Hey Wilkinson! How’s the tour been?
Yeah, really well received! Just amazing. Amazing crowds and selling out. Newcastle was pretty mental, that was over 3,000 people, the police had to shut it down for 15 minutes for the crowd to calm down. It was a younger crowd, pretty mental, moshing, rings of death and stuff like that. It was cool, wicked. I’ve still got London to go, which for me is going to be the highlight.
How did growing up in London influence you musically?
When I discovered drum n bass, that was the moment that I realised that London was the hub for all the clubs. I’d always been into hip hop and rock – I was always in bands. The only gigs I’d go to were small local gigs. I snuck into Hospitality at Heaven when I was 16; that’s when I discovered drum n bass. That was an inspiring moment, looking up and seeing the DJs at the front – it was a big night, Andy C and High Contrast. It inspired me to make music that is as good as those guys’.
You started really young, musically…
Yeah, I was about 9 when I started playing the drums. I started making tunes on computers when I was 14. And now when I look back, I realise that no one else was really doing that around me, at that time. And now with the explosion of the internet, everyone is making tunes. It was pretty difficult back then, but from a young age that was my obsession. I just went through all programmes. This is before Facebook and Twitter, so if you wanted to find out what production software someone was using, you’d have to go out and buy a computer music magazine. You’d have to ask questions. And then I discovered that lots of people were using Logic. I remember chatting to TC at 18; I sent him a tune and he called me up, saying it was wicked. He was a massive inspiration to me, and he was using Logic as well. Now I post a picture of me in the studio and someone comments that everyone is using that plugin, but I’ve been using that software since way before! I’ve used every bit of software. There were times when everyone was sampling Virus to get the coolest sound, people like Matrix and Cyantific, you’d modulate it and re-sample it – that’s how you get the sounds.
If I look on your Twitter or Instagram, your lifestyle looks fantastic. But we of course don’t see the 12-14 years that have gone into it, of you dedicating yourself to your craft.
Social media is just smoke and screens. Everyone posts the best picture of the best night, or a private jet, but no one posts the picture of having to get on the train to get to the airport to get on that plane. Some people like to see the possibilities, and others just hate on it. I don’t feel like I’ve ever jeopardised my music for money or fame. If anyone listens back to my earliest tracks, they’re still consistent. I don’t regurgitate the same hooks, formula and sounds. It’s not like I’ve written Afterglow ten times. It’s all about evolving and bringing something new.
You make drum and bass, which is already fast-paced, but you add a smoothness and a polish. It feels like you’ve honed your sound.
When I’m in the studio, I’m all about the groove, the drum beats, having that pace. It’s got to feel like it rolls. The mix down for me is crucial. Doing harder stuff, like with bass lines, it’s easier to mix that than to mix 60 tracks with horns and piano and strings and vocals. And that’s the challenge that I love. I love making it sound sweet, I love making it sound good in the clubs, and I also want it to work for radio. At the end of the day, being a producer, you’re a bit of a geek, and that’s your thing, you want to make it sound crisp and amazing. For me, that’s at the heart of creating music. The label might say to me, yeah, the tunes cool, but we should get this person to mix your single – that basically means “get the overall sounds right”, and I’m like, man! I’m a producer, this is what I do, this is what I’ve always done. I’m trying to be one of the best. The sound and the balance of the sounds is a big part of the music for me.
It feels like the studio is home to you – how is it moving to live? Do you enjoy it?
