With over 40 million Spotify streams on his 2017 track ‘Aftershock’, you probably should know the name Stuart Rowe already, but many of you probably won’t. This isn’t a comment on the talents of this Kent based singer/songwriter, but the unfair reality that vocal artists face within the drum and bass scene. While their contributions are usually central to the success of the tracks they help to create, it’s the producer who receives a majority of the kudos.
While DJs and producers routinely see their names highlighted in big, bold type the same respect isn’t usually afforded to vocalists who are billed as featuring artists or billed at the bottom of a line-up. Along with Riya and Collette Warren, the heads of Carnelian Music, Stuart Rowe is working to change this narrative to ensure that vocalists are treated as artists in their own right.
We have a chat with Stuart Rowe about the huge success of his collaborations with Macky Gee and his forthcoming releases.
So how are you? How’s music treating you, is it your full time job?
I’m good thanks. No, I can’t do music full-time, I don’t make enough money from it. I work in highway maintenance. But hopefully the musical will start taking me places.
What have you been up to recently music wise?
I’ve got a song with Mystific called ‘Healing’ on Carnelian and I’ve got another track out on the with another producer called Siren. I’ve also got a track in the works with a Canadian producer called Aaron Payne. I’m trying to focus a lot on my own stuff as well, producing my own music, getting myself out there.
Is that drum, bass?
Yeah, mostly. I do like other genres, but it’s mostly drum bass.
And how did you get into singing?
I’ve been singing my whole life, really. I’ve always, not in a bigheaded way, but I’ve always known that I’m good at singing. I’ve always known but I never really pursued it when I was growing up. I should have really pursued it more, maybe studied music at college and stuff like that.
Then one day I got a random message from one of my old primary school friends saying “Oh, my friend, Macky Gee has been chatting to me and he needs a singer…” Then me and Macky Gee got in contact and we started recording music together. Some of it didn’t work, some was a bit trash, because back then I don’t think I was confident enough really, in my vocals. But then we did a few other songs for his first album before we made ‘Aftershock’. And ‘Aftershock’ has been massive.
Yeah, absolutely, huge. Can you tell us a bit about how that track came about, did you write the lyrics for that?
Yeah, I wrote them. At the time I was actually producing, badly, but I was producing a remix for a group from America called Boombox Cartel. Just in my spare time. And it was their song called Aftershock. I wrote some lyrics for that to put on the remix, then I showed Macky Gee and said “I really wish that we could use this.” He agreed but thought it was gonna be copyrighted because it was the other band’s song. I told him “no, the lyrics are mine.” So he said “sing it on my song now and I’ll make the EP Aftershock.” And then it was done, that was it. It’s crazy how it happened, but 20 minutes of recording vocals, you know, having fun and here we are, over 40 million streams.
Was that the first track that really blew up with you two, because you’ve done a few collaborations?
We’ve done ‘Insomnia’ on his first album. It’s not doing as good as ‘Aftershock’, nowhere near, but it’s still doing really well. I prefer ‘Insomnia’, to be honest, out of the two.
In terms of drum & bass, are you mostly into jump up?
Nah, definitely not. I’m more into liquid. I like drum & bass with vocals on and melodic drum bass that you can chill to. I like jump up music, but it’s more of a festival type of music for me. But when I’m listening to drum & bass in my spare time, I just listen to chilled stuff.
Is that what you produce as well?
I produce a bit of everything, I don’t produce jump up. I can’t, I’m shit at it, if I’m being honest. I’m just really not good at it. I think in my head when I’m making music, I want my music to sound nice, and I just don’t think jump up sounds nice. I think jump up sounds aggressive and energetic and I don’t think I can create that. I’ll start making something. I think this sounds crappy so I’ll delete the idea, but it might have been a really good idea for jump up. So I just let them guys crack on with it because they’re clearly good at it. They know what they’re doing.
What’s your story with drum and bass, when did you first discover it?
I’ve been listening to drum bass for a long time, since the early 2000s. When Pendulum was first out, like their really old stuff that wasn’t even mainstream. So, I was listening to Pendulum a lot and started getting really into drum bass around 2008. And since then, it’s easily my favourite genre of music. There’s so many ways to express yourself in it. It’s amazing.
You came second in the Carnelian Music vocalist competition, which was set up by the label owners Collette Warren and Riya, tell us about that…
One of my friends from Australia, who actually runs Onyx Recordings, said that we should enter this remix competition that Collette and Riya were putting on. And at first I wasn’t really feeling it. But he kept trying to persuade me to give it a go. Then the day before I went to Malaga, I saw it. I thought I’ll just record it quickly and I didn’t record the whole thing, unluckily, they’ve both told me that if I did record the whole song, they probably would’ve put it first place. But, I just recorded the first bit and the chorus and sent it through to them thinking nothing of it. They loved it. And a lot of people liked it as well, which really gave me a lot of confidence.
