The DJ Sessions


Catching Up With GEST

UKF | April 20, 2024

Tucked away in a studio in the heart of Berlin, GEST shares insights into the latest EP, ‘Superstructure’, released on Shogun Audio and the intricate web of influences that shape its sonic universe. Nestled amidst the lush greenery of the home setup, GEST opens up about the journey from Southampton’s streets to the vibrant underground scene of Berlin, finding solace and inspiration in the city’s energy.

Beyond the confines of the studio, GEST emerges as a pillar of the underground music community, spearheading the club night ‘GEST Invites’ and championing the raw, unfiltered essence of drum and bass. Amidst the ever-shifting landscape of promotion and performance, GEST remains steadfastly committed to authenticity, navigating the digital age with a blend of innovation and resilience. As the conversation unfolds, GEST leaves us with a poignant reminder: behind every beat lies a hidden hustle, a testament to the unwavering dedication of artists navigating the turbulent seas of creativity and commerce.

GEST’s releases have always drawn from a rich tapestry of influences ranging from classic tech-step to hypnotic techno beats. ‘Superstructure’ is no different, masterfully weaving together elements of acid, dubstep, and atmospheric melodies, creating a dynamic fusion that defies genre boundaries. From the tribal rhythms of techno to the soulful resonance of drum and bass, GEST’s music invites listeners on a transcendent journey through sound.

How are you doing?

Good thanks, just chilling in my studio. I’ve had the day to sit in here and do music stuff- which has been great. And I’m excited to finally get the EP out. It’s been a long time coming.

Your studio looks gorgeous, and all the plants look great…

I blocked out the windows with all the soundproofing. So really needed the plant to add some life.

Is this your house or do you rent a studio space?

This is in my place. I’m pretty lucky to be able to have a studio in here and be able to sleep next to my studio and get up to make tunes when I’m inspired. When I was living in London, I was renting a place in South Bermondsey at Atomic Studios- shout out to them. I really enjoyed my time there, I was there for about six or seven years but looking back on it now, I wouldn’t change what I’ve got now with the home setup. I’ve spoken to a lot of other artists that feel the same. I think having it in your house and not needing to make a journey and schedule days for being in the studio makes a big difference. 

It looks very comfortable…

It is. I put a lot of time into this room.  It’s basically my life. I pretty much never leave. 

Are you working in music full-time?

Yeah in a manner of speaking. I guess I can say that I do music full-time but for about two or three days a week, I do University lecturing for sound design. I do that all from this studio remotely.

It’s teaching at an academic level so it’s not always super creative, but it does keep me inspired and involved in music production the whole time even if that side of the work isn’t directly creative. I really love doing it, and it’s been cool to see results from students. I’ve been working with this University for about nine years now. So that’s what I do on the side of GEST.  

Is that what you’ve been up to recently, producing and teaching?

That’s pretty much it really. Definitely spending the majority of my time doing that. Then there’s been this release, I’m gonna take a bit of time off because it’s a bit of a longer project than we’ve done before- six tracks. So it took a while to get things right and going back and forward and stuff. 

Let’s talk about the Superstructure EP. What was the inspiration behind the tracks?

There are six tracks on this which is a bit bigger than some of the other GEST releases, so there has been a bit more room to experiment with this one. I’d say the classic tech-step era has always been one of the biggest influences within drum and bass for me. Cause 4 Concern, early Break,  Fierce, Matrix and labels like Quarantine, for example, that’s a big influence on GEST in general. It’s maybe not the most popular sound at the moment, but I can’t stop myself drawing on that pretty often. But with GEST, It’s been about trying to maybe fuse that sound with more techno and acid vibes.  There are quite a lot of influences from techno, too many to mention really, but there’s a hypnotic, tribal vibe with techno that I’m really into. I’m quite influenced by that classic Detroit techno-sounding stuff. There are a lot of artists to mention there, but a label called SK_eleven, and another one called Be As One.

 There’s also a 140 dubstep track on this EP, which definitely has been inspired by the resurgence of the deep dubstep vibes in the last few years. That’s been really cool to see and I wanted to explore GEST at 140 BPM, there’s an acid vibe going on there too. 

