In Conversation With GLXY

It’s been 5 years since GLXY sat in the UKF hot seat, and it’s almost unfathomable that back then, the duo were practically unknown. The launch of their 2020 “Research & Development” showcased their talent for intertwining smooth and soulful drum and bass with all the groove and swing of UKG and they’ve been respected throughout the scene ever since. 

After the release of their EP ‘Fear & Ego’ a couple of months back, we thought it was about time we caught up with them again.

Hi GLXY, how are you?

Jon: Yeah all right. I’m six weeks into a new job. So I feel like I’m probably at the point now where I can’t pretend to not know what’s going on, so I actually do stuff now. I’m managing two teams and two projects, so it’s full on but it’s fun. It’s an interesting subject matter and as I work for a music tech company it’s pretty close to home. 

What kind of music tech?

Jon: Studio software. I work for Image-Line, the company that owns Fruity Loops basically. I’m one of their new senior guys trying to build two new products to work alongside FL studio, they’re both in the pretty early stages but it’s exciting though.

Amazing. How about you, Tom? How have you been?

Tom: Yeah, it’s good to be fair. It’s been pretty busy again, work-wise for me for the last few weeks. I’ve been a bit all over the place with annual leave, so just getting a bit of a routine which is quite nice. But it’s not as exciting as John. I work in sales in the medical world. 

How’s was the summer for you musically, did you go to lots of festivals?

Jon: It’s been pretty quiet for us this year, probably linked to the fact that we only released one release last year and festival bookings happen in November-December time the year before. It’s been nice though because we’ve actually written loads of music, so I’m not complaining. With the new job and stuff, it’s been quite nice being in a normal routine for a bit, but we did play three sets at Hospitality on the Beach, which was really fun.

Tom: We had a rather busy start to the year and then a bit of a gap where we finished a couple of EPs. We’ve got a nice balance now it’s been a little bit quieter, but still a few gigs around which have been quite fun. I think our sound kind of works quite well for summertime. 

Jon, I saw you at Project 6, have you been enjoying the fact not playing as many gigs means you can enjoy the parties?

John: I’ve been to some,  I did Project 6 and Cross The Tracks on the same weekend, which was really fun. I love Cross The Tracks just because it’s super different from an electronic event. It’s so chill and the music’s really good. Actually, I’ve been going to more gigs recently.  If one of our mates is playing in a drum and bass event in London  I’ll normally go down and support but I’ve been going more to rap and soul events which has been nice. 

Variety is the spice of life. 

Now, I want to take you both back, I want to know what influences you had musically as a child in your house. 

Tom: My introduction to music in early secondary school, I started playing the saxophone- for no real reason. There’s no connection to that instrument in my family, just one of those things you take up at school. Family-wise my influences were very, very generic, then just through school, I started getting more into it. Taking music GCSE exposed me to working in Q-Base and that’s where the production interest started. At 14, 15 I started finding music, Bluetooth transfers or downloads.  Radio One, back in the day, was where I picked up more underground stuff, when I say underground, I mean like Basement Jaxx, but from there I started getting more into music and then digging deeper, which is where I’ve found drum & bass. 

Jon: I grew up in a musical household and grew up going to church as well which is obviously heavily music based. My mum sings, my dad plays guitar, my sister plays piano, and so I learned guitar at the age of five. So, from a very, very early age, I was surrounded by instruments and then got up to grade six grade or seven guitar at about 14 before I realised that it wasn’t that cool anymore. I have to give my older sister a lot of props. She’s four years older than me so she would have been the kind of going out raving at around about the time of the garage boom. That got me into it and then one of my neighbours had a pair of belt drives. He’s the same age as my sister actually and he was the person who showed me jungle and drum and bass.  So around his after school, we used to just mix very, very badly on a pair of blue-purple, Numark decks. I started that more traditional route of playing vinyl and DJing first. I didn’t really get into production until I started uni  and got the cracked version of FL. So it’s come full circle that I work for them now.

Tom: Just for clarity John now owns a legit copy. Ha Ha.

Jon: But I got into production a bit later compared to Tom. A lot of people get into it when they’re 15 or 16. I was 18-19, and so by the time me and Tom met, he’d already had a couple releases.

Tom: Yeah, I did. But I was a really bad DJ. We were opposites.

