In Conversation With Modestep

With his single ‘brb’ released yesterday on UKF, his recent return from an American tour and already taking  festival season by the horns, Modestep has a lot to chat with us about. Best known for the massive track ‘Sunlight’- their career has seen the release of many huge high-energy tracks. Since the early days Modestep has slimmed  down from a full live band to singular producer.

His distinctive sound, a fusion of bass music’s genres, and dedication to both nostalgia and innovation, prove Modestep is poised to make a significant impact in his ever fruitful career. As he navigates the transatlantic divide, Modestep remains at the forefront of the British bass music scene, paving the way for an exciting future as a solitary producer.

In this interview, Modestep shares his experiences touring the United States and Europe, shedding light on the contrasting scenes and preferences in each region and how his sets are tailored to cater to the different audiences, incorporating a mix of classic and contemporary tunes to entertain and educate fans both new and old.

Listen to ‘brb’ Here

So, how are you doing?

Good, a little bit tired from touring. Somewhat upside down with my sleeping schedule. I just came back from doing a month in the States.

How was it?

Really good. It’s the best tour I’ve done in the States, maybe ever and then I came back via Rampage Open Air. Straight from the final show in Portland, to Rampage in Belgium. And it was just an amazing way to finish off the tour to come back to Europe and be with all the lads. I’m just very slowly adjusting to normal time.

You spent a month in the US, how’s the scene over there compared to the scene over here in Europe at the moment?

It’s Different. There’s no real comparison in my eyes, dubstep is different, drum and bass is different, it’s all in all just a completely different scene which is based on completely different things. It’s not to say that I prefer it here or there. But you go to the States, knowing it’s very different. They like different stuff. 

Do you plan what you’re going to play, according to the different scenes?

For sure, I know what hits in the States and luckily, I’ve got enough releases over the years to be able to pull from different parts of our catalogue for different places in the world. But America definitely likes the more modern hard dubstep sound, and when it comes to drum and bass, it’s like you can only drop a few classics. They’re not gonna know much about the old d&b, maybe ‘Mr. Happy’ is about as much as you can get away with over there.

In your experience do they go for the softer sound? Would they go for some modern jungle?

Not really no, it’s either really hard stuff that on the surface could get away with being quicker dubstep or more melodic stuff, like a Subfocus type sound. I tried to force-feed as much drum and bass down their throats as possible on this tour. I did a good 20 minutes at the end of every set. I knew it would kind of filter out some people by the end but for the people that stick around they get to hear something different. 

The concept behind the tour was ‘Resurgence’. I was mixing old classic music into heavy music, doubling older tunes with tunes that came out recently. Trying to provide something for the older people who got into our music ten years ago but also something for the younger audience who go to dubstep shows now. I want to entertain and educate both sides with both something new and something familiar.

We always talk about nostalgia when we talk about dubstep because we had that golden era about 15 years ago, and that sound is having a bit of a regeneration at the moment. What’s your view on focusing on the nostalgic side versus looking to the future? Can we do both simultaneously?

Yes!  At Rampage Open Air, I did a classic set. I only played tunes that were ten years and older and the response was mind-blowing. And as a DJ, I had the most fun I’ve ever had playing a set because every single tune crammed into that hour is so deeply ingrained in everyone’s brains. These songs from ten years ago can get forgotten as well. I feel like people are ready for them again. It’s the ten-year Gap, it creates that nostalgic feeling. That’s what I was trying to do in America- bring that nostalgia. But I think that if you tried to do just a pure classic set over there, it wouldn’t go down as well as Europe just because dubstep was so much bigger over here years ago.

Don’t get me wrong in America, there’s still a load of people who’ve got into Dubstep through UKF. Those 10 million plus tunes that are on UKF are what got them into bass music and there’s definitely space for the classics. A massive part of what I’m trying to do right now is to try and bring back that original sound. I want to stop making heavy sounds just for the sake of them being heavy or for the headbang culture, which IS great, but I just really miss every song, having a vibe, having something memorable, having a different groove to it. There was something really special about dubstep back then that’s been lost. I’m trying to bring that in my shows.

How do you think dubstep has changed? What’s been lost? 

I think the thing that made Dubstep amazing to begin with was its roots and its culture in two-step, in jungle and in grime. There were so many elements to it that were very British, that made it sound the way it sounded. The moment the UK gave up on it and America started running with it, it then got the American influence, which were trap music and the EDM of the time and it kind of went down this capitalistic approach and I feel like it did have a pretty shit three to five years in America. Now it’s its own separate thing and there are so many amazing and talented producers who love all the UK style of music as well. 

So that sound is having a resurgence, but because they’re are not as many British producers of a certain age, who were into the original culture of being able to make drum and bass as well as dubstep and garage. The tracks don’t have that same magic that they originally had. Because all of those pioneers  were brought up listening to that mix of British sounds. 

