Truth be told, I wasn’t always into bass music. I spent most of 2012 cringing to dubstep while most of my friends got down like dinosaurs. But that all changed when I first heard Flux Pavilion’s, I Can’t Stop. Those prolific vocals over moving melodies made from grimy synths bridged the gap between me and bass music. Even four years later, this track prevails as a closing anthem cherished by bassheads everywhere.
Since then, Josh Steele has become the king of collaborations with big names like Major Lazer and Steve Aoki, as well as rising stars like Snails and NGHTMRE. Though most associate Flux with bass music, he maintains a genre blindness to his artistry which stems from his childhood appreciation for The Prodigy. But what catalyzed the infamous persona we know and love today?
“Flux Pavilion was born in a sweaty club at 2 in the morning, that’s where it feels like this music belongs,” Steele explained to me after his set at this year’s Electric Zoo festival. “I’d never been to a rave, I’d seen The Prodigy once, but this was nothing like that. Rusko was wearing this cardboard cutout of a bird as a hat and just jumping around like a lunatic… I never thought I belonged in the club scene, but when I saw Rusko, I thought ‘oh he looks like how I feel’… he didn’t really look like he was a part of anything, he was just doing what he loved and didn’t give a fuck about what was around him because he was so invested in what he was doing… Let your music do the talking and let that set you apart from everyone else.”
He was so moved that night that he went home and wrote his first dubstep song, How Rude. At that point in his career, Steele may not have known what dubstep was, but he knew how the pulsing bass made him feel.
“I knew I’d been writing all kinds of weird music, like hip-hop and trip hop, [music similar to artists like] Bonobo and Mr. Scruff. I wasn’t sure what music I wanted to write until I saw Rusko play. I was like ‘there you go’… it wasn’t a choice, electronic music was just what spoke to me.“
But he quickly learned of the plight of the up and coming artist – the struggle of seeing original music reach the right people. Despite his now widespread status, Flux Pavilion was subjected to a myriad of criticisms while honing his sound. Of course, who is to say that he’d be the electronic powerhouse that he is today had he listened to label heads who urged him to change the facets of his music that would eventually make him stand out amongst a sea of other bass artists?
“Essentially they were saying I had to change my song because one person didn’t like it,” Steele says. “Well, I think that’s crazy!”
After being turned down yet again by a drum and bass label to which his longtime bandmate Doctor P was signed, Steele got a lucky break, and what many would consider an opportunity of a lifetime. Label head Simon Swan aka DJ Swany saw promise in one of Flux’s dubstep remixes, and took a leap of faith.
“[Swany] had the foresight to start our own label, and though I didn’t realize until then, that was exactly what I wanted to do,” Steele says.
Even in his career’s fledgling stages, it was anything but ordinary. By starting his own label, Flux Pavilion was able to embrace artistic freedom and share that gift with others in his industry.
“By starting a label, no one can tell you your music is shit. And even if it is shit, who gives a fuck? You made it and you want people to hear it,” Steele says. “I’d rather allow artists to fully express their ideas and their vision than try to get someone to change what they want. It’s better to fail at being yourself than to fail at appeasing record labels.”
And while this is an attitude you’d be hard pressed to find in a market driven by radio plays and Billboard rankings, after chatting with Josh, it became easy to see how an artist like Flux Pavilion is the embodiment of this sensibility. While the typical DJ lifestyle is often associated with late nights, hard partying and indulgent behavior, Steele doesn’t buy into the group mentality.
“I really like fantasy novels and playing board games like Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, and War Hammer. I also enjoy drinking whiskey and smoking pipes and stuff, but I don’t think of myself as a partier,” Steele Says. “I’m not a bro or an EDM guy – I just love the music’s punk attitude and the way it makes me feel.”
And he’s moved so many of us since, including Jake Stanczak AKA Kill The Noise, who stopped his recent headlining set at Webster Hall to give us a very personal bit of history between them.
Be sure to check out Flux Pavilion’s upcoming North American tour and Cannonball, his latest collaboration with Snails released last week.
Edited by Megan Venzin