London, Bristol, Manchester…all great bastions of drum and bass music here in Britain.
However, despite a healthy scene for as long as most, Newcastle is very rarely spoken about in the same breath. This long-standing yet rarely publicised drum and bass region has been carving out itself a new reputation in recent years; one where the young producers have been driving the scene forward in a bid to take on the big boys.
Many of them barely out of their teens, artists like SKANTIA, Nectax, Hexa, Stompz, Kastro, Rantik, Jak and KL have all been spouting their own warped creations across the drum and bass circuit. Inspired by a slightly older generation of talent such as Tyrone and RED, as well as Newcastle’s rich history that boasts names like Craggz & Parallel Force, Hidden Agenda, Original Sin and Sub Zero, drum and bass on the Toon is as strong as it’s ever been.
Perhaps the two most notable exponents of drum and bass in the Newcastle area are SKANTIA and Nectax. Both emerging on the scene half-way through the tennies, SKANTIA has become a regular face on the Ram Records roster, while Nectax has clocked up releases on the likes of Overview Music and Bladerunner’s Hi-Resolution Recordings.
The pair first met at school, before growing closer by hanging out at the skatepark in their later teenage years. They explain despite the city’s rich history, a period of calmness following the legendary golden years helped inspire them to take up production and stamp their own mark on the drum and bass scene.
“We caught the back of a big wave of Newcastle producers so there wasn’t much to go on,” Nectax explains. “We have always done our own thing and played around with whatever we’ve wanted.” SKANTIA agrees, explaining: “When we started out, we didn’t really know any other producers or anything. We were just the local jump up DJs!”
It’s these humble beginnings as local residents at events such as Dilate that gave the two artists their first foots in the door. “We were playing a lot of b2bs around that time,” says Nectax, the slightly younger of the two. “We were helping build the local scene at the time. They were really fun years.”
Following a period of time establishing their names on a local level at a number of new events that were beginning to pop up across the city, the pair took their first steps into production. Although first emerging on the jump up circuit, the two have continually explored a range of sonic aesthetics, never wanting to be pigeonholed with their sound. They firmly put this down to being products of their environment. “The diversity in our sound really comes from the groups of friends we mutually shared,” says SKANTIA. “Everyone in the group would love something slightly different.”
However, despite this camaraderie, the pair had never released music together before their recent collaboration on the soaring ‘Providence’ that came out on Ram in the middle of May. With a delicate vocal and wobbling bass reminiscent of Artificial Intelligence’s sun-kissed ‘Desperado,’ the track perfectly juxtaposes the new techier sound with a nostalgic ode to the sound of the late noughties.
After a number of previous experiments that did not quite make the cut (including an overrided file which they promise would have been a banger), the pair found the track came together naturally. “I think the styles came together perfectly,” says SKANTIA. “You can definitely see the technicality in the tune but also the side where it’s just pure vibe. It’s the perfect contrast.” Nectax agrees, highlighting the variety of the sound in the track as the component that pleased them the most.
‘Providence’ is the second teaser we’ve heard from SKANTIA’s forthcoming debut album on Ram. The only collaborative track, SKANTIA instead wanted the project to be an expression of where he is with his sound right now. “It’s a lot of music that I’d have liked to have released in the past but haven’t really had the chance to,” he says. “It wasn’t like I set out to do an album, but I had so many tunes it all fell into my lap so easily.”
Ram’s output in recent years has primarily been focused on an extensive schedule of single releases, so for them to endow the young producer with an album shows the trust they have. SKANTIA intends to repay this faith, explaining he wants to really show what he’s capable of doing. “It sounds cheesy, but I really want to take the listener on a journey. The album goes from the more minimal and rolling to some really, really heavy bits before dropping back into the softer stuff. There’s even a 125 bpm housey tune.”
Nectax has also been busy with his own projects. This earlier idea of not pigeonholing themselves with their sound returns again, as he explains he’s been working at slower bpms. Inspired by the likes of Sully, Coco Bryce, Tim Reaper and Sherelle, Nectax has been enjoying making jungle at 160 bpm, with a self-released single set for near release and another on a label very close to both his and his dad’s heart coming out later this year. “I have a lot of fun making that sound and actually find it easier to make as well because it’s more about just the vibe,” he explains.
