Once known solely as the master of drum & bass, Sub Focus has stepped boldly into a new chapter in his career by expanding his musical palette both on-stage and in the studio. With his sophomore album set to release this summer and an assiduous upcoming touring schedule, Sub Focus is staying focused throughout 2013. The English producer dished to Joonbug on his newest releases, performance methods, and thoughts about drum & bass’ future in America.
You played an insane set at the first weekend of Ultra, between your high-energy song selections and cutting-edge technical elements. Are you a born performer or did you have to perfect your stage presence with practice?
I'm quite into letting the music do the talking, but I really did enjoy myself during the Ultra set. I tried to show people a bit of everything so I played a quite diverse set, a lot of fast drum & bass stuff but also some house music and some dubstep, some trap as well. I like to play a bit of everything and it was a really fun set, the crowd was super responsive. I really like doing live streams as well because fans get really excited about it. People can come see the show that couldn't get tickets or are out of the country, it's great.
I know you also take an active role in curating the technical aspects of your performances. Can you tell us more about the novel approaches you’ve been using in terms of lighting and visuals?
At Ultra I was DJing, but I'm also doing these live shows as well with a whole production and big light show that goes with it. When I do those shows I'm using laptops and iPads, I'm also using motion sensors so that when I move my hand in the air [I] control some of the sounds. I think it's quite cool and unusual, and I'm trying to do an electronic live show rather like a show with a band. I prefer this more than including a band when the band members are trying to cover your songs. I'm really going for a totally electronic show to suit the music I make.
And how does playing a set at an American festival, like Ultra, differ from playing a European festival, like the Reading and Leeds Festival in your hometown of London which you’ll be headlining this summer.
That's a good question. Most of the festivals I do in Europe are multi-music festivals, so there will be rock bands sometimes on the same stages as DJs. Whereas when I come over here, the bigger events are totally electronic music-focused. And they're all different styles of music with different crowds—in America over the last couple of years I've focused on more of the dubstep and trap stuff, while in Europe I'd play less of that. Especially something like trap which is really new there. I obviously play stuff that's new everywhere, but you try to judge what people will get and what they might not get so much.
So it's mostly about varying your genre choices?
Yeah, exactly. I have to change it from place to place. Festivals in eastern Europe like really dark drum & bass so I'll play more of that. But it's nice being able to select from such a wide batch of music now as opposed to a few years ago when I was really playing just one style. It's really cool in the last few years or so how much it's all changed. It's great to keep it moving.
So four years ago you put out your first album, and you’re on track to release your second album this spring. Your production’s sound seems to have grown away from strictly drum & bass to a more crossover sound incorporating different tempos and BPMs. Can we expect a broader range of musical genres on your sophomore album?
When I put out my first album is when I started to put out other genres, besides drum & bass I had a bit of house music on there and some dubstep. For my next album, I want to be more evenly distributed across the tempos I play so it'll be more of an even spread. I'm kind of treating it as less of a club album as well. I want all the singles to work as club songs but there are songs in between those which are more sountrack-ey or more listening-experience tunes. It's a bit more of a journey as a whole and it's coming out late summer. We're going to do this single with Alex Clare before then.
That's the one you just released on Annie Mac's BBC Radio 1 show?
Yeah, we just did the first play of that. We've gotten good feedback so far, it's quite a different track for me so I was slightly unsure of how people would respond to it. But the response has been really cool, I've had a lot of producers hitting me up about it.
I saw Dillon Francis tweeting about it.
Yeah, it was nice that Dillon is feeling it. A bunch of people have been asking for it, so that's cool. I'm really excited about it.
Although drum & bass is huge back in London where you're from, the subgenre has yet to explode here in America despite our country’s latest obsession with EDM. Do you think drum & bass will ever be as popular here as other genres like progressive house or electro which we hear hourly on the radio?
That's a good question, I think it has the potential to certainly. It's a bit like dubstep as well, because that's been embraced more around America but it's still not a radio-friendly genre through-and-through. There's the very-much underground side of it, and then there's the more vocal side of it which works on the radio.
In the UK, if you look at Radio 1 which is the main radio station, there's a real balance of each song that gets played on the radio. There might be a drum & bass song, there might be a Swedish House record, or it could be a pop song. It would be nice if the radio in the States goes that way as well, but it's hard to tell.
If you talk about radio play there's a lot of underlying factors that make that the case as well. America's very big so the radio works in different ways. Also, in England the BBC Radio is publicly funded so they don't have to please advertisers when they select what they play, so they can be a bit more experimental. But I'd certainly love it if it went that way in America, I think drum & bass is just not a through-and-through radio-friendly genre. Perhaps that's why it hasn't reached the same audience as progressive house.
But I certainly think it has potential, there's a lot of crossover between drum & bass and dubstep. The line is so blurred now that kids sometimes ask me, "What was that first dubstep tune?" and it was really a drum & bass song. But that's really how it should be, everyone should sort of forget what everything is called and just enjoy the music for what it is.
I know you mentioned your releasing your second album this summer, is there anything else on the horizon our readers should know about?
That's the major project for me, just in the studio working on that. I'm also touring a bunch this summer, going to be hitting a lot of festivals in Europe and the UK, then coming out here to DJ a whole bunch as well. I already can't wait to come back to the States.