Black Sun Empire, a three-man group from The Netherlands, has been casting their dark drum and bass shadow over the earth recently while on tour for their latest album From The Shadows. The crew has divided in order to expand their empire to the furthest corners of the world, and is playing in over twenty different countries over the course of seven months. Aside from dominating shows all over Europe, the group has also played in Dubai and New Zealand, and has plans for Canada and Australia after the US leg of their tour. Needless to say, their presence here on the west coast has been causing quite a stir amongst the drum and bass community, as they haven't played in California for a few years now. Black Sun Empire has always shown their dedication to sharing their music with the world since their formation in 1997, and currently performs up to 100 shows a year including multiple festivals during summer. Over the past two weeks, Micah Heyboer (this tour's elected Black Sun Empire ambassador) has played in San Diego, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles, as well as in Denver, Tucson and Seattle.
…no one really does expect anything, you just make music and hopefully people will appreciate it.
From The Shadowshas been met with huge enthusiasm by dedicated fans, and has earned them a fair amount of new attention from younger kids as well followers of other genres. The October 2012 release is composed of 12 original tracks of their signature dark dance-floor sound. The album has been receiving rave reviews since its release and even earned a spot on Beatport.com's Top 5 Best Selling Albums of 2012 (of all genres). Their previous album in 2010 called Lights and Wires incorporated different genres and tempos and was composed to display their versatility, whereas From The Shadows is much more true to their classic sound involving heavy themes and complex drum patterns. The album also features a few collaborations with the likes of Noisia, Audio, Youthstar and others, as well as some talented vocalists that add a whole new dimension to the tracks.
At SD Union, San Diego's premiere bass-music monthly, we caught up with Micah of BSE and though he seemed a bit dazed from all the jetlag, he chatted with us about their album and tour, their three record labels, and where the group plans to go from here.
So From The Shadows placed in the Top 5 best selling albums of 2012 on Beatport- congratulations! Were you expecting it to be so popular?
No, not at all. I mean no one really does expect anything, you just make music and hopefully people will appreciate it—and apparently they did!
What sets this album apart from Lights and Wires or your previous work? It seems to be a clear demonstration of your signature sound—why did you choose to go in this direction with the album?
Well, you have to keep challenging yourself. We thought we should start working with other people a lot more, especially other artists. So that was basically the idea. Having vocals on top of your tunes without making it commercial, but still using an extra entity. I think it really worked out.
Of the collaborations on the album, whom did you particularly enjoy working with? Who’s sounds do you feel compliments yours well?
Well all the producers are also friends, so it’s a lot of fun just having them over or being in their studio making tunes. We’ve done that before so it wasn’t really new. But with the vocalists, it’s like you depend on someone else’s skill. Normally we can make the beats and the bass loud, but the vocals you cant sing yourself, so if it’s not good it’s hard to tell someone. We had to kill one track just because it didn’t click. That’s the hard part because normally you can tweak sounds or drums until you’re happy, but with the vocals it’s either good or its bad.
That’s the hard part…Everything becomes normal, and you have to remind yourself why you do it and why you love it, and expanding your horizon helps make a lot of things clearer.
You recently had a competition for your “All Is Lost” music video. How many submissions did you get? Why did you decide to have a contest?
I actually saw it on Patrick Watson’s Facebook that he did the same thing, and I thought it was actually a good idea. There are a lot of people doing video work in their bedrooms or whatever, so why not include them. Eventually we had between twenty and thirty submissions, and people put in so much work. Not everything is quality, of course, but people put in a lot of effort to do something, and that was amazing—and from all over the world! We realized how many people know our music, just by seeing people make videos for us for almost nothing.
What else inspires you outside of drum and bass? Either different genres or not music at all.
That’s an easy question—everything. I listen to all kinds of music; I still go see a lot of concerts. I watch a lot of films and read a lot of books. We’ve always been making different kinds of music, and I’ve started making a lot of techno lately. I have an extra alias now “Tinlicker” and I’m going to release an album in April.
I walked into this stage and it was like walking into a Mad Max set…there were flamethrowers and these guys doing this Tesla coil thing—dressed in rubber with electricity shooting out of their arms.
In a similar vein, what keeps you motivated to keep producing drum and bass in particular, even after so long in the game?
That’s the hard part. I mean, you have ups and downs but you have to keep challenging yourself like I said before. Sometimes it means working with other people, but for me in the past few years it meant doing other music and then starting to love drum and bass all over again. Everything becomes normal, and you have to remind yourself why you do it and why you love it, and expanding your horizon helps make a lot of things clearer.
How as the crowd response been to your new tracks while on this tour?
I think this album has been the biggest one we’ve done. All over Europe our name has become a lot bigger. We don’t even realize it, but people know the songs a lot more than they used to and start singing along, maybe because of the vocals, but we’ve just had a bigger audience. A lot of new young people have started listening to our music, so it’s been really good.
You guys have been touring for a while now, and still have a trip to Australia ahead of you in March! Any cities or shows that have been particularly memorable so far?
Well it wasn’t this tour, but probably Glastonbury was the weirdest one. Glastonbury is the biggest festival in Europe, it’s in England, and I walked into this stage and it was like walking into a Mad Max set. There was fire coming out of everything on the stage. I mean there were flamethrowers and these guys doing this Tesla coil thing—dressed in rubber with electricity shooting out of their arms and stuff. I had no idea it was going to be like that, so it was pretty cool.
The people who love it here really love it, whereas in Europe there are a lot of people who just look at it as a normal club night.
Where are you still looking forward to playing? And what are you looking forward to after the tour is over?
I’m looking forward to the festival season, really. I’ll be playing some good festivals like Dour (Belgium) this year. I’m looking forward to releasing my solo album as well, and then of course a month of nothing relaxing and seeing friends.
When was the last time you were out here to the west coast? What do you like about playing in California?
Well the three of us switch turns, so for me it was like two years ago. I did a party in LA, but came to San Diego like five years ago. People really appreciate it out here because it’s not as common as electronic music in Europe. I mean I grew up with electronic music. The club scene in Europe is really a big scene, whereas here there’s a lot of bar-clubs. It’s in a different phase or stage, which is interesting because eventually it will probably be all the same after a while. The people who love it here really love it, whereas in Europe there are a lot of people who just look at it as a normal club night.
What else do you have in store in terms of production?
We have a lot of plans for Black Sun Empire. We have three different labels right now and a party called Black Out, which has been going on for ten years and has started spreading out around Europe now. We are actually deciding to stop all our labels and start a new one called Black Out in combination with the party. We want to get a lot of other producers involved that we love, and people are really enthusiastic about it. There are a lot of smaller labels for our sound, but not really one that is run effectively. We’re really going to try and make it like a bigger entity. We’ve got a remix EP coming and at the end of summer a “best of” Black Sun Empire remix album as well. We are always working on a bunch of other music too and just keeping busy.