09 Mar Producer Spotlight: Flowdan
The East London MC and producer is giving out the tools to break down ‘Writer Blocks’ with his new sample pack on Beatport Sounds.
With over 20 years in the music industry, Flowdan knows a thing or two about the creative process. Hailing from Bow, East London, the MC and producer was instrumental in the formation of the famed grime collective, Roll Deep. As well as featuring in all five Roll Deep albums, Flowdan has had a successful solo career and has released music on Tru Thoughts, Hyperdub, Ninja Tune and more. Some of his biggest tracks, such as “Horror Show Style,” “Jah War,” and “Skeng,” are staples of the UK’s dubstep scene, still commonly cited as textbook examples of the genre’s pioneering sound and dubstep’s kinship with grime lyricism that will forever stand the test of time.
More recently, his feature on the immense and widely popular tune “Rumble” by Fred Again.. and Skrillex perfectly shows off his versatility and unique vocal delivery. Flowdan’s skills aren’t confined to the MC booth though. In 2015, he launched Spentshell, his own label and agency, giving a platform on which to release his own music, as well as relative newcomers to the scene including YGG and PK. It’s through his Spentshell imprint that Flowdan has been able to flex his studio muscles, producing a great deal of the tracks on his label.
Despite a clearly packed schedule, Flowdan has generously offered his time to share some insights on creativity, collaboration, his production process and much more. He also discusses the thinking behind his new ‘Writer Blocks’ sample pack, which is available now on Beatport Sounds.
Creation Over Expectation
A specific collaboration that means a lot to me happened around 10 years ago, maybe more. It was with a producer called Kevin Martin, also known as The Bug. We made a track called “Skeng.” I didn’t really expect much to come from the track, we were just being creative, making music with no specific intentions or goals other than just to create. The track became a bit of a cult classic within the Grime scene. When we made the track, I just had an every day expectation for it, it was another song, another thing for us to vibe to. I had no idea it would go on to be such a big tune.
Patience Is Key
I made “Rumble” with Fred (Fred Again…) about five years ago. He had heard Skeng and was a fan of the track as a lot of people were. We had a mutual friendship so we got going in the studio, had a session, spent some time together and had some conversations. As I was leaving he said, “I’ve just got this idea here, what do you think?”. I told him I thought it sounded sick, and I had little something for it, and that was that.
Fred said about a year later he met up with Sonny [Skrillex], and showed him this track he was working on. Skrillex thought he could offer something to the project and asked to get involved. They did what they did, and worked on the track until it became what it is today, which was probably a good two to three years ago now. They unleashed the track on Boiler Room and it’s a wrap from there.
It’s about timing, and sometimes it’s not about being so attached to the music that you think everything needs to be released. Sometimes it’s about accepting that you’re making these songs as part of a process to make that song. You can see it as training to make a bigger and better song.
Trust Your Collaborators
I like to collaborate, but sometimes I’m isolated and alone when creating. What I have found is that some people were fans of parts of my music that I hadn’t really considered was the cool part, or the sick lyric. I originally had “Yo, listen, you hear that?” down as an intro, I didn’t ever think I was gonna hear that again. Sonny had different ideas and a different creative approach, he thought “Nah, that’s actually a hook”. You build on yourself but at the same time, be open to suggestions and sometimes someone might say “Nah, this part of your work is sick as well, don’t neglect that.”
You’ve got to be open to suggestions, I’m aware that I don’t know it all, and that my perspective is sometimes limited. Allowing someone like Sonny, who I respect and trust, to add perspective can open the project up a lot more.
Stay Close To The Studio
The way I keep track of my ideas and my creative output is very simple. I stay close to the studio and I don’t let there be a buildup of ideas. I’ve been angry at myself in the past for thinking I’ll do this later, and I’ll do that later. I even think to myself “Right, I’ve got it, just remember remember remember, then when it comes to studio time, it’s not there.” So once I have something I try to record it, even if it’s just with my phone. I’ll often hum, tap or record what I’m hearing in my head, then when I get to work I’ve got my initial thoughts and ideas ready. Obviously at this point, I’m just putting content down, I’m not adding character or drip, or sauce, I know it’s not exactly how I want the finished product to sound. It’s just a snapshot of the original thought and idea.
Every day is different in the studio, the approach is always to look for something you don’t know exists. Coming into the studio with an idea sometimes spoils that. In order to spark ideas, there’s many ways and many routes. One of them is definitely Loopcloud, there’s a whole database of ideas. For me, it’s not even from a lyrics perspective, but a beat-making perspective. I’ll open up Loopcloud just to get that floor, that base of a track, something to get me going. For quick inspiration on the beat-making side of things, Loopcloud is a go-to for me. Facts. I think people are just into new things, and the stale type of formulas are just yesterday’s.
Don’t try too hard, don’t be scared to have a rest. Turn off the screen, turn off the computer, have a nap, have a rest, have a sleep. I definitely do that more than you’d know. When I’m working it’s really about how much rest I can get, and how much I can relax, and how much I can take my mind off the specific task, which is being creative.
Basketball was vital to my development as a young person, it taught me about working as a team, playing a role within a team. It taught me that not everything is about yourself, and also how to be accountable for your actions and your role within a team.
When it came to putting this sample pack together, I wasn’t thinking “Yeah, you might want to sample me”, but I’m a name you might have heard of, with a voice you might recognise and can’t get access to. My Writer Blocks sample pack changes that.
I know it’s the first time you’ve got my voice, loops of me and my beats and my sample style. If you’re a writer, and you come to a block, you can open up this pack of building blocks and start creating. You can go from step one to step one million if you want, using entire loops to build up a complete track. Or you can just start with step one and take it from there, using one shot samples to build your own loops, or transforming a loop into something different altogether.
Obviously, I want to hear something I like, but I’m also going to be interested to hear the stuff that I don’t like. I’m going to spend more time listening to that, I think.
Flowdan’s Writer Blocks sample pack is now out from Beatport Sounds, and available on Loopcloud. The pack encompasses a wide range of sounds that are influenced by his background in drum and bass, dubstep and – naturally – grime. Check it out here.