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Ant Mulholland

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Cover Story: Sota

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Cover Story: Sota

The jump-up scene is notorious for its infectious energy, upbeat sounds, and assertory basslines. The distinctive vibe that modern jump up possesses has elevated the subgenre to its most exciting place in decades. Since 2019, Tom Southon has taken the drum & bass scene by storm, having been a key contributor to the revival of what was otherwise a declining part of the scene. His current take on jump up drum and bass fuses his rock influences as a child, his first musical endeavours as a drummer, and the vibrant approach to synthesis and melodies championed by his peers in the early 2010’s. Known by drum & bass fans as Sota, his meticulously planned out sets are a central element to the dedicated fanbase he has built, captivating their raw emotion and taking them on a journey from the old, the new and the untamed.

Having won best newcomer in the Drum&BassArena Awards at the end of 2023, it is clear that Sota possesses the fanfare to go on and become a household name in what is already a fast blossoming career  “They’re publicly voted so it really feels like everyone is watching and I’m doing the right things”. With such strong competition in Anaïs and [IVY], this award really validates how highly he’s valued in the world of drum & bass. Having made the Move to Bristol in late 2023, Sota finds himself in one of the best cities for drum & bass music, a fitting move given the ever-building momentum surrounding him at the moment. Whilst his next steps are not yet clear, it is without doubt that he is well suited in the musical melting pot of influence that Bristol has become over the last few decades.

After the success in the Drum&BassArena Awards we are now sitting up and taking notice, “Me and the team will keep going, we don’t take these bits of recognition for granted”. For Sota fans everywhere, the idea that this is just the beginning of a promising, long, musical career must be a thought that will only excite them even more.

With a sell-out headline UK tour completed, Sota’s flag is very much in the sand within the drum & bass world, “to make your graduation up to being a headline act and someone who’s booked to sell tickets is a very gratifying feeling .” His ‘State of the Art Tour ’ included a variety of buzzing DJs that were “very much handpicked”, including the likes of Basstripper, T-Lex, Circadian, Primate, Gino, Belle, and Exile. Really showcasing how on the money the lineups have been in terms of suiting his sound, “Putting on a headline tour isn’t just about your set, it’s about the whole night. I picked artists I actually love listening to. I want ravers to enjoy their time in the club from their arrival all the way till the end.” When it comes to curating more events, it’s refreshing to know that we are in store for a lot more. 

“Being able to run shows is the most satisfying feeling there is in this game”, Sota curated, and subsequently made, the night’s full blast from start to finish. “The whole experience has been incredible, the ravers have really made this tour a success!” 

S.O.T.A is a military acronym for state of the art, which Tom found out about early on after originally naming himself. His initial aim was to have a DJ name that had “one word, two syllables”. Cleverly, “I thought I’d hold this information in until there was something worthy of being branded it, and of course, there was nothing better than the first tour”. This ‘State of the Art’ characterised tour is a perfect image for the aura his shows up and down the country depicted, going for a “90’s-00’s technology and music magazine vibe.” It’s important to note that the love for his team is at the forefront of his thanks – “I’ve got to give as much credit as I can to my agent Louis! We came up together and have enjoyed every new step of success along the way as a duo, big love to Jamie too for helping make so much progress with this project in the relatively short time we’ve had working together. And thank you to the creative team that worked on this project – James and Kay alongside George and Jordan.” 

“We were sold on XOYO. It’s been a boyhood dream of mine to play there, a real iconic venue for drum & bass, I used to watch Andy C there when I was younger,” and considering his final sold-out show was at the East London venue, we can conclude this first headline UK tour a triumphant one. “It was an independent tour, where we worked with our favourite promoters in each city, rather than an overarching promoter for the whole tour. Going to cities comprising Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Brighton, and London”, really capped off an unforgettable few months in the life of Sota. “There’s been lots of ups and some downs but I’ve learnt not to overthink, the things we’ve learnt now we’ll apply to the next tour and make it even bigger and better than this one.” We can definitely expect more shows from this incredibly talented selector as the euphoria he felt throughout the tour is an entity that won’t be leaving him any time soon, “turning up to the venue and seeing everyone there to see your show, it’s amazing to have experienced that for the first time!” 

“It’s a full circle moment to be an artist that younger DJ’s can look up to. An increase in attention within the scene has been a lot to get used to”, inevitably the limelight will only strengthen with his hard-hitting productions, and killer sets, showing no signs of slowing down. In this current transition period he now finds himself, “I’m progressing from an act who has been supporting on lineups to becoming one of the main acts on the bill”. This crucial period for any artist is a time when they are able to assert their sound onto audiences and create a following that’ll determine their standing in the scene. “I’ve realised I’ve got a really friendly and nice fanbase. And to accept a lot of stuff is out of your control.”

With tracks including ‘Mesmer’, ‘Pray for me’, and ‘Machete’ also remixed by A.M.C – we are undeniably witnessing the rise of a talent who is building a body of work that will appease critics and ravers alike; with mesmer showcasing the more technical side of his production armory, and ‘Machete’ offering the gritty, rave built anthemic feel that listeners in 2024 crave so dearly. 

