Chase & Status: “Fabric is an Institution in British and Global Clubbing”
When London’s iconic music venue, fabric, was shuttered in 2016, it was a massive loss for the city’s club culture. The Metropolitan police put the club’s license up for review after two young men tragically lost their lives in the venue from drug overdoses, and a few weeks later, fabric’s license was revoked, “permanently.” Despite the ruling, the global electronic music scene banned together to save this essential cultural hub, with top-tier talent writing appeals to London Mayor Sadiq Khan and gathering widespread international support to help reverse the ruling.
Thanks to the united effort of punters, DJs, and music enthusiasts worldwide, fabric was able to reopen. Among the most vocal advocates of the #savefabric campaign were Saul Milton and Will Kennard (as well as go-to hype master MC Rage) of the globally-renowned drum & bass and dubstep group Chase & Status. Regulars since its opening in 1999, both artists credit fabric as being the spot that helped them find their musical inspiration, and they’ve been fixtures of the club ever since. It was the first place they heard one of their tracks get played out in a big room, and since their rise to stardom, they’ve played the venue countless times.
Fabric’s music label has also been a staple of underground music culture since 2001. After ending its FABRICLIVE mix series with 100 compilations from some of the best artists in clubland, the new series fabric presents was born, bringing audiences releases from the likes of The Martinez Brothers, Amelie Lens, Bonobo, Kölsch, and Maribou State.
Fresh off their wildly successful 2019 album RTRN II JUNGLE, Chase & Status are once again joining their beloved club with fabric presents Chase & Status: RTRN II FABRIC. The 44-track compilation features new originals and fresh dubplates, along with a plethora of old-school heaters and new-fashioned breaks laced together in an expert mix.
With the compilation out now we caught up with Will Kennard (Status) to learn more about the rewarding yet painstaking process behind creating the album, how they’ve been spending their 2020, playing at socially distant venues, and their favorite memories from fabric.
Hey Will, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. How’s life?
All good, man, all good. Just getting through these crazy times. I’ve had quite a welcome distraction because my wife Sophie and I had twin girls a few months back. It happened just around the peak at the end of March, so when everything was full fucking madness here. And so it was a little bit stressful, but in a way, we kind of just locked down anyways, so it was weirdly kind of a blessing in disguise. But it’s all good, strange times, just keeping my head low, getting back into music-making.
What kind of plans did you have for 2020, and how did you and Saul find yourselves adjusting to the new pandemic reality?
Coming out of 2019, we had just done our RTRN II Jungle album, which was all about us going back to not only our roots, but trying to find the roots of drum and bass, the music we love, and bringing this authentic dance or Jamaican feel back to the music. And it was a fun exercise because it was us just not worrying about the commercial side of music, which we’ve also had some success in, and just doing stuff purely for the love of it, purely for the club culture. We ended up just focused on DJing clubs worldwide and just trying to bring the rawness back to the music we loved.
2020 was gearing up to be a fantastic year of shows for us, with lots of DJ work off the back of the RTRN project’s success. We had tons of bookings, and we had our Ibiza residency again, celebrating 10 years of us playing at Amnesia in Ibiza, which was special. So it was quite a big year for us in terms of work. In January, I remember we did a few shows, and then toward the end of February the word was coming in, but people still didn’t take it quite that seriously. And I remember right at the end of February, we had a show in South Hampton in the south of England, and it was just at the cusp of people getting wary of being in large crowds.
I had a heavily pregnant wife at home, and Saul’s got young children. And we decided not to go to that show, and we felt terrible. And this promoter, luckily who’s a friend and he understood, and we just moved the date a few months later, and he let everyone in for free sort of thing and complimentary drinks and stuff. We felt terrible for letting the people down. And we thought we were mad, we were like, “What are we doing? It’s not that big a deal, we just go in…” And it was a room of 2000 people sweating next to each other just as loads of people were catching it, and we hated ourselves for canceling. And in hindsight, thank god we did. It was two days later that every pub shut. So it was a mad start to the year.
As you said, RTRN II JUNGLE was a massive success for you guys, and now you’re on to part two of the return, fabric presents Chase & Status: RTRN II FABRIC. How did the plans for this extensive compilation album come about?
Fabric is an institution in British clubbing and global clubbing for that matter. It’s an iconic place that so many people grew up in, ourselves included. And it’s had difficult times fending off the authorities to stay open recently and done a fantastic job at doing that. They’ve also released so many incredible compilations from the FABRICLIVE series over the years. We’ve been huge fans. So they approached us in 2019, and by that point, I don’t think we’d ever done an official or proper mix album compilation before. And I liked the fact that they’re not doing quite as many at the moment. Some inspiring people have done fabric compilations in the past, so we were very honored to be asked.
The timing was perfect. As I said we’d just released this album, we had ideas for our next record, but it’s quite far away. So we wanted to keep playing off this RTRN II JUNGLE thing that we had done, and we said to them, “Look, do you mind if we call it RTRN II FABRIC? Kept the theme of jungle music and that more kind of rooty sound, would you mind that running through in some old records and some new?” And they loved the idea. And we went about trying to make it, thinking it would be effortless, just to do a quick mix at home and put it out. And it turned out to be the longest thing ever, more extended than writing any album we’ve ever done. It was really difficult, man. And now I’m so pleased with the way we did it and the way it’s come out and finished and stuff, and I can’t wait for people to hear it. But it was a challenge making the compilation for so many reasons that we didn’t even think about when we said yes.
