Both Tristan da Cunha and Brawther have long turned heads thanks to their own individual takes on house and techno. So when the two joined forces almost a decade ago to form Dungeon Meat, the results were every bit as excellent as you might expect. Notable for a DIY, almost ‘punk-esque’ aesthetic, the Dungeon Meat project (as well as its associated label) have found favour with virtually every discerning DJ over the past while the pair have been busy recently too with their label, releasing a brilliant VA, Enter The Dungeon, which is available now via Juno.
With all this in mind, we caught up with them recently to discuss their early beginnings, their future plans (including their plans for a sub label), their epic summers – and much more besides. Following our interview, we couldn’t shake the feeling that the best is still to come…
My first question is for you Tristan. You seemed to have a really awesome Houghton and it struck me as the gig of a lifetime. Can you try put into words how it all felt?
Tristan: Houghton has always been a highlight on my calendar since it started. It’s a festival that is very close to my heart because it was conceived and curated by a very close friend of mine, Craig Richards. First of all it’s such a pleasure to play and perform there due to the fact that all the technical side of things like the turntable set ups, sound systems, DJ Booth structures and lighting are all done to perfection. This makes it very easy to give your best performance, relax and have a really good time. The audience is extremely clued up musically so there is always a good dialogue between the DJ and the crowd. They know what they like and they let you know. I played three times; three completely different sets. First was a proper serving of house, garage and breaks and the atmosphere was electric.
I soundtracked day turning into night and It felt like it was the moment the festival really popped and started to boot off. Second set was early in the afternoon so I played sunshine music; funk, rare grooves, boogie, disco and proto house which was perfect for the time of day and the energy levels of the people who had had little or no sleep. The third set was under my Freakenstein alias and was straight up booty shaking electro, breaks and ghetto house mixed with a Toraiz SP16 sampler / sequencer over the top. It’s a hybrid set between DJing and Live that I’ve started to explore. Again it was the perfect energy level for people on the Sunday to go hard or go home. I think it snapped a few people’s necks and ankles during the set!
My sets were really well received with many sighting them as the highlight of the festival. Overall it feels incredible to be given platforms like this to perform on. They are seriously the best in the world, like Block9 at Glastonbury where I am also lucky enough to play regularly; it doesn’t get any better. I’m still walking with clouds beneath my feet after playing Houghton and I can’t wait for 2023 already.
Does working as a full-time DJ/producer ever feel like a sacrifice? Is it true that it really is ‘all worth it’ when things come together like this?
Tristan: Working as a full time DJ is one of the biggest privileges in my eyes. I get to travel around to give people a good time and get paid for it. I get to forge friendships and relationships with like-minded people across the world and that for me is the real treasure.
Of course there are some downsides…like airports these days can be hell on earth but the pros far outweigh the cons. Also being away and working at the weekend means that I can be at home all week with my family, doing the school run, cooking and looking after them whilst hitting the studio and working on other stuff at the same time. It has been great for that side of things. I suppose the only sacrifice that I can see is having the security of things like a pension when I get older, but if I’m clever enough I’ll make sure to keep a bit aside and also start some other businesses that I can crossfade into when my travelling days slow down.
The pandemic showed me not to put all my eggs in one basket so now I’m exploring the other skills I have as well.
Brawther: Being able to truly work full time and make a decent living from it is rarer than one thinks. You could be full time but the end if every month is a struggle. There can be some sacrifices that happen during the creative part that could be motivated by the desire to make more money faster. For example, someone could go full-time but sacrifice his artistic vision by following the advice of his agents or manager (if they have one) who have a different agenda in mind.
In my case, it only really became a sacrifice once I started having children. Being away most weekends or for very long tours means missing out on a lot of precious time with the family which I cherish more, especially after 2 years of Covid. (I actually forgot what it was like to spend multiple weekends back to back at home!)
Am I correct in thinking that you guys would have met in Leeds? Were you aware of one another’s music beforehand? And how did the idea to form a duo come about?
