We talked to the producer, DJ and Rinse host about his new single, touring America and the pros & cons of having an unusual name
We're huge fans of Rinse in the Ministry of Sound office. So much so that every now and then we invite them to take over our club and throw a massive party. I particularly love their Sunday lineup of soulful, disco and house orientated shows. One of the leading lights of the Sunday programme is Billon. Billon's been making waves in the UK underground for a minute now and broke through into wider recognition with 2014 smash, "Special".
He recorded a Spotlight mix for us last year and recently got in touch about his new single, "Slave To the Vibe". When we arranged to meet up for an interview, it was at he height of the July heatwave, so I asked him to pick an outdoor venue, so I could sneak out of the office and enjoy the sun for a bit. So we deided to meet at Dalston Curve Garden and talk about the past, present and future of Billon over a few glasses of cucumber water.
How did you get involved in Rinse?
Billon: About two years ago I started doing the Billon project and, basically through a mutual friend sent some music to Sarah who runs Rinse with Geeneus and she was quite touched straight away and said “we want to put this out as an EP”. We sent her like two tracks and she asked us to put a few more together. So we worked on a couple more tracks and we put out the first EP and then it just kind of went from there really, put out another EP after that. Then they asked if I wanted to start doing a show, so I was like “yeah, definitely”. I’d always wanted to do a radio show because I’ve got quite eclectic taste in music and saw it as a good opportunity to play some music that I don’t get the chance to play when I’m DJing in clubs, and support some of my friends' music.
Do you plan your shows well in advance or do you just like kind of on the day?
Sometimes if I’m away or if I have to do a pre-recorded show it might be a bit less planned and I might not get a guest but I try and spend half a day or so planning a show. I’m always downloading new music for DJing anyway so I spend about a day or two a week concentrating on that and I’ll look at music that I feel is strong, that I’ve been playing a few weeks, and try and prioritise things differently on the show.
Did you have any radio experience before doing the show?
A little bit, not really though. Only doing like guest mixes for people, interviews on the radio. Stuff like that.
After the first EP, was that when you started getting more DJ gigs?
No, actually it was after the second EP. After the first EP I didn’t have an agent or anything, then after the second EP came out an agent actually got in touch with me and they were a really good agent, so I started getting some gigs and stuff.
Was that the one with "Special" in it?
No actually, special came after that EP. Special came maybe like four months after that EP or something.
It did really well here, but it also did really well in America too.
Did you go to America straight after that?
Yeah actually, I did a tour in America about a month or so after that had come out. I went around the States and it was cool because there was a lot of people – especially in New York – there were a lot of people in the crowd that knew the music and stuff and they were to see Billon so that was really good to see.
So your next single is "Slave To The Vibe" and it samples another song called "Slave To The Vibe" right?
Yeah, it's basically just a cover version.
What made you go down the cover version route?
It just kind of felt like after "Special" which was very much a full song with verses and stuff like that, and took a really long time to produce and had a lot of different elements and it was a bit clever musically – like major and minor stuff and all these harmonies and things like that. It was cool but I felt like doing something a lot more straight down the line and more kind of back to the roots of dance music. And I’ve always loved that kind of piano house sound and wanted to do something in that kind of vein for a while. But I felt like taking something classic like that with a really distinctive vocal would set it apart from other tracks.
It’s definitely an Ibiza summery kind of song so I imagine it'll do well on boat parties and things like that.
Yeah, hopefully! Its been getting some really good reactions from club reports and stuff like that. There’s been a lot of people playing it.
You said you did something quite musically complicated with "Special", have you been classically trained or anything?
No not really, that was – I always collaborate pretty much with other musicians. I think my strengths are as an overall producer and arrangement and sound selection and feeling out the vibe of how a record should be. And then when it comes to actual playing chords and stuff like that I tend to work with someone else. On "SLave To The Vibe" I worked with this guy call Pete Gaudino – he’s the keyboard player for Depeche mode – and I did a couple of days with him. And then it was actually right at the end I got sent this A capella and I was like "Can we just have a quick jam on this?" We played with some chords and he went off – and I kind of took his chords and changed them around a little bit and ended up with what it is now.
So do you come to music from a technical side?
