Mates in college, they shared a similar ideology and life and politics and a deep love of music well over 10 years ago through various gigs, bands and projects. Unfortunately university, work, life and a scary matter of brutal alcoholism and recovery for James meant that their creative stars didn’t align for quite some time.
To say they’re now making up for lost time, however, would be a massive understatement.
Since forming in 2019, the pair have built a thriving community on their Discord server which has led to a label with a roster of exciting new-breed neuro talent (Stonx Music) and a whole family and support network of connected musical spirits and fellow production nerds, labels and audiophiles that stretches around the world.
Highly impressive considering they’d simply set out to make some drum & bass together, it’s a classic tale of making use of the 2020/21 lockdowns and flipping one of the most challenging and frustrating periods in time our generations have ever known into something beyond either of their dreams. The tale gets even more respect-worthy when you hear how they arrived at this point and what they’ve achieved.
An inspiring story of lockdown silver linings, sobriety, DIY culture and supportive, inclusive online communities, Stonx represent and highlight some of the more positive aspects of today’s frustrating late stage capitalist times.
Above all, though, it’s an awesome tale of two best mates getting their heads together, pushing each other, rolling their sleeves up and making some utterly dark and uncompromising modern neurofunk. For a full Stonx experience check their first ever label mix and read their story below.
I think we should start this interview with a shout to Skorpion who bigged you guys up on here a few months ago. Tell me about your interactions with him…
James: That came about through community building. Jake’s a fantastic artist and a huge part of our server. We first crossed paths when we were checking out the other artists that had been signed to Drevobos Recordings, which was the first label to release our music beyond our own platform. We’ve been firm allies ever since. His music’s an incredible medley of experimentation and razor-sharp sound design and we love every minute of it.
James: 100% When we agreed we’d give this a proper try, community was really important to us. We’ve both been fannying around with music forever before now.
Ollie: In bands and all kinds of projects.
James: I think Ollie was waiting for me to sober up to be honest! So yeah, when we started Stonx we set up the Discord server at the very start of the project and really pushed it. Especially during lockdown. We felt we needed somewhere to be so we thought surely others felt like that, too.
Ollie: Facebook groups were very toxic. Lots of spamming and lots of divisiveness. We set the Discord server up as a safe space just as much as a producer group. It’s developed a lovely friendly culture. We’ve got guys in there like Skorpion who are starting off and really building an exciting career, we’ve got a lot of plug-in-aholics who aren’t into making big tunes, they’re into production for other creative reasons so it’s a really varied, diverse group who enjoy each other’s company and share a few interests.
James: It’s interesting, the people we’ve attract are all looking for that type of safe space. Somewhere to talk about how the changes in the world are making them feel. It’s half production chat and half morning coffee club vibe in a way.
That’s what you want! A support group of likeminded souls. Are you both community minded anyway?
Ollie: Yeah I think so. For me I’ve never been a fan of gatekeeping. Over the years I’ve been in a lot of bands, been a session musician and toured a lot and every scene I’ve been in, there’s always this gate-keeping aspect to things. Like for example I was in a D&B metal band called Shellshock UK years and years ago.
James: I used to be in the crowd watching them!
Ollie: I was in the crowd too until they needed a new bassist and I shoe-horned my way in there! It was a different time though; you had the chavs and the greebos and the two were always at odds. But for guys like me and James, we were into both. We’d go to metal gigs and techno raves. It seemed weird, from our point of view, not to enjoy both experiences. But we were definitely in the minority. And what I love now is that this seems to be happening a lot more again. We’ve noticed that in our community and there’s a lot less gatekeeping. Back then it was all production secrets and cliques and keeping things close to your chest.
Agreed. In drum & bass it was done to protect the unique scene and vibe that had erupted in such a life-changing away in the 90s. But that did end up making things very hard for any new talent to come through for a while.
