for that and I love it. I think it’s amazing.
Saul: I think an important point as well for the artists you mentioned and also the Tiktok artists that have blown, like PinkPantheress and Piri – I think if you say to them, “Hey guys, are you familiar with Adam F’s ‘Circles’?” They’d be like, “No?”, but PinkPantheress’ biggest tune is taking ‘Circles’ and singing on it. They’re finding these things online and falling in love with them.
But I think what a more interesting point than the peaks and troughs of Drum and Bass, is that all the artists we both mentioned between us are female. That is a really important and exciting movement. And they’re not getting bogged down in anything. They’re getting embraced for it, and I think that is truly exciting. I think the DNB/jungle scene needed it. I think all the scenes need it. There needs to be a massive prevalence of the rise of women who’ve been overlooked and underpaid for many, many years. Not to say that drum ‘n’ bass hasn’t had its fair share of incredible women – Storm, Flight, Jenna G – I mean, we could talk for hours, but the main figureheads now who are really exciting and on the cusp of everyone’s lips, from Clash Magazine to DJ Mag, to Mixmag, is definitely the females. I think that is starting to be embraced and cherished.
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You’re evolving your sound by going back to your roots. Do you find that evolution comes naturally to you?
Will: Evolution is staying current and staying relevant. As you get years behind you in a career, it’s really important to stay current and not resist it. I remember hearing Giggs, who’s a friend of ours, answer in an interview, after someone said, “how do you stay relevant?” and it’s the best answer I’ve ever heard. He said, “Just don’t be a hater.” Because it’s so easy when you come from an era, or you own a sound or a style, that when the new wave happens, you immediately get quite defensive because you’re like, “Nah, this isn’t really the way I do it.” It may be even a threat to you, and you maybe don’t understand it as much. He’s always had this attitude just don’t hate the kids coming through. Even if it’s different, even if you don’t really understand it, or maybe you don’t love it, just respect it and embrace it.
It resonated because we’ve had that attitude as well. I hate hearing people go, “it’s not the same as it used to be” or “back in the day, it was so much better…” We hate that attitude. Because the minute you say that you’re done. No one cares about that attitude. Kids don’t care, the new people are doing it their way. It will always be a bit different, that’s about how it evolves. To find the kind of magic in that is, for us, inspirational. We hear little bits of what these new kids are doing. We can say “ah that’s interesting, they’ve flipped it and done it like this.” So I think that’s how we try and evolve and stay relevant. I love that line, just don’t be a hater. We’ll borrow that from Giggs.
Saul: On a personal level, Will and I as individuals make a lot of different styles of music. It’s great to be rooted in DNB, having careers making strictly DNB, and in that ilk. But Will and I have branched out for many, many years, making all kinds of dubstep, garage, pop, rap, you name it. For us as well, we’re looking at the new and exciting kids release DNB. All this new wave of drum and bass is very exciting and cool sounding. As well as listening to that and those influences we also draw inspiration from other scenes we love (and always have done) , be it house, techno, garage, drill, or rap… we love to bring it all together. And I think that by being aware of what’s going on: how rap has changed so much over the last five years; the rise of drill; how UK music is now worldwide; having an understanding and knowledge and hopefully, a passion for that; has influenced Will and me and how we hopefully stay relevant and ideally try and push things forward.
So you remain authentically yourselves by continuing to be inspired by different things. What else did you discover and learn from delving back into the past?
Will: We talk about headspace a lot. We were definitely trying to rediscover the headspace we were in when we wrote our first album. Obviously, your first album is so unique because there’s not much expectation. You’re purely doing something out of instinct, passion, love, and fun. You don’t know where it’s going. It’s not a career yet properly. And in some ways, it’s the most spontaneous magical music you write.
