It is somewhat gratifying to see a respected figure like Distance enjoy a space of fulfilment. He’d never be the first to admit it, but his recent accomplishments are commendable milestones which reflect his diligent outlook on life. His third album Dynamis was received by the electronic music community to critical acclaim, he’s become a father for the second time, and his highly revered label Chestplate turns 10 this year. It is no secret, as I’m sure his peers will contest, that the dubstep luminary is one of the hardest working artists in the underground music scene. In between running a label, supporting his family and touring the world, Distance has lent his services to other recording artists; Casi, Jeb Loy Nichols, Star Wars Rogue One star Riz MC, produced numerous production tutorials, and has even co-produced the soundtrack to a short film for Bentley. Bound by numerous commitments, one most wonder how a music pioneering family man manages to squeeze so much out of his time. “I’m not so sure myself” replies Distance when I asked him a few weeks back in Bristol. Along with Pinch and his Chestplate family, hundreds had gathered at the Subsist hosted night for the first of many special events to celebrate 10 years of one of the most important pillars at the heart of the dubstep movement. Prior to meeting Greg that night, I managed to steal a few minutes of his time to reflect on a decade of Chestplate, his live show and new Deleted Scenes material.
So a big year ahead for Chestplate. July will mark the 10th anniversary since the release of CHST001. Congratulations on a fantastic achievement. You must be feeling quite emotional about that milestone.
Yeah man it’s a great feeling. I hope I’m still here talking about the 20th anniversary when it’s time.
Political Warfare sounds just as fresh now as it did 10 years ago, which I think is a huge testament to how timeless your music is. Did you find it a difficult process choosing those tracks as an opening statement and introduction to the Chestplate sound?
No not really, “Radical” was doing well in the clubs as was “Political Warfare”. It’s quite sad to think we are so far away from a time where tracks like that could be dropped in a dance. It was also the first track I worked on with Skream, which was amazing. We wrote that so quickly. I actually played the guitar parts too. Radical still gets played out now.
The label was primarily an outlet for your own music for the first 3 years until the signing of Tunnidge for the 10th release. By this point, the records had become bigger in sound and I think Tim absolutely nailed what Chestplate was about with 7Breaths (a departure from his previous work on Boka and Deep Medi). How important was it for you to open the label up to other artists who shared the same vision you had for Chestplate?
It was very important. Ultimately I just wanted to showcase new music and new artists. I remember around the time I first heard 7Breaths I couldn’t believe that no one had signed it, or at least inquired. At that point in the scene, the more tear out sound was starting to surface, going from strength to strength, so I saw a big gap in the market for dance orientated tracks that still had a vibe, or felt authentic to the original dubstep sentiment. Most of the tear out beats felt soulless to me, but that’s just my personal view.
You also managed to find a delicate balance between signing artists who specialised in the stripped-back, sub-focused end of production (Cyrus and Razor Rekta) and breaking new talent into the scene (Sleeper, District and Mesck), which gave Chestplate a wider rounded appeal to existing followers and new discovers of the dubstep sound. Was this a conscience move on your behalf, or simply a natural evolutionary period for the label which occurred at the perfect time?
It was a natural evolution. I struggle a lot to find music I like, especially music I like enough to sign, which is what led to the birth of the “New Talent” section in my old Rinse FM show. So much good music was getting overlooked by all the key labels in the scene. I wanted to give all these unknown artists a chance to get heard aside from what was trending at the time. I discovered District through the new talent submissions who introduced me to Sleeper, and Mesck I discovered by complete chance whilst scrolling through Soundcloud while I was chilling during a US tour. All their sounds where just right, I’m not even sure I can explain why (laughs).
Credit is also due for the decision to bring Leon Switch into the fold post Kryptic Minds breakup, an event which brought about a somewhat sad sentiment within the dubstep community. He’s only released two records on the label so far, so are there plans to put out more of his music? And while we’re on this topic, what ever happened to Razor Rekta?
Well I spent a couple of days with Leon whilst playing in Russia and he teased me by saying he had all this solo material that no one had heard. I probably pestered him on and off for about 4 years (laughs) and when Kryptic Minds split he contacted me straight away. When I finally heard his beats I was blown away. Felt very privileged! I’m sure we haven’t seen the last Leon Switch or Razor Rekta release on Chestplate 😉
Unlike some of your contemporaries (Tectonic / Deep Medi) who are nearing the 100 release mark, Chestplate has remained highly selective in its output having only put out 40 records in its 10 year existence. What’s more, you have successfully steered the label through some difficult times in the scene, notably the collapse of ST Holdings, and while other labels fizzled out, Chestplate has managed to stay relevant and well supported. So my questions is, what would you say is unique about your label that sets it apart from the rest?