I want to take you back to when you first got into bass music, tell us about that time…

My first thing was garage, I didn’t even realise it was electronic music. When I was probably 11 or 12, I started making garage in Fruity Loops (FL studio) and I was in a garage crew with Anthony Joshua, the heavyweight boxer. We had a crew of about five of us, we were called Blackout Crew and we used to bunk off school to go to Black Market Records.

We’d buy records and then go to one of our houses, and one of us had saved up to have some shitty belt drive decks-  it was literally like Kurupt FM. We would go to pirate stations and be the youngest ones there, we’d pay 20 quid to DJ and have access to the Nokia 3210 to read out the shoutouts. That was our life. It was just not really going to school, and doing as much of that as possible, just living MC culture, buying TDKs, recordings to tape machines and just like spitting bars and mixing garage and a little bit of d&b. I remember we’d always finish our sets with Shy FX- Wolf . 

That’s where I got into it, then I got into rock music after that and transitioned a bit to  being into indie, rock, electro, that kind of thing. It wasn’t until dubstep came back around and it was so familiar sounding to me because of all the influences I was so heavily into as a kid that sparked my love for it.  I didn’t even realise it was electronic music.

You briefly mentioned drum and bass, your new UKF tune ‘brb’ is d&b, where does your connection with the genre come from? 

I’ve been making drum & bass again for probably 20 plus years. We had one or two d&b tunes on our first album in 2010, and then our second album, which came out in 2015 was predominantly, drum and bass. Since then Modestep just really concentrated on dubstep and being involved in the dubstep scene. The last three EPS, and five singles have all been dubstep.  I’ve been living in America for five years. Obviously, that musical wave in America is dubstep so, that’s what was e in my mind and what I was making and surrounded by. But I moved back to the UK in January and as soon as I came back and turned on the radio, I was like I miss it. I gotta make it again!” Now I want to create music with a vibe that fits the era that I’m trying to represent, the 2010 Netsky, Camo & Krooked vibes.. I wanted a hint of that melodic style of dubstep of drum and bass, but with modern mix downs and production techniques.

I can definitely hear that when I listen to the track, and I was listening to your previous track ‘On My Mind’ with Hedex and I can really hear bits of dubstep in it as well. The grandeur or dubstep with the grittiness of drum and bass. How easy is it to create tracks that straddle both genres? 

For me, making music is making music. It’s just that they are my influences. That’s what I make. I have noticed that it’s really difficult for most dubstep producers to make drum and bass, now that Dubstep is predominantly American producers who don’t have any pedigree in drum and bass whatsoever. I find that they find it almost impossible to make something that sounds authentically d&b. But for me, that’s what I’ve been listening to since before dubstep, so it’s as natural as anything else.

Do you think that’s because drum and bass is made from such a typically British multicultural melting pot of influences, and they may not have had those same influences?

Yeah, and you’ve just gotta know what the sound is. If you don’t listen to it you can’t just set the tempo and then just start making a tune. It just doesn’t work that way. You have to know what types of breaks we use, all the history of the production and the MC culture. That’s all really important to know how to actually put together a tune and what it should sound like. I think that unless you listen to it and you’ve been involved in the culture for a certain amount of time it can be very difficult to do that.

Why do you think dubstep and drum and bass have always been brothers in arms?

I think it’s because all of the people who made those original tunes, the first batch of massive dubstep tunes were all drum and based producers first. Funt Cace was a d&b producer first, Doctor. P was a d&b producer first, … I feel like that’s the connection. It was literally people who made drum and bass working with the new tempo for the first time. 

Can you talk to us about your creative process? What do you do in the studio? Have you got any routines?

Every tune is different, I just recently just started making tons of ideas. I’ll spend, maybe 30 minutes to an hour working on an idea, stop, and then just start another one. I didn’t used to do that, basically everything prior to about five years ago anything I finished I released. So there was no cutting room at all. This is the idea and I’m just gonna make it. Recently, I’ve just started just making loads of stuff and then collecting and collecting and collecting. I’m working on a record right now, I think I’m about 60 tracks deep before I’ve even gotten into finishing anything.

I make stuff trying to encapsulate a vibe immediately and then once that’s done, move on and then start collecting everything in a folder. Then go back, listen through that folder, decide what I want to finish and then put the finishing touches on it. 

Did anything prompt that change, or did it happen naturally?

It was actually during the pandemic. I did a lot of sample pack stuff. I found that a different way of working helped my brain make things quicker. While Being able to make things a lot faster, the technical side became a lot easier to me whereas I’d say up until five years ago I found the technical side of making stuff a bit more difficult because I’d never obsessed over producing. For me producing was a means to an end. It was like, I have an idea right now, let me grind away and make that idea a reality. whereas now, I’ve spent so much time producing, I find the actual technical side a lot easier, so I can come up with an idea and make it a lot quicker than I could before. I actually owe a lot to just grinding out sample packs and working for these sample companies just making tons of stuff.