Obviously, after that, you get success as an artist and it’s difficult to maintain that headspace because you suddenly have money involved and lots of other vested interests and pressure, and fans expect things from you… You start to go mad. All artists will find it’s like trying to second guess everything, to please everyone, but telling yourself not to please everyone. We’ve got to a really special place now where this is our sixth album, and I think me and Saul just looked at our careers and thought, “we don’t need to worry about that anymore. Let’s remember what it was like to make music just purely off instinct.” In a way, the lockdown gave us that space, as well as touring less frantically. It was a time to think about the magic of making British music for the love of it and what that feels like. So that’s where the title came from, I guess: “what came before”. What was it that got us to do this in the first place? We took all those experiences and remembered that and tried to try to do something original and move forward.
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Did you create all the tracks fresh for the album, or did you redevelop any early demos? Some seemed to be siblings of the tracks that came before, like ‘Don’t Be Scared’ really reminded me of ‘No Problem’.
Will: Well spotted! I mean, funnily enough, that vocal was recorded around 10 years ago. We all loved it, we tried a million versions, and nothing really sounded that right. That was the one that we sort of found again on an old hard drive and thought, come on, there’s gotta be a way of making this work. Takura, the vocalist was instrumental on that first album, so again, it was nice to bring him and that vibe back. But I think nearly all of the actual tracks were fresh, original ideas, maybe apart from that one. It came from so many different time points originally. Like all of our music, you know, is made up of millions of iterations of versions. Some songs end up with 28 versions, some are completely different to start with and lots of collabs happened.
What’s your prime set-up? Do you have any holy grail pieces of kit?
Will: We’re really software based at the moment. We’ve got a lovely studio in central London. Because of lockdown we’ve been working on the fly a lot, really, from homes and working remotely and on the road and stuff. It’s probably fair to say we’re both quite laptop-based. Lots of software. We actually use different software sometimes when we’re making music separately, and then we’ll come together and use one or the other. I just use Ableton really. I still live and breathe Ableton. We use that very much in our live shows.
Saul: I’m still deep-rooted in the past. I’m on Cubase. Actually saying that other drum ‘n’ bass producers like Bladerunner still do, but all the other 1000 producers I’ve met in the last 10 years have never even bloody heard of Cubase. I actually use an M1 Mac Mini rather than a laptop. I’m that annoying git in a studio session like “I need an HDMI plug for this”. We’ve obviously been using Kontakt for a lifetime. I still use it all the time now.
Will: You’ve been using Fruity Loops a bit as well.
Saul: We’re making a load of drill and a lot of other stuff for other artists. So we basically made about, I don’t know, 50 or 100 drill beats over the last few months and the way those guys really manipulate the 808s for the sliding bass sound – like the really distinct sound was in Fruity Loops. So from someone who doesn’t like change, I’ve been like learning how to use FL as well as using my Cubase, which is fucking long. Some would say just use one or the other, mate, but to get that specific sound, you need both. So, yeah, same old forever. You could look at interviews from 20 years ago, and I’m still using Cubase and Kontakt.
I also see the big beat vibes of The Prodigy that we see in your earlier works. Did you have any other influences for this album alongside your early selves?
Saul: Prodigy had an influence on every record we’ve ever made. They are our biggest influence, and of course, ‘Go’ is ultimately a sort of homage to them. ‘5 am’ I guess is nodding to them, but really, it’s more of a reminder of what we used to be doing in 1995 at 5 am. It’s that kind of late-night vibe.
We’re basically inspired by everything that inspired us to start with. So before we wrote our first record before we got our first computer to make beats, before I picked up the guitar and played horrific guitar music back in the day, right. Before all of that stuff. What was it that inspired us? What was that era that we heard that made us go “wow”? You can hear snippets of it in the record. In a weird way, it kind of brings you back up to date, when you get to ‘Censor’ with Popcaan & IRAH. We started off with a dancehall record, wrote a DNB tune around it, and here we are, which is why the beat sounds like a combination of the early stuff, but new stuff. It’s hard to pinpoint exact influences for us; we have such a big melting pot of things we’ve been into for many years.
It’s almost like a continuum. Do you remember the first time you heard The Prodigy?