Jon: We came at it from different angles. We just started making tunes together at uni. We met at the DJ Society and played lots of deep House and tech house nights, but we both really liked drum and bass. Lester didn’t have much of a drum & bass scene. 

Tom: At the time we’re at Uni, deep house was just coming through, when Dusky and through Disclosure first started bubbling through.

Jon: It was a down period for drum and bass the classic cycle but at point deep house was cool and drum and bass wasn’t. But we tried to play a mixture of both. We’d usually meet at mine before we went out, because I used to live round the corner from one of the clubs we played at and we just started messing around and making beats. Josh Unglued also went to our uni and Tom and him were making deep house. 

What did you actually do at DJ Society? Because in my head it is like the Simpsons episode where Homer is in the Freemasons, and you’re all wearing cloaks and swigging beer, but just with decks…

Tom: It’s definitely a cult.

Jon: There were DJ lessons where people used to come and learn how to DJ and the people that already knew how to  DJ would be teaching them. Then the union gave us a little slot on some of the student nights and the guy that ran the Union nights also ran a bunch of the nights in town, he gave us the top floor of his club, XY, on a Thursday. People would get the chance to play their first sets out and we’d all play and kind of bubble from there.  

Tom: I was a year behind John so I think by the time I left it was also becoming more of a party crew. People were less interested in DJing but wanted to find something that wasn’t the standard club nights. We used to travel around quite a lot to Nottingham, obviously around  Leicester and sometimes to  Loughborough to seek out more underground nights. As well as the DJ side of things, the society was about exploring the music scene, a bit deeper.  There was a good little crew. We had some proper funny gigs.

Jon:  Out of that crew a lot of people went on to be musicians and producers. Obviously Tom and I became GLXY, Josh became Unglued. And there was another guy who was a few years below us who has become a huge drill producer. To think Leicester isn’t really known for music, it’s cool that we had this little group that all went on to do stuff. 

Tom: Yeah, there’s also a little promoter there, who started when we were at Uni and they used to put on tiny little events with a lot of local DJs and now they’re massive in the Midlands and book people like Andy C. It’s weird how much has just completely changed as we left. 

I always think of Leicester as a party city, I’ve always wanted to go raving there and listen to bassline. 

Jon: Maybe it’s the time we were there. Obviously Formation was formed there, DJ SS all them guys, but that was before our time. And then when we were there Nico was rebuilding the scene again and now it’s pretty popular again. 

Tom: There were no decent venues either, there was O2 Academy, which was the students union. And then some pretty sketchy, small clubs, which weren’t great. Nico has done a great job finding venues that he can get his own image across and not necessarily go to the same venue every time. It’s just got a lot easier to do decent nights there.

The last time you spoke to UKF was a whole eight years ago. It was a ‘Who The Hell Is’ piece, and you said that you work better when you’re in different rooms because you get distracted by chatting. Is that still the case?  

Jon: Yeah, it hasn’t really changed. We had a period where we were meeting up a lot more but for some reason this year we’ve just found a groove working remotely again. This has probably been the most productive we have had music wise. I would say, would you agree too?

Tom: Yeah, definitely. I mean, we could meet up more, but we live quite far apart and both work full time as well as being busy on weekends. It is hard to put in those sessions. So it’s almost by necessity that we have to work remotely but it works for us now. It’s not like we’re not working together, we’re still very dynamic in the way we work on projects, there’s a lot of discussion. 

Jon: Like Tom said, we’ve adapted our workflow and it feels very organic, it’s not one person will write one track and one person writes another.  One project will just get bounced between us as many times as it needs before it’s finished. And we’re talking even at the final stages of a track, we’ll be doing the final mix. I’ll go and tweak one sound, and then Tom will do another sound and then, I’ll take another one. And then it’ll be done. It really is on a granular level. Is it really worth it, we think, yeah.

Tom: With our work schedules and stuff as well. When I’m on a lunch break, I can jump on for an hour and do a bit or an afternoon if it’s a bit quiet I can jump on. Little chunks here and there, if we were to just work solely in the studio, GLXY would have been dead about eight years ago to be honest.

I wanted to talk to you about samples that you use in your tracks. So you’ve got so many beautiful and soulful sounds. Do you have days where you’re just hunting for sounds or do they just come to you naturally when you’re listening to tunes?

