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“We never bothered to book gigs”
How did a show-shy rock band turn into one of the country’s best drum and bass acts?
Rob Stares asked The Qemists to find out…
The Qemists are currently laughing at the latest batch of reviews that have been sent through.
Amongst the slew of positive press critiques for their debut album Join The Q, one particular anecdote has made the trio of Dan Arnold (bass), Liam Black (guitar) and Leon Harris (drums) chuckle in unison whilst sat in their Brighton studio.
Leon explains: “It was a review that was really opinionated against drum and bass. They liked the track, but they didn’t want to like the track so they gave it a good review but pretty much told everyone that they probably wouldn’t like it! [The end line was] ‘Although this is drum and bass, it’s not unlistenable noise!’”
Articles such as these aren’t a rarity to The Qemists. Essentially a drum and bass/rock crossover act, they’ve managed to corner a genre that is fairly underdeveloped. The band have grown tired of constant comparisons to Pendulum of late: “We don’t really feel it,” says Leon, but have enjoyed recent nods towards The Prodigy much more.
Growing up in Sussex during the nineties, the trio have now known each other for: “How many years? Something ridiculous,” according to Dan. Their first major foray into music came in the shape of angst-ridden rock band, The End of Things:
“We wrote a lot of songs, but we never sent out a demo CD or attempted to get a record contract,” explains Leon. “Most of the time we didn’t bother to book gigs either. We just thought: ‘this’ll happen when it happens. If we get good enough, something will come of it eventually.’ And I think we were right.”
Being musicians was always the goal, even at school: “We didn’t know that we would succeed in it or expect to live off it, but we did know that as soon as we stopped, we would’ve failed instantly,” said Dan. “The road to success is long and arduous, but failing is too easy. We never gave up.”
From 1997, their interest in drum and bass increased, gradually turning them into rockers by day and resident DJ’s by night. Their biggest break arguably came in the shape of a remix for the legendary dance duo Coldcut in 2005, which saw them gain praise from a wealth of musical peers.
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Remixing ‘Everything Is Under Control’ triggered the start of widespread acclaim, with Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden and – yes – Pendulum stepping up to recognise their talents. Remixes for Roots Manuva and Basement Jaxx amongst others were racked up, and a record deal with (Coldcut formed) Ninja Tune followed. Job done.
Well, nearly. The following two years would see the band work on creating their debut LP on a near round-the-clock basis, fitting it around their day jobs. Liam worked as a builder, Leon was a web designer and Dan taught Music Technology to budding musicians.
It sounds gruelling, but they were committed: “When you describe that you’re going to be a musician and immerse yourself in music totally, you don’t really have any other choice,” explains Leon.
After considerable deliberation, they got the album just how they wanted, with ex-Faith No More front-man Mike Patton being the final piece of the jigsaw on ‘Lost Weekend’. The album they’d longed for was complete.
“Any idea behind it was to make a record that hung together and that people could listen to from start to finish,” states Liam. “A lot of dance based albums kinda sound like a collection of singles.”
Suddenly, all the work they had been building up from since they were thirteen was done. By the time you read this, ‘Join The Q’ will be in the shops. With the first batch of finished CD’s only reaching them on the morning of the interview, did it feel like they were moving into a new chapter of their lives?
Leon says: “It feels like everything we’ve done in our lives it seems has bought us up to this album. I guess we’ve always sort of been doing it. And always will.” What would’ve their younger selves thought to the finished LP?
“I think the younger me would’ve absolutely loved it!” laughs Leon. “It was always what we were trying to put our finger on, but never could. I would’ve definitely been glad that music like this could be created.”
With the next two months of 2009 already packed out with live shows from Osaka to Sheffield, Dan’s wish of “…maybe [having] a holiday” this year is already looking bleak. However, the dismay may subside when The Qemists head out on tour, as they’re planning something very special for their live shows:
As Leon explains: “It’s done in a way that has never been done with a live band before, to my knowledge. There’s no backing track and we’re not playing synths or instruments with our instruments. We’re playing our bass, drums and guitar and are triggering samples, like you might do in a DJ set. It sounds bloody amazing!”
By the sounds of it, The Qemists were merely waiting for the world to catch up with their musical dreams.