Brawther: I saw Tristan play at Back2Basics in 2003 and managed to track him down on MySpace a couple of years later to ask him for a track ID (but based on a written description, there were no annoying phones waved all night back then!).
Tristan: I forgot all about it and a few years later I bought Paris Underground Trax Vol 1 on My Love Is Underground which I hammered. No one knew it was Brawther behind the EP as it was being kept a mystery. I contacted the label and congratulated them on a fantastic release, then a couple days later Brawther hit me up and said “Hey, it’s my EP, the guy who hit you up on MySpace years ago”. My head was blown off and I was really excited to hear from the talent behind the music. We instantly connected musically, but also with our sense of humour… it was obvious we were kindred spirits.
After hanging about with each other we became obsessed with this sound we had nicknamed “dungeon meat”. Meaty beats and bass with a dungeony XXX-rated vibe inspired by the b sides and obscure dub cuts on US house and UK garage records. We got to a point where we said to each other “we need more of these kinds of tunes”, so we decided to get in the studio and make some beats. The first track we made was ‘The Fuck Off Track’ which massively blew up and saw a huge cross section of DJs playing it. While this was happening we were already planning the launch of Dungeon Meat records and to also DJ under the same name as the label.
You’re both from very different places, but obviously share a love of music. Outside of this, how do you get on? Are you different personalities? Or actually quite similar?
Tristan: Obviously we wouldn’t share the decks or start a label together if we didn’t really get along or have some kind of chemistry. We are different characters with different personalities but we have a lot in common, we share the same love for music and both have families that we are devoted to. We also have the utmost respect for each other as artists and performers and have learned a lot from each other’s experience. We both work to our strengths and together we have created something really special.
You mentioned your alias, Dungeon Meat, as well as the track titles (ie. ‘The Fuck Off track’). They aren’t exactly as subtle as deep house aliases often are! What’s in a name? Or am I looking into things too much?
Tristan: ‘The Fuck Off Track’ was a working title for the track that actually stuck . We called it that because when we were making it we were saying “Fooork OFFF” in an excited way , like when a track drops hard we say “Fuck offffff”. We also thought it would be funny when people were asking for track ID’s that the answer would be ‘The Fuck Off Track’!
The name Dungeon Meat came from a twisted conversation between friends about something quite rude. If people want to ask us in person then we’ll tell the story but I don’t think I want it printed for our children to read hehehehe. I’m sure if you use your imagination you can assume what it’s about.
In terms of who does what for Dungeon Meat, can you tell us a bit about that?
Brawther: We are quite even now; at first I had more knowledge as a producer so I would try to channel Tristan’s ideas when he couldn’t manifest them. But Tristan has steadily been studying his craft and I have also become a better DJ over the last 10 years as a result of playing together, so it’s a harmonious relationship on many levels.
Tristan: It’s both quite even really … Like I said we both work to our strengths. We don’t sign anything unless we’re both in agreement with it. We have to both be into it. Brawther’s brother Karim does all the artwork and together we come up with the concepts and ideas about how it’s going to look. We’re really blessed to have Karim do our art. He comes from more of a punk background which you can see in the style of art. It really fits and he’s great to work with. I take care of the Dungeon Meat Instagram page, Brawther deals with the accounts etc … We share the jobs but creatively it’s 50/50.
You’re going to be playing at Slapfunk at BRET during ADE. Again, can you tell us a bit about your history with the guys and what it means to be a part of their story?
Tristan: Brawther connected with the guys from the very beginning … he was riding high on the My Love Is Underground wave with Jeremy [Underground] and the Slapfunk crew booked them at ADE. Brawther came home and said to me that the crew were amazing and that we’d really get on. He was right … and there was instant chemistry.
Brawther: It was definitely a love at first sight type of friendship. Not only did the guys have similar taste in music but they were instantly welcoming and we felt like we were brothers from another mother.
Tristan: It feels so good to be part of their story … we’ve watched them grow and glow and now they’re starting to BLOW. We’re so proud of them and what they’ve achieved and it’s been really good for us to share some of that limelight. We’re part of the family now and they see us as (honorary) residents which we are really happy about.