Ollie: That’s right. Now it’s a complete flip with Patreon and everyone is sharing all kinds of things. It was a real eye-opener; we started this project in December 2019 and by August 2020 we got a release on a label other than our own and it was like ‘okay cool, other people like this, too!’ I did six moths with Teddy Killerz 1-1 and thought, ‘If people like what we do then let’s put some money in it and properly sharpen things up’. They definitely pushed up to modern standards and none of it would have happened if everyone still had that old attitude of not sharing.
James: I definitely love the community aspect of things. Something I can relate it to is the community feeling of rehab facilities and sober houses. When you’re in them, community is very strong because it’s effectively all you have. Sober houses have a very specific sense of community. You never feel alone there and we’re all there for each other. We’re going through the same thing so let’s boost each other while we do. That’s the same as a Discord community; we’re all trying to get our snare transients right and the hive mind on that is a fantastic thing to see.
What a mad analogy and comparison. I know we’re going to speak about this in more detail at The Rave Story but what can you tell us about your alcoholism?
James: I came from your classic home counties UK upbringing. There was no abuse and I was well-loved, but there was also a lot of alcohol around and a very casual attitude to daily drinking. Par for the course really and that certainly doesn’t give me an excuse for what happened later.
Essentially, when I was younger I never felt like I was part of the human race. I could understand society on a basic level but it was abhorrent to me from as young as 11. The rat race, the way people treat each other. It got to me. I remember the first time I drank in an alcoholic/ deeply problematic way. I took a bottle of wine from the fridge and downed half of it. Suddenly that feeling of not belonging or not being able to handle
things went away. It wasn’t instantly from that day, but when I did drink it was problematic from an early age.
How old were you?
James: 11 or 12 was my first experience with alcohol. The half bottle of wine down the neck was when I was about 13 and that was the first time I realised my relationship with this substance was not normal.
It carried on from there getting worse and worse as I got older. The emo movement kinda made it acceptable in a way. Everyone was so sad anyway, we all just felt we needed to just get through.
Then by the time I hit uni that’s when it went really full-on. I’m lucky I loved uni and I loved the subject because I manged to get through it and get my degree, but by the end of my third year I was riddled with liver disease. I was drinking 2-3 litres of cider in the morning and be in the bar all afternoon onwards.
That’s when it spiralled out of control. Then after uni reality hit me hard and I hit the booze even harder. That was 2013, I was 20-21 and thoroughly hating life. I worked as a chef so I could hide my drinking far too easily too. This carried on for ages and by the time I was 27 they had to medically detox me, advising me that it wasn’t a guarantee that my liver would recover. I was overweight, I was distended in my stomach and had no stomach lining, I was bleeding internally. I did the full alcoholic experience just short of the whole dying thing.
Ollie: There was a time limit wasn’t there?
James: Yeah it had to be done by a certain date or they knew my liver wouldn’t be worth even trying to save. It was as close as you can get. I knew it was bad, I knew I wasn’t going to live forever but by that stage I just didn’t care. Following that, in 2018 the doctor tried sending me to a recovery organisation. There were multiple issues with the benefits system. My financial state was so dire I often couldn’t attend as I had no bus fare and by this point I could barely walk 100m without throwing up.
Wow that is brutal. I’m so glad you’ve come through the other side! What do you remember about the recovery?
James: I remember going in, I remember playing pool, then I remember five days later being told I’d sweated through five mattresses. It was five days detox and 10 days re-learning how to be a human. They keep you locked in and do little guided walks for fresh air and exercise. I asked if we could go to the Imperial War Museum which was just nearby. I was explaining all this history stuff to a group of recovering alcoholics and addicts which was surreal at the time and quite funny now looking back.
I’ve been sober five years now. I had one opportunity to save my life, I took it and I’m proud that it was successful. Luckily there’s been no relapse in my story which I know isn’t the case for many others but I put that down to the company I keep now. Which is all down to Ollie.
Ollie: You came to me before you went to that sober house. You said you wanted to hang with someone who didn’t drunk and if that would be okay.
James: I can’t even remember doing this! But yeah, Ollie doesn’t really drink at all.
