For some electronic music artists, such as 25 year old Netsky, music is not defined by limitations, but by the ways in which you over come them. It is this creative mindset that has taken the producer/dj beyond the standard drum and bass DJ performance to a full live band performance that exceeds the expectations of showmanship in electronic music. It is this expressive freedom that has allowed him to achieve success at a young age and accumulate such a loyal fan base. As Netsky returned to Chicago for a performance at Concord Music Hall, I had an opportunity to sit down with him and get to know what drives him as an artist.
John C: Let’s kick things off with some of the basics. Concerning your name, what was the inspiration behind naming yourself after Netsky, the infamous computer virus?
Netsky: Yeah, well, I am actually happy you know it was named after the computer virus. (laughs)
John C: Ha, I would assume people pronouncing it ‘net ski’ is getting a bit old as well.
Netsky: Yep, exactly. Back when I was younger, when I was 16 and came up with the name; that was back when illegal downloading was a really big thing. I thought it could be cool because music piracy was such a big thing, and a big problem for a lot of the indie labels and smaller labels. I just wanted to kind of… well I guess I just wanted to have a sort of protest against music piracy and illegal downloading. So I named myself after a virus with the hope that whenever someone choose to download music instead of paying for it that they would end up getting the virus instead. So that was the basic idea back then.
John C: That’s certainly an interesting approach to take.
Netsky: Yeah. Obviously, times have changed a lot since then. The money and the music industry are in a totally different place now and I have a completely different mindset towards it than I did back then.
John C: Let’s side track for a bit and keep that thought in mind. What is your take on the newer world of the music industry? Specifically let’s look at the services like Spotify that have met that demand but have become controversial as not all artists agree with the structure. Do you think it is a good move for the industry?
Netsky: People and the crowds are going to dictate how the music industry is going to work. There are no companies that can control how the music industry is going to flow anymore. People didn’t want to buy music, they wanted to download music and didn’t want to pay for it. So they started streaming it on YouTube, and YouTube made a really good system out of that, and that response is the way things should be. We should look at the ways people want to listen to music and what the easiest way for them to get to know the music. Spotify is definitely one of those channels, it is absolutely brilliant I think. I use Spotify myself; it is the only thing I listen to. In my apartment I have different playlists for every moment of the day. I think it is great and I can’t imagine anything better.
John C: I am a big fan of it as well, but it seems not everyone is.
Netsky: There are lots of artists that complain about the rates and how much they are getting paid. But let’s be honest – we are getting paid. Music is being streamed and we are getting paid. If it was on a different channel, everything would be the same but we wouldn’t be getting paid. As long as they are not getting into the massive or multinational approach whey they try to take all the money and store away 70% of it, or if they start profiting off of the music more than the artists.
John C: Getting back to your music specifically, what was your lead-in to music? Did you always want to produce drum and bass?
Netsky: Yeah, I really liked electronic music from a very young age. My dad loves like 70s and motown stuff, and even some 80s rock so he really got me into that when I was younger. Classical music as well. I am a massive fan of classical music, but I hated it until I was 18 or 19. Then when I moved out I kind of missed it. Drum and Bass for me is one of my favorite genres, it is definitely not the only genre I want to make music in, I do want to make other stuff as well. What Drum and Bass has for me that not many other genres do is the energy, the jazzy-ness, the broken beat, its not four to the floor, its not the same beat all the time. It allows for it to be more broken up and it makes it alot more funky than other music. With that said, there is so much other cool stuff out there as well.
John C: Your most recent release was Running Low? What was the inspiration for the track?
Netsky: I wrote the track with a friend of mine from the UK named Takura, who is a really good writer. He wrote the top line, which is like the chorus, on another track of mine. This is 2014; this is how I write music now, where I take a top line and go with it. It\’s not as romantic as many people think, when you sit down with a singer and write the track in one letter. It was a very long, very spread out kind of curve until the final project. It started as a male vocal at first and I felt like it was lacking something. I have always been a big fan of Gossip, and of Beth Ditto, so we rung her up and she happened to be a really good friend of someone I am close with in the UK. He showed her the track, and yeah — next thing I know I am in the studio in LA having a great session with her.
John C: So you touched on it a little bit, but what is your creative process like in general? Do you have a set way in which you approach track creation or is it simply building upon elements as you become inspired?
Netsky: Yeah, I stay to my home setting when I am trying to work on music, I keep trying to do it on tour and while out, but it is not made for me, I can\’t work in an airport amongst crying babies, I need to be in my home element. I need to be surrounded by friends and just normal life stuff. I don\’t really write any ideas down or sing stuff anymore. I used to sing alot more, like melodies, and then when I return home I would produce it, but now I simply sit down in front of the piano and will try to write vocals and sing along with it — but only when no one is around because I am very self conscience about my voice. So that is my creative process now, it all starts with me at the piano and singing — or trying to sing.
John C: How has the transition from solo performance towards performance as a live band been?
