The Breakdown: How Skepsis made DnB roller Know What It Means

In our video series The Breakdown, we visit artists and producers in the studio to break down how they make their music, getting a deeper insight into the gear, techniques and creative process that's behind their best tracks. 

UK producer Skepsis has been rising through the ranks of the bass music circuit since first hitting the scene in 2017. He first made an impact with a run of unofficial remixes and bootlegs, before signing his own infectious, lively tracks to labels such as CruCast, Spinnin’ and Bite This!

While he first made an impact with a four-to-the-floor bassline sound – as heard on his breakthrough track Goes Like – he’s recently reconnected with his love of drum & bass. The first fruits of this new direction include last year’s Know What It Means, featuring Persian-British singer/songwriter Raphaella.

Skepsis breaks down the track in the video embedded above. We caught up with him in his Liverpool studio to chat about his career so far and how he’s always learning as a producer.

How did you first get started as a DJ and producer?

“I probably started when I was about 14 or 15 in school. I went to a state school, and it had just won this massive grant from the government to do up the music department. They got all these iMacs that had Logic on them, which is what I still use now. I got really interested in it. I was quite clever in school, but until then I never really had a purpose. 

“I started DJing around the same time, which is obviously quite young to start, because this guy came into our school and offered free lessons at lunchtime. Me and my mate saved up some money for equipment and we started doing house parties for people our age, and also kids’ birthday parties for a bit of money. This was probably around 2010. 

“I never studied music past GCSE, so I was self taught, really. I feel like a lot of the things I do might not necessarily be the correct technical way, but I guess with this game there’s not really set rules. If it sounds good, then that’s it. 

“I went to university but to be honest, I didn’t care about my degree. I didn’t like it. I was going out to these freshers’ events and it was weird because I’d be having a good time, but when I was in the club, I would look at the DJ and I’d be like, ‘I want to be up there. I want to do that instead!’ 

“This was around the time that SoundCloud was booming. I was making these bootlegs and unofficial remixes on my laptop, which were pretty much grime tracks. I would upload them to SoundCloud, clips that were not even finished, and they started to get a few plays. 

When I was in the club, I would look at the DJ and I’d be like, ‘I want to be up there. I want to do that instead!’

“At the same time, I got my first club set at the uni’s student union. This was when CDs were still around, I went into the office of the guy who ran the nights and I waited there to give him my CD and I made them listen to it. When I got into the clubs, I still had to play a certain style of music because I was just a resident, so at first it was quite a mixture of commercial stuff and hip-hop, which was okay, but it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. I’d also play some house, which was more towards what I wanted to do, but I’ve always had an ear for the heavier stuff.”

What sort of artists were you influenced by at that time?

“The stuff that really got me into electronic music was a mixture of things like The Prodigy and Pendulum, that sort of drum & bass, but also dubstep. Dubstep was booming when I was younger and wasn’t old enough to go to raves. By the time I was going out, there was a lot of division in dubstep about its roots versus where it went, with the American stuff. 

“Personally, I liked it all – from Skream and Benga to Skrillex. I still love Skrillex, he just released two crazy albums. I also listened to a lot of Caspa and Rusko. I actually saw Rusko the other day at Warehouse Project in Manchester. I was like a proper fanboy.”

Did your DJ career basically just snowball from that point?

“I started building up a following through SoundCloud, and I was doing a lot of networking. Then, around the end of my first year of uni, I got my first proper set booked off the back of my own music. That was at XOYO in London, about eight years ago. 

“In my final year it really kicked off for me; I was still doing this really mundane degree but at the same time I was doing these mad shows all around the country. It got really hard to balance and I nearly dropped out, but I managed to pull through and got my degree somehow. Luckily, it lined up so that at the time I graduated I had the financial means to go full-time.”

Were you picking up production skills throughout that time?

“I’m pretty much all self-taught. I find the best way to learn is when I’m with other producers. I’ve done a lot of collaborations and being in other people’s studio environments, watching how they work, is just a whole other level compared to YouTube tutorials. 

“I always try to pick up knowledge if I’m with someone. If I see one of my producer friends using a plugin, I’ll quickly make a note of it on my phone.”

How quickly into your DJ career did you start releasing tracks?

“I think I had my proper first release about 2016, just a couple of years after I went to uni. To be honest, in hindsight a part of me wishes I hadn’t released my tracks so early because I honestly feel like I’ve only recently become happy with my production levels. 

“Even now, I know I’m nowhere near where I want to be. To me at least, I can hear a progression over the years from my increasing technical ability. I listened to my old stuff and I’m like, ‘damn, that sounds quite bad!’ But then at the same time, it led me to be here.”

Has your approach changed much over the years?

“I’ve always been on Logic. I was on Logic 9 but then I got a new computer and it basically forced me to get Logic X. I actually really like a lot of the Logic stock plugins. The Logic compressor is really good. It’s got a lot of power. I like the Bitcrusher as well, because you can really use it to beef up elements, even if you do it subtly. 

I use a lot of saturation, like FabFilter Saturn. And I use iZotope Trash – that’s really good on drums

“I use a lot of saturation, like FabFilter Saturn. And I use iZotope Trash – that’s really good on drums. I also use one called Newfangled Audio Saturate, which is good as well. Obviously, you’ve got your Sausage Fattener which is a bit of a meme, but it’s actually quite good. Then Dada Life also do this other one called Endless Smile, which is like an all-in-one plugin for builds. 

“Synth-wise, I’ve always used the original Massive. I’m making more drum and bass now, but when I was starting out making bassline, 4x4 stuff a few years ago, everyone used Massive. I use Serum as well, you can definitely get a lot more out of Serum. I feel like Massive is quite 2D but I know it a lot better. In more recent times I’ve started using Phase Plant as well. It’s a beast but can be quite confusing.”

You’ve moved from making bassline to DnB, was that a challenge?

“It’s definitely been quite a challenging chapter. I’ve always had this love for drum & bass, even before I made any I’ve been playing it in my live sets for years. I’d always start slower and then finish on drum & bass. I just thought, I really want to learn how to make this. Obviously the bassline is my first love, and that’s where I came up from. But I always like change, and this direction lets me express how I’m feeling.” 

Skepsis' favourite bit of gear

“I love my monitors. They’re Adam A77x. I’ve had them for about three years now. I changed from having Yamaha HS8s before, which were good, but these are really, really great for clarity in the mixdown. 

“Obviously, they’re quite unique looking, too, with the sort of horizontal aspect. I feel like I just I know my sound quite well on them and they go very fucking loud! That’s good as well because I’m partially deaf from clubs.”

Si Truss

I'm Editor-in-Chief of Music Technology, working with Future Music, Computer Music, Electronic Musician and MusicRadar. I've been messing around with music tech in various forms for over two decades. I've also spent the last 10 years forgetting how to play guitar. Find me in the chillout room at raves complaining that it's past my bedtime.

Get over 70 FREE plugin instruments and effects… image
Get over 70 FREE plugin instruments and effects…
…with the latest issue of Computer Music magazine