Three and a half years have passed since Wilkinson presented his debut album Lazers Not Included. Documenting a period of incredible acceleration for the RAM artist, it balanced his then-newfound ability to incorporate daytime-friendly songwriting with his darker, rave-entrenched roots and captured a unique moment but in his own career and drum & bass’s relationship with the charts and larger mainstream audiences.
In the time that’s followed he’s put together a full live band, done three extensive tours and established himself as one of the key acts who openly attract the mainstream audience with polished poppy creations… Then surprise them suddenly with the harder stuff like last year’s What…
Having dented both sides of the mainstream / underground with seven singles since Lazers Not Included, it’s finally time for Wilkinson to deliver his second album. Entitled Hypnotic, once again it captures a unique moment in his career: his time on the road with a full live band has influenced his songwriting, as have his own personal musical inspirations… Just as the previous album summarized a time in drum & bass’s development, Hypnotic reflects the wider bass context once again.
Densely tailored with clear references to halftime, Flume-style spacy soul and hip-hop’s ever-increasing influence in all dance music, Hypnotic is the sound of a man exploring his sound and creative capabilities. This is best summed by the song he says he’s most proud of; the hazy, euphoric cosmic punch of Wash Away.
Loaded with features from his band members Jem Cooke, Shannon and Simon plus hugely respected artist Andreya Triana, Hypnotic is a direct statement of where Wilkinson’s at and where he’s been. We called him up to find out more…
Hypnotic has been a long time coming. In 2014 you told us you’d scrapped an album and were working on a new one. In 2015 you told us you were hoping to get something out in 2016. What happened?
I’m really not sure where the time goes! I’ve been on a lot of different adventures in the studio, trying out different ideas and songs but after Hopelessly Coping I had this urge to take things back to the club but with a different twist. I’d been really inspired by a lot things from halftime to the more soulful stuff from Flume.
I think since the dubstep hype has died down a little there’s been this whole new wave of different sounds and styles and takes on bass music and I’ve really enjoyed that new energy and how it references and works with a lot of hip-hop. I wanted to interpret those elements myself and bring some of it into my sound. But doing that within a whole album and making sure it all makes sense together and works as one, with the other styles I love doing. It took me longer than I expected.
But saying that… I’ve also released seven singles between the albums and done three full-on live tours with the band, so I’ve not been lazy!
You can hear those influences you mention on tracks like Heaven and Wash Away. It’s a deeper side to what people might expect from you
Yeah I hope so. A lot of the confidence to do those type of tracks comes from my DJ sets. It’s a different dynamic. It’s taken a while for crowds to really get it but now they do, there’s this strange excitement when what you’re doing is slowing things right down. It’s opened up so many doors in drum & bass – not everything needs to be at full speed. There’s a lot more room for experimentation.
Half the speed, double the fun. Loads more room to play with…
Absolutely. Especially when you’re writing songs with it and that’s what I’ve enjoyed about this. As much as I love geeking out making crazy bass sounds, there’s a real space for songs in what I do. And a real space for songs in drum & bass. Not just soulful, deep or liquid stuff, which I love, but songs with big dance-floor beats. The type of songs that still stand up at the type of nights I play at, like RAM, where everyone’s going in pretty hard. The type of songs by guys like 1991, Metrik, TC, and Dimension but I want to hear more of.
Yeah, there’s a gap between the deep song-based material and the heavy balls-out mainroom stuff
Yeah I feel things are segregated in drum & bass in that way and that gap seems really divided. Maybe it’s because I make a lot more music for the mainstream, but I’m still making bangers. Everything still has to go off on the dance-floor even if it’s being played on the radio. It’s such a fine line between dance-floor and the more musical stuff, but that’s the challenge I guess!