You mentioned earlier you used FL when you were 11. You are completely self-taught then?

Yeah. Every instrument and everything. From the age of 10 to the age of 15 I slept probably two three hours a night and I’d come back from school, go straight to my computer and just sit and learn and learn and learn and probably stay up till five or six am and then go to school and then come back and do it over and over again. And that was my life, just obsessed with music. If I had any time off at school, if I wasn’t bunking off at pirate radio station, I was in the music blocks just working on ether learning drums, piano, guitar, bass trying to learn every instrument.

How many instruments can you play?

If I can pick it up, I can make and make a sound of it. I can play, but like I’d say I can play strong through four or five instruments.

Wow, impressive. 

That’s all I did!

How is the creative process different from having other members with you and now being on your own?

From the start of Modestep I’d always been the driving force of producing tunes,writing songs. Having the live band was great for when we played live and when we would record instruments on our tracks but a lot of the time it was the last thing we did. I would finish a tune and then say,  “Right, let’s put some live drums on it” so it hasn’t really changed a whole lot.

It’s more about how we’ve been perceived and how the live show is moving forward. That’s going to change the sound a bit, but as far as making music and stuff it’s always been me sat there and working and getting the music done, and then sprinkling elements on top afterwards.

When you say “how we’ve been perceived”, what do you mean by that?

This was definitely an intentional thing, but for the first eight years of Modestep, it was Modesteps the band, and it looked  like a band. A lot of the time people think that most bands are a group of people in a room all writing together. But in reality in the majority of bands there’s usually a driving force behind it, especially modern bands, where a lot of it’s produced and a lot of it’s done in the box or it’s done in the DAW. I think there’s usually either a producer or one person in the group, who’s the driving force behind it.. I think the perception is that a band is four people writing music together and in truth, there’s been members of Modestep who have never written anything. Never even played on a record…

How do you envision the live performances going forward?

We’ll have to see, I’m working on a new record and there’ll be new people joining and stuff for the live show. But, I’m gonna keep that under wraps for now.

Okay, secrets…exciting! 

So we’re well into festival season, have you enjoyed it so far?

I did my first one at Rampage. I think it might be the best DJ show I think I’ve ever done. So if that’s how the year is starting I can’t wait for what’s about to come. I’ve got my first ever Let It Roll, I feel like I’m gonna have massive imposter syndrome coming in and doing a d&b set, but I’m very excited. When festival season comes around, it’s my favourite time. You get to see your friends at every show. It’s great.

Apart from Let It Roll and Rampage are there other stand-out shows for you?

I’ve got the second part of my US tour and I’m doing a whole bunch of standouts! Frequency Festival, which is always a really good one in Austria. And then I’ve got about three or four ‘classic’ sets that I’m doing around Europe as well. So, I’m just really excited.  If how it went at Rampage is how it goes at the other festivals, I can’t wait to do it all again.

What would you listen to if you were cleaning the kitchen?

I actually don’t listen to a lot of dubstep in my free time. I listen to old music, a lot of soul; Donny Hathaway, Pink Floyd, Jeff Buckley and then a lot of left-filled, weird, Amon Tobin-sounding stuff. Over the years I went from garage to electro, everything from Justice to Bombay Bicycle Club to The Chemical Brothers. They’re all these moments in time. I listen to anything that has a vibe and is associated with an era or a nostalgic moment in my life. 

When do you listen to dubstep and drum and bass?

I listen to drum and bass a lot if I’m in the car,, I feel like drum and bass and driving is just a match made in heaven. But obviously, I have to listen to all of that stuff all the time. I get sent music, probably a thousand tunes a month, which I have to go through, and I have to make sets all the time. So I’m listening to it, it’s part of my job, so, regardless, I’m always gonna be listening to d&b and dubstep.

What music can we expect to hear from you soon?

I’ve got the UKF release. Then I’m finishing off a whole bunch of stuff so you can expect an album real soon.

Right last question. What should we be talking about in base music that we’re not talking about?

UK Dubstep. I just think that I would love to see a new wave of dubstep producers from the UK. We’ve got such good scenes. We’ve jump-up, bassline and UKG, so all the talent is there, everyone knows all the vibes, but for some reason, everyone is avoiding 140 bpm. I think that there could be such an amazing world of music that we’re all not making, and not contributing towards- it needs to happen again. And I will be 100% behind anyone who decides to make that type of music again.

You’ve mentioned jump up a couple of times, do you think it’s dubstep’s most common connection within d&b?

 Yeah, I think a style of dubstep for sure. The thing is it still just encapsulates British and European vibes, there’s just something about it that is so hard to put into words.Americans don’t necessarily understand jump up either but they should, because it’s very similar sounding dubstep. But yeah, there’s something about it, there’s a feeling behind it. I think that they are somewhat paired together but it’s still drum and bass at the end of the day. I think baseline has probably the closest relationship to dubstep. A lot of it basically is dubstep but with different drums.

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