A.M.C, Andy C, Turno, and Pendulum have been big inspirations for Sota within the genre. His switch in aspirations between genres came as a result of a certain Australian group who he got to go back-to-back with on Radio 1, “Pendulum were my bridge from metal over to D&B, I mention them in every interview I do.” Metal was his first love musically, then at 16 when he discovered drum & bass things started to change. Once 18 and attending his first rave in Brighton it was “game over” so to speak. “I’m still a proud metal fan today, despite taking a few years out. I’d like to use metal songwriting techniques in my music production – especially because they incorporate synths and high-scale production value”, this would not only add another string to his bow, but the crossover in formulaic styles would certainly make a bold statement as a first-class producer, “I really enjoy picking out certain aspects of different genres and applying it to d&b production.” – 

On the topic of his idols, top of the list for the Horsham-born producer was to have one of his records remixed by one of those names ” When the ‘Machete’ conversation arose “UKF approached me asking who I wanted to remix ‘Machete’ and I immediately said A.M.C”. It wasn’t long before the multi award-winning act had put his own spin on the record and was donning it in his sets globally ” another milestone well and truly ticked off the list! Other releases that have gone a long way in enabling Sota to reach the heights he has are ‘Pray for me’ which he acknowledges as “one of my best-performing singles” and ‘Realise’, “one of my breakthrough releases, which bagged my first few million streams, it was self-released, so it was riding on pure hype.” Evidently, Sota’s fast rise in popularity has been reinforced by his music’s acclaim on the dance floor, and having dropped 5 singles/remixes in 2022, amongst his infamous ‘Can You Feel My Heart’ Bootleg it is clear to see that his output has been a driving force behind his early success. 

A career highlight that stood out was “Southbound festival where I played my first big crowd – before covid”, then going onto play some of the biggest drum & bass shows in around for DNB Allstars, Worried About Henry, Crucast, and Breakin Science at the superclubs Printworks and Warehouse Project. “The two Printworks shows were big stepping stones for me where I played alongside Amplify and Kara”. Adding that “the Primate back-to-back in Belgium was another pinnacle moment, it was just after the release of ‘Realise’ – the crowd screamed it back, it was insane!” Casting our minds back to the Crucast show in Manchester, “the Warehouse Project recorded set did some real mad stuff for my career”, the age of recorded sets has been a real asset to the world of dance music, “people love to listen to raves.” Where will the electronic dance scene be in another decade? “As technology gets better we’ll have access to more ways to convey these sets” – for rising DJs this is an opportunity to not only showcase their talent but rewatch and learn from the sets finding new ways to improve and tighten their mixing. 

Looking ahead to this summer’s festival season, without giving too much away we can expect to see Sota at “all the good ones this summer. I can’t say anything else.” These will undoubtedly add yet another milestone to his career, ultimately taking him another step closer to the pinnacle of the jump-up scene. Fondly looking back at Boomtown last year, he went back-to-back with heavyweight Simula on the Dubtendo stage, “we absolutely locked off the whole area at Boomtown and it’s definitely given me a taste for a full festival season.” 

Touching on the size of these bigger shows, it’s great to see drum & bass in such an amazing place. “The scale of raves nowadays is crazy. The idea of a Printworks, Warehouse Project, and Drumsheds are quite new. The fact we’re seeing 100% D&B lineups selling out these venues 2 or 3 times a year is insane.” We’re incredibly witnessing a popularity that’s hitting heights that were unimaginable a decade ago. “In my memory, this is the most popular d&b has ever been. We’ve had moments over the years where certain tunes have broken into the mainstream, but not to the extent it is now selling out 10,000 plus capacity shows.” It seems this period we find ourselves in now is undeniably pushing the genre into the limelight more and more every day. With greater chart success than ever, are we looking at a new era for the genre as a whole?

“I love it all. I love something about everything in D&B.” A key factor to longevity is, not only the passion but the willingness to add new ideas to productions, “I want to continually bring in new elements to make my sound more and more like me.” The drum & bass scene has been evolving for the last two decades and it could very much be that in time the sound will develop even more. “For me it’s about keeping the core fan base happy, as long as they’re happy I’m happy”. With new musical influences touching the community continuously, and this new age of social media, it’s clear to see that Sota is prepared to roll with the punches and pull from his plethora of inspirations to stay on top of his game, somewhat refreshing for an artist in his early twenties. In such a period where the scene can seem saturated with artists, events, and ideas it can seem a daunting task to consistently create a body of art that keeps up with trends, “What I want to keep up in my career is giving the people something new – constantly switching it up.”

Making sure the quality of every production is to a high standard is a hard feat, especially when you’re a sought-after DJ who is busy with bookings. With nothing announced release wise at the moment, it’s an exciting time to see what the future holds now the UK tour has ended. “Although I can say I’ve made a tune with Modestep that will be coming out this year”, who caused mayhem when he came out as a special guest during the final XOYO show in March. Looking at the wider picture, “My biggest goal is to be able to put on the craziest shows possible. I want to get to a point where I have the platform and the finances to be able to put on a show that’s attacking every single sense as much as possible.” It’s evident that Sota yearns for the big production performances, creating an experience ravers won’t forget when leaving his shows. “I come from a musical theatre background, I still love going to the theatre. They utilise the technology available to them so well. I want moving parts; I want as many elements of what I love involved as possible. I would love a live aspect to my shows too.” The love for pleasing his audience is admirable, he’s notorious for always making his sets different from each other. An appreciation for his fans, and the wider drum & bass community, is unquestionably a factor in his amazing rise to drum & bass stardom, “bringing in all these inspirations over my musical career and showcasing that to everyone is exactly what I want to carry on doing.”

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