Q&A – Deficit & Esion [AutomAte]

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Regular readers will be more than aware of AutomAte; as one of our favourite small imprints, we’ve kept a close eye on their development over the past three years and greatly enjoyed watching Deficit and Esion move the trio of labels from strength to strength. They’re kicking off 2016 as they mean to go on with another top release from Fuj, so to find out a bit more about that and their plans for the rest of the year we tracked the pair down for a chat. Read on for all things AutomAte…

DNB Dojo: Hi guys, thanks for taking the time to chat. How are you both doing today?

Esion: Hi mate. First off I’d like to thank you for all your support, 2015 was great for all of us by the looks of it. I’ve seen you getting a lot of exposure online so congrats for that & thanks for all your hard work.

Deficit: Yeah man, good thanks! You’ve been very supportive of us since the beginning, we always have time for you.

DNB Dojo: 2015 was a strong year for AutomAte with 11 releases across the 3 sub-labels, including some of my personal favourites for the year. How do you aim to top that over the next 12 months?

Esion: We kicked off AutomAte Tech’s year with Fortitude’s Turn Bad & the remix from Dose & Dual Focus, followed by Rune & Kaiza’s Brainstorm/Kombat. We ended the year with Philth – Destroyer/Genocide. Six tunes involving six awesome artists even if I do say so myself.

This year’s first Tech release comes next month from Seppa. Two tracks, both quite different; Seppa likes different and he does it quite well! He’s just had a release on Inspected with Skope and is part of the Mothers Against Noise crew here in Bristol. I also have plans for another remix project but I intend to mix up how I go about putting it together. Nice and cryptic. All will be revealed…

Deficit: I’m especially pleased with the three 2015 AutomAte Deep releases. It’s quite a niche label and I have very strong feelings about the vibe of the releases. It’s my pet project and nurturing it has been like watching a child grow so to find two new recruits (Tonic and Cirrus) in the same year is a huge result. As always with Deep, they’re from completely opposite sides of the world.

Looking back on the parent label AutomAte’s year, we managed to squeeze a lot of great music in between the Deep and Tech releases. The Vince Grain remix competition produced fantastic results, Depth Of Vision Vol. 3 was possibly the best chapter yet, Ruffie stepped up his game, Philth & Agman Gora smashed it with Cordyceps including a cool video and Vince Grain’s B-side Behind The Curtain reminded me all over again why I love his music so much.

As for 2016, we always seem to kick off with a Fuj release, it’s become a bit of a tradition but this year its a full 4-track EP and it’s absolutely blinding, so deep and meaty. It’ll be out on Monday 18th Jan so it’ll probably be out by the time you read this! I have him collaborating with another AutomAte Deep artist at present too and I’m really excited to hear what they come up with together.

The next D.R.O.P.S release is a banger, simple as that, it contains a filthy little roller and a heavyweight stepper. We have more in the pipeline from None Decay, as well as our annual-ish instalment of Depth Of Vision. All that to come in just the next 6 months.

In terms of trying to top last year, where Esion is concentrating on commissioning awesome remixes and finding the most exciting ways to release them, I’m focussing heavily on collaboration. I’m leading by example and collaborating with a number of artists myself while also finding exciting pairings within the AutomAte family and encouraging them to work together. I’m sure that’ll produce interesting results. Of course, we’re always on the lookout for exciting new artists too!

DNB Dojo: You also got the chance to host your first AutomAte event last year with the likes of Philth, Agman Gora and Raiden making an appearance. Are there plans afoot for more events this year?

Esion: Event-wise I don’t have anything planned at present. The amount of work that goes into a successful night along with the ever-present financial risk mean we’re not going to rush into another one for the sake of it. The Halloween party came about as I have known Weve from Gorecore for many many years, I’ve been playing at his events since pretty much day one and he approached me to put a room together. It would have been rude to say no and I jumped at the chance!

Going forward, that’s how I’ll continue to play it – we’re more than happy to get involved and be a part of a greater whole if promoters would like us to represent at their event. But setting up an AutomAte night from scratch would be biting off a little more than I can chew…for now.

