The name Youngman has been popping up a lot lately in stateside drum and bass, and it’s no wonder. Simon “Youngman” Smith has been known for some time now as a prolific UK emcee, but he’s also been working on songwriting and production in both pop and drum and bass, producing tracks at a breakneck pace. As a member of a drum and bass dynasty (he’s the son of Simon Smith Sr., yes, Simon “Bassline” Smith), Youngman literally cut his teeth on legendary beats and grew up around some of the founding fathers of drum and bass and jungle.
Youngman’s own music history is quite diverse, as he’s gone from his drum and bass roots to working with pop royalty and back again with his recent tracks like “Sorry” and the newest release, “Spinning.” “Spinning” is a three-part series, beginning with the “Sunrise” mix, on which Fred V and Grafix contributed. Today, Your EDM is also premiering the second installment, the “Sunset” mix, co-produced by Drumsound and Bassline Smith (player at the end of the article).
It seems there’s no slowing down for Youngman, as he works to balance a full tour calendar as well as his dual loves of songwriting and drum and bass. The rapid-fire manner in which this juggernaut releases his tracks, however, indicates he can more than keep up with the schedule. In the midst of all this, Youngman sat down with Your EDM from the studio to talk songwriting, pop, and what bass music means to him.
Hi Simon! Thanks for taking the time to talk today. You’re in the studio right now, as we speak. What are you working on at the moment?
I’m actually working on a number of songwriting projects right now with a few different artists, and also a few of my own tracks as well.
Is that all part of the “Spinning” project?
The “Spinning” project is a three-part single. The “Sunset” mix is out tomorrow, and there’s one more that’s all finished and ready to go.
And are those two mixes collaborations with other artists as well?
Yes…I can’t really tell you too much (laughs), but one of them is. The third mix is a little bit interesting, it’s a bit of a curveball. It’s sort of a different vibe.
How did you decide to go back to drum and bass this year? It looks like you’ve gone back and forth a few times between genres, but in the last year or two just focusing on dnb. How did that decision come about?
Well I’ve grown up with jungle and drum and bass and it’s always been around me, and I guess it’s just a case of me just being a music person as well. I just like to make music that I listen to and that I like. For me, the Youngman project is just all about club music and music that has a lot of bass, and not necessarily confined to one genre, however just recently most of the live stuff I’ve been doing has been drum and bass. I’ve played with Drumsound and Bassline Smith obviously and Roni Size, and I’ve been on tour with Wilkinson for the last two and a half years, so I’ve just been exposed to loads of amazing drum and bass in that time. It just seemed natural to want to use everything I’ve learned in that time to do a project with the guys I’d already been working with during these last few years. So that’s how I basically started the year in terms of how I wanted to release music (with the Youngman project), so it just happened that way since I was working with all these guys.
Makes sense. So before all that touring, as you said you’re a music person and it looks like you’ve worked with a lot of grime, UK garage and R&B artists, so how do you feel you incorporate that previous experience into the current project?
I just try to represent bass music, and then I’ve been doing a lot of pop songwriting as well. When I haven’t been touring and working on bass music, I’ve been in LA just writing songs and perfecting that side of it, so I just really want to create great songs now, and then just fuse it with that sort of bass-heavy music that I’m probably best known for.
With the pop music were you learning from anybody in terms of how to write songs? It’s quite a different process from drum and bass or club music in general.
Yeah, I joined this collective called New Crowd, and I was working with this Grammy Award-nominated songwriter called Carla Marie Williams and basically we wrote constantly for about two or three years. That created quite a lot of success, because we had a couple of singles on the Britney Spears album, and I worked with Dr. Luke and Rodney Jerkins and all these pop a-listers. So it’s kind of nice to go back to my roots with bass music from there.
How did you find working in pop?
I loved it, just because I felt like it pushed me just to really go hard on the song. In pop music it’s that top line, it’s the song that really carries it whereas in bass music a lot of the time it’s the beats, the bass and the drums that tend to be the heart and soul of the record It was just a great experience just to see how being an artist or a producer and being a singer/songwriter are just two completely different skills. So it was good to just focus on the other side. I’ve always written my own stuff, but when you spend your days with people who really focus on the songwriting, it just really pushes you to dig deeper.
Do you feel like that helped you find a balance and become more confident in your songwriting capabilities?
Yeah, a hundred percent.
