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First Time / Last Time: Sub Focus

Sub Focus has been making up for lost time…

Breaking the seal on a three-year strait of near release silence in October last year, he’s steadily delivered a flow of fresh material: Nobody Knows, Love Divine, Lingua, and Don’t You Feel It. Each track exploring a different corner of Sub Focus’s broadsword signature, it’s been an expansive, multi-style showcase ranging from bouncy old school rave breaks to wall-shaking peak time drum & bass.

While he’s not ready to confirm album plans yet, strong signs of a follow-up to his hugely successful second album Torus (and album that spawned five top 30 hits including two top 10s) are in place. Much more imminently we have his and 1991’s remix of his own Don’t You Feel It, a summer of key festival shows and…. Drumroll…. The return of his legendary live show this autumn.

The best thing for fans awaiting more Sub Focus material is that the touring and performing don’t necessarily halter any studio output. Certain shows actually inspire him to finish tracks off.

“When I’m making a tune I often think about where it will be played and what reaction it might have,” he considers. “So if I’m playing a particular place it makes me finish particular tunes. Torus for example was written as an intro track for my new live show. I had Brixton Academy in mind all the time writing that. Having that really slow tempo to start off is a great way to start the set.”

And breaking the news that he’s bringing back his live show is a great way to start this interview. Amid his committed schedule of studio time and shows (which includes his headlining slot at Forbidden Forest with us on September 9), we grabbed Sub Focus and asked him to recall some early and most recent memories.

 

First Performance

There are a few shows that spring to mind. I was lucky because I started DJing quite early so I had a lot of experience before I got really significant bookings which were a lot more high pressure. My earliest shows were promoted and organised by my old friend FD. He went to uni at Guildford and organised the first drum & bass shows there. I was around 16 then and cut my teeth at those events. Then the next step up were my first shows at The End in the early 2000s. The atmosphere and intensity of those shows was unparalleled. Everyone in the crowd knew the songs and they always knew when something was brand new as well. So many of my early releases were written with that place in mind. The design of the venue was perfect with the decks in the middle of the club. There’s nothing that can be compared to that now.

 

Last Performance

I’ve been deep studio lockdown and haven’t played that many shows lately but the last one I was really excited about was playing Fabric for the first time since it re-opened. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve played there before but this one felt even more special. I was super happy for the guys that it was back open, it’s such an important venue for London clubbing. I went on the re-opening weekend and there was this really tangible feeling of excitement among people. There were random cheers coming up from the dancefloor for no reason and there was this strong sense that everyone felt they’d contributed to the club’s victory.

First Record I Bought

I was really into rock music as a kid. That’s the first genre that really excited me. The first record that really affected me was Nirvana’s Nevermind. Tracks like Smells Like Teen Spirit had the same visceral physical energy that drum & bass gave me several years later. Moving on to when I started buying records, the first 12”s I ever remember buying were Adam F Circles and Bukem’s Logical Progression. I still love the sound Bukem was pushing in the 90s. It had that speed and energy of drum & bass with a musicality and spacey-ness that’s never really been repeated in that way since.

 

Last Record I Bought

The very last one was Mist:I:Cal’s Time To Fly. I’ve been buying a lot of Marcus Intalex’s back catalogue lately. I was very shocked and upset about his passing away, like all of us, and I wanted to make sure I had all his releases in the best condition. I’ve got most of his old records on vinyl but some of them are so well-played so I’ve been replacing them and filling gaps in my collection. His sound was so influential for me because he fused two genres I really love – house and drum & bass. He always had a very strong Detroit techno and Chicago house vibe running in his songs and was one of the first to really perfect that type of fusion.

First Club Experience

I started clubbing pretty young – around 15/16 – and was going to legendary places like Bagleys, soaking it all up. But the one that really stays with me was the last ever Metalheadz at the Blue Note. I can’t believe I made it to such a seminal night. It was such an eye-opener, being in that little venue with all my heroes there. I remember hearing so many big tunes being broken for the first time that night such as Brand New Funk and Alien Girl among others. Back then it was so hard to ID songs that you’d actually go to record shops and try and sing it to people behind the counter, thankfully that humiliating experience is over these days! But I loved that intrigue and mystery, you might not even know the name of a tune for months after you heard it.

Last Club Experience

I tend to seek out house and techno events when I’m not playing. The last one I recall was a day party with Dusky at BPM in Mexico with a bunch of friends. They drew for some wicked older tracks. Air Frog – Bon Voyage in particular killed it. I love it when DJs unearth old tracks that I’ve never heard before.

First Musical WTF Moment

I guess my initial WTFs were rock-related, but the first one that really blew me away electronically was General Levy’s Incredible. It was so different and unusual to what I’d heard before. I’d heard early Prodigy tunes and things like that, but this was a whole other level. The combination of super-fast MCing, the lyrics, the breakbeats and massive sub bass. I’d never heard anything like it and had no references for it. I’ll never forget when I heard it. A friend played it to me during a break at school on his Walkman and it blew me away. It’s a bit cliché to say it changed my life but that’s where my fascination with this music began.

Last Musical WTF Moment

As a producer you get very analytical about music and try to decode and unravel everything you listen to – the musical WTFs are rarer these days as result. But a recent one was hearing a track by Light Through The Veins by Jon Hopkins. I’d been listening to his stuff but not heard this before I went to see him play live a couple of years back at Royal Festival Hall. The parts of the song all feel like they’re on different bar structures and it keeps evolving and changing throughout the whole nine minutes. Parts fade in and out so you get kind of lost in the structure. I love it when I hear songs and I can’t figure out how they’ve been made.

 

First Release

Down The Drain / Hot Line on Ram’s new talent label Frequency. I’ve probably told this story in many interviews before but basically I gave my friend Jack some tracks because he was playing before Andy C one night so he could have some special dubs to play. He gave the CD to Andy without telling me and badly wrote my phone number on the CD. Apparently it took Andy a few attempts to work out the right number and when I answered it I thought it was someone on a wind up. I didn’t believe it was him for a while. But I went down to Fabric that night and heard him playing my tracks in the club which was mind blowing for me at the time. Working with Andy and the Ram guys has been super inspiring, they were great mentors in my early career. Andy is so enthusiastic about the music it really motivates you to finish tracks. He still drops by the studio every now and again and we keep talking about working on some music together so watch this space!

 

Last Release

My most recent release is Don’t You Feel It with Alma, I came across her stuff when I hear her first release Karma. I loved her voice, general vibe and her songwriting is amazing. Then more recently me and 1991 collaborated on a D&B mix of the track. I work on my own so much in the studio, it’s cool to get out and about and work with other people. It came together really nicely, me and 1991 had both had made versions of the remix and decided to combined our versions. I find it’s really important to keep working with new people as you pick up so many new ideas. On your own you can get stuck in habits or routines so it refreshes your approach and gives you a different perspective on things. In fact I’ve got some more producer collabs in the pipeline coming up over the summer but I can’t speak about them. Yet…

Sub Focus – Don’t You Feel It (Sub Focus & 1991 Remix) is out now

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Sub Focus

Breaking through on Ram's sister label Frequency in 2003, Nick Douwma has proceeded to blaze a trial through drum & bass and beyond. Every inch a live showman as much as he is a DJ and creative producer, his performances are a technical feat ... Read More