Over the past couple of years Thomas Green has taken the drum and bass scene by storm. Effortlessly clean, yet hard-hitting production and energetic sets have made him – although one of the younger djs around – one of the most respected by ravers and artists alike. His sets are excitingly diverse and a treat for any fan of the 170bpm spectrum of music. In reference to his set at Critical Sound’s NYE party: ‘You can’t play an hour of rollers on New Years, that would be ridiculous.’
Rockwell‘s experimental style of production constantly pushes boundaries, drawing inspiration from punk-rock through to hip-hop. His debut album, on the way next year, will showcase his most creative work yet; we discussed the album, how making music can be like a video game and the current state of drum and bass.
How did you first get into djing Drum and Bass? What attracted you to the genre?
If I’m honest I wanted to be a hip-hop dj! In all seriousness though I was going to DnB nights at the time and my friend had a pair of 1210’s that he was pretty good on and I wanted to see if it was something I could get into too. My mum got me a budget setup for Christmas and after that I spent literally all of my money on records. My two main loves in music are hip-hop and hardcore Punk and I see DnB as the direct middle ground between the two – the speed and urgency of Punk with the swagger and attitude of hip-hop. The first time I heard it loud in a club I was hooked.
How long after you started producing did you arrive at a sound that you were happy with? How do you think that sound has developed up until now and where do you see it going?
I’m still trying, I’m never happy. The day that I’m happy is the day I’m not trying hard enough and I’m getting complacent. Producing is not like a computer game that you can complete, there is always more to learn, new techniques and equipment to master and ways to improve the quality of the sound. The challenge for me is to take what I hear in my head and make it come out of the monitors. The more knowledge you have of the setup and equipment you have, the easier this becomes, but it’s a limitless endeavour. I like to bring outside influences into my music and twist them up into a weird concoction which is inherently me. I’m the biggest music fan and I could never make drum and bass strictly influenced by drum and bass. I wouldn’t be true to myself if I did.
Your remix of Netsky’s ‘Come Alive’ arguably veered away from the genre. Did you purposefully want to experiment on that track and can we expect similar music in the future?
I don’t think it did though as I don’t see drum and bass as having a sound, I see it as a speed between 170 – 175 BPM and that track was written at 172bpm. Anything you can bring to the table at that tempo, if it works and sounds good then it is good as far as I’m concerned. I didn’t purposely set out to experiment in any way, and I never really do. I just remixed the track naturally in the way I thought sounded best.
It’s a track I’m really proud of as I love the contrast in the music, with the distorted basses and musical elements all fighting for space. One of the things I’m trying to do more and more is fit more actual music into my music, and not just write ‘beats’. I want to experiment with song structures and use vocalists a lot more. I never started out wanting to rehash one tune over and over again, and I haven’t done that. I’m constantly trying to push myself in the studio and I see this as the next step that I want to take.
Do you feel the urge to, like Alix Perez (Arp101) and Marcus Intalex (Trevino), start another alias to allow you experiment even more, or are you comfortable doing so as Rockwell?
I really don’t feel the need for another alias, as I think people have kind of come to realise that I’ll write or play anything regardless of genre based upon whether I think its good or not. My musical tastes are not linear in genre outside of ‘being Rockwell’ so I don’t see why they should be when I’m writing or playing. I feel lucky that I have a label that pretty much leaves me to my own devices and can see the direction that I want to go into and are supportive in wanting to get me there.
Is that freedom what has kept you releasing with Shogun since 2010? Do you have plans to start a label of your own?
A contract has kept me there! In all seriousness though I love all the guys at Shogun and couldn’t see myself being anywhere else. In the future I would like to have my own label and it’s something I have started discussing. I like the way Chase and Status run MTA, having a stable of artists and releasing music that they are feeling regardless of who it is by. This is something that I will look at once my album is out of the way though. There are only so many hours in the day and at the moment with writing, gigging, and trying to maintain something resembling a real life, I don’t know when I would find the time.
How important is it for the dnb scene that others also experiment? How do you see the strength of the scene in general at the moment?
I think people will do what comes naturally to them whether that is, experimentation or spotting an idea that has already been done and using that as a template and refining it in a more streamlined way – there isn’t a right or wrong way to go about writing music and people will do what they feel. I just do what I do and I couldn’t write music in any other way.
I think the scene is strong at the moment, the parties are getting better, and even though there are less labels around, the ones still putting out music have to keep the bar really high to survive which I think can only be a good thing.
Tell us about the album – how much will it be a reflection of the material you have produced to this day?
It will be a mix of everything I’m into whether it be drum and bass, electronica, B’more, juke, booty house, hip-hop etc. I’ve even got a Punk tune on there with Ed Friction playing guitar, KTEE playing the drums and label manager Dave Golder singing and it sounds amazing! I think early next year will be a little optimistic time-wise but there definitely will be more new music from me at the start of the year. One part of this answer may not be true though…
Like a lot of DnB artists, you’ve said you don’t listen to that much of it outside the club or studio. Does your production benefit from the fact that you get your inspiration from a wide range of music?
It wouldn’t be fair to say I never listen to it outside of the studio, it’s definitely on rotation with all the other genres that I listen to, it’s just that sometimes it’s hard to switch off from producer mode, where you’re analysing where everything is sitting in the mix, it can become quite stressful. I prefer to listen to things that sound like they were recorded in a dustbin in the mid 80’s and I can switch off from analysing mix downs and arrangements.
I think it’s always good to have a wide knowledge and passion for music if that’s the creative path you want to pursue. I think you can always hear a dnb tune strictly influenced by dnb and usually they don’t really do anything for me.
What have been some of the best sets you’ve seen and played in 2012, and what can we expect at Critical this NYE?
Ed Friction’s set at Outlook has to be up there as it was just perfect for that moment in time. Even though it was raining, our stage was rammed and the vibes were amazing. For me I really enjoyed both Outlook and the Shogun Audio warehouse party. Also Let it Roll in Prague was amazing and Dirty Dancing in Toulouse was a real pleasure to play at as everyone was so open and receptive to what I wanted to play. I really enjoyed the last Hardware at Electric in Brixton too for the same reason.
I think for NYE events it’s important to not get stuck in the mindset that it’s just another gig. I’ve been preparing a few specials to play and want to bring more of a party vibe to this one as it is New Years and not any old Friday. You can’t play an hour of rollers on New Years, that would be ridiculous, so I’m going to basically play a lot of stuff that I’m feeling with a view to having a lot of fun when I play.
Rockwell plays at Critical’s New Year’s Eve event, buy tickets here.