"I think one of my biggest contributions has been to bring some new ideas into the genre," says Sub Focus reflecting on his career to date.
Sometimes labelled solely a drum & bass act, those who know his output and influences notice a surprising restlessness in Sub Focus' creative approach, which has led him to release tracks which helped push genres beyond their boundaries, lifting them to new places. The DJ, producer and artist has become known for pushing the envelope with regards to the strict boundaries within electronic music's various subgenres, something he continues to do with his latest material.
"When I started making D&B it had been feeling a bit self-referential and uninspired for a while. I think I was among the first to start using ideas from other genres like indie dance, rock and techno to create a fresh sound."
Indeed, 2009's 'Rock It' -- melded hard rock guitars with funk synths and brought them together with traditional D&B tropes, like hadn't been seen before. 'Timewarp', one of his earlier breakthrough hits, utilised sounds more predominantly heard in techno, to create a track which still surprises listeners when played out live.
Sub Focus has kept this subversive, experimental attitude at the fore throughout -- it has become his trademark. His first new single this year -- 'It's Time' feat. Gene Farris -- surprised fans with its driving, Chemical Brothers-inspired bass line and insistent beat which is indebted more to Kevin Saunderson than a drum & bass artist.
Much of this creative freedom is owed to not resting on laurels when it comes to the production process. A peek into Sub Focus' recording and production studio in London reveals walls of modular and vintage synths, unusual digital & acoustic instruments, all routed into an 80s CRT monitor -- lending a retro-futuristic visual while he's forging his new sounds. Rather than sampling his big inspirations like Vangelis as many were doing in the 90s, he learnt to recreate the sounds from scratch using both new plugins and rare vintage synthesisers.
"I now use large racks of modular gear in my workflow -- I love the connection between big synthesists of the Seventies: the likes of Keith Emerson and Isao Tomita and modern electronic musicians. I'm still trying to make 'Space music' with big synthesiser sounds like those guys back then."
The cinematic and the visual are arguably as important to Sub Focus as the sounds -- proof of which lies in his mind-blowing new live production show, Circular Sound, designed in conjunction with Zak Norman of Black Box Echo and the architect of Bicep's acclaimed visual shows. The shows are so visually stunning that fan footage has gone repeatedly viral in the electronic music community. Blurring the lines between visual art, stage production and club, the live show has become as much a part of Sub Focus' artistry as his studio records. He has sold out Brixton Academy multiple times with its previous incarnation.
And it was in the club where it all started for Sub Focus:
"I always think back to those early experiences raving for inspiration, like going to the last Metalheadz at the Blue Note as a young teenager. Those were life changing experiences for me."
So the story goes, back in the early 00s a friend of Sub Focus gave a demo CD to Andy C with his mobile number badly written on it -- so badly written that it took the RAM boss several attempts before he got through to him. Not long after, he went to Fabric where he saw Andy C playing, and heard him play his newly-created tracks on dub for the first time the start of a career for Sub Focus and the beginning of an ongoing friendship between the two producers.
"Andy became my mentor for the next few years and I perfected my craft by going to watch him at The End club every month, trying to get more of my tracks played and get bigger reactions in his sets."
His first track on RAM Records -- 'X-Ray' -- followed shortly afterwards in 2005 and became a big anthem in the scene and hit the number one spot in the dance charts. Before long he was remixing his heroes The Prodigy and becoming an integral part of the burgeoning rebirth of drum & bass of the early 2010s.
"It felt like the epicentre of something big happening, with dance music as a whole expanding to a much bigger audience here and in the States at that time."
Having signed to Universal Music, went on to make 'Flashing Lights' with Chase and Status, for their multi platinum-selling 2nd album 'No More Idols,' and was visited by the likes of Skrillex to make his GRAMMY-winning remix of Nero's 'Promises.'
"Chase and Status invited me to rent the studio next door to them in County Hall, a suite of studios owned by Pete Waterman of 80's pop producers Stock, Aitken and Waterman. We were joined there by Nero, Breakage and Shy FX and started to encourage each other to break rules and take risks expanding more into full vocal tracks, dubstep and house tempos -- all the while surrounded by Kylie and Rick Astley gold discs."
What followed next was widespread acclaim and commercial success. His two studio albums 'Sub Focus' (2009), and 'Torus' (2013) were certified Silver -- with 'Torus' hitting the number 11 spot on the UK Official Albums Chart. The album included the chart-topping singles 'Tidal Wave' featuring Alpines (#12), 'Endorphins' featuring Alex Clare (#10) and 'Turn Back Time' (#10).
Additional collaborations included with Bloc Party's Kele Okereke who featured on 'Turn It Around,' and acclaimed vocalist MNEK on 'Close.' And in 2010 he produced Example's UK number 3 hit single 'Kickstarts.' Most recently Sub Focus released the Gold-selling single 'Desire' with Dimension, and 'Portals,' his 2020 collaborative album with fellow Drum & Bass artist Wilkinson.
With his latest material, Sub Focus is adapting a holistic approach to his artistic output, again bringing unexpected influences in to create something wholly new and surprising: "My dad was a visual artist in his youth and later became an art dealer and friends with some prominent 20th century artists, like Stanley William Hayter, which gave me an usual perspective and made me think about the presentation of my music a great deal."
The artwork for his recent releases 'It's Time' and 'Off The Ground' is a good example.
Inspired by Nudibranchs; brightly coloured sea slugs he encountered whilst diving in Indonesia, when put through an AI machine learning generation process, bizarre-looking new life forms were created, forming the basis for the campaign art.
It's hard to anticipate exactly what Sub Focus will do next, continually subverting expectations by incorporating unusual outside influences. But there will be surprises, that's for certain -- only he knows what's to come.