WORDS

Exploring the unique rise of mysterious US D&B artist REAPER

Concealed in a cloud of mystery, anonymity, and ultra-aggressive sonics, North American artist REAPER is standing out as an innovative, drum and bass-loving producer who’s on a mission to create an unstoppable movement. 

Abundant in energy, drawing heavy influence from the worlds of dubstep, embedded in vast quantities of forward-thinking sound design, and laying their devoted love for drum and bass at the core of their project, the enigmatic artist is already solidifying a 170BPM-based sound truly unique to themself. 

After emerging in 2019 with a debut release, REAPER began to seriously turn heads after the outrageous nature of their debut live show at Brownies & Lemonade in Los Angeles at the dawn of 2020. The following pandemic may have shut down clubs, but it gave REAPER the opportunity to spend the next two years emerging as one of bass musics’ most exciting prospects. 

Now, with over 30 million streams, which includes releases on the likes of Monstercat and Insomniac‘s Bassrush Records, and a frenzy of furious live sets across North America, the last three years have seen REAPER cultivate a seriously impressive following, not only in the US but across the globe as well. 

Having just released their debut LP, DISRUPTOR, REAPER has laid down the imprint of their sound, vision, and intentions. Creating a new wave, a new motion, and an unstoppable movement, the album hopes to bring drum and bass to the masses with absolutely no remorse. 

The ethos is simple, yet the vision is astonishingly ambitious. REAPER wants to interfere with anyone who doubted or wanted to gatekeep drum and bass. Aiming to become America’s gateway to drum and bass has become the motive behind the movement. 

A mammoth task for one producer? Absolutely. But, after speaking with REAPER and experiencing their admirable tunnel vision, top-tier branding, arsenal of compellingly unique drum and bass offerings, and a serious emphasis placed on the appreciation and nurturing of an ever-growing community, they could well be the artist to achieve it. 

Sitting down with UKF for their most in-depth and personal interview to date, we delve deep into REAPER’s roots, reasonings, and the meteoric impact that their debut DISRUPTOR LP is about to have on the drum and bass scene. 

To kick things off, I’d love to hear about how you found your passion in drum and bass music?

I actually fell in love with drum and bass when watching one of the first Rampage live streams when I was sitting around before going to Ultra Music Festival. I already knew what drum and bass was, I listened to it in the gym on a daily basis, but seeing the energy of Rampage, of Belgium, the production, and seeing that many people come together made me fall absolutely in love with it. I was obsessed with DJ Hazard for a long time too. 

Were there any other artists that you listened to a lot to start with as well?

Pendulum, The Upbeats, Noisia, DJ Zinc. I went full-spectrum, first listening to neuro, then jump-up, then I really started getting into the dancefloor artists like Friction, Wilkinson, and Dimension. 

That makes quite a bit of sense because your sound is a real mix of drum and bass flavours. 

The intention of it is to be a spicy flavour of dancefloor and jump-up. I want it to be something that can easily convince people that they can love drum and bass too, whilst still having integrity and being jump-up to the core. 

It sounds like a lot of your influence came from being online and listening. Was there a scene in the US that got you into it as well or was there an absence of one? 

There wasn’t an absence, I just always had to go by myself haha. 

It’s got to be done though!

Exactly. I went to a weekly Tuesday show and shows in Los Angeles on Thursdays. I got to make friends within the scene, but there weren’t any outside forces taking me there. I’m a socially recharged person, but the beginnings of my love for drum and bass did start online, mainly with my own explorations on Spotify and Soundcloud. 

From reading some of your older interviews, it strikes me that even though you mainly got into the scene online and through listening, you seem to have a really deep understanding and respect for the roots of the genre.

For me, understanding the genre and where it comes from is just another level of appreciating and loving drum and bass that little bit more. I’ve been introducing some jungle influence and early 2000’s tracks into my sets now too. There have been different stages of how hard I’m pushing the sound to an American crowd, but I’m now at the point where I can teach them about some of the deeper roots of the culture in my live shows. 

It sounds like your sets aren’t only a performance but a lesson as well. Do you get nervous about pushing the boat out too far and going away from the sound that the crowd has come to here?

I don’t get nervous because the live shows are the opportunity to venture out a little bit. If I do venture out and the crowd still sees me dancing around like an idiot, then they’re going to love it. 

On the topic of live shows, your debut show at Brownies & Lemonade in Los Angeles was a huge success. Then two months later, there was a pandemic. Did lockdown help or hinder what you were doing? 

I think it did give me the opportunity to dig a little deeper and truly identify what I wanted to do as an artist. For me, that meant solidifying that I wanted to become America’s gateway to drum and bass. 

I faced a lot of trials and tribulations though, especially with my first tour. I had a 30 gig tour booked with KAYZO that was going to start a week after the pandemic shut down the world. Creatively, it definitely stunted me a little bit. But, after a few weeks, I realised that people still wanted to listen to this music, even if they were stuck in their homes, so I got back to the studio and kept telling myself that the world was going to open back. 

Since we re-opened, you’ve had some huge bookings. What are your highlights so far?

I’ve been doing a bunch of support gigs for KAYZO and we just got back from a Canada tour last weekend which was incredible. Toronto and Montreal completely get drum and bass. I recently finished my debut headline tour with Kumarion too and were filling out these medium capacity venues. They felt packed. 

There was a show in Tempe, Arizona, in the middle of the desert, which was one of the craziest shows of the tour. So much energy, non-stop dancing, and the love we got there was just amazing. San Francisco was another place where the crowd was so good. 

