Second Nature: Netsky returns to his roots on his latest album

Pictures by Jeroen De Wilde

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The Antwerp-based drum ‘n’ bass icon rediscovers his passion for the music he fell in love with as a young junglist.

Let’s take it back to 2010. Netsky had had just released his self-titled debut album on Hospital Records and had no idea what a massive impact this would have on his career. Ten years, dozens of releases, thousands of gigs across the globe and a pandemic later, Boris Daenen goes back to where it all started: his love for pure and simple drum ‘n’ bass. ‘Second Nature’ is out on Friday, but we got to sit down with Netsky for an exclusive interview revealing the details of what we can expect.

Tell us what your lockdown looked like. Did you finish the album in time?

“The lockdown had a prominent effect on my career, like with everybody, I'm sure. I was finishing my album in London. With only two more weeks to go, I had to come home for the opening of a restaurant. The situation became worse overnight, and I couldn’t travel back to the UK. Luckily enough, I was able to finish everything here in Belgium”.

“At the beginning of the lockdown, doing livestreams was one of the few things that kept me sane. We hosted those streams in a building not far from where I live, where we made an indoor urban jungle. In the beginning, it had a bit of a cheap look, but we added new gear and decoration every week. Even the contractor that (normally) provides flowers to Tomorrowland’s Garden of Madness sent over hundreds of plants! I’m blessed that a lot of people helped me out. That's something I have noticed while staying in Belgium for a long time again. People really help each other out here".

Musically, it's about going back to the vibe we had going on ten years ago.

Ten years after you’ve dropped your debut album on Hospital Records, you are returning to this record label with your latest one, Second Nature. During those ten years, your sound and your career have evolved quite a lot. Is releasing this album like coming full circle?

“Second Nature is about going back to my roots. I think me and Chris (Goss, ed.) from Hospital Records started this conversation at Amsterdam Dance Event last year. So the idea has been in the works for a while. Keep in mind we had to convince a couple of people because I was still signed to another label. Lucky for me, everybody liked the idea”. 

“Musically, it's about going back to the vibe we had going on ten years ago; making songs that you can listen to, but that would also work in small, dark, low-ceiling venues. I still love those places. When I went to check out a couple of shows as a punter at Amsterdam Dance Event last year, it made me fall in love with drum ‘n’ bass again. I wanted to recalibrate my focus. It’s not like I woke up a few years ago and decided I wanted to make other music, but looking back I had strayed away from the genre a bit”.

I tried to make my workflow as simple as possible. Less is more sometimes.

Your career took off ten years ago, so it may well have felt like the best time in your life. Was it?

“When you bring up memories from a decade ago, it's easy to romanticize everything. I think back on everything in the most positive way because there are so many incredible memories. I’m not just talking about the professional part of my career (those early shows or signing a record label deal) but also my family situation. Back then, I made music at my parents' place on a pair of $30 Logitech speakers, on a crappy computer. That made this project so interesting to me. I tried to make my workflow as simple as possible. Less is more sometimes. I tried to only focus on the melody, the bassline, the lead, a vocal and drums – not overcomplicating things. I've always liked working like that”.

Were you overcomplicating things on your previous material?

"About three years ago, I moved to Los Angeles, where I worked with some of the best pop producers in the world. The way music is made in those studios is very different; it's almost vibe management. These guys start working by inviting a couple of great producers and getting in the mood to make a hit. That’s how people work over there. I worked with David Guetta on his album for four weeks straight, day in day out. He’s a producer that approaches music production like directing a movie, starting with a long speech of his vision, so everyone is hyped to work towards the same goal. That’s a very different way of making music. The younger me would probably have frowned upon these methods, but over the years, I learned a lot of valuable lessons".

I've always been an eclectic and schizophrenic producer, and that shows again in this album.

"Even though my approach to this album is quite straightforward again, it still features a couple of valuable collaborations: Becky Hill, Rudimental, Urbandawn, Darren Styles… Everything started with appreciating each other’s music. There was a mutual starting point, rather than trying to convince a manager and a record label to do a feature together. All this went very natural, which is the reason it took such a short time to finish 16 tracks”.

What’s your favorite one?

“Usually, I hate that question, but I’m confident to say that is Hold On, with Becky Hill. It's one of my favourite songs she has ever written - and I've been following her work for ten years. I love her voice; I love her writing. This track is my lockdown song. It’s so special to me, and it’s probably my favourite song I ever worked on”.

Is there a specific message or theme that runs throughout the album?

“I’ve always made a point of not making concept albums. After all, my first three albums were named ‘Netsky’, ‘2’ and ‘3’ (laughs). The format, to me, serves as a timeline of what I've been making during a particular time. On Second Nature, every song has a separate story, but the album, in general, doesn’t have one. There are some very laid-back and classic-sounding songs on there, but there are some forward-thinking, harder, dancefloor songs too. It's a collection of all those things together. I've always been an eclectic and schizophrenic producer, and that shows again in this album”.

Aren’t you bummed out because there are no gigs to play this new music on?

“Granted, it’s not a great year to make music – but it's important to keep going, and I'm happy to see so many artists putting our new material. It makes sense this album doesn't contain any big EDM main stage anthems. Instead, this is a collection of songs that I hope people can listen to in the car, in the gym, or at home. I hope I'm able to connect with people like that again. But in the end, I must admit that not being able to see people dance to it stings a little bit (laughs)".