Drum & bass pioneers Sebastian Ahrenberg (Seba) and Dev Pandya (Paradox) have always followed their hearts, rather than fickle trends in the scene–conformity is not a word in their vocabulary.
British producer Paradox began carving his own niche in breakbeat as early as 1991, when he released his first track as Mixrace (with DJ Trax), the 180-bpm "Too Bad For Ya." Never happy with the simple boom-clack boom-clack two-step beat that currently defines most drum & bass, he has since found thousands of ingenious ways to slice, dice, and reconstruct the funkiest of breaks, hitting his stride in the mid-'90s with a slew of releases on the legendary Reinforced imprint. Pandya currently runs four of his own record labels (Outsider, Esoteric, Paradox Music, Arctic), championing a style of drum & bass he calls "drumfunk," which is heavily influenced by '70s funk breaks.
Stockholm, Sweden's Seba has parallel interests, but a very different background. He made his name with a string of rich, soaring grooves for LTJ Bukem's Good Looking Records in the late '90s before founding his own imprint, Secret Operations, in 1999. After a string of house excursions under the alias Sunday Brunch, he resurrected the label with a series of smashing releases that can be heard on Beats Me, a mixed CD of his work with Paradox that was released in April. After a DJ gig in San Francisco' sat down with these close friends and found out how they make it all happen.
XLR8R: How did you guys end up working together?
Seba: The first time we met was at Ministry of Sound [at] the launch party for [LTJ Bukem's mixed CD] Logical Progression. We were just bigging up each other. It was funny because we knew that we were on the same tip when it came to music.
Paradox: We were reading interviews about each other in the press, so Seba could see what I like and I could see what Seba likes–we were basically into the same music.
Since you live in different countries, do you exchange tracks by mail or using AIM?
Seba: We don't work over the Internet, since we believe it's important to be present when changes are made. If you hear something new in a track, you might instantly get a new idea that you could work on. We fly over to each other's studios; so far that's involved about 10 flights. Since Dev is using OctaMED on a Commodore Amiga and I am using Cubase on PC, we decided to work on my set-up. I guess it's easier to learn Cubase than it is to understand a tracker program. This means that I engineer the tracks, and we arrange [them] together. Dev usually carries samples with him and sometimes we import breaks that he previously programmed in his studio.
Many of your collaborations feature the soulful vocals of Robert Manos. Who is this mystery man?
Seba: Robert Manos is a guy who lives in New York. I know a house producer that used to live in New York named Alexi Delano. He calls up and says this guy Robert Manos is coming to Sweden because he has a son who lives there. At that time I was working with Swedish house producer Jesper Dahlbäck making house music and some D&B. We took out a D&B track we were working on and said to Robert, 'Would you be able to sing on this?' He started to do this Studio One reggae thing. We said, 'There's not one element of reggae in this song,' and Robert said, 'Well I thought it was jungle.' I said, 'No you have to listen to this track.' He asked 'What do you want me to do?' I said, 'Think Marvin Gaye,' and he just started singing and it took off from there.
There's been an increase in popularity of the breakier style of D. Is this something you knew would happen and how do you feel about being at the forefront?
Paradox: Everything goes in cycles. In 2000, when there wasn't much classic breakbeat D&B, it was a bit disheartening when the two-step copycats took over the scene.
Seba: That's when I started making house music.
Paradox: Just before Seba and I started working together, I thought that things could change. Another reason why Seba and I got together is because I couldn't fight the battle on my own. I've been doing it for so long. I needed someone who had their own identity just like me to help push forward. It's mainly due to our profiles that we've pushed this breakbeat sound forward. It's fair to say that we are the most well-known breakbeat producers on that side of the scene. We've got a responsibility.
What's the idea behind your new Beats Me CD?
Seba: We decided to do a showcase CD of what our labels (Secret Operations and Paradox Music) are about. We've reached out to the vinyl buyers, but there are a lot of people that don't buy vinyl and come to our show asking where they can buy this music. Plus, vinyl sales in general have been down.
But aren't artists who make anthems still doing well off of vinyl sales?
Paradox: I know friends that are selling so many units and making a lot of money out of it, but the music is absolutely diabolical–just hardcore cheese–and we can't make that. If we closed our eyes, we could do it in half an hour, but we have souls and I can't bring myself down to that level and make crap music.
Seba: I don't think we can make that music, though I know what you're saying. I don't think the people making that music think it's good. It's just another track to make 1,000 people jump up and down so they can get paid and buy new polished rims for their Beemer.