To every downside, there is an upside, according to one of the infamous pioneers of UK drum and bass, DJ SS, also known as Leroy Small. With the music industry gradually going down the toilet in the midst of the digital evolution, the decline of record sales has also allowed for much more creative freedom and experimentation for artists who no longer depend on selling units.
It's a welcomed change for veterans like Small who have seen the rise and fall of both the drum and bass and dubstep genres. "I've been trying something different than drum and bass," he states. "One of the reasons is because I want to experiment more, but it's also because drum and bass has lead into this dubstep thing which everyone's trying to jump on at the moment. I don't need to jump on the dubstep band wagon, thanks. The thing that I don't like about it is that it's got no soul; it's just a load of noise. I love the idea of dubstep - the tempo is great but a lot of people think it's just about twisting up the bass lines to make it sound like aliens attacking people or something. It doesn't sound like music anymore and you're just losing the concept of what it was meant to be about. When drum and bass gets tech-y, you might as well just make tech, period."
It's about moderation, according to Small, who claims that up-and-coming DJs and producers are simply thinking too technical and crushing the heart and soul of what the music was meant to be about.
"A good example is the pop music stuff - in moderation, the dubstep could sound okay, but you hear it in these cheesy songs and it's just extreme!" laughs Small. "You can make the dirtiest bass line and get the cleanest mix, but if you're losing the heart and soul of it, it's just rubbish and you've lost what he music was supposed to be about from the start. I'm just not going to even bother touching the dubstep thing, to be honest. One of the projects I've been working on at the moment has a drum and bass feel to it but with soulful, hip-hoppy vocals and rough bass lines. I've been experimenting with a lot of different styles. The music industry is so messed up at the moment; it's no longer about sales anymore, so we don't have to stick to the same formula. That's a good thing, by the way, because it gives people more creative freedom to be experimental."
In a lot of ways, Small feels like he's come full circle as experimentation was what attracted him to the drum and bass genre in the first place some two decades ago. "Because you can download stuff for free now, people are really letting loosing on what they really want to do, and some of the music coming out is getting really interesting!" he enthuses. "At the same time, you're hearing a lot of crap as well. I've heard it from Australian promoters in recent years - it used to be that you'd have to be quite established to be able to play in Australia, but now you get all kinds of little producers that haven't earned their stripes coming into your country and the promoters there are saying the quality has gone downhill. Still, at least people feel they have that freedom to experiment, even if it's not brilliant sometimes. Mostly, the experimental stuff does sound great. It's the experimental factor that was the reason why I got into drum and bass at all. Back in the day, we took bits and pieces and styles from every single genre then we joined them up so it sounded like something you'd never heard before. Then it got too predictable and it got too synth-y and it lost its soul when it got too computerized."
While Small claims he's working on three separate, full-time projects this year - all the while constantly touring, too - he reveals that Australia will be the first country to hear the results of his vocal project in the next couple of months. "I'll be premiering loads of those new tracks in Australia, just before it comes out around October, November," he says. "Right now, I'm all about making music that catches my vibe. I've been trying to write more songs now because you can always do an instrumental track, but actually writing a proper song, getting a vocalist, recording vocals, mastering the tune - it's a totally different process than just twisting some knobs behind a computer! I've had to learn the art of making music from start all over again thanks to this vocal project."
First up on the cards, however, is visiting icy cold Russia. According to Small, the country is actually everything but what you'd expect. "Russia is probably the biggest market for drum and bass - it's hot! These days we do about at least five parties a year in Russia which are just insane! In 2003 I got asked to play at a party there and I was a bit skeptical because I didn't know anything about it, but when I got there, there was 7000 people in the techno room and over 3000 in the drum and bass room, and it was for just me and the headliner! I thought, if drum and bass can pull these kinds of numbers, imagine where we could take this. I also try to spend two days in each play I play and check out the culture and appreciate the places more. I used to just play, go to a party, go back to the hotel and get on the plane the next morning. These days I don't drink, I don't do drugs, so I fully appreciate what this job offers."
DJ SS [UK] plays Miss Libertine on Saturday July 9.