That’s so sick to hear. How did you and Kumarion link up?

Through music. It happened pretty naturally in 2020, right before he put out Want It. We started a collaboration back then and decided it would be great to go on tour together because we were rising at the same time. We enjoy each other’s company too so it was a great deal. 

Wicked, anyway back to you. You’ve decided to make this entire project anonymous. Why did you make this decision? 

I think it created a really nice disconnect. There’s no truly personal image, so people just concentrate on the music itself. Putting the mask on makes it feel like I’m going into character. I have a clear vision, a mantra, and it’s to share my love of drum and bass with everybody else. They see the mask and the immediate connection they make is that it’s drum and bass time. 

My manager and I have been working together for a really long time. He’s the force that has always pushed me and motivated me to go off on a tangent and do these crazy ideas. Four years ago, I decided that I really wanted to start putting out my drum and bass songs. My manager was really on board, he said we needed to teach the newer kids in the US how to enjoy drum and bass. 

That must have been a difficulty in the US? The demographic is different from the UK. Drum & bass is embedded in our culture, whereas with you the landscape is a bit different with Dubstep and other EDM being huge at festivals. 

Surprisingly, it hasn’t really been like that. I was really pleasantly surprised. The headline shows either consist of new fans that want to understand how to love drum and bass or people who have already clicked with the genre in the last couple of years. Even when I open for the big dubstep guys, I see people having a revelation and thinking that this music is sick. 

I can understand how it disconnects you as a person from it. For however long you’re performing, it’s just about drum and bass. It’s powerful. 

You’d think it would be even more distracting having the costume on, but I feel like when people see the costume and me going nuts on stage, it gives people an opportunity to open up and take themselves less seriously. They’re there to have a great time. Sometimes the mask can be a bit of a burden when I play a three hour after party set, but it’s honestly not too uncomfortable. 

In a strange way, the fact that your project is anonymous makes it more intimate. Was this what you were aiming for from the start?

I think it’s really hard to be compelling to anyone if you cant create a personal relationship. Especially online. It was one of the challenges we predicted with doing an anonymous project, so our main focus was to overcome that by being funny, being personal, and being goofy online. It’s all about having fun to show people they can let their guard down too. 

Even though they’re not seeing a person, the character they’re absorbing is likeable in itself. People love characters, cartoons, and made-up things. You can connect on a different level. 

Exactly, you can connect with that because you become a little bit more vulnerable. You see this REAPER who doesn’t take himself too seriously and dances like an idiot on stage, so you let your guard down as a listener and I think that translates to intimacy.

The community aspect is so important to you. You’re very intent on creating a movement. If you can sum it up, what movement are you trying to create and why? 

Since 2018, my mantra has really been to be America’s gateway to drum and bass. That has evolved as I’ve been making music. I want to be remembered as a force that eternalised the drum and bass movement in America. I also just want to share my commitment to helping people love drum and bass more. The process is anti-gatekeeping, I want the door to be open and for people to come on in.

Your love for drum and bass really does shine through. It’s what people love about this project. Why do you think drum and bass hasn’t gone mainstream before and why do you think you’re the person to do it?

So, if we’re being entirely honest, it was an older crowd that wanted to keep the scene very underground. On tour, I’ve just wanted to keep that door open. I want people to get excited about drum and bass. I don’t want them to feel like they can’t go to a rave. There’s also a common misconception that no one knows how to dance to drum and bass in the US. There’s no way to dance to anything, you just do whatever you want. 

What you’ve said encapsulates what drum and bass was built on. Inclusivity for anyone and everyone. You’re meant to leave your other life behind when you’re in the rave and no one should feel uncomfortable doing it.

Exactly. I know I can make drum and bass mainstream in America. If I love drum and bass this deeply, I can share that and get other people on board. 

We have to talk about your debut album. It’s just dropped so excited must be an understatement. 

It’s an incredible feeling. A lot of work has gone into it with the songs and the vision. This is my first Friday without a tour date in a long time, so I think I might throw myself a party to celebrate. 

It’s your debut album!! Having a party isn’t even a question! What does the album represent to you?

Haha, true. So, in terms of the story and what it represents, I sort of consider myself as the disruptor. Being a vehicle that’s planted in the ripples of the current state of bass music and EDM in the US and almost planting a pillar in a river and making the current going around me. 

The concept of motion is in there as well. It goes back to Newton’s law of motion. I had this on my whiteboard in my studio for a long time. It says that an object in motion will stay in motion unless disrupted. I wanted to create a body of music that would make a new wave, a new motion and put a new concept in place. The songs are all themed around that motion and acceleration, but it’s also a compilation of the songs that have become testament at my live shows in the last year or so.

Away from yourself, I’d love to hear about some of the US-based D&B acts that you’re rating right now.

There’s a pretty big list. Justin Hawkes, Kumarion, AIRGLO, Rebel Scum, Nick P, Dr Apollo, CLB, Audioscribe, and Saka too. It’s such a big list and I know I’m missing names out. Another thing about this project has been the discovery of other artists doing the same thing. 

I know your releases so far have been on Monstercat and Bassrush, but from what I’ve heard from you and with what you’re trying to achieve, it sounds like you’re going to need a REAPER imprint at some point too. 

I don’t want to take on too many ventures at once, especially now with the album and touring. I think one day it’s something to expect.

REAPER – DISRUPTOR is out now on Bassrush 

Follow REAPER: Facebook / Instagram / Soundcloud