Oil Gang’s back catalog is pretty much unimpeachable, but Trends & Boylan’s “Norman Bates” feels special: a genuine instrumental anthem, the label’s biggest since “Cherryade”. Built out of Bernard Herman strings and THAT ODB sample, it’s a simple yet powerful punch by two of grime’s most roughneck: scene mainstay Trends and longtime label engineer turned producer Boylan. The names may be new to most, but I spoke to the two producers recently and learned that their careers are anything but. —Son Raw
When did you first get involved in music?
Boylan:I’ve known Simon [Oil Gang] for years and years now through music, through making Drum & Bass, DJing out and stuff like that. He got into grime first and introduced me to it—through the Slimzee and Gods Gift’s Street Beats CD. ‘Cause before that sound came around, there was only ever drum & bass. So the first time I heard grime, it really turned my head. Particularly the tune “What!” by Wonder. To slow the drums down so much but still have it sound mean—that was it.
But really, it was a few years later when Oil Gang started the label and I got involved doing mixdowns that I really got more involved in it. I did mixes for Darq E Freaker, Splurt, JT and other people. That’s also when I moved back to London started and going out to this pre-Boxed night called Maybach that Slackk and Oil Gang and Tom Lea did. At that point Simon really pushed for me to work with the guys he knew—Dullah, JT, etc. and it went from there. That’s kind of where my sound started. It’s all rolled naturally.
Trends:I was into drum & bass and me and my mate Tricky, big him up, I met him at a rave and we got to talking and I found out he had software. This was around 2005-06, something like that. And I just learnt Reason with him, a year solid, going to bed at stupid hours in the morning. After that, we created a duo called Digital Era. We were doing alright—we had a few things played on Radio 1, 1 Extra and stuff. There was this guy called Sappo on there and we did a guest mix for his show and put a tune out on his compilation. We also did a remix of this reply to “Welcome to Jamrock” called “Welcome to England.” We did the drum & bass remix, which came out on 10″. That was supported by Rob da Bank on Radio 1, it was big at Carnival. So yeah, we had a good ride but then Tricky moved to London and I found myself being more into stuff like “Pay as U Go.”
So you both kind of got in through Slimzee.
Trends:Yeah, it turns out we’re both ex-drum & bass producers who discovered grime through his sets, so our sounds and what we’re making makes sense together, really. For me, when garage emerged, I then heard Pay as U Go. I had a Pay as U Go tape and that’s when I just heard Slimzee and the stuff he was playing compared to everybody else at the time… it was completely different. I was just hooked. It’s the same thing with [Boylan] as well! He grew up listening to hardcore and d&b so we have the same background.
Boylan:We both had that experience with drum & bass. Thinking it’s the hardest heaviest music around and then you hear Slimzee and think, “oh my God, there’s a wealth of other dark, dirty music to wrap your head around!” There’s a much more interesting rhythmic palette to play with—there’s so much to play with whereas d&b had become pretty standard with the whole “kick snare, kick snare.” In grime you have those crazy clap patterns, it makes it exciting to write.
That happened to me in like 08-09 when I heard UK music for the first time after years of listening to mostly hip hop.
Boylan:100%. You didn’t think you needed another form of music that did that but when you hear it, that’s it. And for me, it took a long time for me to actually make some. For years after hearing it, I was addressing it indirectly, sampling little snippets of grime in a dubstep or drum & bass tune. But it’s made the last few years of production really exciting for me. I’ve been doing this for a long time but grime opened a new box of toys to play with. It’s inspiring.
What kind of drum & bass were you into then, back in the day?
Trends:I grew up on drum & bass man. When I was 12-13 even, maybe before. The legendary people. Dillinja, Bad Company, Ed Rush & Optical, Rony Size, Krust, all the Bristol lot. Too many to mention! That sort of era there.
