High Contrast, aka producer Lincoln Barrett, has been a leading light of drum n bass for more than a decade now, signing to Hospital Records in 2000 and releasing his debut album, ‘True Colours’, in 2002. His last album, ‘Tough Guys Don’t Dance’ was released in 2007, and in the subsequent five years he’s grown ever more in demand as a DJ and remixer, having created reworks of tracks by artists as diverse as Adele, Utah Saints, Calvin Harris, Kanye West and Coldplay, many of which were collected on his 2009 ‘best of’ compilation, ‘Confidential’.
His fourth studio album, ‘The Agony And The Ecstasy’, is due for release on 27 Feb, and was previewed last year with the release of ‘The First Note Is Silence’, a collaboration with Tiësto and Underworld. This week he releases the second single, the album’s title track, which features vocals by Kid Adrift singer Selah Corbin. Other guest vocalists on the album include Claire Maguire and jazz singer Liane Carrol.
With the new single out, and the album on the way, CMU Editor Andy Malt caught up with High Contrast to ask a few questions.
AM: It’s five years since you released ‘Tough Guys Don’t Dance’. When did you start work on this album?
HC: It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the album began, as many tracks just start as little sketches, germs of an idea that take varying amounts of time to reach fruition. But it was over the last eighteen months that work on the album became very focused. I needed to take a little break from production after releasing my third studio album and then the ‘greatest hits’ record.
AM: How would you say your sound has developed since your last album?
HC: It seems like this is a more mature album, going deeper than the last one I think. There’s certainly more melancholy in it. Also my previous albums have been very sample orientated, but with the new one I wanted to set myself the challenge of not really using any samples. Often I would write the melodies on keyboards and then get them replayed by musicians on real instruments. This is also the first album where almost every track has a full vocal, and I wrote the lyrics for quite a few myself, something I haven’t done before but really enjoyed.
AM: How did the collaboration with Tiësto and Underworld, ‘The First Note Is Silent’, come about? What was the process by which that track was written?
HC: Underworld got in touch a few years ago wanting me to collaborate on some tracks for their last album and it worked so well that it seemed obvious to get together again for my record. The Tiësto connection came about through his manager who is a big fan of my work. I thought it would be interesting to put him and the Underworld guys on the same track, and a drum n bass track at that. We worked on it separately, sending parts back and fore online, which seems to be the way a lot of people collaborate these days as it’s hard to get three busy artists together in the same room at the same time.
AM: Did you have a list of collaborators for the new album in mind before you started, or did they come along as you worked on the tracks? Selah Corbin appears on three tracks, what drew you to her voice so much?
HC: I prefer to let things happen organically and not chase after them. The collaborators just seemed to fall into place as I progressed through the production of the record. Selah Corbin sang in a band called Kid Adrift, who I directed a music video for, and I was so taken with her voice I had to get her on the album.
AM: In the five years since you released ‘Tough Guys Don’t Dance’, you’ve become something of a go-to guy for remixes. Not that you weren’t remixing stuff before, but did your more recent prolific remixing work influence the way you produced your new album at all?
HC: Remixing is a fun thing to me, the hard work has already been done really, you just get to play around with the great track parts that have been given to you. Calling the new album ‘The Agony And The Ecstasy’ became rather prophetic as it did end up taking an agonisingly long time to finish, and the final mixdown stage got pretty painful, but you do get that special rush when you finally finish it.
AM: How do you approach your remixes – presumably it’s different working on an Adele track to working on an Enter Shikari track?
HC: I try not to go into any production with preconceived ideas. I take each tune on it’s own merits. It’s like beginning again every time which can be time consuming but keeps it fresh for me. This is why my back catalogue is so diverse, I think.
AM: Hospital Records turned fifteen last year. Having been signed to them for more than ten of those years, how have you seen the label develop? How important would you say it’s been to drum n bass?
HC: It’s been an incredible journey best illustrated by the fact that our first label residency club night was at Herbal in London, with a capacity of 250 people, and now we do sell out shows at Brixton Academy with 5000 people. I think Hospital has been a great force for good in drum n bass on many levels. And I get overwhelmed by the amount of fans who tell me that it was one of my tracks that got them into drum n bass in the first place.
AM: Drum n bass has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity over the last few years. What’s your view of the current drum n bass scene? How has it changed from when you started out?
HC: It’s changed so much since I began; it was very much the underdog of dance music back then. I remember house and trance DJs I knew looking down on the genre in the late 90s. Whereas today it’s a complete turnaround, where someone like Tiësto has played some of my tunes in his sets and drum n bass gets a lot of love from daytime Radio 1.
AM: You have various live dates coming up in the next few months, what can people expect from the shows?
HC: I’ll be touring the album extensively, doing the first Hospitality tour of the US in March alongside Netsky and Camo & Krooked. A lot of the shows after that will feature Dynamite MC and a vocalist from my album, Jessy Allen. I’m also getting into mixing visuals live as I DJ so that’s an exciting new avenue of expression for me.
AM: What’s next for you?
HC: Finding ways to combine my love of film with my music production is very intriguing to me and something I’ve wanted to do for years. I’m sure there’ll be some choice remixes coming in the wake of the album too!