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Jake Hirst


More inspired than ever: Voltage reflects over his last 10 years in Drum & Bass


More inspired than ever: Voltage reflects over his last 10 years in Drum & Bass

Ten years in the game is a huge milestone for any producer. But for Voltage, it signifies something particularly monumental. As one of D&B’s most prolific producers, it’s fair to say he has never stopped.

Name a label, he has probably released on it. Name a style of D&B, he has probably made it. But this isn’t enough for an artist who always aspires to push himself further. Voltage’s latest album Balance Over Symmetry is the result of this motivation.

For years it has been an ambition bubbling away in the background – a desire to explore other avenues with his music that have never been heard before. But with a usually relentless schedule of gigs bringing pressure to produce tracks for the club, this has always felt like an unachievable goal to Voltage. Until lockdown happened.

With club nights on hold, over the course of three months Voltage found the time to look at his music from a different perspective and pursue the ambition he had longed to explore. From 80s electro to ambient soundscapes, Balance Over Symmetry opens up a side of Voltage we have never seen.

Marking a decade of music under the Voltage name, and well over 300 releases on countless labels, Balance Over Symmetry is the product of a producer who is feeling more inspired than ever. One who still has so much to give, even after 10 intense years.

UKF caught up with Voltage to reflect on a decade in the game, and understand more about the album he has always wanted to write.

Balance Over Symmetry is out! How are you feeling?

Strange… I’m used to creating hype for tunes in the club and gauging reactions, so it has been weird promoting an album without doing that. But looking at the positives, the last few months have given me the time to actually write this album. They’ve also allowed me to explore different styles of music. I’ve always wanted to do this, but when everything’s club-driven you’re just making tunes for the clubs. As much as you want to experiment, you don’t get the chance. As a result, this is my most varied work to date.

Playing sets every weekend does come with the pressure to make the next club banger. Sometimes you’ve got to just step away and take a different perspective.

Absolutely. I’ve now released well over 300 tunes on pretty much every major label in the scene. I think I might be the only artist who has done that. It’s nuts. This album marks a decade of making music for me, so it felt like a good time to look at things from a different perspective. I’ve achieved so much and have done the dream labels, so it seemed like the right moment to unleash some of the ideas I’ve always thought about.

It must feel quite surreal that this album marks 10 years since you started producing as Voltage. It’s a major milestone.

Yeah it is! I feel like I’ve given everyone what has been expected from me in D&B over the last 10 years. I’ve done the deeper Metalheadz releases. I’ve put out jump up bangers. I’ve done liquid tunes. I’ve done sing-along tunes. I’ve produced anthems. I think I’ve given people enough of what they expect from me to just go – this time, here’s a project I’m making for myself.

You’ve crammed a lot into a decade… But what are the standout moments?

There have been loads of good moments. Definitely the Kings of The Rollers album. That was a culmination of things that had been going on and people I’d been vibing with. Serum and I had been working together quite a bit, and there was a background with him and Bladerunner, so seeing all that come together into something was really special.

The Metalheadz release was particularly important too because when I first started making tunes headz was the label I wanted to be on. But then I ended up very involved in the jump up scene, which I’ve enjoyed greatly. When headz popped up it was amazing. There are also certain tunes I’ve written that are standout moments. Jazz Tickles, Float Ya Boat – these tunes got hammered in the raves.

I remember coming across your No More Luck album and thinking the jump up was wicked, especially Respect Due. It’s interesting to see how much you’ve developed since that album.

Haha yeah! I still pull that track out sometimes after a few beers… It goes off every time. That album was a great time for my music. When I put it out in 2015 that was just as Serum and I were getting going. It was a real good time for jump up. There were a lot of noisy synth sounds going on and we pushed back with our own sound. That was a good sign of where I wanted to go – pushing more of an original flavour back into jump up. When I listen to that album I can hear the early foundations of my music now.

Looking at your current music, I get the impression with Balance Over Symmetry you’ve really pushed yourself to create an album that truly represents you.

That’s it. I wanted to give people flashes of what I like in music. From arpeggiators and dark analogue synths, to reggae and dancehall. I also wanted to delve into my interests. In the past 18 months I’ve found myself particularly enjoying art more. I actually bought some art to go in my home, which I’ve never done before… haha! I even found myself following obscure abstract artists on Instagram, and that’s why I got an abstract artist to do the album cover. I wanted it to look like something I would hang up.

I like that this album is not at all what people would expect from you. It demonstrates how much you’ve grown as an artist.

That’s what I hoped to achieve. I hope when people listen to it they see I’ve moved on as an artist over the last decade, because I’ve never seen the point in just making the same tunes. There are flashes of my older style, but I wanted to show I’ve progressed. I’ve got ambient tunes, garage and 80s freestyle electro. I’ve always wanted to do things like this, but I’ve never felt able to. I feel liberated knowing I’ve pushed myself musically.

Kicking off the album with an 80s tune is a great example of that. It’s a pretty bold move…

Haha yeah, I know! When I said I wanted to lead the album with it you could tell there was a bit of – hmm, really? You could go with something people would react to… But you know what? There are no parties for people to react at! It’s funny because I’ve had a few younger heads message me asking where the drop is… Haha! Overall, I’m well proud of the tune. I grew up in the 80s and have always wanted to make a track like this. I’ve even got my son in the music video!

That’s wicked. I remember when you played it as the final track on your four hour lockdown stream and the comments went crazy!

