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Meet the next generation of Newcastle’s thriving drum & bass scene

As artists including Skantia, Stompz and Nectax stand at the forefront of one of the most exciting regional scenes in the UK, Dave Jenkins investigates a new movement rebooting Newcastle’s long-standing — yet rarely publicised — tradition for drum & bass

Something is bubbling in Newcastle Upon Tyne right now and it’s not just the famous brown ale. In fact, it’s a lot more intoxicating: a new movement of young drum & bass artists has been emerging from the city’s thriving d&b party scene and, as we skank into a new decade, their woozy, bruisy, stinky sound is impossible to ignore. Fast becoming regular faces on labels such as RAM Records, Chronic and Souped Up, the likes of Skantia, Stompz, and Nectax are at the forefront of one of the most exciting regional scenes in the UK for drum & bass. They’re driven by a sense of friendly competition, they hold down regular clashes, and their schedules were getting busier by the weekend before the impact of Coronavirus. They’re also rebooting the city’s longstanding — yet rarely publicised — tradition for drum & bass.

“People don’t give it credit, but it’s always been a big city for drum & bass,” says James Smith, a proud Newcastle resident since he moved up for uni in the late ’90s. “It was already happening when I moved. Hidden Agenda weren’t far away, Original Sin and Sub Zero were just starting up, and Taxman not long after. Craggz & Parallel Forces. Jubei was up here for a few years. Sato. Tyrone. This city has been home to a lot of talent in the genre.”

As an artist, Smith is known as Phobia, or one third of Chroma, but it’s behind the scenes where his influence is perhaps felt strongest. His agency, Evolution, represents big names such as Alix Perez and Mefjus, he’s mentored and continues to mentor many local acts, but before all that, he co-ran a night called Turbulence. Established in 1998, Turbulence’s influence on the city can’t be underestimated. For 15 years it consistently ushered in new generations and new talent, and its impact is still felt today.

“Everyone’s been working towards it for a few years now and we could all see it coming. The start of last year was when it was like, ‘OK, something is actually happening here’. All the nights were popping”

“I was too young to go, but Turbulence was huge,” explains Skantia. Real name Charlie, aged 22, he’s released music since 2016, but things boosted several levels last year when Andy C began tearing XOYO up with unreleased Skantia dubs on a weekly basis, and signed him to RAM Records. “A.M.C even mentioned Turbulence in the Drum&BassArena Awards when he won. It’s gone down in legend, and I guess it set the benchmark for everything that’s happened since.”

“When Turbulence stopped, it left such a massive hole in the scene. We needed to fill that void,” agrees Nicky Taser. Alongside long-time collaborator Loki, he was resident at Turbulence for years. They now run Motion Sickness, one of the city’s biggest d&b regulars, with another friend, Gav D. “A lot of the younger guys did the same, they all came in and started nights, and it’s developed into a really healthy scene. We give each other sets, tell each other dates we have stuff planned, and try not to clash too much. It’s nice; everyone’s friendly and supportive.”

Jump-up-flavoured Dilate and roller/jungle-centric Lively Up are two other key nights in the city’s supportive network, where the likes of Stompz, Skantia, and Nectax are all residents. It’s here they’ve spent the last few years testing their creations, bouncing off each other and keeping each other on their toes, especially when it comes to their new annual soundclash tradition. Since 2018, Dilate, Lively Up and two other d&b events, Asylum and Noyse, have been holding annual battles.

“It ends up being one of the best nights of the year,” says Lively Up resident Kallum Stompz. “We’re all mates, we’re all connected and we just take the piss. It’s just proper camaraderie.”

“It’s proper stressful too, mind,” laughs Dilate resident Skantia. “But we love it. It brings all the promoters and DJs together, everyone goes the extra mile, it’s just good fun. It’s what the scene here is all about.”

The third Newcastle Culture Clash kicked off earlier this year in February. It took place in World Head Quarters, or Worldies as it’s known locally, one of the most consistent venues for drum & bass in the city. This year saw Dilate break Lively Up’s unbeaten track record, but of course, the real winner is Newcastle, and the inspiring culture that’s been created through its community of nights, venues and artists. The results of the last few years of bashes, clashes and camaraderie are now paying off in a major way.

“Everyone’s been working towards it for a few years now and we could all see it coming, but you can’t get ahead of yourself. The start of last year was when it was like, ‘OK, something is actually happening here’,” explains Lively Up resident Kallum Stompz, who signed off last decade with the monstrous ‘Foghorns On The Tyne’ EP. “All the nights were popping, my releases were lining up on Souped Up, same with Neccy [Nectax] on Serial Killaz and Chronic, [and] with Skantia on RAM. We could all feel that elevation.”

Skantia, Stompz and Nectax aren’t alone. Kastro, Scudd, Kre, and Hexa are also part of the city’s new d&b movement, as each artist helps to push and support each other. Tyrone can’t be overlooked, either. Old enough to have cut his teeth at Turbulence, but still young and emergent enough to be a key figure in the city’s new drum & bass make-up, his releases on Guidance and Metalheadz in the last 18 months have set other high benchmarks in the city’s scene. “It makes it relatable doesn’t it?” considers James Phobia.

“When I saw guys from up here releasing on labels like Headz, I thought, ‘OK, it can be done’, and really pushed on in the studio myself. And that’s happening again. But they’re doing it in a different way. The new generation are all a lot more helpful of each other and much more collaborative. Ten or 15 years ago, we were all quite protective of who we were working with, but now there’s much more of a, ‘Fuck it, let’s go’ vibe. ‘Here’s this guy’s email, let’s collaborate on this label’, and that type of stuff. That’s really inspiring and means it’s a much stronger scene as it develops.”

“We’re all just mates at the end of the day,” understates Nectax, who’s just dropped two major league collaborations with Bladerunner in addition to releases on cutting-edge new-gen label Overview. “We all want to see each other do well and hopefully have a bit of fun while doing it. Seeing how it’s grown from one or two nights a month to events on every weekend, and all of us releasing music, just in the last two years, has been mad. And it feels like we’re only just getting started.”

A friendly supportive environment, a growing menu of dedicated nights and a new generation of artists all pushing each other: it’s the perfect storm of a new chapter in the city’s longstanding d&b tradition. Something’s been bubbling in Newcastle Upon Tyne for the last 20 years... and right now, it’s bubbling over.

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Dave Jenkins is a freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter here.