Boylan:Everything was Metalheadz. That really did sound like the future, all the stuff around that. Ed Rush & Optical, that whole Virus sound, that drew me in and I was utterly hooked. Dilinja just ’cause of his absolute rawness and simplicity. Also, No U Turn, everything Nico did, Bad Company in terms of more modern stuff. There’s a direct link to Metalheadz though. On my “Glass” remix, I’m sampling up an old mentasm stab, that was sampled by Metalheadz that now we’re regurgitating. There’s a lot to be said for what Metalheadz did in the ’90s that changed what you could do with electronic music. Between the dirty funk of Ed Rush & Opitcal and the pounding aggression of Dillinja, that’s what I carried with me most into what I’m doing at the moment.
What were your first big tunes, grime wise?
Trends:“Forest Green” was this tune that put me on the map, a little bit. It was basically Spooky that championed that about 2010. Then a bit later, when I did the Meanstreets label, I decided to put out some remixes people had made.
Boylan:I remixed that tune, “What!” by Wonder. ‘Cause that was the tune when I first heard it, it really bent my head. So one night, I sat down and wondered what would happen if I remade it with my modern sound. People liked it, and also Dizzee’s “I Luv U” as well. So those with a couple of other bits, that sort of gave me an idea of what my sound would be in this grime thing.
I actually met both of you guys for the first time together last year at Radar Radio when Edgem was on. How did you first link up?
Trends:I think that was through Dullah Beatz at a Boxed rave. Can’t remember which one. It just clicked straight away.
Boylan:As I remember it, the first time we chatted was the first Boxed Boiler Room. Simon, Dullah, and JT played back to back and they dropped my “Hijack” remix and we headed back to Dullah’s and Trends and me started chatting and it went from there. I can’t remember after that when we agreed to get in the studio though! It just happened.
Moving forward to Norman Bates, how did you two become mates and make that tune?
Trends:To be honest with you, I had the idea at my house, but I thought it lacked something. I just had the idea of the sample and how the beat should go. I took it to Boylan and said, ‘this tune could really bang but it needs more.’ After a few hours, Boylan suggested a speech before the drop and he came up with the Ol Dirty Bastard tune. I thought it was really smart and we just chopped it up. We listened back to it a few times thinking, right: Fucking hell!
Boylan:The key with that was doing it different. Rather than using exactly the same heavy in your face approach, we did it quite hip hop oriented. We tried to bend the hardness as much as we could. It’s almost a trap vibe but pushing all the levels of everything so it still has that grime sound. Originally we were gonna call it the “Annie Wilkes Riddim” ’cause of the girl from Misery and I then I came up with the “Norman Bates” title and the ODB sample.
It’s kind of interesting to hear that genesis. ‘Cause it doesn’t sound like a solo Trends tune or a solo Boylan tune for that matter.
Trends:That’s the thing! Boylan doesn’t do much sampled stuff. He doesn’t do many 808s, nor do I! But I just thought that with given the tunes we’d made together so far, I figured we should do something different. We were just as shocked as anyone: turns out there’s not one style we can do together, there are lots.
Boylan:It was a funny one, really. It came together really quick and I didn’t realize that was gonna be the one. I’d never claim to be an A&R man. I didn’t realize it was a hit. I’m better at doing the track and seeing where it goes: making 3 or 4 tracks a week and one of them will work. I think the fact that it sounds different is what makes it special: it’s got that trap influence but it’s really grimy too, and yet it also sounds like we’re not TRYING to make trap? I’m still figuring it out!
Have you guys made a lot of stuff together?
Trends:Yeah, there are tunes called “Crunch,” “Untouchable,” “Rhyme Time,” and one called “Woosh” that Riko just recently vocaled. Those are coming out on Meanstreets, that’s the Untouchable EP. These tunes were done before Norman Bates, they’ve done the rounds on the underground circuit but we figured given the buzz surrounding Norman Bates, the fans will expect a follow up. Untouchable is getting a great response, so that’ll be out next year.
Boylan:The first tune we did was “Rhyme Time.” That went really well—Trends brought some bass samples and we fucked around and got a good idea together. It still had that rave drop power sort of thing and in all honesty, it didn’t take long. The fact that we came from a d&b background, it worked and we had similar goals in terms of what we wanted this to sound like.
