From hearing one of his tracks for the first time inside a club in 2003 (‘Strobe’, rewound twice by Andy C at The End) to headlining Glastonbury in 2010 (Saturday night on the fabled Glade stage to a rapturous reception), Nick Douwma’s rise through the ranks of underground jungle to become a major player in electronic music has been nothing short of spectacular. Initially known for air-punching, dancefloor dismantling drum & bass, Sub Focus has now become synonymous with music that draws from all corners of the electronic landscape, and has come to epitomise the ‘anything goes’ mantra of todays flourishing dance scene.
London born and bred, Douwma’s rise into the furthest reaches of the dance music stratosphere began when he first encountered jungle, at high school in the mid-Nineties. A friend played him a cassette featuring General Levy’s hit ‘Incredible’ and Douwma, at that point playing bass in a rock band, was completely taken under it’s spell. Shortly after this first introduction, The Prodigy – who were beginning to meld rock and dance music in new and exciting ways – also became a massive influence and the young Sub Focus began to lose interest in his studies and started spending more and more time in his bedroom in Holloway, creating music.
His ascent turned onto a steep axis, when in 2003, he signed his first tunes to d&b’s biggest label Ram Records, off the back of a CD:R handed to label boss Andy C by one of his friends whilst drunk. Despite this inauspicious introduction, so impressed was the legendary DJ by the music on it, he duly signed every track and invited Douwma to join the Ram family. Sub Focus’ tunes – expansive, fiercely creative, but made with the scientific precision of a military warhead – immediately stood out from the crowd and were soon being rotated by every major DJ in the scene, garnering airplay on mainstream radio, and drawing fans from throughout the globe. Singles like ‘Airplane’, ‘X-Ray’ (which reached number 60 in the national charts) and an all-conquering remix of The Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ meant that by 2007, Douwma was one of the biggest names in drum & bass.
The next logical step was an album. But as he’s shown throughout his short career already, Douwma wanted to push himself further and create something that was more encompassing than the often insular confines of drum & bass. Drawing on his love of all strains of dance music, from 80s synth pioneers Vangelis and Jean Michel Jarre, through dance leviathans The Chemical Brothers, to futuristic house and techno acts like Lindstrom and Matthew Dear, his eponymous debut album released in 2009 featured not only drum & bass but dubstep, old school breakbeat, bumping house and lashings of electro and rock, all brought together in a taut collection that could only have been made in the 21st century. It was an instant hit. The monstrous, Daft Punk-influenced album opener and first single ‘Rock It’ broke into the Top 40, with second single ‘Could This Be Real’ doing similar damage. The stunning ‘Splash’, featuring the vocals of Coco Sumner soon followed, and due to insatiable demand Douwma was called in to remix the likes of Deadmau5, Empire of the Sun and Dizzee Rascal by the end of 2009.
The walls and boundaries that once separated the different areas of dance music for so long have seemingly disappeared in the Noughties, destroyed by a new generation of clubbers and producers who are creating and consuming music in a completely different way. Sub Focus’ sound is the perfect reflection of this, with all categories of electronic beats brought together into a luminous, cosmic melting pot. He recently co-wrote and produced the track ‘Kickstarts’ for UK solo artist Example, which peaked at number 3 in the national charts, and he has also transferred his debut album into a stunning live show, playing festivals throughout the world, joining Pendulum on tour, and in 2010 wowing the revellers at Glastonbury.
The unforgettable show on the Glade stage was in many ways a conclusion to the first chapter in Sub Focus’ story. He has conquered drum & bass, created a ground-breaking, era-defining album, and has brought new school dance music further into the mainstream spotlight thanks to his unmissable live show. Douwma is already hard at work creating his sophomore long player, and given his track record thus far, it may well revolutionize dance music all over again. But then, would you expect anything less?