Jon: The way in which we work with samples has changed a lot in the last few years and part of that is we’re just getting better at creating stuff and also Shogun, to their credit, have got very legit with sample clearance and it’s quite a long process, so because of the music industry we tend to use less samples. Now, I’d say we recreate them or just take inspiration from the sample. There are still some vocals in tunes we’ve had cleared, but I think both me and Tom both use Spotify every day. I listen to a lot of different music and we have this playlist called ‘To Sample’ and if there’s a tune we listen to and think this is sick, we’ll just put it in there. 

Tom: That’s one way the Spotify algorithm works in our favour. you get recommended tunes that can be added to the playlist and then you get these nice samples popping up and your release radar and discover weekly. It’s good fun. We don’t always sample from there but if you go through it you’ll hear where quite a lot of where our inspiration might come from. There’s some really weird stuff in there as well. 

What kind of genres would we find on the playlist?

Tom: Definitely a lot of ambient, minimal stuff, some very interesting textures, pads and field recordings, I guess. And then on the flip side, there’s soulful stuff in there, probably some really random funky bits. It’s super varied.

Jon: There’s some electronic stuff, hip-hop stuff and cinematic stuff in there. Yeah it really does vary a lot. Rather than lift the song directly, it’s more of an inspiration playlist. I would say as well just hearing these things in a day will spark a little melody in your head, a little chord progression. And then you’re just trying to hold on to it. That’s the real challenge, holding on to that for seven hours while you’re working. 

Tom: I think some producers will have a day where they go and dig for samples. But I don’t know if you agree, John, if we hear a sample whilst we’re digging, we start making a tune with it straight away. I think quite a lot of our music is just going with an initial idea, running with it and seeing where it goes. That might end up just being deleted later on, but I guess we’re quite instinctive in that way. 

Do you both initiate tracks or will one of you mainly start sketches?

Tom: We’ve just got a massive Dropbox file with loads of projects in. From there we both start projects, we both finish projects, and there’s no real logic to it.

Jon: The process of writing good music is writing bad music as well so a lot of the ideas will never see the light of day.  The next EP we’re working on probably has about 60 ideas in the drop box, and 55 of those tunes are never going to come to anything. It’s almost like going to the gym or doing repetitive exercises, making sure you create muscle if you want to be stronger. So those bad tracks serve a purpose as far as exploring ideas, that eventually all come together.

When I was researching for the interview, I came across the famous phrase, “signature sound” quite a few times. Do you think you’ve got a signature sound and if you do, what do you think it is?

Jon: I would say yes, I think so. I probably couldn’t tell you in a concise way what it is, there’s more of a  feeling I think, which sounds super cheesy and it is cheesy. But it’s the only way I can describe it.  One thing I think with our music has matured quite a lot and it feels like now we’re better at having a more coherent idea. Early on in production, when you learn different techniques, you have access to these plugins and samples, it’s very easy to over-egg. You just put loads of stuff in, and it kind of dilutes the original idea. And for me, that’s a sign of you not being confident enough to kind of run with it. I think now, part of the reason we’ve been so productive is because our themes are simpler in some ways. And all the ideas are a bit more pure. So I think that process definitely helped us kind of nail down a bit more of a sound, but I couldn’t tell you what that sound is. 

Tom: I think ultimately we’re very influenced by soulful music, not the genre so much, but  more as in music that has soul to it. Inadvertently that appears in quite a lot of our tracks, even the heaviest stuff, the intros have some sort of melodic content. I guess that might define our signature sound but If you play some of the more recent releases versus the older releases they probably don’t sound very similar, but retain that authentic soulful atmosphere, I guess… It’s quite hard to describe, isn’t it? 

Jon: That’s a good word-atmospheric. I know there’s an atmospheric sub-genre but I don’t mean that. But there is always something underlying in our tune which creates attention or an atmosphere. I think that’s present in most of our music. From a technical point of view, it varies between symphony and sample based, the blending of the two is a thing that we do quite well. 

I was listening to a few of your tunes today, and it stood out to me that while some artists may want to stand clear of any political stances, or social issues, with tracks like ‘Young Hearts’ and ‘Searching For’, you guys aren’t afraid to tackle these issues head on…

Jon: We’ve got to shout out Degs and Linguistics there.  But yes,  I feel like music and protest have always gone hand in hand, so any artist who wants to keep politics out of music has missed the mark a little bit with what music can be. I’m not saying it’s good to be 100% protest, but, it’s undeniable that if you look through history and look through various movements, there’s been a soundtrack to that movement. I’m not saying we lead a revolution, but when there are issues that are close to home, or just things that need to be spoken about, one thing that as DJs we do have, is a platform, we’re not good for a lot of other things! But, if you’ve got an opinion that will help people, a belief that will potentially help people. Then I think there’s nothing wrong with you utilising that platform.

