From his beginnings as a bedroom DJ five years ago, to headlining the Glade stage at Glastonbury in 2010, Nick Douwma, better known as Sub Focus, has become one of the most interesting, innovative and important voices working in British electronic music today. Douwma has created compositions for Chase & Status (Flashing Lights) and Example (Kickstarts), remixed The Prodigy, Deadmau5 and Dizzee Rascal, while his own tracks (including Airplane, X-Ray, Rock It, Could This Be Real) have won Sub Focus fans in the form of Zane Lowe, Annie Mac, Grooverider and Mistajam. As a DJ, Douwma has played at every major club night and festival around the world, with the recent EDC in Las Vegas helping to push his US profile exponentially. Since his beginnings as a Jungle DJ, to becoming one of Bass music’s key composers, Sub Focus has cemented his status as a forward-thinking creator with an incredible cannon of compositions.
Sub Focus’s second solo album, as yet untitled, will further propel him into the realms of both credible notoriety and mainstream success – no easy feat. With features from The Alpines, Jess Mills and Kele Okerere (for whom he engineered 2010’s The Hunter) initial reactions have been overwhelming. Debuted by Douwma during a guest mix for Mistajam’s Radio 1 show, first single Out The Blue, featuring Alice Gold, had 250,000 views on YouTube in just one week, and was played by every major Bass DJ you can mention. Mixing Vangelis-like synths with Gold’s captivating vocals, it’s a brilliantly paced, deftly constructed D&B smash that will propel the 29 year-old straight back into the charts.
Refusing to be stuck within one genre, Sub Focus has ventured far and wide around the world of dance music. If it has bass and a hard hitting hook, he’s on it. “In the early days when I got into dance music, people were very tribal about what they would and would not listen to, and coming out of that period has been refreshing,” he says. “I like writing different types of music, so I threw caution to the wind and started putting more varied tempo music out there and the response was great,” he says of songs that have ranged far and wide through the world of Dance music. “The whole scene is evolving and people are experimenting with different tempos much more now – branching out without fear of the stigma.” This is brilliantly reflected on the new album, which effortlessly balances Dubstep, D&B, 90s Jungle, 80s rave, Future Garage and even a steel pan symphony. “I like pulling threads from places that maybe aren’t meant to go together,” he nods. “I’m quite a magpie in the way I look at music.”
While his music has huge mainstream potential, he’s wary of playing to the crowd purely for pop star status. Like his contemporaries Nero, Skream & Benga and Chase & Status, he strives to stay true to his musical roots. Wary of doing anything too obvious, he explores the line between being popular without trying to court the commercial. “Trying to strike that balance is one of my main goals – writing underground music with mass appeal.”
Beginning his career in the Jungle scene after leaving behind his teenage indie band and being blown away by the Prodigy and Incredible by General Levy, Nick balanced his neophyte beat-making career with Art & Design. After switching to Sound Engineering at London Met, Douwma dropped out to concentrate on music as he quickly found himself one of Drum & Bass’s leading players. X-Ray was the track that got him noticed, before his seminal remix of the Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up, which allowed him to tour throughout America, Europe and Japan. Signed to the legendary Ram Records, his debut self titled album solidified Sub Focus as a serious player in the world of Electronic music. Since then, as club music’s boundaries have altered, his creations have been supported by everyone from Skream to Andy C, Annie Mac to Jack Beats.
Late last year, Sub Focus signed a deal to license his second album to Mercury Records which is due for release in late 2012. Like two of his key influences the Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk, Sub Focus is interested in pushing the boundaries of both the live and recorded experience. For his incredible new stage show he has had a series of exciting gizmos made such as motion sensors which enable him to trigger both sound and light by movement; it needs to be seen to be understood! Within his studio you can expect to see ten types of keyboards from a vintage Roland Juno to the latest Teenage Engineering synthesisers. “I’m very deep into the technical side of things,” he laughs. “With the live show I’m incorporating improvisation, but in an electronic way. I’m using motion sensors, keyboards and computers to play my tracks, all synchronised to a light show based around my disc logo. I want to take the ideas of visualising electronic performance that started with the likes of Jean Michel Jarre and Vangelis and push them a little bit further.”
This Summer Sub Focus will be playing at a host of major festivals, including Snowbombing, V Festival and Coachella. With the likes of Skrillex winning Grammys, when asked about the future of the industry, Douwma says ‘It’s a great time to be making this music as it really seems as if there are no limits to where it can go now.”