It’s a busy life being a DJ and producer, which is definitely the case for drum and bass act Wilkinson, who not only claims dates on an international scale year after year, but creates collaborations with a slew of other top acts and when he gets a spare second, he’s in the studio working on something new for his ever growing fanbase. In his busy schedule and ahead of even more shows in the likes of Bristol, Manchester, Brighton and more, the RAM Records championed and high in demand act still found the time to tell us all about his whirlwind life and career and told us about what a journey it’s been in just this year alone as we went in conversation with Wilkinson.
It’s getting towards the end of the year, tell us how 2018 has been for you?
It’s been pretty mad. It kind of started out sort of building towards my show at Brixton Academy, which was the biggest live show I’ve ever done, so yeah that was amazing! It kind of felt like the year started with a bang. Then yeah, there’s just been lots and lots of shows throughout the summer. Live shows, lots of DJ shows and releases as well! There was a collab with Sub focus that came out in April, that was really cool. As well as some writing, I’ve been trying to work on new projects now, I’m excited for next year as well as 2020, busy times as usual!
How do the receptions of your live shows compare to the DJ sets at festivals?
I think, for me, with the live shows it feel like somewhere in between doing a DJ set and me being in the studio. That’s sort of what i wanted to do when I set it up, I wanted a lot of the singers there that I’d worked with on the tracks and I wanted to break down the performance into all the different instruments that I use when I record as well. It’s been really cool doing that over the last few years and also diving into tracks that I made quite a few years ago and still being able to recreate them and feel the strength and energy that I felt when I was first making them. It’s just really nice to be with the band as well, because when you’re DJing, it’s fun, and you can just turn up and it’s relatively simple in that respect but you don’t get the same sort of comradery and the feeling of being on stage with so many talented musicians is something that truly gives you a buzz on stage. Being able to share that with the band is such a cool feeling. I feel like you get a much different reaction because there’s so much for people to see when you’re performing live, I’ve got all my special lights and drums and guitars and vocalists coming on and off the stage - you can just tell that people are taking it in like it’s more of a show - almost like you’re going to see some theatre or something like that, there’s way more to it. These are all mainly the things that take quite a lot of time to prepare and it’s quite difficult to get that balance because I’m obviously trying to write music as well, I’m trying to be in the studio and then I’ve got over 100 DJ sets. It’s all quite full on as I’m sure you can imagine.
You’ve toured quite extensively this year, what do you do for down time off the road?
It’s quite a difficult actually, because I love travelling and if I’ve got some down time - it sounds really weird because I travel all the time with work - so most of my down time is spent in the studio and I go out and see my mates - I actually do a lot of BMXing and sports activities but these days if I fall off my bike, I could potentially upset a lot of people if I can’t make a show, so I try to look after myself. I love travelling and if I’ve got a gig somewhere really beautiful I tend to stay around there for a few days. I rented a villa in Ibiza for a couple of weeks this year, met all my friends out there…
I bet that was far from chilled out, though?
Well, yeah exactly! But there’s something to be said in that being able to let your hair down while being with friends. That’s something else that’s quite difficult because touring every weekend, my social life with my mates gets hit pretty hard. I try to spend as much time as possible just with them and seeing as much as I can of them. It was something I got into fairly recently, travelling around and making the most of being in these amazing countries.
What have been your highlights of this year?
I’ve been so lucky to have so many! It’s good but it’s difficult because they merge into one! We did Roskilde Festival live which was one of my favourite dates of the summer, it was amazing because we’d never done that festival before - I don’t think I’d ever played in Denmark! When we went there, just the hospitality, we had this sit-down, four or five course dinner and they really rolled out the red carpet, it was a really nice opportunity to hang out the crew and my live crew and my live band. Also the gig was amazing. Doing Reading and Leeds Festivals - it’s always a mad weekend for me because it’s Reading, Leeds, SW4 and Creamfields all in the same weekend - logistically it’s an absolute nightmare but it was amazing. The crowds were amazing - I think I had the biggest crowd in the Radio One tent at Reading, which is really cool.
Just to see how my music is translating in different territories all in one weekend is really cool. You can only really find that out when you do gigs and see how many people turn up, so that was an amazing weekend. Obviously there’s also my residency in Ibiza which is always fun, always a highlight. That’s pretty much it. At the end of this year I’m going to New Zealand and taking the live shows over there. It’s somewhere I play quite often and it’s a really different territory for me to showcase my music but they seem to really like it over there and I’ve never done my live shows so far away. We’re all flying out there, about fourteen of us and we’re there for New Year’s Eve. It’s the first place in the world that sees New Year’s in, and the festival in amazing - it’s called Rhythm and Vines and it’s in Brisbane - I love that place so I already know that’ll be a highlight.
