|Breaking through: Huxley
The UK producer has finally found a sound he can call his own, and he couldn't be happier.
"I was making music before, pottering along on a certain level, but I wasn't really happy with it. I was thinking, 'Fuck this, it's never gunna happen now, I've been doing it for so long.' At that point, living at home with no money, I even started sending out my CV to get a 'proper job.' I was lucky: Nobody wanted me. So I just carried on making music."
Not long after these moments of self-doubt, the now 27-year-old Huxley's Shower Scene EP was released on Act Natural. Looking back, it proved something of a turning point: away from the tech house with which he had first emerged on Cécille and Tsuba in 2009, garage now seemed an overriding influence. Listen to any of his ensuing releases on Hypercolour, Leftroom or 2020 Vision and that's still very much the case. Why the stylistic switch up?
"I think before I was trying to make music that other people wanted to hear, not completely what I wanted to make," admits the Tring-based producer who had, in fact, grown up on a fulsome diet of garage since a young age. His first love, though, was drum & bass—specifically a friend's Dreamscape compilation mixed by Mickey Finn. "Listening back now it's a bit shit, but when you're 12 you don't really know that, do you? There was this record shop in Watford where I lived that started stocking loads of garage so I started buying a few records there. First record I ever bought was Double99's 'RIP Groove' and from there I got more and more into it and started playing around producing with a shit program called Impulse Tracker. It was fucking awful really, but it made you work hard to get your sound, so it was a good process to learn from."
Incredibly, it wasn't long before a first physical release came along: as a result of winning an online competition, the teenaged Huxley had 250 copies of his debut record, Slice of Ice Vol. 1, pressed up. Stoked by his auspicious start, the man known to his mother as Michael Dodman then took a year out after sixth form, and before University, to work on music.
"It was pretty unproductive," he admits. "I just sat around and didn't do that much" before going off to "waste more time" doing a Media Studies degree at Portsmouth University. "We sat around analysing [much maligned UK TV presenter] Jeremy Kyle. For three years. It was fun though, and at the same time I started DJing out. I actually became a sort of resident for the Wideboys who were running their own night, Sambuca, down there."
All this was happening four and five years ago, a time when Huxley found himself at many parties post-University, but doubted his abilities as a producer until hooking up with Tim "Ethyl" Hopgood. "His musical knowledge is far more impressive than mine, especially house," explains Huxley. "He showed me the light as it were. When we sat down to make music it just worked. It made me realised I could make house music."
Whereas some artists would rather retract certain forays into production owing to seismic shifts in tastes and talents, Huxley considers his early house efforts worthy landmarks. "I think it was an important part of the process, you can't really scoff at your first release being on Cécille and your next on Tsuba. People still come up saying they like those tracks so it's a good thing to have your first house releases on such respected labels. If I hadn't made that music before, I probably wouldn't be where I am now."
That place now is the forefront of a garage revival, even if Huxley isn't buying that completely. "That garage is popular now is just coincidence really. I started making it because I was listening to it again. I was getting bored of house and hadn't listened to any for ages, so when I started digging out my old records and it pushed me into putting [those influences] back into my music. It's a happy accident that people like Disclosure and Mosca are now doing incredibly good garage as well."
'Happy accident' might well be a good way to describe one of his biggest tracks to date, namely the RA-endorsed "Let It Go" on Hypercolour from earlier in the year. "I sat down and made something very different from what I've done before. I have no idea why I made it. I just thought, 'Why not try a track like this?' It's definitely a bit of a weird one but I don't take things too seriously. I'm not exactly one of these people to sit around and ponder whether or not I'm making stuff that's serious or not. Fuck it, my music should definitely reflect my personality, or it all gets a bit stale and boring."
Being such an independent spirit who is now no longer "paranoid about wanting labels to accept the tracks I make," Huxley finds himself more in-demand than ever. "Now, if the label doesn't like it, fuck them, in the nicest possible way. I don't want to know." Self-assured as that may be, it's an approach that's working, with Huxley happy to stay a multi-label artist rather than a core member of any one crew. It makes, sense, frankly, with his output evolving with each release and every remix, from the subdued euphoric bass of his latest on 2020 Vision to the more cerebral deep house of an upcoming collaboration with Craig Richards' engineer, Sam Russo, for clubby house imprint Leftrooom.
That said, starting his own label—Saints & Sonnets with friend Jimmy Posters—is not a reaction to homogeneity in the scene. It's just a way to present other people's music that he likes. "It's sometimes hard to get excited about my own music, but easy to get excited about other peoples'," he admits.
The most recent was a deep house effort from Amsterdam pair Detroit Swindle, and is exactly the sort of thing you'll find in a Huxley set or in his upcoming compilation for 1Trax. "Big basslines, quite garagey with the odd heads down house tune thrown in there," he says. DJing in the modern era, Huxley believes, is all about track selection. "Everybody can fucking mix, it's just picking the right tunes for the right crowds. In London, for example, you know what to play, but in Bratislava you don't. You have to be prepared to change what you normally play otherwise it could end up going down like a shit sandwich."
Such knowledge only comes with time, experience and understanding, something Huxley has built up in swathes over the last decade and more. "I don't know if I'd be able to cope with producing one track then getting massive, so I'm happy now that things have grown organically. Those sort of overnight artists don't tend to last anyway, do they?"