I guess it would have to be the material that’s released. I’m not about releasing music for the sake of shelf presence or scoring high on online store charts. I have to believe in the music 100%. I’m sure the hardcore followers of the label probably get impatient waiting for new releases but I’m so selective about what I release. It probably doesn’t help that my musical taste changes so often as well. I can see trends in the scene well before they even develop but instead of cashing in, it just drives me away (laughs). So yes, I would much rather have 2 unforgettable releases a year then 12 set fillers. Last year I released District’s Drowsy and Sleeper’s Seagulls, I guarantee they are both still getting spun.
It would be unfair to ask you which of the 40 is your favourite however I am interested to know, out of the 17 Distance records you’ve released on Chestplate, which one are you most proud of?
Probably CHST008: Beyond and Menace. I think they just sum up my sound and the label in one. Soulful music mixed with system destroying beats.
One aspect of the label I couldn’t help but notice is that the entire discography has been defined by the 12” single / EP format. What has been your reasoning behind this decision, and is putting out a long player something you’ve given any thought to?
It’s just something I’ve never really wanted to do. So much work goes into albums. I run Chestplate completely alone and if I started releasing albums, I literally wouldn’t have time to do much else. I am looking at getting help with running the label so who knows. Maybe in the future.
Those who follow you on your socials will know that you’re currently prepping a Distance Live show. As an entirely different ball game to the regular DJ setup, how much of a learning curve has this experience been for you, how will it differ from the usual Distance set?
HUGE!!! It’s been a hard learning curve. Throw a new born baby into the equation and it’s suddenly even harder (laughs). I’ve had to learn Ableton from scratch but luckily I’ve had help from a producer called Danny from Flynt Kids, he works in the same building my studio is in – a massive big up to him! It’s been harder more so because I had such big ideas but they just aren’t working the way I would like. I think it’s something that will keep evolving until I’m 100% happy. The live set is basically a mixture of old and new beats but twisted up. The first performance took place in Rotterdam at Subway XL’s 10 year anniversary, massive night!
Your interaction with your fans is well documented and you continue to support your most dedicated with tutorial videos, presets, and sample packs. As a non-producer, I can’t say that I’ve ever interacted with any of those, however I am interested to know what kind of feedback you receive from these services, and what it is that appeals to you the most to go through the trouble of putting something like that together for the community?
The feedback has always been great and the tutorials reach people who probably don’t even have a clue about my released beats, I love that! I started making them because I like watching them myself and I did the first few as an experiment just to see if anyone was interested. I really want to cover subjects that most people who are doing the same haven’t yet. Like the whole sub bass tutorial I made back in 2009 as well as the one on compression have had thousands of views. I even get approached at raves with punters saying “mate your compression video has helped me loads” (laughs). The preset and sample packs are a new venture, but in a similar vein to the tutorials I just want to provide something I don’t think a lot of other people can or are willing to provide. Most presets and samples people sell aren’t ones they actually use and in most cases aren’t usable.
We had a chance to see an exclusive Deleted Scenes set at 10 Years of Get Darker with Ctrl Sound (which was an epic by the way), and an announcement in January promised forthcoming material this year, which was backed up with another studio session tweet at the beginning of the March. It’s been a long time coming. Is there anything you can share with the readers on what they can expect from the project?
There will be a Deleted Scenes release this year for sure. We are putting more time into the project and aiming for an album. We are writing at all tempos from 90bpm to 172bpm. I think people will be surprised by some of the beats.
On the subject of new material, you’ve been back in the studio with J:Kenzo, any hints as to what you’re cooking up there? We’ve also been asked by numerous people about Scratch The Surface. Could you clear the air on what’s happening with that one?
Scratch The Surface will be coming on Chestplate. J:Kenzo and I have something special lined up for our beats!
So looking to the future, are there any significant plans you have for the label, which might shape it over the next 10 years?
I’m just going to keep releasing music I’m into, that’s the only formula I follow and if it’s at a different tempo it will get a home on Chestplate.
Finally, what else can we expect from you and the Chestplate camp in the coming months, is there any forthcoming material, anniversary projects, or up and coming label events you can inform the readers on?
I’ve got an absolute banger of a release lined up with Mesck. I will be putting out some beats of my own after that. There will also be some kind of compilation whether it be unreleased remixes and VIP’s or exclusive new material. You will just have to wait.
It’s been a pleasure Greg, any final comments or shout outs to wrap things up?
I would just like to thank everyone that has supported the label and spent their hard earned cash on owning a vinyl, MP3, T-shirt or coming to a rave it truly means the world to me. I’ve also got to big up every artist that has released on the label they are more friends to me then just artists signed to a label. They continue to surprise and inspire me!
CHST041 will be released soon, date TBA. Big thank you to Matt at Subsist for helping me arrange this interview. Photos from the 10 Years of Chestplate event can be found here.