Tom: I really love the fact that ‘Young Hearts’ is one of our most played tracks on our Spotify profile at the moment. To be honest, we can’t really take credit for it. That was Degs. If me and John tried to write a tune that was lyrics based on this kind of stuff, it would flop. These vocalists are at a different level in communicating their feelings. We just provide a platform.

Jon: With a lot of this stuff for example the eq50 stuff and gender politics. I’m educated enough to know the nuances of it but I’m not super educated on it, but we can still use our skill sets and our platforms to elevate women and non-binary producers. It’s not even that much of an effort from our side to do it but it’s something that we should do. We really enjoy it as well, teaching is actually really fun and so things like that, just feel natural. 

Tom: Also being at Shogun is great because they are very aware of their role within drum and bass and bringing through different cultures and genders. They’re really pushing diversity at the moment. So it’s a great place for us to be quite kind because we are so aligned with them on that, it’s good to have that support

When you last spoke to us you were asked “Where do you want to be in five years?” You mentioned labels like Spearhead and Hospital. How does it feel to be on a label now like Shogun that had such a rich history? 

Tom: Yeah, I think it’s great to be honest. As you said, they’ve got rich history, when you think of Spectrasoul, Perez, Icicle they’ve now come a long way and carved their own paths. But now Shogun has this new crop of artists, Monroe, Pola & Bryson, we’ve all come through at a similar time and it’s a lot of fun to be a part of it, we’re very lucky with that. I’m not saying we’re the same as Shogun’s alumni but it’s a good little squad we’ve got going at the moment and it’s a lot of fun.

Jon: We joined Shogun just after Pola & Bryson, I think that was the first stage of the rebuild, as we mentioned Shogun had the most ridiculous roster of artists, obviously they all left and did their own thing. Trying to rebuild that was a crazy job. Pete and Kier and everyone has done a great job, the way they’ve curated this new crop of artists is phenomenal.  The nights are really good again, the music good, everything’s really on point again and it feels like Shogun. 

I think that Hospitality On The Beach, just gone, was a real indicator of where Shogu is . We had the quickest boat party to sell out of the whole festival and the beach stage was rammed. All of us on Shogun are really good mates and it just feels like you’re on holiday with your friends when we go to festivals, it’s such a family feel. 

Tom: Yeah, they give us a lot of creative freedom as well which is amazing for us. We can very much curate an EP around our own vision and sound and they’ll back it.

Do they help you choose your collabs?

Jon: We only really collab with friends, it’s very organic. The only times we’ve collaborated with people we don’t really know is when we’ve done the writing camps. With the Halogenix one, his studio is about 15 minutes away and I’ve known him for a little bit and we’re pretty good friends, so that came about quite naturally. As a producer he influences the GLXY sound quite a lot as well, he’s top of the game in that sound. Zoe, I know through my sister and obviously, she’s worked with a lot  of other people as well. And  we’ve been talking to Lenzman for years, he’s a good friend so that was really a nice thing do to, we also did a remix for The North Quarter a few years ago.

And did you choose the artwork? I thought it was an inkblot test at first before I realised it was people, do they represent something?

Tom: Again, that’s a collaboration with a mate as well. So the guy that created the artwork is Josh Fry, we get on with him very well.  We know him through a mutual friend and met him at multiple drum and bass events. The brief of that design came from the name of the EP which is the theory that we all have these two elements. All credit to him he came up with the concept of the characters, the layout and the colour palette and stuff come out super well. We had all the animations of the EP behind us when we’re playing at Outernet and looking back at it, it looked proper sick. we’re really happy with that and I think suits the mood of the EP quite well. 

Jon: Yeah, Josh is super talented and we basically gave him a very wavy brief of “this is the EP title, these are the colours.”  The colours actually came from Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange- I love the colour of the Orange on that album. I’ve always thought “I’d love to have a vinyl that colour!” So that’s where that came from. Josh smashes it out the park out of that and hopefully for the next few releases we’ll try to tie it all together.

So is the next EP gonna be the same kind of thing then?