I’ve been DJing for 6-7 years now, not a long time, and I do around 120 shows a year. I love it, I love performing to the crowd, but it becomes a bit like muscle memory. You know all your tunes, you know which songs are going to work, you know which songs to drop, and it’s always fun, but there’s only so far you can go with that. My mixing style, I like to mix and blend, I don't like to drop a 16 bars in and drop another 16 bars in. I like to take my time a little bit more. When it comes to performing live, it’s almost like the creativity that goes into making an album. You meet all these people – vocalists, guitarists, drummers, you’re trying to get everyone in, and it feels like a real creative, cultural coming-together. And when you do a live show, it’s about finding the right people – every detail is scrutinised. The lights, the sound, how we’re going to get across my music into the live format, learning all the parts, rehearsing… if I miss one pad hit, you’re going to notice it. That, mixed with the nerves that come with it, and the camaraderie of being on a tour bus with 14 people all working with you, trying to make this project the best it can be, that for me is inspiring. I love the lifestyle on a tour bus, the team work, everyone coming together. To be honest, DJing and producing is quite an isolated thing. You’re just travelling around on your own, or sitting in a studio on your own. So when you get all these great musicians and engineers together to put a show on, and spend a couple of weeks or the festival season with them, it’s amazing.
You take a risk that you don’t really need to with your live shows – you could just stay behind your decks.
Yeah, I could be making loads more money. But at the end of the day you’ve got to do what you love, and I love making music and also creating opportunities for other people. And just sharing the mic, and sharing what I’ve created with my fan base with vocalists and musicians. It’s amazing, man. It’s expensive; but I just love it. Which is why it’s funny when anyone says I’m a sellout. I’ll spend like a certain amount on the show, and I’ll take it to the club, where I’m only going to make so much. People don’t do that. When you’re paying for 14 people’s wages and the tour bus and stuff… I’m paying for people to experience it.
Do you choose all your vocalists?
Shannon’s my girlfriend, she sings on a couple of my records, she’s great at singing Too Close. I’ve got an old family friend, Jen, she’s signed to Sony and we’re mates, and working on records, I’ve got my best mate that I’ve been friends with since I was 9 years old, he’s my guitarist, and Ad-Apt is my long-time friend and MC, then we’ve got the best drummer, who we discovered… it’s just amazing. A tight, close team, it feels like we’re a family.
What’s your process?
If I’m creating an album, I’m thinking, what’s missing here, what can be improved. And then I just kind of think of a theme or a style. Do I want it to be liquid tune, do I want it to be a vocal tune, a harder tune, what’s it going to be like on the dance floor, is it going to be a really dark track or is it going to be more uplifting. So once I come up with that decision I usually come up with some chords. Then I’ll get a basic drum beat in there and start with some bass sounds, and it just develops organically. If I have an idea of what I want to do, I’ll start off three different tunes. I’m really bad at deleting shit if I don't think it’s gonna work.
You have some great videos – how do you conceptualise them?
I’ve usually got a picture in my head of what the song feels like to me. And then you get people to pitch. I’m not a director or a scriptwriter, so we get sent a lot of ideas and treatments. It’s never exactly what it looked like on the paper but I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had times where we’ve made videos and they’re crap and we end up getting lost and starting again from scratch, but usually it works. It comes down to me and my team, discussing the treatments and saying, ok, this sound really cool. And they’ve all got a similar feel to them, which is nice.
Is "Wilkinson sharp" your favourite lyric of all time?
(laughs) Yeah, I love that, I love that. Just the fact that Wretch made it work with the track. I love Wretch. He never ceases to amaze me, he’s a really really intelligent guy, his word play and they way he connects things together, it’s mad.
Do you think you’ve made it, or is there something else you’re still aiming for?
I’m just doing what I do. More people are able to discover it, which is cool. I think when people say they’ve made it, they mean they’ve been exposed to loads and loads of people. I’m in a good place. I love being in the studio, I love my live show, and I’m just going to grow that. I think when I’m on the main stage of a festival, and I’ve got enough money to be able to have thousands of lights and the biggest show, that’s when I’ll be able to say that I’ve made it. I’m looking forward to that.
It sounds like it’s all about the craft.
Yeah it is, man. It really really is. You know, I don’t really give a shit about going on TV, being Mr Celebrity. I just want my music to be the best it can be and not have to sacrifice anything for it.