Two years in the making, 18 tracks deep, one giant leap for a producer who’s officially stepped up from dubstep to drum & bass with the technical muscles to boot: Droptek’s debut album Symbiosis is a chop-walloping document that comes from a very considered, determined and place.
Switching between swaggering, sleazy 23rd century halftime and hurricane necksnap techy steppery, the album is the sound of an artist going back to his roots, deconstructing his technique and wiping his palette clean before then rebuilding them on a much more ambitiously technical level.
Building on everything he’s achieved since breaking through on Monstercat, yet completely subverting pretty much every sound he’s displayed before, Symbiosis is Lewis Munns’ line in the sand. A personal exploration to see how far he could develop his engineering, sound design and creative skills; he didn’t even write it with a label in mind and only presented it to Dutch disrupters Korsakov earlier this year.
Forget what you know about Droptek. Almost everything before now else was mere 140 foreplay. And while some dubstep artists can never quite make their D&B work or hit with authenticity, Lewis is the real deal. From toxic bass skulduggery damage of Invoke to the laser-blazing technoid shatters of Comply and everything in between, Symbiosis is proof. Here’s how it came to life…
This is your first proper release since the Fragments EP in 2017. I guess you’ve been working on this since then?
Yeah totally. I pretty much started on it straight after I finished that EP.
As a relatively new artist, a debut album must be a very fulfilling way to show what you’re capable of. Much more potential for a total blank canvas as people are less set in their expectations of you?
Definitely. It’s exciting. A chance to create a broader view of what I’m about musically, perhaps a little bit of reinvention.
Reinvention is an interesting word there. You’ve definitely changed and developed your range since you first came through on Monstercat…
I think so. Back then I was making dubstep and electrohouse so making that shift into drum & bass has been an interesting one, both for me personally and for people who follow my music. This album is integral in that transition to the 170 tempo range.
Was that always the direction you were heading in?
Well my first ever production attempts were all drum & bass, it’s a style of music that’s inspired me for years. But then dubstep happened and I had an opportunity to work with Monstercat so I followed that path. That was my first stepping stone into the industry and having releases. I didn’t think I’d go back to drum & bass at the time, but I guess things have come full circle and stylistically drum & bass is creatively more in line with what I was doing in dubstep.
I think so too. You can hear those original shades of yours in your halftime stuff especially on album tracks like Invoke and Revolver.
I kinda feel like what halftime is now is what I was trying to do with dubstep five years ago. Halftime has taken the direction I would have liked to have seen dubstep take. It’s got that funk and swing and movement. It doesn’t have to be in your face.
Absolutely. There’s a few of you with that vibe at the moment; Vorso too. It’s a very exciting and unpredictable sound.
Thanks. Totally with you on Vorso, he’s just next level, but that’s what a few of us are trying to do; just experiment really and push the sound, and ourselves, as far it can go. It’s very exciting.
Were you part of the Neurohop collective who came through?
Not originally but Vorso added me to the Music Squad group that’s come from that recently. It’s a great community vibe of people helping each other out, it’s very inspiring. It can get a little lonely and frustrating in the studio on your own, so to be part of an extended group of like-minded producers who can give you real-time feedback, and I can help in return, is amazing actually.
Was that there when you came through five years ago?
Not really. It was quite a solitary existence to be honest.
It must have been exciting to come through on a platform like Monstercat though?
Definitely. It was a really exiting time and they were great to work with and very supportive. I couldn’t have asked for much more for my early relThere’s not many labels that would allow me to release such a diverse range of genres. However, for this album, I knew I wanted to target the drum and bass scene specifically and Korsakov allowed me to do that. It’s super exiting, too, because they’re best known for their massive events and their label is still very new.
It’s a bit of a blank canvas in that sense
Yeah it’s great for a lot of reasons; they don’t have a set sound with fan expectation of what they release so we can all be quite experimental and open minded and see what happens. They’re also incredibly enthusiastic and supportive which makes them a joy to work with. Like I feel part of something.
You were on their launch V/A compilation release earlier this year, right?
That’s where the connection came about actually. They asked me for a track, which I gave them, and then told them I had an album ready to roll and asked if they might be up for doing something with it.
Oh nice. You were making this album anyway, totally free from any label expectations or boundaries or anything like that.
Yeah I was and that was important for me. I didn’t want to think about a market or an audience or anything; it’s just raw, it’s me making the music I wanted to and experimenting with the sounds I love.
It’s a big album, there’s a lot going on in there. Did you start with a concept or idea?
Less of a concept and more of a mindset; to make every track as good technically as it is creative. That was in my mind throughout every process. I had this internal filter running through the whole thing and if things I wasn’t happy with technically went in the bin. The same with things that sounded great and loud but didn’t have that soul or groove. I was very strict with myself and Symbiosis captures that; the logical technical side and the creative side working in harmony.
Awesome. If anything went in the bin was it thrown completely or recycled?
Pretty much scrapped entirely. It’s one of the hardest things you can do as a producer; to make that decision that it needs to go.
It’s hard to justify that to yourself isn’t it? It’s like a battle with your ego. Just because you’ve spent hours on it, doesn’t mean it’s good.
Definitely. But it needs to be done. Like the intro for the album, I wrote five different versions of that. But that type of detail was essential to keep the high-quality threshold I’d set myself. You never get a second chance to do a debut album. I’ve been mastering this as well which has been a crazy learning curve.
Did you not master your previous singles?
I have done in the past, but this is the first time the whole release has been mastered by myself. A lot of people say that the best mastering is done in the mixdown so the least you have to do at mastering the better. So I’ve been learning that over the years.
The mixdown is the end boss of a track. He’s a bastard.
He can be! It’s hard to get right. I’ve moved studios during this album which has been a bit of a challenge in terms of my listening environments and how I hear things. It was a spanner in the works but ultimately it made me a better, or more experienced producer. You’ve got work with what you’ve got, right?
Was that the biggest challenge during the album or were there others?
That was the hardest challenge. Maybe the only challenge. Moving from Bristol to London and downsizing my studio because of that was a big overhaul. Nothing else caused me anywhere near as many headaches.
Nice. So what’s next?
I’ll be taking some time to collaborate with other artists and do some remixes. I’ve finished one remix which I’m excited about and I’ve made a start on my next EP. After taking a big break you have a lot of work to do to catch up so my main focus will be to remain consistent and to keep pushing myself. Since finishing the album I’ve started getting into visual art as well so I hope in the future I can create the visual aspect of Droptek myself which is exciting!