Noisia spoke with Marko Kutlesa about background, influences, their famed Prodigy remix and about the album which their current spectacular audio visual show is built around.
Date published: 4th Jul 2017
Image credit: Rutger Prins
It takes a special kind of artist, a special kind of vision, dedication and appeal for an artist to transcend a niche area of dance music. The Prodigy have done it, The Chemical Brothers have done it and Daft Punk have done it. Dutch trio Noisia, despite having only been in existence for less than a decade and a half, have also achieved such.
Though they began life as a drum n' bass trio, releasing on labels such as Moving Shadow, Renegade Hardware, Metalheadz, RAM Records, Hospital Records, Renegade Hardware, Subtitles and Shogun Audio, their intricate and superbly produced sounds have since stretched far beyond the genre, onto the soundtracks of popular video games and film soundtracks, all via their own Vision Recordings.
They each record in several side projects, run two side labels - Division and Invisible Recordings - and have remixed or produced the likes of Hadouken! Wiley, The Prodigy, Amon Tobin, Skrillex, Katy Perry, Korn and Deadmau5. They released their debut album Split the Atom in 2010 which was followed in 2013 by the I Am Legion album, a collaboration between Noisia and Foreign Beggars.
Despite being leaked online prior to its official release, Noisia's 2016 album Outer Edges earned them Best Producer, Best Album and Best Video awards at the Drum and Bass Arena Awards, plus Best Album at the UK Drum And Bass Awards, and contributed towards them receiving the Beatport award for Best Selling Drum Bass Artist.
Noisia's most recent activity has been the continued and selective global tour of the spectacular Outer Edges audio and visual show. For these performances the band have themselves remixed material from Outer Edges and earlier Noisia releases. Five of these remixes 'Voodoo', 'Tommy’s Theme', 'Dead Limit', 'Diplodocus' and 'Surfaceless' have, due to popular demand, just been released on a new EP by the band.
Following Glastonbury festival (watch the video from that below) and prior to shows at Leeds and Reading Festivals this August bank holiday and prior to the imminent release of Noisia's remix of What So Not's 'Divide & Conquer', Marko Kutlesa sat down with Martijn and Nik from Noisia.
What kind of formal music or production education have any of you had?
Martijn: I studied composition and production in music school here for about three years. Is it called music school? Music university? It's called conservatory here.
Would that have been classical music?
Martijn: It was a bit of everything. It wasn't necessarily electronic music production, but composition and production education. Everything from classical, counterpoint, jazz band recording and production, choirs, all kinds of stuff.
Did students have to choose a particular instrument as their chief one?
Martijn: No. Most of those studies are based around one instrument and then you have side courses, but our main focus was composition. I also had piano, choir and drum classes, but not one instrument that was my main thing. I played classical piano before.
And you Nik?
Nik: The only thing I did was rent a drum kit when I was 16. I had it for five months. I think Thijs played the recorder in elementary school.
Were there any places you went clubbing that particularly influenced you when you were becoming interested in dance music?
Martijn: No. That was before we ever went clubbing. But, after we started, me and Nik went to London. It was supposed to be for a week but we stayed and extra week to attend a Renegade Hardware party. That was our first drum n' bass party with a big line up, outside of our country. You wouldn't find a line up like that here so we were very excited to go.
Nik: Loxy & Ink, Universal Project, Raiden. Maybe Mampi Swift? But Martijn and Thijs had already played in Budapest by that point.
Martijn: Yes, but it wasn't a big drum n' bass line up where we'd been playing.
Nik: If I have to think of our clubbing experiences that helped shape us before we were musicians there were a few places in our home city which had drum n' bass nights on. There was one night called Subsonic and a couple of other clubs would sometimes have drum n' bass nights.
When you were starting off, which UK drum n' bass producers impressed you?
Nik: Ed Rush & Optical, TeeBee, Stakka & Skynet, Bad Company, Cause 4 Concern, Konflict, Dom & Roland, Matrix and the labels Moving Shadow, Renegade Hardware, Subtitles.
What thoughts went through your mind when you were asked to remix The Prodigy and how do you go about remixing such an iconic sound, an iconic band?
Martijn: Nik first remade the whole thing.
