Napes has remained on the lips of jungle and drum and bass enthusiasts ever since he captured the attention of the online drum and bass community via a series of incredibly well performing free downloads on SoundCloud in 2019. Since then, he has continued to rack up millions of plays on SoundCloud alone as he continues to champion the free download as a tool to give back to the community. Needless to say, his distinctive fusion of drum and bass, jungle, and grime has gone from strength to strength and bagged him a dedicated set of followers.
Naturally, his talents have also caught the attention of many labels, including Born On Road, Invicta Audio, and Deep In The Jungle. Back in April, his Chopper Gunner EP on Born On Road was released to praise from across the scene and marked the next step in the development of the up-and-coming artist’s sound.
We managed to catch up with Napes to talk about his musical output this year, blending genres, and how SoundCloud has helped a new wave of artists gain traction within the world of drum and bass.
You’ve had a nice string of releases this year! It’s great to see a regular output of such high calibre from an up-and-coming artist.
Consistency is key, but it wasn’t consistent for a while. It’s only become consistent because I had ages to build up a backlog of tunes. I didn’t put anything out for two years! COVID really helped me find the time to create a large volume of music that has now been slowly releasing on different labels. I think it worked out quite nicely in the end.
It’s great to not put pressure on yourself to put loads of material out, and instead focus on refining your craft…
Definitely! One of the worst things you can do is put pressure on yourself. That’s when you start making absolute rubbish. It’s better to just make tunes when you want to make tunes, and make what you love! The whole Chopper Gunner EP took about a year and a half to make, and I had the best time with it because it was exactly the sound I wanted to make. I did all the artwork, mastering, and promotional videos for it, too!
Quality is better than quantity is better at the end of the day, after all!
That’s the thing about this EP. I thought that all five tunes could have been the main tune on any other EP. I don’t think there are any filler tunes there. I was really happy with how it came together and everyone I talk to seems to have a different favourite song from it!
Any other upcoming projects?
Me and Jappa have a two-track project forthcoming on his label, OCC, which should be out before Christmas. The main track is called Full English; it’s a 140 into drum and bass tune which has been going off recently! I also have a few tracks with Samurai Breaks that are due to be released on a label which releases a mix of house, garage, and jungle. I’m also working on my next five-track solo EP which combines the grime elements with more minimal basslines and tight jungle drums. I’m tempted to self-release it at the minute, but I could also be swayed into letting a big label snap it up.
Let’s talk about your Chopper Gunner EP which was released on Born On Road earlier in the year… it has an incredibly unique sound, and I’ve heard it getting rinsed ever since it came out!
Yeah my whole music career has gone a bit mad since releasing that, I never would’ve expected such a niche sound to captivate so many people. The whole thing was in the works for over 2 years, so it was a relief to finally get it released. I’m just glad people are loving the tunes!
The tracks on the EP always stand out in a mix because of how they combine jungle and grime influences. Why did you decide to try fusing these two genres?
There wasn’t a point where I just sat down and decided to put those two genres together. Your own sound is created using inspiration from what you listen to, whether you realise where it’s been drawn from or not. I love jungle and grime, so it initially just came together without me having to really think about it. My inspiration originally came from old Rinse FM radio sets from like 2002 as I would (and still continue to) listen to hours and hours of these radio shows. I would sample my favourite sounds from different songs in the set and then speed them up to a jungle tempo. It was never my intention to put grime and jungle together; they just came together naturally using my own sources of inspiration. It’s all about trial and error and seeing what works and what doesn’t. Once I realised I was onto something then I really honed in on it
and now I feel like that is my sound, and that’s what people who follow me want to hear, so I feel like I can now focus on that properly.
The best artists develop their sound organically, for sure.
A lot of people try to force it, but it all comes from making a large volume of music and seeing what patterns emerge. Now that I’ve found my sound, I feel like I can take it to the next level!
It makes sense to combine jungle, grime, and drum and bass. They are all closely related genres, after all!
It makes a lot of sense, really! I’m surprised no-one has really gone for that before. I mean, people have done it before; I’m not saying I started it! There are a lot of tunes which have influenced me. However, I don’t think there has ever been an EP like this. There have only ever been individual tunes.
Would you say that you’re inspired by an earlier time when genre divisions weren’t as tribal?
Yeah! In the sets I play, I’ll normally go into 140 or UKG. I like keeping it fresh, and the tempo change from 140 into drum and bass always brings so much energy.
It absolutely does! I was listening to your Born On Road mix the other day, and you had me skanking out hard in my kitchen when you switched from 140 to DnB!
That’s mine and Jappa’s track! People think I’m some sort of DJ master when I play it live , but it’s just one track doing all the work. The thing about those tunes is that they’re such great segues into 140, or bringing you back out of it. My sets flow really nicely now, because I’ve got a couple tunes which can bring you in and out of different tempos.
