Break & Enter: Protein turns one

Protein turns 1 this week, and to celebrate, are putting on a beefed up version of their now essential weekly night. Risk talks to one half of the Break & Enter crew, Ben Marshall about the night and drum and bass in Sydney.

So Protein is one year old, now, how does that make you feel?

Nervous about the long term condition of mine and Shuey’s livers heh-heh… It makes us pretty pleased to be honest – we’re stoked there’s been such an enthusiastic response to drum and bass in our home area we love so much. The music in Newtown has been universally mind-bogglingly god-awful since we moved here from Perth 4 or so years ago – it seemed like a no-brainer to have a free night with decent dance music here and thankfully a lot of really lovely people over the last year thought likewise.

You’ve achieved a fair bit in Sydney with your other club night Moving Through Air, Protein and your radio show Velocity. Did you expect to come so far in Sydney in such a short time?

That’s kind of you to say – we’re up to our necks in so much dnb related activity that we don’t often take the time to reflect and think about what we’ve done in what amount of time. It can feel like you’re permanently on fast-forward, always looking towards the next thing. I think we’ve probably done about as much as we possibly could in the time we’ve had here, so it’s nice that it’s lead to where we are – it might easily not have done. Everyone in Perth thought we were crazy leaving a great scene we’d helped build to move to a town not known for dnb at all, but we’re incredibly happy we moved. We passionately want good quality drum and bass to be as deeply loved by as many people as possible in Sydney – MTA, Protein and Velocity are the main ways we get it out there but there is still a lot to be done in Sydney. We’re always thinking about how much more needs to happen rather than how much we’ve done. We love living in here and simply want to make sure we’re living somewhere we get to hear good music and help a constructive talented scene grow – so we’re just pleased Sydney’s liked what we’ve been doing to the extent it has.

What have you got in store for the birthday bash? Copius drinking is a given, but what else is on the cards?

We’re beefing up the sound quite a bit, getting in some ace lighting and going well past a sane Thursday night bedtime… Our pick of Sydney’s best dnb DJs are going to play some decent length sets and shine – Eli, Tiddwell, Ed Gee, Shuey, Ryan Lazy (always a big fanbase of his at Protein), Styles and B.Hopps. We get to do a lot of dnb CD launches at Protein too, so there’ll be a few CDs and posters etc given away. The main thing for us is going to be the atmosphere! There’s been such a wicked loyal following to the night that we’re getting a mite tingly thinking of the party to celebrate it all…

Protein is renowned for giving new DJ’s a shot behind the decks alongside the more established local selectors, as well as the punter-focused “Roll Your Own” nights. Dudes like Ryan Lazy have started to build themselves a good rep, which is pretty good for the scene isn’t it?

It is and Ryan has been absolutely kicking down there – he’s a great DJ with a sensational knack for whipping up a crowd. Because Moving Through Air is only a few times a year, we don’t get the chance to trial as many new DJs as we’d like there. Protein’s the perfect spot to see what someone can do playing out to a room that’s not necessarily full of all their friends. A demo CD is important to display some skills but it doesn’t tell us if you can deal with a crowd or change tack according to a crowd’s reaction. Protein’s a pretty low-pressure gig too, it’s a place to get your dnb fix with cheap beer and when the dance floor arcs up, great – but we’re not hammering to crowd to get jiggy on the tables every week.

This also goes to the heart of one of my main complaints about the current Sydney drum and bass scene – it’s really hard for DJs who aren’t promoters to get a decent set. Mostly the line-ups are very heavily crew oriented and newcomers very rarely get a look in. The line-ups that aren’t so crew oriented are often so long and all-inclusive that DJs get 30mins in a back-to-back session that makes it very hard to see what they’re really capable of. I’d be pretty frustrated if I was an upcoming dnb DJ in Sydney. You really shouldn’t have to be a promoter to get a gig – but Eli is the only non-crew based DJ I can think of offhand who regularly gets bookings. Eli’s an incredible talent and fully deserves this but guys like Ryan Lazy, Beatnik, Styles and to a lesser extent Ed Gee (who’s got a pretty established rep) and others like them should be getting booked a lot more than they are.

Protein can’t counterbalance this but hopefully it opens a few more doors. I have to say too, Sydney dnb DJs haven’t been as forthcoming about wanting gigs as I’d expected – we’d leave a gig in Perth with bag full of demo tapes and for the first crazy year of MTA at the Hunter Bar in 01/02, I think we got maybe three demos – one was Ed Gee’s and we booked him straightaway. The keenness has picked up though (I can also understand a level of why-botherism on the DJs part).

If anyone’s keen to crack the dnb DJ scene my advice would be (others may have different takes on it):

Make the effort to do demo CDs for the night you want to play at. Your house of horrors Renegade Hardware blitz-fest mix isn’t going to get you a set at musical dnb night – no matter how much you emphasise the fact that you “buy the mellow stuff too” – and vice versa, if you give your Bukem homage mix to the Death By Bass guys then don’t expect a call…Turn up to the gigs you want to play at and stay around at the gigs you do get booked for. The less you look like you care about the gig, the less the promoter’s going to care about you.Be prepared to do, and prepare for, warm-up and late sets – your job’s going to be hooking and/or holding a floor. If you can do that, you’re valuable (try rigging it – bring all your friends down and make it look like you sent the place mental from the first mix).

