Fact: 2016 will be a big year for Netsky.
The Belgian is already one of the biggest names in drum and bass, and has been a prime fixture on UKF since 2009. His last album came out in 2012, and it’s been a long wait for new material from one of the legends of the scene.
But now he’s back with a bang. His successful 2015 single Rio will be followed by a new single later this month and the album will follow before the summer. We caught up with him during his UK tour last month to chat about the album, grime, selling out, and everything in between.
(Photo credit: John Wright)
For me selling out is a term that I personally use when I see an artist doing the same thing in his whole career. Just working the kind of crowd he has, and the following that he’s got. Knowing that it’s gonna work, and just keeping doing that. Or jumping on the next bandwagon.
Firstly, you’ve got a new album coming out – you said recently it was coming out in November. So where is it?
I’ve stopped saying release dates but the album’s finished, I finished it right before the tour, I just wanted to make it sound as good as possible.
So do you expect it to be out soon?
Definitely, hopefully before the summer.
Sweet! So your first album, Netsky, was very different to your second album, ‘2’ – so you’re no stranger to evolving your sound. Grime MC Bonkaz is your support act tonight. Can we expect a Netsky take on grime on this record?
To be honest I wasn’t too familiar with grime until recently, Meridian Dan supported us on the last UK tour which went down really well so this time we asked Bonkaz. Both times I was really surprised, because I thought grime wasn’t really my thing, but my agent and management really pushed me to come out with a more diverse support lineup, and I’m really happy they did, because Bonkaz killed it. It really seems we’ve found two genres that really fit well together, crowd-wise.
So are you thinking of working with him in the future?
Yeah! I tried something with Krept and Konan at one point, but I don’t think that’s gonna get released. I think it’s a really cool crossover, drum & bass and grime.
Yeah, Chase and Status just came out with their London Bars EP, which was really good…
Yeah – Bonkaz is on that!
So maybe you could top that?
Well, I’m not going to say I can beat Chase and Status on grime, but I could try…
You’ve said that getting radio play will get more fans into drum n bass, and that it’s amazing for the entire scene. So do you think that’s your main motivation for this record, getting a lot of radio play?
Not at all, I mean, that’s a good question, but I think – and it’s the first time I can actually say this without feeling weird about it – this tour I can really feel people talking about the live band, the way we play live, and they love how the drummer plays… I see so much social interaction with it, and I’ve really got a feeling something’s growing the old school way, where people have to see a show and they talk about it, and instead of only focusing on those radio plays and getting a crowd like that. It seems like it’s really growing online, finally, because it took a long time for that to start, but this tour it’s really happening. It’s so cool to see people talking about technical stuff, they go home, and they’re still thinking about it, like “that solo was wicked,” and that’s really what we’re going for with the live band.
I was going to ask you about the live band actually. A lot of acts who want to show that they’re different in electronic music start a live band and don’t really bring anything to the table – but do you think that you’re achieving something with the band that you couldn’t achieve on your own?
Yeah – I definitely think that. Obviously, from my perspective, it’s like an investment. You have to spend a lot of time rehearsing and getting your production together. It’s not as easy as DJing, but I think live tours are definitely worth investing a lot of time and money into. I want to have the best drum & bass live band on the market right now…
Do you have any major plans for developing the live band further?
You’ll see the show tonight – every song that I wrote for the album we wanted to have a completely different version for the tour. Completely from the ground up. So from that perspective, sound wise, that’s always something we’re working on.
So 2 was a mix between poppy, ear-catching hooks, and underground, soundsystem-oriented drum and bass. Are you going to keep one foot in both camps with this album? Do you still have love for the rave scene?
