The artistic (r)evolution of Signal

File under meteoric: Dutch producer/DJ Signal has swept across the international scene with undeniable dynamism. Commanding respect from peers through second-to-none productional skills and blessed with a unique gift of making lasting impressions, whilst still only 19 years old, Jonathan Kievit (Signal) concludes his release run for 2018 this week. Not just with an eight-track EP on Invisible Recordings but also a remix of What So Not & Skrillex’s Goh on Friday.

A lot has happened since the last UKF-interview with this versatile breakbeat aficionado. Many reasons call for another portrait of an artist who has risen at a near unparalleled speed and authenticity. So here it is: an in-depth convo about his rather humble beginning, maturing as an artist, and the deeper meaning of his most recent work, fittingly called Solitude.

How are you doing lately?

I’m good!

This Friday your remix for What So Not and Skrillex is coming out on Ninja Tune. How did that come about and how do you feel about it considering you mentioned Skrillex was your gateway to Drum and Bass production?

Earlier this year, I signed with Walter Flapper, who also manages Noisia. What So Not’s manager approached Walter and asked if he knows artists who would like to be on the remix album. I’m a huge fan of WSN, so Walter asked if I would like to do a remix, to which I enthusiastically said yes. He asked me what song on the album I wanted to remix and gave some options. I then simply asked: ‘Can you get me the one with Skrillex?’ I wasn’t really serious about it and figured in the worst case I would end up with a ‘no’. A week later Walter contacted me and offered the stems.

I was eating lunch at the time with a friend and then I got a message from him. How it felt? The best feeling of my life! I thought: ‘Sick man, now the pressure is on.’ It was really insane, because these are two of my favourite artists. What So Not liked the remix so much, he asked me for a collab. Crazy!

How do you stay on top of things in terms of production techniques? Does it boil down to doing research on your own in terms of theories and techniques, or is it perhaps more because of the people you are in touch with that provide feedback?

It’s a bit of both. I have this group of friends for about five years now. We originally came from a forum called neurohop – which kind of disappeared – so we went onto Facebook. We all came from that sound but over the years we started finding our own niches, some in drum and bass, some in beats. At the same time, we kept in touch through a group on FB.

So it’s something like a mastermind group?

Yeah. If someone struggles with making a certain sound, we try helping each other out. Despite us starting with the same genre, we ended up in different directions. Due to our different perspectives and views on music it’s really useful to get feedback. It’s really hard to judge your own music. I also always find it hard to say that I made something good, because it feels arrogant. It’s the reality of being an artist.

Having to play at different countries throughout the recent years; what has been the most memorable gig and why?

Definitely Let It Roll, because it was my first time being at that festival. A lot of my friends that make music were there.  I also enjoyed playing We Are Electric Festival in Holland. Playing at clubs is exciting, but when playing at festivals you can go to bed at a fairly reasonable time. When playing at clubs, sometimes your set is at 5 AM, while your flight leaves at 10 AM, so you end up with just two hours of sleep.

At the same time you are more connected to the crowd in a club setting – you get their reaction straight up in your face, which is amazing. At a festival the distance between you and them is bigger so you feel a little less of that vibe.

In terms of life experiences, how has all the traveling impacted the way you look at life? And people in general perhaps?

If you’re at an airport and someone’s running, you should get the f**k out of their way, because they’re trying to catch a flight (laughs). People can be dicks when they block the way… It’s easy to rationalize that this person should’ve taken an earlier bus or train, but when you are in the same situation… oh man, that’s no fun! Especially when you are trying not to miss a gig.

All this traveling amounted to life experiences in general. I have definitely matured by coming into contact with so many people from all age ranges and different cultures. I have to act professional, in the end it’s my job. I can’t be acting like a dick to people that booked me or hired me to do work.

Does it come down to becoming more aware and separating the things you are or aren’t in control of?

Yes, in a sense. It’s easy to take things personally as an artist. For example: when you are at a gig and two of the four decks aren’t working, it can quickly get you to, because you weren’t able to deliver the set that you wanted. Then again, I can’t really be complaining. There are people in third world countries who work long hours for a few cents.

At what age did you decide to fully focus on music?

I was thirteen. It started with a school assignment. We had to make a song. Our teacher gave us an educational account for a website with samples. After doing more research, I ended up with FL Studio – watching tutorials, and making house. Eventually I found Monstercat, because of my neighbour and friend. At the time, they were just starting up the label. That’s how I came into touch with styles like electro, dubstep, and drum ‘n bass. Afterwards, I went on to discover Skrillex, which led to me finding out about Noisia through their Scary Monsters remix. I eventually listened to a mix they did for UKF and got introduced to artists like Phace, Black Sun Empire, Misanthrop, Gridlok and NickBee. That mix definitely made me a drum ‘n bass fan and made me decide to start producing it.

