It’s no secret that dubstep has had a hard couple of years amongst music connoisseurs, after the ‘brostep’ branch of the EDM explosion in the states left it with some pretty unpleasant connotations. Many of its former devotees have now switched to more socially acceptable soundstreams in techno, old-school electro and ‘outsider house’. But in Copenhagen we have one young Dane who refuses to abandon his beloved sound. Ruben Dag Nielsen, undoubtedly Denmark’s most prolific dubstep producer, has tossed out records on international labels like Biscuit Factory, Boka, New World Audio and All Out Dubstep and frequently tours outside of Denmark. I stopped by his apartment in Copenhagen NV for a chat about his new imprint Circle Vision, childhood memories of drum machines and his thoughts on the end of the internet.
What’s your earliest musical memory?
He walks over and grabs a drum machine out of the cabinet, Roland’s CompuRhythm CR-8000: a charming multi-coloured piece of 1980s music history.
‘It’s actually sitting and playing with this. My dad gave me it.’
‘I spent a lot of hours on this when I was 8 or 9 years old. I think I even have some pictures of me in my underwear and headphones hammering away’, he laughs. Nielsen, now 24, grew up ‘way out in the woods’, in the north of Jutland, in a small town called Arden. To kill time in what he saw as an adventure-limited environment, he started making music using eJay, a piece of simple drag-and-drop arrangement software for his PC. He was also the drummer in various punk bands and sang in a metal band.
As soon as he was old enough he headed off to Århus, the capital of Jutland, but he felt he quickly outgrew it, so he moved on Copenhagen, which apparently isn’t big enough either:
‘There isn’t room for any smaller scenes here. For instance, dubstep is totally dead, I’m the only one except for a few others making it. I’m on my own here, I have to motivate myself to make music. I am my own scene.’
What motivates you to keep making dubstep?
‘I just think that there is still a lot to explore in the genre. Plus I have a lot of contacts abroad so I get to go and play all over. I just still think its fun, and I’m really into bass, that’s probably one of the main things’.
What is it about bass in particular?
‘Its the physical aspect more than anything else. You can feel it. Yes, melody is important, but producing something, and then playing it at a place like Outlook festival, on a giant Funktion One system, it means a lot seeing people’s reactions, the fact that the bass almost hurts them’, he explains.
The first release on his new vinyl label Circle Vision features his own productions, three immaculately executed tracks with plenty of evidence of this quasi-sadism towards the audience he seems to revel in. Constructed from just a few felicitous elements, they foster a dark and exciting universe within the often-stigmatised genre. When he first moved to Copenhagen back in 2008, Ruben found a companion in fellow dubstep enthusiast Jeppe Willumsen, who eventually ran Surface records alongside Ruben:
‘We were playing in the same scene, I think there were like 10 dubstep DJs around at the time. ‘Not that there were that many doing it on a serious level back then. And we were both like: “OK, you look a bit angry”, so none of us dared to talk to no one another, but then one day something just happened, and suddenly we spent many days in the studio together making music.’
What was it your work relationship meant to you?
‘He taught me to DJ, and forced me to do things that I would never have done on my own. You know, he is a really talented DJ, and I pretty much sucked. I was more of a producer, which I still am, but you have to learn to DJ, I couldn’t go out and play, and he forced me to learn. We also played a lot of great gigs together. Times change though; we are still friends, but dubstep just wasn’t for Jeppe anymore.’
What was the motivation for starting a second label?
‘I kind of panicked about that fact that I only have a digital label. Its quite scary, if there wasn’t anything called the internet, or computers anymore, I would have used two years on nothing, I guess I just felt frustrated by that thought.’
Are you afraid the internet will disappear?
‘I’m not afraid, but it could happen. The same way that I think the music is exciting when it’s physical, I feel the same about having a physical format, a product. Also, yes, the internet might disappear, if Google buys Boston Dynamics, and Skynet takes over, then there will a resistance, and then who knows..?’
But why start a totally new imprint?
‘The problem with Surface was, that the plan at the beginning was to release a lot of our own things, but it didn’t really happen cause all this other music came along. Thats why I am starting with my own music on Circle Vision, just to say: “Hey, this is my label, I made the artwork, it’s my money, it’s my tracks”, he laughs.
Is it ever scary to release your own music?
‘I think it would have been 5 years ago, but I don’t feel like that today, now it feels more natural, if someone should release it, it should be me’.
‘Because its mine, I think that is the logical thing to do. In theory everyone should have their label, releasing their own music, but thats just not how the world functions, it’s all money and politics.’
Who is your biggest inspiration?
‘Coki, he is damn crazy. Simple drums, and a lot of sub. He is always breaking the rules. He made the first wobble track in world history. An innovative crazy guy who always does things that no one else dares to do.’
Which Coki track is a must hear?
You can check out RDG live behind the decks when he warms up for Albertslund Terror Korps at Bolsjefabrikken on the first of February. https://www.facebook.com/events/740379235991153/?ref_dashboard_filter=upcoming
Words: Najaaraq Vestbirk