Taking influences from outside of drum and bass has been a consistent theme in your work, really…
I have a lot of musical influences! The classic ‘I like everything’ line is bollocks, not everyone likes everything… but I love old 70s soul, Curtis Mayfield, and that sort of thing. A lot of Jazz, too; Miles Davis, Bill Evans… I got my Grade 8 in drums when I was 16. That was a massive influence on me getting into jungle. When I found jungle, I felt like it was the ultimate genre. Pure drums! I haven’t played the drums in years because I’ve become so used to doing things on a computer, but I recently bought an electronic drum kit where I can play samples and record what I play in Logic. I’ll be able to get some nice fills I wouldn’t have been able to think of if I was just slicing up a sample on my laptop.
Jungle influences are everywhere in your music. You can see this in the names of some of your releases, too… for example, Deep Cover ‘98 with Bruk and your Soundclash ‘99 EP. Those titles allude to a time when drum and bass and jungle had recently diverged; what’s so special about that time for you?
It’s funny that you mention that! I studied Audio and Music Technology at UWE, and my dissertation was on the history of jungle. At the end of it, I made a 25-minute long jungle tune which went from the origins of jungle in acid house to when it peaked in ‘95! Jungle is so important for the UK electronic music scene. Drum and bass came from jungle, as did so many other genres. You need to respect the history of the music. Soundclash ‘99 really was an homage to jungle. I can’t sing the genre’s praises enough.
Is there a way to listen to that tune? It sounds like it could be a whole set wrapped up in one track!
My mate said I could literally turn up to a set with that and press play! I think I have a copy on my laptop somewhere, but I don’t know if I’ll ever put it out…
Of course, it’s impossible to talk about the intertwined history of jungle and drum and bass without talking about race. Do you think that incorporating elements from grime and jungle will help the drum and bass crowd remember the cultural origins of the genre?
Such a tricky question! Jungle comes from Jamaican sound system culture, and you have to respect that. Unfortunately, a lot of people in the drum and bass community forget to do that. A lot of people just aren’t bothered! I still think it’s important to keep the genre alive. There’s a whole new crowd of people keeping the genre going; Nia Archives, Tim Reaper, Coco Bryce, Sully… they’re all keeping the legacy of jungle alive. As long as you respect where the music comes from, it’s all good.
It’s especially important to preserve the history of the music given how popular the genre is at the moment! Even if you are new to the genre, you can quickly learn the history behind the music.
Most people start going to raves just to get fucked, and then you end up loving what you’re hearing and get stuck in to it! I’ve met so many amazing people through music. There’s great people out there.
Let’s move on to a completely different topic. All the tracks you’ve dropped for free on SoundCloud have been the same quality as paid releases. Why did you put them out for free?
When I started, I didn’t have any links to anyone in the scene. My attitude has always been to let the music do the talking. I’ve never begged for anything; all my contacts within the scene have come from people coming across my tunes and coming to me! I prefer that approach. I knew about SoundCloud, and I saw other people putting out free downloads. When I thought my production had finally gotten to a level where I could release music I didn’t have any other option but to put out free downloads! The first two did alright, but when I put Skeng out it went mad! I doubled down by putting out Talk To Me Proper, and suddenly everything started going from there. I’ll always respect what soundcloud did for me, and how it gave me a platform to reach people when I knew no one in the scene.
It’s always good to give back to the community!
Absolutely, people love it. It’s a great way to get your name out there, too. When people download a tune, they have to share it or give you a follow. SoundCloud has helped so much. A few years ago, the free download scene was popping off. I don’t know where I’d be without it now.
Free downloads are just so good for growth! They can really help you build a following on other platforms, and they can open up opportunities which you wouldn’t have previously had.
Definitely! Everything has come through SoundCloud. Once you have a couple links, everything goes from there. SoundCloud does have its issues but I’ve always got to respect it. Every now and then, I’ll do another free download to pay respect. They got me to where I am now! I’ll probably drop another one when I hit 20k.
I see lots of people lamenting that you have to build up a social media following and be active on social media. They want to just let the music speak for itself instead. However, I think this ignores the fact that technology has created a lot of opportunities for people to gain traction within the community when they wouldn’t have always been able to!
I have no idea how you would meet anyone if you came from nowhere twenty years ago…
You would’ve had to have gone down to the cutting house and just hope you bumped into someone like Fabio, I guess?
That’s just so random! If you didn’t live in London or Bristol, you would have probably been fucked. Now, if you want to do it yourself, you don’t even need a label. You now have the complete freedom to do what you want. Anyone can self release something and it’ll still do well if you put the time and effort into promoting it properly; labels just give you a good platform to promote your music, and that can be great for smaller artists.
At the end of the day, technology has changed career prospects… should we welcome this?
Overall, it’s great! I personally can’t stand using TikTok, though… but in a way, TikTok has helped drum and bass. It’s lowering peoples’ attention spans, and drum and bass is great for that because it’s all about a big hit of energy in one track, and then you’re on to the next one! It’s great, but it can be draining. I hate being on my phone constantly. I really struggle with posting consistently on social media and it can give you a serious amount of anxiety knowing that you have to constantly keep up with the demand for new content. You still need to be on it though, otherwise you risk losing your following and engagement. It’s a double edged sword.