As the spring’s about to start, that only means the summer is getting closer! Critical Music are celebrating 20 years anniversary this year and as a part of their massive tour, they are going to take over the Madhouse stage at Let It Roll 2022. We caught up with one of the label’s stalwarts, the Swiss duo QZB, to chat about their current musical endeavours and more.
Hey guys, what have you been up to lately and how does it feel now when it seems the club shows as well as the festivals are back up on the menu for good?
Hey! We were working intensely. We spent a good chunk of the pandemic building our new studio and started to work on our debut album, besides leaning into new ventures concerning our dayjobs. The pandemic had its ups and downs, especially creatively, but with everything going back to semi-normal, we’re now firmly looking forward to what the future holds.
It’s been 5 years since you’ve started your journey with Critical Music, how did it all start and how do you feel about it now when you look back at it?
Critical Music was always our favorite label with its forward thinking curation of things and overall futuristic approach. After releasing the ‘Opposition EP’ on Flexout Audio, we were suddenly on Kasra’s radar and one day Tom Bassi of Flexout sent us a video of Kasra playing some tunes of ours at Boomtown. We were over the moon. Shortly after, Kasra hit us up and asked if we wanted to release on Critical, which marked the start of a long and family-like relationship with the bossman himself and Badger, the label manager. From that point on, we hunkered down in our studio with a fresh mindset and worked on our craft with relentless hunger to achieve a new sonic level which culminated in the release of our first EP with the label: SYSTEMS009.
You’ve started with a couple of EPs but recently we’ve seen you switch your release habit to the Perspectives series. Can you elaborate on the idea behind this and maybe even hint what we can expect from you on the release front in 2022?
We always worked towards more substantial and bigger bodies of work with the EPs as it was most in line with our aesthetic vision of bringing only the most quality things which we create whilst collaborating with our good friend Thomas Steiner (Steiner-Grafik) on the visual side to bring out the full potential of each and every release. We still have a nearly obsessive and perfectionist approach to our creativity, but at the same time we wanted to be more flexible and spontaneous with our release schedule, so we decided to create the Perspectives series, an outlet where things don’t have to be so intensely thought through. As mentioned: We’re currently working on our album, so we’re fully focusing on that, but we’ll still have some single tunes and remixes dropping this year.
You’ve been working very frequently with Rider Shafique and also Charli Brix. How did you bring them on board and do you have any special connection going on with them in particular?
We always love to work with vocalists, as the mindset is a completely different one, comparing it to making tunes all on your own. The interaction between MC, singer and producer is magical, when the vibe’s right, bouncing ideas and emotions back and forth. Inspiration is often a product of a collaborative thought process, hence we prefered to work as a duo from the get-go.
The contact with Charli came through Flexout’s Tom Bassi and we clicked instantly. We love to work with her, as she’s talent in its purest form, the same goes for Rider Shafique, whose poetic qualities we truly admired since hearing him on Om Unit’s album ‘Self’.
You recently took part in the collaborative album “Together With Ukraine” with “Pinwheel”, a collab of yours with GLXY and you’ve already worked together before on “Yes Jah”. Was this a one-time kind of thing or are you planning to get back in the studio with the guys any time soon?
We were in a production frenzy when we started on Critical, tunes and collabs came together super quickly and felt very satisfying, ‘Yes Jah’ was part of that creative phase. We always loved GLXY’s style, so collabing was natural. We tried to come up with more collaborative material, but we all were doing our thing and were busy, but one idea stuck and stayed in the vault for quite some time. With the quick timeframe for ‘Together With Ukraine’, it felt like the perfect timing to release ‘Pinwheel’. Collaborations for us are always dependent on the vibe, timing and other resources, so we can never promise anything, but we’d definitely love to work again with the boys.
When it comes to your sound, it is very specific, unique, balancing on the edge of quite minimalistic deep and techy, yet you are able to come up with full on bangers as well as with soulful vibes at the same time. Are we to expect some “unusual” stuff in that vein coming from you in the close future?
We always try to come up with something unusual, that’s the nature of our creativity: Always going for the uncertain and undiscovered, always experimenting and finding something that just feels right for us. We never think in given structures, we always start tunes differently and if it hits the spot, we’ll have it out.