There’s a track with Javeon on a collab which has more of an atmospheric, melodic sort of feel. I think the production on that definitely has a bit of a Marcus Intalex kind of influence in there and that’s definitely been something that’s been fairly present in GEST tracks. I always hold a candle to Marcus Intalex and the whole Soul:r thing. 

There’s also almost a techno track in there called ‘Escalate.’ That one caused a bit of a stir when we released it, but I think it’s been mainly positive. I know a lot of people maybe don’t think that drum and bass should be arranged in that way. So there have maybe been a couple of people who think this sound is not for them, which is fair, but I’ve definitely been quite inspired hearing some of these jungle/techno tracks in the last few years.  Like the classic ‘Disco Dodo’ by Lynx, a big one from back in the day, for me that’s always been just one of those rave classics that I’m always influenced by.

Speaking of ‘Escalate’, you almost hear Berlin in that track… Let’s talk about the impact you think moving countries has had on your production… 

What can I say about this place? Really? I love it to death. I first came here about 12 years ago on the way back from Outlook Festival with a group of mates. We had a mad few days discovering the techno clubs and the underground culture that exists here. And now I’ve been living here for nearly four years. The energy here is just something a bit different – it can be a little bit pretentious at times but in general, I’ve got so much respect for the underground electronic music culture that exists here. It seems like electronic music is a bit more celebrated and valued here. 

It’s definitely a big influence for me on the music, I get inspired just walking around sometimes and being involved in the scene here going out to various different events. One cool thing has been that even though I’m halfway into my 30s – I’ve made quite a lot of new friends and connections here which has been great. I wasn’t really sure if that was going to happen when I moved out here, far too many people to mention in an interview, but a massive shout to all my mates and co-workers here that I’ve met who’ve made the whole thing quite enjoyable. 

Let’s talk about your artwork,  there’s a strong brutalist architectural theme throughout your entire body of work. Why did you do that?

Throughout the whole GEST project really there’s been an inspiration from brutalist architecture, these kinds of almost ugly, concrete structures that feel fairly threatening, but are actually maybe beautiful and interesting. 

I don’t think we’re unique in that respect. I’ve definitely seen a lot of underground D&B and techno artists drawing inspiration from this. Maybe it’s a natural link for a lot of producers, that sci-fi influence, when you see some of these structures and buildings it brings to mind dystopian vibes and the music has a link to that. 

Where do the pictures come from?  

Various places over the years. Harry took some on his own camera, but I’ve got to send a shout to Andy at Amy Of Few. He really conceptualised the artwork at the beginning of GEST. He was given an idea and a sort of mood board thing, but I think it’s probably fair to say he kind of set off the initial vibe. 

So… GEST invites, your club night in Berlin…

That’s been something that I’ve been super proud to do for the last two and a half years now. It’s definitely tough times for anyone who’s a promoter right now in any country. Doing underground D&B or just underground music in general is hard, but it hasn’t been a chore. There’s been some points where it’s been a little stressful, but overall, I’m really thankful and enjoying doing it. It’s been amazing to be able to take this to a few techno clubs in Berlin that actually didn’t have drum and bass before as well as some well known spots.

It’s probably worth mentioning numbers and turnout. D&B nights might not be as big as in some other places, we average about 200-300 people for the most part. But that’s enough for a party and the vibes are always on point. Most of the clubs in Berlin have a pretty strict no phones, no filming policy for everyone- both the people actually coming to the event and for the promoters and DJs. I know that may seem a bit pretentious at times but I actually do really enjoy the atmosphere it creates. I’m not gonna preach about it because I know it’s quite a divided discussion.  And it can be a pain in the ass from a promoter’s point of view when you’re trying to actually show people how the events are and you don’t really have any footage from it. But I still think I’d rather that to be honest. Everyone that’s there is pretty locked in and people are dancing and it’s maybe quite a stupid thing to say, but I’ve had a couple of the artists actually come away from their sets and comment on the fact that everyone was dancing, perhaps doesn’t happen in some other places as much for whatever reason, but I’ve been pretty proud of that. So yeah, definitely big thanks to everyone who attended. It’s been a pleasure and I’m definitely looking to continue it for as long as I’m here.

