THE VANGUARD PROJECT
DnB duo BCee and Villem show us how they work together at lightning speed, creating a whole track in front of our eyes in this 80-minute studio video
Straight into the action
Rolls and Royce… De Niro and Pacino… bacon and cheese… when the perfect pair join forces, you know it’s gonna be something special, and The Vanguard Project brings together a twosome that’s sure to worry even the most resolute of subwoofers. Combining the badass bass sadism of Steve Jefroy – aka BCee – and the low-down dark and dirty deeds of Villem (Andrew Wilson to the DVLA), this act has shaken more cones than a 90-year-old ice cream man.
For Steve and Drew, what’s important is to get stuff done, and the two have settled into an efficient system that lets them collaborate on tunes with as little friction as possible. “I think one of the reasons we’ve both got so productive doing this is because we’ve both got kids,” laughs Steve. “You don’t have the luxury of just saying ‘ I feel like doing it now’ – you’ve got to do it whenever you have a window.”
We’re in The Vanguard Project’s Ipswich studio, and Steve and Drew are about to show us exactly how they put together their tunes in hyper-quick time. Before the cameras started rolling, we got chatting to find out how things were going. Computer Music: It seems there’s been a lot of Vanguard Project stuff coming out… Steve Jefroy: “We only had our first Vanguard Project release last March, and we’re about to release our seventh EP! We’ve done about 20 remixes! We’re pretty much hitting our one-tune-a-week target.
“We’re planning to do an album, but we won’t stop putting out our EPs – we’re up to number five on Spearhead and we’ve done two for Focus.”
: OK, it’s time to spill the beans – how can other people manage to be as productive as you are? SJ: “The biggest problem for [young producers] is that they’re hung up on the little things – they’re worried about getting their sidechaining right or whatever… but how many tunes have they finished?
“My way of doing it is, finish the tune, and then let’s worry about making it better – otherwise you’re just never ever going to release anything.” Andrew Wilson: “We want to write and write and write, not get bogged down in the manipulation. As soon as we’re working together really well, it’s fun! We used to spend way too long on the kick drum and stuff like that, and now I realise that not many people even care about it! It’s only the producers’ producers who really care how good that kick drum is; most people are just listening to the tune. It’s refreshing to be able to just roll it out. SJ: “The technical side is important, but you can worry about it later – if you haven’t got a tune, you’ll never have anything for anyone to work with.”
“We want to write and write and write, not get bogged down in the manipulation”
: Plus, you guys are mostly sample-based, and Drew does a lot of work on sample packs, so in a way, that’s where a lot of the work is done. AW: “I did spend many years building that collection of samples – kick drums and stuff – and now I don’t have to do that because they’re all there just waiting to be used. You forget how much effort it was to get to that point.”
: So where does the mixing work come into the process, if at all? SJ: “We mostly mix as we go, but one or both of us will give a track an extra bit of attention before it goes to mastering if it needs it. It’s often more things like putting an ending on a track if we’ve made it stop dead, or something like that.” AW: “It’s the Calibre mindset – he writes so much music. His mixdowns can be a bit shabby, but everyone loves it. It makes me think: should you spend four hours on the mixdown, or just write another tune?”
Steve and Drew are both seriously busy men. With Steve’s business attending to Spearhead Records and his own work as BCee, and Drew’s work on tunes and sample packs as one half of Villem and McLeod, time is already tight for The Vanguard Project, and it’s not going to get looser any time soon. As if that wasn’t enough, the two both have to take responsibility for young human beings with needs, desires and emotions! With this in mind, the boys have had to get themselves into a groove where they can collaborate with ease. We asked them how they manage it… Computer Music: So what’s a typical working setup for a Vanguard Project session? SJ: “Over the years I’ve built up a ridiculous number of samples. I know Ableton backwards, Drew knows Logic backwards, neither of us use the other one.
“We both work in the same room but kind of independently. Sometimes we’re making two tracks at once and swapping them over. It’s like you’re collab’ing online, but the difference is you can say, ‘Mate, this needs a string’, or ‘Listen to this’ – and of course you get a really quick response from the other person.”
: How do you make it work between two different DAWs? It certainly seems that one can be hard enough to collaborate with sometimes. SJ: “We just have a Dropbox folder set up, and we go back and forth. This morning, I put a beat together, sent it to Drew, and then while I added a few sounds over the top, he processed the original beat and sent it back to me via Dropbox… and what I got back was a progressed loop, which I put back into my project!”
: And you wouldn’t have it any other way? SJ: “I mean, I can use Logic, and Drew can use Live. I learned to produce in Logic 4, but I don’t remember any of the shortcuts, I don’t know how he has it all bussed…
“One time, we did do a remix in Studio One, because Drew decided he felt like doing something different that day. He uses it with Sam McLeod. I mean… it came out alright but I don’t really know why we bothered! As I’ve always said, with liquid DnB, it’s all about the vibe.”
: How much do you find you can get done in one session? SJ: “We usually get something finished. Often I’ll come in with a sketch already, and together we’ll get that to the point where it’s half an arrangement.
“If we get to the point where it’s just an arrangement, often he’ll just do it and I’ll start something else – and then we’ll come back in the end and we’ll see what we feel about the whole thing.”
: Do you find that working together helps the music in other ways? AW: “A lot of it is confidence, I think. You know when you sit there thinking, ‘Is this any good or not?’, the other one will say, ‘Yeah, that’s wicked, carry on’, and it stops you second-guessing your own decisions.”
: Presumably, you’ll come back and tidy things up later on… SJ: “Often our tunes haven’t got outros, but when we’re going to release them, yeah, we might decide to spend an hour tidying it up.”
: We’ve talked about working fast, but are there any times when things start to slow down? SJ: “Because we’re so sample-based, we’re cautious about starting to get vocalists in… but we’re doing it that way to make the album a bit different. We’re waiting for at least three vocals at the moment – it can be frustrating to have to do that.”
“When I’m doing BCee stuff, and when Villem’s doing his stuff with McLeod, we don’t work anything like this. I take ages doing everything; really faff about with it.”
“We both work in the same room but kind of independently. Sometimes we make two tracks at once”