Deficit: Esion has been involved with a range of events over about 15 years and has a better business head than me so I tend to leave him with these sorts of decisions. The AutomAte Halloween party was awesome fun, we had great feedback at the time and since and it’d be easy to get over-excited and start planning the next one straight away. However, I think part of the reason our link-up with Gorecore had such support was because AutomAte parties don’t happen very often so, when it does happen, people jump on board because they don’t know when they’ll have another chance to attend one. Treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen!

It’s a bit different if you start throwing quarterly parties, it becomes a grind, it’s difficult to keep the hype going and you’re almost guaranteed to lose your capital over time. Esion and I live in different cities too so inevitably one or the other of us ends up doing the majority of the work ourselves, we’re not able to work effectively as a team on events because it requires a lot of face-to-face and boots-on-ground work in the town itself.

Gorecore vs AutomAte certainly proved what we’re capable of in the events arena though and hopefully it’ll encourage events promoters to hit us up because I think the link-up approach works really well, it keeps things fresh in the same way as collab releases do. Some of the best nights I’ve ever been to have been link-up nights.

DNB Dojo: Picking favourites is hard but I’m gonna ask you to do it anyway. What are your favourite releases from each of the AutomAte sub-labels?

Esion: Since I’m being forced to pick favourites I’ll give it a go. In no particular order:

Philth – Destroyer, Tonic – Prime Number, PRTCL – 5AM

Deficit: Yeah, difficult for me too but I’m loving the new Fuj EP at the moment. Arclight – Pluroform still floats my boat after all this time. And the Raiden remix of XIII is absolutely thunderous, he knocked that one out of the ballpark.

DNB Dojo: You’ve already scored a bit of a coup with remixes from some big names including the legendary Raiden. If you could sign a track from any artist in the scene right now, who would it be?

Esion: Right now it would be Mefjus. He has that balance of really well engineered and complex tracks that are also dancefloor friendly.

Deficit: Xanadu. He came out of nowhere this time last year with an LP that absolutely blew me away. I’ve befriended him since and we get on really well too, which is important to me, I need to see eye to eye with the people I work with because a hobby is supposed to be fun!

DNB Dojo: Where other small labels often falter, AutomAte has survived and moved from strength to strength. What have you learned in the last 3 years of running the label and how have you kept it all going?

Esion: I think the thing I’ve learnt the most is that AutomAte has become my hobby. When we started, it was just a “yeah fuck it, let’s set up a label”, not really knowing all that would be involved.
Three years and one very steep learning curve later, I absolutely love it. The enjoyment I get from all the nice words and support from everyone is genuinely humbling.

However, it’s more time consuming than I thought it would be and in the first few years with anything like this you’re going to lose money. Takes up a lot of time and money – sounds like a hobby to me! I don’t play football, golf, collect stamps or whatever, I run AutomAte Tech, that’s what I do!

Deficit: Speak for yourself Steve, lol. I knew this would be a lot of hard work and dedication from the outset. I did however underestimate how crowded the marketplace is and how difficult it is to break even financially, even on a digital release. There are no quick wins in this game, you just have to keep at it, year after year, keep the quality bar high and even then there’s no guarantee of success.

Over time I’ve realised that I do this because it’s who I am, no other reason. I’m compelled to write drum & bass music, most people I call mates or friends are into this music on some level and running the label is my contribution to the scene that’s given me so much enjoyment throughout my adult life. It’s like I’m giving something back to the community and giving the artists I believe in a voice and a platform to do their thing. Essentially, you have to do this for the love or you won’t last the distance.

DNB Dojo: So far the label has kept to the digital format and fairly conventional single/EP releases. Do you have any plans to up your game with vinyl or LP releases this year?

Esion: Personally I don’t think vinyl is on the horizon, we’d be much better off investing that amount of money in remixes from the people we respect the most.

