- Mon, 2010-01-18 12:42
British drum n bass producer Sub Focus released his debut album in October 2009. The 13 track body of work saw Nick Douwma receive the acclaim that his 2005 dance chart number one single, 2009 top forty hit and years of deck smashing activities had been leading up to.
I Like Music caught up with Sub Focus to chat about: Remixing Deadmau5, The Prodigy and Dizzee Rascal. Tips for new producers. Software, hardware, synths and talkboxes. The new live show. Staying true to the underground. His future plans. Plus the nine years making music before his demo landed in the hands of DnB don Andy C.
"I Like Music because… It has such a direct connection to the way you feel.” Sub Focus
ILM: We have to start with the Sub Focus live show! From a one man DJ to a live show supporting Pendulum. What can we expect from Sub Focus live? Exciting!
Sub Focus: I’m really excited about it as well! I’m putting it together at the moment. I don’t want to put too many details out there really, I want to save it. I’m trying to base it around myself and technology quite heavily. I love the way Daft Punk or Justice approach their sets. Amazing, visual shows. That’s the way I’m going with it. I’m getting lots of interesting controllers to use in the set, things you can control by moving your hand round in the air, plus a load of synthesisers....
ILM: How have you approached the transistion with your music? Re-working and turning your tunes into live music?
Sub Focus: I’ve been doing re-worked versions of the tracks for a while. Predominantly there’ll be tunes from the album, but also some of my older tracks, like X-Ray. Some of those older tunes have the potential to work really well in a live environment. I’m really hyped about it. It’s a totally new thing for me! My in road to music was through rock music when I was really young. I started playing the bass when I was about eleven, so it’s nice to bring things I started with back in to what I’m doing now.
ILM: Sub Focus live is a big development for you. You’ve risen from underground drum n bass circles to the dizzy heights of Top 40 hits, remix work for the Prodigy and singles which are slightly more radio friendly. As you slide into mainstream awareness, how do you continue to keep your underground fans happy?
Sub Focus: I think about that a lot. A lot of us do that. I was chatting to the guys from Chase N Status about this the other day - We have studios next door to each other. It’s tricky. I’m definitely keen to keep doing underground stuff, I really enjoy that. But I do want to make tunes that reach a lot of people. Getting into the Top 40 with Rock It gave me a taste for it. I feel like I don’t want to stagnate. It’s the same with anyone and any job. You want to feel like there is progression. I’ve done my time doing lots of underground drum n bass. People know me for a lot of styles now. I just want to grow in a way that’s credible and interesting.
ILM: How has that cross-genred appreciation in fans started to affect your work?
Sub Focus: I’m just enjoying being part of it. I remember playing some electro in my set about three years ago and it didn’t really work. Now it’s something people will get into. It’s a really cool development in crowds and music.
ILM: What can we expect from a Sub Focus DJ set?
Sub Focus: I’ll be playing predominantly drum n bass, but just working in sections of house, sections of dubstep, some old jungle.
ILM: You’ve built up a reputable catalogue of some big name remix work, typically Drum n Bass remixes. Will the appreciation of other genres start to work its way across into these?
Sub Focus: Yeah, I’d like to do some at house tempo or dubstep. I am starting to get a couple of offers for that...so wait and see. At the moment when I go into the studio it’s nice because I think people know me for doing more than just drum n bass, I think I showed them that with the album. I do want to reflect that in my remix work now too.
ILM: What’s the hardest part to remixing someone elses work?
Sub Focus: So many elements of a track don’t work with the drum n bass tempo. You have to change them quite a lot and pick bits apart. What I listen to first and foremost is if I like the tune. I’ve been lucky enough to get a lot of remix work recently for tunes that I really, really like. Things like Deadmau5's Ghosts N Stuff – I was a massive fan of that before it was re-released. Also Dirtee Cash off Dizzee Rascal’s album, that was probably my favourite track from there. I’ve had some fantastic offers recently.
ILM: When do you work best?
Sub Focus: It’s kind of strange and slightly frustrating for me because I really get into working on things late, late at night. I’m just a night person. I think that’s when I make most of my best material, when there’s no distractions, when I’m just sort of zone-ing on my own.
ILM: How would you describe the Sub Focus process of making a tune?
Sub Focus: The process of writing a track varies a lot. It could start from a multitude of things. At the moment I’ll often listen to tracks I like and then re-create different elements of them. For example Rock It started from the Daft Punk tune Robot Rock. I started researching the samples they used and basically created some of the sounds from the original track they sampled. With Timewarp I had been listening to a lot of minimal techno stuff. I use a lot of synthesisers in the studio and I basically spent my time re-creating sounds. The massive rising sound became the starting element for that track. Could This Be Real is a mixture of that sort of dubstep base, combined with more house and that early, 90’s sort of piano. I just try and combine unusual things together and see what comes out.
ILM: What’s your equipment set up? What do you typically use?
Sub Focus: I use a mixture of old analogue equipment and modern stuff like plug ins. A favourite thing of mine is Massive, a plug in synth I use all the time. I love the way it works. I use a bit of Ableton Live. Cuebase is kind of the main sequencer I use. I have a bunch of old kit in the studio including an old Talk Box, which is where you put a tube into your mouth, form the words with your mouth and then play a synthesiser through it. I love those old bits of kit. For the album I ended up hiring lots of old vintage equipment, things like old vocoders – that old robot voice kind of sound. Old synthesisers from the seventies and eighties, a lot of that was hired in to produce the record.
ILM: One of your demo’s ended up with Andy C and the rest is history... What’s your advice to any producers yet to find that break?
Sub Focus: The best advice would be not to send too much material to people. I get sent demos sometimes where there will be ten tracks on there! People are a lot less willing to listen to a massive amount of material. Generally the best demos tend to be one or two tracks. Quality over quantity. That’s a really important thing to bear in mind when sending out demos. When I started sending out demos in 2003 I’d already been making music since, well, for about eight to nine years. It’s good to wait I think. Even then I felt slightly unprepared for things that came my way, like remixes. It took me a while to get into doing that. I’d say take your time, don’t rush it. Once you get something out there you need to be able to follow it up and follow it up. That’s probably the hardest part, coming up with tunes that people will keep wanting to play. Keeping things interesting.
ILM: What’s your earliest musical memory?
Sub Focus: Watching the Michael Jackson film Moonwalker! Haha! I remember really enjoying that! Also I remember my mum, for some reason, bought my sister Guns N Roses Use Your Illusion. I don’t know why she did that! My sister was probably about eight at the time! I found that CD and realised that I loved rock music. That was when I started to really get into music, probably about when I was ten. It’s weird when you’re creating music. I have a theory that as a producer it’s good not to be too much of a fan, otherwise you end up watching what other people do too much.
ILM: I was about to ask you what music you’d been listening to recently, but...
Sub Focus: No, no, I am a massive fan of lots of different stuff! Haha! There’s a lot of great bands at the moment mixing synthesisers and guitars. Bands like MGMT, Delphic, Passion Pit. That’s a sound I’d like to infuse more with my own. Not rock, but slightly more guitar based, a slightly more songy kind of vibe. There’s so much good new music out there now, especially for dance music, so many styles coming in. It’s a cool time right now to be making dance music.