There’s a strong chance that you’re quite familiar with Opus by now. He’s had a meteoric rise over the last year or two, securing releases on scene staples such as Zha’s White Peach imprint and Encrypted Audio – both havens for cutting edge new talent. With this in mind, it’s no surprise he was snapped up by Sleeper and welcomed into the Crucial Recordings family. It should come as even less of a surprise that his debut release on the imprint packs a serious punch. Spread across three tracks, the release gels very nicely with Crucial’s aesthetic. Spooky yet danceable.
The opening track, “Sharpie”, is a prime example of this. Distorted broken 808s are complemented with a haunting melody generating a wraithlike soundscape. “Peel” channels these same energies, but through a slightly different process. Those distorted 808s are still present, but are replaced with a fierce subby bassline after the breakdown. Combined with tripletty trap-esque hi-hats, the finished product comes out somewhere between Chief Keef and Kalawanji. What can I say about the final track “Newspeak”? It’s often said that the pen is mightier than the sword, but the pen is no match for the DAW. I could try and describe it, but Opus has uploaded it to Soundcloud for your listening pleasure. I’d recommend listening to it, music speaks for itself when words fail. The only additional insight I can give you is that those strings are all played live by Opus himself.
Music is definitely an effective medium of conveying certain messages, enabling the musician to communicate with an audience in a way that old-fashioned words cannot. There are, however, caveats to this. Music can’t tell you what the producer eats for breakfast or what they think about before they fall asleep. These are just two questions that I didn’t ask Opus when I linked up with him for a chat at the Subtle FM studios. Instead I opted to find out a little more about Opus past and present, his musical influences and tried to pry some juicy upcoming project information.
It’s definitely worth a quick shoutout to the Subtle FM crew at this point. I was visiting the studio for non-TRUSIK business anyway, so organised a meet up with Opus purely for convenience. The more I thought about it though, the more I realised this was an appropriate venue for the purposes of this interview. Opus’ regular slot on Subtle was undoubtedly partly responsible for him flicking up on my radar, and the same can be said of many up and coming producers. What started out as something convenient turned into something quite apt. The only downside was I spent the train journey over to the studios pranging that I was going to derail the entire interview by opening with an awkward line like “Hi Opus, I’ve been watching you on the internet”. Luckily this didn’t happen and you can enjoy the interview in its entirety below.
Let’s go back to the beginning. How did you get introduced to sound system music and dubstep and which names were you rating back then?
To be honest, I didn’t really know about it until 2014. Dubstep isn’t really a thing where I’m from, not that many people really know about it. I come from a small town in North Wales so moving to London for University was a massive massive difference for me. I ended up going to a Digital Mystikz night at Fire. They weren’t playing – I hate this term – ‘deep dubstep’. They were mainly playing more Riddimy tunes, artists like Badklaat and Requake that type of stuff. I don’t really mind that stuff so much. That was the first dubstep night I went to. The people I was with were really excited about who was playing, but I had no idea who they were at the time. In terms of artists I was rating… I really did, and still do, like Kaiju. Kaiju were pretty much the first dubstep producers that I got into and really really liked. I don’t like the term ‘dungeon’, but it was that kind of stuff really.
Always got time for a bit of Kaiju! I’ve gathered that you come from quite a musical background, before you started making dubstep were you producing any other kinds of music?
Not really to be honest. I’ve been playing the viola for about 15 years now, since I was a kid. I’ve always played in orchestras and stuff – I used to play for the National Youth Orchestra. I applied to Music College and really wanted to be a professional viola player. It’s actually my degree at the moment. It’s like a proper classic conservatoire. It can be quite tricky to blend the two lifestyles together sometimes to be honest. I’ve gone straight from an opera that I was playing in straight on to doing a gig. It is quite interesting being able to go between two very different styles. I do really enjoy playing the viola. I came to University and two of my best mates were on an electronic music production course and I’d always had an interest in that kind of stuff as well. But before I started producing electronic music I was mainly writing metal music alongside the viola. I used to play everything myself and record it all, but I didn’t really know what I was doing to be honest. I was listening to a lot of bands like ‘Periphery’ and ‘Meshuggah’, the really heavy and super technical stuff. It’s a weird one really, the metal influence does kind of come into my current productions a little bit, but not so obviously. The heavily textured basses and structures do find their way in quite a lot. I definitely prefer building stuff up rather than just dropping straight in with it. I think the thing about metal is that the tracks are quite long, whereas my dubstep tracks aren’t particularly long but they’re structured in a similar manner.