So that leads a bit into the first mix of “Spinning,” the “Sunrise” mix, because it does sound quite pop, at least in the top bar, so did you do that on purpose in terms of wanting to match those two types of music with their different focus?
(Laughs) Not even! I mean, I’m really careful now with the word “pop”, just because I think pop is just popular music, and to me it doesn’t matter if it’s popular, there’s just good music and bad music. There’s some great music and crap music in both pop and in bass music, if you know what I mean. But what I have done (with “Spinning”) is I’ve started with the song. I started with the piano and the guitars and I’ve written a song that I like and that I feel connects with me and my audience, and then I’ve teamed up with producers who helped develop that into a bass track.
Yeah, so to clarify it’s more about it being pop in the sense of a structure as you said in terms of starting with the song rather than any stigma of “pop music,” however people want to define it?
Yeah, it’s definitely a classic song structure. We just wrote it on the keys and then Fred V and Grafix on the first mix just really developed it and brought it to life. So in the end I would really classify “Spinning” as an electronic bass piece that’s driven by the vocal. I mean, it’s definitely a song. And I really believe that a great song, just because it’s a full vocal song can still be cool in the context of bass music. It doesn’t need to be seen as a “pop” effort. I love what the guys have done with the production and it’s blowing up in the clubs, so I’m happy and I think it’s a good follow-up to “Sorry”.
That seems to be something that’s taking hold in drum and bass and bass music as well. A lot of producers have been going to writing full song structures that are listenable all the way through, and that may speak to the evolution of the culture and dnb maybe not being so isolated anymore. It is only a beat, after all. Have you found with this track and some of the others that you’re getting responses from producers and fans in other genres as well?
Yeah I have actually. All my peers have been so supportive. Friction’s really championed it (“Spinning”) on Radio 1 and people like Roni Size and Wilkinson and TC and Fred V and Grafix were all fans of it. I think the concept of the record as well and it being quite trippy, it lends itself to the electronic vibe quite well full stop.
Well that’s the best compliment you can get, when producers can see right away that it’s a well-crafted track. So going back to some of the other tracks that came out this year, and you were touring with Wilkinson, so did that all inspire you even more to keep writing?
Yeah definitely. Just being out on the road, and we just played Glastonbury this weekend and seeing the reaction there, it definitely inspires me to want to keep going and write tracks that speak to that vibe. I’ve just been in the studio with Wilkinson, I did the title track on his latest album “Hypnotic”, which was sick. That was one of the first times we performed that live at Glastonbury so that was amazing. It went off. I think it was the first time we performed it since it was released, and everyone was singing the lyrics which was wicked.
I’ve got this other tune which has been blowing up for months with Macky Gee and DJ Phantasy called “Let it shine” that’s being really well received with video footage of the crowd sinning the lyrics at all the big Summer Festivals. They’re proper tearing up the festivals right now.
So Your EDM has the privilege of premiering the “Sunset” Mix of “Spinning” today before it drops on Friday and we can now reveal it’s a collab with Drumsound and Bassline. Did you work on the writing and the melodies on the track or did you just hand it over to them to create their own vibe?
This version is definitely more ravey than the first, with lots of electronic-sounding synths. Did you want a mix like that? Both mixes are well-suited to the club but on this one were you looking for something more electro?
Sure. We took 80s influences and really went for that epic electronic sound.
This mix definitely says “sunset.” What elements of it do you think really help connote that vibe?
What are your favorite parts of this mix?
Anything else you’re looking forward to for the rest of the year?
Moving forward, I’ve got quite a lot of records coming up, so I reckon I’m just going to keep the releases going all year. I’m going to keep touring as well and I’d love to come back to the U.S. I did a few shows in LA with Crissy Criss as well as Drumsound and Bassline Smith, and I’m going to be working on my own live show as well and it’s going to incorporate multimedia with live performances. It would be wicked to bring that to the U.S.
Other than that, I’m really looking forward to the last mix “Spinning” coming out and to see how the “Sunset” mix does. I’m curious to see which version of the track people like the most, and to see the fans’ reaction to each one. I think it’s really exciting to have different versions of a song. I’m excited for everyone to check it out!
“Spinning (Sunrise Mix)” is out now on Technique Recordings, and the “Sunset” mix drops tomorrow, July 21. To purchase, click here. Check out Youngman’s website for updates on his upcoming tour dates and releases, including the third mix of “Spinning”.