After releasing a pair of albums on Hospital Records – and independent, London-based label known as a hotbed for the speedy dance sub-genre dubbed drum and bass – the Belgian producer Netsky switched to a major for his latest full-length: 3 arrives today via Sony in Europe and Ultra in America.
It shows Netsky working to expand his sound, often via collaboration: “TNT,” with Chromeo, channels that duo’s ‘80s synth-funk style, while “Higher,” with Jauz, is a chomping, big-tent-appropriate track. Billboard Dance caught up with Netsky to discuss his roots in drum and bass and his new efforts to increase his sonic range.
Do you remember the first drum and bass record you heard?
I remember the first drum and bass night I went to. There was an underground club in Antwerp where I live now where I went when I was a teen. They played a drum and bass remix of Kanye West’s “Golddigger.” I was completely in love with the original, like every kid my age, but that remix made it even more special, more energetic. It really showed me that drum and bass wasn’t just a genre for the dance floor – you could combine it with a sample and a chorus.
Do you define drum and bass by a b.p.m. measure?
Unlike other genres, it’s very strict around its b.p.m. The tempo dictates the genre a lot – most of the tempos are between 172 and 176 b.p.m. There’s always variation where people go half-time, like 85 b.p.m.
A lot of the dance music that’s coming out now is slowing down – what do you like about that 172 – 176 window?
For a lot of people that don’t get that tempo, they feel it’s really fast. When I danced to drum and bass as a kid, I listened to it as if it was 85 b.p.m. — like it was a hip-hop record. For me drum and bass is more about the snare then the kick drum. The snare is always on the first beat and third bar, a very consistent thing throughout the track, and that makes it feel like a hip-hop track, or even some funk.
What I love about house music is that you always have room for so many musical elements. When I first heard drum and bass, I thought there wasn’t really room for those nice chords and instruments and vocals. But you can actually do that in drum and bass too, and add so much more energy to it.
Why did you choose to make the move to a major label?
When I was 19, I signed to Hospital Records, an indie drum and bass label that’s doing really well in that industry. I stayed with them until two years ago. I had a really nice journey with them. I felt it was kind of time to broaden my horizons a little bit musically and find other people to work with outside of the world I was used to.
Dave 1 from Chromeo is an unexpected singer on your album.
I’ve been dying to work with him since the beginning of my career – I’ve always loved their music. I love the way they present themselves. I sent him a DM on Twitter and said, “I’ve got an instrumental I wrote with a chorus, what do you think about it?” In a week’s time, he got back to me. We finished the song in a studio in New York.
What was it like working with Emeli Sandé on “Thunder”?
She’s probably my favorite female vocalist out of the U.K., if not the world. What I heard first was “Heaven,” and I was completely blown away by it. It’s one of those songs that I wish I produced or had something to do with. I’m so jealous of that song. It’s a dream for any drum and bass producer to work with her voice – it goes so well with the atmosphere that drum and bass brings, that kind of cinematic feel.
Her manager’s nephew used to be a big fan of me. He’s quite younger but he used to come to all my gigs in London. I’ve never met him, but apparently he spoke to Emeli about me and said you should let him produce a song for you. I got very lucky there.
Are you worried about balancing your mission to expand your horizons with maintaining that drum and bass core?
The drum and bass scene is important to me. They’re the ones who gave me the opportunity to grow. But the fanbase is very passionate – somebody is almost a traitor in their eyes when they try another genre. I still love drum and bass, and I feel like there’s some really cool drum and bass records out there. But I never want to be pigeonholed.