In Session: High Contrast - Music - Mixmag

In Session: High Contrast

20 years on from his game-changing drum 'n' bass album 'True Colours', High Contrast delivers a mix asserting he's still at the top of his game

  • Aneesa Ahmed
  • 12 July 2022

In 2002, High Contrast (real name Lincoln Barrett) released his debut album ‘True Colours’ — a record that was instantly classified as experimental and fresh, and has gone on to be recognised as one of the greatest drum ‘n’ bass records in history. 20 years on, High Contrast is continuing to help the drum ‘n’ bass genre evolve.

The DJ and producer is a maestro of the melancholy jungle and melodic drum 'n' bass, with many of his tracks reaching the UK Singles Charts. Alongside his passion for making drum ‘n’ bass, the DJ also has an eclectic and broad music taste that he does not shy away from when it comes to his sets and weaving influence into his tracks.

To celebrate his 20th anniversary of ‘True Colours’, and 20 years of his career as High Contrast, Lincoln has released a ‘True Colours’ remix album, where tracks from the original 2002 album are reworked by some of the biggest names in the drum 'n' bass scene today. This includes remixes by the likes of DJ Marky, Flava D, Winslow, Artificial Intelligence, Bop, Logistics, Samurai Breaks & Neve, and Digital. Earlier this year in April he also released a special vinyl reissue of the original ‘True Colours’, coinciding with Record Store Day.

After temporarily laying low because of the pandemic, High Contrast is making his way back behind the turntables and has performed at festivals this year such as El Dorado and Parklife, and will be making an appearance at We Are FSTVL. To celebrate his time as High Contrast, Lincoln will be playing a special ‘20 Years of High Contrast’ show at Hospitality in the Woods, taking place at Beckenham Place Park on September 17 and 18. This show will see High Contrast taking listeners through his backlog of tracks and provide ravers with a trip down memory lane.

We caught up with Lincoln in his Welsh home, over Zoom, as he told us about his career highlights, the lessons he has learnt, the direction of the vinyl industry, and the sounds that have excited him both currently and in the past. Check out his In Session mix and Q&A below.

How do you feel about the ‘True Colours’ remix album being out?

It’s kind of the first project that I shepherded myself since starting my own label, so I was in control of what I put out. It’s been a good learning experience and it was quite fun! It was so fun pulling together these remixes, trying to figure out who belongs where and trying to find interesting fits for each of these tracks. So like with the title track ‘True Colours’, it has a garage feel, so Flava D came to mind for coming from the garage world and is now in drum 'n' bass. So that was a great fit. Then we got Marky from Brazil because the track he remixed [‘Global Love’] has a Brazilian vocal sample in it.

How long has this remix album and the Record Store Day reissue of the original ‘True Colours’ been in the works?

Well me and my small team came up with the idea, it had been on our radar for a little while now. These types of things, obviously you need to plan a little bit in advance because of vinyl backlogs and whatnot, so we knew we had to do a little bit of preparation for it. But thankfully my label manager was on the case for that - which is when we put out the original record as a special anniversary press which came out on Record Store Day. We knew we had to plan and so far everything seems to be going well for both.

Yeah, it is a crazy time for vinyl, Adele caused that huge delay some months back!

What a strange place we’re at with vinyl! For years it was on the decline and now it’s rising again. People who have been putting in the work for so long, the small indie labels, they’re now being shunted aside by major artists and labels such as Adele who are needing to press so much more than the small few thousand cohorts that indie labels had been doing.

Read this next: Why the vinyl industry is at breaking point

When you launched your label Highly Contrasting, did you have any values or ethos in mind for it?

No, I don’t have any values, I’m a nihilist! No, but seriously, after having been on a few labels over the years, I knew I was ready to self-release. I was ready for the freedom to put out what I want, when I want. Maybe I’ll look to release other people’s music, but I’ll only do that if I find a project I really love — which you’d think is how it works, but sometimes labels can fall into the trap of just being content machines, which is understandable as they’re businesses after all. But for myself, I never want to get to the point of only filling quotas. I only want to put out things I believe in.

How are you feeling about making an appearance behind the decks again this year?

I have a couple of outdoor shows coming up this year. I’m performing at Hospitality in the Woods - I’m doing a special 20 years of High Contrast show there, playing my back catalogue. I’ve got a lot of history with Hospitality, and their shows have always been great. I’ve seen it grow from when they were doing the first shows at Herbal on Kingsland Road, which has closed down now, it’s a tiny spot but it was a great club. And then the shows in Heaven, then going into various franchises and now putting on their own festival. It’s a great thing to see, and I’m really looking forward to the show. It will be interesting to focus the entirety of the set on my 20 years and the tracks that I’ve made [as High Contrast] in that time.