What do you think of the whole ethos behind Carnelian- celebrating the talents of vocalists?
It’s great. I love it because a lot of the time when you see some other bigger artists bringing out songs with vocalists, nothing ever is heard again of the singers you’re left thinking “what’s going on?”. If they’re part of that song, they deserve to be known as well. I do like the fact that they’re billing the artist jointly rather than as a featuring artist.
Why do you think MCs and vocalists get less recognition?.
I think a lot of the time it is because we hear drum & bass in a live environment. Most people don’t go to raves to listen to a vocalist. They go to raves to hear the drops. But I do think that over time people will start to respect vocalists more. I see it this way, I don’t go to a rave for a rave, I go for a show. So if I go to see Wilkinson, for instance, and he’s got loads of live acts with him I’d love that a lot more than him just DJing. It’s a lot nicer to hear actual vocals from people live. Hopefully what Riya and Collette are doing is going to have an impact on that.
What else do you think as a scene we could do to kind of improve respect for vocalists?
I don’t agree with charging, I know it sounds a bit odd, but if someone approaches me and says, do you wanna do a track with me? I’d rather say “yeah, I love this track” than “yeah, I’ll jump on it for 500 quid”. I think if you are paid you’re basically just selling your vocals, you don’t wanna be part of that whole project. If someone approaches me with a decent idea I won’t charge anything. I’ll become friends with that person so that it becomes more of a mutual thing, like a creative process. Rather than business only.
With me and Aaron Payne or me and Sam from Australia, we chat nearly every day. It could be the most stupid stuff we’re chatting about, sometimes it’s not even music related, but if you build a friendship around it, I think it shows in the music because you wanna put more passion into it.
I always ask any artist that wants to work with me, “what do you want? What’s the song about? What do you want me to write about?” I don’t wanna just write random shit on a song. For example Mystific already had the name of the song ‘Healing’, so I thought, “okay, well I’ll base the lyrics around that.
When you got back into signing as an adult did you always know that drum & bass was the genre you wanted to record?
I’ve always wanted to be a drum & bass vocalist, I want to be a singer in my favorite genre. But then saying that, the acoustic version that I’ve done for ‘Healing’ is completely different. It could be, as Riya and Collette have said to me, seen as a more poppy song and put on some different playlists on Spotify. Someone might listen to that and actually get something from it to help them. So anything I do with Riya and Collette, I’m gonna try and do acoustic versions of as well.
It’s such a rare thing to have two vocalists running a label, they’re coming at releases from the same angle as you, understanding how you feel and how you want to be represented…
Yeah. Plus Riya and Collette have both just been super lovely the whole time. They’re so friendly. It seems like they really care about people. They’ve always taken the time to message me and ask “what’s going on?” I have a lot of time for them too.
I agree they’re lovely, they’re doing a lot for the scene in terms of equality for vocalists and women, they’re absolutely smashing it. Are you gonna do more work with them in the future?
Yes. I mean, if they ask me, I’ll be, I’ll be a hundred percent on it. Yeah. I’d love to work with a lot of other artists and explore different styles. I feel like Carnelian Music is quite a liquid label, but I think that there’s a lot of different types of liquid.
Did you ever worry that you might get pigeonholed into jump up because the Macky Gee stuff is so big?
For a long time, I hadn’t worked with anyone and I felt like it was because of that. I love Macky, he is a nice guy, he’s always been my friend. But I do feel like I’m limited with that style. As I said, it’s not my favorite style, so I don’t think I’m confident singing on it as much as I am with melodic stuff.
Your voice is gorgeously soulful and I think it works on jump up because it’s so juxtaposed. Obviously it matches liquid beautifully but being different from jump type it just works so well…
Yeah, that was definitely lightning in a bottle that song, I feel like I’ll never make a track that’s that successful again. It’s crazy to even sit here and think I am on a track with that many streams. It’s insane to me.
I always say this to anyone, I like to always stay humble.I don’t shout that I’m amazing but I’m really proud of it. I’m proud of Jack as well, he’s smashing it.
It’s been great talking to you, have you got anything else you’d like to tell the UKF readers?
I just want everyone to know that this year and every other year from now, I’m gonna try my hardest to work with as many producers as possible, and to get as much music out as possible.
Follow Stuart Rowe: Spotify