We always bring our absolute A-game when we play for them and the parties at ADE are always off the scale when it comes to vibes. This year will be no different and we can’t wait to play and slay.
Can you tell us a bit about Dungeon Funk and what’s involved there?
Brawther: After running a few production challenges successfully via my Patreon, notably the “Enter the Dungeon” competition in April 2021, I felt like it would be a great opportunity for my Interweaved Community to invite Slapfunk to team up with Dungeon Meat. Both our labels are quite specific in their sound and not too distant either, and we usually only sign music from our own circle of friends or specific artists that we look up to. So creating an event like this one is a great opportunity to discover new fresh talent and get people excited at the same time.
Tristan: The basis of the competition is that budding producers and more established artists can submit one track each which will be judged by Dungeon Meat and Ingi Visions …. We will pick the best tracks which will be released on a special piece of vinyl and the winners will be announced before ADE . Who knows if it’s a one-off or an ongoing thing. For anyone wanting to get involved head to Brawther’s Instagram where there’s a link in bio and also all the info is on the Dungeon Meat page as well.
In terms of mentors, who mentored you guys when you were young, keen electronic music fans? How influential have these people been to your career?
Tristan: We’ve been very lucky to have lots of amazing mentors throughout our career, lots of them are we consider really good friends who also happen to be incredible DJs and producers. People like Ralph Lawson, Rob Mello and Craig Richards have been instrumental in my growth.
Brawther: Thankfully I had the same with Chez Damier. He has been a mentor to me since the end of the 2000’s. My relationship with him touches on everything but actual music production. A mix between life coaching and industry how-to and how-not to.
Do you see it as a duty of sorts to assist up-and-comers?
Tristan: 100% … It’s essential to keep the wheel turning and the fires burning. We both recognise that we wouldn’t be where we are now if it wasn’t for others taking time to give us tips, useful bits of advice or good opportunities to shine. Brawther has his Patreon and Interweaved Community which is doing exactly this kind of thing. Creating a space where people can share ideas and have access to help from other like minded people.
With the label we work with lots of up-and-coming artists and we always have their best interest at heart. They always get constructive criticism if their tracks need it and we love to test drive their fresh jams in our sets knowing that it will really inspire them hearing their creations mixed with other music on a big soundsystem.
Brawther: I think it should be a duty for all DJs and producers to look after the next generation and help them when they can. It’s really too rare. Think of your favourite DJs and producers and now try to think in terms of mentors and disciples. They are extremely rare, it’s a shame. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity – which I was actually seeking but couldn’t find locally in Paris at the time. Most DJs and producers can’t see beyond their own careers and agendas. It’s not easy though, you have to have it in you. Some people just don’t want to interact with others and aren’t sociable by nature either. Still, I believe that there should be more mentoring going on, even if it’s a paid service, the elders should share their experiences and help pass on the torch.
In terms of getting music signed with you guys, how does it work and what are you looking for? Is it important you’ve a personal relationship with that person?
Tristan: We listen to demos but rarely do we sign them. Doing the Enter The Dungeon competition was great for us as we found some really amazing new talent and signed some killer tracks.
With demos we are just looking for some solid dance floor material. Dope beats, beefy bass and some personality that makes it stand out from the sea of painting by numbers tech house stuff that has saturated the scene.
It’s also very important that they have a good attitude and be nice people. At the end of the day they are representing us as well as themselves. We don’t waste our energy on people if they don’t have a good vibe about them.
Brawther: In most cases, the people whose music gets signed usually have a background in raving, digging, djing or consuming the music and know their shit. You probably won’t get signed to our label if you have no clue about what we play and the connection that the music has with its history in the last 30 years. And it’s not about having a lot of years under your belt, but rather understanding and feeling the music in a way that it naturally draws you towards the same things that we dig. It’s all about culture.
One Leeds-based DJ got a lot of flak online recently for saying that ‘networking’ by going to clubs week-in week-out is important and critical to ‘making it’ in electronic music. Where do you stand on this opinion?
