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“There’s a lot of pressure”: Sub Focus reveals all ahead of his biggest live shows to date

Save the dates if you haven’t already: March 29 / March 31. Sub Focus will be performing his biggest, most ambitious live shows to date.

Sub Focus Live 2.0: more mind-bending visual impact, a whole new level of live manipulation and improvisation and a new immersive trip. Both dates at Brixton O2 Academy and Manchester Victoria Warehouse will see Sub Focus take his already impressive live reputation to brave new levels as he incorporates similar 3D visual technology that Eric Prydz applies in his legendary live shows and a whole new modular set up that allows him to create, design and twist the dickens out of sounds on stage.

We caught up with him last month to find out more. You may have already seen the video, but here’s the additional info that didn’t make the cut. From considering a massive LED propeller to making himself vanish mid-set, here’s the full story on how Sub Focus’s new live show came to life, and what you can expect when you see him live later this month….

Let’s get a full understanding of just how much work has gone into this new live production…. 

There’s been a lot of work going into this show. When we finished the last edition in 2014 I was already thinking about ways we can improve it and change it. I had a big list of ideas of ways to move the production forward, most of which we shelved as too hazardous!

I was keen to look at the possibility of using infinity mirrors but travelling with huge pieces of brittle glass we dismissed as too risky. And at one point we discussed the possibly of creating a circular back drop by moving a single panel of LED really fast behind me. A bit like a massive version of putting LEDs on bicycle spokes. We quickly realised it would be madness to effectively have a huge motorised propeller onstage behind me, so we scrapped that idea too.

I knew the core theme of the original show was something I wanted to preserve but I wanted to develop it visually. At the last minute we thought about transparent 3D projection screens. We knew it would fit the look of the show and I was really inspired by Eric Prydz’s shows so we looked at how we could do it and tested a bunch of different fabrics and gauzes used for this, eventually deciding on the same product he uses.

We’ve done it in a way that you can obscure me or make me totally vanish behind the visuals which gives it a new dimension. The backdrop of what surrounds the circles have been totally reconfigured too. I’m super excited about the lighting side of the production. We had a soft launch at SW4, Reading and Leeds but these are the first shows where we’re doing the proper full production.

What can this show do that the previous one couldn’t? 

There’s a bunch of looks we can do because of the 3D projection element that are completely new –  that are probably better seen than explained in words! Being able to make the visuals ‘float’ in air is a really cool optical illusion.

I’ve also changed a bunch of things in the audio setup. I’ve been really into modular synths lately and how they can be incorporated into live production so I’ve added a section of my studio modular setup into the show. I was modulating synthesiser plugins in the last iteration of the show but now I’ve got the modular stuff installed I can get stuck into more complex sound design during the performance and it has made things more open ended. I’ve been inspired by watching artists like James Holden, Richard Devine and KiNK and the way they perform.

I’ve also incorporated new devices by a company called Monome which allow me to improvise and make new drum and melodic parts on the fly. I’ve kept the motion sensors we built for the last show. They’re really nice visually – like futuristic theremins.

Most of the visuals are heavily synchronised but some visuals are actually created by the sounds I’m playing: for example in one section, the beats that I’m making will trigger different panels of the LED – one panel for the kick, one for the snare and so on. It was pretty fiendish for the tech guys I work with, but we got there in the end.

It’s all about the full immersion isn’t it? 

The journey and immersive aspect of the live show is very important for me. There’s an amazing DJ mix from the 90’s that I grew up listening to called Journeys By DJ by Coldcut. It’s a seminal mix album and I’ve loved that blueprint of what dance music can do – I love the journey aspect. I also really like seeing acts where there is a visual identity as well as a sonic identity. I saw 2ManyDJs recently and that really inspired me – They use animated versions of the 12” LP covers of the tracks they’re playing. Back from seeing Chemical Brothers at Glastonbury in the noughties I always wanted to do my take on this kind of show, to take people on more of an immersive trip.

Do you get nervous before you do a live show? 

These are the only shows I get nervous for. DJing is second nature to me now but this is different! There’s a lot of kit involved and loads of things that can go wrong so they are by nature more stressful. But it’s totally worth it for the extra experience you’re giving to people.

How many machines are you controlling at any one time? 

On stage the audio kit breaks down like this: There’s a drum pad section for triggering drums and fx, then the modular set up, then a mixer dead centre where I mix all the different parts and add fx. Then I have the monome step sequencers which I use to create loops and sequences. Then I have keyboard to the far right. I tend to use anything from 1 to 3 of these at the same time!

Please tell us there’s new Sub Focus material in these shows! 

Yeah there’s a lot of new material I’ve been working on that’s in the show – I’m sitting on a whole bunch of stuff at the moment prepping a larger body of work. First up there’s a brand new collab in the set I’ve been working that’s coming out in the next few weeks.

The line-up is pretty tasty, too… 

Yeah I’m really happy with the line-ups for the show: both Dimension and Camo and Krooked are good friends of mine from the DnB scene who I really rate and respect. I met Jauz in the US recently after playing his stage at Electric Zoo in New York and connected talking about his love for UK music. It was great he could come back and play for my show in return. So yeah, I couldn’t be happier with how things have come together. These are the biggest shows of my career so far, I can’t wait for you guys to see them.

Get tickets now: www.subfocus.com

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Photo: Sam Neil


Sub Focus
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