London drum and bass producer Xtrah has been punching out heavyweight productions for the past couple years for labels like RAM, Proximity Recordings, Subtitles Music, and Critical Music. And those tracks have seen heavy rotation from artists like Break, Ulterior Motive, BTK, TeeBee, and more. So we decided to get up to speed with the quickly rising star and gain some insight into his production practices. Check out his feedback below.
Can you tell us a little about your background? Where did you grow up, and where are you based now?
I’m a 25-year-old DJ/producer from London. I started DJing around the age of 11 and started producing around the age of 21 with releases on RAM, Critical, Symmetry, Subtitles, Dispatch, and more on the way.
What was your first musical obsessions?
Drum and bass tape packs and vinyl.
How did you get started producing?
I brought an iMac and Logic after messing around with Reason ReWired into Cubase for a year or so. Before that I also messed around with FruityLoops for a while, too, but I didn’t really get anywhere with those programs.
Is there any specific track (old or new) whose production amazes you?
All of Dillinja’s work. Other than him, Konflict, BC, Ed Rush & Optical, and Jonny L—they all amaze me.
Was there a point during your producing where you realized that you had settled on your own particular sound and style?
People tell me that I have a “sound,” but I don’t really think I have a certain sound as I always try to do different things. I know that I have my techniques down, so that may contribute to having a sound in a way, but I don’t hear it myself.
Where would you say are the main influences in your current productions?
All over the place, really. Just life in general inspires me.
Did you have any mentors when you were starting out producing?
No, not really. There were people who I sent music to, but the feedback was never really productive and wouldn’t help me get better at actually making music. Out of everyone I signed music to, I think I would have to big-up TeeBee for the best constructive criticism. He was quite helpful and knew what he wanted to put out, etc., but I have basically taught myself everything I know.
How do you explain your music to your family members?
Electronic dance music, as it’s probably the simplest way to explain it, I guess.
When you DJ live, what kind of setup do you use? How would you describe your sets?
I use CDs and I always try to incorporate all styles of D&B old and new and try to create a journey for the crowd. I think it’s important to play all the current stuff but also to educate the younger fans by playing older stuff. That’s normally the tunes that they are talking about on the internet the next day.
How did you get your first signing?
I made a bunch of tunes with Basher and half got signed to RAM and the other half to Subtitles UK. Then I continued my journey signing solos bits to labels such as Symmetry, Subtitles, and Critical.
Are you the type of musician who knows what kind of track you want to write before you sit down to make it, or do you create music more from a process of experimentation, trial, and error?
Deffo a trial-and-error-type producer!
When you sit down to make a track, what’s the first thing you typically do? How long does a track typically take you to make?
I always start with drums; they can take a day, a week, or a month to get right, but I can’t make a proper bassline unless the drums are right! The same goes for the track—if I get the drums right quick, the tune will start to write itself; if they take ages, the track will take longer. Once I feel I have a finished track I will start the mixdown stage, which can take months.
Where do you record?
I used to have a home studio in the front room and make most of my stuff in headphones, but now I actually have a place to go and make tunes and it’s quiet! I love it, but now I mainly make them on speakers, so I’m trying to retune my ears—but I’m getting there now.
Do you currently have a favorite piece of gear or software?
The Virus TI and the E-Mu sampler. I can’t choose between them—and don’t even try to make me.
Is there any gear that you don’t currently have but have been obsessed with owning?
Yes, two things: UAD Apollo and Audeze LCD-3 headphones (hint hint).
Are you a morning person or night owl?
Bloody both! I don’t have a choice. I DJ at night and go studio at night and have Uni in the day with two kids that wake me up every morning, no matter what time I go to bed… but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
What’s the latest trend in electronic music that you’ve noticed taking shape?
When you’re not listening to electronic music, what do you listen to?
My beautiful partner. She tells me what to do. (Someone please help me!)
When you’re not making or playing music, what’s your preferred pastime?
The Office (US), gym, and Mr. Goldie has recently introduced me to Bikram yoga, which is one of my new loves. It makes the gym feel like child’s play.
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing with your life?
Producing babies and eating Wimpy.
Tell us about your upcoming gigs and releases…
Gig-wise, I’ve got Fabric, Kingston, Poland, Dubai, and Bristol in the upcoming weeks. Release-wise, I have “Soundclash” out on Critical and my remix of Break’s “Something New” out on Symmetry right now. As for future releases, I can’t say too much, but there’s some big things lined up.