New UK talent I.C.U goes in deep with this exceptional album mix
Scratch beneath the surface of almost any DJ or producer’s motives and you’re guaranteed to be humbled…
Whether it’s the sacrifices they’ve made to get to where they are, or the life-changing effect music has had on them to put them on the path in the first place, no one makes the intense efforts necessary to make it in this game by mistake or by chance. There has to be a deeper story.
And for James Sharkey’s I.C.U project, it really can’t get any deeper.
The clue is in the alias title: I.C.U is an abbreviation of Intensive Care Unit. An NHS last chance saloon to stay on this planet… And also a shout out from James to anyone who is going through challenging mental health. He sees you, he is with you and he wants to share as much positive energy as he can with you.
Another clue to the humbling nature of I.C.U’s journey is the title of his debut album – Reborn. Out now on Grand Theft Audio, Reborn documents how much positive energy music has given James over recent years, how much it’s changed his life, helped him overcome severe mental health challenges and given him a focus and consistency that he’s never experienced before.
You can hear it in the music, too. Reborn is a walloping collection of high energy D&B bangers that sit somewhere between contemporary dancefloor and the more mainstream energy and anthemia of EDM. Don’t take our word for it, he’s created this epic mix for us…
A fusion of his own album tracks and his influences, it’s an exciting and full strength introduction to the I.C.U project, his album… And his ambitions for the future. Get to know:
Let’s get your origin story!
I’m originally from Exmouth in Devon and musically I was very much an EDM man. I’d go to Creamfields and loved Ingrosso, Tiesto, Swedish House Mafia and acts like that. Then one year I heard Holy Goof and fell in love with bassline pretty much instantly. And after him Andy C came on and he blew me away.
So that’s what got me into drum & bass. But to go a bit deeper, before I started DJing I had really bad mental health and I tried to commit suicide. I saw a psychologist and moved to Bristol. It was hard. I didn’t have any friends in Bristol but I needed to move away from the toxic environment I was in while living in Exmouth. I was lonely and didn’t associate with people at work much but a friend of mine started DJing and I thought I’d get myself some decks myself and it almost instantly took away my problems.
Oh wow. The healing power of mixing!
I was rubbish, but it stimulated my brain in such a way it took away all my problems. I was hooked! Then four months after that I got asked to DJ for Harry Shotta! I was a fan of SASASAS and there I am being asked to play for one of their main MCs. It was my first ever set, too. It was crazy.
Then a month later I get invited to warm up for Dimension in Plymouth. So I haven’t gone the usual steps, I’ve been lucky to start with these amazing gigs. I also work with Free Rave at Motion in Bristol and have had some incredible opportunities through them so I’ve been lucky to experience a lot of euphoric situations as a DJ and during covid I knew if I wanted to keep getting that euphoric fix and getting those type of shows then I needed to make music.
Yeah so I got some tuition. First with Paul Lawrence who’s part of Hybrid Theory, he was my first tutor and got me started. Then Turno did this online thing Ethos. I strongly recommend it so much. I also got some private tuition from him and that was invaluable. Then I worked with Killer Hertz and had a few lessons and my debut track got signed by Gorilla Warfare which is Ed Solo’s label with my first single Hush Hush.
Following that I sent music to Korsakov, they wanted to sign it all and they signed me exclusively for a year and I released seven or eight singles with them. Then I came across the Grand Theft Audio guys and I sent Sola a load of my tunes who came back suggesting an album. I was umming and ahhing about whether it was the right time to do an artist album, but I thought, ‘You know what? It doesn’t matter if I’m ready or not, this is a body of work over a period of time, it maps my own journey and it tells a story. This is something I want to experience.’
I love that. I was wondering what your foundation was and I didn’t twig the EDM influence. I thought maybe late 2000s D&B like Drumsound & Bassline Smith and Nero because I can definitely feel that type of sound and energy
I do love Netksy who came through that time and I reckon you can hear his influence in my music. I have a lot of different influences and inspirations and I’m not sure I’ve found my own sound yet. Like I’m not sure I’ve found that thing that makes me sound like me if you know what I mean? But to be fair I think I’m finding it in my new post album productions – it’s a balance of EDM and drum & bass.
I think you can hear that in the album. Tunes like I Like That and Coming With Me especially. Both of them have that euphoric hit of EDM
Thanks. I do love it all. I love jump-up, I love dancefloor, I love neuro and my first inspiration was EDM. I don’t want to go down one route, I want a bit of everything. My DJ sets are the same. I like to go on a journey so my productions have a similar vibe.
Oh, and the reason I called the album Reborn is because music saved me when I was in a dark place. It was a seed being planted. This is my work since that time.
A reason to live!
Yeah definitely. I work as a HGV technician but took a break from the trade because it got in the way of music. Sometimes my missus tries to chat to me and I have to get back to her hours later because music is the focus at that point. It means so much to me because of how it’s changed my life.