Jon: Hopefully Yeah, yeah. I think now we’re in this mode of this writing so consistently and kind of understanding what our sound is better. I feel like it makes sense to kind of carry on the theme. We’ve always been very into psychology and the journey of things, like with the research and development album, that was kind of a tongue-in-cheek name because obviously we’re both got science degrees, but also that was our first album, it was very much about Researching and developing our sounds. The fear for us is, that difficult stage that we’re at in our careers, we’re not newcomers but not like the big boy established guys. And it’s challenging yourself to really push yourself to another level which requires a bit of ego, and a lot of self-confidence.

Are we gonna stick into EPs or do we have an album coming?

Tom: For us at the moment, we’re just going to stick with a regular release schedule. Our first album literally got released a week before lockdown here in the UK. So the timing probably couldn’t have been worse. At the time we’re thinking to be fair, it might go down well because it’s more of a listening album and I think people did appreciate that. But in hindsight, obviously we were limited in progression and then we couldn’t play any gigs for 18 months. So following that we needed to build some momentum back up again. So we made a  decision to focus on a regular schedule  and pressing to vinyl too, keeping it quite authentic. That’s not to say we’ll never make an album again but for now this is  the best thing for us creatively and business-wise. 

I have to ask about the Amen Brother podcast, do we have a regular schedule? Or are you  just gonna make everyone wait until you just throw it out willy-nilly?

Jon: Honestly, I feel like people ask me about that podcast more than about music. Basically me, Rich and Jack are pretty useless, it’s like letting cats. We do have plans to record more episodes, I just can’t say when they’re gonna come out. We have got guests  lined up but also drum and bass artists are just generally terrible at committing to stuff. We need to be more on it, the interest is there and people do really vibe with the podcast. Definitely more this year but hopefully sooner rather than later.

Is there anything that we haven’t hit that you want to talk about?

Jon: We play a lot of garage and stuff and I wanted to mention the fact that although for GLXY drum and bass is definitely the main thing, we want to start exploring that side a bit more. We’ve dropped a couple of garage tunes and our sets recently have definitely been a bit more crossover and it’s been really fun.

What do you think is that obviously garages I don’t want to say resurgence, whatever, but over the last years, it’s definitely kind of coming. More popular, you…

What do you think about the way the next generation has taken on Garage?

Tom: I personally love it, they’re all killing it. Interplanetary Criminal is blowing up but if you listen to his tunes from two years ago, they’re basically jungle tunes at garage tempo, a lot of his tunes are drawing base influence and there’s quite a lot of jungle in his sets. These guys are coming from good roots and I’m fully backing it.

Jon: It feels quite DIY, it doesn’t feel like it’s been over done. Labels aren’t really present, it’s just the artists and the music, which I love as well. The raves are super fun. It’s got so big again but not getting corporate. That’s the wrong phrase, I mean drum and bass is a bit more structured, it’s very regimented with labels and events and all this stuff. like garish. Garage just feels like that kind of DIY thing which is raw.

Tom: Some established house and techno artists put some garage stuff out and it’s done pretty well. But the guys that are popping off at the moment are those young guys with that authentic, raw sound. It’s showing that it’s still got a place in this industry and it’s refreshing to see.

When you head to the smaller events they’ll be playing jungle, they’ll be playing garage or throw in a bit of dubstep. It’s like everyone’s happy to just accept the music as long as it’s good.

Jon: I would love to see more people cultivate that within drum and bass. Maybe more now than ever, people really are just into drum and bass, we’ve had nights when we play garage, and it’s generally gone down well. I feel like we couldn’t have played any more than 15, 20 minutes.

Tom: One of my favourite DJs has always been Ben UFO and he’s absolutely the master of playing every genre under the sun but making it work. You’ll see a set and he’ll play an ambient tune into a dub tune then end up with some crazy jungle. Being able to do it effectively is really hard.

What should we be talking about in bass music that we’re not talking about currently?

Jon: There’s obviously the stuff that EQ50 are doing and some of those other organisations. I think it’s really important and it maybe doesn’t have the support it needs from the bigger names.

Tom: The whole event scene needs reassessing, to be honest, when you look at festivals, the size of lineups, and the crowds that you’re seeing, it is foolish to criticise that because it’s obviously clearly very successful. Maybe there’s more to be said, in terms of the smaller venues and how they’re struggling and how maybe they need support, but it’s two sides of every record.

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