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David Harrison

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UKF15: Netsky

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UKF15: Netsky

The name Netsky is synonymous with the yellow speaker of UKF.

His liquid D&B classics are imprinted in the minds of fans all around the world from the early days of our story and he has continued to play an important role throughout the past 15 years. 

From numerous UKF On Air sets, including in places like New Zealand, and many UKF tour appearances, Netsky has been a constant for UKF. 

The Belgian D&B star, whose real name is Boris Daenen, has evolved somewhat since his first flowy uploads to the UKF YouTube page – now playing enormous EDM festivals around the world, living in LA and collaborating with some of the biggest names in music.

With lots of new music potentially on the horizon, David Harrison spoke with Netsky as we turn 15, to see what the future may hold…..

How has the past year been for Netsky?

It’s been a good year, but it’s been a pretty relaxed year for me compared to the past 3 years. I spent a lot of time in New Zealand towards the back end of COVID and I was very busy over that side of the world for a while.

Since then, I got engaged last year and we bought a house in LA, so a lot of exciting things going on on the other side of life for me – a very exciting year on a personal level.

We did some really cool shows as well, we took part in some great festivals, places like Tomorrowland again in my own country. We also did more and more stuff in the United States, it’s a place which has been treating D&B DJs really well over the past few years, so that’s really exciting.

Chase & Status have just done a massive show in LA, the Worship guys are doing another big stretch out there and I just did a warmup in front of 35,000 people, in a stadium – D&B is alive in California right now, which is great to see.

So yeah, an exciting year, new little surprises and although I haven’t been touring quite as much, it felt very eventful.

What do you think the tipping point has been in the US for D&B to really take off? More and more DJs are going out there, the crowds are getting bigger and more hyped…

It’s always really hard to put your finger on it. In my lifetime, this is the third D&B wave worldwide. I’d consider the mid-90s in the UK the first wave, with Roni Size doing things like Top Of The Pops, it gained some massive traction then.

2008-2012 was another massive wave, which I think was led by the popularity of Skrillex really, particularly in America. Dubstep really took off there, or at least the American version of dubstep did in that era – that had a back-and-forth impact in Europe and the UK.

With this wave it’s much harder to zoom out and identify all the facets. “Baddadan” by Chase & Status was a milestone, but I don’t know what happened leading up to that, apart from the obvious factor of coming out of COVID and everyone wanting to sweat it out and live a little – maybe that is the reason.

You see techno doing very well in Europe and I’m sure the UK too, which must be a reaction to being locked up for a long time – maybe that all had an effect on D&B too.

You’ve now cemented roots out there in the US, buying a house in the country, it must be an exciting time to be out there. What has the reaction been like in the crowds at your shows?

We always used to make a joke between DJs that D&B crowds in America didn’t know how to dance to D&B – they used to dance to it like fast dubstep, but they’re now starting to develop a skank and the right half-tempo moves.

I have to say that the transition of people starting to understand the music a bit better happened gradually over the past 6 years, but it’s hot right now.

The adoption rate of D&B from other DJs, such as house DJs, people like Tiesto and Dom Dolla playing Hedex now and other D&B tunes – that’s really good to see them embracing D&B.

People are getting used to the tempo and recognising it.

You returned to Australia and New Zealand over the festive period, after obviously your big stretch out there during COVID – what was it like going back there after spending so much time in the region before? 

New Zealand is a great country to tour in, it’s a beautiful country with a very small population. D&B has been part of the mainstream for young people in NZ for a long time, Australia too, but less so. 

If you’re 16-25, you go to D&B raves in New Zealand, it’s what you do. It’s an amazing opportunity for us and on top of that it’s an incredible country – the nature is incredible, people beautiful and a lot of us who tour there miss it. 

You’ve just released a new tune with Dillon Francis called  –“Nobody Likes The Records That I Play”  what were you going for with this tune? There are various sounds in there.

 I’ve known Dillon since almost the start of my career, since my first tour in America and we have stayed friends ever since – we always wanted to do a song together. 

I’m almost at a musical crossroads at the moment personally, with my project. I’m spending a lot of the time in the studio – I’ve created full albums and scrapped them completely and I’m probably going to continue doing that for a while.

I’m still looking to find what I want to create and release, and this new one with Dillon was just a good opportunity to release a song with a good friend.

What is the dilemma musically? What direction are you thinking of going in?             

I’m missing an artistic redline through a project, where it all sticks together really well. I want to find a sound that is extremely cohesive to one project and doesn’t sound like everyone else at the moment – to put it bluntly.

There is so much D&B at the moment and I need to find a way to walk around this playing field and be happy with the music that I create.

I’ve got so many influences and I listen to so many styles, which makes it really hard for me to figure out what I love to do in D&B and in that genre. I’m just in the lab and I’m at a crossroads – I’m enjoying it and it’s super fun to not be restricted and not be forced in any direction. I’m lucky my label is very patient. 