Essentially though, more promoters (both established and new) need to be less clannish and tribal about their line-ups – if Sydney’s dnb scene is serious about going the distance it needs to be capable of giving real chances for genuine talent to come through. There’s a considerable danger of stagnation if it’s all just about defending your mate’s set-time turf. Phew! Rant over… been meaning to say all that for ages…

You and Shuey have been pushing for more local production to come through. Who has impressed you the most, and what hopes do you have for the future?

Ed Gee has blitzed us with his recent “Doodlebug” track – my favourite thing to come out of Sydney so far and Vice Versa’s remix of Wicked Beat Sound System’s “Dis Sound” is sensational and I think is Shuey’s favourite Sydney dnb track to date. Ritual’s got it going on too both his solo production (his “81” track in the Nokia comp is ace) + his work with ALF as Rollers Music – their remix of Tiddwell and Tewe’s “Need to Know” was class. ALF’s a great producer, not overly prolific on the dnb side of things but what he does do is top stuff. Tiddwell and Tewe are names to keep an ear out for – I think they’ll be writing an A-grade killer next year, Freddy Fred is also right up there – always pleased to be given a new CD from him and he deeply impressed UK production golden boy Breakage this year. I think Than will nail things next year too, as will Mischief Maker.

There’s a host of people out there working at it and getter closer and closer to getting their sounds nailed down. What I hope is that a real culture of competitive production takes hold – where people can make a tune and hear it on FBi’s Velocity or 2SER’s Rollers Music, hear it at gigs and other producers get the fire to top it, kicking in a cycle and a high workrate.

There has been a tendency in Australia to undermine high standards by praising music that isn’t up to scratch simply because it’s Australian – you can see it happening in Oz hip hop now. I hope that sort of thing doesn’t take hold in the dnb scene here. You shouldn’t get mileage or go looking for props because you’re a Sydney dnb producer, you should get mileage because you are a brilliant dnb producer full stop. Be real about your work – after all, it’s going to be played next to (and you should be able to hear it alongside) Calibre, Break, Pendulum, Subfocus, D-Bridge, MIST etc – it’s got to be good.

The Sly Fox seems to have a pretty good thing going on, with people like you guys and the Hi-Jinks crew putting on some rather wicked parties. All the crews seem to congregate on Thursday nights and the free, local aspect of your nights is building up a good community feel. Thoughts?

I think decent electronic dance music in Newtown (which has great community vibe anyway) was a stunningly obvious move – the miracle was that it hadn’t happened sooner. The Sly Fox was right around the corner from Shuey’s, had cheap beer, decks and a sound system – what’s not to like? Simon Hi Jinks is a regular at Protein and was very quick off the mark after we started Protein and they’ve been kicking it with their techier sounds – it’s great to see. Things in Newtown are getting mildly better with the Fox and now Frigid having relocated but turgid rock rules the juke boxes of the bigger pubs (Blind Melon at the Town Hall is a particular bane of my visits there). It’s criminal how bad most of the music in the area is given how ace the place otherwise is and how many students + generally dance music loving young people live in the area.

Protein’s essentially a rip-off of a night in Perth that ran on Tuesdays at the Hyde Park Hotel – it was the only real time promoters and DJs could talk to one another without the stress of running their own gig, trying to talk over 10K of sound or resisting the urge to dance. It was a really important meeting point for everyone – and it allowed you to flyer everyone in one place heh-heh. Protein’s been great for the same reasons – you don’t have to be a hardcore head to enjoy the night at all but it’s a wicked place to catch the headz, talk shop or just have a natter.

What have been some of your favourite moments at Protein? Mine would have to have been Breakage’s first appearance back last year. That was dope.

It was fantastic having Breakage in town for so long and loved giving him a send-off like that. My favourite would have to be my birthday at the April special this year – we were totally unprepared for the massive queue and had to clear out more than half the tables to make room for the noisy dancefloor… The vibe was more like a Moving Through Air than a free pub gig. Beatnik played a killer set (from what I remember…) and when Shuey got the crowd to sing happy birthday I was mightily chuffed. The first Roll Your Own with everyone so amped about their 15 minutes on the decks was electric too – my first and only time behind the decks and I forget about the crossfader… luckily Shuey was there to restore sound to the place after several heart-lurching moments of slience… The Newtown Festival Sunday session was a blast too – couldn’t have been much more buzzing. I also love it that folks can email us from the US, Scotland or Czech Republic saying they’re coming over for a holiday and can they spin some tunes? We’ve had this happen a few times, they send us a CD, we check it out and if it’s our cup of tea – they’ve got a gig. The really cool connections you make with complete strangers from the other side of the world just because you both dig this music with fast breaks and heavy bass is a bit of a trip…

Be sure to check out Protein at the Sly Fox on Enmore Rd this Thursday, December 2nd. For more info check out ITM Whatson HERE.