Kebabs, Dubplates, and an Award-Winning Label: Discussing Five Years of Souped Up with Serum

Few artists can claim to have captured the attention of the drum and bass scene as intensely and regularly as Serum has over the past decade. 

Outside of his work with drum and bass supergroup Kings of the Rollers (of which he is a member alongside fellow producers Voltage and Bladerunner), Serum has amassed a formidable selection of certified anthems. From the irresistibly catchy All Ganja Man (featuring MC Spyda) to the contemplative roller which is Moon In Your Eyes (produced alongside Paul T and Edward Oberon), and from the bouncing earworm of Lumberjack to the mesmerising wobbles of Chop House, Serum has proven time and time again that he is capable of uniting the scene with his tasteful cuts of rolling jump up. 

Since cutting his teeth on Dread in the mid-late 00’s, he has found support from across the community and from labels including V, Low Down Deep, Critical, Hospital, and 31. With the assistance of Benny V, he has also founded his own label: Souped Up. This imprint was quickly met with critical acclaim, winning the Drum&BassArena award for best newcomer label after its first year of operation. It is now nominated for best label in this year’s awards. 

Founded in 2017, Souped Up recently celebrated its five year anniversary. In this time, the label has seen releases from drum and bass stalwarts including Original Sin, D*Minds, and Current Value, as well as helped forge the careers of artists such as Bou and Mozey.

To mark five years of Souped Up, Serum has taken the label back to its roots and released a string of standalone singles of his own productions; the latest being the much-anticipated Wave Riders. 

We recently caught up with Serum to chat about his recent string of releases, the Souped Up sound, and the role of social media in the music industry today. 

A lot has changed since your last solo interview with UKF five years ago! What are some of the highlights?

Probably the various remixes of Lumberjack. Having that tune on my own label and being able to keep the rights to the music is an artist’s dream. If you speak to a lot of artists who have released on major labels and ask them what they would do differently, you would hear a lot of people saying they would keep the rights to their music. So, I’m happy that I’ve been able to invest my own music back into the label.

Of course, Souped Up hasn’t been your sole focus. You’ve also kept yourself busy with Kings of the Rollers, too…

We have some pretty big plans in the works. I can’t totally give the game away, but we do have a forthcoming tune with a very high profile vocalist. It’s a bit of a step up for us, and I’m really excited for that.

On top of all of that, you’ve also managed to produce some cracking remixes for artists including Sigma, Skepsis, and Top Cat in 2022 alone!

I started remixing very early on in my career. A lot of it was me and Bladerunner in the mid-2000s. We were known for making respectful versions of older tunes which would hit like a modern tune so you could play them in a current set. Ray Keith is one of the most iconic drum and bass remix artists of all time – he was a massive influence on me – so it helps to have been mentored by one of the biggest remix artists in the genre. Knowing how to take the hooks and rework them, for example. I enjoy doing remixes. I’ve always done them, and I like to think that, with the right track, I keep it true to the original and put a spin on it which works.

All of those tracks were released outside of Souped Up, but most of your other racks have been released on your label this year…

Yeah, I’m trying to take it back to the start of the label, when I was releasing a load of my own tunes. I felt like I had neglected that a bit on the label; I did a run of six during lockdown, then I had a big gap with releases because I was busy playing clubs and festivals. Everything was moving fast and I thought I needed to get a load of tunes out which I have been playing. So far, we’ve had the Veteran remix, Titanic with Need For Mirrors, Chop House VIP, and now Wave Riders. That last tune is my big one at the moment. At any point, I’ve always had one or two dubs which people are asking me about constantly. I’ll need a replacement for it as soon as it’s out. Every time you release a track, you’re just like ‘shit! I need another one!’.

That’s so true! Dubplate culture is an integral part of the drum and bass genre.

I’m still very firmly part of that. I like to break my own tunes and release them when people really want them.

You have to tell me what you’re planning next!

After this run of singles, which are very much club tracks, people will see a different side come out. It’s more on the melodic and catchy side of things. More will be vocal and song-driven. Less of the harder things.

More steelpans, then?

More steelpans, and more pan pipes! I might even play a triangle… I like quirky and catchy music. I miss some of that mid-late 90’s V and Full Cycle sound. Those tunes hit at a rave without having to be super hard. I want to take my music back to that; I want to capture the vibe of jungle without necessarily having to use an Amen break. I want it to have the funk, flow, and musicality, but in a different way.

I love how you mentioned early V and Full Cycle releases, as both of those labels were pivotal in the emergence of jump up. It sounds like you’re taking jump up to its roots and exploring what jump up could have been…

Even though I’ve never lived in Bristol, I’ve always appreciated that vibe. I call my style ‘rolling jump up’. People ask us why we call ourselves Kings of the Rollers, and the answer is, when we started that project, we were making tunes with that Bristol flavour! Me and Voltage always added a bit of a jump up twist to it, and Bladerunner added the jungle vibe. It all worked well together because we were trying to bring those rolling vibes back to jump up. Continuing developing that sound, what I did with Lumberjack… earworm tunes which are still good for the rave. Bassy and rolling!

Souped Up has really pushed that sound since the label launched five years ago! Are there any special plans to celebrate this milestone?

