British Breakout Interview: Dubstep is Dead, Long Live Modestep

Matt, Nick, Tony, and Josh from Modestep.

Matt, Nick, Tony, and Josh from Modestep.

We spoke to the boys of Modestep in our latest British breakout interview, which took place in the BBC AMERICA office here in New York last week. But although their name suggests otherwise, don’t call them dubstep.

“We’re an anthemic rock band,” says Josh Friend, who sings and produces.

“With electronic influences,” adds his brother Tony, who serves as the band’s DJ.

Not simply a family affair, the brothers recruited drummer Matthew Curtis and guitarist Nick Tsang to fill out the band’s arena-ready sound. But, in their Muse-like, lighters-aloft anthems, the malevolent grind of dubstep is front-and-center in the mix:

Modestep is currently touring the U.S. in support of their album Evolution Theory, with a spot at Coachella in the offing. In our interview, we chatted about the death of dubstep as we know it, how the brothers in the band have avoided a Gallagher-like bust-up, and why they think Facebook is not artist-friendly.

Anglo: One of you mentioned that the dubstep scene in the U.K. attracts a very angry following, while American crowds want to have fun at shows.

Tony: [In America, it's] peace, love, unity, respect. It’s the opposite in England. It’s fists…

Josh: “Don’t look at me in the eye, or you’ll get slapped.” That’s how it is in the U.K. It’s kind of finished, though, the dubstep scene in the U.K.

Tony: It’s post-dubstep.

Josh: It’s now a future version of what it was. I guess in the U.K., it’s always about, kind of – I hate to say being pretentious, but it’s more like…

Tony: It’s being at the forefront.

Josh: It’s being at the forefront, and being “break-through” and being…

Matt: The next thing.

Josh: The next thing, yeah. Everyone’s trying to push forward in the U.K. And as soon as dubstep broke through to be this large, amazing international thing, people kind of disassociated themselves with it because they didn’t like where it was going. It wasn’t true to what they had originally planned for it. In the U.K., it’s actually kind of dead. Dubstep shows aren’t selling. Over here in America, it’s kind of just breaking.

Tony: In the U.K., I just think the underground scene is much darker and angrier. People in America are just nicer. You guys got the nice weather, lifestyle and stuff.

Josh: And, over here they say “let’s rage,” and for us, rage kind of insinuates something bad. Over here it’s like “let’s rage out” or –

Tony: Let’s have a good time.

Matt: Some people in the U.K. just come to our shows just to fight. They don’t come for the music. They just get in the mosh pit and go mental.

Tony: And then they show us their battle scars afterward, and they’re very proud of that.

Anglo: It’s almost a rock tradition for brothers in bands to feud, going back to The Kinks, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and of course, Oasis. Josh and Tony, how has your relationship changed since you started Modestep, and how do you keep from killing each other?

Tony: That’s interesting.

Josh: I think as brothers we kind of sync, think on the same kind of wavelengths, and I think 99.9 percent of the time we agree on stuff. And when we don’t, that’s when we know that it’s a decision that’s important and that we need to really like talk it out. But I think we’re quite political with it.

Tony: Most of the time in the studio, the music comes from us arguing about stuff Like, we’ll sit there and bicker about what kind of sound we should use and how the drop should be, how the build up should be, but that’s what Modestep is. It wouldn’t be that if, if it was just Josh doing what he wanted to be, it would just be Josh. If it was just me doing what I wanted to be, it would just be me. So, it, it’s Modestep because we have those arguments in the studio, because we, you know, we back and forth on the time. On a business level, we see eye-to-eye on most things, and I guess it’s from kind of being brought up together and having the same morals and the same kind of business ethics. No major falling out.

Matt: You just cursed us, man.

Anglo: What advice would you guys give to young musicians who are just starting now, discovering their own voices, and learning instruments ?

Tony: Exploit the Internet. It’s there at your fingertips, and without it, we wouldn’t be here now.

Matt: Don’t let other people tell you or dictate what you do. Do what sounds good to you. Be true to yourself with music.

Josh: I don’t know how to say this without insulting our record label, but don’t make rush decisions according to like signing with labels. You don’t particularly need one in this day and age. So if you feel like you can put the record out by yourself, and you have funding to do it, do it and don’t sign away your life. And that’s not to reflect our label relationship. I feel like the world is moving forward from record labels or major record labels anyway.

Tony: Basically, you’ve got all the tools to [start a career], everything yourself at your disposal so use it. Don’t get bogged down in trying to get the biggest record deal, or trying to get the publishing deal, whatever. You’ve got all the tools at your fingertips to be as successful as you want. Obviously, you do need the talent, but that comes with a lot of practice and a lot of time.

Anglo: Nick, as a guitarist, any advice to a budding musician?

Nick: Yeah, well, it’s weird. I had a few people ask me recently… ”Oh, did you realize you could become successful from this?” Like, I find that a really odd question. I do it because I enjoy it. And I think it should be anyone’s main motive to do something for the love of it. Don’t do it because you want to become rich or have the lifestyle of a rock star. I could personally see through someone who just doesn’t enjoy it.

Anglo: Right.

Josh: If you believe something through and through that it’s right, don’t let anyone push you off that. We’ve had a few people tell us our music videos weren’t right for this and weren’t right for that. It turned out they got us millions and millions of hits and actually built our career. Without those ideas and pushing the boundaries, actually — doing things that people told us was insulting and we can’t do &mdash if we hadn’t gone against their word and stuck to our grounds, we wouldn’t be sat here right now. Believe in everything you do and try to connect with your fanbase.

Anglo: With all of the computer tools that are at people’s fingertips right now, what would you kind of suggest that people do with them? A lot of artists have said that people are too reliant on the tools.

Josh: Absolutely, like without getting too geeky, Facebook is becoming the most unusable tool for musicians. And it’s actually kind of making it more difficult for musicians to connect with their fanbase. Try and avoid using Facebook at all costs because basically when your fans subscribe to you on Facebook, it’s Facebook owning that information. You don’t have any control over actually connecting with your fans in that sense. So, try to stick to things like Twitter, Instagram and, if possible, your own databases. I know it’s old school, but mailing lists, lists of phone numbers, lists of whatever you can get that you own. Make sure you own it. Beause anytime any website says “Subscribe to this,” it’s them only. It’s not you only. So, originally when we started this, it was a lot easier with Facebook. We were actually lucky. We were before the curve when Facebook controlled everything that was on your newsfeed. I think we actually owe a lot to our success in that. But now these days, like, I think we reach maybe like 10% of our fanbase with every post. Go old school, man. Make sure you own your information. You own your fanbase. Don’t let anyone else control it.

Anglo: You guys are geeking out on the whole social media thing. You don’t have like someone doing your Facebook or Twitter? You do everything.

Josh: Yeah. People try and take control. They get told off.

Kevin Wicks

Kevin Wicks founded BBCAmerica.com's Anglophenia blog back in 2005 and has been translating British culture for an American audience ever since. While not British himself - he was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri - he once received inordinate hospitality in London for sharing the name of a dead but beloved EastEnders character. His Anglophilia stems from a high school love of Morrissey, whom he calls his "gateway drug" into British culture.

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