Netsky: Two years ago I started doing DJ sets with a drummer, him on just an octa-pad, like a small kind of drum pad, which really got me into the idea of trying to do something more. The problem we had then was it felt like just a DJ with someone playing drums over it. He was good enough to stay tight on his play and no one heard the drums clashing, but I wanted to push it and I wanted to create an experience, not like a DJ set where you may play 20% of your music and 80% produced by someone else. I think especially in EDM and electronic music right now, it is important to get an identity. People pay alot of money to come out and see you and I want them to walk away with something more than playing all of the current popular tracks and they just experience a DJ playing them. Sometimes with a DJ set you play bigger tunes and the people may have a better rave or better time, but I want to go beyond that and tell a story. I don\’t want it to be just a party, I want the story to be an experience and that is what we try to do. With the band, all the material is from the albums and it is definitely more of a story than the DJ sets I used to, and I am proud of that. Apart from that the keyboard player and drummer are amazing, the musicianship is next level, so I am so proud and jealous of that.
John C: Do you feel as being an individual in the band, as opposed to performing as an individual, has had an impact on your control of the creativity during a performance?
Netsky: Wow, that\’s a pretty good question. There are two ways to answer it. I feel like I am doing much more and every show is different and it comes from the heart. However, I do miss the ability to change selection that I had during DJ set performances, which is a bit more artistic in that way, but you are not really creating on stage, you are playing. It is a really hard question to answer. I think that for alot of people the live set might be a bit more artistic as their is a whole visual aspect to it and showmanship to it. I couldn\’t drink a beer during it, it isn\’t as loose as a drum and bass dj set, so it is much more of a show — and in that way I feel as if it is more artistic for me.
John C: Drum and Bass seems to be a genre that has been able to retain a loyal fan bass and avoid some of the downfalls associated with the rise of electronic music\’s popularity. What is it about Drum and Bass that has allowed it to remain both niche and consistent to it’s appeal?
Netsky: I see that loyal kind of look to it much more in America than I do in Europe, and also in the UK. There are definitely a lot of dedicated fans here. There are some real — I mean if you look around the venue you can see some older people here that you know have been listening to drum and bass every fucking day for 50 years of their life — and that is amazing. I do try to appeal to the mainstream and bigger crowd than just drum and bass. 40% of a set is drum and bass and the rest is different music. I really wish I wasn\’t labeled a \’drum and bass artist\’ as I am here in America, but that is the way it is. Still I am super happy and blown away by all of the great drum and bass scenes in America. That seems to show that there is a lot of meaning and soul in the music for a lot of people as a lot of drum and bass has a lot of feeling. Maybe it does more for those people, it connects to you in a way that is different than say a Martin Garrix set.
John C: As someone who has performed in destinations all around the world, do you have a favorite place to perform?
Netsky: On this tour we played in Santa Anna and that was one of the best shows we played as a band. Coachella in America was really amazing, one of the best experiences in America so far. There is a large festival in New Zealand, which might be one of my favorite festivals. I like South Africa as well. I can probably give you a ton of places that I feel are my favorites.
John C: It\’s safe to say then that you have a bunch of favorite places scattered all around.
Netsky: Yes, I just love touring and hope I can do it for the rest of my life. I love the traveling and the culture shock and experiences.
John C: It seems you were able to achieve success relatively quickly as an artist. Looking back, what key moments do you think contributed to your success?
Netsky: Yeah, I was lucky enough to start in a period where myspace and other social media was available and an easy connection to labels and getting demos to people. It wasn\’t flooded by other producers, it was me and a couple other people in my country, now half the world is on them. I think that was my favorite. However I think it comes from identity a bit as well. You have to have a personality and be different than anybody else, even if you don\’t feel comfortable with it. Never copy anyone, make music that comes from you and is easily recognized as from you. That is the best advice I have ever been given before.
John C: Concerning the rise of electronic music culture and the clash seen between traditional electronic artists and those more garnered towards the festival scene, what are your thought son the current state of the music scene?
Netsky: Yeah man, I can\’t complain. I think EDM and electronic music, especially in America, is still super big and still climbing. Some parts of EDM are getting weird I guess, but there is so much new stuff poping up every day. The Mad Decent boys for example, I had spent 4 days on a boat party with Diplo and spent a lot of time in the studio with him, and he showed me so many new, cool artists that he is pushing forward and it gives you a lot of energy because you realize the music is not stuck anyway, everyone is still pushing it, everyone is still in search of the next big thing, and not copying everybody else. There is a lot of movement happening, and I think that is the best sign of a healthy scene.
John C: Earlier you had described how you wish to provide a story as the product of your performances, so we began to touch on this a bit already, but when a fan arrives at a Netsky show, what is the key experience or impression you want them to walk away from the show with?
Netsky: That is another really good question. The best way to tell this to EDM fans is that it is not a rave scene, it is a story and something I want to tell. I want to shock people. I want to hear people say \”Oh shit, what the fuck was that?\” I want to see them experience the drum solos and I want them to see that a genre like this can be played live and give it more of a human element. I want them to be blown away by the musicians. Most importantly, I want them to be happy – it is still dance music and I want people to dance and enjoy it.
John C: As we wrap up this interview, what does the future hold for fans of Netsky?
Netsky: I am working on some really crazy collaborations with a lot of my favorite artists ever — and it is super far away from drum and bass so I think it will shock the older fans a bit. I am very happy I have the chance to work with different people and take it to another steps. We will be looking a lot more of a song based album rather than dance floor orientated tracks.
John C: Sounds Awesome. I want to thank you again for taking the time to take this interview with us and for our fans.
Netsky: No problem, and thank you for asking some good questions.