But I’m working on lots of music, so let’s see, maybe we’ll be ready in a few weeks or a few months.

What are some of those influences you mentioned?

I’m really obsessed with Kanye West. It’s probably not the most popular thing to say at the moment, particularly in California, due to his behaviour sometimes.

However, as a producer he’s legendary and what I really like about Kayne’s music is that he puts the song, and the identity of the song, forward. Some of my favourite songs by him over the past two albums are songs without any drums, where the focus is on the vocals or on the choir in the background – it’s just raw and pure emotion.

I like the idea of trying to take that into D&B. I’m not saying there won’t be any drums, but I will try to get rid of some of the typical distractions and noise you hear on every D&B song. 

Instead put the focus on the identity of the song, the vocals of the melody and get a rhythm or drums to guide that, rather than dictate that.

You’ve worked with some big names in the world of pop over the years and from other genres of music. What’s it been like to step from the liquid classics of 2008-2009, to work with these popstars?

Each song is completely different. I really like working with people who have nothing to do with D&B. 

I like the shocking factor of certain collaborations and I think it’s extremely good to keep a very broad mind when it comes to who you select to work with and try and merge those worlds together.

How do you go about who you select to work with?

I just look at their TikTok followers (only kidding). I’m obsessed with the human voice and I really, really love a beautiful voice and all the tones that come with it. 

They can have such a distinct and different sound than anything you’ve ever heard instrumentally and particularly electronically. I think a voice can carry a message, even if you’re just singing notes and there is something beautiful about it.

With collaborations, I’ve always gone for people like that. For example, someone like Beth Ditto has such an extremely unique voice pattern and that really draws me to work with certain vocalists.

They don’t have to be big figures either, I’ve had sessions with a few people recently who blew me away, by just sounding different. 

Is there anyone you haven’t had the chance to work with, who you would love to work with? 

Yes of course, Kanye would be one for sure.

On the next album – have you set yourself a target in your head for when you would like to get it finished by?

I haven’t set a target like that, that would be my last resort, although that might come in the next few months.

Are you still enjoying the process?

I am, but I can’t say it’s always easy to tour without new music. That is one aspect I find harder, but I still love making music that’s for sure. 

The touring part is harder without something new to bring to the table or something to show which I’m really proud of.

Sometimes I wish maybe I should have taken some time off to be absolutely honest.

But it’s really good to have these contrasts because when I finally tour with the finished album, it will feel amazing. 

You’ve been with the UKF journey for many years now – what are some of your earliest memories? 

My earliest memory of UKF was chatting with Luke on AIM and sending over beats, and him sending tunes back.

It was my first real connection with the UK and UK dance, because I didn’t have the money to take the Eurostar when I was a kid or visit.

I was speaking to all these artists and DJs on Aim and MSN Messenger and Luke was one of the first people I started to properly speak to about this genre and what D&B is in the UK, compared to what it’s like in Belgium – it was really was first connection with this culture. 

It was extremely important to me. It was amazing to see the channel and label grow and grow so much. I grew up watching UKF learn to walk so to speak and go all the way through high school to become an adult. 

What has it meant to you to have UKF’s involvement in your career?

For my early fan base around the world – I think they saw the UKF speaker logo before they even saw my face or knew what I looked like. 

I think it’s an important cultural symbol and it was an important moment in people’s lives in the early era – the era of online community and a small community of D&B fans online.

It created so many opportunities for all of us DJs, not just me.

I look back at people in music in Belgium who I knew back then and bands who I saw struggling a lot, particularly internationally and I always felt so lucky to have a genre and a fan base in a genre who are so embracing of worldwide artists.

You don’t need to go on yearly promos runs with some major labels to play a show in Germany for example, you can actually just go to a D&B club and you get invited if you have a hot tune – it’s an amazing factor about D&B and dance music in general. 

UKF played a huge role in that for me. UKF’s presence not just online, but also with the label, live shows and festival game.

More than ever it’s a way for new producers to get seen and be put in front of crowds. 

What challenges have you faced to make sure you appeal to some of your older fans who came on board in those early years with UKF and also your newer fans who may have heard some of your more of your poppier collaborations? 

It’s been very challenging, since the start of my career. 

I kind of got pigeonholed as the guy from Belgium who makes D&B for girls, before I was getting invited to any of the UK event. I really liked that and decided to embrace it – get girls on the dance floor and hopefully, people fall in love during my sets, rather than just rave.

I was different back then and also with certain collaboration choices since or a random EP I do from time to time, with non-D&B music. I know I challenge fans, especially the D&B fans, but I think that’s incredibly important.

As much as I love D&B, I consider myself a producer, not just a D&B producer. I think it’s important to be honest about my output, rather than going for what is just marketable.

