Dubstep producer/singer/guitarist Josh Steele (aka Flux Pavilion) is on a bit of a roll lately. The 23-year-old North Londoner and co-founder of Circus Records not only had his track “I Can’t Stop” featured on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s latest album (and in that super-viral Kony 2012 film), but he’s got a new single, “Daydreamer feat. Example,” out yesterday on Big Beat Records, a new full-length in the works, and he just made a big visit to BBC’s Maida Vale Studios to record a session with his full band for MistaJam’s 1Xtra program.
Before he hits the US tour circuit, where he’ll make a stop at Denver’s famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre on May 18th, Flux sat down to chat with us about his new album, his love for The Strokes and System Of A Down, and why the name Flux Pavilion is more significant than you might think.
What do you want people to take away from your music?
Well, hopefully pleasure—that would be a nice start. I’ve always been really interested in the emotional content that can be in music, and I don’t know if I’ve been listening to the right stuff, but I’ve never heard so much, like, really proper emotional dance tracks, especially within dubstep and drum & bass and stuff like that. So I’ve always aimed to try and get that a little bit. So if I can get people to rave and cry at the same time, then I’ve pretty much done my job.
In that respect, I think about old house music and how people always look to that as being a really emotional type of dance music. Do you ever see yourself producing house tracks?
I’ve worked on a few. It’s kind of like, dubstep’s what I’ve mainly been releasing, but in between working on all the tracks, I’ve done all sorts of stuff… and that’s kind of like the point of the album, is to get some of that stuff across as well.
So what’s the new album like then?
It’s on the emotional, epic, energetic tip—which a lot of my music has anyway—but rather than write tunes, I’ve tried to write songs, if that makes any sense. I’ve taken it from like a songwriter perspective—I’ve been singing a whole bunch, and playing guitar and live drums on a few tracks, and trying to really just take more of the stuff I’ve been working on the last couple years to a new level, and fit everything that’s been inspiring me into one record.
Who are the songwriters that you think of as inspiration for what you’re doing?
I think Julian Casablancas and The Strokes have always been a massive inspiration to me, because the way they put their chord structures together is just insane—that has always been interesting to me, and I try and get that in my tracks, just really focusing on the chord sequence and what you can do around that.
Prior to making electronic music, did you come from a punk- and guitar-band background?
I started off just playing guitar. Me and Doctor P were in a band together, playing like System Of A Down covers, just downloading tabs and playing Tool and stuff like that. Not really because that was the music I was into—I liked it at the time, but it was just really fun to play and quite easy to learn. Like Rage Against The Machine, they weren’t really that complicated, but it felt really good to play, so I was kind of into all that stuff, and then moved on to playing acoustic guitar and writing songs and playing in indie bands, and then got into a 10-piece jazz-funk band. But alongside all of this, ‘cuz I’d just hang around with Doctor P and Trolley Snatcha, all my friends were into dance music. I’d always just be playing guitar in the daytime and then we’d go out, have a few drinks, and listen to drum & bass. It was a part of my life that I never thought I’d dedicate a lot of my time to; I just really enjoyed it.
So when you did go out to hear D&B DJs, who did you like?
See, that’s the thing, I never went out. The first rave I ever went to—I’ve only ever been to one rave in my life and it was only about three years ago, and it was going to see Caspa and Rusko play at Fabric. And then the day after that was when I wrote my first ever dubstep track, and since then, I’ve only ever been to raves I’ve played at. I never even went to many gigs. I’d seen a few bands and stuff like that, but I mainly just played gigs. The first gig I ever went to was one that I was playing at in a cover band with Doctor P. I never really had a connection with how I perceived music in a live situation. It was more that I just loved writing it, and that was the most important thing for me. I was pretty oblivious to the culture of it. I didn’t even know that scenes really existed until I started getting into dubstep and seeing what people were posting on forums and stuff like that. I thought that music was music, and you just go into HMV and buy the album, listen to it, and like it. It seems quite naive now, seeing what I’ve seen, but it’s a nice way to think about it.
Tell me about where you grew up.
I grew up in the midlands of the UK, a town called Northampton, and there was literally nothing to do apart from write music, so that’s just kind of how I got into it. If you wanted to go into a pub, then there was a lot of them, but there’s no gigs, no real music scene—it’s quite strange, ‘cuz it was just me and my friends, and we all just loved writing music. My whole group of friends, we’d just smoke, talk about music, listen to music, and write music. There wasn’t a music scene to get excited about, so we kind of created our own, I suppose. It’s probably due to that why I never really got into any music scenes, because we always just kind of lived in our own bubble. And then the same thing when we started up Circus—not because we didn’t want to get involved in what was going on, it just seemed a lot more natural to us to just do what we felt, and what we thought was right, and what excited us.
You were just recording at Maida Vale Studios recently.
Yeah, it was really good, actually. ‘Cuz I just started another idea with a band, and with the album, I suppose, because when I started writing music, I was writing it from a band’s perspective, and when you’re writing in a band, you get really inspired by what other people bring to the table. So I’ve tried to go back into that mentality when I’ve been writing the new Flux Pavilion album, and I figured the best way to really get that across—to perform the music—is to put a live band together. So I just spent the past 12 months working out how it’s possible to perform our stuff. And then, yeah, we got some stuff together, had a few rehearsals, and did Maida Vale. That’s the first kind of glimpse into what I hope to do.
