There’s been a lot switching up, mixing up and experimenting between drum & bass subgenres over the last few years. We all know this. We all love this. But few artists embody this current enthusiasm for fusion more than Levela.
A household name in jump-up since he emerged 10 years ago with his own label Multi Function, Levela previously dealt almost exclusively in the heavier end of the subgenre: big infectious high-frequency riffs and a sense of energy so strong Skrillex was known to drop Levela heaviness in the drum & bass sections of his set. But things have changed in the last 18 months…
Since his Get Hype release Exhale last year, Brighton-based Levela (real name Callum) has consistently flipped all expectations and wheeled up a whole new line of sounds that have opened a whole new world of doors. From one happy accident experiment he’s found his grittier, techier constructions on the likes of Critical, Souped Up, Program and Get Hype. He’s also remixing acts like Hybrid Minds, closing the Lunar stage at Liquicity and, before the year is out, he’ll be appearing on the mighty Vision Recordings. All things he never would have imagined happening as recently as the start of 2018.
It’s a whole new chapter – and it comes with a new reboot and remixed remit for Multi Function, too – but for those who’ve followed him over the years the change might not be too much of a shock. His 2017 album Genesis hinted at him wanting to try new styles and refusing to be pigeonholed, plus the same verve, hookiness and slightly left-of-centre elements he’s always shown in his productions are still present and correct in his new designs… And indeed his sets. Recently spotted shutting down a packed Eve’s Garden tent at Let It Roll (among countless other festival highlights this summer) his sets join the dots between tech, deep, rollage and jump-up in the same way his productions do. Switching it up, mixing it up, experimenting at whole new heights: Levela continues to level up (not sorry)…
What were you doing just before I called?
I’m finishing a remix and it’s getting close to deadline.
Is it a stressful deadline or a pretty smooth experience?
For a while it was stressful, but things have fallen into place and the vocal’s sitting nicely now. It’s a Hybrid Minds remix actually.
What a time to be alive. Levela remixing Hybrid Minds!
I know! I’d never have thought I’d be doing this a few years ago. The last 18 months things have turned everything on its head. My workflow, the opportunities, the situations I’ve found myself in. It’s been quite surreal.
Like having the honour of closing a stage at Let It Roll!
Yeah man. I wasn’t sure if anyone would still be awake but the tent was absolutely packed.
It’s one of those festivals where people stay to the very end and squeeze it for everything they can. There’s no ‘petering out’ vibe at Let It Roll.
Absolute stamina crew. Huge respect to everyone who stuck it out and saved energy for that last hour. It was mental. Easily up there with Liquicity as one of my favourite ever festival sets.
Levela at Liquicity. Again, this isn’t something you’d expect to hear a while back…
Absolutely. I’ve known Maduk for a while and he said he wanted to book me but we didn’t know how it would go down with the Liquicity fans but I closed a stage there as well. Lunar Stage. It was mental and it’s a beautiful festival, I spent the day walking around, taking in the vibes and seeing guys like Bukem play. These festivals are the ones that inspire you to get straight in the studio the minute you get home and get some music down.
So what was the trigger for all of these changes?
It was a track I made called Exhale. It was one of those tunes that comes about in a five-hour session and it was very different to what I’d been making. I didn’t know where to go with it but sent it to a few DJs and, within a few days of making it, Noisia were playing it on their radio show. I had people who’d never really paid attention to me before asking for the track. Noisia still play it now almost two years later. Mad.
Go on. Would you call it a happy accident? Big up Get Hype and The Prototypes, too…
Yeah I would. I was just experimenting, not really knowing what was going to come out, just having fun. A few hours later the tune was done. I’ve known Nick and Chris for years on the Brighton scene, they’re top guys and were really helpful. They got the track exposed and into the right hands.
Then Program, then Technique, then Critical, then Souped Up…
It’s crazy. Especially because I’d say around 90% of my previous music was self-released on Multi Function. I didn’t think that was the best way to release this new stuff I was making so I hit up labels just to see what happens and see where it takes me. Critical were great to work with, I didn’t expect my “jump up” influence to fit with their sound at first but Kasra was really supportive of what I was doing. Simon Bassline Smith was into it too and released some of my stuff, one of them was the track Error which Noisia were playing loads as well.
Noisia Radio has a lot to answer for!
Yeah it’s such a great platform and a real confidence booster from an artist perspective. If Noisia can hear something in it then you know you’re on the right track. That’s very inspiring from my point of view.
So were you looking to move on from the jump-up sound you’d established yourself in anyway?
I think so. I’d got to the point I’d released so much wompy screechy jump-up stuff I needed a new challenge. Don’t get me wrong; I love that sound and it’s still in my sets and in my heart. But I’d got to the point I felt that was the only sound people wanted to hear from me. I’d been doing it for seven years or so and it was a chance to see what else I could do. It all spiralled from there really.
Now the next step is the label reboot. These jazzy Freek & Kit releases! What’s going on here?
Freek’s been part of the label for label for a long time. He came to me with this jazz project and the tracks were brilliant. Like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Some people will like it. Others won’t. But that’s the beauty of music I guess. There’s a whole album’s worth there; it’s jazzy, funky drum & bass with unique vocals. It’s the perfect music to relaunch the label with. Slightly different direction and sound and look but the same energy and passion behind it.
And next year is 10 years of Multi Function. How are you celebrating?
We’ve got some good plans. Events, special releases, remixes of classic releases. We’ve got some new artists coming through, a lot of them have been resident DJs for our night in Brighton we’ve been doing for nine years but they’ve been learning productions over the years and beginning to sound really good. I’ve been helping them as much as possible with techniques and mixdowns. So one project coming through that is K4PTUR3 and they’re making some really cool dirty jungly type of stuff. That’s the start, there’s loads more we’re working on too.
Nice. Back to your music, what’s interesting is that you released your album Genesis literally months before this massive change all happened…
Yeah it is quite interesting looking back. I think the album was a great way to end the old Levela era and start a fresh one. I had no idea that was actually happening at the time but in hindsight that all worked out really well.
I doubt albums are on your mind now. But I think a new Levela album with this new sound could be a very interesting prospect!
There are no plans for an album quite yet. But I’m happy to say the next release is on Noisia’s label Vision, which I’m really excited about.
Yeah I know man, I’m stoked about it. They’d been supporting me since Exhale, as I mentioned, but then one day Thijs emailed me out of the blue and asked if I was up for doing an EP for them. I was like ‘wow’. It blew my mind. That took six – nine months to get it together. I’m finishing the final mixdowns now. There’s a tune called Realities which has been supported by loads of people. Even at Let It Roll I heard people like Camo & Krooked playing it which was very nice to see and hear.
Yeah man. Is it a daunting experience sending an EP to Noisia?
Oh absolutely! That feeling that you’re writing something for them to release, you just know the production has to be 10 times anything better than you’ve done before. It’s got to be the best I’ve ever made so I spent a long time tinkering over frequencies and really paying attention to detail. But of the eight tracks I sent them, they picked six. I was well happy.
Awesome. Loads of stuff happening!
Yeah there really is. It’s great, I’m really inspired at the moment. Thanks everyone who’s supported me and helped me do this!