The rise of Flux Pavilion
With press, fans and Kanye showing him love, Flux Pavilion is getting used to being popular.
“You do get used to it after a while,” says Joshua Steele while lying in his bunk at the back of a tour bus that’s rolling into Houston. He’s in the midst of a ten-week tour through the U.S. as Flux Pavilion, one of the brightest stars currently shining in the dubstep universe. “It’s not getting used to the traveling, it’s just getting used to being in a bad mood all the time,” he continues. “When your bad mood becomes your default mood, it becomes your good mood and that’s the point when you start enjoying yourself.”
Reaching him by phone ahead of his set at the Spring Awakening Music Festival on Sunday 17, I joke that if his career as a musician doesn’t pan out, the experience could give him a start in self-help. But really, there’s no uncertainty about his current profession. Last year, his raucous single “Bass Cannon” cracked the top 100 on the U.K. Singles Chart, reaching 56. In December, the BBC nominated him for its Sound of 2012 poll, and more recently Spin magazine named him a must-see act at this year’s Coachella fest, saying he’s “one of the few artists to establish a sound that might translate outside the dubstep diaspora.” Clearly, people like what Steele is doing.
“Hype is the strangest thing to endure as an artist,” the 23-year-old Brit says. “It’s a strange kind of feeling generating so much attention just doing what you want to do.” Steele does his best not to think about it. “I try to blank it out and revert back to living a relatively normal life because I think that’s the best mind-set I can stay in to carry on writing good music.”
So what is it about Flux Pavilion that has the press and ravers alike buzzing? He maintains an emotional connection to the music. Dubstep is ruled by chaos; to the uninitiated, it’s a seemingly endless cacophony of jackhammer beats and bass fit for sonic warfare. You’d think it was the antithesis of soul. But amid Steele’s hurricane of sound—he’s still making dubstep after all—there’s a skilled songwriter crafting songs with feelings.
“I think there’s a whole wave of post-Skrillex type stuff that embodies the energy and aggression that the Skrillex stuff has, but not quite the emotional content that Sonny [Moore, a.k.a. Skrillex] manages to get into his tracks,” Steele says of the bass-music hit maker and his legion of imitators. They “haven’t taken a minute to appreciate that they’re writing music and it should embody some particular elements, which I think the most important one is emotion.”
Stocky and sporting bleach-blond hair, the small-town band geek, as Steele essentially described himself, can now say that the extra soul he puts into his tracks is what got him noticed by Kanye West and Jay-Z, who sampled Flux Pavilion’s “I Can’t Stop” on Watch the Throne. It’s hype that you couldn’t dream of manufacturing, but Steele doesn’t let it go to his head.
Instead, he’s concentrating on his debut full-length, which he’s making with a four-piece band, and getting back to Chicago, where he received a warm welcome last time. “Chicago was the highlight of last year,” he says of a sold-out Congress Theater appearance. “I was going to the dentist the next day because I had to get a root canal done. So I was just sitting backstage, drinking loads of rum and mixing it with painkillers. Then I walked out and saw thousands of people. It was such an overwhelming experience.”
Flux Pavilion hits the main stage at Soldier Field for the Spring Awakening Music Festival on Sunday 17.