Dubstep producer Flux Pavilion may reveal some uniquely British charm from time-to-time, like when he describes the part of his act that involves “jumping about, playing lots of fun, ridiculous music,” but his appeal is intercontinental.
Although non-dubstep audiences may know him best for the sample of his song “I Can't Stop” on Jay-Z and Kanye West's, “Who Gon Stop Me,” Flux (real name: Joshua Steele) has racked up some accomplishments in the dubstep world too, thanks to tours with Skrillex and work with artists like Datsik and UK singer Example.
RedEye caught up with Flux, 23, on a tour stop in New York and found out what makes a dubstep DJ different from a wedding DJ, how the “Watch the Throne” collaboration happened, and what the problem is with American food.
See him live at the Spring Awakening Festival: 8 p.m. Sunday, Da Main Stage
Some people make a big distinction between U.S. dubstep and British dubstep. Do you think there's any national distinction as far as the style of the music?
Maybe there's a bit of a difference in like the sounds that we use, on a general style of what producers are up to. But I think that's just kind of across the [board] with music in general, not particularly in dubstep. Like, an American hip-hop producer is always going to have a different style than a UK hip-hop producer. I think it's the same with dubstep, really.
What did you grow up listening to, and how did you get into music originally?
The main music I listened to was like Fatboy Slim and Prodigy and then bands like Super Furry Animals ... Acoustic, relaxing music is what I used to be into and still am into now. My taste in music is generally like Sigur Ros and Bon Iver and Vampire Weekend, and then I'm really into stuff like Grandaddy and Boards of Canada. Stuff like that is what I generally listen to now.
That's obviously pretty different from the music that you make. What got you started making electronic music?
I kind of started making electronic music because I was playing guitar and singing – I was like a singer-songwriter – and I realized I could make tracks to sing on using my computer, rather than having to record a drum kit and record bass and guitar. Which I didn't have any of the resources to do. I just did it all on the computer. So I started making electronic music that way, and then I realized I could take it further – without even having to sing and play guitar. That I could just make music on the computer. Then that turned into what I'm doing now, pretty much.
What do you think draws people to the live experience with electronic music?
I think it's about the music. It's about the music you play. DJing to me is about tune selection and how you go about forming the music. That's the most important thing. It just kind of works. I think right now with what everyone's doing, with the technology, people can be a little bit more intricate in what they're doing and really shape up a DJ set like it's a track. Which, like, if you watch Skrillex, with the way that he's got all his gear set up, he can actually really delve in and create a set. It's not just literally reeling off tracks like people imagine a DJ would be, like a wedding DJ or something like that. It's turning all the music into a new piece of music, essentially. I think that's what works about it.
Do people look at DJs now as pop stars versus being some guy behind a turntable? Is having a personality or an image important?
It's a possibility, but at the end of the day you have to want to be a pop star to be a pop star. I could be in a position now where there's a possibility of my going down that route, but – being a pop star, I would just [bleep]ing kill myself quite quickly, I think. It seems like an idea of hell to me. I know it's the same for Sonny [Moore, aka Skrillex] as well. I know he's kind of like just in it for the music ... I think there could be a couple of pop stars that could come out of this, but it's a personal choice to do that because you have to really go for it and kind of forget about your general integrity.
As far as pop production, it seems like a lot of electronic artists are being tapped for that. Do you think there's a market for producers like yourself to be producing songs for pop artists?
Yeah, there's always a market for it. That's exactly what it is: a market. That's the whole [bleep]ing point, really. You're trying to tap into a new market when you make music going for that. If it happens it happens. That's the easiest way to think about it. There's no point in taking what you're doing and trying to tap into a new market with new people, like “Ah, there's more people here, I can sell more shows, sell more tickets, get more money.” It's just kind of pointless. To me, if it happens to bring those people in, if they happen to find it – of course, with the Internet now, anyone can really find anything that they want. You just carry on writing.
