Ambitious may be an understatement in describing Belgian producer Boris Daenen, better known as Netsky. By the age of 23, he had released two innovative drum ‘n bass albums showcasing his brilliant brand of liquid funk and placing himself in electronic music’s elite as part of Hospital Records. Taking advantage of the energetic percussion and wobbling bass of DnB, Netsky layers cross-genre melodies that draw influence from soul, jazz, hip-hop and funk making for an undeniably infectious sound and living up to the origins of his moniker.
In 2012, shortly before releasing his second album, Boris turned his attention towards performance assembling a band of talented musicians capable of keeping up with his fast-paced productions. Dubbed Netsky LIVE, the band consists of Netsky, keyboardist BABL, drummer Michael Schack, London’s Script MC and vocalist Billie. Not only is playing EDM live a tall feat from a technical perspective, but logistically it is a much more costly and risky endeavor. Nevertheless, Netsky, who could easily sell out shows worldwide as a solo DJ, takes this risk because he believes that it is the most powerful way to convey his music.
We caught Netsky LIVE at the intimate 1015 Folsom in San Francisco last weekend and it was without a doubt one of the most electrifying, energetic performances we have seen all year. The band seems fit for a stadium, which made seeing them in a smaller venue a special experience for the crowd whose feet were off the ground more often than not. With over two years of experience under their belt, every part of Netsky LIVE feels polished–Netsky takes on the overarching melodies, BABL absolutely shreds on the keyboard, Schnack keeps up with seemingly impossible breakbeats and Script gets the crowd amped as the musicians focus on their respective roles. Although Billie marvelously took on most of the vocals, at one point Boris even busted out the vocoder breaking his mostly quiet on-stage demeanor. We were honored to have the opportunity to sit down with Netsky, one of EDM’s most genuine stars, before the performance to talk about Netsky LIVE, his musical influences and his upcoming album. Check out the interview below and Netsky LIVE’s upcoming US tour dates here–it’s not a show you want to miss.
TMN: How’s the tour life treating you?
Netsky: It’s the first time with the band that we do a full 30-day tour with the bus, which is fucking mental. Because it means 30 days of no privacy and sleeping in a bunk. But it’s fucking amazing, I’ve got to say. You need the right team for it but once you have the right people for it, it’s amazing.
TMN: So, this is your third stop in the US after a couple shows in Canada. How’s the reception been so far? Anything different you’ve noticed in the crowd?
Netsky: Yeah, I think so. We started in Canada with Victoria and Vancouver and the day after we did Seattle. Even that was a bit of a change from Canada. It’s been fun. The crowd in Seattle was amazing and Portland was really good. Portland was a bit strange because they had to block off half the club for 21 over folks. It was funny because the left side was jumping the whole time with all the younger crowd and the right side was just getting wasted basically. It’s really cool to see the difference between those two.
TMN: Can you talk a bit about your musical background?
TMN: Are there any records or artists that stand out to you from your early years?
Netsky: I think the records that really changed my view of electronic music were Fat Of The Land (The Prodigy) and Fatboy Slim. I remember when that came out, it was so different for everybody. It was a new wave of crazy, kind of aggressive, electronic music with breakbeats and stuff, like the House tempo.
TMN: When you first started making music, you were making House music. And it sounds like part of the reason you moved to drum ‘n bass was some of the freedom it grants you in building a genre over that sort of energetic percussion. How do you approach songs differently in the studio when you’re going for different vibes?
Netsky: Every song you start in a different way. Nowadays I just like starting with a melody or piano chords and try to write a song with the chords then produce it afterwards. I used to really try to create this dance floor track where it had to be DJ friendly whereas now I like to work on a song first, and then decide on what kind of take I want to give it as a producer. I feel like it’s the first time I’ve written songs instead of just producing songs, which is really nice. It’s a cool way of working.
TMN: Can you talk a little about the visuals and your involvement in that process?
Netsky: It’s something I wish I had more time for, to be honest. It’s the one thing that I haven’t gotten into too deeply yet. I feel for this album I want to be much more involved in the visual side of it. For the “Puppy” video, for example, it was just a really good friend of mine that came up with this good idea. He filmed it and it just took a couple of takes. It looked really fun and I liked the idea behind it. It’s something I really want to get more into in the future, for sure.
TMN: We’ve heard that you are a big Bob Marley fan. Obviously the music sounds so different, but there is a level of euphoria that you have sometimes in your music that I feel like getting at the same thing. Is that a connection you make in trying to make positivity in your music?
Netsky: Yeah, I love hearing that. That means a lot to me. I think that’s what everyone loves about pop, right? It’s just really positive music that makes you happy. That’s what I try to do with most of my music. I like to make this really dark tune every now and then when I feel horrible though but for the most part it’s about positivity.
