Flux Pavilion is a man in touch with his feelings. He prefers love over hate, chords over kick drums, and wants desperately to play for fans who live in the most remote corners of the Earth, far away from big stages. He cares deeply about a lot of things, but none of them have anything to do with what the world thinks of him.
For a 26-year-old artist of his stature, that’s a hard tale to believe — until you speak with him. After just a few moments of banter with dubstep’s darling it becomes evident that not only is he wise beyond his years, but his creative approach to both music and life is truly all about how things feel.
The Englishman born Joshua Steele is an oddity in the world of dance music. Strikingly self-aware, he is unapologetic in his candor about his views on life and yet he remains, in the British tradition, modest and cheerfully self-deprecating. In conversation, he introduces himself as Josh while casually dropping references a Zen monk might use to gently educate a disciple.
Josh possesses an enlightened, mature view not only of music but also of the world. He attributes this in part to the fact that he was forced to grow up quickly. Thrust into the music business at full throttle from a young age, he’s been releasing music under the Flux Pavilion moniker since he was 19, by age 20 he had co-founded his own label, Circus Records, with fellow producer Doctor P.
While such abrupt success might have—and all too often has—thrown a young artist far off course, Josh stays rooted in who he is as a musician and as a human by always returning to the same thing: his gut feeling.
“I’m a strong believer in gut feelings,” he remarks, settling onto the bed in his New Zealand hotel room, where we catch him during a rare moment of relaxation. His signature swoop of blond hair flops across the pillow. “I believe gut feeling is a lot more than we as humans perceive it to be.
Like, for quantum string theory to exist, there need to be 10 dimensions, which is quite a far-fetched idea, but consider this: Our senses are just our brains deciphering information it gathers from the universe,” Josh pauses for emphasis before continuing.
“So maybe our gut is deciphering dimensions that we can’t see otherwise. Maybe it’s saying, ‘Hey you, brain. Feel this. There’s something cool happening right now.’”
He smiles, satisfied with his esoteric explanation. “When I started out making music, I didn’t really have the ability to recreate what I was hearing. So the only thing I could recreate was what I was feeling.”
THE FLUX FEELING
Everything is about feeling for Flux Pavilion. Not only is it the most critical tool he employs in his creative process, it is the method by which he lives his life. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then the countless producers who draw upon his work are flattering Josh indeed. But as he suggests with a wry smile, they’re mostly missing the point.
“I find it really funny when people try to recreate my sound and they’re like, ‘Ah, this is how you make the Flux sound!’ It’s not the sound you need to go for. It’s the feeling that’s the important thing,” he insists. “It’s the love. It’s the love that’s audible in my music. That’s what I try to go for.”
It is exactly what he has gone for in the release of his inaugural LP, appropriately titled ‘Tesla’— in physics, a unit of measurement for the density of magnetic flux. The 13-track album reflects Josh’s overwhelming desire to be seen and heard as an artist rather than as a DJ confined to any particular genre, stage, status or country. At its core, it is a collection of his feelings, a variety of emotions captured with sound; each record on it delivers a distinctly different acoustic experience from the next.
The tracks range vastly in tempo and texture, from the floor-banging ‘Pogo People’ with an intro reminiscent of The Prodigy in their heyday, to a more downtempo collaboration with Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Matthew Koma fittingly called ‘Emotional’.
The gritty, electro-inspired ‘What You Gonna Do About It’ conjures feelings of an imminent, apocalyptic robot takeover while the reggae-infused ‘International Anthem’ adds a laid-back vibe despite its aggressive synth stabs.
The outlier of the album is a cinematic ballad called ‘Ironheart’, a musical gem that is as euphoric in its orchestral string progressions as it is explosive and triumphant. That triumphant sensation threads the entire album together with an addictive energy.
“I didn’t want to write an album that sounded like ‘Flux Pavilion’ because that’s too easy and too boring,” Josh reflects. “I become quite limited if I try to do that. Whereas, if I try and write a record that depicts what Flux Pavilion feels like, then I really have the freedom to do whatever I want with the sound, as long as I just keep that feeling going.
“And I’m pretty proud of it, to be honest.” But freedom doesn’t come cheap. Josh spent 18 months working on ‘Tesla’ and like artists across all genres throughout eras long before his, he credits the process with enlightening him both creatively and emotionally.
He also acknowledges his continued frustration with the current genre battles, in which artists, labels and audiences try to shove music into predefined boxes. He suggests, “The only way to escape that is to just completely free yourself from it.”
The fact that ‘Tesla’ is a collection difficult to categorize is entirely intentional, born in part from that revelation. “You know, in the end I really had to look into my own musical past to discover where I wanted my own musical future to go,” he adds.
ALL ABOUT MUSIC
Where the roots are, the tree grows. For Joshua Steele, those roots are far removed from laser-lit festival stages and exuberant fans. Contrary to popular American belief, being UK-born doesn’t mean being born into a tradition or garage or drum & bass. Josh was raised in the small village of Towcester in the UK Midlands, a quiet place surrounded by other small villages featuring none of the nightly shufflers that fill the clubs of London.
“I feel a bit disconnected from the dance music world in a sense, just because it’s not the world that I’m from,” he pauses, choosing his words carefully. “And to be honest, it’s not really what I want to achieve. I don’t want to be a dance music DJ/producer doing residencies. I’ve always wanted to be an artist, to write music.”
Music has been the one constant in Josh’s life, the only thing that he can remember as always having meaning. While he has found himself steeped in the dance music world because, as he explains, “that’s where my music goes because it’s what I love to listen to,” he insists that his true musical inspiration comes from playing instruments in the studio. Strumming out chords on his guitar satisfies his soul far more than quantizing kicks and snares in Logic.