Nik: Yeah. No parts. There was this dude on the internet who had already resourced the samples, but his EQing was a little bit off. He didn't recreate the 303 riff, which isn't actually a 303 and that was very difficult to recreate. I remember spending about two weeks and trying again every day with a different approach to try and get that sound sort of similar.
But it's still a crown on our career. That's the track we used to hear out in clubs. That album is probably my favourite Prodigy album 'Fat Of The Land'. They're our heroes, so it was an amazing opportunity. I remember thinking that I wanted to stay quite close to the original, the vibe of it, but to make an alternative version of it, an update, so to speak.
Why do only two of you tour?
Nik: Because I hate DJing. I've done it a few times but it doesn't work for me. The problem I have is that I can't channel the audience's energy and I feel that's kind of the point of being a DJ. If you can't do that then you're just standing there, wanting to observe and people are looking at you expecting you to channel energy. I found that very difficult.
I had a few shows and things were OK as far as I was following some kind of script, but as soon as I lost it I just wanted to go away. I didn't want to be there. That was an extremely strong sensation. I just couldn't really get over that. Maybe as I'm a bit older now it would not be so bad? At that time I was not actually afraid to be on a stage and talk, for example. But the DJ thing? I just couldn't do it.
Martijn: However, now we are doing a bigger production show, we're actually all on stage, the three of us. So, Nik does tour now, just not as a solo tour DJ.
Nik: I do the live visuals in the show. I also did that for the I Am Legion project, which was the three of us on stage plus Foreign Beggars. I do enjoy doing that stuff.
You sometimes work separately in three different studios. Do you ever produce material that you like, which you think is good, but which just doesn't sound like Noisia?
Nik: Ha! Yeah, all the time.
Martijn: We have several side projects. In some, one or two are involved. Not so many anymore where all three of us are involved. We do all kinds of stuff. And sometimes when we try and do some stuff that isn't Noisia, it turns out to be pretty close or a fresh direction for Noisia or the other way around.
Is the workload evenly shared by you all in all aspects of studio work or do you each have different strengths and abilities?
Nik: We don't work exactly the same way. We don't like exactly the same things, so naturally you get a divide of work and energy. It's very hard also to quantify it. For example, if you look at Thijs, who has bought a lot of modular gear which cost a lot of money and cost a lot of time, he's recorded a shit load of samples that are now in our library and which often find a way into a song. They can be the random element that really make a song work. But all the hours that it took and all the money that it cost? How do you quantify that?
Basically how we collaborate is by individually setting up ideas and then finishing them together.
I guess it would be easier to quantify if you were able to say “Well, he's the songwriter, he's the studio production genius.” But I guess it just doesn't work like that with you guys?
Is an intimate knowledge of studio equipment and its possibilities ever an advantage in engaging in conversation with attractive women (or men) that you would like to know better?
Nik: Yes! It is. My girlfriend sometimes reminds me of a moment when we'd just met, when I was sitting down with her in a bar somewhere, trying to explain some productions stuff to her. She completely didn't get it, but she did think it was really hot, so it worked.
Martijn: Not for me! Not interested!
Do you still get to make the kind of music you want, like you did when you first started? I guess I'm asking whether your immense success and therefore the expectation now dictate to some extent what a Noisia release can be?
Nik: Yeah, it does. It definitely does. There's a lot of history. But it's also your own history, your own body of work. It doesn't just determine it, it also determines what it can't be. Because if you've already written a certain song, we don't want to write the same thing twice. Some artists are happily doing that, but we have an energy against that. So, it narrows it down. And we deliberately try to break it open a little bit with something that is slightly different.
We've made quite a few efforts to stay mobile in that respect and not just become, for example, a drum n' bass name. Our radio show is an example of that. Playing all this different music and opening it up. Also, releasing stuff that is maybe in the vein of the things we've played on the radio. So, yeah, we're conscious of the history but we try to stay mobile. And not get bored.
When we first started recording, making a drum n' bass tune that sounded right was like climbing a mountain and the first time you get it right is amazing. But once you've done those things, that's not a rewarding challenge any more so you have to find that elsewhere. That can sometimes be pretty difficult. Noisia had become quite narrow up to the point where we did our last album 'Outer Edges', which broke it open again. We did the audio visual show and the radio show, with more genres and our labels, so in the last two years we've really been trying to expand it again.