How did it get signed to Oil Gang, anyways?
Trends:I had Boylan on my Radar show and Simon [Oil Gang] came up. We were outside talking and Simon just casually asked what we were doing with Norman Bates and and I said we didn’t know. Then he pulled out a piece of paper with the artwork already done and it looked nice! So yeah, we thought it made sense since we’re all mates and Oil Gang was a massive fan of the tune. It was the right choice—the response it’s getting now is massive.
It was huge at Boxed, I heard Kode9 play it in Montreal as well.
Trends:That’s through Terror Danjah, they’re tight and I featured on Terror’s Planets LP. Terror, he’s been amazing. Him, Slimzee, and P-Jam have just helped me achieve things. Plus he’s a massive fan of the tune. Big up Kode9 too. The tune’s been all over. Mista Jam’s been popping it off, Slimzee. It’s at the point where people are shouting out the actual “Norman Bates” sample. That’s a blessing right there. Just the other day I was in Leeds with Slimzee and this dude walked up to Slimzee saying “play Norman Bates.”
That’s nuts for an instrumental. ‘Cause the other big tune at Boxed was “Topper Top,” which has 3 emcees.
Boylan:That is one of my favorite elements to the situation. All hail to “Topper Top”—awesome tune—but it does have that vocal which makes it easier to engage with. We actually had a vocal—can’t say who—but right now we don’t need the vocal to make people like it. And for me, I’m hoping to be a part of a big, energetic instrumental scene, something that stands on its own to just as much as dubstep or drum & bass does. A sound you can go and dance to regardless of whether there’s an emcee there. For me, “Norman Bates” is a kind of proof of that: give people a big, dirty, wacking bass song and interesting beats to listen to and that’s enough. Not that I dislike emcees, you just don’t HAVE to have them on there.
Trends:Yeah, that’s what I’m most proud of: it does damage without an emcee. That’s what grime used to be. Making tunes for the clubs. There’s radio tunes and club tunes but there are not enough club tunes. “Topper Top” is totally mad, that’ll be around for a long time but the fact that “Norman Bates” is instrumental? That’s a bonus.
How’d the B-sides, “Octopus” and “Shimmy” come about?
Trends:That was another tune doing the rounds, Slimzee battered it, Logan as well, Oil Gang as well and when we had that chat outside Radar, Oil Gang asked us for a solo tune each. When I offered it, he took it straight away.
Boylan:Oil Gang deserves a shout on that. He turned up at my studio halfway through making that and I had the melody. I’d been doing stuff with Syer B recently and he was playing us all the old never-released bits with Wiley that he’d done and that inspired me—that and the Danny Weed quick, clarinet kind of stuff. But Simon Oil Gang was the push to get me to use the melody as my main bass line.
He told me to make the bassline work around the riff, giving me a bit of direction. For the sounds, I had a new set of orchestral plugins so I used that to update the palette a bit and give it my take on it, but Oil Gang deserves a bit of credit—he turns up a lot when I’m making stuff and has a lot of constructive criticism to give that helps shape the tunes. Sometimes he’s the silent partner, so big up to him.
Any plans or shout outs?
Trends:Planets LP by Terror Danjah out now—I got a collab on that called “Planet X.” New EP with Kwam—the Rally EP, cop that. I just did the S&M remix for “JLXSNDRS” with Nico Lindsay, vinyl and digital. Bloodshed EP out now on Harddrive. Trends and Boylan Untouchable EP coming soon on Meanstreets! Big up all the supporters, Oil Gang, Boylan, Terror Danjah, Slimzee, P-Jam, the whole Boxed massive, yourself, Son Raw!
Boylan:I got a few bits. My remix of Logos’ “Glass” is coming on DEVILS, a new Different Circles offshoot. Big up to Mumdance and Logos for that. After that, I’m planning to start my own label next year and put out a Boylan EP. Just trying to find the name right now to tell you the truth. Watch this space!