You’ve been a promoter for years running Release at Southampton’s Soul Cellar, among other events. How have you found the changing landscape of promotion?

I’m not so old school with my promotion that I existed before social media. When I first started trying to put on my own events, it was still at that point when Facebook was a massive thing and it was a necessary tool. But it has definitely changed a lot. I remember when I was doing it back in my hometown- Southampton, from the age of about 18 or 19 years old and a lot of that was more like physical promotion. I used to go to nights handing out flyers in the rain to people coming out of the clubs.

There’s still a physical promotion element here in Berlin: a culture of fly posting. It’s still huge here, which is interesting because I think that isn’t so true in a lot of places in the UK, but Bristol is maybe the exception to that rule. When you walk down most of the main streets in Bristol they’re just plastered in D&B posters everywhere. And there’s definitely still a physical promotion element here in Berlin too, which is cool. I’m quite involved in that and it gets me out of my studio, doing flyer and poster drops and stuff. But that’s a pretty small side of it, it’s very much around social media and content. It can be quite hard to keep on top of that.

I’m pretty lucky that I’ve had quite a good team of people mainly at Shogun that have helped me to navigate that kind of stuff so I can focus more on the music.  I’ve been able to pick up certain tips and apply that to running the nights but the landscape has massively changed, it’s not easy to do this stuff- all the algorithm crap. It’s not easy to kind of navigate that stuff and you don’t want to oversell it. It’s very easy for people to see when you’re just overselling things and constantly shoving it in their faces the whole time. There’s quite a fine line.

There’s still talk over here about the big events versus the smaller events and how big events are necessary but they may be damaging the smaller events which we need to bring people through. People haven’t got a lot of money so they buy a ticket to one big event rather than going out every week. What do you think about this situation? And what do you think is the way forward?  

We have the same debate here as well. I do think that that’s something that’s omnipresent throughout global music culture currently. Not even just within electronic music, I’ve seen the debate about other styles of music as well. But within D&B it exists for sure and I think it’s quite hard to give a definitive answer.  Berlin is maybe a bit more friendly towards smaller underground nights but there’s still a massive struggle here. It’s not easy for anyone. I know that a lot of the promoters and clubs are constantly losing money or not able to be a financial success. 

In the UK right now, it’s harder than ever and so many small venues have disappeared because it’s basically impossible for them to make it work for various reasons. It’s certainly not easy here, but I think there’s maybe a bit more scope for it, it does seem like there are still a few more underground nights going on. Which for me is probably still the most enjoyable and I’ve had some of my best nights in a small club with 150 people.

What’s your touring schedule looking like at the moment?

I recently played the Shogun Sessions event in London at Corsica Studios. It’s always a secret lineup until the day but that was Whiney, P Money and Charlie Tee, which was recorded and put out on YouTube. And that started off a run of gigs for really the next six months. Some of them are in Berlin or around Europe. There are a few festivals and I’m heading to Australia and New Zealand at the end of May into June.

What about live music, you have the live clips on social media and you play the guitar don’t you?

I’m not gonna big myself up here because I pick up the guitar once every few years these days but I did learn to play guitar from the age of 12 when I was still just getting into music. There is a GEST live show now being looked at, basically like a longer version of the clips that have been posted on social media.

It’s definitely a long road to making it happen. I’m not going to say a definite time frame. But after posting up a few of those clips over the last couple of years, there’ve been a fair few people maybe just calling out for being able to see it live, and that’s spurred me on just to try it. The main hurdle with this is that the energy is definitely going to be quite different to a DJ set and one of the challenges with this is trying to work it out in a way that doesn’t alienate people too much, I guess because we’re all used to fairly kind of fast-paced DJ set sort of vibe. With a live thing that’s not really how it can work. There’ve been a lot of live D&B shows over the years but yeah with GEST and the deeper side of the scene, not so much has happened. So it’s a bit of an unknown territory. So for anyone who was asking about this- it’s in the works and it’s something that is gradually being looked at.