Wow, you’re pre-empting highlights as well!
Well I went last year and took all my family - there was about fifteen of us - and it was amazing, it’s such a cool festival and it’s the summer there too. I always try to spend about a month or six weeks over New Year’s and Christmas out of the UK because it’s so cold, and then you only have to bare about four months of the English winter which is nice.
Being part of RAM Records’ roster means being championed by the king of DnB Andy C, how did that happen initially? How do you feel it’s helped your career progress?
It was kind of the beginnings of my music becoming good enough for people to start being played it out when they were DJing, it was kind of a weird journey and I find that with a lot of artists, it’s the same thing. When people start wanting your songs or when people start hearing your songs being played by the DJs and they start wondering, ‘oh what’s that song? Where did you get that from?’ that’s when you start to know you’re in a good position and that was around the same sort of time that Andy heard my stuff. Actually, it was just before that, I’m good friends with a DJ who is signed to Hospital Records, at the time he had a gig in Newcastle with Andy and he was on the train with him, he played him some of my tunes and Andy was like, “wow, these are cool man”. He did the gig and he dropped me a message in the middle of the night. I got this message - on this thing that’s like AOL, it’s like MSN for DJs. He asked me to send some more stuff and asked me to come down for a meeting and I was like, “woah”. I thought I was just going to get a release on their label that they had called Frequency - it was like a sister label to RAM. He invited me down for a meeting, sat me down and him and his business partner Scott said, “can you make your tunes as good as this?” and they played me a bunch of RAM stuff that I really love, stuff that was unreleased from the likes of Sub Focus and Chase & Status and they asked, “do you think you could get your production up to this level” and I was like “of course!” They offered me an album deal there and then pretty much. My mind was blown. I think I was just twenty years old then, yeah, it was just before I turned 21. It was amazing to just sort of have that in the bag, and it gave me a bit of a purpose.
You’re a frequent collaborator and having joined forces with Sub Focus this year (Take It Up), what do you look for in an artist before teaming up? How does that creative process work between you?
I have to really rate their production, it’s usually someone that, I mean if I’m playing a lot of their tunes myself it’s usually because I love their music and their production, I’m a sucker for decent production and well produced music. I worked with Rob last year - he was a DJ that I loved, he was a DJ that I discovered a long time ago in Newcastle, I worked with him a lot on production and gave him a few tips and now he’s doing really well, we decided to get in the studio last year. It was a really cool process. It’s one of those things were like when you’re in the studio working on your own, it can get a little bit monotonous, you’re relying on so much of your own creative energy, bouncing ideas off the wall because it’s all in your own head, whereas when you’re working with someone else, they might be in a really creative mood. I mean, they also might not be, they might not be feeling that creative, but you can kind of spark it in each other. That’s what I love about collaborating because you can be playing with an idea and then the artist can feedback that they love it and they’ve got another idea, you just start stacking ideas on top of each other and before you know it you’ve created something quite unique and quite quickly! Doing it with Rob at the end of last year was really cool, we released a thing called ‘Rush’ and Annie Mac battered for like three months. Then I got in the studio with Nick - I’ve been in the studio with him before and we’ve worked on some stuff but not every tune you work on is releases. Then we came up with this idea and just before we went to New Zealand and it just sort of happened really quickly and got a really good reaction. We managed to put that out in April and that was a really cool process, making that song, I think we spent about a week in the studio together - and he’d always been one of my favourite drum and bass artists since I got into the genre, it was a bucket list kind of thing for me.
You also collaborate with artists from other genres - most notably the likes of Wretch 32 and P Money who are massive in the grime scene - is there any other calibre of acts you’d like to work with?
Yeah! I mean at the moment I’m working on a few projects. I love drum and bass, it’s such a unique genre and there’s so much energy when you’re in a club and it really goes off - apart from that, I really love the really sort of chilled out sort of stuff like Bonobo, Moderat, Jon Hopkins and people like Tom Misch, Maribou state, Loyle Carner - basically these are the sort of people I’d love to work with in some sort of capacity. Whether it’s my stuff or whether it’s just production. Regarding vocalists, I mean, it kind of depends on the track, I’m keen on working with more songwriters and not necessarily big features at the moment because I kind of feel like it’s so nice when you write a song and you connect with the songwriter. Someone who writes the lyrics and you can connect with them in that way. It’s nice to have them and their voice on the record and capitalize on that idea and keep the song in its natural form rather than get a big name on the record, so I’m really enjoying just working with writers at the moment.
We always finish our interview with a track, is there a track you think will be circulating dancefloors all over in 2019?
I feel like the Dimension/Sub Focus record will still be doing the rounds next year, ‘Desire’, it’s such a banger - that’d be my choice.
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