Yeah everyone was asking what the tune was! Some people were even saying “Oh yeah, I remember this one!” It was pretty funny people thought it was a tune from years ago, when really it was my new one…

Classic. I feel like throughout your career you’ve always made bold moves like this. From the music you make to the clothes you wear.

It’s definitely part of the package. If anyone in D&B was going to do it and get away with it then it would be me. People have seen me do some pretty outrageous stuff over the years. To be fair, the ravers are the ones who let me get away with it! They never shut it down. They’re just like – oh look, Voltage is off on one again….

Very true! I do like all the little nods back to the old rave days you’ve scattered throughout the album.

I don’t think those nods will ever disappear from my music. If you grew up in this scene through the 90s then those influences will never leave you as a producer. You will always end up going back to those tunes that inspired you. It was such a good time to grow up.

Moonshine really stuck out to me, especially the ending. I never thought I’d hear Voltage writing an acid hook…

Haha it was fun to write. Funnily enough, that was London Elektricity’s idea… When Hospital were A&Ring he said it would be cool if I ended the tune with an acid line. It fits really well. The track was influenced by Burial, as I used to go to garage raves in the early 2000s. I’ve always wanted to make a garage tune. I did make one with Serum on our Strike Back album, but I felt the deeper Burial style would fit better with this album.

I think one of the biggest developments to your music has been a focus on crafting those intricate, diverse soundscapes – like in Moonshine.

Definitely! From doing the first KOTR album all of us learnt a lot musically, especially when it comes to creating space and tension. Intro-wise, I feel that comes across throughout this album. It’s all about progression. The day I stop progressing and am just rehashing the same tunes is the day I’ll stop… You need to stay inspired. If I ever lose my inspiration then I’ll retire and collect stamps.

I’ve always had the impression you’re an artist constantly aspiring to try new things in order to evolve.

It’s really important. Music, especially now, moves so fast. The crowds in raves change quick and fads come and go. There’s a much bigger influx of artists right now too. Things change at a much faster pace, and if you’re not prepared to evolve with the scene then you should be doing something else. You have to keep fresh, and you should want to keep fresh. Especially if you’re an established producer, you should be challenging yourself to add something extra to the scene.

That’s exactly what some of the OGs have done. People like Grooverider and Bryan Gee who thrive from the inspiration new artists bring.

Literally! I’m more inspired now than I’ve ever been. It’s weird though because I don’t listen to D&B all the time. Maybe that’s what keeps it fresh for me. I love D&B, but I couldn’t listen to it every day. As a producer I think you’d go stale from being so heavily influenced. When writing this album I didn’t really listen to anybody else’s D&B tunes. It’s the worst thing you can do as a producer. You might write something really sick, but before you know it you’re writing someone else’s tune without realising…

Consciousness is a good example of how you haven’t done that. I did not expect to hear a full on ambient track on the album!

It’s very cool! I listen to a lot of ambient music and have got quite a few influences in that area. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. There are amazing people like Tangerine Dream who create these incredible soundscapes that are 15-45 minutes long. There are no drums or any beat, but you can’t help feeling immersed. Consciousness actually started off like that, but I had to condense it. If I’d had my way I would‘ve made it 15 minutes long…

I don’t think I would‘ve had the opportunity to dig deep on the album with tracks like this if we were raving. I probably would’ve come up with some banger that would get a reaction on the dancefloor instead…

I get the feeling stepping outside of what is expected in D&B with tracks like this is something you thrive from.

Definitely. A lot of that comes with maturity and experience, as I’ve been active for a long time. I was literally saying to my missus the other day that this is the first time I’ve slowed down in my career. But I still haven’t stopped. Even when I finished the album, the week after I went to a studio in Devon and wrote more music… I haven’t stopped for a breather in 10 years. I’ve made my way from the very bottom rung of the ladder to the top. At some point I will take a breather, but I’m not running out of ideas anytime soon…

You just enjoy it too much!

I literally do. I’ve never had a point where I don’t like making D&B. To not have a point in 10 years where I don’t like the direction my music is going is unique. So many people fall out of love with music. They don’t evolve and then they become part of a time period of D&B. Whereas I feel like every year I’ve delivered something new that keeps me at the forefront of the game.

You haven’t pigeonholed your sound. You’ve always tried to keep it fresh.

Exactly. Even though I’ve done all these different styles and labels, I’ve never strayed too far from what I enjoy. Over the years I’ve looked at people like Ed Rush & Optical who had such a big hold on the tech scene in the late 90s. But then all of a sudden they popped up on V with a funky, jazzy banger. It was clearly them, but in a V style. Producers like them and Total Science can go to any label and release in that label’s style, but still with their sound. They’re constantly evolving. When I was younger I looked at people like them and said that’s who I aspire to be like.

So looking ahead, what does ten more years of Voltage look like?

Trying to develop my sound and push it into other musical areas. So Close was the testing ground showing whether I’m able to do it without resistance. I just want to make music that vibes. I’ll never stray away from D&B, but if it’s a vibe then I’ll go there. I also want to keep pushing the KOTR sound and see where we can go. We’re all pretty prolific, but when we get together in the studio something magical happens. Hopefully there will be some DJing too. I really need a holiday, but let’s face it, once the rules are relaxed I’ll be DJing seven nights a week…

Voltage – Balance Over Symmetry is out now on Hospital Records

Follow Voltage: Soundcloud / Facebook / Twitter

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