Ollie: It was never one for me. I hated playing gigs drunk and it just became a lot easier and enjoyable to not drink. Not drinking is just as much as a habit in that way. But yeah James set himself plans and took himself out of situations where drink would be a thing.
And now this is effectively the foundation of what Stonx was built on!
James: Yeah pretty much. I became sober in January 2018, Stonx started about a year later and our first release was late 2019.
You’ve clearly worked on your health – you look really well!
James: I always said to myself, ‘If I was this determined to drink, I can be this determined to get better!’ When I first started running it felt like I was dragging a dead corpse around but I stuck at it. I had to.
Huge respect! To both of you. Let’s focus on Stonx music… There’s a strong political theme isn’t there?
James: We’re working out this human race thing together, we bounce off each other and have a shared and increasing displeasure. I’m not a great fan of late stage capitalism at all – profiteering especially.
James: Yeah and our government is facilitating it as much as they can! I think lockdown opened people’s eyes.
Is music your way over coping with the way things are?
James: Definitely. The music is the vent and the community we’ve built around it is the medicine in that way. We’ve got a song coming out called Rage-Induced Piss Headbutt. That’s the vent which gives us release.
Ollie: We’ve got a track coming out on Neuroheadz called Wicked World.
James: There’s a lot of political commentary. We even released a track called Plague Doctors… Just before lockdown / covid hit.
Ollie: We named the tune and made the artwork in February and released it in the beginning of March weeks aways from any lockdowns or hysteria. But yeah music is the way I’ve coped with all of it. Forever. I remember being a cybergoth going to cyberdog back in Camden and listening to my little iPod Nano in the back of the car on holiday thinking ‘I don’t want to be in the sun, I want to be listening to my music in the dark.’ It’s always provided an alternate reality for me. And since we’ve been able to run Stonx and run the label and help get other people’s music out there, it’s a whole new level of fulfilment.
It’s a far cry from where I was at. 2020 truly made me hate humanity. I hit an all-time low which resulted in a psychotic episode and a breakdown so to come from that and get to where we are now with the community we’re part of, and the inspiring people we speak to and collaborate and share ideas with everyday… it’s just incredible and beyond any dreams or expectations.
James: And being able to provide people with their debut releases or watch people develop, like being able to introduce Cephalopod to Dave Basys’s Route 97 label and seeing that release happen… It’s something neither of us ever imagined and so good to see. We want to see everyone shine and thrive.
That’s so inspiring. This is a certified lockdown silver lining!
James: Yeah it really was. We feel like we used that time to sneak in and establish ourselves enough for us to be able to do things. Like ‘oh hey, we’ve been here for years!’
Ollie: No one was playing out so it really did level the playing field and gave a chance for people to catch up and for things to be done differently. And when we came out and played our first gig it was amazing. We took the opportunity to level up. The label wasn’t even part of the plan but we had the chance, we wanted to be there, why wait on other people? Let’s do it ourselves. James took on the socials. I read the whole Ableton manual on YouTube. We both focused on our production and brought it all together.
James: We’re also lucky enough to be partnered with Best Drum & Bass hosting our own STONXCAST, providing the community with a weekly show of fresh tunes, upcoming WIPs and dubs and generally giving a platform for new artists to get out there and to be heard.
I love this. So tell me about the mix…
Ollie: It’s a 100% Stonx Music mix so it’s us and others on the label… Raspber, Subcat, M4, Sindicate, Konjure, Invold, Zionov, Avile and of course Skorpion. Sorry if I’ve left anyone out!
James: It’s been really fulfilling listening back to the mix because we’ve been so focused and busy on everything that we’ve not really sat back and enjoyed the label sound in this type of way. It’s not like we set any strict rules about the sound when we launched it, it was for us and anyone who wanted to release with us, but there’s a clear theme and vibe that runs through everything we’ve put out so far which is a completely unplanned and very natural. That took me by surprise and is a really nice feeling. I hope everyone enjoys it!