We will be releasing a five years of Souped Up compilation in December. It’ll be a bit different for me as I’ve done a few remixes of some tracks which, for once, haven’t had loads of rave time. It will be something a bit different, putting out something which people haven’t had rammed down their throats for the past two years.

So, can we look forward to seeing alternate versions of some deep cuts on the VA?

Yeah! I’ve remixed Dye Migration by T>I and Tokyo Drift by Dutta and Bone Slim. There is going to be a whole heap of other artists on there too. A solo track from Harriet Jaxxon featuring GQ… My Nu Leng have also done a solo track. It will be a good way to finish the year.

For sure! Especially because of how varied the Souped Up roster is; you’ve done an amazing job of pushing new talent alongside artists who have been part of the scene for a while, such as Original Sin and D*Minds.

When I was really starting to cut my teeth as a DJ, they were the big things! It feels mad having them on my label now. It’s also good having newer artists like Mozey and Dutta and building them up. Bou has gone on to do amazingly well and I feel it only reflects well on you if people you worked with have that level of success. I was lucky to have been able to work with someone like Bryan Gee who was able to launch so many careers and I’ve definitely taken inspiration from him. Just to have been able to have done a tenth of what he’s done on that front is amazing. I’m really happy with how the label has gone! It has been a lot of work, but it has also been completely worth it.

A label really is more than the sum of its parts! At the end of the day, a label is a collective project between different artists to create a distinctive sound…

Definitely! It has to make sense. Sometimes artists are confused when I tell them I like the tune, but it wouldn’t make sense for me to put it out. People have to understand what your label is about; you have to have some selling point and a clear vibe of the label, and know what will work with it. There doesn’t have to be too many limits to the label. It’s very hard to put into words what I’ll take and what I won’t; if you look at the branding, it’s fun music! I can take a range of artists, too. We’ve released artists who do jump up, and other artists who predominantly do jungle, and people who make neuro. If the track is too serious, it often won’t be a great fit. As a label, you’re selling a vibe to people.

The vibe you have created with Souped Up really complements the vibe you have as an individual artist, too!

The artistic direction and music policy came from me. It’s all very personal. What I sign is what I think works with my vibe, and what direction I want to see the music go in. There are tunes I like which I won’t put out myself; sometimes I even write a tune and know it’s not a Souped Up tune, and think it would fit better somewhere else. It’s all closely linked to me personally. I come from an art background as well; when my mum first saw the artwork, she asked if I made it myself because she thought it looks like the kind of thing I would make! I’ve found people who are in tune with the imagery I want; Dan Wolfmask does most of the artwork and designed the Vinny character. He’s been instrumental in developing the look of the label. Freya Buckland did the art and animations for the recent run of singles and has given those a completely different vibe. I also did some of the art for my previous singles myself, like the little Chop House guy.

Having a strong brand image is so important for a label.

A lot of people come to the label for the branding. It’s become like a badge. When I was coming through, I wanted a record with a V logo, or a Dread logo, or a Philly Blunt logo… you wanted to have your record like the one you saw in the shop. It’s been my way of keeping that feeling alive.

Social media has also created tons of new opportunities for brands to cultivate their image, and you’re an artist who has grabbed social media by the horns. How you come across on social media is really in keeping with the vibe Souped Up and your music is going for!

I just have a laugh with what I do! Over lockdown, I noticed that my Facebook was doing quite poorly, so I decided to have a last-ditch attempt to fix it. I heard some advice to make conversational content; ask people questions in posts and reply to people. When I started doing that, it was quite fun. You can engage on a personal level with followers and have proper conversations with them. When I started on TikTok, I just spoke about things which I talked about on Facebook… biscuits, pizza, and people leaving their pubes in urinals at service stations.

And, of course, Kebabs and throwing Book of Mormons into the crowd…

If you can find your angle on how to use it, social media can be really powerful. The most successful artists are the ones who take advantage of social media themselves. Bou smashed social media; Mozey’s great as well. It’s a tool to use. You don’t have to do dances on TikTok. There will always be things you cringe at but you don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with. It’s a matter of finding what works for you and your audience. My current thing is people ask me questions, and I’ll do a quick video in five minutes. It also helps me reach a new audience; TikTok tends to be used by younger people, Facebook is for older people, Instagram is somewhere in between… and Twitter is more the older crowd. It’s mostly the younger people who still go to the raves, so that’s my focus. 

Precisely because the current generation of ravers mostly use TikTok, I’ve seen quite a few people talk about the pressure to promote themselves on the platform. In response to this, I have seen a lot of people lament this and say that music should just be about music, like it was in the ‘90s…

People talk about a time where they just made music, and it was just about the music; that time didn’t exist. If you wanted to make it, you had to go to clubs and bother promoters to get a warm-up slot or go flyering, which meant standing outside in the rain at 6am tucking the flyer under people’s car windscreen wipers. When I was first trying to get my tunes signed, I would fight my way through the crowd to give a CD to Ray Keith and hope he would listen to it! Everyone likes to be nostalgic and pine for a bygone era, but that era never existed. One thing I say about socials is that if you don’t like how it is now, it’s going to change; and if you do like how it is now, it’s also going to change! A load of people who got big from how it is now will drop off, and someone new will come about. Good news, bad news. Find what you’re comfortable with and what things work for you, and don’t feel like you have to do everything everyone else is doing.

Follow Serum: Facebook / Instagram/ TikTok