An Interview With Orbr
Orbr is the intrepid drum & bass avatar of longtime Minneapolis producer Jason Herrboldt. Fusing sci-fi sound effects with fresh drum kits and vintage synths, Orbr crafts a winky retro-future vibe that evokes Rockwell, Danny Breaks, and Total Science.
Orbr brings fresh life and a playful energy to drum & bass, borrowing elements of Detroit techno, trance, and European synthwave. Influences include:
After a decade of experimenting with drone and dark ambient music, including soundtracks to some local indie short films, Jason returns to his drum and bass roots with a vengance. His maiden voyage is remixing a pair of songs by Minneapolis indie rockers Oaks, coming in summer 2020. Circuit City, his debut single, was featured on DJ Pfeif's 30 May 2020 podcast, and we talk about his debut follow-up Scorpion Cruiser below.
Under various monikers, Jason has appeared on compilations alongside industry giants such as Jazzanova, Miguel Migs, Fila Brazillia, Swag, Andy Caldwell, Beanfield, Nightmares On Wax, Ian Pooley, and Trüby Trio.
Chilla sat down to catch up with him.
Hi and thank you for talking to us, How have you been coping during lockdown/Covid-19 in Minneapolis?
Thanks for having me! I can honestly say that I would have gone mad by now were it not for music, both making it and listening to it. Between that and watching movies with lots of explosions, I'm managing to keep it together. I'm counting my lucky stars every day that I still have a job and a roof over my head. The COVID situation in the USA right now has got me pretty messed up. It helps me to remember that I have no control over what others do. I just try to do the best I can, and the rest is not up to me.
Being from Minneapolis you have also had to deal with the shocking events surrounding George Floyd (RIP) and the growing support for the Black Lives Matter movement. How has this affected yourself and the way you look at diversity within the music industry, especially within the drum and bass scene?
It was crazy stressful and surreal to not only see the whole thing go down a few miles from where I live, but then to see some businesses just blocks from my apartment get damaged in the looting. It was horrifying what happened to George Floyd, but not surprising. Civil unrest, violence, protests, and police department drama have been annual backdrops to our summers going back years and years. It still blows me away that a city as progressive as Minneapolis has to deal with this kind of bullshit, but here we are. Happily Minneapolis also has a long tradition of cranking out stellar musicians of all kinds, with Prince and the Replacements back in the 80s, to a thriving rap scene going strong since the 90s, and now new faces like Lizzo. We wouldn't have half the talent in our city without the diversity that I'm proud to say we celebrate every chance we get. Watching the drum & bass movement unfold was amazing to me as a teenager, seeing such diverse genres and cultures clash together to make something new. I think it's absolutely our biggest strength, and it makes me proud to be part of it.
What first got you into jungle / drum and bass, and what are some of the first tunes that really stood out to you?
It started with techno. Back in 1991 a friend visiting from LA brought all these techno CDs back with him. I'd heard some electronic music by then, stuff like 808 State and Psychic TV's Tekno Acid Beat, but nothing like the music my friend had. (This was pre-internet -- finding new music was a whole different game back then.) It was all early ecstasy / rave stuff, and it blew my face off. I rushed out to my local record stores to buy as much techno as I could get my hands on, starting with Lust by Lords of Acid. I kept buying more and more CDs, both good and bad, and the tempos just kept going up and up and up. Then in '93 I heard Oh No by Kemical Kids and I knew the game had changed. This wasn't techno anymore, this was a whole new dimension of sound. Then Moving Shadow dropped The Joint, and it was all over for me -- I was hooked. Crucial early tracks include Radio Babylon by Meat Beat Manifesto, 20,000 Hardcore Members by Messiah, Sesame's Treet by Smart E's, Respect Is Due by Altern 8, Charlie by (The) Prodigy, Hello Darkness by Bay B Kane, Real Hardcore by Boogie Times Tribe, and The Storm by Cris B.
Tell us what the scene is like in Minneapolis? (ie events, record shops, places to meet like minded junglists etc).
Minneapolis has a bar on every corner, and downtown is absolutely bonkers on the weekends. Most clubs cater more toward drinking & socializing, but a handful really take the music seriously. It's been that way for ages. Clubs are everywhere, but really good DJs are hard to find. Drum & bass had a decent scene here back in the 90s, but it's all gone now. Maybe it's an Upper Midwest thing, but Minneapolis has always leaned more towards hip-hop and EDM. Most of the incredible record shops are long gone, but a few stalwarts hang on. But yeah, sadly the D&B parties are history. If I want to talk to other junglists -- other than one or two DJs I still know from back in the day -- I usually have to get on Reddit!
