Polish DJ Eryk Kowalczyk, aka Xilent, wasn't even really aware of the contemporary U.K. dance scene when he began fashioning his unique twist of trance and drum & bass five years ago. At the time, he was studying software engineering at Edinburgh University, and couldn't find a band to drum for that played the style of punk he'd been playing back in Warsaw.
So instead, he began teaching himself QBase. The result was a throwback to his tween years, when he was struggling with ReBirth software in an attempt to replicate the music he heard in his older brother's mid-'90s dance music compilations.
Kowalczyk's hybrid sound retained trance's swooshing emotional sweep, but overlaid with the sputtering rhythmic complexity and jazzy sophistication of drum & bass. After releasing several recordings, including three EPs, on the tiny Ammunition label, he was approached by AudioPorn Records owner Shimon Alcoby, who'd helped found indie drum & bass powerhouse Ram Records a decade earlier.
On a lark, he decided to recut a dubstep version of his electro-house track, "Choose Me." "Choose Me II" would seal his record deal and become one of the year's biggest European dance tracks. It was his first attempt at the style.
"I knew about dubstep at the time, but to be honest I really didn't like it that much," he chuckles.
Kowalczyk is currently finishing up work on his debut full-length album, which attempts to bridge the Balkanized, subgenre-fied electronic dance music landscape. It's eclectic and laid out like a soundtrack, with bangers giving way to slower numbers and back seamlessly.
"The album will sort of be a whole adventure, where you won't be able to tell the tracks apart, so it's more a continuous audio file rather than just slivered up in 15. There's going to be a mash-up of five or six genres. I actually finished the album a month ago, but I'm still putting some finishing touches on it. It's still in the DropBox, so maybe I can still change it a tiny bit, even though it's supposed to have been submitted."
Kowalczyk complains about how much dance music snobbery there is in Europe, but he also reckons he's gotten 10 new dubstep fans for every drum & bass fan he lost.
"There are a couple places in France and Austria where you could play drum & bass, and all of a sudden you drop in a dubstep or an electro-house track, and half the people leave. Or they just turn around like they don't care, even though it's still you behind the deck, still your music. 'I'm sorry but those 40 BPM are lacking.'"
But the way Kowalczyk sees it, the lower BPM affords more opportunity for creativity.
"At some point you have to say fuck genres. When you like an artist, you shouldn't care what genre he makes, as long as it's his brain and his pair of hands," Kowalczyk says. "That's the thing I love about the U.S. They have the mindset that you can play any track you like, and they'll just freaking love it."