Breaking into the game in 2016 with a conceptual artist album on John B’s BETA, Gloucester-based artist Virtue has always done things in his own way.
Not content to follow the typical path most aspiring artists do and look to sign with one of the dominant labels and fit in with their sound, or follow musical trends and jump on a big hype bandwagon, he’s happy to do things with his own sound, vision and, as of this week, new label: xJak.
Launched last year with two releases, but re-launched this week in earnest with his and Deviation’s UKG-meets-D&B summertime stepper Where We Go, xJak is the latest chapter in the musical life of a man who just wants to follow his own vibe and his own heart. Here’s how he got here and why you might want to pay attention….
Take us back to the album. Breaking through with a whole album was a bold move!
That was the idea; to gain attention for what I wanted to do and the sound I wanted to bring forward and try and do something different. It was kind of a concept album and it did what it needed to do but kinda didn’t at the same time. The problem was that everyone took it track by track and didn’t listen to it as a whole. People were like ‘oh yeah that tune is good’ but I was like ‘listen to the whole thing! It tells a story!’
Not long after that you launched xJak, right?
Yeah so many tracks didn’t fit the album because it was a story concept so after that I had some things I wanted to release, and I an EP on E-Motion and sent some things out but realised people weren’t going for the type of sound I’m making. The roller sound had come in by then and is still popular now so my sound was sitting with anyone and didn’t want to start writing music that was fitting other labels, I just wanted to do my own thing. So that’s why I set up the label.
Something to build up yourself…
Yeah. When you’re sending music to a label you’re aware of their sound and there’s this feeling you have to fit that sound at least a little to be considered. So you have all these label pigeonholes within the wider sound of drum & bass and if you want to be part of that label you make music to fit to that camp. I thought ‘right if I have a label then I can release my own thing and let others release their own things without worrying about a sound.
But you didn’t feel that on BETA?
Not at all! John is amazing and encouraged me to write what I wanted to write. But after I’d done the album I wanted to see what I could do on my own and take my direction and not get it okayed by anyone else. If a release doesn’t do well then it’s just my fault and I have no one else to blame!
So you launched last year with Limitless, a track with Callide. You got him out of retirement!
Yeah it was a bit rare. We had a session, a few cans, and we made a hybrid of my ‘cuddle music’, as some people like to call it, and his sense of harder, rowdy dynamics. My intro was very stringy and plucky and orchestral and I didn’t have it in me to go bigger on the drop. Dan came up with this idea, we went in on it and finished it in a night. So yeah, that was the launch, and now we’re doing it properly I’ve got a guy Tom, Tang Delta MC, who is doing the marketing and that side of the label. I’m shit at shouting about my stuff. I’m good at being opinionated online but when it comes to marketing I’m useless.
No man is an island!
You’re right. Plus we’re good at what we’re good at. I make the music and sort the artwork, Toby who does NEMedia, who are behind the artwork for a lot of labels, is and we go back a long way so I got him on board. I sent him this massive document about one piece of artwork. It was painfully particular. But he came through for the relaunch and smashed it.
Tell us about the link with Deviation…
The old-fashioned way through Facebook. He works on ships and is a well-qualified sailor on all accounts. He did this video that went viral of him going around this ship hitting things and making a tune. A bit like a Wilkinson blender vibe. So we did What You Did To Me for the album, which I felt was one of the strongest tunes on the album so we did a few more things. Where We Go came from some garage riffs I was writing, we sent it back and forth and I love how it came together.
So what comes next?
This single is coming. Then there’s another project I’m talking to Volatile Cycle, Monrroe and Detune who did a tune with Degs. They’re all into the ethos of the label and I’ve got a track called Time To Grow with Impact who I also have a side project with that’s eventually going to be its own project with its own name. That’s work in progress. At the end of the day I just want to write some interesting music and work with people who are doing the same. All original art is art, it’s a reflection of how you feel at the time. It doesn’t necessarily need to be deep and meaningful, it can even be a bit cheesy or completely out there and weird or whatever, but copying or aiming for something I don’t see as art and you just end up with this generic mishmash of nothingness.
Amen. You seem quite inspired right now…
On the artistic side, 100 percent! I just want to make music rather than try to make music to please people.
That’s the only place to be! You can hear realness…
Yeah man, you know the worst feedback I’ve ever had was from an absolute legend who shall remain nameless. It was for a tune where I’d literally gone ‘I want to write a tune like such and such’ and it’s one of my biggest regrets as an artist. The DJ said ‘bit safe for me’ and I knew that was a nail on the head moment. It wasn’t a diss and they were absolutely right; the tune was like the Marvel Avengers of music. I promised myself ‘no more of that’ and that’s kinda what xJak is about. I hope you enjoy it…