For the last decade, working together as The Upbeats, Dylan Jones and Jeremy Glenn have made an international career for themselves as studio producers and live DJ purveyors of, what is considered some of the best drum & bass music around. They recently produced Shapeshifter’s latest album and their own fourth studio recording, ‘Primitive Technique’, was released via the Netherlands-based Vision Recordings on the eve of NZ Music Month. Martyn Pepperell shared a cuppa and an un-toasted sandwich with the pair.
Sitting in a Brazilian-themed cafe in the colourful Wellington suburb of Newtown, Dylan Jones, the quieter side of the NZ drum & bass duo known as The Upbeats looks over at his compatriot, the substantially more outgoing Jeremy Glenn, and laughs.
“Toasted sandwiches are off. That’s so last year. We’ve already been through those hard times where you had to have toasted sandwiches every day.”
Quick off the mark, Glenn replies. “We actually realised toasted sandwiches are really bad for you. We started to feel really shit every day, usually after having toasted sandwiches. Now we go and buy fresh sandwiches from a cafe, or consider ordering Dominos.”
Together as The Upbeats, Jones and Glenn (also known informally as Downie Wolf and Terror Snake respectively) have made an international career for themselves as studio producers and live DJ purveyors of globally respected drum & bass music. Co-signed for over a decade by international industry heavyweights like Bad Company, Ed Rush and Optical, Chase & Status and Noisia, amongst many others, between albums, singles, EPs, and remixes they’ve racked up over 50 releases worldwide on key labels like BC Presents, Virus, Bad Taste Recordings, Renegade Hardware, and their own record label Non Vogue.
This discography has been the result of regular eight hour weekday shifts spent writing, mixing and mastering their music, most of which occurs within their home studio, located in a spare room inside Glenn’s home.
“We’ll meet up at maybe 10 or 11am, have some cups of tea and talk through what we need to do that day,” Jones explains.
“We try to start something new every day,” Glenn adds. “There is a lot of talking, we like to do some video gaming as well. Video gaming and cups of tea have been the backbone of The Upbeats. Every two hours there will be a cup of tea, which over 15 years, is quite a few cups of Earl Grey! You hit a brick wall, or run out of ideas, and that is where the video games come in. It’s like, ‘OK, I’m going to go and take my frustration out on some noobs on the internet.’”
On April 29th a chunk of their studio work from the last year culminated in the worldwide release ‘Primitive Technique’, their fourth album. It came via Vision Recordings, a label owned and run by their good friends Noisia from the Netherlands, another act considered one of the most crucial in the world in drum and bass. And with a global release, comes another obligation they are no stranger to, global touring.
“For the last three years, we’ve been playing close to 100 shows a year,” Glenn reflects, “which averages out to about two shows a week.”
Whether playing together or DJing solo, the duo visit Europe and the UK twice a year, usually head to America once a year, and play regularly around NZ, Australia, parts of the Pacific and Asia. Represented in America by the prestigious Circle Management and in Europe by the equally well-regarded Primary Talent, their southern hemisphere bookings are handled by NZ-based Top Shelf Agency, an impressive triangulation of credentials on the resume. Japan is another favoured destination for them both.
“We love Japan,” Glenn enthuses. “We fight claw and tooth over who gets to go and play.
Over their decade-plus journey, they’ve made a few interesting trips outside their well worn circuit as well. Jones in particular, having performed in Siberia and the Caribbean, has some stories to tell.
“I played on the roof of this really rundown old building in Puerto Rico,” he lucidly recalls, almost disbelieving of himself. “There was a shooting at the show, so we got shut down by the cops. I had to stay with this guy who lived in a gated community and he didn’t trust me enough to leave me in his house during the day. So I had to go to architecture school with him and sit with him in class.”
Flying into Siberia, at around 4am (in a rickety plane that he says could have been from World War II, Jones says he was greeted by a 14-year old rave promoter who was pretending he was 18 so he could DJ and throw shows in local nightclubs.
“I played to about 500 people. After the show they made me sign their passports, their bodies, their money. It almost doesn’t seem real when I think back to it.”
Through this heavy engagement with the global dance floor, The Upbeats have developed a sound, which, while NZ in origin, is valid worldwide. The pair have built strong connections and friendships throughout that breakbeat- and bassline-fueled electronic music scene, one of the most crucial being with Noisia.
“The first time we went to Europe, after one of our first big tunes had been released, they came and saw us play,” Glenn remembers. “We kept talking online and started collaborating.”
The collaboration lead into business ventures and a longstanding genuine friendships – Nik Roos from Noisia has stayed with them in Wellington three times. Having previously released albums via Loop Recordings, Bad Taste Recordings and their own Non Vogue label, releasing ‘Primitive Technique’ via Noisa’s Vision Recordings made sense – especially in light of Noisa’s enthusiasm about their music and an impending development.
“In August I’m moving over to the Netherlands for six months,” Glenn explains. “My partner is going to go to university over there, and it’s going to give me the opportunity to explore how much further we can push our brand if we’re on the ground. I’ve already landed two South Africa shows later in the year as a result. I think that a lot of how you build your name in Europe is based on the shows you do, rather than the music you release.”
Jones plans to pop over as well for a couple of months, so the two can play a series of shows together and work on new music.
Known for normally writing massive prog-rockesque drum & bass concept albums, with ‘Primitive Technique’, they decided to take things back to basics, crafting a cycle of maximalist dance floor anthems focused directly on the hips and heart as opposed to the head.
“In the last two years, we’ve really made a big push to improve our studio techniques,” Glenn admits. “We’ve always been pretty lacklustre in that area, but we progressed and learned new things. The new artists out there gave us some real motivation to step our game up.”
Inside the studio they still work on a bare bones set-up of Logic Audio Pro, studio monitors and a MIDI keyboard. Amazing with their production and overall sonic fidelity, ‘Primitive Technique’ shows the incredible things possible with little, given enough practice, focus and commitment.
Last year the pair were shoulder-tapped to produce Shapeshifter’s new album ‘Delta’, their first such producer assignment. Enthusing about the learning process they went through while working on it, they’re reluctant to discuss it in depth, considering it a story for Shapeshifter to tell themselves. I ask where they see themselves in a decade.
“Ten years is a long time,” Jones replies. “To be still independently writing music in 10 years time, that would be awesome.”
“Being involved in the video game soundtrack industry would be good as well,” Glenn adds.
And how do they feel about where they are right now?
“I don’t know about you Dylan, but the fact we’re still writing music, getting better at writing music, and we don’t have to think about getting day jobs, is pretty good. I’m where I’d like to be,” Glenn replies, Jones nodding his agreement with a cheeky smile, until we all crack up laughing.
From a backyard sleep-out studio in the suburbs, to a spare room studio, also in the suburbs, The Upbeats keep the spirit of No. 8 wire DIY NZ music alive. They might not be internationally releasing and touring lo-fi indie rock or experimental noise like Chris Knox and The Dead C did in the ’80s and ’90s, but within the world of drum & bass, they are, on an international level, no less important or influential to the ongoing development of their scene of choice.