Netsky: Yes and no. There’s two sides of it. The one thing with having a band, which is the part I love most, is that you actually can make big mistakes. You’ve got good and bad days, which makes it a lot more interesting as a performer. I can’t say I’m a performer because I’m a DJ that plays a couple chords and can’t do much more. I’ve got two amazing musicians with me and they make me look really incredibly bad. The fun part is that I do learn a lot and it has been a massive learning curve. I feel like after two years I’ve really evolved in that and I’m really proud of that. That’s what I was lacking before, as a DJ, it was just hands up in the air and pressing play. Visually, I don’t think that’s something I’d buy tickets for really. There’s always room for improvement with the live set. With a DJ set it’s different. Then again, because there’s so many people involved, you have to stick to a plan. You can’t just say, “tonight I just want to play this cover of Prince I made in the tour bus last night,” which you can with DJ sets. In some ways DJ sets are much more flexible and you can have a lot of crazy, random fun with it but with the live band there’s a lot of rehearsing and a lot of people involved so you have to give people time to get to know the songs.
TMN: Tell us a bit about your band members and how they contribute to your set. (At this point in the interview, vocalist Billie popped her head in the room to grab her shoes.)
Netsky: That’s Billie. She’s shy. She doesn’t like cameras but she’s a great singer. She’s the one girl that keeps the whole testosterone-filled, male bus together so we need her. There’s BABL, who’s playing keys. He’s wicked, an amazing keyboard player. He’s classically trained for jazz. It’s an interesting combination and it brings a lot to the set. Then there’s Michael (Schack) who’s our drummer. You know, we’ve got a click-track, like a metronome, in our ears to keep on tempo and I sometimes just turn it off because the drum is that great that you don’t even need it. He’s like a human drum machine, it’s insane. I played the drums until I was 8 and I never, ever got anywhere close to what he can do. I respect him a lot for it. Then, we’ve got the MC, Script, from London. He’s the only guy from London, the rest are all from Belgium. It works. We’re all friends.
TMN: What do you feel like is the biggest advantage of going live over the DJ set?
Netsky: We only play Netsky songs, which I like. It’s quite cool to be able to pull of a full show with only music that you’ve written yourself. With DJ sets you play a whole range of different genres and styles and other people’s music. So, I’m really proud to have enough material even to full a night. I think visually and the experience is a bit more deep than just with a DJ set. Still, I love DJing because of the flexibility but, yeah, I like doing both.
TMN: Now that you are doing live sets, is it something in your mind when you are composing music at all?
Netsky: I try to not think about the band when I produce music, but you do even if you don’t want to I think. Luckily, I’ve got musicians that can play a lot of stuff that I don’t expect people to be able to play. It’s never been a problem. There’s never been anything we can’t play live, which is fucking amazing. Especially in drum ’n bass there’s lots of really quick arpeggiators and we pull it off.
TMN: With that in mind, are any of your tracks now inspired through jams?
Netsky: We jam a lot and it’s only been in the last 3 or 4 months that we’ve starting jamming a lot in sound checks together. It’s a whole new world for me because I’ve never really jammed. I’ve played the drums with the girl next door when I was young but that was it. It’s all very jazzy and soulful but it’s so much fun. I’m not sure if we’ll be writing an album from the music we jam on but it is a lot of fun.
TMN: You recently released “Running Low.” What’s coming up next?
Netsky: I’m finishing my album on the tour bus as we speak so I think that should be out in April but I’ve been saying that for ages. Hopefully right before European summer so April or May. But it’s been the hardest album to finish.
Netsky: No, not really. I like my personal space back home, but I can’t not produce right now. It’s funny because, especially with the more dance floor tunes, I’ve started testing them out during soundcheck on the PA. I just sit down or stand up in the club and feel what the people would feel. I love that, that’s a really cool touch we can do while touring now.
TMN: You’ve done quite a few collaborations and remixes over the years. Is there anyone you are currently working with that you’re particularly excited about?
Netsky: Yeah, I’m doing a song with Rudimental, which is something I’ve really wanted to do for a while because they are good friends. I’m doing a song with…I’ve got to watch what I’m saying now. Yeah, that’s it (laughs). Until it’s finished and the paperworks done, I’m not going to say anything.
TMN: What’re your thoughts on the relationship between the music industry and the Internet?
Netsky: I grew up in a time when Napster, MySpace and Kazaa were kind of big so I’ve seen a lot changing. It’s been an interesting journey. I think we’ve all gotten over the point where people are saying piracy and streaming are bad. I think we all know that this business, especially for our genre, is more about the touring side and getting your music out there to try to involve as many people as you can. That’s what I want to do and, I don’t want this to sound dark, but if people don’t have the respect to buy music I’m not going to have nightmares about it. I’ll be fine. I love touring and I love playing in front of those people, even ones who downloaded my music illegally, and them having a great night at the festival. It’s up to them. It’s just such a massive thing that you can’t really say anything bad about the individuals. There’s so many easy ways to get music off the Internet and it’s never going to stop unless the government shuts down those websites and that’s not going to happen.
TMN: If an extraterrestrial species made its way to earth and asked you what music is, what song would you play for them?
Netsky; Beethoven, I guess. Something that wouldn’t be too aggressive. I wouldn’t show them Skrillex or anything. Or One Direction, then they’d probably destroy the world.
Special thanks to Netsky for taking the time to chat with us. All photo credit to Steven Burk.