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Chase & Status are pondering which of them is most rock ’n’ roll. They can’t decide. Both reckon neither are rock ’n’ roll at all and are tentatively hazarding reasons why one might be more rock’n’roll than the other.
“We didn’t plan to be a band,” Saul explains, “We were just happy to DJ at clubs, a nice little earner, playing our tunes out – that was the dream. It just happens to have gone elsewhere.”
It certainly has. The pair have become emblematic of the epic rise of dubstep and drum ’n’ bass, a new generation dance act who’ve crossed into the charts while keeping one foot firmly underground, touring the globe with a stage show fronted by MC Rage that rivals The Prodigy for sheer zest and energy. Their production skills brought American superstars such as Rihanna and Jay Z knocking at their door, while their championing of Nero launched their MTA label straight into the A league. With two successful albums under their belt, their next is one of 2013’s most anticipated, yet the pair have developed no diva ways. Their polite manner remains the same as when Mixmag interviewed them four years ago.
Having genially posed in their new north London studio for photographs, they sit side by side on a sofa in their management’s office. Both cut neat figures. Saul wears a half-undone blue cardigan over a white T-shirt, a brown, fur-collared Schott jacket, dark blue trousers and grey Converse boots with smiley strawberries on. He’s not wearing the pork-pie hat which is his trademark. Will is, as ever, the more traditionally smart with a three-button tennis shirt under a grey Zara jacket and black Lacoste shoes. Square-jawed and blue eyed, he sits attentively while Saul, somewhat unshaven, lounges, and continues to discuss who out of the two of them is the most rock ’n’ roll.
“Invariably after a show it’s me, our tour manager and MC Rage in the back of a nice big car,” he says, “In a comfy tracksuit, with a flask of soup and bit of bread, maybe watching something on a laptop – if that isn’t hedonistic, I don’t know what is!”
Chase and Status, then, are not kings of caning. Instead they are focused, musically obsessive and have a staunch commitment to what they do. Where many wannabe drum ’n’ bass producers smoke industrial quantities of weed and talk themselves up, at the dawn of this century Will and Saul smoked industrial quantities of weed and acted upon their ambitions. Having become friends as London ravers, they met again at university in Manchester, hired a studio and knuckled down, learning to produce and rarely surfacing for over a year. They were broke, with no social life, but they look back on those times with great affection. They speak of how they chose their Manchester studio because Future Cut were based there, the late 90s drum ’n’ bass kings who are now top pop producers for Olly Murs, Stooshe, Wretch 32 and the like.
“We loved Future Cut and hoped to bump into them,” Saul recalls. “They were heroes of ours and we thought it would be amazing if we linked up to make a tune. And all that stuff happened [they remixed Future Cut’s ‘20/20’ for Renegade Hardware’s ‘Chronicles Vol.3’]”
“We’d come back from the studio and decide to go straight back there,” adds Will. “We were detached from reality and society, never saw any friends, but the thought that maybe this could work out, even on the smallest level, was so exciting. When one of our DJ heroes contacted us via email the excitement was comparable to doing a massive show. Even a local DJ playing our tune and five people hearing it on a soundsystem was the biggest buzz ever.”
Right from the start, their working relationship has hinged on a precisely calibrated mixture of musical drive and a nit-picking attention to detail. Each helps the other gauge how a tune is progressing, but both agree Will is the more pedantic about sonics.
“A lot of top electronic producers are fairly OCD about making music,” says Will. “It’s a difficult balance between that and being free-flowing, not worrying about mistakes. I’m more worried about an outcome before it’s happened, and Saul’s more ‘give-it-a-go’.”
“By the time a song’s finished we’ve heard it so much we virtually hate it,” adds Saul. “Mixing down to get it right – he will do that process forever. I say, ‘We’re done, trust me.’ If we didn’t have that, none of our albums would be out, he’d still be mixing down those early tunes in Manchester!”
Instead, early singles for Bingo Beats, Renegade Hardware, Habit, Breakbeat Kaos and others, drum ’n’ bass floor-fillers such as ‘Duppy Man’ and ‘The Druids’, led to them signing to Andy C’s Ram label in 2007. From there the pair stepped out of the shadows. The 2008 sampler for their debut album was a double-headed statement of intent. One side was the extraordinary ‘Eastern Jam’, a dubstep slab that won fans all the way from India – it sampled Bollywood classic ‘Devdas’ – to LA, where Snoop Dogg released a version. The other tune was ‘Pieces’, featuring friend and long-term collaborator Ben Drew, aka Plan B who also directed the brutal video wherein an ex-girlfriend annihilates Drew’s flat (and, in a rare uncensored version, his cat). Their videos then became anticipated events, notably the faithful recreation of a 90s rave scenario, even using contemporary video technology, for the Liam Bailey-sung Top 5 hit ‘Blind Faith’.