Do you normally shy away from playing too many of your own tracks?

When I’m on the decks, it’s me as a DJ, it’s different to me as a producer. When they see you as a DJ - a lot of people expect to see you play what you make as a producer, but I have such a broad music taste that I want to show it off in its entirety when I DJ.

I have a different frame of mind between those two minds, I grew up kind of DJing in the back rooms playing garage and R&B in local clubs - so I had to fight to keep people in the room! So I’m very accustomed to trying to curate and tailor a set depending on the crowd and the vibe and the general feel of the night. But because I’m so used to trying to tailor and cater, I forget to play my own music! I’d much rather play some exciting new thing that someone else has made. A lot of this is also because when you produce something by the time you finish it, you’re already going to be a little bit sick of it. I’ve started to find a better balance though - I used to not play any of my tracks but now I weave them in.

Read this next: 14 of the best vocal liquid drum 'n' bass tracks

So what have you enjoyed playing over the years?

I play tracks that I really love, and as long as people keep releasing tracks that I love then I’ll keep DJing as I do. It’s a mix of getting sent stuff, doing some digging, and just managing to find hidden gems in archives and online. A lot of time people send me stuff and it could fit my preferences on paper, like it could be some musical and melodic liquid track, but actually, it doesn’t do anything for me. But then sometimes a crazy jump-up track will, or something with much deeper bass than what I’m used to. I just need something that will musically excite me and also something interesting in a set.

My musical taste is incredibly broad, I don’t really have any major musical preferences. I’m open to anything. There was a time I was obsessed with house, or with techno, and I would weave in bits of those genres into my sets. But I do always come back to drum 'n' bass and jungle. At this point, my head is wired at 160+ BPM! This seeps into my production too, I’ve made some things which are inspired by my bursts of house music obsession, but I can’t help but turn those ideas into something more along the lines of jungle or drum 'n' bass. I guess it’s in my blood now; it’s what I do!

You like to DJ northern soul sometimes, tell us more about that.

I do northern soul sets sometimes because my mind works in a way where I get obsessed with something and then my life revolves around that for a period of a few months! I already had lots of northern soul records, without realising, because I would buy these records to then sample them. My sister started DJing, and she had never been a DJ before so it was weird having two DJs in the family, and she was having a lot of fun at these northern soul nights that she was putting on - so then I followed and also started playing some northern soul sets. Not wanting to take the shine from her! But I got really excited about the sound, it felt like the genre was rave music before much electronic music was about. People used to dance at all of these events and it wasn’t about posing or trying to pick anyone up, and there were a lot of similarities between this and the early rave scene - and that’s what I love about it. Playing these out on a soundsystem, it was so good. We’re so used to electronic drums now, so hearing a real drum kit is nice sometimes.

Have you had a favourite dancefloor moment from these 20 years?

Probably my proudest moment of the last 20 years was at Hospitality in Heaven. I played my bootleg remix of Kanye’s ‘Gold Digger’, and I played it out for the first time, and within about five seconds of it dropping, Andy C himself came out and rewound it and everyone lost their minds. And for me, as someone who went out and saw Andy C DJ when I was a teenager, that blew my mind. It was the biggest honour!

What’s been your favourite remix project to get involved with?

I mean, the Adele one is probably my biggest and probably did the most for my career. Off the back of that, I did get a lot more work! But then often people will come to me with a proposal and they want me to kind of emulate the Adele remix. But it’s hard to emulate something when it’s not meant to sound like that, and actually, it can end up sounding bad. They give me songs that sound nothing like an Adele-sounding track — I can’t make it sound anything like an Adele track but I can try and remix it! I love doing a remix project because I already really like a component of the track. This could be a great vocal or a great melody or something like that, and that’s the hard part done for you. The rest of it is fun - but because of deadlines I make them in what feels like a feverish blur, so I don’t have much memory of really doing them!

So you don’t make your own tracks in a feverish blur?

No, I generally procrastinate! Some of my tracks have taken a good part of 10 years to complete. I think ‘Questions’ took 10 years, I started the idea in 2006 and it came out in 2016. ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’, I started the idea in 1998 and it came out in 2007! I sampled the vocal in 1998 and tried to do something with it, but it never felt right - and I’d periodically return but nothing I did with it felt right until 2007. But I’m a big believer in that if something feels right, you’ll keep going back to it until you’re happy with the result.

Read this next: How to overcome creative blocks

For ‘Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’, was the final product wildly different to the original idea you had in your head in 1998?

I guess because it was built around the [‘Cry Me A River’] sample, it was always evolving but it was centred around the same idea. I originally sampled an Aretha Franklin vocal, but I was using the sample that Mos Def used in ‘Ms Fat Booty’, and then I found a different sample, and another, but eventually I found the sound that the actual track had, liked it, and kept evolving that idea.