I wouldn’t even say particularly that I'm coming from the technical side of it because I learnt a lot of the technical stuff, I just sort of taught myself. I went to university and did a music production degree and I didn’t even really learn that much from doing that because I just never went into uni! I just stayed at home all day making tunes. And other mates of mine, we all made music and stuff like that and Nick from Dusky, we were on the same course together at university and we lived together at uni, so we would show each other different ideas, and we were literally just teaching ourselves. And also Matt from Gorgon City is another mate that we used to make tunes with and bounce ideas off.
I'd imagine having such a talented group of friends helps a lot when it comes to getting collaborators?
Nah, not at all man. We used to kind of… but now with those guys, our work stuff is completely separate. In terms of finding those collaborators and stuff it was really "Special, that began all of that, because it got loads of peoples’ attention and they could see that it was quite, kind of, ambitious in its sound.
You've worked with some great people, Yasmin, MNEK…
MNEK, we wrote "Special" together actually. He wrote the top line melody. I met him in a club actually and just got chatting to him and just said "do you wanna work together?" and he’s like "ehhhhhh" and I was like "come on" and we put a date in the diary. Yasmin came from before I started Billon I was doing a lot of producing for other people. And Yasmin was one of those people. We worked together for a few days and really enjoyed it, and she lived just down the road so then after that we just call each other up and get in the studio and work together. The same with MNEK as well actually.
So it’s all been really relaxed?
Yeah totally man, and all the people I collaborate with, I keep in touch with them. And then maybe like a year later I’ll call them up and then do something more with them or whatever.
Does Rinse help with that? Because a lot of those artists, they're not necessarily on Rinse, but you would kind of associate them with that same not clique, but grouping... Wider circle?
Actually in the Rinse studio run into a lot of people. That’s a good place for seeing people every now and then, saying hi and stuff like that. Rinse have done a fair bit of that with remixes and stuff. I’ve done quite a bit of writing with Katy B and did a remix for her and stuff and they’re always suggesting vocalists and stuff. They’ve always got their ear to the ground in terms of new vocalists and things like that.
So I wanted to ask what the name Billon is from? Is it a name you now regret because people get it wrong so often?
[Laughs] That happens to people a lot though man, like MNEK, he has a nightmare with his name. Kaytranada – he must’ve had a fucking nightmare with his name. SBTRKT too. I just see it as when you get to that point where people are getting called out for getting it wrong, then you're doing something right.
I suppose it gives you a bit of an edge if people are constantly being like “oh you don’t know that it's Billon?”
Yeah exactly. I dunno, I don’t care really. Yeah it’d be nice if people didn’t get it wrong all the time, but oh well.
Where did it come from? Or is it just a random?
Basically, Billon is like an alloy – it’s like a metal. It’s what coins and stuff are made out of. So it kind of like, represents the different mixtures of styles of music. The R&B and the hip hop and the house and the garage and the two step, all merging together to make one thing. That’s the idea behind it anyway.
And with the set up behind the project, it started off as a trio, right?
Yeah, it did man. I’m the only constant member. When we did the first EP there were three of us. We were all just jamming in the studio and we made a couple of tracks that we were like vibed about and they were the ones that we ended up sending to Sarah. And then, me and the other guy, we were working together for quite a few years and we were getting quited pissed off with working with each other so we decided to go our separate ways and then there was me and Robbie and then so me and Robbie did the second EP and we did "Special" together with MNEK and then he wanted to move to America basically, so he’s moved to America. But we’re still working together musically. But he’s just not part of the face of the brand.
The music you’re working on together is that still under the name Billon?
Yeah yeah, it is. The stuff I’m working on now that’s gonna come out, he’s worked on it as well musically. We just did a couple of remixes and we worked on them together, he’s over in LA and I’m here and I just work on it a bit and send it to him, then he’ll send it back.
Would you ever be tempted to move to LA?
Nah, I don’t think so. But I’m gonna go over there actually, when I go over to America to play those gigs I’m gonna go and chill with him a bit and write some stuff.
And finally, do you see yourself eventually doing a Billon album?
Yeah man, definitely.
Have you been working on anything that you could make it onto a future album?
Well I’ve got a lot of music, so if the right time came to cut out an album… It’s just waiting for the right time. It’s gonna keep getting better and better hopefully, so when that time comes hopefully the music that’s on there is really good!
"Slave To The Vibe" is out now on Rinse. Get it here.
Rinse are throwing their birthday party at Ministry of Sound on 3rd October. More info here.
18 Aug 2015