The mix and compilation has a total of 44 tracks. Can you let us in on the selection process and what it was that made the process so difficult?
We had a lot of tracks that we wanted to include — a lot more than the 44. And it was interesting in 2020 compared to when we were bedroom DJs more in the millennium or even in the ’90s, because with mixtapes, you’d mix and you’d just kind of put it out with giving it out physically. Now or even if you’re selling it, everyone, you would license the songs. But now, with digital streaming, these underground independent labels that we’re working with sometimes didn’t necessarily understand the licensing process.
It gets quite complex with figuring out who’s making the royalty and ensuring that everything is royalty-free. And obviously, every single jungle song written before 2004 has got some dodgy old sample, hip hop sample, or reggae sample. So we’d be creating this really intricate mix, and you’re like, “that’s song’s important there, that song is a transition between it, this bit goes with that bit,” and we’d suddenly find out that we had to replace some of the tracks. You know you get really into a mix, and you’re doing it, and it all makes sense for the journey. It was undoubtedly a real challenge.
The fabric compilation includes a few new originals like “Hardstep,” “Engage,” “Why,” and a handful of VIPs. Tell us a bit about your studio method with these new singles and dubplate/VIP choices.
We wrote the new tracks off the back of the loving reception of the jungle sound we were releasing. They were inspired by DJing a lot, getting vibed up, and just continuing to make that stuff for our own DJ boxes. And as a producer, you’re always on your laptop, whether you’re traveling or you’re at home. Those were new things we were playing [with]. When Saul and I hang out, we’re always seeing who’s got a little cheeky thing that the other guy hasn’t got, especially when we are playing b2b
And so there was stuff that we were doing — both separately and together — to keep the set exciting. We wanted to put them out, but putting random one-off music out with no context sometimes isn’t a great idea. This just made perfect sense. Doing a mix with other people’s songs is cool, but we wanted there to be a bit more interest in it. There are lots of original versions of stuff, original music, and just kinds of different edits of existing songs. So I think it sounds pretty fresh!
It feels only appropriate that you are doing a fabric compilation seeing as you’ve played the club so many times. Can you bring us back to your first and perhaps fondest fabric memory?
We’ never forget going to fabric as 19 or 20-year-old punters going down for the player’s night. It was massive. When fabric opened, we had just started getting into production, so we would go down there and almost step back a bit and listen to the songs, absorbing everything and taking in the reaction that was going on rather than being in the middle of the mosh or whatever.
So we’d go there a lot and stand in the background just listening for hours and hours and just seeing what worked, what didn’t, hoping that maybe one of our new tracks would get played. I remember Zinc playing one of our songs, a very early song called “Love’s Theme,” which came out on his label, Bingo Beats. It was one of the first times we heard one on our records at peak time, with a big DJ in room one. It was the biggest rush for us.
It was those moments as a young producer when we felt like it’s going to happen, we’re going to make it. That was a special moment. A few years later, we were DJing at fabric around 2011, we were put on the lineup after Andy C. By then [even though we were more] prominent, we were very nervous to DJ after Andy C. He tears the house down. It’s his thing. Just stepping up, and I remember doing a big drop, I think with “No Problem,” one of our songs at the time, a big mix, we’re trying to take on Andy with an even bigger mix.
You see that swell of people falling to the front of the stage. I love the acoustics there, you can kind of really get close to the crowd, and you hear the atmosphere building. I remember that exact moment, just the rush of just big mixes, big moments happening in a DJ set at fabric are so much more intense. That’s why we love DJing there still, and I can’t wait to get back with it.
You guys recently played in Newcastle for a socially distant event. What was that like? You closed out VM Unity Arena before it shut its doors due to local lockdown measures, but what’s your take on that action? How did you think the venue was handling social distance measures?
Yeah, we did a couple. Weird, obviously. People are into the pens in groups of six or eight. In a way, you’re having a great time because actually, you’re with your eight buddies, your best mates there. Eight’s quite a good number [through] now that’s not even allowed because they’ve reduced the number, but then it was eight people. And so probably enough to get a little party going. You’re ordering drinks on an app, and they’re brought to you, so that’s pretty cool.
There’s no pushing through people to get to the bar. It was summer outdoors, so a bit warmer and stuff. And one of the shows was relatively light, it wasn’t fully dark, so you can kind of see the space, and it feels a bit empty. But as the sun went down, it brought it back. And while it was definitely not the same as having everyone together and that feeling of togetherness that a crowd brings and unity, which is quite special, it was still great to play some live music. And just hearing live music, we hadn’t heard loud music out of a system in months.
It’s a powerful thing that you forget how amazing it is. If you think about the first time you ever went to a club and heard a system, it was sort of that feeling again like, fucking hell, shit sounds different this loud. And also this music’s made to be loud. So that made sense. And it was a bit emotional, we played some of our old stuff just because we hadn’t played out for a while and people had come far and wide to see us play. There was a bit of an emotional feeling. It’s like god, this is what we do, and it’s under threat at the moment. Regardless of money or anything, this is what we live for. So it was a kind of emotional feeling of happy to be there, but terrified that this is going to be the new norm. So mixed emotions, but yeah amazing we got to do it.