Lenzman: “The Magic is in The Blue Notes”

We talk with The North Quarter founder Lenzman about his new mini-album — A Little While Longer — his family inspirations and the current state of drum & bass.

13 min
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May 20, 2021
Chandler Shortlidge, Cameron Holbrook

Dutch maestro Lenzman is known as one of the world’s finest purveyors of deep, soulful, jazzy drum & bass. Though you might be more familiar with his Amsterdam-based label The North Quarter, which is known for its unconventional releases that tie together genres like hip hop, soul, and jazz with bass and D&B underpinnings.

Lenzman’s career started back in 2007, and he’s since released on labels like Fokuz, Spearhead, and Metalheadz, the pioneering Goldie-run imprint that’s so far released two Lenzman albums — 2019’s Bobby and 2014’s Looking at the Stars — as well as his Golden Age EP.

For his latest album, A Little While Longer, Lenzman returns to his own label, with a 13-track outing that features collaborations with Slay, Fox, DRS, Satl, Jubei, and Danny Sanchez.

It’s Lenzman’s first project on his own label in over 4 years, heavily inspired by family and especially his young children. We caught up with Lenzman to hear more, and he gets into some of the inspirations and challenges in today’s drum & bass scene.

Check out Lenzman’s latest Beatport Chart.
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Thanks for joining us! How has 2021 been treating you thus far? Anything you are looking forward to?

Thanks for having me. I’m not going to lie, 2021 has been a dark time in my life – I lost my mother a few months ago and it’s been really tough. But I’ve felt slightly better recently and I’m looking forward to the summer: having more freedom, seeing more friends and family and actually playing music to people.

It’s been four years since you released your last solo project on your label, The North Quarter. What made now the right time to return to your imprint and how does it feel to have a new “mini-album” coming out?

When I was in the middle of getting A Little While Longer together, I was thinking about my last release on the label and was a little thrown by how long it had been. I did release my second album on Metalheadz just over two years ago, so it’s not like I’ve not made any music. I just hadn’t released a project on the label.

I think it was just a question of finding the time and inspiration to write. I don’t really find writing “singles” very appealing anymore. But then, when I finish writing a bigger project, I tend to suffer from writer’s block for extended periods of time afterwards. It’s just me having to recharge my creative battery I think. But honestly, it was also a question of finding and making time.

Before Covid I was coming off my busiest time ever as a DJ as well as being a dad to two young children and trying to grow the label; it was all a bit much. I used the extra time last year to really make a push with the label and I’m extremely proud of where it is now. Then some time towards the end of autumn I started getting the bug to write again and really, I put the LP together in quite a short space of time. It’s really nice to be back on the label. The other artists have carried it for a long time, so it was time for me to make an appearance.

Can you tell us about how your friends and family helped inspire the creation of A Little While Longer? What sorts of emotions and thoughts were most prevalent in your mind while you were in the studio?

For me, being a family man now is such a big part of my life, and having children really makes you revisit your own childhood constantly and vividly. I think I’m quite a nostalgic person anyway. I have this reflective sense that I often feel with regards to music and memories of days past — rose-tinted echoes of way back when. Many of these are shared with friends and family. That feeling has always been something that I tap into when I’m in the studio, just because for me, the most beautiful pieces of music are bittersweet.

What were some of the old records that you sampled that appear on the LP? Do you have a favorite?

There are actually no samples to speak of on the original tracks on this project. I did work with a few musicians and their works I treated as samples, I also played a lot myself, made some sounds on a Novation Peak that I got last year, and worked with vocalists. I do love to sample, and that’s really where I’ve come from as a producer, but I’m just trying to stay away from it without losing the vibe you would get when sampling.

My Bobby LP was almost entirely sample-free and it just felt more rewarding to me to write music in that way, artistically and morally. I do always aim to make tracks sound like they have been sampled, to create that vintage feel and groove that I like a lot. To me the magic is often in the blue notes, in the ghost hits, the imperfections.

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You tapped quite a few artists to feature on your new LP — Slay, Fox, Satl, Jubei, and Danny Sanchez. What was it like collaborating with these artists over the pandemic? Did you find the workflow and collaborative energy shift or grow at all because of it?

I think on this project, to begin with, I was just writing music and I wasn’t sure what it was all going to be for. The track with Slay for example is one that had been a long time coming. But it was only due to some unexpected turn of events that made it end up on my project. Jubei had done the remix earlier too, he’s a good friend, but it wasn’t specifically with this project in mind. When the other tracks started coming together, I just felt like they would fit nicely and I decided to release everything as an LP.

With regards to collaborating: as I live in Amsterdam and have often collaborated with British artists over the years, I’ve kind of gotten used to the remoteness, so Covid really hasn’t changed a thing for me in that respect. It’s a bit detached and doesn’t allow for instant feedback, but I feel that can also be a positive, as there isn’t so much pressure to create something spectacular on the spot. There is time to experiment, for trial and error, which allows for things to happen that might otherwise not.

I do really enjoy working with other artists, especially vocalists. But I also enjoy working in my own personal space, without distractions. It allows me to be fully absorbed in the music, and find emotions and vibes I might not find otherwise.

You’ve been into drum & bass for over 20 years. What are your current thoughts on the state of drum & bass? What are some of the things that excite you the most about the scene in 2021? Are there aspects of it that you find equally frustrating or just simply fascinating?

It’s been an interesting ride, so much has changed since I got into it, but the world has changed so much since then, I’ve changed a lot myself. The scene is so international now — worldwide, which I think is a beautiful thing. It allows for inspiration and takes from all angles, all backgrounds. Making music, releasing music, it’s all very accessible now. Contact with the fans is very direct, very democratic.

I sometimes find it frustrating that there seems to be a lack of awareness and respect for the history and roots of the genre. Drum & bass started as black music and the audience and artists were extremely diverse when I got into it, so it saddens me that while the making music side of things is very accessible, the scene’s demographic has become so singular. I think it’s the result of many years of ignorance and negligence and just this prevalent narrative that commercial success equals artistic merit. I hope that recently some steps have been made to change the direction in that respect. The bottom line to me is that we all have a responsibility to respect the history and people that have come before us which opened doors that we walked through – built the foundations that we operate on.

What can fans expect to see later this year from both you and your The North Quarter imprint?

As always I like keeping my cards close to my chest. We live in a time of abundance and that leads to quick consumption and short attention spans. In the ‘90s music to me was shrouded in mystery and me not revealing much about future projects until the time is right is me trying to keep that alive a little bit. In terms of myself, I had set out to try and write more than I had in the last few years, and so far things have been going well. As far as The North Quarter goes, there are many projects in the works — some more expected than others ‚— that I’m very excited about.

Lenzman’s A Little While Longer LP is out now via The North Quarter. Listen below and purchase it on Beatport.

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