He has also been working on an EP for Guidance, the label run by the soon-to-be departed Ulterior Motive. “I really like Guidance’s sound and aesthetic,” Nectax says. “It’s almost like Headz but for a new generation.” The EP will also feature collaborations with Manchester-based Sl8r and Tyrone.
Tyrone has been a mainstay of the Newcastle drum and bass scene for a number of years, bridging the gap between the generation of producers who came before and the exciting myriad of young talent who have begun to take the reins. In recent years he has found a home on both Metalheadz and Guidance, with scorching projects such as 2019’s mighty ‘Severance’ EP demonstrating his dynamic talents.
Nectax sees Tyrone as highly influential for drum and bass in the city, not just as a superb talent in the studio but as a source of inspiration due to his extensive involvement in the club landscape earlier in the century. “Whenever I see him, I quiz him on what the drum and bass scene in Newcastle was like before,” says Nectax. “He’s always got some really good stories about the golden years.”
Any drum and bass fan in the Newcastle area, new or old, would tell you the golden years undoubtedly fell when the iconic Turbulence club night was in full effect. Co-run by James Phobia, also known as one third of Chroma, for fifteen years between 1998-2013, Turbulence gave the punters in Newcastle the chance to see some of the finest talent from around the world.
“Turbulence was an institution for drum and bass music in the North East,” says Tyrone, a resident at the night for six years and another third of Chroma. “It championed the biggest DJs in the world and gave the local and wider community the opportunity to see them. It was the central hub of the wider community where everyone got together. I feel immensely privileged to have experienced it. Without it I wouldn’t be involved in the drum and bass scene at all.”
Another producer who fondly remembers the Turbulence years is RED. He came through at the back end of the golden years before going travelling. Since returning home, he has hit the ground running and dedicated more time to his craft, particularly since the pandemic arose. Most recently, he released an explosive two track single on Newcastle-based label Northern Line Recordings. He calls Turbulence the “Mecca of drum and bass nights,” adding: “I could talk about it all day long and list all the awesome memories, but to sum it up, it was one of a kind and helped make who I am today. It is everything I love in the scene.”
Since those legendary Turbulence days ended, Newcastle has not been short of options when it comes to drum and bass nights. Before the pandemic, more and more events were popping up across the city, entertaining students and locals alike. “To be successful, tapping into the student scene is really important,” explains Nectax. However, both he and SKANTIA are quick to point out that unlike the more established techno scene (that boasts names such as Patrick Topping and Richy Ahmed), drum and bass nights are made up of an even mix of students and local heads, even if the age demographic is still quite young.
Another of the leading contingent of young producers in the Newcastle scene, Stompz truly announced himself in 2019 with the gargantuan ‘Foghorns on the Tyne’ EP on Souped Up. “While Turbulence was pivotal in shaping the scene we’ve got today, now the club really pushing drum and bass is World Headquarters (aka Worldies),” he says. “The truly special nights always end up there.” Stompz recalls one such night, where the trio of Bladerunner, Serum and Voltage performed at Worldies together, before they officially became Kings Of The Rollers. He cites it as an influential night in his own development as an artist.
The nights certainly don’t stop there. Nectax reels off a list of different crews that before the pandemic were all contributing to the city’s ever-enhancing reputation as a drum and bass hotspot. Lively Up, Motion Sickness, Asylum, Gunfinger Sounds, Rush; all offering a slightly different flavour of drum and bass sound. This is soon to grow even bigger, as Nectax highlights his desire to help start a night focusing on the 160-jungle sound that he likes so much.
The name Dilate is mentioned once more, but this time not by Nectax and SKANTIA. While the pair originally made their name as residents at the night, the baton has now been handed to a new group of producers stamping their mark on the heavier end of the spectrum. Already with an enviable CV, 22-year-old Hexa boasts releases on the likes of 31 Recordings and Biological Beats. “Pre-covid, me, Kastro, KL and Scudd were residents at Dilate. They push that crisp rolling/jump up style which kept the nights so vibrant,” he says.
Hexa continues: “The good thing about Newcastle being so small is the promoters talk to each other and don’t really have to compete to get clubs packed. This brings a real diversity with the styles and vibes of the nights.” This is the key factor when it comes to the scene in Newcastle; artists working closely and inspiring each other, rather than competing. “Everybody knows everybody, and help is only just a message away. We’re all mates too, so the positivity rubs off a lot,” he finishes.