“The thirteen-minute director’s cut of ‘Blind Faith’ is my favourite,” enthuses Saul. “The nostalgia, the memories – at the end, when the young ravers are off their tits in a field, it harks back to when I was that child running about the field. It was a really good recreation of that era.”
The duo slowly bloomed from faceless DJs into an act that could sell albums. They fired out two in three years – ‘More Than Alot’ in 2008 and ‘No More Idols’ in 2011 – but the last two years have seen them focus on their live show, playing all the major festivals as well as The Prodigy’s huge Warriors’ Dance event. Such success has allowed both of them to buy houses in London, and Saul recently married his long-term girlfriend, but they’re still behind the decks most weekends, either together or apart.
“We DJ together for some gigs,” says Saul, “Our Ibiza residency [at Together at Amnesia], Ram at Fabric, but, for instance, Will’s in Belgium this Saturday and I’m in Leeds. I know a lot of producers have a big tune and then they’re like, ‘How do I DJ?’ We were both DJs when we met, so we’re happy to do it on our own – our performances don’t suffer.”
“I don’t think we’ve got the level of celebrity where people come to physically see us,” Will concludes. “We can still float around Tesco’s without being bothered – a lot of our friends don’t have that.”
The pair are occasionally recognised – Saul was recently spotted while on holiday in Barbados by the man running the local fried chicken stall – but the ‘friends’ Will refers to may include the likes of Rihanna, whose last two albums Chase & Status have contributed tracks to. “Ages ago” they also worked with Stargate writing Rita Ora and Tinie Tempah’s huge ‘R.I.P.’ hit, but they’ve resisted moving wholesale into lucrative big-name pop production.
“It’s a big commitment saying, ‘Yes,’ to big international acts,” says Will. “We get asked a lot but we’re quite cagey. We’re very aware that if we say ‘Yes,’ and start letting people down we’ll get a bad reputation. Everyone thought our second album was going to be full of pop stars such as Nicki Minaj. We were like, ‘Well… no.’ I’m glad we kept it like that.”
Instead, ‘No More Idols’ consciously focused on British guests – Plan B, Dizzee Rascal, Sub Focus, Tempa T, Maverick Sabre and so on – and they are working with a host of British acts on their MTA label such as Dream Mclean and Abigail Wyles, but their new album, due later this year, has
“We’re keeping it under wraps, even with our record company, but it is more international,” says Saul.“It’s our absolute priority now,” states Will. “Get it done, get it out. Our last album – we were frantically trying to finish it, we almost made it single by single. This one I’d like to be a body of work ready to launch.”
One definite shared passion is new music. Saul went to see Kendrick Lamar at the Hammersmith Apollo recently and both regard his music as “deep, smart and creative”. Other musicians who’ve been thrilling them lately include Mercury-winning band Alt-J – “We have to work with those guys!” – and post-dubstep, post-hip hop vanguardists Disclosure, Baauer and Hudson Mohawke. They still see Ben Drew, aka Plan B, who sounds just as stubborn, creatively, as Will and Saul. “I had a bit of dinner with Ben last night,” says Saul with a smile, “and he was still having a go at me about a tune we wrote together in 2009.”
Unsurprisingly, they also have lots of time for friends and label-mates Nero. “Hearing their new album has made us say, ‘Jesus, we need to step our game up!” says Saul. “Those guys are just on fire. We were supposed to have our album out way before them, but they’ve certainly inspired us.”The pair clearly can’t wait to have their album out. As talk turns to the Chemical Brothers’ occasional unofficial ‘Electronic Battle Weapon’ releases, Saul bubbles over: “There are 10 tunes on my computer like that. Once we have the album out there’ll be a slew of underground no-name tunes following in the months and years to come.”
While Will and Saul are easy company, heated confrontation between them isn’t exactly unknown. As far as they are concerned, though, it just shows the depth of their relationship.“It’s almost as if you’re speaking to yourself: speaking very honestly and abruptly,” Will says. “People think we’re having an argument, but actually we’re discussing what we want in our sandwiches. We can ignore other people in a room, have a full-blown argument, screaming in each other’s faces, completely unaware we’re making it awkward for a bunch of people we’ve just met. Then we stop and are like, ‘Cool, where were we?’ and they all look shell-shocked.”
“Who the hell doesn’t argue?” asks Saul. “If we’d known each other for ten years and never once argued we’d be fucking weird.”
The result of Chase and Status’ driven, pragmatic dynamics is a live show, developed over two years, where everything they’re about comes together. Anyone who’s seen it will attest to its power.Their band hits the stage, which is dominated by a giant, heavy rock-style drum kit. Their gigs are part old-skool rave, part moshing mayhem, with Rage as happy to rip into lyrics by Rage Against The Machine as junglist sloganeering. It’s a sweaty, committed performance and boasts a gigantic bass attack.
And the reason for all this is, of course, to revel in the ecstatic dancefloor moment, something that makes all that time in the studio worthwhile. Who needs rock ’n’ roll?