I’m guessing that his studio is actually tucked away here, somewhere inside one of the warehouses we stroll past on a brisk autumn morning, when it hits me just how detached this place is and how far it feels away from the bustle of the record business.
“I didn’t think it was necessary for me to move to London,” he offers, sensing the wonderment I’m experiencing. “I’ve got a great studio here that’s close to my flat, 25 minutes on the train to the city and half an hour away from Heathrow airport.”
It’s probably not the sort of place you’d expect Wilkinson to be camped out, writing his stadium sized drum & bass, but after meeting him it seems fitting for the Ram Records protégé, who’s gracious manners offer to take me for a coffee before we begin our allotted interview time. A couple of lattes later and we head down to the studio which against the industrial wrappings feels pretty damn dapper. Located at the end of a tight corridor the plush room boasts all the studio tropes - production gear arranged neatly around a central desktop computer. Settled on the sofa we, of course, first discuss his forthcoming date when he’ll join his Ram Records family for their annual Christmas party on Friday 12th December…
So are you looking forward to your set next month?
I’ve never told anyone this but the first time I actually played [at fabric] was for a student union gig. I remember it was 9pm and I was having to spin the chart stuff to a Room Two that was sufficiently empty. It’s funny because fabric has been like a milestone for me. Each time I’ve played there I’ve been moved slightly higher up the bill so to be able to headline with Chase & Status really puts everything in to perspective…
But you must be used to that kind of billing now, right? Didn’t you just finish your own headline tour?
Yep, that’s true!
How was it?
It was wicked, thanks. It was the first time I had taken the show (Lazers Not Included) to the clubs and performed the tracks. We had this huge W built and a mad lighting show so it felt like a proper performance. On each tour date, it takes a full day to set up and we have a team of about 12 to 14 people. It’s been an incredible experience, especially when you’re playing for only 40 minute but it’s in between artists like Pharell Williams and One Direction. It’s mad really but this is only a smaller version of what’s to come next year when I’ll do a show with a full live band.
It seems like a live show is naturally the next step for a lot of drum and bass producers, and perhaps it’s that transition from a solo artist to what is essentially a band that’s helped build such a huge following.
I mean it’s weird because I think you can only really do something like this if you’ve got a huge following. It costs so much money you know? I’ve put so much of my own money into this and it even got to the point where it just keeps escalating. It’s like someone has come in and put a slice in your wallet and the money’s just pouring out. But I don’t do it because of the money, it’s always been about doing what I’ve always wanted to do. It’s been my dream to be able to do this and it’s an even bigger dream to be able to perform with a band. I grew up in bands so something like this has always been an aspiration of mine. I love DJing but there’s something about walking onto a stage with the people that you make the music with, nothing beats that.
So is this festival built production something that as a DJ and even before being DJ you’ve strived to do?
Definitely, although I never thought that I’d be able to do it. I used to watch the Prodigy at festivals thinking wow, that’s mad!
"... he won’t hesitate to give me the hard truth if it’s not quite right. It’s always something I know myself but I just need to hear it from him, you know?"
To me, there seems to be a pretty healthy transition in your music from that first EP with Hospital - which was a lot softer to what you producer now - to your debut EP with Ram Records and the records that followed. Would you say you’ve evolved into a more festival-ready artist?
It’s funny, I actually remember writing ‘Hypnosis’ right here in this very studio about five years ago and I think, although my sound has definitely changed since I moved to Ram, you can still hear those original soulful elements.
Would you say Ram Records and Andy C have played a part in this change?
You know, I never thought I would sign to Ram. At the time I was signed, Sub Focus, Chase & Status and Culture Shock were the major players and I never thought I would be on the same roster as them. It’s crazy. In fact, I remember getting the AOL message from Andy at about 2am in the morning (cos he works the most anti socials hours) being in bed and seeing “Alright Geez” pop up [laughs]. Since then he’s really helped me develop my sound but has always said I should produce the music I want. I think it’s his A&R specifically that stood out for me. We’ve always been on the same page when it comes to music and he won’t hesitate to give me the hard truth if it’s not quite right. It’s always something I know myself but I just need to hear it from him, you know? Otherwise I won’t change it. I can be really stubborn like that.
