Artist of the Month: Break
Artist of the Month: BreakMay 16, 2021
In his 20-year career, Break has earned a reputation as one of the most consistent producers in drum & bass. Jake Hirst uncovers the humble story behind one of Beatport’s best-selling D&B artists.
It’s a turbulent Wednesday afternoon in Bristol as the weather flits from torrential downpours to rays of warm sunshine. It’s somewhat symbolic of the mood Break is in right now, as like many of us, he’s in that limbo stage of enjoying easing restrictions, while still feeling somber about the dragging pandemic.
“It has been up and down,” Break says. “The gig cull was tough as that’s the main source of income for producers and DJs. It meant you suddenly had to think about how you were going to pay your bills. But I’ve had more time in the studio, so there are pros and cons.”
However, “it has been hard to find the reason why you’re making a tune,” he admits, describing the situation as like “being transported back to the early days when I didn’t have tunes signed to a label and was making them with the hope something would happen.”
That being said, you could argue the past year has been a very productive one for Charlie Bierman, AKA Break, who is currently one of Beatport’s best-selling drum & bass artists of 2021. It’s hardly a shock to the supporters who look up to Break’s bar-setting productions, but it’s a revelation leaving the artist feeling bemused. “I didn’t think I would be!” he says with a big smile. “I don’t do much self-promotion, so it’s nice to see people buying my tunes and rating the music.”
It’s not difficult to understand why people are rating his music when you consider some of the Break releases 2021 has thrown our way – including the iconic “I Got You” link-up between SHY FX, Breakage, Break, and Tyler Daley. It’s a tune that “came out of the blue” for Break, who is full of joy when revealing the story behind the epic combination.
“It was a real surprise. They rang me saying they’d started something and asked if I wanted to get involved. It felt like a blessing from above. I’ve been working with those guys on various things over the years, as I remixed SHY FX’s ‘Rudeboy Lovesong’ in 2019 and Breakage has just remixed my track ‘Conversations’. ‘I Got You’ went down really well.”
Creating wicked tunes that are well received by D&B heads is something Break should be all too familiar with, as he has crafted plenty of them over his career. But there’s one 2021 release in particular Break looks back on fondly – Dusty Demos. Released in February, the album saw Break trawl through his hard drives to uncover productions from his past that never made it to release; the kind of hidden treasures easily lost during a career spanning 20 years.
Break had been planning the project for a while, but the pandemic allowed him the much-needed time to refine it. “I’ve got two old PCs in the corner of the room with the projects on them, and I did some digging to find a bunch of tunes,” Break recounts. “Some of them I remembered, and others I forgot I made, so it felt good to find those dusty gems and reminisce of years gone by.”
As we chat about the album, it becomes evident Dusty Demos is a project representing something of a time capsule for Break’s lengthy career. From the artwork featuring a photo of the mixing desk he used to make the demos (which to this day is still gathering dust in his house), to the amusing reflections it prompted over the way his tunes have “stacked up over time like a receipt from a supermarket.” But memories of his original production setup are the ones he’s keen to draw on.
“Back then I only had the mixing desk and a few bits of outboard gear. Weirdly, some of those tunes you listen back to and they sound good! I had half the knowledge back then, but managed to pull it off somehow. It’s not always about the equipment. It’s the combo of sounds and catching a vibe with the music.”
Catching a vibe is something Break’s music typifies, but it’s a mindset born during the foundations of the producer’s career in the early 2000s when he was operating on a minimal bedroom setup in his mum’s house in London, creating tunes with a sense of freedom. “You didn’t really know what you were doing back then, and that was the whole innocence of it,” he nostalgically recalls. “At that moment in your career, all you want to do is make tunes, DJ, and get respect from the idols in your musical world.”
Break’s idols included Marcus Intalex, ST Files, and Dillinja, who he refers to as “benchmarks” for his ambitions. But growing up in a vibrant London during the ‘90s meant Break’s musical influences also leant heavily on the hip-hop scene of the early ‘90s, followed by the emergence of trip-hop later in the decade. It was a concoction of influences that led Break to try his hand at DJing.
“I originally wanted to be a scratch DJ,” Break recalls. “That was the time when DJing and decks blew up. Everyone wanted Technics. I bought lots of different music back then and mixed it all.” After pursuing his fantasy of becoming a master turntablist, Break soon realised “how much more work it needed to be as good as the best DMC DJs.” But luckily the explosion of the D&B scene in the noughties presented an opportunity for the start of his flourishing career – one Break attributes to his move to Bristol in 2006.
“Moving to Bristol led to my whole career happening. It was a pivotal time in my life as I was moving out of home. It was at that point where you had to make it because you needed to pay rent. It felt like the right time because I was getting just enough DJ gigs and releases to survive.”
The uprooting made complete sense. As a city truly embracing the counter-culture dance music created, Bristol became home to many of the biggest names in D&B – from Goldie and dBridge, to V Recordings and the Full Cycle crew. “It was a melting pot of styles,” Break says. “That classic Bristol sound of the ‘90s was always an influence for me. The early Roni Size, DJ Die, and V Recordings productions.”
