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Liquid Is Liquid: talking Lethal, Sweet Harmony and a life in music

We talk to the Drum & Bass legend about his new album ‘Lethal’ on Kniteforce Revolution and his thirty years career in music.

Liquid has been a big part in UK electronic music for the past thirty years, from the early days of rave and beyond.

With a string of undeniable classic anthems under his belt like Sweet Harmony and Liquid Is Liquid, he has continued to make music ever since, with brilliant albums like Energy Flows and Spacemonkey as well as his highly anticipated new album Lethal, out soon on Kniteforce Revolution.

The record features a whole host of high octane, euphoric and bass heavy tunes and we caught up with Liquid, aka Eamon Downes, to hear all about the album, it’s sound and the collaborators who feature on the album as well as discussing his journey through three decades of dance music.

Your new album Lethal is out soon. How did the creation and recording process of the album go and was it hampered or made easier by the lockdown?  

It wasn’t hugely different to the process with the last couple of albums, really; if anything – once I’d adjusted to the being at home and getting some discipline back (i.e. not going to bed at 2am, and up at 11am) it became quite organised. We did a majority of the work in autumn 2020 as well, so things were beginning to ease by then too and there was more everyday social interaction and stuff in my life.

You work with Earl 16, Echo Ranks, Rachel Wallace and Niki Mak on Lethal. How was the experience of working with these acetates me what did they bring to the tracks they feature on?

The advent of modern technology and connectivity meant all the sessions, other than Earl, were remote. All of the vocalists, without exception, were a pure delight to deal with: they would send back their files and trust us to finish the tunes. Echo, especially, as the track we initially worked on was at a more standard reggae tempo and we subsequently sped it up but he was completely chilled and cool. Rachel’s track has been on the go a while and she was also really trusting in us and positive with the final version. I have to say, standing there watching Earl 16 voice the tunes brought me to tears. That legendary voice gracing one of my compositions. Amazing.

Have you been pleased with the response your new material has had so far? 

It’s still early days, but yes. As pleased as I ever am, I do tend to be my own worst critic but have tried to enjoy the experience a bit more the last few years and be less focused on outcomes and my expectations. Also, not everyone is going to like my work and lots of people aren’t going to hold back letting me know too. I still find it incredible that people will track you down on social to ensure you know how much they don’t like a tune.

How do you feel that Lethal builds on your last two albums Spacemonkey and Energy Flows? 

It feels more like an album album if that make sense? Spacemonkey was all about tough, underground beats and Energy Flows the success had really felt like delivering on what I’d committed to do for Daniel’s label. Lethal also, obviously I hope, transcends rave as a genre. Not that that was a conscious objective initially, but I hope it’s the result.

Have you got plans to take Lethal out on the road for live shows at all?

Yes. Eventually. Well, from 2022 – I have some health issues going on that mean I can’t play live at the moment. Also, the impact of COVID led me to have a questioning look over what I do live and why; I don’t even have an agent at the moment. I got to the point where I’m done doing ‘back to whatever / revival’  style shows, banging out one tune, pocketing the dough and fucking off. I’m in touch with reality just about enough to realise the limits that places on options I have and also the risk it makes me come across as a snobby, tortured artist. But I would rather look forward, than back. I’m not sitting in judgement on people that want to celebrate any era of musical heritage at all, it just no longer bakes my pizza.

What have been some of the most memorable sets that you have ever played? 

I remember so little from the 90s overall, sadly. But Firestones in Orlando in 1995 was just something else. Beyond crazy (in every good and bad way you can imagine). Vision with XL in 1992 was incredible a DJ set I played in a space observatory in the middle of the Australian Outback near Perth just a few years back. The latter a reminder – despite my fear of snakes and venomous spiders – a reminder I’ve been blessed. 

You also released the track Dove Removal Machine with Billy Daniel Bunter. How was the experience of making that track and will you work together again in the future?

The track was from a release a few years ago, as it goes. God…. Who knows? He’s one of my best mates in music, my daughter has toys passed down from his kids, we go back years etc. and I love him to bits – but fuck me he’s hard work! He messaged me the other day at 8am saying “I’m really happy with my social media presence at the moment.” I mean, like I give a flying fuck! Or he’ll message me, slightly tongue in cheek -‘Analyse why I am so great’. I just call him a c-word and go back to sleep. But, overall, the experience was good and Daniel is very driven and has a clear vision of what he wants. He’s cool, really…. from a distance. Hence, I moved to Rome!

