To have your music played to a global audience of 27 million people probably isn’t considered a realistic goal by many drum and bass artists.
The fact that Welsh born DJ and producer High Contrast (real name Lincoln Barrett) was given this opportunity with his role in creating music for the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony evidently shows that there is a quality to his music that appeals to a far wider audience than the D’n’B scene alone – a scene that has its roots in U.K. rave history, typically more synonymous with illegal warehouse parties than the International Olympic Committee.
“It was a fantastic experience but slightly surreal,” says Barrett. “I was just making tunes the way I normally do, but in the back of my mind I was aware that what I did would be heard by a billion people. The only brief I had to follow was that the music be driving and uplifting but without being too intense or rhythmically difficult. It was for the Athletes’ Parade when all the nations of the world come out for a lap of the stadium, so I just tried to make them all feel like Rocky.”
The music he made for the ceremony was not the 160-180 bpm drum and bass made with the dancefloor in mind that High Contrast will be bringing to Vancouver’s Celebrities Nightclub on March 13th, but retained the uplifting atmospheric sound that he has become famous for.
Barrett began releasing music as High Contrast in 2001 through London’s Hospital Records, and has worked predominantly with them ever since. Having put four albums together over this time, he has decided after completing The Agony and The Ecstasy in 2012 to work primarily on self contained singles. “The last album took me so long to finish and release, I just want to get my music out faster for a while at least,” he explains. This shift in focus began with the release of “Spectrum Analyser” in early February, and it seems immediately apparent that the movement towards a faster rate of production is something we should be pretty excited about.
The single, a rolling cacophony of epic synth hooks and powerful breakbeats, is accompanied by a fantastically glitchy video that borders on the psychedelic. Made by Barrett himself, it throws countless 8-bit and 16-bit video game references together with wildlife shots of eagles, wolves and bears that have been given carefree pixellated colour treatment. At one point towards the end of the four and a half minutes, we see a lion running through a field collecting gold rings before tackling Street Fighter’s Blanka. “[It] took a lot of time and effort but came out as something I’m really proud of,” says Barrett. “It’s a homage to the computer games I played as a kid, as is the single.” The speed and absurd style of the editing in the video, with shots that bleed into one another and a heavy focus on movement, suit the single perfectly – you couldn’t imagine a more fitting accompaniment to High Contrast’s euphoric synth lines and frantic drum breaks even if it gave you time to.
The sheer quantity of references to different video games and mashup of different images is also an aspect of the “Spectrum Analyser” video that seems to sit well with drum ’n’ bass in general – a genre that is born out of sampling from a huge variety of musical sources to create an overwhelmingly physical sound that packs a punch greater than the sum of its parts. “It is the bastard son of a thousand musical fathers,” says Barrett. “Drum and bass is perhaps the most malleable of genres as it has no one defining sound, it is only characterized by a certain tempo range, a general emphasis on bass line and drum pattern as the name would suggest and then some unquantifiable ‘vibe’. After that, anything is possible really, you can adapt any kind of sound you like from jazz to rock to reggae.” This attitude seems to have played a major role in Barrett’s musical output, with remixes of artists from Stevie Nicks to The Streets peppering his sets. Having been part of a hardcore band before turning on to drum and bass music, he clearly has no issue with translating from one genre to another to create that ‘unquantifiable vibe’: “I just make whatever I’m feeling at that moment, it’s a process outside of the intellect, it’s instinctual. But I do seem to have a recurring theme in my work. There is a combination of the uplifting and the melancholy that I can hear through most of my output. I guess it is some reflection of my outlook on life.”
High Contrast plays at Celebrities Nightclub, Vancouver on March 13th.
By Andy SolomanBC, British Columbia