One thing that not a lot of people will have seen is that I also made a side project for live performance techno last year, using the same setup that’s been in all the videos. It’s been pretty chilled. I did it in a way to train myself as to how I could actually do this for GEST. With techno, there’s a bit more of an existing structure for live sets. Also just because I’m very much inspired by the techno scene here in Berlin I wanted to try and be a part of it and give myself a side project to flick between D&B, and have something to keep me a bit inspired and coming back. It’s definitely still very early stages but there’s been a couple little gigs around.  

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A post shared by GEST (@gestdnb)

Oooh, so we have a techno alias from you?

It’s called Machinegeist. This is the first time that I would have publicised it much. I just wanted to build this just slowly and not really hype too much.

Follow Machinegeist

You work a lot with Shogun… How’s that? 

It’s great. Definitely got to send a shout-out to everyone there. There’s a great team behind the label and I’m very lucky to be a part of this because it’s fair to say that the GEST sound is certainly more underground than the majority of the music that Shogun releases. They are very good at helping me to navigate what to do in terms of social media and presenting things. They’re great at putting plans in place for releases and just generally trying to make the best of every release. 

In terms of the music they’re not too pushy, they just let me do whatever I’m gonna do, there’s maybe certain tunes that they know wouldn’t be right for Shogun and that’s fair because obviously, they do have a strong presence and general image. I can only be thankful about working with Shogun, and just generally having people to help because it’s not easy right now. A lot of people I guess just get lost in the noise of social media and maybe it’s harder than ever for underground artists to actually get the music heard and promote themselves. 

I guess I will always look back to being like an 18-year-old vinyl buyer going out and buying all the early Shogun releases on White Label. I used to travel for quite a long time sometimes just to get to a record shop and maybe get a chance of getting some of the early Shogun releases. 

There is some forthcoming GEST music that I can’t talk too much about, but I’m at least going to say that there’s a GEST remix of a Classic Shogun tune from 2008. It’s not one of the more well-known Shogun tunes, but for me, it was one of my favourites. 

People talk about Shogun’s golden era- the days of Spectrasoul, Alix Perez, Icicle et al. It could be said that the imprint recreated this ‘Golden Era mark two,’ with yourself, GLXY, Pola & Bryson, Monrroe, Sustance… How does it feel to be in that position now?

Just super thankful. I will always look back on that period in time. I had been into drum and bass for quite a bit before Shogun got to that level, but it was certainly a massive focal point for me being a 16/17/18-year-old vinyl DJ. Shogun was the gold standard at that time. It’s evolved and it’s morphed into different forms, but I’d like to hopefully think that I’m staying true to that sort of original Shogun vibe. I always think back to being that 18-year-old fanboy going out and buying vinyl and that’s definitely something that is still in my mind to this day. 

So the final question is, what should we be talking about in D&B that we’re not currently talking about?

I touched upon it in the very beginning when you asked me about what I’m up to, but I think it’s very easy for people to see stuff on social media and for it to appear that it’s very easy to do all of this and that people are having big careers being underground D&B artists. Which can be true, but I guess from my side there is a big side hustle involved… I guess my point would be to not feel bad about it or to think that it’s a negative thing to have other areas of income or other things to pursue alongside music. There are so many other underground D&B artists that have multiple sources of income. 

We’re living in some of the bleakest economic times right now, wherever you’re at. It’s not easy to make this work. It’s healthy to talk about the fact that for a lot of people they need other ways to make money to keep being creative. I know there are a lot of D&B guys that do Patreon, which if I wasn’t doing University lecturing, I’m sure I’d be doing something like that as well. I think it’s quite important to speak about that, particularly, for some younger artists that may just be getting into this and they’ve grown up with social media and just being presented with this very positive side of things where it seems like everyone’s just smashing it the whole time. It’s maybe not quite as obvious that there is quite a lot of stuff behind the scenes that goes into sustaining some careers of underground artists right now.  There’s no shame in that.

Written by UKF


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