So in some ways, yes, but I remember watching Andy play and see him do those infamous drops and I thought I just wanted to make that ultimate rewind track. I wanted to create something different but with that same kind of approach so I wrote ‘Moonwalk’ and just continued to produce that sound. I guess you could say I got into that darker, bass driven side of the spectrum since I moved to Ram but although a lot of people always ask why I don’t make what I used to make, I feel I’ve still managed to stay true to my original sound.
There must have been many good opportunities since you’ve signed with Ram…
Yes. Of course, because of what I produce now, I’ve been given the opportunity to work with a loads of different people, even songwriters. I used to write using samples but now, for example, I use original vocals. It’s wicked having someone in my studio and together create what you want to create.
So you didn’t have that same kind of creative scope before?
I mean, take my track ‘Take You Higher’ for example. I had that tune for a year and both Andy and I discussed how the track didn’t quite have that “thing.” It was the melody and the vocal that I just hadn’t quite got and I remember one day looking through my samples thinking I had to find something that I could put in there. I eventually found the sample and it just gave the track something else. My mates were hating on it but I sent it to Andy and he knew that was it. It ended up being a really big single for me. I still start my sets with it now…
You’ve been massively successful but it seems for a lot of artists it’s never as steady as it seems…
Yeah I remember experiencing quite a bad patch. I wrote a tune that came out and it just wasn’t quite right. I guess you could say I hit a writer’s block for about six months so I ended up releasing something that didn’t quite connect and I panicked. I just watched my gig diary slowly deteriorate. So I ended up writing ‘Need To Know,’ something that was more musical in a way. It came out and it just gathered so much support and Radio 1 picked it up for their Record Of The Week slot. Next thing you know I’m on Radio 1’s A List and everything just seemed to soar from there.
I guess it’s easy to compromise when it’s not going so well for you?
Exactly, but it worked out in the end and now the pressure is on massively! The difference is now I don’t sit in my studio and write tune after tune. I’ve got my sound now, I write what I want instead of sitting here waiting for that magical moment to happen.
It’s funny how the process changes and it’s not a desperation I guess but when it seemed like a struggle it must have been a lot harder to write something that you loved?
It’s now a lot easier to be creative and to think of ideas.
And you’ve got a new album in the works right?
Yep, I’m working on a new album which I’ve been writing since I finished Lazers Not Included. For me, it takes two years to write an album so May is doing to be the end of the two year period so I’ve got a load of work to do.
"I want to have my own sound that isn’t dictated too much by what’s hot and what’s not."
You mentioned before that you were going to go back to your original sound?
In terms of the melodies I was writing five or six years ago, yes, but it will be designed for the club. I’m writing this album like I would play my set so I want to write like a catalogue of different tracks you know? From the ‘hands in the air’ moments to the moodier stuff. I want the album to be a representation of my sets.
Photo: Sarah Ginn
Are you writing it with the live show in mind?
I’m not going to let the live show restrict how I write the album, it’s more of a case of writing the album and then figuring out how to develop a live show out of that. I’ve got to start getting that ready pretty soon to be honest. I’m so busy at the moment, alongside DJing, doing my dishes and washing my clothes, it’s all proving to be pretty hectic.
Do you feel like you’re at the top of your game right now?
No, definitely not. I think there’s so much more I can do. I’m not even sure what that is but I feel there must be room for more. I’m always pushing myself and I think it’s important to always feel there’s room for improvement especially when the music scene is constantly changing. I want to have my own sound that isn’t dictated too much by what’s hot and what’s not. I want to continue to have a core following.
It’s important to know you have that support no matter how popular the scene is at the time.
Yeah exactly, d&b is massively popular now but Radio 1 might not be into it in two years’ time so I just want to continue to make music for my fans and develop a wider audience through gigs and not have to rely on the radio.
So basically, there’s a lot still to come from Wilkinson…
PLEASE NOTE: Advance tickets have already sold out for Ram Records Xmas Party on 12th December but there will be plenty available on the door. Arrive early to avoid queues and/or disappointment.