UKF has been keener than Andy C on an allnighter to run a piece on Subtitles Music’s protégé DKN. We have been since hearing his slammer of a debut last July. Such was the calibre of this release, we were compelled to feature it in our end of year picks among the best tracks of 2020.
Fast forward to summer ‘21 and we’ve finally locked down an interview with Deen who has all restrictions lifted on his year so far. Ravers and misbehavers, we give you your Dub Wars Champion, Season 3.
Winning Dub Wars is no mean feat. Sixteen mean, keen production machines are pitched in weekly duals to battle it out anonymously for the public vote on the best dub. Wielding a sample pack and turning this into weaponry over just 5 days keeps your hat in the ring. Survival of the fittest d&b style – and through a series of fantastic tunes DKN right hooked his way to a win.
We delve into the method and the madness that goes on behind the scenes and screens of Dub Wars. DKN’s story is nothing short of inspirational, especially for any aspiring producers out there. From fanboy to friends for life, we discuss DKN’s experience working alongside one of d&b’s household names, the importance of chasing a dream, and how persistence really does pay off.
Firstly, congratulations on winning Dub Wars! Shout out to Zero Zero, the final was a close call! The right dub always wins in the end though…
Thank you! It certainly was close, the ZeroZero boys had me sweating as soon as I heard their tune. Sam & Jesse smashed it. Although in fairness by that stage I was no stranger to that feeling, every single producer delivered something special in every round! Special shout out to SiLi, Scepticz and Solace too for being awesome opponents, ended up chatting with them all after the battles – they’re all top guys, brilliant artists and we’ve agreed to work on some tunes together in the near future. Also a huge shout out to all the other producers involved, what a ride ey!
From rollers to roller coasters, it must have been nail biting waiting for each decision…
For real. You’d reach Friday and submit the tune, enjoy a brief moment of relief, then it was straight into nail biting until the big reveal on Sunday. I’m not sure what was harder, the tune writing or the tension of waiting!
It’s quite an oldskool feeling that winning dub, sort of Metalheadz vibes at play. Those stabz hit just right.
Old school Metalheadz, I’ll take that! I just set out with the intention to write absolute war music, I knew I had to come with it in the final. I’ve been finding myself drawn to an oldschool sound palette recently, particularly with the week 1 tune being a real nod to my favourite 90s hardcore/rave tunes. It’s definitely a direction I’ll continue to explore moving forward. Ben OB1 gave a really nice summary of the final tune saying “it’s like one foot in the past, one foot in the future and totally in the moment.” I loved that and actually might steal it for an elevator pitch of my sound!
War music indeed from a junglist soldier. So, which of these battles did you find most challenging considering you had different samples to flip each round?
Unquestionably the semi finals with the vocals from Collette Warren. Took me completely out of my comfort zone working with vocals in that style! It was a funny round though, Solace and I were messaging the night the samples came out, both of us agreeing that the two stems provided for our battle were so far removed from our styles. Think we both knew it was going to be a challenging week! Full credit to Solace, he absolutely smashed it and I’m excited to work with him in the future.
Did the fabulous competition ever throw you off? I guess you need to NOT go listening to your opponents back catalogue…
Ha! I was actually pretty familiar with most of the artists involved in the competition, felt fortunate to be involved amongst such a talented group after having only one release! So yeah with that being the case, I could kinda hazard a guess at what style they would draw for – which actually didn’t help all that much!
How did you approach each round then, some all nighters in there surely…
Really all you can do is stick to your own style and trust in your idea… Which is something I was terrible at – definitely could’ve done with taking my own advice there. In both weeks two and three I started from scratch Weds night/Thurs morning respectively… Which was a totally stress free and enjoyable experience… Jokes aside the all nighters brought their own unique buzz, but you can only do that for a bit before you’re totally f*cked. Definitely something to be said for writing at night when there’s no distractions though.
The quarter final against Scepticz particularly stood out, what a tune. Similar vibes as The Peak which you dropped last year.
