There aren’t many producers who can say they’ve released on Low Down Deep, Liquid V, 31 Records and Hospital. In fact, there’s only one.
Variety is the spice of life and Serum has most certainly embraced that mantra. After churning out bangers of all shapes and sizes on a broad spread of labels for over a decade, he’s established himself as the undisputed king of the roller and has taken 2017 by storm with his distinct and devastating blend of jungle and jump up.
After kicking off the year with the ubiquitous Blow Them Away on Hospital – proving his diversity more than ever – he’s just announced his very own label, Souped Up, which he’s spent the past two years meticulously crafting. Not only will it be the new home for his signature rollers, it will also be a launchpad for the scene’s brightest upcoming talent.
As if that wasn’t enough, he’s also at the helm of the most in-demand live trio in the genre right now: the aptly named Kings Of The Rollers, which he clashed heads to form with his two partners in crime, Bladerunner and Voltage, at the back end of last year. Bookings started pouring in as soon as they formed and their diary is chock-a-block this summer.
We caught up with the man of the moment to talk more about the label, what makes a perfect roller and more…
Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like you’ve been stupidly busy this year
Yeah I’m busier than I’ve ever been and I’ve got loads of bookings coming in which is cool. I’ve always been quite prolific as a producer, I put a lot of music out but it still feels like there aren’t enough months in the year to get it all out! I really don’t know how I find the time, it’s just a case of having to find it from somewhere.
Why has 2017 been so hectic?
It’s the culmination of years of really hard work. I’ve got to the stage now where I have my own recognisable style, which is what I’ve always wanted. When I first came through, the sound I became known for was essentially a recreation of jungle brought up to date and it was quite popular, but it wasn’t as original as the stuff I’m making now.
Was there ever a moment when you thought about packing it all in?
Not at all as I’ve always loved doing it, but up until a couple of years ago I never thought I’d be able to go all out with the music thing and make it my career. I’d always had other jobs and just did drum & bass on the side, but a few years ago I gave it a massive push and luckily it paid off. Things have exploded since then.
And that explosion has meant you’ve been able to put music out on a diverse mix of labels
Yeah I’ve always tried to mix things up. I think the tune that got me noticed in the jump up scene was Wiretap on Chronic. A lot of people who weren’t listening to me in that side of the scene started to after that was released. Then I started working with Low Down Deep and after that came the Philly Blunt album, which made things pop off in the jungle scene. Tracks like Species on 31 Records and Take My Breath Away introduced me to the deeper side.
Ahh, Take My Breath Away… my favourite tune from 2016. What’s the story behind it?
Thanks man! Paul and Ed made a track they were going to release on their own label but they asked me if I wanted to remix it. I got in the studio and heard parts of it that hadn’t been used that much in what they’d done so we totally rebuilt it and said it should be its own release instead of a remix. The minute we finished it we thought “this could really do something” as it had that smoothness and melody but also that bit of rough to it, and thankfully we were right. Bryan snapped it up for V as it has that “V Recordings” sound to it.
It certainly does, but Blow Them Away definitely doesn’t have the “Hospital sound”
Yeah it’s not a typical Hospital release but I was really happy with how it came out. When I look at how much it’s been played it, umm, blows me away… I heard Inja on stage at a night and was really impressed so we got in the studio together and it all clicked really nicely. I had the idea for a silenced pistol as the snare and he came up with a killer vocal for it.
Did you have any hesitations about releasing on Hospital – a label far removed from your usual style?
Not at all. I’ve always been of the opinion that if the label owners like it and want to get it out, you’d be mad not to, regardless of what people might think. A lot of labels I’ve released on might not be labels people associate me with, but if you can get out to the likes of Low Down Deep, 31 and Hospital, it’s a really good way of getting yourself heard by as many listeners as possible.
