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The life of a touring DJing can be demanding to say the least, yet the constant stream of new sights, sounds, and scenes can also be a source of inspiration.
Ahead of another busy summer of festival shows, including Romania’s Electric Castle Festival, seasoned drum and bass talent, Metrik told me about how his experiences influenced his latest album, LIFE/THRILLS.
“I’m very lucky in that I get to travel to many places around the globe.” he explains.
“Every place I visit has an impact on me. I’m constantly taking in ideas and making music on the road, so inevitably these places find their way into my tracks."
Metrik is among the first wave of acts revealed to be playing the fifth outing of Romania’s Electric Castle festival. “I’ve played in Romania quite a few times over the years and it’s a beautiful country” he recalls. The titular castle in which the festival is set has earned itself the nickname ‘The Versailles of Transylvania’, and will welcome a host of DJs and live acts from 12th – 16th July.
“I once played in a Roman arena right in the centre of Bucharest” Metrik remembers. “It was a balmy mid-Summer evening and the atmosphere was incredible. I’ve also played in Timisoara at a huge rave in an industrial warehouse. Those guys really know how to put on a good party!"
Metrik will be flying the flag for drum and bass on Radio 1 this year, having recently been announced as one of the station’s resident DJs for 2017. He has pledged to represent the full spectrum of the genre; “I relate a lot to [its] diversity” he details.
He cites tracks circa 2008, by DJ Fresh and Pendulum as the spark that ignited his passion for the genre, and tracks like 'Tomb Raider', 'Vault', and 'Feel My Pain (Dillinja)' as being the soundtrack to his first experiences of clubbing.
“Me and my group of mates used to go down to Fabric religiously” he explains, “staying right until the very end when the lights came on.”
“I get quite nostalgic thinking about it.” he adds.
Returning to these memories of his early career, Metrik describes how drum and bass’ “futuristic nature” was “the key ingredient which got me completely hooked right up to this very day. It really resonates with my love of technology and music.”
As Metrik tells me more about the concepts behind some of his latest productions, it is apparent that he frequently draws inspiration from another place where technology and music find common ground: science-fiction film.
“I’ve always been a big sci-fi fan and I like to have elements of that in my music,” he notes.
“‘Cadence’, my collaboration with Reija Lee, has a dystopian theme. The lyrics are about two lovers who are torn apart by an oppressive government who censor feelings.
“Elsewhere, there’s Destination Earth which is about a spaceship returning home after an exploratory mission and with a malfunctioning navigation AI.
“That was one of the most fun aspects of making this album. With a lot of these tracks I had a concept to begin with.”
Metrik reveals how invested he can become in these concepts, as he recounts the process he undertook to create the Wild West inspired track, ‘Western Jam’.
“I wanted it to sound as authentic as possible” he explains. “So I immersed myself in Spaghetti Western films and Ennio Morricone scores for a whole week. I even went as far as scripting dialogue and composing an orchestral theme for it but that unfortunately didn’t make the cut!
“It is really exciting to try out different ideas, often the more ambitious the better. I love getting stuck in researching a track and planning it out! On the other hand, the simple club tracks like 'Fatso' took about four hours to write."
Considering Metrik’s clear passion for film scores, it is unsurprising to hear the producer admit that he’s “a huge John Carpenter fan”. The directors’ cult horror and sci-fi films “had a certain conviction and honesty which is sometimes lacking in modern films” Metrik explains. “They had strong cyberpunk values and dark, moody scores played on analogue synths. I’m often attempting to emulate this vibe in my tracks."
This fascination with retro sci-fi sounds led Metrik to reach out to synthwave masters Gunship, in the hope of a collaboration.
“It was a really exciting prospect to combine the aesthetic of synthwave and the high-energy production of drum & bass.” he tells me.
After sending over an outline of a track to Gunship, Metrik admits, “I was blown away when I heard what they sent back.
“The vocal was spine-tingling and the synths sounded so authentically 80’s. I’m sure we will work together again in the not so distant future.”
Though singles and EPs are often the favoured format for releases in dance music, it is evident from exploring the stories behind just a few of the tracks from LIFE/THRILLS, that the creative process of composing an album can still be rewarding.
“I’m absolutely overwhelmed by the support it’s been getting,” Metrik tells me. “People from across the globe have been getting in touch telling me how much they’ve enjoyed it. Every now and then I get someone who tells me one of the songs has made a big personal connection with them and that’s really touching to hear. I always felt this was the album I wanted to make.”
Metrik details one memorable gig where he saw one of these moments unfold before his eyes, whilst playing at Rise Festival in 2015 before LIFE/THRILLS had even been released. As his final track, Metrik played his collaboration with singer, Rothwell, ‘We Got It’, an epic soul ballad, and “A girl in the front row had her eyes closed singing her heart out to the lyrics.” he explains, “the funny thing is, nobody had even heard the track by that point!
“You know you are onto a winner when it connects with the audience even when they have never heard it,” he concludes.
“I’ve really found my own style with this album so I want to continue in this vein and see how far I can take it. The music of the 80’s is such a rich pool of ideas and I’m only just getting started in terms of sound design and composing with vintage synthesisers. Likewise, the neo-soul / J-Pop thing has been one of the most successful aspects of the album, with tracks like 'Chasing Sunrise' with Elisabeth Troy awarded Track Of The Day on BBC Radio 1 and playlisted on 1Xtra and Beats1. It feels reassuring to know that the sounds I am getting excited about in the studio reflect in the wider world with people responding so well to the tracks.”
Metrik will join Noisia, Nero and Alt-J at Electric Castle in Romania, from 12th – 16th July.
Metrik’s Radio 1 Residency, airs at midnight every fourth Thursday of the month, past episodes are available on demand via Radio 1 iPlayer.