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Dónal Sharpson

Q&A

Doctor P. and Flux Pavilion: Dubstep in 2024 and 15 years of Circus Records

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Doctor P. and Flux Pavilion: Dubstep in 2024 and 15 years of Circus Records

It’s hard to believe that the so-called ‘new sound’ of dubstep music is now 15 years old. It feels like only yesterday that the old guard of dubstep were complaining about the tonal shift in the genre. A rift occurred in the mid-00’s between the UK-sounding, sub bass filled half time tracks which still resembled its ‘dub’ origins, and the newer version of the genre which emphasised anthemic synth lines, big build ups and Electro-style basslines. 

At the cusp of this shift in sound was Shaun Brockhurst aka Doctor P. and Joshua Steele aka Flux Pavilion. With classics such as Bass Cannon and Big Boss and their iconic remix of DJ Fresh’s Louder feat. Sian Evans which could be heard at every festival in the UK, Doctor P. and Flux Pavilion have become household names in the landscape of dubstep music, and are now seen as pioneers of dubstep’s more contemporary sound. The pair have been pushing their sound of dubstep through their label Circus Records since 2009 which has exposed the world to the likes of Zomboy, Funtcase and Cookie Monsta

UKF sat down with Shaun and Josh to discuss their recent tours around the world, dubstep in 2024 and their record label; Circus Records, celebrating their 15th year of releasing music with a 43-track compilation album; Circus Four. 

Where are you guys currently?

Doctor P. I’m just home from Australia after a run of shows. I’m glad to be back in the studio though and getting back to work.

Flux Pavilion. I was away for four months touring….I’m just back from the states. I need a break from Flux Pavilion this week!  

Is it good to be back in the UK?

FP. It is and it isn’t. When I’m away I don’t engage with the rest of the world. Tours are really good for that. You can disengage and just concentrate on the next gig. 

What about you Shaun?

DP. I know what you mean, though to be honest, I’ve stopped looking at social media at all. 

FP. I use it for my social life. Just tweets and private messages.

DP. It just makes me anxious. 

FP. Yeah, I’ve got an eye twitch from looking at Twitter.

Ok, I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one. You guys are successful in your musical journeys, I always thought that stress and anxiety would dissipate when you’ve made it. 

FP. It only gets worse the more popular you are. Though having been around for 15 plus years of Flux Pavilion, it’s a bit better these days. There was a time when I just spent my whole time judging comments. Now that I’m a bit older, I feel like I’m enjoying it more. Writing music is better, going on the internet isn’t as bad as it was. But yeah, popularity can be a blessing and a curse to be honest.

You guys have been at it for a long time now. Has your experience turned you cynical about the world of music?

FP. It’s easy to get like that sometimes, I guess that’s the same as any creative industry. I was extremely competitive years ago. It’s only natural. Nowadays though I’ve really turned around. I’ve started having a less competitive mindset and these days I’m way more excited about other producers’ work. I have to remind myself that I’m a loved and cherished member of this dubstep community. I’m not in competition with these people. I love the work everyone is doing. Before I would see someone come out with a new sound and beat myself up going “Why haven’t i done this massive thing!?” Nowadays I can appreciate up and coming producers. I can sit back and say that their music is amazing and when I’m doing amazing things, I hope that they’re going to say the same thing. 

DP. I agree. The more I talk to everyone else in the scene, the more you realise you’re not alone. Everybody is in the same mindset. Everyone is experiencing the exact same thing. 

You guys have been putting out dubstep tracks for over 15 years now. Tell me a little about the current landscape of Dubstep. Where is it sonically and in the zeitgeist?

FP. As always, it is absolutely killing it in the states. 

DP. Outside of the US, the cooling off period has been happening for close to ten years now. I think that’s why we’re getting so much dubstep that’s really out there.

FP. I think the lack of the spotlight on it in the UK (for example) has meant that it’s generating a space where producers can be free. In my opinion, some of the best dubstep is happening now as a result of it not being as popular in local markets.

Drum & Bass seems to be having its moment in the sun currently in the UK and the rest of the world. Do you think Dubstep will have a similar resurgence in the UK soon?

DP. For dubstep, a lot of people just call it 140 now. I think dubstep is a taboo term in the UK these days because of the association with brostep. People like it, but the style is out of fashion. I think people are interested in the tempo and the vibe that originally existed back in 2008. The likes of Hamdi indicates that things are happening again. 

FP. I’m interested to see what it develops into, and I want to be a part of it. These days It feels important for me to dedicate myself to dubstep as a concept and to understand what it is now. I’ve only recently started to use the term evangelically.

You’ve recently just been on tour in Australia and New Zealand. Is dubstep still going strong in Australia?

DP. It was fun! I think Oz has definitely been affected by the pandemic though. According to the people on the ground, Australia is really suffering because of the post-covid recession. As a result, music has died down there a bit.

