“We’re trying to push the sounds that were around in the mid-1990s, but update them … We’re keen to bring back experimentation. I think it’s something that has been lost over the past ten years. You’ve got more and more dance-floor fodder coming out. Drum and bass became about the same people for too long. We’re well aware that in two years it won’t be our stuff that’s being played, it’ll be someone else’s. That’s what makes it healthy” – Guy Brewer, prior to a Commix set at Aperture, June 2008
This is the second installment of the blog’s new series “Tracks I Wish I’d Written”.
Every track that will be presented in the series is selected from my personal record collection and has had a profound impact on my musical taste. Featuring a variety of tracks across the electronic music spectrum, emphasizing mainly on drum and bass, from undisputed classics to underrated gems – all tracks I wish I’d written, as the title of the series clearly states.
The first feature of the series has been about a Photek production released in 1996. Making a leap in time and fast forward to 2007, the second issue is about a modern drum and bass classic; perhaps the most celebrated track from one of the most fascinating and talented drum and bass outfits of the last decade, Commix.
Hailing from the historical town of Cambridge, England, the founding members of Commix have been Guy Brewer, George Levings and Conrad Whittle. Their recording alias Commix was selected after looking up words and terms in a thesaurus. However deceiving it may sound, the Commix artist name is an implicit reference to alchemy – mingling/mixing different elements together, transmuting something common into something special – a notion that turned out to align perfectly with their musical output.
Their musical background consisted of a broad canvas, which eventually developed into a taste for electronic music and particularly techno and drum and bass; listing Jonny L, early Total Science and Boymerang as their main drum and bass influences. Closely affiliated with two other prominent members of the Cambridge drum and bass scene, namely the Gresham brothers (Dan “Nu:Tone” and Matt “Logistics”, with whom they recorded together under the guise Cambridge 4 a few years later), Commix soon realized that it was feasible to engage into production on their own. Nu:Tone was the first of the Cambridge crew to make a breakthrough into the drum and bass proceedings. After graduating from university, he started working with John B, assuming engineering duties. After several releases on John B’s labels and his own imprint BrandNu, Nu:Tone signed an exclusive contract with Hospital Records, which resulted in a successful recording career.
Under Nu:Tone’s studio mentorship, Commix made their basic steps into production and their first release saw the light of day in 2003 on Ricky Blue’s Aquasonic imprint. Initially, their records were in the vein of the more soulful, house and disco-influenced sounds, cementing their reputation as one of the genre’s most promising dj/production team. However, the road to success wasn’t paved with roses. At later interviews, Commix described their musical evolution, in terms of production approach and attitude towards drum and bass, as dramatic.
The pivotal moment of their career came in 2005. Generally dissatisfied from the trajectory drum and bass was following, Commix nearly gave up production, coinciding with Whittle’s departure from the band. Levings and Brewer eventually decided to carry on as a duo. It was around that time that they met with Goldie and a record deal with his iconic Metalheadz re-ignited their passion for drum and bass. Denouncing their musical past, the duo found their natural habitat, as they were given the artistic freedom and creative space to re-invent Commix. The synergy with Metalheadz culminated in a string of singles and two personal albums, the highlight being the pinnacle of their recording career, their genre-defying debut album entitled “Call To Mind”.
Commix have received the honour to be the first artist, other than Goldie’s side project Rufige Kru, to produce an album for Metalheadz. Astonishingly enough, they had initially rejected the offer made by Chris Ball, the Metalheadz managing director at the time. Fortunately, they soon changed their minds and with the continuous and undivided support from Metalheadz and Goldie himself, Commix started working on the grandiose project. The compilation of the album has been a process that took almost two years to complete, before being released to public and critical acclaim (partly due to unexpected delays at the pressing plant), however the result surpassed expectations.
“Call To Mind” is an amalgamation of sounds and ideas, demonstrating the wide spectrum of Commix’s influences. Every track of the album has a concept with nods to different types of music. Rather than a collection of tracks directly derived from the traditional drum and bass formula, the album is a mosaic of drum and bass, techno and left-field dance music, with an appeal to dancefloors, as well as home-listening. The illustration of the album is credited to John Stark, a Royal Academy Of Arts graduate and Commix’s school-mate and is based on an oil painting, as Commix envisaged an artwork with an artistic and classic touch that could stand the test of time. The additional sleeve design is by Alex Eveson.
The album’s standout track (which I wish I had written) is the impeccable “Be True” (b/w Satellite Type 2, METH075). Preceding the “Call To Mind” official launch, as it was released a few months earlier as an album sampler, “Be True” made an immediate impact, championed by every major dj of the drum and bass circuit. Seemingly effortless, borrowing from the immediacy of minimal techno, without sounding like a creative stretch, “Be True” is both musical and experimental; a club smasher that has an artistic edge to it.
During the course of a 10-year continuous and prolific activity, Commix have recorded for a wide array of labels, including the likes of some of the genre’s most prestigious ones (Metalheadz, Hospital Records, 31 Records, Creative Source, Good Looking, Exit Records, Shogun Audio, Horizons, RAM, Dispatch, Defunked and Liquid V among many others). They have also been commissioned to provide remixes for many studio greats too, such luminaries as Rufige Kru, Alex Reece, Dj Die, Adam F & Dj Fresh, Origin Unknown, Bebel Gilberto and Dj Trax to name a few.
In 2009, Commix joined the elite group of artists, who have been commissioned to curate an installment of the highly acclaimed Fabriclive series; Commix compiled the 44th Fabriclive volume.
In 2010, three years after the release of “Call To Mind”, Metalheadz commissioned a full remix version of the album, aptly entitled “Re:Call To Mind”, with contributions from acclaimed artists across the electronic music spectrum, such as Instra:mental, dBridge, Pangaea, Burial, Kassem Mosse, A Made Up Sound, Underground Resistance, Two Armadillos, Sigha and Marcel Dettmann.
Five years after the release of their debut album, Commix marked and end of an era with their second personal album for Metalheadz entitled “Dusted”, with previously unreleased selected works between 2003 and 2008, including some of the tracks that were intentionally omitted from their inaugural album, as well as a demo version of “Envious“. Shortly after the release of “Dusted” (March 2012) and following a Fabric gig, Brewer publicly announced that he would be leaving Commix for fresh pastures, with Levings effectively continuing Commix as a solo project. In Levings’ own words:
“To signify the change in outlook Commix will now be known as CMX, a name that represents where Commix has come from and where CMX is going. The new sound of CMX represents freedom promoted through musical expression. Relying less on samples and the familiar drum & bass formula, CMX will embrace new styles and tempos, and a heavy influx of analogue equipment to create a new and exciting musical attitude”
Visit the blog’s “Tracks I Wish I’d Written” series archive here.