Starting out swapping jungle tape packs ‘like Panini stickers’ at the ripe age of ten, a career in drum and bass was inevitable for Scottish artist Ekwols. Listening to Memtrix and Receptor, as well as immersing himself in Edinburgh’s close-knit D&B scene sparked him to start making drum and bass, specialising in the dark, technical side of the genre. A play on the word ‘equals’, he believes in equality for all humans and aims to reflect this in his music.
Now, Ekwols kicks off a new chapter in his career, after exclusively signing to Evolution Chamber, hitting the ground running with two releases Mindless Silence and Nervous. Ekwols sat down with UKF to talk about these tracks, as well as discussing his journey as an artist, an insight into Edinburgh’s drum and bass scene, and his experience so far as part of the Evolution Chamber family.
So thank you for taking the time to chat! Before we get into it first things first, is it pronounced Ek-wols or Equals?
My pleasure! And a very good question, everyone has always asked me about that and often I tell them ‘well whatever you fancy’. I like a bit of mystery around it, the debate might get people talking about me even more! But it is pronounced ‘equals’, as this is part of my artist identity – I believe in equality for all humans and I like to portray this in my music.
Good to know, glad we have cleared that up! And how is everything going on your end?
Everything is going well thank you. Since the start of the year it has been pretty wild to be honest. I feel like I have hatched out of some sort of studio cocoon. The past few years have been very quiet for me, I’ve not really had any releases or gigs. But this year I’ve dropped new releases, played in Glasgow, and played in Austria for the Evolution Chamber weekender, promoting all of this. It’s been a hectic period, But I’m very grateful for it.
Sounds like you have hit the ground running then.
I feel like I have, a lot of my work has been about getting my music to the right level. With this batch of tunes it’s been about learning new techniques and growing, understanding what is wrong with my mixdowns and things like that. Last year was about getting there, ‘all of our things in the post’ as they say. But now we are getting everything ready before unleashing the fury! I’ve got bags of projects underway, and every day we are discussing with the label new plans. So there has been no hanging about this year.
So let’s find out more about you, how did you first get into drum and bass?
So it goes way back for me, all the way back to the days of break and jungle culture. All my mates had older brothers who went to raves at the start of the 90s, and so we ended up sharing rave tapes at school at the age of 10 – like Panini stickers! I picked up this Ultimate Jungle Collection LP, which was advertised on TV. I was just hooked on the breakbeats, the energy, the reggae influences. So that was probably where it all started.
Wow, usually people get into the music at around 15 or 16, it’s not often you hear someone was listening from the age of 10!
I know! Every weekend I was forcing my parents to take me to places where I could pick up tape packs! They didn’t really understand it at the time, and I think they were a bit worried as there was a lot of scaremongering in the news around that sort of scene. But I wasn’t going anywhere because I was so young, so they took me to go get the music.
I wasn’t really old enough to go out raving until about 2001 or 2002, but when I eventually did it opened my eyes. Dancing together in a fully packed room, speakers blaring. The connection between the music, the DJ and the ravers, it became my life.
Then from getting into the music, when did you jump into DJing and producing?
Once again it was from a young age, I always wanted to get a set of decks but being so young I wasn’t able to pick them up. It was really when I became a university student. We were playing house parties, which was great until we got our decks confiscated by the police! But we started events with our crew and artists, and just took it from there. It kicked off quite quickly, from practising at home to running a monthly night.
It seemed like a natural progression getting into production, once you start mixing that felt like the next step. I started maybe around 2004, and have been making stuff ever since. I was making a bit of everything – jungle, reggae, hip hop. But I really started focusing on my production skills around 2012, when I was hearing the new guys on the scene, Rusty K, Memtrix, Joe Ford, Receptor. That was the moment that really sparked something for me – hearing the sound design, the complexity, the melodies and energy. The music that those guys made still amazes me today. And that was like ten years ago. That music resonated with me so deeply, all those guys were doing that and I’ve been trying to do something like it ever since.
Were you jumping into the production fresh or did you have any sort of musical background?
I do actually have previous musical experience. I played in punk bands for a number of years, so I’ve got experience in other subcultures. I played guitar, bass and sang for punk bands too, all that kind of stuff. I had a basic level of music theory which definitely did help. All those sorts of skills were transferable to drum and bass in some way, having these different experiences and knowledge of various instruments. I write a lot of music on the guitar and then try to transfer it into D&B.
So UKF recently wrote a piece about the drum and bass scene in your hometown, Edinburgh. Obviously you’re a Scottish artist, and have spent your life raving and making music there. Can we hear more about your personal experiences with Edinburgh’s drum and bass scene?
Yes, I think the piece you guys did was really good, and gives a great overview of what it is actually like to be involved up here. It’s small, but I feel it is perfectly sized to have a community spirit. We’ve got Electrikal running the massive drum and bass nights, and then we’ve also got local promoters running smaller nights focused on growing local artists, niche sounds and pushing the limits of the genre. We’ve got the best of both worlds, which is amazing.
Drum and bass is already quite a close-knit scene, so I guess this is emphasised with the community-spirit in Edinburgh.
Absolutely, because there’s not as many of us here you have a lot of people overlapping the subgenres of drum and bass too. People will go to all different types of D&B nights, and that’s nice to see. You get to meet so many different people and hear different sounds, I think Edinburgh has really hit a sweet spot. It’s not so large that the scene starts to fracture off, but not so small that you can’t have nights. There’s basically a rave every week, with great artists and great music.