How’s the New Zealand dubstep scene doing?

FP. I think the New Zealand dubstep scene has been killing it! I find it hard to see the reality that people these days aren’t interested in dubstep as much as they were because every time I get a booking the rooms are full. I think that the people want it but the industry hasn’t realised it yet. 

And what about the USA?

DP. It’s still massive out there, though to be honest, however musically I live in a little bubble. I’ve just always been doing my own thing and making my own thing. Luckily people have just liked it. I’m never the first one to hear about a brand-new artist coming through. My focus is just solely on making tracks in the studio.

I have noticed that lots of artists in the US have gone the way of “death metal dubstep”. It’s not the dubstep that I know (obviously coming from the UK), but I appreciate it for what it is.

FP. I don’t like the way some fans criticize the new wave of American dubstep. Why do they judge the metal stuff harshly? Loads of kids are showing up to dubstep shows and headbanging to it. Just because it’s not what you like (or understand) doesn’t mean it’s automatically bad.

DP. I love the fact that they’re out there loving it. It’s cool to see live.

FP. I don’t think it really pays to be bitter and angry. My advice is to just do the thing that you do well. Rather than just sitting around and complaining about the new style, it should be a call to arms for you. Especially the British scene looking at American dubstep fans. Let them enjoy it! If you don’t enjoy it, make your own new sound! There’s space for everyone!

Your audience is all over the world. Is it difficult to keep on top of trends from other countries? 

FP. We’re not really plugged in to what everyone’s doing on purpose. Once you chase what everyone is doing it can get seriously distracting, so what is the point of doing that to yourself. It is fun for the listener to know what’s going on, but as a creative endeavour, obsessing over what’s popping can go against you.

You have to ask yourself: what’s there to gain. That’s not why we started our label or wrote dubstep. It was to push the boundaries of electronic music. Even after loads of exploring, I still come back to dubstep because there is so much room for exploration. Some stuff hasn’t even been conceived. It might not be called dubstep in the next wave but there is so much untouched gold that I can’t keep away from it.

DP. It’s crazy how broad it is these days. The term these days is basically just a general guide for a track at 140bpm with a drum pattern and a bassline.

FP. House and drum & bass have so many constraints. People are trying to do that with dubstep, keep it constrained to a specific sound, but I don’t think it’s going to stick. It can just become boring and monotonous. As I said, the point of writing dubstep for me is because I think it’s the best avenue to explore new sounds and push the boundaries of electronic music.

Do you think that the dubstep fans more than other fans are more open minded to genre bending stuff.

DP. These days people are going to see the dubstep act they like, so there’s definitely a level of trust the fans have for the artist. If that artist wants to explore new avenues in their sets, I think the fans are there for that.

FP. I’ve got a show in Bristol tomorrow and it’s my first show outside of London in about 5 or 6 years. I really just want to be there in front of that crowd and just say “Look guys, this dubstep is going to be different. Let yourself go and we’re all going to have an amazing time. Forget about the past. My music is good. Just trust me on this, I’ve been doing it long enough. I know the Bristol scene loves the deeper stuff but I’m going to go full heavy tonight. So just trust me and remove judgements and we’ll walk out of this room thinking heavy dubstep is ok.

Now that we’ve covered the dubstep landscape. Let’s talk about Circus Records. You guys set up Circus Records all the way back in 2009. Does it feel like 15 years ago since its launch? 

DP. I remember right at the beginning thinking if I can do it for 5 years, it will be a success. Then before I knew it, it was 10, and now 15 years. Our original goals have been far exceeded.

Thinking back, we were so young and extremely naive and didn’t have a clue. We had a lot of ideas and just went for it. I think that helped us in the long run really, not knowing what we were doing. It’s crazy to think it’s been 15 years and it’s so nice to know people are still here for us and listening. 

FP. When I was younger, I had more ideas of grandeur. I thought we were going to change the world of electronic music.  I wanted to make a project that would be remembered for a thousand years. I realise now that I was just putting myself under immense pressure

DP. I had zero idea of any of that. I was just thinking why can’t we do it ourselves.

FP. One thing I do appreciate is that we were just putting out the songs we like, rather than questioning ourselves on whether it suited the scene. We don’t really question whether our music is good, we just kind of feel it. The lack of self-doubt plays a big part in whether what we’re doing is actually a huge benefit. 

DP. It means we do a lot of things that are highly questionable, but I guess that’s what it takes to succeed. Taking chances and not thinking about them too much. 

Has Circus changed much since its inception?

FP. We’ve multiplied our staff by about 6 or 7 and they are doing such a sick job. We’re making great numbers. There hasn’t really been a business takeover as such; it’s very much artist led. Thanks to the team, Circus has become a force to be reckoned with. 