Yeah – I still love playing really heavy tunes… well not really heavy, no neurofunk or Noisia, (although I love them obviously,) but I think on the album I like to keep it around songs, that you can play on the piano or sing to it…
Well not all of them, but some of them, yeah. But what was really important for me was that the album didn’t sound like pop songs that were produced by a drum & bass producer. That’s really not what I wanted to do. I wanted every song to sound like something that there has to be a sound, in the vocal, in the lyrics, in the melody, and I wanted to support that, I didn’t want to just get a pop formula and produce that with drum n bass beats. I think that it’s been a really nice balance. I’ve been working with some really talented writers – there’s a guy called Digital Farm Animals who’s playing tonight, who I’ve written 4 or 5 tunes with for the album, and that was a really nice organic way of working. We were just jamming, which was really nice. I’ve kind of missed that way of working. To answer your question a bit better, about half of the album is D&B influenced, and the other half is me experimenting.
That’s sort of a good thing – it’s not good to be completely held down by one genre.
Yeah, but even with the non-D&B stuff, I feel it’s still influenced by D&B in a way though. Maybe not in tempo, but something else.
So tonight is the last night of your tour. What’s the funniest or most memorable thing that’s happened to you on this tour so far?
It’s only been five days but there’s been a lot. Every night after the show we’ve always done something fun. Last night the Warehouse Project, the night before we went to a disco night at Phonox in London, with the whole band and everybody from the crew. Brighton and Bristol were really old school, the crowd was so wild, it was really hard to do nothing after the show… So we started drinking after every show.
A bit of a curveball now: What’s your favourite jump up tune?
Bricks Don’t Roll.
Has to be!
Yeah. I actually started with jump up before making liquid D&B. I actually started in Birmingham – my first UK gig was in Birmingham, the Rainbow Complex. I was making liquid D&B already but the only people I knew in the UK were in the jump up scene.
Yeah, it’s big in Belgium isn’t it.
Well back then it wasn’t. Now it’s massive, now it’s huge.
What is it about Belgium and jump up that go so well together?
I’ve got no idea why. I think there’s always been a big youth music scene in Belgium. People can go out, there’s lots of youth clubs and local clubs for young kids, and I think it’s one of those genres where kids can have a musical protest if they don’t like pop music, and wanna express themselves. I think jump up is a really good genre for that.
So, you dropped off Hospital Records in 2013, and you’re on Sony now. Would you say that’s been a good change for your music? Have you felt like you’ve had to compromise at all?
No, not really. The way I wanted to sign the deal with the label, because I was so scared of majors, was that I want my A&R’ing to be in house, like my management and not the label. So I didn’t want them to tell me what kind of music to make, basically. Which was a very important for me. And Hospital have been amazing, like they’ve been helping me out and pointing me in the right direction. They come to every show, and I go to every Hospitality whenever I can. It’s really fun. They’re really good guys, and it’s so good to still be part of that little family.
So the music video for Rio is a cartoon. And maybe that reflects a lot of people in the Youtube comments saying this new music is more childish, more mainstream, how do you respond to stuff like that?
Aah, I’ve never heard that before. First of all I think the Rio video is incredible. Compared to the many cheesy videos around right now. I think it’s really nice breath of fresh air, like it’s really refreshing to not market a DJ as their face and being all ‘photoshoot’ and ‘make up’ and all those things, it’s nice to just have a childish cartoon of me and Digital Farm Animals as a pig. I really stand by that, I’d much rather do that than have hot models on the beach and do that typical sunny Ibiza photoshoot thing.
But yeah, selling out. I mean, for me selling out is a term that I personally use when I see an artist doing the same thing in his whole career. Just working the kind of crowd he has, and the following that he’s got. Knowing that it’s gonna work, and just keeping doing that. Or jumping on the next bandwagon. I like artists who just try and take risks, for example like Jack U, Skrillex and Diplo taking massive risks and doing stuff that hasn’t been done before, that’s what people should be looking at as what should be going on right now. Instead of sticking to ‘your roots’ or doing whatever you’ve always done, I really like it when people take risks and experiment.
So, my last question: who would you say your biggest musical inspiration is?
The first CDs I bought and LPs I had back home were Bob Marley. I used to love making reggae drum n bass, and I loved Benny Page and Visionary back in the day. So there’s that,and then funk and soul. Like Prince and Michael Jackson, and anything that my dad used to play when I was young, like what made me love musical drum n bass. Stuff with energy and that real soulfulness to it.
Interviewer: Billy Perrigo