At what point do you know you’re happy with a track?

I mean, I’m never satisfied with my own work because I’m my own toughest critic. But I am able to remove myself from getting in the way by being too critical. But tracks need to be making me feel emotional, I’m quite an emotionally reserved person so music is how I have this emotional outlet. Sometimes I have these tunes and they make me start crying, it’s a good sign because if I’m feeling emotional then I’m sure if people are on the dancefloor tipsy or high or whatever- it will probably blow their heads off!

What’s been your favourite project you’ve worked on?

‘Return of Forever’, one of my first tracks, it was a real moment for me. At the time it felt unique for me because creating that kind of uplifting, euphoric, widescreen-sounding track was special. The track is very much a drum ‘n’ bass anthem, but I remember wanting this to be a musical moment so I drowned out the drums and let the melody carry the track. It was also one of those tunes which started out as another idea, I took the original track I had made to my label at the time and they all said it sounded good, and it was going to be another classic High Contrast roller - which I knew they meant as a compliment but I didn’t want just another High Contrast roller. That pushed me to go back to the studio and try and take the track to another level, and that’s what it did.

Is there anything you’ve learnt about the dance music industry in these 20 years?

Having the right team and having the right management is so important. There was a period of time when I wasn’t managed and that did hold me back, so having the right team and good people is so important. You’ve got to have a good music lawyer and never sign anything without them checking it over! So really, it’s about having the right people.

In 2019 you said that we’re about to see a jungle renaissance, is that still true?

Yeah, well that jungle renaissance continued and is still continuing - we can see people like Nia Archives and SHERELLE going from strength to strength. There is this new generation of artists doing it their own way. Old people like myself, and a few other drum 'n' bass acts that have done jungle albums - it’s great that there’s music there - but it felt like you needed new artists who bring authentic energy and don’t have any baggage or history of drum ‘n’ bass behind it. Long may jungle live!

Read this next: Flying the junglist flag: Nia Archives is leading jungle's new era

Are there any new names you’re championing right now?

There are so many new people, it’s crazy! Some of the newer people for example are like Flava D, her switch to drum 'n' bass is still quite new, and we have Winslow - it’s great to see the rise in Americans making liquid drum ‘n’ bass, that was great to see! But also Goddard, and K Motionz, Disrupta.

Where do you see the scene or sound going?

You really can’t tell! It’s such an enigma, all of the time. You have to wait and see, we saw that with the roller sound coming through with the last few years, but where it goes next - who knows? The four-four has picked up, everywhere, it’s not my taste but that’s okay - but if a sound comes through that necessarily isn’t your taste, it will recycle. What I’ve found is that if the trend is something darker or heavier than what is my taste, it benefits me because my music will stand out.

To finish, tell us about your In Session mix.

This mix is a taste of what I'll be playing at festivals this summer. Featuring heavily are remixes from the 'True Colours 20' remix album, so grateful to all the remixers on the project for delivering such beautiful bangers. Across the mix is my usual style of melodic, uplifting tunes peppered with heavier basslines and touches of jungle.

'True Colours' (20th Aniverserary Edition + Remixes) is out now, get it here. Find out more about the ‘20 Years of High Contrast’ show at Hospitality in the Woods here.

Aneesa Ahmed is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow her on Twitter

High Contrast - Music Is Everything (Pola & Bryson remix)
Chords - Libation
Logistics - Rituals
High Contrast - Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Bou remix)
Mozey - Lady Kill az
High Contrast - Rhythm Is Changing
Nami - Duskin About
Unglued - Way Back When (Halogenix remix)
Makoto - Ascender
High Contrast - True Colours (Flava D remix)
Technicolour - Satisfy
Willy Mav - Discretion (Jamey remix)
Komatic - Make Me Feel
High Contrast & Bou - Don’t Need You
Millbrook - Choices
Lally & Lens - Love The Way
Jammez & 4K - Falling Down (Phibes remix)
Refracta - Point and Shoot
Terror & Lottie Woodward - Come As You Are
Bert H - The Connection
Break & Total Science - Aardvark
Simms - Lets Go
Conrad Subs - Slab
High Contrast - Windows 95 (Bladerunner remix)
Sub Focus & Wilkinson - Freedom (SF & Wilks vs High Contrast remix)
Luude - Buuters
Smooth - Higher feat. Marge
Origin8a & Propa & Benny Page - Harmony (VIP mix)
Need For Mirrors - Thugga (Serum remix)
Shapes - I Wont Change feat. Mark Menzies
Whiney - Absolute
High Contrast - Global Love (DJ Marky remix)
High Contrast - Return of Forever (Camo & Krooked & Mefjus remix)

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