Thank you! Yeah I drew for the same vocalist I sampled in The Peak on this tune. Actually I’m about to contradict my answer to the last question here; that tune was initially way more lashing and in your face – but Scepticz’ tune in week one was so finessed and precise that I decided I had to come with something classier than a lasher, hence the rework! So I guess that one was actually pretty calculated in the end. Happy with how it turned out though!
Last but not least, that first dub from the 1st round where it all began, you really came flying out the box with that one!
Yeah I was blown away with the reaction to that tune! I actually wasn’t sure how it would pan out since it’s not your usual ‘Dub Wars’ kinda tune – but I think that went in my favour! The feedback on it was amazing, some calling it the tune of the tournament/Dub Wars anthem etc! Can’t wait to play it out live
Despite the anonymous nature of Dub Wars, I could tell it was you when voting in each round, which the judges also commented on…
Yeah both Darrell and Chef both said some really complimentary things that gave me a big confidence boost, meant a lot coming from those guys. It’s honestly great to hear, I’m not sure I fully know what my ‘sound’ is yet but it’s really reassuring that other people are able to pick it out.
That distinctive style coming off so early on in your career, and setting you apart, is testament to your skills though mate.
At this stage for me it’s just about exploring sounds and finding that vibe that gets me out of my chair. Once what’s coming out of the speakers is making me move, then I’ll just run with that and see where it goes.
I noticed you did the 30 day tune challenge a while back, flexing over many different genres.
I did! That was f*cking hard work. Intended to do 30 in 30, think I made it to 21 before burning out and thinking I’ve had enough here.
Astonishing quality on these tunes though considering you made ‘em in a day! Bit of house and future garage in there for good measure…
I was pretty happy with how most of the tunes turned out, it was a lot of fun trying out different genres. The sense of naivety in terms of what I’m ‘supposed’ to do in those genres lead to a sense of freedom to just create whatever and have fun with it.
Did this help you prepare somewhat for the battles to come?
Haha so I thought it would. I remember stupidly thinking ‘five days to write a tune will be a piece of cake coming off the back of this!’… Totally laughable now looking back. It was an entirely different ball game. With the tune a day challenge it was just about getting something down quickly, touching it up and putting it out. Dub Wars brought a completely different set of challenges. Not only do you have to get an entire tune down, it HAS to be polished. It has to be your best work, else you’re getting knocked out. And not only that, the whole time you’re thinking “is it better than the other guy’s tune?”.
You’ll have to get on with preparing a sample pack for the next round in November now.
I’m looking forward to that! The temptation to throw in a curveball sample or two is strong. Objectiv’s sample pack was hilarious. I remember saying to the guys on one of the Dub Wars Zoom calls that I can’t wait for the next season, being able to enjoy it from the outside. The community aspect of the competition was the highlight of it for me. Everyone involved got on so well. Those weekly Friday night Zoom chats were brilliant fun. Starting off the evening by listening to that round’s dubs, followed by everyone sharing their unreleased tunes and listening to music together.
Peace, dubs, and unity.
Huge shout out to Ben Ob1, Chef, Darrell Invaderz and Harvey Creatures for organising such a fantastic competition.
Also off the back of those dub listening sessions… I just want to say if anyone reading this isn’t familiar with some of the names in this competition yet, you will be soon! Some of the heat these guys are sitting on… damn!
Yes! Now, from Dub Wars, let’s move on to those all-out evil sonics on your latest outing on Subtitles Music!
For me the music and the beats have to be dangerous or I’m just not interested.
What is it that pulls you to the darker, twisted sounds?
The commercial poppy stuff does nothing for me, it’s gotta be tough. When I was first starting out producing I was trying my hand at making some of the more commercial stuff thinking that’s what I’ve gotta make to get noticed. Maybe there’s an element of truth in that, there’s always more eyes on the commercial stuff, but I figured my hearts not in it, you gotta make what feels genuine and real to you.
