UK producer Nick Douwma, better known as Sub Focus, has been releasing and creating music for the past 10 years. He released his self-titled debut album in 2009 and just dropped his sophomore album Torus in September. Sub Focus has been hitting the UK charts since 2005 with his drum and bass dance tunes. He’s collaborated with names as a big as The Prodigy, Deadmau5, Pendulum, Alex Clare, Empire of the Sun and many, many more. He produced one of UK music group, Example’s biggest hits “Kickstarts” off Won’t Go Quietly, peaking No. 3 on the UK Singles Chart. With 16 singles and over 20 remixes and collaborations, Sub Focus is one of the most versatile and well-rounded sounds in electronic music today.
This year, Sub Focus headlined BBC Radio 1Xtra and Radio 1 Dance stage at EDC in London and Vegas, along with taking Glastonbury by storm in 2013 with his live show set up. His latest single, “Tidal Wave” off Torus stayed on the UK Singles chart for over 2 weeks. The mesmerizing dance track features vocals by UK duo Alpines and brings the sound of Sub Focus to a different level. The album is focused on collaborations, beautiful vocals, and dance tunes with a variety of rhythms and tempos.
We met up with Sub Focus to talk about his journey to success, the new album, and much more. Check it out below.
Sub Focus, you started out with a lot of dub and drum and bass sounds. Your latest album features more house sounding drum and bass. Which is your favorite to produce?
For the last 5 years, I’ve really made a point of making all sorts of music. I don’t have a preference really, but I wanted to be known for making dance music, rather than just one genre. Its nice, because when you’re writing an album you don’t want everything to be the same tempo, its much more of a journey. Same with my sets, I like a mixture of different tempos. Ive found it to be really liberating the past 4 or 5 years to see people become way more open minded about what they listen to with electronic music. The fan bases were very separate. Now they’re all coming together. Its really opened up now, so its nice for me as a producer to be able to do lots of different stuff.
How did you first get your start making music?
My friends and I formed a rock band when we were 11 or 12, before we really knew how to play instruments. I got into the more technical side of stuff and from that I started making tunes on my mum’s computer. I got my first break when a friend sent my demo to Andy C, a legendary UK drum and bass producer. I ended up remixing a song for The Prodigy in 2005. That was a big spring board for a lot of other stuff.
Tell me what your first performance was like?
I first started DJing when I was 16. I was lucky because I had a lot of older friends at university who had me playing shows at night. That was where I got my first DJ experience, which was cool. It wasn’t like as soon as I started making tunes I was playing shows, I had been DJing in random clubs for a while. I had a nice transition. But, my first real performance as Sub Focus was at a UK club called End that is now closed. It had a DJ booth right in the center, it’s a legendary spot.
What’s the main difference between a US crowd and a UK crowd?
There’s more dubstep and trap influence in the US. The differences are quite subtle, though. I think American audiences tend to be into slightly more noisier stuff. English dance music has its roots in reggae and sound system culture. It seems like the US core crowd would be listening to metal if they were born 10 years ago.
When you’re not producing music what are you listening to?
I listen to a lot of indie electronic music like Friendly Fires and Passion Pit. I also like a lot of modern disco, like Lindstrøm and Todd Terje. There’s a lot of house and underground house as well, with sounds similar to an underground Disclosure. I listen to a lot of different music, but I am very into synth based sounds, that’s what I really love.
How’d you get hooked up with Flosstradamus for “Tidal Wave’?
I always pick who I want to remix my songs with. It was great because they wanted to do the song, as well. Its often a timing thing, getting with the right people at the right time. They did a really great job and I was honestly blown away with the response that remix got. I’m a really big fan of what those guys are doing. The whole trap movement here is like an antidote to the really complicated stuff people were doing a couple years ago.
What’s your favorite collaboration that you’ve done in the past?
It’s hard to pick just one. I was really happy with Tidal Wave and Alpines off the album. I really enjoyed working with Kele Okereke from Bloc Party. I’ve wanted to work with him forever and that tune was very well received. It’s so nice that these people I picked all came out to work together.
Who would your dream collaboration be with?
So many people! I’d really like to do something with Grimes. I love the way she treats her vocals, she’s very cool.
What are your thoughts on the direction electronic music is taking? How the genres are broadening and everything is changing?
I kind of like the way its going, I like the ability to write in any genre and having people really accept it. I just feel like its a lot freer than it was, so its liberating for me, at least. The downside is that genres come and go really quickly. Its difficult to commit to one thing. The music can be more transy and quick, but it is kind of scary to watch everything moving too quickly.
Who would you say your biggest influence is?
I’d say I’m a big admirer of groups like Daft Punk and The Chemical Brothers- They’re probably my favorite all time dance groups. The brand they have created and the identity they have, I just love. They really inspire me to do electronic live shows, which is what I’ve been touring and doing a lot recently in the UK.
What’s the best advice you would give a budding DJ about originality and making music?
Well, you need to be able to make music to be a good DJ. You have to do something that’s different from other people. You start by copying your heros and then you discover something unusual about you and work from there. It’s kind of obvious, but you need your unique thing to stand out.
I’ve heard about these infrared sensors you use in your shows, can you tell me more about that?
I use them in my live shows. Basically, there are these boxes made by this inventor here in the US. You can manipulate the sound in the show with your hand by moving it up to control the pitch or the tone of different sounds, it’s just really cool. I wanted to do electronic performances in a futuristic way that allowed the audience to see visual feedback. I was thinking about how bands have instruments like guitars that face outward to the audience. I was trying to think of electronic instruments that you could use the same way, that would be more visual.
What’s the weirdest thing you sampled?
I remember I sampled my mom talking once, that was the first thing I ever sampled. But there have been loads of weird stuff.
What’s up next? What can we expect for 2014?
I’m very excited to be out in America touring. I’m going to Australia next, then back to America in the new year. My new single “Turn Back Time” is coming out with some great remixes. I’m working with Special Request, Bro Safari and Metric. I also just had a new studio built, so I’m super excited to be making new music and continue touring.