As a child, he was immersed in psychedelic rock thanks to his father, who often played Frank Zappa, the later Beatles records, as well as The Clash and Sex Pistols in the house. Entire Saturday afternoons sometimes consisted of watching a Jimi Hendrix Woodstock video. That influence shines through in much of his work despite the stark genre contrast, such as in his breakout hit ‘I Can’t Stop’, which amassed over 61 million views on YouTube and foreshadowed the success that was to come.
“My upbringing was all about music. Music was the thing that made sense in the world. It’s the thing that made my parents happy,” he smiles. “It felt like there was a reason for being alive, when the music was on.”
There was never a question in Josh’s mind that he would ultimately become a musician. He began singing and recording guitar riffs on his computer when he was 12 years old, but recalls that he always felt like he was seeking something more.
A desire to add drums, bass and keys to his music led him to discover digital workstations that provided him with an accessible option not limited by physical space or material availability. That discovery became his gateway into the world he now inhabits, ushered in by his early desire to emulate The Prodigy—the legendary English electronic dance music group with whom he has recently released a collaboration titled ‘Rhythm Bomb’.
Unsure of how the dance music scene worked, Josh kept tinkering with his own sound as an adolescent, knowing what he liked but struggling to define it. “What dance music looked like just seemed so distant and so disconnected from the world I was from.
“But then I heard dubstep. I heard dubstep and I was like, ‘Oh wow, so THIS is the music that I have been making all along!’” Josh cracks a wide smile, “I just didn’t know what it was called.” Ultimately, he claims that producing dubstep wasn’t so much a conscious choice as it was a subconscious connection. That connection, and his desire to follow his gut feeling in producing it as he saw fit, ultimately led to the rapid, massive success he almost immediately experienced.
To put things in perspective, his first ever direct message on the dubstep forum he posted his music to seven years ago, was from fellow bass master Datsik, who had also just begun producing. Datsik contacted Josh asking if he’d like to “try and write some songs together.”
Josh looks smug as he recalls the beginning of his story, shaking his head slightly with a hint of disbelief, well aware of his good fortune. The music he made with Datsik was released on Excision’s Rottun Recordings imprint and passed along to Bassnectar in a snowball effect that rolled across the North American dubstep scene, launching the career of Flux Pavilion.
“The name Flux Pavilion is actually a happy accident,” Josh laughs, noting that he took the term from the former name of a band he belonged to, which discarded the title after only one day of use. “It wasn’t until years later that I realized ‘flux’ is the flow or rate of energy. A pavilion is classically a place where entertainment takes place. So ‘Flux Pavilion’ is the flow of energy in a place of entertainment. You could look at the name as fate, I guess. It’s just so succinct to my artist identity that unconsciously I had to use it.”
A MAGNETIC IDENTITY
The list of achievements on Flux Pavilion’s resume is undoubtedly impressive, but not accidental. The abridged version looks something like this:
-10th biggest artist on SoundCloud worldwide
-Over 100 million listens on YouTube
-The first person ever asked to remix a ‘Star Wars’ song
-‘I Can’t Stop’ charted in eight countries, with over one million sales in North America
-Awarded Platinum, Gold and Silver records for his original tracks
Kanye West and Jay Z have sampled his work; he has collaborated with Childish Gambino and remixed for Skrillex; he has sold out the fabled Red Rocks Amphitheatre two years in a row.
And yet, Josh remains grounded in who he is, fiercely loyal to an identity he has forged as a personal representation of his own emotional landscape. Something of a musical minister, he eschews interdisciplinary hatred among the ranks while espousing the virtues of love and inspiration in its place.
“I don’t really understand hating on people,” he states matter-of-factly, running a hand through his hair. “Take Avicii, for instance. When he came out, everyone said he’d ruined EDM and there was this whole big hate brigade. I just thought, he’s done something that none of us have done, and look where it’s got him. So maybe instead of hating, we should all have a look and say, ‘Okay, maybe there’s one or two things I can learn from this guy.”
Finding inspiration in the unlikeliest of places is not uncommon for Josh. Ironically, what Flux Pavilion gleaned from Avicii, a musician so far on the other end of the dance music spectrum from him, was a lesson in identity. “I learned that having an identity and maintaining it whilst not being changed by the world and by what people want you to be, is an important thing,” he shrugs.
“Avicii just kept being Avicii and that’s a really cool thing—just being the best version of himself that he could be at that time. I find that’s quite an inspiring thing to see.”
The willingness with which Josh embraces even the most marginalized figures in his industry is something that is reflected in his approach to promoting his own music and career. Tellingly, the hallmark of his 2015 DJ Mag Top 100 campaign is an animated video in which he urges viewers to unite by voting for the music they believe in.
“I always felt uncomfortable with the idea of telling everyone to like my music ... People will discover my music and they will like it if they like it, you know? People will connect with it or not, naturally.”
Tesla, the unit of measurement that signifies magnetic flux density, has a deeper meaning as the title of Flux Pavilion’s debut album: It symbolizes the magnetic nature of all music that at its core, brings the world together instead of splitting it apart. “As artists, we’re all here to share the same thing, which is our love for electronic music. So why not promote the unification of that?”
In the end, that is what Joshua Steele, the artist from a small town in England who brings big bass to the world stage, wants to convey. “It’s unity. It’s the fact that we are all here for the same reason. We’re just doing it in varying shades.”
Words: Erin Sharoni Pics: ANDREW RAUNER
Copyright Thrust Publishing Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.djmag.com as the source.