What do you think is the biggest, but not so apparent, misconception of upcoming young producers in terms of ‘making it’?

The most important thing: be original. If you’re trying to be someone else, then you will never make it, because you’ll just end up being a ‘lite version’ of that person. So many artists are trying to become someone else. Also; social media is very important right now. You don’t really have to do it, but it definitely is a plus, because a lot of drum ‘n bass fans are the social media generation.

Another thing I have to say… You’re going to be sad a lot of times, that’s just the reality. You are going to feel shit about your music at times. It’s hard not to compare yourself to ‘the best’.

Does it help to express that in the music that you make, instead of trying to feel different and working from there?

A lot of music gets written from emotions like heartbreak and sadness, but this kind of sadness is a rather demotivating sort. Something like: ‘I’ve been working for so long and I’m still not on that level.’ To some it’s very motivating, to others it totally isn’t. On the other hand: some people are very confident about their music, but that’s not very helpful either. If you’re very confident from the start, you are not going to improve, are you? There’s always room for improvement.

In a sense it’s a rather lonely activity. It seems essential to have the right kind of support from people around you.

It’s good to find people online and in real life that share the same passion. Having people to talk to about the struggles can really be helpful. The group of people I’ve mentioned before: we used to skype and talk a lot. Even now, we help each other when someone struggles emotionally. We all deal with these kind of feelings.

You are known for a style that oozes with original sound design. Has that always been your goal in regards to the way you approach making music?

I feel like when I started making music I really wanted to be like Noisia and make the music like they did. Eventually you figure out it’s impossible. The way they make it, it’s their vibe and how they are as people: something that’s a part of them. Sometimes you forget that people like your music because of your vibe… it’s hard to explain…

I think it comes down to making the music you feel like making. If you have that certain vibe, then it surely will sound more original. At the same time, I’m not saying you shouldn’t take inspiration from people. Everyone does, it’s a good thing. Inspiration leads to fresh ideas, especially when coming from other genres.

I just don’t listen to much drum ‘n bass anymore, because I think that then you will subconsciously start to copy others more then. Now I listen to genres, like: halftime beats, future-garage, ambient and techno, so the stuff I make is so much different.

Can you tell us more about your Solitude EP?

It’s been a process of two years, some of the tracks aren’t brand new projects. That’s okay, because with this release I care more about the vibes of the productions. The name, solitude, can mean things like loneliness and solidarity. In the past years there have been periods that I felt alone. Eventually I made a new friend, an upcoming producer called Buunshin, and our friendship helped me, because I finally met someone who’s on the same wavelength in many ways.

Throughout these two years there were periods wherein I got stuck and thought I couldn’t make anything fresh. That’s why I started to explore other genres. I signed up for a Spotify account, started selecting all the alternative tunes I already knew and let Spotify recommend me new stuff. I discovered so many artists like Bonobo and Lorn, but also guys who might have only released two tunes, but they’re just sick.

I started indulging myself in alternative genres which included artists like Sarah Hezen and Sevdaliza. Dark and emotional stuff which isn’t drum & bass. Different tempos that convey different moods – I tried to incorporate that more into my music on the EP. The EP is quite diverse with halftime, neuro, rollers and also deep stuff.

In terms of an album in the future, what’s your take on doing one?

I don’t think I’m ready yet to take that step. I really want to do it once I am. It’s just that the really timeless albums I listen to in drum ‘n bass – Split the Atom by Noisia, or Primitive Technique by The Upbeats – the production techniques might be old, but the vibes are insane and original. I would love to have an album like that and also succeed at a certain productional-standard. That’s always the quest with making music.

Anything to add?

I hope that artists don’t just make music for the crowd, but also make what they want to make. Fans ought to give them a chance to try something different, instead of being really selfish. People do not understand how boring it gets to make the same thing over and over again. You need to get out of the zone and do something else then. You still are the same artist, just doing a different tempo, or a different vibe. Listeners do not have to like the different stuff, but they can at least understand where the artist is coming from. The last thing I want to add: try to open up your mind, to anything in life… try something else, you don’t have to like it, but do try it. You miss all the shots you don’t fire!

Where do you see yourself in five years from now?

Hopefully I will be in the studio with Noisia and Skrillex (laughs).

Perhaps finalizing your dream to do an OWSLA release?

It actually still is one of my goals. I’m such an OWSLA fanboy. I love this rave-influenced techno and electro. I’m also a huge fan of the new track from Skrillex and JOYRYDE. Who knows, maybe one day!

Anything to (finally) conclude?

A shout-out to all my friends and fans. Also to all the people I’m working with. Shoutouts to yourself for the interview, and UKF for giving me a free hat a few weeks ago (laughs)… Of course a shout-out to my mom and dad! They’re cool and I’m thankful they made me!

Signal – Solitude is out now on Invisible

Follow Signal: Facebook / Soundcloud / Twitter