Reality check: Leniz goes deep on his debut album

Welcome to The Netherlands: a country with a seemingly endless yield of talented electronic music producers. From the boundary pushing, powerhouse trio Noisia to the unstoppable dancefloor outpour of Liquicity, few countries boast so much talent across the D&B spectrum. Talent like like Leniz.

Last spotted on UKF.com in March 2020 – just as the world-as-we-knew-it was about implode – at the time Leniz was 17 and finding his sound on labels such as Differential, Soul Deep and Fokuz. Two years and one global pandemic later, and still barely tickling his 20s, the Nijmegen artist has dropped his debut album.

Released on Differential, Perceptions of Reality navigates us through choppy waters of COVID-19, mental health and how these stranges times have led to such divisive politics and opinions. A sonically cohesive body of work that tells a story and takes you on a real journey, it’s an outstanding debut album that hints at a very bright future ahead for Leniz.

We caught up with him to find out more about the album, his influences, creative process and how he recently made his debut at revered London venue XOYO

Talk us through the creative journey behind this album….

So before I started writing the album, the whole idea was already there but I wanted to wait until I had established myself a bit more. I’m part of a student association which is based around producers and DJ’s – a big old collective. We used to do a lot of producer challenges and DJ workshops but when COVID-19 hit, these activities moved online. This was March 2020, we had a production challenge. The assignment was to make a tune which fits the vibe based on a one minute, thirty second clip of a Max Cooper video – which has actually become the intro of the album. After I finished, I was so proud of the entire vibe it had, I decided to make the album surrounding that old skool vibe and everything I’ve drawn inspiration from – for example, the atmospheric jungle style from Good Looking Records and also Seba.

Thriving amongst the limitations thrown at you from the pandemic! So the producer challenge paved the way to the start of your album?

SoundLab – yeah that’s actually where it started. I had an idea of what I wanted the album to sound like so I started writing way more sketches and knew it was going to be a cohesive piece of work rather than a few selected random tunes. It really tells a story.

Adding a transitional structure with an intro, interlude and outro – what influenced this decision?

The whole idea of interludes and stuff came from listening to albums from The North Quarter. I liked this format and eventually split my album into side A and side B. The A-side is drum and bass with a jungle track on it. The B-side is more experimental with a house track and also a techno style track which carries a Burial-esque vibe. I didn’t want to just write drum and bass for the album, I wanted to prove I could do more than my regular sound.

A nice variety of styles! The melancholic waves of When You’re Free bear comparison with a vintage Calibre track. How did you capture such a special sound with this one? 

You know what’s interesting about that track? I wrote it in one go around the time of the George Floyd situation. The theme from ‘When You’re Free’ is relatable to this period of time while my album resembles similar situations because a lot of these tracks emulate a personal story I have or a moment in history. I got the name as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. People’s opinions of the whole vaccination programme and weird conspiracy theories made me think how humans work in a way – they stay true to what they believe is true hence the name Perceptions of Reality. I think it’s quite nice as it contains multiple layers and touches on mental health as I have been struggling a lot in lockdown and still am. Your mental health state can change your whole perspective on reality and for me music has always been a therapy. At certain times, I feel like my emotions are bricked up but I just don’t notice it then when I listen to a tune, there is suddenly way more room for my emotions to float around in. I wanted to capture this feeling in the music and share it with other people who might need to hear it.

An incredibly attentive approach to your work with an admirable thought process applied. How does it feel knowing people are creating cherished memories to the music you make?

I think this is something which still feels surreal to me. I started noticing when a tune gets uploaded to YouTube. I check all the comments and there are alot of positive ones which indicate I am really good at expressing my emotions while encapsulating them in a tune and making other people feel what I feel. It’s a nice feeling but like I said, it’s crazy how many people I actually touch with my music. Nowadays with the internet a lot goes unnoticed. It feels really good to be in a position where I can help and touch people with my music. There was one person in particular at Liquicity Festival 2019 on Sunday morning at 5am. The silent disco had just finished and I went chilling with some mates. There was a guy and he told me about a rough period in his life when he discovered my music and it helped him push through. I still recall that to this day because since I started making music, I’ve just been doing my thing. In my opinion, it’s not anything special, I just throw everything out there and the fact it can mean so much for other people is sometimes a bit surreal and sometimes beautiful.

Such a beautiful moment to share with one of your fans. After achieving so much at such a young age with a booking at Liquicity festival. Did you ever feel pressure on you to stay relevant and progress further?

It was during lockdown I wrote an album and a lot of other music then I noticed at some point my inspiration was gone. During this time I pushed myself to make more music because I didn’t want to let people down in a sense.