On your website, you describe your sound as 'Synthwave Jungle', can you explain it a little further for the readers?
I've loved synthwave, or "outrun" as it's sometimes called, since it took off back around 2010. Mitch Murder is one of my favorite artists of any genre. I'm sure a big reason is nostalgia -- I am a Gen Xer after all -- but there really is something special and unique about that sound that you won't find in any other genre, and now mainstream artists like Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift are incorporating it into their material. So it's definitely very hot at the moment. I've seen a number of Reddit posts recently with people posting the odd jungle track with synthwave elements, asking if anyone knows of other songs or artists in that vein. There's just not much out there. So I figured why not fill that void? I might not stick with synthwave jungle forever, but it feels like a fun place to start and a novel way to introduce myself to the D&B world.
The debut single 'Circuit City' came out in June, how has that been received within the dnb community?
American DJs seem to have a more positive response to Circuit City so far. I'm not sure why, but it might be that it's bright and high-energy on its surface, definitely not a moodier track. American jungle is all over the place, but I suspect English tastes run towards the moodier end of the spectrum.
Your latest release 'Scorpion Cruiser' came out on 14th July. Tell us a bit about the process of how you work in the studio and the inspiration for this track?
I usually start with arpeggiated pads and branch out from there. Musical structure is hugely important to me, no matter the type of song. I don't do liquid, and I probably never will, but I respect the songwriting effort that goes into that sub-genre. Early on I also felt Scorpion needed a futuristic vibe, so I stuck with minimal drum machine kits instead of breaks, and I cranked the tempo up to the mid-180s. This provided an interesting contrast with the goth and darkwave elements I wound up incorporating, ala early Dead Can Dance and Depeche Mode, two bands that are never very far from my heart.
I hear there is lots to come over the next year, tell us a bit more of your plans for the rest of 2020 and beyond?
I'll be releasing a new single every few weeks through the end of the year, then probably switching over to EPs. My sound is a bit all over the map these early days, partially because I'm testing myself -- I want to see which sub-genres work better for me, and I can't know that until I try. So there will be plenty of synthwave bangers, an acoustic funk track in the tradition of New Forms, and a handful of neuro tunes. I'm also dying to experiment with bossa nova, another genre with a long history in the drum & bass world. I adore Brazilian pop music (Rosalia De Souza is an absolute angel), and I love that they have such a massive jungle scene over there.
I also hear you have done a couple of remixes for a Minneapolis indie rock group called 'Oaks'. How did this come about?
Oaks is a local band that is very near and dear to my heart. I met this guy named Jim back when I was attending college around 2007. He was my math tutor actually, and went on to become a math professor and a good friend. The year we met I found out that he sang in a thrash metal band called Children of Euler that did songs about math and Lovecraftian horrors of the void. Seeing them live was incredible! Of course I fell madly in love with them. Then later he and his very talented wife Erica formed Oaks, which is worlds away from Chidren of Euler stylistically. Oaks is very much a love letter to mid-80s post-punk and early-90s college rock, very stripped down and intimate. I told Jim one day that my Orbr project was really shaping up, and sent him a copy of Scorpion Cruiser. He offered me the chance to do some remixes for Oaks, and I jumped on it. I hadn't remixed anything in years and years! Both remixes came out quite well, and it felt great to stretch that muscle so early on in Orbr's evolution. Plus Jim and Erica are two of the sweetest people you could ever hope to meet. And of course their music is amazing.
What other genres of music and artists influence you?
A few years ago I started really diving into hip hop. It was something that I'd never explored before, so it was long overdue. It absolutely changed my life. Some of Orbr's biggest influences come from the hip hop world, artists like TEK.LUN, Kaytranada, Evil Needle, Machinedrum, Rustie, Bahwee, and Mike Gao to name a few. I really fell madly in love with a Canadian label called Huh What Where. I just wanted music that sounded BIG, you know? And EDM at the time wasn't cutting it. Hip hop fed that hunger for really big sounds in music, and I take those inspirations with me into drum & bass.
If I gave you £10k right now, what would you do with it and why?
Assuming COVID's done with, I'd fly to Europe and party for a month! I'd visit all the legendary clubs and record shops that I've been hearing about for decades. Actually I'd probably spend most of it bribing various members of D&B royalty into having tea with me. Goldie, Roni, LTJ Bukem, Dillinja, Lemon D, ... I'd be dead broke within days, but happier than I've ever been in my life. I'd rather do that than buy a bunch of gear. (I did actually meet LTJ Bukem once at the 1999 Miami Winter Music Conference. I still have his business card!).
