Their work with the likes of Lily Allen, Nicole Scherzinger, Olly Murs, Professor Green and Shakira has seen them contribute to 25 million album sales, three UK #1 hits and a further eleven international chart-toppers. Meet the production team of Future Cut - Tunde Babalola and Darren Lewis - two men whose musical journey has taken them from kings of the underground drum 'n' bass scene to curators of some of the pop world's biggest hits. "The general public don't know who we are," says Lewis. "But they've definitely heard us."
As promoters in Manchester's drum 'n' bass community of the mid-nineties, it was inevitable that that the duo would meet. After Lewis distributed some flyers for one of Babalola's nights, his new friend suggested that he could join him in the studio to work on some music together. "That's what he used to say to everyone to get them to do him favours," smiles Lewis. "But he didn't count on me turning up at the studio."
Soon, this casual arrangement turned into something more substantial.
Babalola had been working on his own production for the previous two years, but never had found a regular collaborator. "It was a really exciting time because we had all these dreams and ambitions," he grins at the memory. "Even though I loved drum 'n' bass and that was my passion, I wanted to do other music too. A lot of the time, all people wanted to do was to make a tune to put on a white label and play in a club. Darren wanted to work for Metalheadz and produce Michael Jackson."
The first two Future Cut productions, 'Fresh Step' and 'The Chase', were signed by Clayton Hines at Renegade Records in 1998 and sold a credible 1700 copies. The follow-up didn't come easy. Over the course of the next four months, the duo did whatever they could to fund their studio work - DJing, programming and remixing backed by a discount diet of pot noodles and Kresta lemonade - before they hit upon their first classic with 'Whiplash'. Released on Renegade Hardware, 'Whiplash' became infamous when Andy C rewound the track four times at Manchester's Movement.
Future Cut ran with that initial moment of success and embarked
upon the touring life of superstar DJs. It took them to Iceland, Puerto
Rico, Transylvania and beyond as they memorably soundtracked the
millennium in France and inadvertently got caught up in a terrifying FBI
raid in New Orleans. "It was wild from the second you got off the
plane. There was a lot of partying and a lot of getting up to no
good," states Lewis with a mischievous expression. Babalola concurs:
"I wouldn't have changed it for the world. If I was still doing it,
I'd probably look twenty years older even if I had made it to 2012.
Sometimes I think I could just dust off those headphones one more time..."
Back in the relative sanity of Manchester, Future Cut's ambitions turned towards making an album which made the discovery of the talented young vocalist Jenna G somewhat fortuitous. Together they created the cult hit 'Midnight'. Played as the closing track at a DJ set at The End, and released on their own label, 'Midnight' was soon picked up by Marcus Intalex and Fabio and went on to sell 15,000 copies. No mean achievement considering that Future Cut had refused Radio 1's request for a radio edit. "We said no, it is what is it," says Lewis, part exasperated by his prior naivety, part satisfied with the strength of his convictions.
Nonetheless, 'Midnight' sparked Un-Cut, a band project uniting Future Cut on a full-time basis with Jenna G. After a triumphant, Normski-introduced gig at London's Cargo, Un-Cut inked a recording deal with Warner Bros. Records. The freedom afforded to them was a blessing in disguise, according to Lewis: "Our delusions of grandeur were out of control. So we starting hiring orchestras and huge studios; all the stereotypical things you'd do if with all these funds and no-one saying no. The plus side was that we learned how to make records. We just sat there and absorbed everything; how to record on tape, how to relate to musicians and how to mix. That turned us from being beat makers to record producers."
While the finished album, 'The Un-Calculated Some', earned positive
reviews for its fearless hybrid of genres, it failed to make much of an
impact commercially. "We didn't want to be pop stars, we just wanted
to make tunes," admits Babalola in hindsight. With Un-Cut over, and
drum 'n' bass evolving in their absence, what would be their next step?
Production work for Conner Reeves aroused their interest in exploring other genres and also helped to refine their own songwriting talents, but the future was uncertain. And then they were introduced to a young singer-songwriter by the name of Lily Allen.
"It was one of those brilliant stories!" exclaims Lewis. "She was unsigned, so we got together in a basement studio in Manchester. The first song we wrote together was 'Smile' and the other hits we did soon after. We set Lily up with a MySpace. She took the concept and ran with it, and the rest is history." Future Cut produced and co-wrote half of her 3-million selling debut album 'Alright, Still' including its two hits 'Smile' and 'LDN'.
Eager to capitalise on their moment in the spotlight, Future Cut's new priority was to make progress in America and they soon did exactly that, landing high profile production work for the likes of Nicole Scherzinger, Shakira and Rihanna. They also established their own recording studio in London which allowed them to helm a consistent stream of hits for the likes of Little Mix, Olly Murs, MIA, Ella Eyre, Rizzle Kicks, Alex Claire, Wretch 32, Biffy Clyro, Professor Green, Devlin and Dizzee Rascal to name but a few.
Adept at adapting to all manner of genres, Future Cut agree that the key to their success is to be able to maximise an artist's potential while allowing them to maintain their individuality. "I think the reason people come back to us is that they know we can consistently take glimmers of hope and make stars of people," concludes Lewis.
Despite seven global number ones, millions of sales and countless hits under their belt they have never forgotten their musical roots and this sparked the release of their '168-174' series. Tracing their Drum & Bass lineage back to where it started twenty years ago. Expect classics, rarities and even a few new tracks over the coming months...