Have you found the creative drive since taking a step back?

I’m still getting my vibe back. I still notice my workflow has not returned since lockdown but I am managing my work a lot better and I have a couple of forthcoming releases. But when it comes to dj sets, I do feel like I have to prove something every time because it depends on the gig you get, the lineup and what direction they want you to play or that you can play in.

Are you proving something to yourself or your audience?

I think it’s a little bit of both. I’m proving to the scene that I don’t mess about when it comes to my sets. I try to keep my mixing tight, testing things that other dj’s don’t. If possible I try to mix at least four subgenres in my sets because I love every type of drum & bass. It’s great to combine different vibes in a flow that fits the spot I’ve been granted. As well, I think it has a lot to do with proving to myself this set is better than my last for example – it can be a battle. Sometimes it works out the way you want it to and sometimes it doesn’t but it’s all part of the journey right?

Absolutely! With versatility in mind, how important is track selection in sets?

I think track selection is definitely something you have to pay attention to in every set. It comes down to knowing the events you play. Here in the Netherlands it’s a little bit easier as there is usually a general sound for each event. Being a much smaller country, at some point you become familiar with the events and if you get booked for one you kinda know what to expect crowd wise and sound wise especially when looking at the lineup. For example I played in XOYO last month with Auris for one of the RAM nights for the Goldfat Records takeover in room two but we didn’t know what to expect because the label releases mostly Liquid. As well, we were playing the 1-2am slot and we didn’t know what the rest of the lineup was going to play or what the Goldfat crew expected from us. Eventually we just loaded our USB and decided to see what happened but sometimes it can be tricky to navigate through this and then you have some crowds which can be hard to please.

That’s a huge booking, how did that come about?

The opportunity for XOYO came about because Audio was hosting one of the RAM nights. Mr Porter who co-owns Goldfat knows Audio from back in the day. They both linked up and chose to have Goldfat hosting room two. When I was invited to play, it was baffling to be honest because XOYO is a renowned venue in drum & bass, especially in London. We cut some corners to get there and it was such an honour to play.

When did you begin working with Goldfat Records?

One of my close friends is also part of the Differential crew. I’m really good friends with all these guys and we have known each other for six years. We first met via Discord then eventually linked up in person. Auris had already released on Goldfat so I sent a two track EP across for him to check out. Reverie & Need You Here were the titles and Auris ended up sending the EP to Goldfat. I also have another EP coming this summer.

Doing what you love most with friends is what it’s about especially after two years of lockdowns, right?

I agree, to be honest, with COVID-19 happening, I was struggling to make drum and bass. During this time, I wasn’t really listening to it but a lot of house music instead which ended up becoming a side project although I wasn’t really taking it seriously, just writing tunes and having fun. I don’t feel like I have to stick to one genre, I just didn’t want to put it under Leniz as drum & bass and house are two different cultures. I enjoy making music I like because over time, I know sticking to the same sound will bore me.

Nail on the head, staying true to your own sound! Do you enjoy experimenting with new projects?

I’ve made a lot of music for charity compilations. The project Soul Deep Recordings did with Smooth N Groove – Liquid Drum & Bass for Autism features a tune I made along with another on Beats In Mind: Headsbass a drum and bass collective who raise money for mental health charities. I’m just happy to release music which has contributed towards a cause.

But yeah, I do want to get a little bit more experimental and try new things with producers outside of drum & bass to get some different ideas flowing. A lot of the tunes I have coming are stronger than my previous releases and have way more thought process behind them – the album is one of those. I have really figured out how to capture my emotion and express this in my music even more than I used to because I can think about it more clearly and process it better as a result of the break I had.

So taking a step back has really helped you in many ways?

Yeah definitely although there are things which are still the same. During the time I wasn’t making music, I tried to understand my sound instead. Since I’ve had a break, it’s given me time to analyse the music I made in the past. Now I have a much better understanding of the direction my sound is heading.

You have a release on vinyl now – Querencia with Humanature, how does it feel? 

It’s a hard one to grasp man, something that’s been on my bucket list for a while and then it just happened. Boudewijn came up to me and handed me the vinyl of Qurencia. I was like, ‘Damn I have my own tune on wax now.’

Any words of wisdom for artists climbing the rungs of the drum and bass ladder?

Stay humble. If you are a dj or producer with your own style and sound which might not be popular – just stick to it because you will gain a loyal audience. A community fanbase is way more valuable than focusing on becoming a big artist.

100%! Great chatting to you, any final shouts?

Yeah it was. Shout outs to Differential and Goldfat Records crew!

Perceptions Of Reality is out now on Differential

Follow Leniz: Facebook / Soundcloud / Instagram