So yeah, I’ve always seen it as anti-commercial, by doing stuff that half of my fan base might not understand.

That must be something you have to consider in sets, depending on where you’re playing?

Yes definitely, I do tweak them a little bit, but then I enjoy those real moments at those festivals – such as playing a really obnoxious or weird EDM tune at Liquicity after a lot of liquid or the other way around at Tomorrowland. Those can be really impactful moments. 

I think shock value is something extremely important and I think it can all get a bit boring if you spend 12 hours at a D&B stage and everyone plays the same thing and tempo, without many surprises.

That said, there are so many D&B DJs surprising the crowds all the time now and taking those risks. 

It’s the most popular D&B has been in my lifetime, I think. 

What have you got coming up this year touring-wise? 

It’s a very busy year for me, very busy summer. I just got back from LA, I will be spending the summer in Europe, until October.

I’ll be doing lots of festivals – a big Liquicity show, Tomorrowland mainstage, Hospitality on the Harbour in Bristol, a big Brighton show. 

I would like to play more UK festivals next year I think, but this year is definitely busy and I can’t ram many more festivals in. 

UKF will be hosting a stage with Rampage at Tomorrowland – what does it mean to have a festival of that scale in your homeland and what’s so special about it?

This is probably the 15th or 16th year I’ve been to the festival and I’ve grown up with the festival – we try to spend every day there.

It’s a cool festival and they are a cool brand, but I also like what they do outside of music – amazing charity projects, building a school, a technology fund they’re starting. It’s amazing to see their vision being so broad and really focusing on what festivals do best, uniting people from across the world and from all lines of work – and using that power to do good. 

I’m absolutely in love with brands and organisations that do stuff like that, and I’m extremely proud as a Belgian to be involved with it.

You’ve helped pioneer the sound of D&B back in your homeland and have had chart-topping albums in Belgium. Who should we be watching out for going forward from your country? 

Ahh man, you’re asking me this question after I’ve been away from Belgium for 8 months. I’m still catching up with Andromedik, I really like his music, I think he’s very talented.

Used was on tour with us in New Zealand, another super talented guy. I’ve just recently done a back-to-back set with Andromedik at Tomorrowland Winter in the French Alps.

If I’m honest, I think I might be a little out of touch with the youngest kids out there in Belgium, because I still consider Andromedik as new.

They’re all great and Basstripper too, plus you can’t forget the OG Murdock.

Do you have any tunes scheduled to be released already? 

I’ve got a very exciting remix coming out in the coming weeks actually, but until I sign the paperwork, I can’t make it public.

It will be a remix first, then an EP or album. I’m working, but I am scrapping full bodies of work. 

You also have some smaller events coming up, club shows, such as two nights at Roxy in Prague. Are you still looking to do lots of club shows?

I think as long as I don’t have kids, I will always still enjoy and love doing club shows. Although I know at some point, I will want to just focus on larger production shows only. 

But ahh man, Prague for example, Roxy is such an amazing club and we have been playing there for 15 years, with similar faces around. Clubs are amazing and an important part of our scene. I still love it. 

Is there anywhere you haven’t played yet, which you would like to?

Yep definitely – South America, I’d love to play there. I just feel like it’s one of the extremely developed electronic music scenes, which hasn’t completely embraced D&B yet. There could be an explosion there and I just love South America and its people, plus I’d like to see more of that part of our world and see the genre develop there. 

We play Mexico and Brazil from time to time, at festivals, but they’re often with a big international crowd.

What would you like to achieve over the years ahead in your career? 

I would like to make an album that sounds unlike anything, that would sound like a new genre or a new musical direction.

I think that will be very important to me, whether that is my next album or the one after that. I want to make a body of work that doesn’t follow the rules, so I will continue not to follow the rules.

What advice would you give to a producer who is at the start of their career, like you were back in those early days of UKF?

Over the last 15 years, my first advice would always be not to copy anyone. However, I’m taking that back slightly because I’m getting older and there are new subgenres popping up everywhere.

I find it fun to try and recreate certain sounds and when mastering them, inputting them into my own style. I think it’s important to learn from other producers, but importantly learn from other genres too. 

Also, try and play an instrument too – learn the piano or something, it really does open your mind.

How excited are you for the future of D&B with the way things are going?

I’m excited to see what will happen to this wave, everything is in such a fast lane, there are new sounds popping up everywhere – in the UK, in New Zealand etc. so many cool producers right now.

I am excited to see how this sound evolves, with this massive presence of it around the world – people will be forced to find new sounds and new directions.

I think that is the thing to look forward to next.

Thank you very much for the chat Boris, let’s hope the UKF and Netsky story goes on long into the future.

Absolutely, tell Luke I love him. I’m very thankful for all the love that UKF and its fans have given to me over the past two decades.

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