It seems like in the last year or two things have shot up for you in quite a big way. White Peach picked you up for your first vinyl release, and now you’re releasing on Crucial. What’s the secret?
Yeah I’d been sending tunes to Zha for about a year I think. I eventually sent over “Hide You” and he signed it straight away for the Marbles EP. I guess I was just really lucky in a certain sense, the White Peach release was a nice way of kick-starting everything really. It was a very similar process to getting picked up by Sleeper to be honest. Sleeper reached out to me after hearing my White Peach EP, but I’d been sending tunes to him anyway because I’d always had my eye on Crucial and really wanted to get a release on there eventually. It took a few demos being sent over and he just picked up on them. I really like the darkness represented in the Crucial sound, I feel like dubstep doesn’t always access that darkness in the way that labels like Crucial and Encrypted do. I guess that’s another part of the metal crossover and influence, and also the classical side of things too. For me, metal, classical and dubstep are the only three genres that access darkness if you know what I mean. A lot of the tunes coming out in the sound system music scene are quite light and bouncy if you know what I mean. Not light in terms of bassweight, it’s all very bassy, but in terms of mood and character. It’s quite easy going and chill.
Were these three tracks sent over with an EP in mind, or was it just something that kind of fell into place?
They definitely weren’t built with the EP in mind, but they were made in quite quick succession. It’s something I always try to do when I make music. Using the same techniques across the tracks and letting them come from the same place ensures they always work quite well together. It really helps develop a coherent sound.
We’re at Subtle FM right now. Obviously, you’ve got a lot of history with the station, I know you briefly moved to SUB FM, but you switched back again. How important do you think platforms like those are for the health of the scene in general?
I moved to SUB FM back when Subtle was just streaming and there wasn’t a studio or anything. I didn’t really know the guys that well back then. Then obviously they got this new studio and I was bit tired of just streaming out of my bedroom. It’s definitely nice to come down to a studio and stream, and they’re all safe guys and all that. In terms of support for new artists its really good, their live streams get big audiences. It looks quite professional as well, so it’s always nicely represented by people wearing tees and everything.
So outside of production you also A&R for Simply Deep, right?
Yeah, I’ve also had a release on one of their compilations and recently had an EP out with them as well. I’ve known Sam for quite a while actually, he was one of the first people I started sending tunes to and he gave me loads of boosts and stuff. Took me under his wing a little bit, which I’m really grateful for. Since then I’ve been so busy with my own stuff, things have tailed off a little bit on the Simply Deep at the moment. I’ve sorted a few artists and releases for them and I’ve got another remix coming out on another of their EPs. It’s quite a casual relationship to be honest, which is quite nice.
Let’s do a chinstroke dubstep scene health question. What’s your take on the trajectory of the sound over the last few years?
To be honest, people were talking about the decline in dubstep, but I never really had any idea about that kind of stuff until I got more active within the scene. Having said that, I can definitely hear a new wave in the sound. It’s nice to see people like Samba doing quite well now. For a while he was, and maybe still is, the frontrunner with this tripplety dark sound – incorporating a lot of trap and grime influences. The kind of stuff that maybe wouldn’t have been classed as dubstep back in the day. I feel like there’s definitely this new wave who are contributing to the sound in a big way. For me personally, having been introduced to the sound in 2014, I don’t have a lot of baggage in terms of how I think dubstep should sound or anything. It’s the same with a lot of the other new guys. The reason the sound has changed so much is because producers aren’t really thinking in terms of how dubstep should sound.
Let’s finish with a bait one. Dream collaboration?
I kind of struggle with collaborations to be honest. I’m a bit scared of them. It’s got to be the right person for me to collaborate with. When I sit there in a room with someone and try to come up with ideas, I’m not very confident with my opinions on stuff. It definitely has to be the right person. In terms of someone I’d like to work with it would probably have to be Distance to be honest.