Signing to FiXT for the band’s third album, UK’s The Qemists prepare to release on North America an onslaught of rock & roll energy and drum & bass dynamism.
An InterView with Bruno Balanta of The Qemists
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
The merger of drum & bass and other more alternative forms of electronic music with the conventions of rock & roll is certainly nothing new; indeed, with the evolution of technology has come a greater awareness and appreciation for the blending of man and machine, with electronic music finding its way into virtually every aspect of the mainstream consciousness. With the success of acts like Pendulum, The Prodigy, Celldweller, and numerous others has come a more adventurous spirit that has seen many taking rock music into exciting new directions driven by electronic textures and beats. Enter Brighton’s The Qemists, a band that has been working its way up through the UK underground rock and electronic scenes to become a highly respected and dynamic group. Over the years, the band’s music has been featured in movies like Jumper and Blitz and several entries in the Need for Speed video game series, with the members not only producing various DJ nights and running sound for such luminaries as Basement Jaxx and Lady Sovereign; eventually, The Qemists took its exciting blending of rock and drum & bass to the stage, touring in support of fellow hybrid acts Enter Shikari and headlining a UK tour, and remixing the likes of The Damned, Steve Aoki, Coldcut, and In Flames. With the band’s third album, Warrior Sound, MC/vocalists Olly Simmons and Bruno Balanta brought a decidedly charismatic presence to the group, solidifying The Qemists’ varied style to capture the attention of Amazing Record Co. and FiXT in North America. The future is looking quite bright for the Brighton act, as ReGen Magazine speaks with Bruno Balanta on these latest developments in the band’s evolution, culminating in what audiences can expect to be a powerhouse electro/rock style that simply demands to be heard, seen, and experienced!
Warrior Sound is The Qemists’ third studio album, and the first to feature you and Olly Simmons. First of all, can you tell us about your involvement in the band – how you came to join, and in what ways you feel your contributions have strengthened The Qemists’ music since the last album?
What is the band dynamic like in terms of songwriting and balancing the aesthetics of being a rock band with a decided electronic sound – or vice versa, being an electronic band with rock stylings?
Balanta: I think the latter of those is the angle we are hitting it from. A lot of bands are playing metal and rock with electronic influences, but I think we are one of the few bands taking it from ‘the other side of the coin,’ if you will. We start from drum & bass and work over to the rockier side, I think it’s fair to say. All of our personal influences range drastically – from drum & bass, jungle, hip-hop, metal, rock, classical music… the list is endless and there are so many points we can springboard from in songwriting. We can start from a drum break, a bass progression, a string part, guitar riff, anywhere… and we are so looking forward to getting into some new material with our full lineup.
On a similar note, what do you see as the major challenges in bringing the band’s style to the live environment?
Balanta: In all honesty, I think the clock is our biggest enemy. We create every individual sound for recording, then take them to a live setting to test them out, and tweak them further to get the best out of the music in that live context. The more time we spend with a sound, song, etc., the better it gets. But more often than not, time is of the essence.
What are your thoughts on the way the more electronically minded audience responds to the rock influences? Do you ever detect any kind of purism or similar attitudes toward bringing in the non-electronic styles?
You also collaborated with MC Ghetts, Charlie Rhymes, Hacktivist, and Koie Kenta – tell us about their involvement in the album, how you came to work with them?
Multinational/global collaborations are nothing new in the internet age – as Koie Kenta is from Japanese band Crossfaith, did you encounter any challenges in terms of language barrier or stylistic or cultural clash?
Regarding the visual aspects of your music – videos, live shows – what can you tell us about the kind of imagery you’re going for and how you feel it translates well to the music? What can you tell us about how you’d like to develop this side of things?
Balanta: We have our main man Lex at Boxcat to thank for our visuals and lighting. The man’s a genius, and loves what we do, almost as much as we love his work. With the videos, like ‘Run You,’ we’re aiming for a forward thinking, pseudo sci-fi kind of style. We like the clean lines and bright colors, and we think that visually reflects the sound of what we do quite well. Obviously, we’d like to push this idea as far as we can go, and would like to experiment with some CGI and other modern editing techniques.
You recently signed with Amazing Record Co., with Warrior Sound being your first release with the label – given the band’s tenure up to now, what was it about this label that appealed to the band, and how has the association gone so far? How pleased are you with the reception it’s received and the way the label has supported its release?
Balanta: We were drawn to Amazing by the fact that the label was a new venture for the Amazing Group, and they seemed to have some good experience and knowhow behind them, even as a fledgling company. We had seen the success of the radio station and were certainly interested by this. They’ve been a great help in getting Warrior Sound where it is right now. It’s been a collaborative effort between the label and the band, and we couldn’t be happier with the reception the album has received so far.
Also, for North America, you signed with Celldweller’s FiXT – similarly, what was it about this label that you decided to work with them?
As FiXT artists are well known for collaboration and remixing, is it fair to say that audiences can expect to see The Qemists working with FiXT artists in the foreseeable future?
The Qemists have taken a step toward the U.S., market by signing with FiXT. Given your touring of the UK/Europe and Japan, what are your hopes for touring this side of the Atlantic?
Balanta: We hope to get to America very soon, and the desire to get over is a part of every conversation we have with FIXT at the moment. We’d obviously be over there now if it were up to us! We think we might be getting close to a little excursion, but that’s all we can tell you right now!
As musicians, what do you find to be the major challenges in keeping up with new developments in music, music technology, and the way audiences react to these changes?
Balanta: I think just constantly being on the pulse, with regards to all of those, is absolutely essential. As a band, we are music fans, we are tech-heads, and we are audiences ourselves, so that really helps in deciding how to move forward. We just try our best to keep our eyes and ears open to the world around us. Having said that, I think ultimately, audiences still respect a strong musical identity. Part of the reason Warrior Sound wasn’t released sooner was because it wasn’t an EDM album. But we still need to keep it fresh, for us and our audience, so keeping the periscope up is essential.
What do you see or would like to see as the next step in the evolution of technology – not just in music, but overall – and why?
Balanta: I think the keyboard and mouse idea of user interface for computers is dated. There have been some awesome TED talks on the subject of making the use of computers more intuitive, accommodating the way in which we react to the world around us. Things like Google glasses and wearable technology are already starting to permeate into the world of music, and we feel that can only be a good thing for musicians.
What’s next for The Qemists?
Photography courtesy of FiXT