DP.  We wouldn’t be where we are without working with a bunch of people who know what they are doing. 

FP. Yeah, if we made all the decisions, I would have wasted all of our money on ideas that would have lost all our money by 2011.I don’t think of Circus as just being us two anymore like it was. I’d say we are still the body and ethos of the label, but Circus is very much the team. 

Over the years you have put out Circus Compilations, showcasing some of the best Dubstep tracks out there including some iconic tracks from yourselves like Bass Cannon, Sweet Shop, Got 2 Know and of course I Can’t Stop. Circus Four dropped a few weeks back including 17 unreleased tracks totalling 43 tracks! Tell us a little about the release. 

DP. We had an idea of doing a big album every year which represents us, but in retrospect it was a bit too ambitious. Now we think of it as the album that describes an era. There’s been four and it kind of encompasses the last 15 years of dubstep. It’s kind of like putting things together that represents a milestone in the label’s history. Its aim is to showcase the sound that we were interested in at this moment in time.

You’ve got some new emerging artists on the compilation including ANGEL CANNON, AIMER, DirtySnatcha and more. How do you find this new talent?

DP. Our team is really doing a lot of great A&R. They are always sending me new things from relatively unknown artists. It’s a nice way of seeing who’s coming up. Prime example of this would be M!KESHIFT

FP. I discovered M!KESHIFT from Circus Four and have become a big fan. I don’t like to keep on top of things because it can cloud my own work. But when I heard M!KESHIFT for the first time in a long time I was like “Ok, what the hell is this?’.

DP. Yeah, his release on Circus Four, PRODEEJAY really caught my ear. I think he’s going to have a really big moment soon. He hasn’t released that much but he’s definitely one to keep an eye out. 

FP. He seems like a perfect fit for Circus. It’s funny, I don’t think he really knows what’s going on. I saw an interview with him and I don’t think he knew what’s happening around him. Circus is definitely for the misfits. I think of us, Cookie Monsta and Funtcase as the core four. We didn’t really fit everywhere. We were all just weirdos from all over the country who didn’t really fit except for in each other’s sets. Circus still definitely has that vibe. The label is a lot about a specific identity. If the artist feels unique then Circus is the perfect home for them. Other labels must have a uniform where it all neatly fits together. Circus is definitely not like that. We’re very much like “Oh, you’re on a pogo stick that plays weird techno goth dubstep, come right in!”. The compilation really represents what circus is: a mad house.

It’s stacked with some serious bangers. What’s your favourite track on this compilation and why?

FP. My track with Jessica Audiffred and Doktor, Bigger Than Bad. Is it weird to pick my own track? 

A bit.

FP. But it’s true! It’s the opener to my set. It’s such a banger. 

DP. I don’t think I have a favourite but I love Somewhere I’ve Been by Dead Rose, and Wobblesaur by Dino Shadix. I’ve been playing those out a lot in my sets. Ushūu is great too. He’s another one who’s going to pop off 

FP. I saw him play at Lost Lands festival and it was so sick.

DP. He’s French as well. I feel like they are always one step ahead musically.

FP. I think that’s right. They always elude that British self-consciousness we have beaten into us. They’re way more visionary. I think English people don’t have that confidence that the French have to experiment.  French people like it when their artists push boundaries.

Congratulations on the sick compilation. What can we expect coming over the horizon for Circus Records?

DP. For the time being, it’s just continuing as we are for 15 years. We’re just going to keep putting out music that we believe in. 

What can we expect coming over the horizon for Doctor P?

DP. Well, I’ve got a lot of songs I’m trying to finish now. I’ve so many unfinished tracks it’s mental. The writing of a new idea is fun, and finishing a new track is not fun. Over lockdown I was working remotely with a lot of vocalists. I just want to get them out there!

Beyond that, Josh and I have started a load of tracks together that we can’t talk about right now….

Ominous…So, what can we expect coming over the horizon for Flux Pavilion?

FP. I’ve made a more concerted effort to be more confident in my music production ability. Can we all just accept that we’re good? Each day I don’t have to go through the sludge of self-doubt. I’m stopping to have to persuade myself to keep making tunes without doubting myself. It’s hard to say I’m good, because I’m English and we find it hard to give ourselves confidence, but I’m done with all that self-deprecating.

You’ve clearly just spent a couple of months in America.

FP. I think they’ve got a lot of stuff right. Besides changing my mindset I’m also working on a bunch of collaborations. It’s been my focus to hang out with other artists and re-imagine what dubstep is and what music is at that tempo. I’ve too many songs to finish. I can’t say who they are with or when they are coming out, but I can’t wait to get them out there for you to hear. 

When it comes to Flux Pavilion and Doctor P., we didn’t really change what we did much to move with the times, but now the times are moving back in our direction. When the world wants it, we’re here and the best at what we do.

Circus Four is out now on all digital streaming services.

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