For real, authenticity provides that longevity which is so integral as a producer.
Also I guess a huge part of why I’m drawn to the darker styles is the music I listened to growing up.
Oh time to chat influences then eh…
As a kid I used to get my hands on every drum & bass mix CD I could find, packed with tunes from the likes of Dillinja, Lemon D, Adam F, Fresh, Ed Rush & Optical, Bad Company. Loved it all from such a young age. Coupling that with a lot of Rock and Breaks music (RATM, SOAD, The Prodigy, Acen, The Chemical Brothers), and I guess it all kinda makes sense looking back!
So within Subtitles Music you have a special relationship with head honcho Teebee, tell us more about how you gave up the day job, and caught Teebee’s eye…
I recall on a few occasions looking around the office thinking “is this it..?”. I was 27 at the time and thought f*ck it, I’m just going to take the plunge and try to do something I love for the rest of my life. I’ll give it a few years, if it doesn’t work out, no big deal, office jobs will always be there. But it reached a point where I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself for not trying!
It wasn’t for a couple of years after quitting that I started working with Teebs. I spent that time just trying to skill up to start getting releases. Also spent a lot of time networking and trying to learn about the industry. I launched the Drum & Bass platform for Data Transmission (big shout to Shelley, still bossing it!), and also interned at Hospital Records for a brief period which was awesome – loved meeting everyone there!
In 2021, networking is pretty vital as a DJ and producer, and it looks like you had a hell of a start.
For sure, Seb & Jake from Skankandbass were really instrumental in my development in the early stages too, giving really detailed and useful feedback. Prior to the Subtitles release I had a couple of releases signed but ended up scrapping them both since I felt they weren’t strong enough – I had to come out the gates swinging with the first release!
Woah, that’s fearless.
At that point it was a case of reaching out to someone and asking for guidance. I knew Teebs lived somewhat nearby so hit him up on Instagram just straight up asking if he’d mentor me! He initially shoo’d me off to another producer for tutoring but I was kicking the door in to get into the studio with him (not literally – I think he’d have a restraining order)… I guess eventually he saw the determination and how much I wanted this so ended up giving me a chance!
What’s it like being mentored by him? Legendary surely…
It’s honestly hard to describe. I was totally starstruck for a long time. Having someone you’ve looked up to for the best part of your life teaching you is an indescribable experience. I wouldn’t shut up to my mates about how unreal it all was (still don’t).
From the 9-5, to behind the scenes, to cutting your teeth with Teebee.
I’m still pinching myself! It’s a massive privilege that I don’t take for granted. He’s taught me SO much, it goes without saying but he’s the biggest reason why my production is where it is right now. I’ve got a long way to go but could you ask for a better mentor to guide you through it? It’s surreal now that I call T one of my closest mates. He’s one of the most considerate and selfless people I know. Always looking out for others and trying to lift them up where he can, he’s always got time for people. A big inspiration and role model to me both as an artist and a human being.
Have you had a chance to visit Black Labs Studio then? Gear envy much!
I’ve been very fortunate to spend a lot of time in the studio with Teebs over the last couple of years! Massive gear envy! Having witnessed first hand what you can achieve with hardware in terms of sonics and tone shaping, I’m totally sold on it and will be entering the rabbit hole of buying hardware very soon! I mean I’ve got his old studio desk so there’s a lot of space to fill it up…
That’s a gift and a half! As if 2021 wasn’t already going off enough winning Dub Wars, is there any exciting stuff in the works dropping soon we should be watching out for?
The usual suspects, lots of tunes in the works, some collabs, some remixes! My advice would be to keep your eyes on Subtitles Music, honestly the strength of the music coming out on the label, the calibre of the artists… It’s staggering. One artist in particular I’d recommend to keep an eye out for is Myriad. Most won’t be familiar with the name yet but he’s going to arrive big. His stuff is on another level. Subtitles is coming back in a big way.