Beats by Beat: Tamen invites you into the hardcore continuum of jungle music

Beats by Beat: Tamen invites you into the hardcore continuum of jungle music

Words by Jacob Nazroo

Welcome to Beats by Beat, our mix series for electronic music lovers. Head here if you missed the previous Beats by Beat mix, produced by genre-defying, experimental queen Fia Fiell.

Those familiar with Australia’s house and techno scene will know there’s been, in recent years, a resurgence in the popularity of breakbeat genres like drum and bass and jungle. There are a few strong purveyors of the broken rhythm sound here in Melbourne, and not many more so than Luke O’Higgins, aka Tamen.

As you’ll read in our interview with the man below, he comes from Ireland via Spain. Christened as a club DJ at only 16, he’s played shows across Europe, Asia and Australia and has been a key player in multiple scenes; he played a big role in expanding Barcelona’s electronic musical palate with his monthly Jungle Jungle nights, for example.

Tamen’s been busy too, he studies Gestalt therapy, works and makes music. But, especially as far as the latter is concerned, he’s certainly not doing anything by halves and is constantly looking to shift up a gear – something he’ll be doing next year with a set of collab tracks with his good mate Pugilist which will be released across various labels.

As a special treat, he’s put together a jungle mix which you can find on our Soundcloud.

For our readers who may not be familiar with your work, could you summarise your musical timeline? Describe the journey that’s led you to being in Melbourne DJing and producing electronic music.

It all started when I was 12 in my hometown of Galway on the west coast of Ireland. I had a much older friend who spent all his money on records and used to let me come play on his DJ set-up after school. He had everything from trip hop, from labels like Ninja Tune & Mo’ Wax, electronica and Detroit techno via Warp Records, Orbital, Plastikman, Derrick May, Carl Craig to ’90s jungle/DnB. Soon after I also fell in love with dub, reggae, hip hop and punk. All of these genres are still big influences on my sound today.

Once I heard jungle on a big sound system, I was blown away by the power, depth and diversity of the music. It combined all my favourite genres into one accelerated ball of energy, breakbeats and sub bass. I was really captivated and started to delve deeper into this world.

I got my first club gig at about 16 at our local night in Galway called Jungle Fever, which is a reference to the OG Jungle Fever parties in London in the ’90s. This was the start of learning my craft through trial and error. At 19 I decided I didn’t like rain so much and moved to Barcelona, Spain where I stayed for the next 13 years. Most of the deeper music with more cut up breakbeats was not popular or understood there, so I learned how to gradually create a solid groove for people to dance to and then start to open it out rhythm-wise.

I also spent days and days mixing with my good friend and musical mentor Egres who had grown up and earnt his stripes as a DJ in New York. We used to do things like DJ each other’s records or try to create different feelings with different mixes. He also encouraged me to look up from the decks and read a crowd. I used to be super shy and this helped me become better at selecting music, which I still think is the most important skill as a DJ.

Shortly after moving to Barcelona, I started a collective called Jungle Jungle with Egres and Sekev. I co-ran these events monthly for 14 years until I moved to Melbourne, so promoting and DJing were the main focus of my 20s.

How have you found playing and making music, as well as organising events, in Melbourne compared with other places you’ve lived?

It has been amazing from the start. Being so welcomed here into different musical communities, I was really blown away by how friendly and helpful people were in and outside of the music scene. Grumpys (RIP) quickly became my second home as a DJ.

Along with getting booked and becoming mates with Ben and the Proxemics family, Blend Corp, Modern Hypnosis, Echo Chamber, Zero1, Timetravel, Oscillate, Detrimental Audio, Twisted Audio, The Operatives, Sleep Deprivation and Dark Riddims, Triptych, Lex, Sera Marie and Sub Yard among many others have been super supportive. Also DJing in Sydney and Canberra for Asylum and Headz are Rolling was really fun. I feel like scenes were much more guarded in the past, so this is such a refreshing change!

I also started my night Junglistic in 2018. It’s also been amazing to promote my personal take on Jungle in Melbourne and help tour some of my favourite artists such as the UK’s Djinn, X-Nation, Ireland’s Ricky Force and Coco Bryce from the Netherlands.

How has your music evolved? Have you always been the keen purveyor of drum and bass and jungle that we know you as?

The main thing that has consistently evolved over time for me is a better ability to express how I feel, tell a story and connect to a room of people through music. This, as well as Djing in different places in both Asia and Europe, have all informed and inspired the music I end up making.

Though I’ve continuously been creating music in bands as a drummer since I was a teenager and had my first release as Tamen in 2011, as a producer I feel like I am just getting started, to be honest. I am currently just enjoying creating and learning more and more. I have found that being a DJ first has really helped me know how I want things to sound and sit, arrangement-wise, and encourage any DJ not producing yet to give it a try – the knowledge you acquire playing tracks helps so much when you sit down to write one!

Also as a DJ, these days I’m finding more and more genres across bpms as well as jungle/DnB that I want to mix, which feels like a reflection of the scene here in Melbourne as well as making music of all sorts with Pugilist.

What’s on the menu for you in the foreseeable future, musically speaking? You’ve put out a couple of great co-productions with your friend Pugilist. Can we expect any more such collabs?

You most certainly can! Meeting Alex Pugilist has been amazing as he’s the first person I have consistently collabed with where the musical connection has flowed from the jump. I think the first time we met in the studio we finished a tune in a few hours, which will be released on Subtle Audio next year, and this is true for most of our sessions. One of the many things I’ve learned as a producer from working with Alex is just to enjoy the creative process, as the technical stuff just comes the more you do it. I’ve found the best tunes seem to write themselves when the vibe is right.

I currently have two collabs with Pugilist just out on vinyl; a track called ‘Adversity’ on his Heavy Lies The Crown EP on TRULE, and a track called ‘Guidance’ on his Blue Planet EP for Martyn’s 3024 label.

We also have forthcoming vinyl releases on UK based Repertoire, the aforementioned Subtle Audio release and a few other things I can’t announce just yet which look to be another milestone for us. I am beyond happy that our tunes are being played by some of my favourite DJs overseas as well as here, so overall I am very excited for the future, musically speaking.

I will be continuing the Junglistic events, and I’ve also been talking about setting up a new night with a few friends when that might be possible which should be a lot of fun, fingers crossed!

And lastly, tell us about this awesome mix. Is it representative of what you’re listening to, playing and/or producing these days?

Well, it was a lot of fun! As a DJ I decide what to play in the moment as a reaction to reading the crowd’s vibe and how I’m feeling, so doing pre-thought out mixes are often tricky for me to get into. So I started by digging out some of my favourite records I brought over from Barcelona and that basically set the mood, which I then built on switching between vinyl and CDJs for the newer stuff. The mix represents some of my favourite tracks at the moment as well as some huge influential artists for me like Paradox, Digital and Marcus Intalex who I had the honour to play before in Melbourne just before he passed, Rest In Power. Then the newer stuff is a mix of deep and dark vibes from labels like Rupture, Samurai and UVB-76, some high energy and acid bits from Sinistarr, Spehr and a dub from Pugilist and myself that I’ve been playing a lot. Hopefully it inspires people to delve into the hardcore continuum of jungle music!

Check out Tamen’s mix below.

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