Speaking of labels – let’s talk about Souped Up
I’d love to! I’m really excited about it. I’ve been thinking about setting a label up for a hell of a long time and I’ve planned it in the past but never quite have enough time to do it the way I wanted. The label is all about good party music with a futuristic vibe to it. Now I’ve finally got some time in my life I can dedicate to doing all the work involved in setting it up, and I’ve found out there’s a lot…
Yeah I’m no expert but I imagine it’s not the easiest thing to do
Yup. Even getting the graphic styling exactly how I wanted has been really time consuming. Benny V, who runs the label with me was tearing his hair out because I was being so picky! I’ve always got a very clear idea of what I want to do. Funnily enough, getting the music sorted has been the easy bit; I’ve been holding back big tunes of a certain vibe I’ve made over the past few years so I can release them on Souped Up.
So the label will become a new home for your music?
Yeah, that’s one of the main reasons I wanted to start one up. I’ve always loved working with Bryan G and I’d say Philly Blunt is pretty close to “my home”, but when I want to go on a more futuristic tip I want Souped Up to be the only home for it. I’ve got about seven releases ready to go already including solo material and a few collabs with Voltage. They’ve all been knocking around on the circuit for a while and people always ask me about them, so it’ll be good to get them out there. There’s one called Earth Rot which is quite a big one on the jump up scene and another called Mission Control I did with Voltage.
Will it just be your music coming out on the label?
At first it’ll just be me and a close network of established producers I work with, but not in the future. I want to build the label up with big artists at first and then bring in some upcoming producers I’ve had my eye on for a while who fit the sound. Building an artist is a really hard thing to do and not a lot of labels are able to do it, so I want to make sure I get it well up and running so people know the brand before I bring in anyone else. It’s the only way of doing them justice.
Sounds good. Moving on to your production: what’s the key to making a new tune sound different from the last?
I try at every opportunity to use different equipment and get my influences from other types of music to try and keep one step ahead. There are some more technically advanced people out there than me but I like to think I have a sound that’s mine.
Are you a proper studio hound?
Not really, I work in quite an instinctive way. I’ll only get in the studio when I’ve got an idea in my head. I’ve got a little phone app I write all my ideas down on and sometimes an idea will just come to me when I’m walking down the street. I’ve never been one for just sitting and farting around waiting for a tune to come together, I tend to have an idea of what sound I want the track to revolve around and then get to work on it.
That’s quite different to a lot of other producers, isn’t it?
A little, which means people find it a bit weird when they get in the studio with me. If I’m laying down a bass line I’ll just go with what’s in my head and map it out on the sequencer without actually pressing any keys, so the other person is just sitting there looking at me thinking “what is he doing!?” I don’t really know where it comes from sometimes, I just go with what I feel and usually it comes out alright.
Kings Of The Rollers has come out alright
It’s been great and we have a right laugh doing it. It all started when we were all going to play on the same radio show but said why don’t we just play together? After that people started asking when we’d bring that to the clubs so we agreed the name and put it together. We never plan the sets, we do them spontaneously and go off in all different directions. We’ve all got our own styles with Bladerunner playing more jungle and tech, Voltage usually playing the most jump up and more commercial tunes and I just do what I do, whatever you want to call it! We learn what each other do and got off to a really good start. There are certain tunes we have a race to play before each other and the crowd really vibes off the fact we have a good time up there.
Who would you add to the trio if you could pick one person?
Hazard. Every time he puts something out he blows everyone’s minds – including mine. He doesn’t always go for the easy stuff, he makes strange tunes a lot of the time and when you look at how he makes them, some of the ideas are far more complicated than they first appear. Everyone looks a bit crap next to Hazard! God only knows how he does it.
What’s in the pipeline?
A lot. There are a couple I’m working on which aren’t quite finished yet and a few others I can’t reveal just yet. Then there’s one with Heist which will be a big one on his Sumo Beatz label. I’m also sitting on about twelve finished remixes, seven releases for my label, a whole load of collabs still to come out, an EP with Voltage on Philly Blunt, the Ramparts EP on Horizons… lots.
Saving the big one until last… what are the key ingredients of a perfect roller?
It’s all about how the beats and the bass interact. The bits between the kicks and the snares are really important; you need to get a nice flowing beat and a bass line that bubbles along with it. A lot of music these days is everything on the first beat, but it’s all about the stuff that goes in between the kicks and the snares and the hi-hats that gives it that nice flow. It’s a hard thing to put into words…