For many people, it’s all about the drop. But for German drum and bass pioneer Kabuki, a.k.a. Jan Hennig, it’s the beats and grooves that get him going.
Alongside dBridge, he’s been the driving force behind the latest in the MASCHINE Expansions series, DECODED FORMS, featuring re-recorded iconic drum breaks, bass, and pads.
Heavily involved in the early German drum and bass scene, Kabuki co-founded one of the first German drum and bass labels in 1996 along with production co-hort Mainframe (aka. Frank Marheineke). As a solo artist he’s released an abundance of critically acclaimed EPs, including 2014’s Meditations, a record that played with tempo and instrumentation reminiscent of the hip hop music he grew up on.
“Breakbeats [are] the foundation of how I approach making music,” he says. “[They were] what I kind of fell in love sampling in the first place.” Falling deeper into sampling breaks, he became more obsessive about deconstructing their components and learning how to chop and slice them just so. And though drum and bass will always be his first love, releases like this year’s Rodinia EP demonstrate how Kabuki’s sound has grown to encompass components of footwork, jungle, and autonomic, with changing tempos and cut-up beats providing his music with plenty of space and soul.
The experimental nature of Kabuki’s music is also exemplified in the New Forms party. Formed together with long-time friend and collaborator dBridge, New Forms is a club night that, as its name suggests, is focused on blurring and even outright defying genre lines. “One of the main inspirations for the sound palette was the music we DJ at our New Forms club nights,” Kabuki says. “Having a clear sound aesthetic in mind helped to charter the territory for this Expansion.”
At the center of the expansion are four iconic breaks: “Assembly Line” by the Commodores, “God Made Me Funky” by the Headhunters, “N.T.” by Kool and the Gang, and “Funk Inc.” by Kool is Back. They were chosen for how well-known they are but also because of the variety that exists between them.
“It’s a really personal choice. Other people would have gone for the ‘Think (about it)’, the Amen, Apache, but for me, those four breaks we’re trying to create our own version of [are] very usable,” Kabuki says. “You can use them in different contexts, like as a main meat and bone of the rhythm track, or you can just use them to embellish, like most synthetic drum hits….You get a lot of mileage out of those four breaks.”
While both hip hop and electronic music rely a lot on sampling, Kabuki and dBridge wanted to do something special with the breaks. So rather than sampling or even recording them to sound like the originals, they focused more on reproducing the vibe of the breaks. Part of this meant getting the same or similar instrumentation and mic setups, but it also meant expanding on the breaks.
“That’s always something I had this fantasy [of]. Like, you have these four bars open on the vinyl, but what would happen if you had more? Like if the drummer would have played more variations, you know, that you could have used in your production?” Kabuki says.
For Kabuki and dBridge, their partnership with the Abbey Road Institute gave them access to sound engineers, producers, musicians, and musical equipment to help them achieve the sound they were going for. Additionally, their familiarity with MASCHINE and all of the expansions was beneficial in helping them know where to focus their energies.
“We’re both heavy duty MASCHINE expansion users, and have a good overview of what’s available from a sonic perspective,” Kabuki says. “Our goal was to produce an expansion that’s unique and versatile and can be used for any genre that values heavy drums, solid bass, and melancholic pads.”
Get Decoded Forms on Sounds.com here.