Flux Pavilion: Epic Fantasy

Joshua Steele - better known by his stage name Flux Pavilion - is a hugely successful British electronic music producer, DJ, singer-songwriter and label owner who has been performing since 2008. In one of his first interviews for a long time, Flux tells Headliner all about his life during lockdown, his fascination with sound experimentation, the dubstep days, and how he uses Steinberg’s Cubase not just as a regular DAW, but as an intuitive, creative tool.

“I’m flat out working on about three albums at the moment and I’ve been producing for a variety of people,” begins Flux, “but this weekend I decided not to do anything, and just lounged around reading comic books instead.”

Perhaps an envious lifestyle for some, Flux made the decision around 18 months ago that he wanted to do less live music, and jokingly admits that “I’m good at writing music, but travelling around and being friendly and enthusiastic and jumping around is something I’m not actually very good at, but somehow that became my full time job.

“I've been slowly working on shifting that, and as a result I’ve been stacked with studio work, which is great!”

Flux also admits that he’s generally been more productive as of late, and started off building guitars with all of his new found spare time. What started as a hobby out of necessity during lockdown quickly turned into a deep passion; Flux was soon expanding his Eurorack by building his own modular synthesis tools, and even designed and built his own guitar pedal from the ground up.

“I've just been soldering, looking into electronics and learning so much more about my craft than I ever had time to do before, which is absolutely amazing and has been a great opportunity.” he says.

Having got to where he is now doing everything in the box, Flux felt compelled to delve further into the analogue side of production, and has done just that over the past two or three years:

“There's always another VST I can download, but I wanted to buy an analogue synth to see what it's all about; it just felt like there was a whole part of musical experimentation that I wasn't really getting into. I record a part, and rather than using filter automation, I now use my hands to move the filter myself, and just that tiny touch of humanisation in my music changes everything.

“I don’t really use digital stuff anymore - it’s all analogue, because I find I can play parts in or have them recorded in and I can just change all the parameters with my hands,” he admits. “That's something that's so human and so organic, recording it once or twice and picking the best one. And then I don't fiddle with it afterwards and spend months trying to make my songs perfect, because I actually captured that moment with a real piece of equipment. Learning about what is in the equipment and building it all myself, I’ve found a new level of geekery that I never expected I would have the time to do!”

I've enjoyed DJing, but what I always really wanted to do was sit around and play with synthesisers, write music and record bands all day.

Incorporating more of the physical element into his music has clearly added a whole new dynamic to Flux’s workflow:

“I've always been plagued by this concept of electronic music not being ‘real’ music. I always used to get asked in interviews things like, ‘so you’ve made it in electronic music as a DJ, but have you ever thought about doing real music, like with instruments and singing and stuff that's real?’ And I get it was probably a bad choice of words, but it's still something I've never forgotten, because that tends to be echoed right across the general public who often look at electronic music as being something different to playing a real instrument.

“But in the moments that a piece of control voltage is going through my synthesiser, it's real. It has mass. It's an actual thing. I'm carving the voltages in real space, and as far as I’m concerned it’s an analogue instrument in the exact same manner as a guitar, albeit obviously kind of a different beast. There's something about electronic music to me that feels more organic."

Despite this sentiment, Flux feels like he hasn’t really known much about the actual grounding and foundation of electronic music until quite recently:

“There’s so much more complexity that you can capture in synthesis. With a guitar, you can get a sound and you can get a feeling across, but you can't create a whole atmospheric location that you can with electronic music: carving in these spaces that make you feel like you've just woken up on another planet, and you're quite hungry, but maybe you want to go explore, and you've got eight legs; you can make someone feel like that’s happened with electronic music, and that to me is amazing.”

Flux’s mastery of electronic music is deep-rooted; he’s been doing this for quite a while now after all, since what most music lovers of the generation would call the golden age of dubstep.

“I got into producing when I was about 12 or 13 with a cracked copy of Nuendo; recording my electric guitar, plugging it straight into my computer and manipulating the waveforms. Proper electronic music happened when I was about 15 or 16, when I discovered Reason, and all the synths and stuff that are in there.

“I've enjoyed DJing, but what I always really wanted to do was sit around and play with synthesisers, write music and record bands all day. That's what I dreamed of doing when I was a kid.”

Flux first started creating electronic music with Doctor P, another dubstep producer and childhood friend:

“He was the only person in my small town that could play drums; I'd go round to his house and he had Nuendo, through which we'd record our band,” he remembers. “We got into drum and bass and started messing around with breaks, and then when dubstep came about we started up a record label.

“During that period, anyone would host a dubstep night anywhere. They were a good few years. I remember going to Aberystwyth and thinking, ‘how did I end up here, playing this music?’ But all of these tiny places were great, and the energy was always through the roof.”

Two of Flux’s tracks, I Can't Stop and Bass Cannon, are truly explosive dubstep anthems which set the standard, and epitomised the genre when it hit its peak around 2010.

“Sometimes I think I’m done with Flux Pavilion and start working on other projects, but then I’ll write something and it’s a really good Flux Pavilion song, so I think I just have to accept that I can’t help myself!” he laughs. “I put out an eight track EP called Blow The Roof in 2013, but there were about three singles that didn’t make it on to the EP; we combined them to make an 11 track album, so what I’m working on now is technically the third Flux Pavilion album.”

And over the course of those three albums, his production process, workflow and mindset has undoubtedly changed; developing and evolving “more dramatically than ever with this project.

“I think it’s since I've moved into the analogue gear side,” he ponders. “This album is a lot more explorative of atmosphere and ambience. I’ve always been influenced by thoughts and feelings and fantasy, but that track I Can't Stop to me sounds like a Legend of Zelda final boss fight; a big epic moment on top of a volcano and that’s what I’ve always tried to do: capture this big, fantasy, epic energy.”