And I’m guessing there’s good venues to go along with all of this?
Definitely, two of Edinburgh’s venues I have to mention are The Bongo Club and The Mash House. They’re all kitted out with great sound systems. It’s a shame as we had more venues that have shut down over the years, but the scene is still going and overall it is very good.
Of course it’s not just Edinburgh, as there is a thriving drum and bass scene all over Scotland.
Yes it’s right across the country, and there’s that same community feel wherever you go. You can travel to Aberdeen for a Jungle Nation party, or wherever. There’s a really good community page on Facebook where you can join and chat to other people in Scotland – find out what nights are on, everyone shares music and supports each other. In one respect we are a minority, but there’s still a lot of us so like I said it’s the best of both worlds.
With everything you have said, it’s no surprise there’s a lot of emerging talent coming out of Scotland.
Yeah there’s a number of Scottish producers I rate that are representing our neck of the woods, especially over the last couple of years. Obviously we’ve got Refracta and Torso who are making big moves. Then there’s Beskar, Ominous, Sabotor, Hex, Shudder and Anikonik. I feel it’s been a long time coming for the Scottish producers, so it’s great to see them all doing their thing.
Speaking of Scottish artists, let’s get back on to you! The big news coming out of the Ekwols camp is that you signed exclusively to Evolution Chamber. Can we hear more about this?
I did indeed! The ball actually started rolling a number of years ago. Edgar, who was my manager at the time, sent a few bits I was working on to James from Magnetude, as the styles were quite similar. I was a big fan of them, and my pieces needed a lot of work for sure but he liked the ideas. So that started the conversation between us, and he was so helpful with helping to develop my sound. Every now and then I would send a bunch of tracks and would get feedback and pointers, and eventually I sent over Mindless Silence. He took it to the Evolution Chamber guys, as the label started a rebirth and were looking for new people and new sounds. So it started off me just sending my bits through, and they ended up welcoming me into the family. They really helped me to grow, nurtured the sound I was trying to get out and helped me get the best out of what I was trying to write.
And how does it feel being part of the label, alongside some top artists like Magnetude and Joe Ford?
Honestly I’m still pinching myself, having such great artists around me. But it’s such a family vibe, it’s such a great environment to be in. I can just message the group chat if I need support. And they are all so happy to help, teach and share ideas. They’re all genuine guys, and I am just very happy to be there. I can’t thank them enough.
And then you kicked off your journey at Evolution Chamber with two releases – Mindless Silence which you already mentioned and Nervous. Can we hear more about these tracks?
Yes, so Mindless Silence was actually written quite a few years ago. During 2020 it was written in solidarity with the BLM movement, with the struggle for social justice. I came across this vocal sample, singing ‘I’m losing my mind’ and it was singing so sweetly but it evoked my despair that, to this day, humans can’t treat each other as human, valid and equal. That vocal really captured that for me, so I had to use it to write a tune. I know a lot of people who prefer music to be an escape from the world’s realities, but I find it cathartic, both listening and the process of creating.
Then Nervous, this was written about exploitative and manipulative relationships. It’s not just about human relationships, like partners or friendships, but it could also be about a relationship with substances. But the sample that I used says ‘babe, you make me nervous’ and it kind of had a Stockholm Syndrome feel to it. Like you were complicit to allow yourself to be manipulated, to be sucked in even if it’s not the best thing for you. That’s the vibe I was going for anyway, obviously listeners may interpret it completely differently. With my tunes I try to channel specific feelings, energy or a story. These are the things that I process, and try to reflect back out in my music.
And Nervous, had this also been sitting in the back for a couple of years, or was this made more recently?
Yeah this one was a bit more recent. There was probably about a year of fine tuning, getting the mixdowns and everything ready to go. Also there was just waiting for the right time to release it. So it had been sitting there while I was writing other stuff. But it is good to see it come out now!
Was this why it took a couple years for Mindless Silence to come out, waiting for the right time?
Definitely, I think Mindless Silence needed a track alongside it to add to that drop, and Nervous was the one that was most fitting to that. It was one of those one that you have to sit on until the timing is right.
And how did it feel when it was finally released into the world?
Fantastic, it was really nice to get some closure on it. And it was great seeing that people were enjoying it. But to be honest I’m pleased that it was put out there so I could get working on other stuff. Releasing the tracks also just gave me more motivation to write more and grow as an artist.
So then looking ahead, what can fans expect from Ekwols?
So there’s a lot in the pipelines, there’s some tunes being finished, including a remix, being wrapped up for Evolution Chamber. But that’s a hush hush project for now! But I have been playing the tracks out and getting some good feedback, which is good. I’m also wrapping up a remix project for Indicator Records in Edinburgh. There’s also some unfinished projects I need to get through, there is plenty to keep me busy!
And then looking more long term, what goals are you setting out there for yourself?
One of my aims is to increase my number of bookings, and hopefully more international bookings too. I got to do Evolution Chamber weekender, which was amazing, and that has made me want to get out there as much as possible. Then I want to get into the habit of finishing music faster, and get stuff out quicker too. But I’m just really enjoying writing music and sharing it with people, so if I can just do that and get it out here then I’m going to be happy this year. Yes the destinations are nice, but I think it’s more about the process and the journey. This step of the journey has only started but I am loving it already.