Tristan: I think there’s a lot to be said for being in the right place at the right time and sometimes you’ve got to be in it to win it. Out of sight out of mind is also true. It’s very important to build good relations with the promoters if you want to have a long lasting career. Promoters like to book people they get on with … fact. Also, it’s important to go out and do your research on the parties or festivals you want to play at. Going there and getting involved definitely increases your chances of nailing the opportunity if it arises.
Brawther: Networking is a word that people hate and get wrong. Going to clubs week in and week out with the aim of making it is definitely not the right way to go about it. First of all, you should only attend the parties that have music that you LOVE. Don’t go out to parties where you don’t enjoy the music but are likely to have people “in the scene”. Anything of that order is to be discarded.
Networking is great if you connect with people that share the same passion and you are most likely to meet them at events that have the music you love. Online networking is far more powerful in my opinion. I’ve met all my friends online, from Jeremy Underground and the My Love Is Underground artists, to Tristan, Chez Damier, Delano Smith, and so many more, either on online forums or Myspace or Facebook (when it first started) and even now with Instagram. You connect with people online before you meet them in real life. So networking isn’t just about chewing people’s ears off at every gig and spamming people with your music, it’s about connecting with like minded individuals in an organic way.
We’re also hearing that a sub label is in the pipeline right now. Can you talk us through your plans for that?
Tristan: Yes, that’s correct. It’s going to be called Slabs … as in slabs of meat or slabs of wax. The first release is a double A side banger from our Dutch brother Borren who has been making some serious neck snappers lately. He’s such a great guy with wonderful energy and is always at the front dancing when we play the Slapfunk parties .
We started the sub label to enable us to release more music throughout the year . We have so much in the vaults that we needed to create another outlet as we could only fit so much on Dungeon Meat in 12 months. We’re really excited about it and can’t wait to present some of the tasty slabs we have gathered over the last year.
You guys tend to only release music that you truly love and would play, whereas a lot of contemporary labels are pushing so much music, almost to the point that they can’t namecheck a track that was released on their label! How important to you both is it that your label grows organically and stays as a sort of ‘family affair’?
Tristan: Yeah it’s essential that our hearts are into everything that hits the record shops and that we believe in the artists that we present. We take great pride in what we put out and don’t like to force anything … that’s why we haven’t had lots and lots of releases. Some years we’ve only had one release. Now we are really stepping things up though and making sure there’s a solid flow of meaty heat hitting the shops.
On that note, is there an element of compromise in working as a duo? Or do you generally agree on most things?
Tristan: There’s occasionally a little compromise but generally we are singing from the same hymn sheet and have the same goals and ambitions … and yeah when it comes to DJing we both have similar taste so very rarely is there any compromise on that front.
Before we leave, we wanted to ask; you’re both stuck in a dungeon for the next six months and you can only bring three records – of any genre – with you. What are you both taking and why?
It’s one of those records that sounds great anytime & anywhere you play it. Killer drums and bass in a dub styleeee …. Early dungeon masters.
This is a record that always lifts my spirits which if I was stuck in a dungeon for six months I’m gonna need it. It’s one of those albums you can just press play and leave it run, there’s not a bad track on it. I was 12 yrs old when it came out and I loved it as much then as I do now.
This is one of those albums that just takes me away to some exotic world. It’s like musical sunshine and always brightens up the room. Ethiopian jazz from the 60s and 70s that I never ever get bored of. So classy and suave. Perfect for bringing some light into a dingy dungeon.
If I’m stuck in a dungeon, I want to have as many ways to wander away when I close my eyes. This album is one I used to fall asleep to when I was about 15 years old. Aphex at his deepest.
Another Desert (Dungeon) Island disc if I was to choose one. Soulful Trip Hop with a funk and psychedelic dark atmosphere, and plenty of dungeon-y moments.
Stone Cold Classic, I could have also chosen “Reflections Of A Golden Dream”, the original deep jazz funk which will be very much needed in times of forced isolation.
Enter The Dungeon VA is available now on Juno here