Before he became well known, Skrillex came to stay with you guys and your manager. What did you see in him to want to invite him to hang around and what do you think were the best bits of advice you gave him?
Martijn: I think the very first time we got an email from his management, asking if we wanted to work with him, we weren't too excited about it. He was literally just some guy from America who was a Noisia fan and that wanted to work with us. He'd been in some kind of band that we hadn't heard of.
But then I played a show in Miami, for the WMC, and I ran into him there. And he was just the nicest guy ever. So, I emailed back and said we should let this guy come over and that's what we did. He was supposed to stay for a week and he ended up staying five weeks. We just worked on songs that he had already written and he wrote songs there with us. He played us some of his own productions that he was already messing around with in Ableton, some bootleg mixes he was doing.
Nik: He had just done that 'My Name Is Skrillex' EP. Just finished it.
Martijn: Yeah, but no one had really heard of him. He'd just started to do Skrillex as a little thing on the side, for fun. He actually did a really shitty club night here. We hooked him up with a useless DJ slot, where the promoter actually took the main slot as a DJ. He had Skrillex open for him.
It's quite funny because now he's one of the biggest artists in the world. He also sent us an e mail with the attachment FM8 Test, because Nik was showing him the FM8 synthesizer at the time, and that went on to become 'Nice Sprites'
Nik: He started working on that in our vocal booth.
Martijn: Yeah. He finished a first draft of it when he went back home. Now it has 270 million plays on Youtube.
Nik: I remember hearing the 'My Name Is Skrillex' EP and thinking that the production was a little bit crude but that it could really do well in that scene. It sounded to me like that scene already existed, but I hadn't really heard much of that music. But he was actually the one that made it exist. I didn't realise that at the time. Sometimes we can be incredibly bad A+Rs, because we probably could've signed some of his work at that time.
How did you find out that Outer Edges had appeared online and did it affect the show you were immediately about to do?
Martijn: Actually I think our management knew that whole day or at least for a few hours and they didn't want to tell us as we were about to play that show for the very first time. And then 10 minutes before the show I checked my phone and I had received an e mail from one of the Teddy Killerz guys who said “Yo, your album has leaked. I just found it.” So, that was that.
Nik: The hour before our show started was already nerve-wracking because it was our first time and there were a lot of technical problems, even until the third tune in. It was a couple of years off my life span, I think. So, the fact our album had leaked, at that moment it was like, OK, that sucks, but THIS is really stressful. It wasn't great timing. I personally keep a distance from the mechanics of the record market, how many units we sell etc. So, I didn't have a big knee jerk reaction.
Martijn: I felt pretty bad about it because we had actually thought about and planned the whole thing. It had taken us a bit longer to finish the album than we expected, we had the show to do. We wanted to release vinyl, which takes 16 to 18 weeks to produce, so we'd had the choice of releasing it gradually, or wait for the vinyl and release it together, but we had to announce it because we wanted to play a lot of it in the show. So, instead of it all coming out simultaneously we had a plan of slow releases over the summer, premieres on big Youtube channels and that kind of stuff. But suddenly that whole plan was gone.
Did you find out how the leak happened?
Martijn: We really don't know. All you can tell is that it wasn't a Soundcloud rip because the waveforms lined up exactly with our masters. It was either a send out we had done to press/DJs/distributor, so someone in our network or it could possibly have been hacked. We didn't watermark the audio, which is a mistake we won't be making again.
Nik: It's very common that people nowadays should share music electronically if they're excited about it. I guess there's an upside in that we got press out of it. I'd rather not it had happened because we had a really nice arc with the videos lined up, but we did get some press out of it and that did bring some attention to the album.
Martijn: The funny thing was some people went so far as to assume that we had leaked it ourselves. We could've done that, but it wasn't really in our best interest.
Well, it's nice to hear that you can find a positive in what sounds like a shitty situation. Are you going to be repeating the I Am Legion project?
Nik: We don't have any plans to do that as of now. But we do miss the experience. The bus tour we did was really awesome. Foreign Beggars are really awesome people. I like the idea of working with them again at some point. But everything has to align for that.