Deficit: Yeah, I’ve seen a number of people get involved with vinyl for nostalgic reasons and get burnt. It’s a massive financial risk in today’s climate. I could give you a very long answer but I won’t. We never say never, we have a couple of ideas of how we might introduce vinyl in the future but no solid plans for 2016.

There’s two main types of LP. One is the artist album, which I feel would be a bit premature for us. We do have several artists on the roster from whom I think an album, when the time comes, would fit nicely into our catalogue. Releasing a full-length artist album is a big responsibility. The amount of blood, sweat, tears and soul that is poured into one of those means that we would need to be in a more powerful position than we are right now, in terms of fan-base and promotional clout, to do it justice. When the time is right though, we will rise to the challenge and make sure the artist gets what he or she deserves.

If you’re talking about various artist, compilation type LPs, I’m not a big fan of those. There doesn’t tend to be much vibe or common thread about them. When a label’s been around for a while, it makes sense to put the classics, or best-sellers, or just a selection of relevant tunes on a compilation and give them a second wind. But I don’t believe it’s the best way to release new music. I’d rather put out an EP series, I remember how excited I got in the vinyl days when the next Ram Raiders or Hardware Chronicles was out (though in both of those cases, the best tune was on the first volume!). Hence the Depth of Vision EP series on AutomAte!

I believe we up our game by bringing more and more exciting artists on board and pushing our existing family to keep progressing. That’s our job as a label, as long as the music gets better and better we’re happy and we’ll release it in the format that makes the most sense at the time.

DNB Dojo: While there are always naysayers, D&B seems very strong to me going into 2016. What are your thoughts on the state of the scene, both where you are in Bristol/London and further afield?

Esion: I try desperately hard not to get involved in talking about ‘the scene’, especially online. I do have opinions on it though, of course.

When drum & bass first evolved from jungle, people were bringing all sorts of ideas and influences from different genres together to form new vibes. Now I feel we’re at a point where drum & bass is often influenced solely by drum & bass; I think this is what people mean when they say it’s got a bit stale but I believe that depends on what you’re looking for in drum & bass in the first place. What this means for the scene? I have no idea. I’m not even convinced I’m making sense but I do know that I will always be listening to DnB, it hasn’t gone stale for me at all.

Deficit: I try not to get on my soapbox in public either. As far as the music itself is concerned, I love it when something really unique happens and those moments are few and far between by definition, that’s what makes them special. Think when Voodoo Music happened in 2010 or when Vromm burst onto the scene in 2014 with his EP on 31 Recordings – both came completely out of left-field and blew my mind. Same goes for the Xanadu LP I mentioned earlier. There’s a hell of a lot of DnB being released at the moment and a lot of demos flying around – I just extract the 0.1% of it that makes my hair stand on end and ignore the rest, I’m very picky, as you tend to be when you’ve been involved with something for over a decade.

One thing that is a shame is the demise of the independent event promoters in London. Intent To Supply, Tech:nology, Fractured Foundation, crews with no affiliations who booked DJs based purely on merit. There’s a big gaping hole now between the commercial nights and the cliquey label nights. The effect is compounded by venues shutting down left, right and centre in the name of gentrification, we’re not exactly spoilt for choice right now. The Launch crew deserve a mention here for doing their bit but they’re the exception to the rule, the London club scene has declined significantly over the last 3-5 years.

DNB Dojo: Since we’re in January, let’s have some predictions: who are your hot tips to watch out for this year?

Esion: Hot pick for this year is my man Seppa, obviously! D.R.O.P.S keep getting better and better with every tune so expect big things from them (no pressure guys). Philth will be flying in private jets and own several jacuzzis by the end of the year and I’m sure Agman will still be right by his side, painting his nails.

Deficit: I’d keep an eye on Fuj and Cirrus, they’re both doing the business at the deeper end of things. Fearful goes from strength to strength and Xanadu has some great music in the pipeline too. Label-wise, I believe Cyberfunk is destined for greatness and, on the MC side of things, I hear Codebreaker is back in business!


You can check out the latest release from Fuj for AutomAte deep below, and you can grab it right now from all good digital stores.

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