While moving to Bristol was clearly a pivotal time in his story, I’m keen to find out if there was a particular moment he felt like his career was taking off. But Break is quick to avoid singling out any definitive moments, instead describing his ascent as “a pretty slow uphill struggle.“ It’s an honest description — one he can’t help but chuckle at before continuing. “I’ve never really blown up like some newer artists have. The ones who come out of nowhere and are suddenly massive.”
It’s an interesting and rather modest insight from a producer who sits amongst the most revered figures in D&B. But as we continue speaking, it becomes apparent this lack of ‘blowing up’ could be down to Break’s attitude towards self-promotion contrasting modern-day producers using social media as a platform to build fanbases. For the most part, Break has actively avoided social media, apart from the necessity of having a presence with his Symmetry Recordings label. But when it comes to his own promotion, it’s a tool he doesn’t share much love for – likening it to “reading Heat Magazine”.
“One of the reasons why I’ve been so anti-social media for a long time is because of that business side of stats, followers, traction, and all these annoying words that have nothing to do with making music. When I saw these elements come into music, I saw them as a dark side to the music industry taking away from the pure vibe of making tunes for music’s sake.”
It brings us back to the reason why Break makes music in the first place – to catch a vibe. However, he does sympathise with newcomer producers. Back when Break was coming through, the musical landscape was far less competitive. “I feel lucky as I didn’t have to start my career trying to get likes and followers,” he says. “I don’t think you could get away with saying you don’t do social media now. It’s a big crowd to stand out in.”
Thankfully, Break’s music has done the talking for him over the years. While his artist profile may not have blown up, the production behind his music has. With a style of drum & bass fusing live instrumentation with grittier, dancefloor-driven sonics, Break has garnered a reputation as a producer pursuing his own lane in the genre. It’s a style of D&B characterised by his love of real drums, which he started playing when he was 12 years old.
“Having that musical background helped,” Break says. “It allowed me to know what a drum kit sounded like, and led me to love the sound of real drums and their groove.” It’s an infatuation with organic music inspired by Break’s early exposure to soul, rare groove, and jazz, and it’s partly the reason why you won’t ever hear Break’s productions cluttered with synths.
“I was never a synth guy, and I’m still not.” Break pauses to look around the room before explaining his stance. “I’ve only got three synths here. I get that other people grew up with drum machines and synthesisers, but I’ve always leant towards live instruments. That’s why those elements have followed through into my D&B. I’d rather hear a horn or a vocal over a synth.”
If you listen to any of Break’s albums then you’ll hear this appreciation for organic music. Whether it’s the stripped-back beauty of Resistance (2010), or the much-loved Simpler Times (2015) where Break’s work with vocalists really flourished. But as talk turns to the success of his albums, instead of identifying any momentous releases, he’s keen to recognise the struggles he faced getting his first two albums off the ground – Symmetry (2008) and Resistance.
“Those two albums were wicked at the time, but they weren’t game-changers. It was different then because you didn’t know as much. Now, you’ll be shown an Instagram video of someone playing your tune at a festival.” Interestingly, Break feels his earlier productions have had “more feedback and reaction in the last ten years” than when they were released. Break singles out his collaboration with DJ Die on “Slow Down” as one that took a while to get going.
“It was a real slow burn,” he remembers. “The first month I played it, it was dead in the clubs. There was no reaction. When we made it, we were jumping around the room because we thought it was sick. People didn’t get it, but eventually, they came around.” As he reflects on his albums, I can’t help feeling like Break is somewhat undermining the success of his releases after he describes his discography as “a bunch of pretty good tunes that built up over time” – especially considering he’s currently Beatport’s best-selling D&B artist. Although, such a revelation reiterates Break’s modesty, and desire to make music for music’s sake.
You could argue this is partly the reason why Break has commissioned very few remixes of his productions over the years – because he has such a deep connection to his music. As Break recalls, “for a long time Calibre and Calyx & Teebee were the only two remixers I can remember. I’ve always felt a bit precious about it, and I’m not sure why.”
As our conversation returns to the present day, Break seems more open towards his music being remixed after commissioning a remix project for his Another Way album, originally released in 2018. We’ve already seen multiple remixes drop this year, including Calyx & Teebee’s remix of “Keepin It Raw,” but there’s another album in the works Break is keen to divulge on, which is a neo-soul/trip-hop inspired band project with long-time collaborator Kyo called The Degrees.
“Kyo and I started it years back in the 2000s,” Break recalls. “But drum & bass was the main thing paying the bills, so a lot of the band work got put off. In the last few years, we’ve had more time to finish off our first album, which will hopefully surface in the next year. The music is quite cinematic and totally different to the D&B.”
It’s a full circle back to Break’s live, organic music roots, and a direction he hopes others in drum & bass will adopt after a year without clubs. “From speaking to various labels and producers, we hope it might steer the genre to one that’s more listening-based as opposed to club-based,” Break says. “Making tunes that are just tunes, rather than viewing them as ammo for the clubs. I’ve been approaching my music with that thought in mind since before lockdown, none of which is released yet.”
It’s the viewpoint of a producer who, over the course of his 20-year career, has never given in to trends and has always remained modest towards his craft – despite becoming one of the genre’s most reputable names. Here’s to another 20 years of Break.
Jake Hirst is a freelance writer living in Bristol, UK, who has previously been published in UKF, DJ Mag, Data Transmission and Ticket Arena. A certified drum & bass head, you can keep up to date with his writing on Instagram.