What’s the significance of the name Flux Pavilion?
Basically, how I got the name was like, the first band I was in—that I talked about earlier, our crappy System Of A Down covers band—we called ourselves Goo Lip. The way we came to that name is pretty much just by smoking loads and writing a whole bunch of names—like weird band names—on my guitar. And then we just kind of chose what we thought was the best one, and went with Goo Lip. I kept that guitar—annoying I sold it, but I should have kept it now—for a few years, and when I started writing electronic music, I needed a name, turned my guitar around, and chose Flux Pavilion, one of the ones that was on there. It bears no real significance in my life, but it kind of really does, ‘cuz it was like a part of my first ever guitar, which is like the core of what’s built me to be the musician that I am now. Which is pretty crazy, thinking about it; I’ve never really made that connection before, but maybe it is more profound than I first thought.
Well, you’re welcome!
On the new album, you say you’ve assembled a band for it. Do you like doing collaborative stuff a lot?
I don’t see collaborations as, you know—it can be perceived like you’ve got a track and, “Oh, let’s get this vocalist. They’re really hot right now.” I’ve never seen it like that. It’s more just like, if it’s an artist and I really respect all the music they’ve done, then it’s a real great thing just to be able to sit down and just jam out, you know. Like, imagine a guitarist that you’re really into—to be able to go play drums while he plays guitar. It’s the same to be able to get a vocalist in—to be with a person you really respect and write a song with them is just a really wicked thing. I try not to go into sessions thinking, “Oh, because it’s this person, we have to make something good.” You just kind of hope that you’ll get on, and it seems to work out really fun.
Are you used to singing on your tracks?
I did a release called ”Voscillate” and ”Night Goes On,” two early tracks. It was the release before ”Sweet Shop,” so it kind of fell under the radar a bit, but I sang on both of those. I think it was a bit early for me to attempt singing; I still needed to find my sound a little, but definitely over the past year I’ve found what I love to write, and what I’m kinda good at, so I figure it’s a good time to start singing again, and I don’t know what the people will think. I’ve actually started singing in my sets. So I’ll be DJing, everyone’s raving, and I stop and just pick up the mic and sing, and everyone just stands and stares at me. But it’s not like standing and staring and like, “Oh, what’s he doing?” It’s more just watching in this club environment, and then the tune drops and everyone just goes mental again. And then the verse comes, and I start singing, and everyone stops and stares. It’s really weird, but it’s pretty cool.
Are there some notable guests on the new record that we should know about?
Right now, locked in I’ve got DJ Fresh. I’ve got a track with Sway and P-Money on it. But we’re looking at the possibility of getting a few US rappers doing a version as well. I’ve got Belle Humble, she was on ”Cracks,” and Lisa Hart, the girl who was on ”Superbad.” She’s a good friend of mine—a friend at university who lived down the road, and when we did “Superbad,” it was originally a Michael Jackson sample, and we thought, “We definitely can’t use this,” so we had her give it a go, pressed “record,” and in one take she did it perfectly, so I figured I’d get her in for another track.
Okay, quick—three favorite tunes right now:
Flux Pavilion US Tour
5/10 NEW YORK CITY, NY – ROSELAND BALLROOM
5/11 RICHMOND, VA – THE NATIONAL
5/12 PHILADELPHIA, PA – FESTIVAL PIER
5/13 PITTSBURGH, PA – STAGE AE
5/15 CLEVELAND, OH – HOUSE OF BLUES
5/16 COLUMBUS, OH – BOMA
5/17 DETROIT, MI – ROYAL OAK
5/18 DENVER, CO – RED ROCKS
5/19 CINCINATTI, OH – BOGARTS
5/23 NORFOLK, VA – THE NORVA
5/24 RALEIGH, NC – LINCOLN THEATER
5/25 CHARLOTTE, NC – THE FILLMORE
5/26 ATLANTA, GA – THE TABERNACLE
5/30 NEW ORLEANS, LA – REPUBLIC LIVE
5/31 HOUSTON, TX – STEREO LIVE
6/1 AUSTIN, TX – AUSTIN MUSIC HALL
6/2 DALLAS, TX – QUIK TRIP PARK
6/3 TULSA, OK – CAINS BALLROOM
6/5 KANSAS CITY, MO – THE MIDLAND
6/7 WORCESTER, MA – THE PALLADIUM
6/8 HARTFORD, CT – WEBSTER THEATER
6/9 BALTIMORE, MD – FT ARMISTEAD PARK
6/10 LAS VEGAS, NV – LV MOTOR SPEEDWAY
6/13 SYRACUSE, NY – WESCOTT THEATER
6/14 INDIANAPOLIS, IN – OLD NATIONAL CENTRE
6/15 ST LOUIS, MO – THE PAGAENT
6/16 MINNEAPOLIS, MN – SKYWAY THEATER
6/17 CHICAGO, IL – SOLDIER FIELD