What is your current studio setup like?
It's pretty simple. I use an iMac with Logic and a handful of VSTs like PhasePlant by Kiloheartz to craft custom bass patches, and a few vintage emulators by UVI. Logic has such a massive array of synth patches and drum machine kits, that I feel like I'll never get through all of them in one lifetime. I'd love to experiment with other DAWs and VSTs, but I'll probably never be a DAW-less recording artist. I respect musicians who go that route -- Richard Devine is insanely talented and a delight to listen to -- but I'll probably stick with software over hardware for the time being. I used to have a small MIDI studio back in the 90s with a handful of synths and a sampler, but it never came close to the power available to producers right now. You can do more on your phone today than a massive MIDI studio could 20 years ago. It's absolutely unreal, and it allows artists to really crank out quality tunes really, really quickly. The old stumbling blocks are largely all gone.
Any labels that you think would suit your sound or be a dream to get released on?
Metalheadz, without a doubt. They've been absolutely killing it nonstop for 25 years. I just don't understand how their artists do what they do. I can't get my head around it. I'm not nearly talented enough to get signed to a label of that caliber just yet, but maybe someday. I'm also quite fond of Commercial Suicide and Symmetry.
Even though Orbr is a new identity, you have in fact been involved within the scene for some time now. Are there any other names we should look up that you have used as an alias?
I've recorded under a few different names including Wix, Callisto, and Caspian. Only Caspian's songs made it outside of regional releases, and it was only for a few years around 2000. I have no claim to fame, but my biggest accomplishment back then would probably be getting featured on a pair of Om Lounge collections. That was an incredible experience, only made possible by a scrappy indie label out of San Francisco called Cosmic Flux Musiq, now long gone. I still hear my old tracks from time to time on internet radio stations, and even once in an upscale department store while trying on a suit!
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I don't have much of a social life anymore, even pre-COVID. I'm a bit of a house cat. I live for pigging out in front of the TV and working it off by biking or walking around the city. I've spent the last decade focusing on experimental and dark ambient music, and lately I've teamed up with a couple like-minded musicians from the area. We kicked out a single and a full-length album earlier this year under the name Thrill Behind Barks (available on Bandcamp). Then every fall I do a dark ambient Halloween project, usually an EP or single under the name Jason Herrboldt, also on Bandcamp. It's really great fun because I love horror so much. Then it's back to napping and watching too much TV!
You are stuck on an island all alone with 2 tracks (1 x dnb and 1 x non dnb) what are you taking with you and why?
This one's a killer! I'd have to go with Horizons by LTJ Bukem. I've always had a weakness for the Do The Do break, plus Bukem's synth work on that track is absolutely legendary, even by today's standards. And I love the Maya Angelou sample. For the non-D&B track I'd pick the first of Debussy's Deux Arabesques. I listen to loads of classical and romantic-era music, and that song has always stood out for me. It's so simple, yet I'm utterly transported every time I hear it.
Who would be a dream colab for you to work with?
I'd love to work with Break. It's absolutely unreal how talented he is. It would be down to him or Total Science. I could learn so much working with either of them. As with those Metalheadz artists, I just don't understand how they do what they do. I feel like an ant contemplating a space station.
What do you love about the www.jungledrumandbass.co.uk website the most?
I love that you give up-and-comers like me a chance to break in. That sounds awfully self-serving, but it's true -- you have interviews with huge names, but also with artists I've never heard of, and they're all massively talented. Netrom's interview springs immediately to mind. I had no idea Estonia had a drum & bass scene at all, yet here's one of their brightest stars doing incredible work. Plus you're open to all flavors and sub-genres, which is very refreshing; so many sites out there focus just on liquid or only care about jump-up or old school or whatever. It's fantastic to see such dedication to the whole world of D&B, not just some niche.
Thank you for your time, lastly any shouts or thanks?
Thank you for having me! Huge shouts to my mom and dad for supporting my music obsession going all the way back to childhood. Big love to Oaks for the early remix opportunities, to the Thrill Behind Barks guys for giving me the chance to collaborate on experimental music, and to Paul Knox (aka DJ Spree) for the inspiration early on in my career. Respect!Orbr · Oaks - Like A Poem (Orbr Remix)
Interview By: Chilla
Posted & Edited By: Messenga