This Was Supposed To Be The Future 2007
Let It Roll / Concentrate 2007
Blunted In The Backroom 2005
Cambridge is mainly known for its famous university, an inordinate amount of cyclists, a terrible football team, a river made for punting, a folk festival and being the home of Stephen Hawking, Clive James and Jeffrey Archer. It is not, one must admit, the first place one would look for producers of dancefloor-hardened beats. It is nevertheless, the city that gave birth to The Nextmen, also known as Brad Baloo and Dom Search.
You may have heard of The Nextmen. In fact, unless you've been captive in Guantanamo Bay for the most of the Noughties, we'd wager you'd definitely heard of them and more than likely witnessed them at one of their many festival-stopping summer performances or heard their incendiary mixtapes on the neighbourhood ghetto blaster.
Dom (real name: Dominic Betmead) and Brad (real name: Brad Ellis) joined forces when Brad blagged a remix for London Posse and realised he didn't have any kit with which to do it. In stepped Dom with his Roland S10 and not much else. "The track was called Style," chips in Dom, "But it put us on the map. Everybody loved it. Radio 1 got hold of it." "It was 75 bpm and really pedestrian," deadpans Brad. "Fucking terrible." Terrible or not, London Posse's Style had something about it, not least the MCing skills of the posse's Rodney P, with whom The Nextmen have subsequently enjoyed a long working relationship.
In 2000, The Nextmen released their debut album Amongst The Madness on the revered 75 Ark imprint. Originally intended to be a Mo' Wax-style instrumentals album, their label began sending the beats out to rappers in the States and before they knew it, The Nextmen were hip hop producers, working with Public Enemy, Blackalicious, The Pharcyde and Morcheeba. Get Over It, 2003's sophomore album for Scenario, confirmed their position as one of the UK's brightest beatmakers, although now the boys regret going so far down that road. "Looking back on it, it perhaps wasn't the best idea to make those hip hop albums..." reflects Brad. It's not that they don't love hip hop, simply that it placed them in a neat, but uncomfortable, box. "As a DJ it's always been my favourite club music. We always played bits of soul, disco and funk stuff but we were 70-80% hip hop. It was nice at that point; there were lots of interesting records coming out. When those records that people were still playing were ten years old, like Pete Rock and CL Smooth, I thought, 'God this is just so stagnant'."
The changes in Nextmen direction Ð if they could even be described as such Ð grew out of their DJ sets, as they found the space to integrate the outer reaches of their record collections. It was an organic change, but one that was driven by their outlook: "As a clubber, I wanna go out and hear a varied style of music," says Dom "I don't want to hear one kind of music all night."
This shift in approach found an echo in the studio, too. Newly energised by their live work, songs rather than grooves began to form in their heads; fruitful collaborations with Sway, Fat Freddy's Drop vocalist Dallas, Zarif Davidson, Alice Russell, Chicago's own Kidz In The Hall, Jamaican legend Niney The Observer and LSK from Faithless were proof that new album This Was Supposed To Be The Future would be a step away from their previous releases. "The new album has been more influenced by our eclectic DJ sets, because it goes right across the board," explains Dom. "There's some reggae on there, some dancehall, some soul, and a couple of hip hop tracks. If you look at our DJ sets that's exactly what we play."
The catalyst for the new album was a reggae compilation Blunted In The Backroom, which they completed for new label Antidote last year. It was a headlong plunge into the depths of the Trojan catalogue, but re-wired by the Nextmen for the now. It was a resounding success not least because the two tracks made exclusively for the album, Blood Fire (featuring Dynamite MC) and Piece Of The Pie (with Demolition Man) became the starting point for This Was Supposed To Be The Future.
The normally sedentary pair in the studio ("We can be lazy bastards" quips Dom) had taken nine years to produce two albums, although moreover this has been the result of their move towards world domination, constantly rubber banding from London around the globe throughout Europe, Australia, Asia-pacific and beyond, as the first choice go-to DJs for every walk of hype-hot party and festival (think: a sunken indoor swimming pool in Elizabeth Taylor's private villa in Cannes, a deep dark bunker in Moscow, a mountain-top ski jump in Val D'Isere, a heaving Sydney harbour-side arena, a much loved local pit stop in Shanghai, a heaving New Years natural amphitheatre in Perth, their favourite beats and meats BBQ with Friends & Family in Manchester and you'll understand). The pair however realised their touring schedules hadn't paused for some time, so completed the bulk of the new album in four months, working with the uncharacteristic fervour of a pair of Brill Building song mavens, though it should be noted that, unusually for most DJ/producer duos, Brad and Dom are both accomplished musicians, the former a pianist while Dom plays guitar. They appear suitably relaxed and inspired by the experience. "The situation around us for this album has been amazing," enthuses Dom. By comparison, explains Brad, "the situation around us for the first two albums was fucking disastrous. Nobody did anything right. Including us. It's a testament to the quality of the records that we've managed to last this long and make a living from it."
This electric jolt to the creative glands has manifested itself in all areas of their careers and, as they prepare for the release of the new set, a new live approach is taking shape, bringing in vocalists and musicians but still retaining the classic elements that make their DJ sets such energetic affairs. "Nextmen is these two guys behind four decks and that's what people expect and I think we should try and keep that in," avers Dom. There's even talk of performing some of the new songs in an 'unplugged' environment. "It's amazing how well tracks translate like that," he continues. "If I sit with Zarif and do This Is Supposed to Be The Future, which I wrote on the guitar, it's brilliant. They're naturally acoustic songs as well as the way they appear on the album. The writing often starts with a guitar or keys and a vocalist."
This Was Supposed To Be The Future has clearly been a cleansing process of the Nextmen, the studio equivalent of a spot of Botox and a nip and tuck behind the lugholes. "We've started on the fourth album already," chuckles Dom, painfully aware of the four-year gap since the last. "There's loads of stuff going on and definitely some of these artists will be on it again, because it's been such a successful working relationship." Suitably chastised by their dismal productivity levels, Brad announces his Chairman Mao-style plans: "I think we should do at least another five albums in five years. We've got to step the studio workload up!"
Brad drops his voices slightly and adds, more seriously, "What we'd like from this album is for it to shift perceptions of the Nextmen." "It would be really nice to be seen as producers who make music rather than a hip hop act," adds Dom. "That's what we are and what we've always done, but we've just made a couple of hip hop records." The pair sits back contentedly and contemplate the next five albums. Then Brad adds: "Anyone for a cuppa?"