You released an EP with Pete Cannon a couple of year back, how did that go and will you work together again? 

Pete is ridiculously talented and a wicked bloke. He’s also like a proper star, like Blackpool showbiz rave star. If time allows it would be epic to do so, love him… and we actually touched upon doing something the other day.

Are you working on any other new music at the moment and are you constantly working on new musical ideas?  

Yeah, constantly. Every day. I also got into composing for TV and ads and stuff and for my production/business partner and all round wicked dude Mark and I, it’s a full time endeavour. 

What are the main differences between making music today compared to when you first started making tunes?

Technology. Things we just couldn’t contemplate doing back then, you can now do in 5 seconds. I mean the irony is there are plug-ins and shit to try and make tunes sound old, raw and noisy again. On a personal level, I am less obsessed with how people respond and react to what I do; I still care of course but it doesn’t define me or determine my emotional equilibrium. Maybe that’s just getting old(er)…

What are your happiest memories of the early days of Liquid? 

The very start. Selling the first copies at City Sounds, Pete Tong playing Sweet Harmony on R1, The Pet Shop Boys covering for Simon Bates and playing Future Music EP on daytime R1. It’s easy to forget that the rave scene existed well outside the mainstream, zero support and the fact it flourished and stormed the charts was perplexing to your average Dire Straits fan.

Are you proud of the legacy and anthemic status a track like Sweet Harmony in particular has had for you? 

Yes. If someone takes the effort to write me a letter telling me they got married to it, or want to be buried to it, that’s plenty for me. There’s a football blogger called Arseblog and he’s a beautiful writer in general, but the day following the Bataclan attack in Paris he wrote the most moving article and I wrote to him. If someone takes the time to write to me, if it’s important to them then I’d be a bit of a dick if I didn’t engage: I mean I don’t have to invite around or let them move in, but life is about human connections and not – surprisingly – my Nike AirMax1 collection.

For such an uplifting track, Sweet Harmony has some really hard breakbeats behind it. Can you tell us a it about the making of the track? 

Flying blind in many way, but the lesson is Shane and I had a real clear objective in what we were trying to achieve. Times when I haven’t had that, I have been lost. It was a kind of reaction against how hard the sound of the scene in 91 was getting and trying to put some soul back into it. While sticking fuckloads of bass and beats on it at the same time.

Was it always your idea to mix those rough and smooth elements on that track and your other material as well? 

Yes, you’ve nailed it. Exactly that. Something that simultaneously works on both an emotional and bang in the middle of a rave level.

How does it feel seeing both younger and older people reacting to tracks like Liquid Is Liquid, Phog and Sweet Harmony when you play them out today? 

Liquid Is Liquid is one of my favourite tracks I have done, alongside a more recent tune called Narcotic Fog. This is going to sound like cliche central, but one key purpose of music is bringing people together to see there’s something deeper going on in our passing presence on this planet than work and pensions. Also, seeing all the kids driving around Rome blasting out 808-driven pop, music also can help give that ‘fuck the lot of you’ identity to kids as they grow up. I mean the short version is: I made and make music for as many people as possible to like it, I am not selective or exclusive like that.

How was the experience of working with Danny Byrd on the remix of Sweet Harmony and do you think that it brought the song to a new audience? 

To be honest, I did nothing… we (XL and I) just asked for a ‘feat. Liquid’ in the title., but the way he and Hospital went about it, meant it was a pleasure to do a deal; they were gents. and it most definitely brought it to a new audience, lots of people are oblivious to it being a reworking of our version.

What have been some of the sheer highlights of your career in music so far and what do you hope for in the future? 

Highlights is always a struggle for me, like I said I can be a little too critical at times and focus on regrets: doing TOTP is a massive one and spending so much of the period off my bonce and not working harder is too. On a more positive note, gigs are always the highlights. The traveling too. Sometimes my little girl comes along, by her age I’d only ever been to Ireland. I don’t take the still doing it for granted, either. For the future, the hopes are to still be able to adapt. Mark and I are starting a publishing company and a few other bits. Just trying to avoid living off – or defining myself by – one moment in the past, despite how epic it was to live through.

Lethal is out 26th November. Buy here.

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