You say bangers and I think of tracks like Redemption. I do miss that side of Wilkinson…
Don’t worry, I’ve got tunes like that in the pipeline. But there’s so much of that type of heavy drum & bass around that it doesn’t feel like the right time to add to an abundance of that sound. Unless it’s an impeccable tune like Dead Limit that’s so advanced and so fucking cool, there’s a short lifespan to heavy instrumental tunes at the moment. That’s why I love TC, he makes these epic hooks that grab people and are instantly memorable. His tunes bang the hell out of clubs but they’re so individual and full of character. So when it comes to the heavier stuff I’m putting out it’s more in the hook than the darker sound. Like Brand New. Or more of a grime influence on What. Those are the type of tunes I love just dropping suddenly within a week. It’s the flipside to the more mainstream singles that are promoted and sent to radio and are aimed at a much wider audience.
That’s a nice balance and a connection back to where you’ve come from.
Yeah. I still have to stick to my roots. Everything changed with Afterglow. Everything. My audience grew to the point it completely changed. Everything was scaled up and I’ve had some great challenges and experiences and learnt so much about music and songwriting. But the label never stops me from making heavy bangers. They give me the time and the space to experiment in the studio, get the full live band tour running like I want it to, and write the proper club stuff. And it’s because of those two musical worlds I find some of my favourite things.
Wash Away. It’s on the album and it’s personally my favourite thing I’ve ever made. It started off as a vocal I recorded and used as a sample and I spent days on the chords just trying to find something that had the power I could hear in my head. When I finally found it and played it out for the first time it went off. There were loads of videos popping up about it the next day with people trying to ID it. That’s such a buzz when people do that anyway, but on this track it feels even more important. I’m really attached to it and have purposefully held it back for the album. It sums up the space between the sounds I’ve been experimenting with and exploring.
The album’s done and dusted, is this prime experimentation time?
It’s always time to experiment! But really and truly I don’t think artists can afford to just stop making music once an album has been delivered. It’s not 2010 anymore. I need to keep my foot on the gas and already have two singles lined up for after the album that I’m really excited about! I’ve also got a few collaborations with other drum & bass guys lined up and I’ll be going to the US to collab with a couple of producers from different worlds. Plus myself and Rag N Bone Man have just dropped a little something. His voice is incredible and he actually used to be a D&B MC many moons ago. He wanted me to go in harder on the record, make it bang in the club. So I went in!
Who would be your dream collabo? If you could ring up anyone and they’re free…
There’s so many singers/rappers I’d like to work with. Same for producers like Flume. The list is endless. D&B wise… the Upbeats are top of my list. They’re so amazing – they’ve got such a broad range of sounds, they have this big emotion in tunes that are so hard. It’s almost impossible what they do. Obviously TC and I’ve been chatting to Metrik, hopefully Dimension one day. Just people who are making really exciting music, basically.
There’s a lot of collaborations on the album, including guys from your live show..
Yeah Jem Cooke, Shannon and Simon. We’ve been touring together so what better way but to have them on the new album. We’re touring the album so it’s really cool for them to be singing their own tracks live. Andreya Triana was also a really beautiful moment. I’ve said in many interviews about how I wanted to work with her so to get her in the studio was amazing. It was a mad challenge to find something that fit both her and my side of music.
Taking it halftime and giving it more of a hip-hop feel really worked. She performed it live in The Roundhouse recently and it was a real wow moment for me. That was another big theme for the album – I wanted everything to work live and had to have that energy. The Roundhouse gig was an immense. It sent shivers down my spine when I first checked out the venue. I’d never been in there before and I said I wouldn’t go on stage until soundcheck. When I did I got these mad shivers I hadn’t had in years.
Amazing. More dream venues on your bucket list?
Yeah absolutely. Myself and my whole team are very ambitious. We’re always planning ahead, trying to take the live show to the next level. Trying to marry a rave experience with a concert feel. It’s tricky and challenging, but probably the most rewarding part of what I do. We’re like a family on the road and nothing compares to performing live to an audience that are just there for us. It’s mental.
Are you going to tour it again live now it’s out?
Not instantly. This summer is full of DJ sets and seven selected big live festival shows. Then next year we’re back touring the UK and Europe again. I’ve already started the next album. It’s one big cycle and right now I’m loving it.