Delta Heavy are the most exciting duo to hit dancefloors since Chase & Status and Nero, although if anything, their music is even harder and heavier, darker and more multi-textured. Having conquered the clubs, however, their newer tracks are becoming more song-oriented, pointing toward a debut album that will surely be hailed as one of the year’s best, designed to satisfy bass-heads and traditional music-heads alike.
Simon James and Ben Hall met at Nottingham University in 2003. They zeroed in on the city’s drum & bass scene, spearheaded by nights such as Detonate and clubs such as Stealth.
Si was the musical one with the background playing instruments, while Ben was the one with a penchant for sound engineering and a background as a DJ. It proved the perfect combination. After graduating, they wound their way back to London, where they both acquired computer software. “And,” recalls Si, “because both of us had the same interests in music, we thought we’d align our knowledge.”
After several years of hard graft, their debut release appeared on Viper’s acclaimed Acts of Mad Men compilation in June 2009. They had a cut on the Harry Brown soundtrack, followed by the anthemic “Abort” in June 2010, which received widespread recognition from the underground, as well as support from the mainstream. They signed to drum & bass mogul Andy C’s Ram, label home of Chase & Status and Sub Focus, establishing themselves as credible newcomers with “Space Time”/”Take the Stairs.” The former was nominated as Best Track at the 2010 Drum&BassArena Awards while earning Si and Ben nominations for Best Producer and Best Newcomer DJ.
They remixed Example, Avicii, Chase & Status ft. Tinie Tempah, Rita Ora and Nero, making Delta Heavy ones to seriously watch. Their next release, “Overkill”/”Hold Me,” confirmed their reputation as bass innovators, mixing extreme electronic noise with low-end frequencies, while acknowledging the need for a commercial imperative. The video to “Hold Me” received over a million views in a little over a week and daytime radio plays from Sara Cox, as well as specialist spins from Skream & Benga, Mistajam & Kissy Sell Out.
They spent the rest of 2011 DJing around the world, from Australia to USA and Canada, and releasing a splendid EP’s worth of music in 2012’s Down the Rabbit Hole.
They have released almost two dozen tracks since their inception, but Delta Heavy don’t consider that particularly prolific.
“We’ve gone for quality over quantity,” says Si, citing as an example the year’s gap between the release of their “Empire” single and 2014’s brutally energizing Apollo EP.
Of the many Delta Heavy releases, he nominates “Space Time” as a highlight, as well as “Hold Me,” “Get By” and “Empire.” He also rates highly their remix of Nero’s “Must Be the Feeling,” which has had nearly 7 million views on YouTube, and over 100,000 downloads on SoundCloud. “It was so different to anything we’ve done, and it really struck a chord with people, especially in America,” remarks Si of the Nero refit.
Si reveals how Delta Heavy’s tracks begin as simulations of “grand soundscapes with an epic movie vibe,” their song intros “based on theatrical trailers for films.” The tune to “End of Days,” for example, came from the score to Planet of the Apes. “There’s a visual side to our sounds,” he adds. “We imagine what it would be like to provide music for that kind of context, so that we—and other people—can get it, by visualising it as opposed to it just being for the dancefloor. That gives it an added meaning, an extra something that separates it from the rest.”
He agrees that Delta Heavy are inspired by sci-fi for their song concepts and sonics.
“Our early stuff, like “Abort” and “Space Time,” was very much space-themed, about intergalactic travel and all the different aspects of space in that,” he says. “And then more recently with Apollo, that has continued.”
Delta Heavy’s music lends itself to all manner of intriguing visualizations. “End of Days” has been used on computer game Gran Turismo, and their videos—notably, the stop-motion and cartoon animation ones for “Get By” and “Hold Me”—have helped cement their appeal (the former was even nominated in the Best Budget Dance Video category of the Video Music Awards).
“That video [for “Get By”] seemed to go viral and had a million hits in two days,” marvels Ben. “That seemed to open us up to a wider audience.”
Ben—who has been DJing since he was 14, when he would pore over his decks in his Eton tails—agrees with Si about Delta Heavy’s music being appropriate for high-impact visualization.
“I always describe our stuff as melodramatic,” he says. “People respond to the grand, epic intros, and then when the track drops it has a lot more impact. What effect does it have? The crowd goes wild.”
Delta Heavy—influenced as much by UK drum & bass as the recent explosion of dance music in the US—have truly international appeal. In fact, they recently submitted a track for inclusion on a Rihanna album and have already played to 20,000-capacity crowds in the States. But Si and Ben’s dream is for Delta Heavy to eventually make the transition from purveyors of club bangers to architects of a more song-based sonic assault.
“That’s the dream for everyone, selling out the 02,” decides Ben. “We feel like we’ve taken the dancefloor tracks to the limit. The next step is to craft tunes that are more song-based.
Delta Heavy—their name taken from a 2001 tour by progressive house duo Sasha & Digweed—are taking what Si correctly describes as “forward-thinking, impact-based electronic music with a twist” to the next level.
We’ve definitely been known as one of the heavier hitters of the game,” admits Si. “Now we’re going to expand on what we do. Our debut album will hopefully make that happen.”