That’s the healing power! Sounds like you experienced some very painful and hard mental health challenges
It was very hard. I went through a really bad break up and had money problems. It all happened at once. I’m still figuring it all out now and I still suffer with it. Sometimes music doesn’t help because it causes that self doubt sometimes doesn’t it?
So I criticize myself so much sometimes. But when things go well I’m on top of the world. I’m building on that now and doing everything I can to get those moments where it’s going well. When I can play those sets, and now being able to play my own music in my sets, is a whole other level.
I was playing at Motion in June actually. It was an album set and I was so nervous. I was shaking! I couldn’t concentrate but then I played the set and it was amazing. Aduken who works at Grand Theft Audio, was there texting me saying it was amazing and he was hugely supportive. The feeling of playing my music that no one had heard before and seeing people go crazy to it was just out of this world. I’d love to do that like a tour. That would be the dream.
Sick. Was this purely the album or like the mix you’ve done for us?
Yeah similar to the mix. The reactions were amazing. Especially the first and last tune – I played Longer as the first and I Like That as the last one. That’s my favourite track and I played it live. My friend and MC Jordy G was there. He’s a good mate. We linked during covid and he’s been so supportive of me. He watched that day instead and came up and danced with me on the stage. He said it was the best thing I’d done so far. It was a day of emotions! I’m so grateful Motion gave me the opportunity to do that. I’m a Free Rave resident so I get to play most times but everything about that set was perfect for me.
Go on. So you’ve got some roots in Bristol now?
Yeah so I came to Bristol three or four years ago. I got better and missed family, so I went home. Then covid happened and since then I’ve worked hard on the music. Then two years ago I moved back up with my best friend. It was different because I had that support network. I had a better mindset so joined a football team and met people through that. Everything has been a lot different for me because I got a support network. I think it’s hard to get bookings in Bristol because it’s more jump-up here but I want promoters to see I play all styles.
Yeah. It’s a busy market too. But way better than small towns like Exmouth?
Exactly. And there’s no scene there anyway. The nightlife isn’t great. Depo in Plymouth seems to be doing some cool stuff but it’s hard to find a lot of things going on. Bristol is more exciting and has more events to go and network. I find that hard though. I get a lot of anxiety with social situations. It’s hard isn’t it?
It is! But events aren’t the best places because people just pass through, they wanna get home etc. Festivals are better as you’ve got a bit more space and time. Conferences, other day time events, this set up specifically for networking are all much easier and less stressful.
You’re right actually. I played at the Korsakov weekender last year. We had a big dinner – Mefjus, Culture Shock, Matrix & Futurebound, Sub Focus and everyone was there and it was a much more natural environment to chat and meet people because people have more time don’t they? Getting to meet Mefjus and A.M.C, such a genuine guys, it’s quite mind-blowing to meet them. And sometimes you see someone backstage at a club and it’s very quick and fleeting and you overthink that you’ve said something stupid or bad.
Oh man. Every time! Overthinking is the worst.
Yeah it really is. It can ruin your day. Oh I forgot to mention someone else who’s been really sound and a massive influence.
Joe Ford. He’s given me some amazing advice on mixdown techniques and he really helped me push a lot of my material up that extra 10%. Especially on the tracks I made towards the end of the process like I Like That and Party Rock. They are some of my strongest tunes and Joe was a major influence there. I’d recommend getting tuition off him to any aspiring artist.
He’s so talented! What have you learnt about yourself during this?
All my life I’ve been a person who is all or nothing and no in between. I’ll start something, I’ll give it my all, I get good at it, I get bored, I find something else. Music is the only thing I’ve got into and I’m still going at it.
Sure I get creative blocks sometimes but I keep going and going and I’ve never done that with anything else. So this has taught me that I can stick to something and see it through. When I’m in that flow it’s the best feeling in the world. Making something and not even thinking – like how did I make that? It’s made me learn this whole creative side I never thought I’d have.
That’s very inspiring
Honestly I never thought I’d be any good at expressing myself artistically. I was always rubbish at art in school. When I started getting into production and realized how hard it was and how much I had to learn and how many hours I’d have to put it, I nearly considered ghost producers. But a friend of mine had a go at me for that. I was so obsessed with the DJing that I thought I should for a second. But deep down I knew I needed to go on this journey and learn this craft. You can’t go round saying you made a tune when you didn’t.
Respect for admitting you had that thought. A lot of people do cheat. People at the top. You’ve been authentic and honest with yourself
I had to be. I was in a different mindset then. Nowhere near as strong as mine is now. And yeah you can see that with new producers coming in because they’ve come in at such an early stage of their career with a production of that level. It hurts to see people taking short cuts but yeah if I get to where I want to be I’ll feel I’ve properly made it.
Amen! So you’re probably planning beyond the album
I’ve got some things ready for sure. The dream is to have a release on UKF and a release on Elevate so that’s what I’m aiming for now. But I know I’ll have more goals beyond them. At the end of the day, I want to connect with people with my music. For someone to hear my music and have a feeling from it without knowing me, that’s such a privilege to be able to do that. That’s all I want to do.