We'll work the ideas that seem to sort of pop up and work at the time, but actively moving towards something which is just geared towards a career move just seems like the wrong thing to do with music. And it may be the reason why I don't end up doing anything or it could be the reason why I end up doing major stuff, I'm not too sure. That's kind of my view in all that. [I'm] taking what I'm doing and then giving it to other people, or I'm going to bring other people in to what I'm doing. And if they're not interested it's cool because what I'm doing is what I'm doing, and I'd rather just keep it like that. It's more fun. It's just mine.
Did Jay-Z and Kanye come to you and say they wanted to use your song, or did they just sample it?
That was the mad thing to me. They came to us and said, “Yeah, we're interested in using this track, can we get the parts?” And my initial reaction was like “Nah, I don't know if I really want to do this.” And the reason was because I was like, “They're pop stars, that's not really a world I'd like to move into, I'd rather keep myself to myself.” I thought I'd keep myself away from it all, but I still wasn't sure what I wanted to do just then. And then I was in New York at a club with Skrillex and it was this mad hip-hop party, and everyone was just going insane. The DJ was just dropping track after track, playing like 30 seconds of a track that people knew and people would go absolutely mental. I felt like I'd never heard the music before. And then Sonny was like, “Yeah, this is Kanye West.” I was like, “What the [bleep] is this? This is crazy.” Because from the UK, you've only heard of those artists through the pop charts.
There's really no thriving hip-hop scene in London – there is, but UK hip-hop. There's no kind of big, thriving American hip-hop scene in the UK, so I hadn't experienced that. But then all the sudden it clicked for me that Jay-Z and Kanye West aren't pop stars. They may be perceived as pop stars because of the kind of streams of media where I came across their music. But actually being in New York made me think I had the complete wrong end of the stick. So then I completely went for it at that point. I think it's cool. It's things like that that make me more interested in working with loads of other artists. But it's like the idea of, like, say David Guetta came up to me and was like, “Do you want to do a dubstep track?” – I kind of know what David Guetta is, and he's really good at doing that. But it's never really been my thing. If I happen to be in a club and someone's playing a David Guetta track, and this emotion surges out of me, and I'm with the people getting really into, then I'll make the phone call like “can we please do this?”
But I kind of have to experience something for myself. Otherwise it just kind of seems like pop. Which may be what you're talking about with dubstep artists beginning to be like pop stars because maybe that's how we can look to some people. But then you've got to just come inside and actually experience it for yourself and really feel what it's all about.
Yeah, I'm not using pop star in a negative way, but more in the sense that people might be drawn to seeing the personality of the DJ on stage.
No, no, I was just thinking, actually thinking about it. And the idea of a DJ being deemed as a pop star. I suppose if I made the track and then it got in the charts somewhere and I've never played any shows there then everyone would think that I was a pop star. It'd be the exact same thing as what I did with Jay-Z and Kanye West, which is kind of an interesting thought. It's not something you really think about when you're sitting in your bedroom writing music.
How long ago did you start making electronic music?
Probably about seven years ago.
It's interesting that you're pretty young, and Skrillex is pretty young – he's also 23, right?
He's 24, but we've got the same birthday. January 15.
I guess that's the magic day if you want to be a dubstep producer.
Yeah. It's annoying that he's 24 because if he was 23 then we would be the same age, born on the same day, and I'm from the UK, he's from the States. It would have been a lot more powerful, I think, that fact.
It's cool that dubstep is a pretty new genre and the people making it are pretty young people. Where do you see it going in the future? Any idea where, career-wise, you could see yourself going?
I think – because I just kind of made all my tracks in my bedroom and then started post them up online, and that's what the majority of the dubstep community was doing – I think whatever the kids in their bedrooms are making and posting online will be what it is. There's no way to possibly predict. No one could have predicted two years ago that dubstep would be doing this, so it'd be silly to try to predict something else. I think it's all in the hands of the producers now, pretty much in the hands of the kids making music and whatever they make. And if it's good then everyone will like it.
Is there anything culturally here in the U.S. that's really weird to you? Food or anything?
There's salt on everything. Literally salt on everything I come across. I could lick a tree and it would be covered in salt, I swear. That's the main cultural difference, oddly enough. Americans say that English food is bland, but that's because we use like ten percent of the salt that you do.