Will: Yeah, definitely sort of accidentally. I was probably like 13 or 14, coming across pirate radio stations by accident. Hearing rave music probably for the first time from this kind of illegal weird output without really understanding what a pirate radio station was, I was suddenly questioning, “oh, my god, is this even allowed? it sounds so sketchy”, but also just being so ridiculously intrigued. And this true underground nature of music is before they really became huge. That era was very early days with jungle and hardcore and stuff. And obviously, with the lack of information, it kind of makes you sort of hungrier to find out the secret world that exists. It was just so fascinating, really. I think it’s the kind of music that your Mum doesn’t like, isn’t it? It’s the same now, you know, if your Mum gets it, you don’t like it.
Saul: But hopefully, we’re breaking that rule. Will now is sitting in Glasgow. We’ve been doing like 11 regional shows around the last week to promote the album. They’ve been earlier shows and shorter and they’ve been all ages, because we’ve got younger fans who don’t want to come to a nightclub. There’s been ranges of ages from 60s to 16s and everything in between. So hopefully we’re breaking this rule that if your mum likes it you don’t like it. When we played Koko we did a signing beforehand. We must have met at least 12 couples of mums and sons who are there together. We had one who’d bought the first album, and one who’d bought the sixth. It’s quite a surreal thing to see.
For me personally, I’ve got an older sister who’s six years older than me and I heard a lot of music through a wall growing up. Weird things like Achiba the unmentionable R Kelly to The Prodigy. For me ‘Out Of Space’ would definitely have been the first one I heard. I remember seeing the video for ‘Charly’ with the animation on it, which was a safety talk about not talking to strangers. I remember thinking it looked interesting, but sounded crazy. The visuals were interesting. It was a little cartoon kid and it was weird music but it made a lot of questions come into my head that I’ve still not answered now. I’m still searching for those answers, I guess.
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I got into drum ‘n’ bass through mates and warehouse raves in the early ’10s. Growing up in working-class communities, phones weren’t really that common. Everyone was in the moment. Is this the energy you’re looking to recapture with your phone-free raves?
Will: They kind of almost happened by accident. When we did our album cover artwork, we wanted to put on this rave to create this content. Everyone was very aware of what was going on. Obviously, we couldn’t have phones in this photo, so we decided not to do phones and to just keep it quite special and intimate. The feedback from the night itself was insane. We were like, “wow, there’s a mad energy there.” Partly because people knew they were part of this artwork. But every comment afterwards online was that it just added such a unique thing, not having anyone on phones distracted. I couldn’t believe the feedback. That’s obviously where the idea came from. We just thought smaller shows particularly worked well for that. That’s why we sort of did this regional tour to take that experience that we did in London for the artwork around the country. I know lots of promoters now talking about doing it. I think people are desperate to get away from their phones a bit more, particularly in that setting.
Who are some drum ‘n’ bass artists you’ve been loving recently?
Saul: I’ve loved Bou for a long time. There’s also one tune I like it so much I’m always bigging it up – there’s a track called ‘False Start’ by this artist called Hal. And I love it. I actually had the same sample that they used in it but I never used it. I personally love seeing shit like that – when I know the source but someone flipped in such an interesting way and it’s it sounds fresh. It sounds really modern. I absolutely love it.
Will: There are a lot of good drum ‘n’ bass producers, amd from the jungle scene as well. People like Sully and Tim Reaper are doing amazing things as well.
Saul: Obviously Nia [Archives]. A friend of ours’ got a label called Deep Jungle and they’ve been releasing the most authentic jungle for years and they’re really starting to take off now. They also release old classic tunes of artists that haven’t been released before. Definitely check it out if you’re into your authentic, authentic jungle.
We love trying to merge genres. Drum ‘n’ bass and hip-hop and stuff have always gone hand in hand in some ways. Whether it’s the established guys like Dave and Stormzy, or the new drill coming through I think there’s a really exciting chance to merge those genres. I think British music did that well in the past. It’s such a melting pot. It naturally happens, doesn’t it? That’s how drum ‘n’ bass formed because you’ve got so many different bonkers genres and cultures and styles all close together that you get these interesting collaborations. I’d definitely like to put more hip hop and rap and drill and stuff into our world. I think that’s exciting.
‘Mixed Emotions’ has taken off recently. Why do think this is the one that people love?