“We have a lot of artists for quite a small area,” adds KL. “We’re really close which is sick to be a part of. We all push each other on and support one another.” KL’s monstrous offerings have already seen him release full EPs on Octave Recordings and Pick n Mix, with another project imminently arriving courtesy of the Grid Recordings.
“The drum and bass community in Newcastle is super tight,” agrees Rantik. Barely out of his teens, he was truly unleashed with his ‘Persona’ EP on Incurzion Audio, a Welsh label who has repeatedly championed talent on the Toon in recent years. “Everyone knows everyone because it’s such a small city so there is a lot of friendly competition within the scene. It’s always a lot of fun to show your mates your tracks for them to ridicule you,” he laughs. This good-natured ribbing seems to be a common theme of the Newcastle scene’s success. Stompz sums it up, saying: “it’s a group of people doing amazing things, feeling comfortable with each other, dancing, laughing, supporting each other!”
This support for one another is perhaps best seen by the recent formation of Northern Line Records; a label set up by Rantik and Jak to give artists in the city a platform to showcase what they can do. “Northern Line was based off the idea of exposing up-and-coming talent in Newcastle but across the UK and internationally,” explains Rantik. “We believe there is so much that can be done to continue to build the scene up here which hopefully will inspire other people to try and start producing themselves.”
The label has already seen releases from Newcastle heads such as RED, Stompz and Hexa, as well as the two label bosses themselves. Jak is another artist in his late teenage years, who has already put out his own music on Nuusic and Audio Addict. The co-owner adds: “I believe it’s so important for Newcastle as there wasn’t really any drum and bass labels based here. It’s a good way for smaller artists from here to get their name out there.” He picks out two artists, Myo:sin and Hillsy, as another two names to watch for the future.
While other drum and bass cities have established a common sound, Kastro believes that Newcastle is unique in how every producer is offering something slightly different. He himself has taken his roaring basslines and scattered drums to a host of labels, perhaps most notably following in SKANTIA’s footsteps to Ram’s PROGRAM imprint. “Everyone here is going down their own paths and has their own sound and it’s so refreshing to see,” he says. “I feel not a lot of places have that sort of versatility.” This is echoed by the older Tyrone, who notes: “there’s a lot more variation in styles at local nights, as there’s a wider spectrum of drum and bass out there now.”
While a number of the producers cite the recent successes of SKANTIA and Nectax as key inspirations for them, others note the rich drum and bass history in the city as a key driving force. “The history is very deeply entrenched in our culture here,” says Stompz. “We have a real culture in terms of junglism and drum and bass. The classic sound definitely has a lot of influence on our sound up here.”
KL notes Sub Zero, Taxman and Original Sin as producers who helped kindle his own love for drum and bass; three artists who all began and solidified their reputations in Newcastle. Being slightly older, RED looks back further, noting the influence of artists such as Craggz and Parallel Forces.
All this shows that Newcastle is very much a drum and bass city, so why does it not get spoken about in the same breath as places such as London or Bristol? SKANTIA says that although the essential foundations have been laid, how far Newcastle is away from the rest of the country can leave them sometimes feeling quite isolated. “Because of the distance, we have thought about moving down south as we know it would definitely help out our careers in terms of getting more bookings and stuff,” he says. This is echoed by Nectax, who adds: “Part of me would love to stay in Newcastle forever and try and do what I can to help build the scene here, but another part knows that moving down south would really help me.”
Keeping the major names in the city is certainly important; however, Tyrone believes that this group of artists are already inspiring future generations. He also explains that as long as the fans are there in Newcastle, there will be a drum and bass scene. “There’s no scene without the people who support it,” he says. “If these guys keep pushing and inspiring others to follow, it can only get bigger.”
SKANTIA adds that for the city to truly be recognised in the same breath as London, Manchester and Bristol, there needs to be more generations beyond this one to come through and deliver on a national and international stage. “We all right now need to kill it, and then the next generation needs to come and do the same for Newcastle to be there,” he says. “I think five years is too short, but maybe in ten or fifteen years.”
However, for now, the current crop of talent are happy just doing their thing; hanging with their mates, supporting each other’s music, and having a laugh while doing so.
Nectax finishes: “When I’m walking around, I look around me at everything and I think Newcastle could really be a jungle/drum and bass city.” With the wealth of talent abundantly clear, the question surely isn’t if, but how long?