Living off music has never really been an option for us, as the cost of living in Switzerland is sky high. This rather depressing fact is quite liberating, as it frees you from all the expectational pressure of ‘staying hot’ and releasing constantly just for the sake of having things out. We’re in for the craft, we purely enjoy working in a software and translate our aesthetic vision into sonics and we couldn’t be happier that the guys at Critical Music share our vision. In the end, we all die the same death.
To answer your question: Yup, there will be plenty of unusual stuff on the album.
You both come from Switzerland and to be honest, we don’t know too much about the local scene over here, care to share what’s it like and maybe point us in the direction of any exciting up and coming talents from your homeland?
Thomas is actually from Germany, but he works in Switzerland and lives just right at the border, so he counts as a Swiss for sure. 🙂 Switzerland has a very small, but active scene of promoters, ravers and producers, which we see to get bigger year by year. We have a monthly night in Basel called RANDOM which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and steadily provided forward thinking sonics as a contrast to the mainstream offerings. We’re currently mentoring a very talented girl from Switzerland, so make sure to follow switch/case!
In the summer of ‘21 we were playing a show in Lucerne when suddenly two kids approached us. They just turned 18 during lockdown and it was their very first rave and they were over the moon to see us play. That was one of the best feelings in our career, as it really showed that we had a substantial impact on our countries’ scene and inspired young people to enjoy or contribute to the Drum & Bass-cosmos in Switzerland.
We know you’ve recently got married, Ben, so how’s the married life treating you so far? Also you’re working for the Swiss national TV, what exactly are you doing there? As for you, Thom, are you also working a day-time job? Is there anything you’re particularly proud about outside of music?
Ben: Life’s been treating me well. After 12 years i married the best woman in the world to finally seal the deal, it was the best day of my life. I’m currently working for the Swiss national broadcasting corporation’s kids channel, doing a YouTube-show which showcases a short, playful insight into the lives of kids in different cultures. We cover kids from all around the globe, interviewing them about their heritage and the idiosyncrasies of growing up in Switzerland. The goal of this program is to give other kids the opportunity to learn about different cultures and to look into a day of the life of a child from a different origin. It’s something very far from Drum & Bass, but it’s a very enriching and humbling experience.
Thom: I work part-time in a swiss marketing agency and am active in many other, mostly media-focused projects as part of my self-employment.
Over the last few years i’ve gotten a taste of many other media-creative areas such as video-production and 3d animation, which in turn has an inspiring effect on the work on our music. The effects of this, I hope, can be seen on our album once it releases.
I am especially proud of the creative environment we are currently in and of all our friends inside and outside the scene. Our newly built audio and video studio is the central anchor point and offers our creative circle of friends the opportunity to develop freely and to inspire and support each other.
Having played both Let It Roll Winter and the summer festival, too, what are you looking forward to experiencing the most now you’re planning to come back here again? Anything in particular you fancy about the Czech Republic?
We always love to come back to Czech Republic, as the country has a very special overall feel for us. The people, the scenery, the architecture, the lifestyle, nearly everything in Czech Republic and Eastern Europe in general is so enchanting and stands in contrast to our daily lives in Central Europe, which is very refreshing. Let It Roll has always been the gig we look forward to the most, so we can’t wait to be back this summer!
Last, but not least let’s have a quick shootout! Clubs or festivals?
B: Small clubs and festivals both have their perks, but when talking about LIR, festivals are taking the cake.
T: Absolutely love playing festivals, but there is something extremely magical about small, dark and intimate venues. It’s always about the vibes, not the size of the crowd.
Daytime or nighttime events?
B: Nighttime, 100%
T: Nightowls through and through
90’s or 00’s Drum & Bass?
B: 00’s Drum & Bass, but even more 10’s deep Drum & Bass, that was the pinnacle for me.
T: 00’s, but 2011-2013 will forever be the era that shaped me the most.
Mountains or beaches?
B: Beaches, as there are none in Switzerland.
T: Mountains, I just love the mystical and other-worldly scenes they create.
Cats or dogs?
T: That’s like choosing a favorite between your two kids. Definitely both.
Thank you so much for your time and we’re looking forward to seeing you at the festival in a couple of month’s time!
Much love. x T&B-