Will: It’s a great song isn’t it.
Saul: Clem [Douglas] smashed it, didn’t she, Will. She wrote a great topline. – Will: Yeah, she wrote a great topline. We liked it because her voice has something very kind of British 90s R&B singer, and that sound has worked well in the past with like, UK garage and drum and bass. I don’t know, for us, it just sounded very kind of British actually. We get sent lots of pop vocals to work with and most of them are meaningless, generic, gibberish – just pick a word and sing about it sort of thing. I just think there’s depth to what she’s saying. And it’s a nice simple idea, but it definitely is heartfelt. That song resonated, for whatever reason. And so it’s great that it wasn’t just our instinct, and actually, other people seem to really love it. And again, it’s the sad-happy song. It’s kind of got an uplifting feel, but it’s kind of sad what she’s saying. And so I love that too. I think that always works for us so well – the sad happy thing.
Saul: I think it sounds a lot like us. So when we were making the album, it was during a period when we weren’t able to go out and test the music. What we’ve done for an entire career for 20 years is we’ll make a tune, we’ll go out tonight, one of us will play it and be like, “sounded terrible”, or “sounded amazing”. Then we’ll gather if it works, tweak it, do this now, take out a few more demos and by the time it’s given to other DJs, we know if it works or not. Ideally, it does. So we made all these tunes blind during the lockdown, hoping they work well on the dance floor. We had none of our previous trials and errors.
When we first were lucky enough to start playing out immediately in July last year, from the first show up until even tonight’s show, [‘Mixed Emotions’] was the song we got an immediately great reaction, hands in the air, people started dancing… And that was an incredibly good sign for us and a relief that all the stuff we’ve been making in our studios, locked away not even seeing each other in person – wow, it’s working. This is one of the songs of this record that we had hoped would connect because it’s a timing thing. We came out of all this madness, and didn’t want to escape. Everyone’s in a bit of a sad place lately… mixed emotions conjures up a lot of feelings coming out of lockdown.
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The video certainly creates that sense of joy and freedom found after being isolated. Do you think the pandemic changed the music you’re making? Did you crave creating a sense of freedom even more?
Will: We almost ended up writing a really chilled-out easy listening record. We had to be quite strict about remembering who we are, what the world is actually like, and what people are doing. When the music video came around, the label pitched us loads of ideas, and a lot of them were overcomplicated narratives and trying to be too clever. Femi Ladi – the director – is just so sick and also did the ‘My Family’ video, which won an award for Pa Salieu. And he came to us and said, “Look, I just want to shoot this video”. He gave us a concept, which is essentially a girls’ night out, and it gets edgier and edgier obviously as she gets more into it. He said it’s one of those nights where everything happens, and nothing actually happens. And it’s so true. The big nights when you’re young – you go out with your team, and it’s a mad rave and there’s a pre-party, after-party, you’re in the car, you meet loads of randoms… it’s so epic. And it’s sort of like a mini-movie, nothing’s really happened. All you’ve done is just gone into the club and danced a bit. But in that moment, it’s everything to you. And you wake up and go “Fackin’ ‘ell that was massive.” It really summed up that feeling of when you’ve had a great night – how everything has happened, but nothing’s really happened.
Saul: I think nostalgia, generally in life, is very important. Everyone from every facet of everything is looking back to the great years, or “my team back in the 80s mate, trust me” or “while I was drinking in 2001, mate, trust me…” It’s always about them. You always want to try and reach nostalgia in your music so people have that familiar feeling. But the aim is to not just be so fast in nostalgia that you’re making music that sounds like 20 years ago. In order to create something that’s hopefully futuristic-sounding, or the sound of now, but can still harken back to those emotions and feelings and make you resonate with how you work them, but not hearing something that sounds exactly the same. I think the video really added to that. The video gave me that nostalgic feeling of going into The End (club) back in the day and being maybe slightly inebriated and a bit silly or whatever, and falling in love with this music and being like, “I want to do this for a living.” So I think everything is baked in nostalgia.
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‘What Came Before’ is out now.
Words: Gem Stokes
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