Producers: The new wave behind the mixing desks
This summer, the charts are likely to be dominated by knob-twiddlers - these are the ones to watch
Holly is a London-based music and entertainment journalist. She is currently a showbiz producer and reporter for Reuters, as well as a contributor to titles including The Independent, The Guardian, Metro, Notion, Nylon, Interview, Dazed & Confused, District MTV, The Line of Best Fit. Previously, she was Music Editor of Idol Magazine.
Friday 25 April 2014
The producer was once the faceless person in the recording process. No longer. Producer-driven acts such as Calvin Harris, Rudimental, Naughty Boy and Disclosure dominated the pop charts last year and have heralded a new wave of producers who, while continuing to work with other singers in the studio, are also choosing to release their own music, becoming hugely successful artists in their own right.
Nowadays, producers have to finish the tracks that they demo with artists to the point where then tracks are so fully formed that they could go straight to radio. It’s little wonder they don’t want to leave half of them on the cutting room floor. “As a producer, on average you make a song a day,” points out Jax Jones, who featured on, co-wrote and co-produced Duke Dumont’s No 1 record “I Got U”. “Of these songs about one in 20 will make the cut of a singer’s album. That’s a waste of music. Being a producer you’re a workman for hire but we’re emotional too – it takes something out of us every time we make a track.”
Producer-turned-artist Tieks says: “Most producers really want to respect what the artist is about, so while we try to put some sonic imprint into a track of ourselves, it’s largely the artist’s idea we’re trying to get across. This can be frustrating when you have all these ideas of your own that you want to be heard.”
Choosing to release music under their own name, as an artist, provides an avenue for the producer’s own creativity to be heard. Here are the producers turned artists whose names you should look out for in the summer ahead.
Uzoechi Emenike may only be 19 years old but his career trajectory already reads like an old-timer. By the age of just 15 he had already been tipped for success by NME, and as a producer, writer and remixer his credits include Kylie Minogue, Rudimental, Little Mix, Tinie Tempah and Bastille. As a songwriter he boasts a Grammy nomination (Best Dance Recording) and a No 1 single for Duke Dumont’s “Need U (100%)”.
MNEK’s buttery soul vocals are now as much in demand as his backroom skills, after featuring on Rudimental’s single “Spoons”, and scoring a No 3 smash single singing on (and co-writing) Gorgon City’s “Ready For Your Love”.
While he has future production and writing projects in the diary with the likes of Disclosure, Diplo and Clean Bandit, MNEK looks set to blow as a bona-fide pop star in the coming months. His debut single, “Every Little Word” (out 9 June) has exploded online to much acclaim, garnering comparisons with the likes of Prince and Michael Jackson. When asked to describe his signature sound, MNEK suggests imagining, “Luther Vandross if he lived in Shoreditch today.” His debut album will be released on Virgin EMI in the autumn. “It’s going to be massive,” predicts Amir Amor of Rudimental. “He’s an incredible producer, songwriter and singer. For him it flows so naturally.”
“A lot of people describe me as an electronic producer,” explains SOHN, who is best known for his production work with the likes of LA alt-R&B singer, Banks, and rising soul star, Kwabs. However, for the Vienna-based Londoner, “the production thing almost happened by accident.” After releasing a couple of tracks as an artist, the electronic magic that he had injected into his production became highly sought after by other artists. He has recently finished a stint in LA jam-packed with production and songwriting sessions with the cream of new music talent including Lorde, SZA, Mo and Erik Hassle.
“I would have always said I’m a singer so I guess it’s kind of a remarkable thing that some people think it’s the other way round,” he explains. After a couple of years behind the scenes, SOHN jumps to the foreground with the release of his debut album, Tremors. The record is an intense exploration of textured electronica, steeped in emotion. Most importantly, it showcases his extraordinary falsetto voice, which needs to be heard live to truly appreciate it. He will be touring Europe, North America and Asia before hitting the British festival circuit.
The protege of chart-topping producer-artist Duke Dumont, Jax Jones is a producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. He has worked with superstar songwriter Eg White and hit producer Alex Da Kid. Jones decided to release music as an artist after suffering a common fate in the music industry. “I’d produce on some big records, go to the local supermarket to check my name on the album credits and it wasn’t there.” At a time of frustration, he played Dumont an initial demo of his track “I Got U”. Dumont loved it, they worked on it together and last month the track hit the No 1 spot.
Jones describes his signature sound as “tropical”. “I’m generally a happy guy and I just want to evoke happiness. My solo single, ‘Go Deep’ [released in June] definitely fits into that.” Jones’s debut album is expected later this year and he has also worked on the majority of Dumont’s debut record.
The 24-year-old Leicester-born James Edward Jacob, known as Jakwob, is something of a production polymath. His first introduction to the masses came following his hugely successful dubstep remix of Ellie Goulding’s breakthrough hit “Starry Eyed”. Since then he has remixed some of the biggest names in pop, from Lily Allen and Laura Mvula to Usher and Lana Del Rey. He recently produced rising star Kyla La Grange’s new album and is also working with artists including Tom Aspaul, Jess Glynne, Little Simz and FTSE. Mentored by legendary DJ and producer Shy FX, Jakwob’s forthcoming single “Somebody New” follows last year’s top 40 hit “Fade”. “Somebody New” is a bass-heavy track topped by the sombre, sultry vocal of Tiffani Juno.
“People are far more emotionally connected with dance music these days so I try to make my music as engaging, exciting and physically moving as possible.” When asked to describe his signature sound, Jakwob says. “I love the idea of contemporary classical, dance and pop music working together. Injecting some soul and emotion into the dance floor.”
“As a producer and DJ he’s already a huge deal,” states Amor. “But in terms of getting out there as a mainstream artist, this year he’s set to become a household name.”
Tieks’s debut single, “Sing That Song”, to be released in August, is a dance hit waiting to happen, with an earworm hook and happy-go-lucky zing that will undoubtedly soundtrack the end of the summer party season.
London-based Mark-Anthony Tieku is a studio veteran having worked with the likes of The xx and Ed Sheeran, and Florence and The Machine on her hit debut album Lungs. He was recently an additional producer on Duke Dumont’s No 1 single “Need U (100%)” and co-wrote his follow-up single, “Hold On”, alongside other top tip, MNEK.
It was Dumont’s manager who heard Tieku’s own material – “a mish-mash of American disco and French house” – and encouraged him to release it as an artist. A major-label deal followed along with a new moniker, his nickname “Tieks”. Teaser track “Cake” is Chicago-house-inspired, featuring the vocals of late Louisiana rapper Ceddy Bu. He recently mixed the EP for hotly tipped neo-soul singer, Ben Khan, and is producing for cult label PMR’s signing, Ryan Ashley. “Tieks is one of the rare production talents out there,” remarks Amor.
MNEK’s single “Every Little Word” is out on 9 June. SOHN’s debut album, ‘Tremors’, is out now, and he headlines London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 12 September. Jax Jones’s single “Go Deep” is out in June. Jakwob’s single “Somebody New” is out now. Tieks’s single “Sing That Song” is out in August
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