Boasting an astounding 16-year career (and counting) that’s been single handedly responsible for administered renowned classics within both the drum & bass and dubstep spheres, Leon Switch stands today as an uncontested and irreplaceable staple in the bass music world. Whether he’s producing blistering beats as a solo act, as part of the historical superduo, Kryptic Minds, or with his newest side project, NōTaN, this master of musical trades continuously jumps from strength to strength, never ceasing to set the pace for dark and deadly bass driven music.
The newest addition to Leon’s ever-expanding and jaw dropping repertoire is his fearsome, four-track EP entitled Staying Human (DDD011), out today on Truth’s Deep, Dark & Dangerous imprint. Flexing his wizardry over controlled intensity and tasteful filth, each track unleashes razor sharp low end assaults woven throughout mean midrange bass sounds and otherworldly atmospheres. Delivering a hefty variety of Leon Switch’s incomprehensibly wicked and meticulously calculated musical personality, Staying Human serves as a technically pristine and adrenaline-fueled sonic journey, suited for even the pickiest of dubstep connoisseurs. We caught up with Leon to discuss his new, earthshaking EP and learned some insights into his musical journey and creative processes along the way.
This release stands out as a fresh four-track collection that boasts your unmistakable dark and edgy attitude laced with complex, slimy sound design and the fierce attention to percussive detail that we’ve all become quite fond of and accustomed to hearing in your music. How long did it take you to create, compile and decide upon these four tracks for the release?
Ah, thank you. The four tracks are an amalgamation of a strange time in my life over the past few years; lots of moves with the studio and changes in my taste and experimenting with different production techniques and sound. I gave the Truth guys at Deep, Dark & Dangerous a few different tunes with quite a mixture of styles, from angry upfront tunes to more minimal thought out tracks; I left the choice to them, as I know they both have different tastes and styles that they favor. I feel the tracks they have chosen are a good representation of my sound and feel they work really well as an EP. Overall, I feel really lucky to be involved with the brand as I love the diversity of the releases, the general tone/style of the label, and what they are doing for the music in general.
What really stands out is your ability to construct and deliver vastly different, highly complex moods and rich storytelling while simultaneously showcasing your deeply rooted personal sound at an extremely high level throughout. What keeps you so inspired and excited about producing dubstep that you’re able to consistently administer this grade of freshness, originality and openness to exploration and variety after all this time?
I love creating music. I am really into music that makes you feel something; music that when you put your headphones on and close your eyes, takes you somewhere, more like an experience. I am a sucker for spending hours just creating textures and playing with ideas; that helps me to keep positive and always happy to be trying something new. I like the idea of not following anyone and just writing what I love. I think that’s the secret to moving forward and to enjoying what you do. I spent a lot of time (especially after ending the Kryptic Minds moniker) worrying that I’d made mistakes and that it would be really damaging to my career, but you have to go with what your heart tells you (and what your Mrs. says in the background) and just believe that what you are doing is good.
After building an undeniably strong reputation within the drum & bass scene as not only a highly revered artist with a slew of standout releases but also a founder and owner of two separate record labels, was it hard to abandon that traction and momentum you had worked so hard to build up overtime to follow an entirely new route into unchartered dubstep territory? What helped you make this drastic decision?
That was a really difficult decision to make, but sometimes you have to let go of the past and look forward. The problem with niche music is that it runs with trends, and I have found that for me there are times in different styles of music that are great and times when things change and the important people in the scenes that seem to determine where the music is going are often guided by money, which is not always good for the music. I completely understand as a producer that does this full time that money is a big part of it all. Of course, we all have to make a living, but when you have a love for something it can be very disheartening when the thing you started off loving has become unrecognizable, and the scene you’ve spent the last 12 years working in, you don’t recognize anymore.
I found there came a time when I needed to try something completely new and take a step out of my comfort zone. It was a really worrying time, as you can imagine, but needed. I also got older and found that the high tempos of D&B had a ton of energy, but had become a kind of competition. It became a game of who can make the baddest basslines rather than who could create the coolest vibe/journey, which is what I loved about the music in the first place.
Having stood as a powerful player immersed within the bass music circuit for well over a decade now, you’ve been granted a front row view at witnessing all the ebbs, flows, changes and growths that have occurred in the scene overtime. What are a few things that really stand out in terms of noticeable transformations within the evolution of the sound as well as the scene?
One of the main things I’ve noticed during my time in dubstep is the change in production of the overall scene. When I first ventured into the 140bpm territory it was all kind of basic. I really loved a few of the tunes that I heard—they had a vibe that was timeless—but the overall sound wasn’t as intense or as upfront as it’s become. Tunes like Mala’s “Night” and Distance’s “Cyclops” were such classics and standout tunes for me and ended up being massive influences at the beginning. The midrange element has come such a long way now and after the brostep explosion, things have really changed and moved forward, in my eyes anyway. I was never really into the high-pitched noises that seemed to become such a massive part of both drum & bass and dubstep, but it seems to have helped both the scenes, in that everyone had to step up their game and fight back for the music we love.
Your YouTube tutorial on how to create your mid-range bass sounds using a beard trimmer has always stood out in my mind as such a clever and resourceful way of creating and designing unique sounds. Do you have any other unorthodox methods that you use (or have previously used) in your sound design and producing processes?
I have loads of often silly or unorthodox methods that I use to create sounds. I love experimenting with hitting things and over-processing sounds to create different textures. I feel it’s really important to create your own palette, as an artist would before they start to paint a picture. The colors that they choose will ultimately define the overall outcome and tone of the image. The same idea applies to music. I remember years ago feeling that I needed to create my own library of sounds for my tunes. Sounds that no one else would have. Sounds that would be recognizable as me. I wanted people to know it was me within the first few seconds of hearing a tune. Anyone can grab a synth and use the trusty presets, but that is not something I wanted to do. To be fair, I might have started with a preset I liked the texture of, but very rarely, if ever, would I use it raw straight as it was out of the synth. It’s easy to be lazy, especially with all of the toys that are available now, but it’s important to stand out and do your thing.
I find having an unorthodox approach to sound design is also a brilliant way to overcome writer’s block, which I’ve suffered terribly with over the years. When you stick to one genre it’s almost impossible to just keep writing day after day without getting a little bored or stuck in a rut. That’s where I find sound design to be key.
You just unleashed your new side project with Kelly Dean and Kwizma called NōTaN with an exclusive mix through Bassrush; can you tell us a bit about how the side project came about and what kind of vibe fans should expect under this new moniker?
NōTaN is one of my new collaboration projects that started recently after collaborating with the L.A.-based legend that is Kelly Dean. I absolutely love working with him. You can send him an idea and he just runs with it and then sends you back this tune that is basically finished and that you can’t help but bang your head to! I have done a few projects with him over the last period of time and we just seemed to gel. I then heard some of his collabs with Kwizma and was like “Whoa!!! This shit is crazy!” As we all seemed to be on the same page sound-wise and Kwizma has this energy where he is just buzzing about the tunes and possibilities, I figured it would be a good idea to throw a few ideas back and forward between the three of us and boom…NōTaN was formed. It works because the three of us are honest with each other, and the tunes (in my opinion) are just next level. It’s got this melodic edge but then this angry menacing vibe at the same time. It’s got real big potential and it’s something I’m really excited for.