Very few drum & bass artists can weave, bob and navigate the endless web of crews, camps and corners quite like Hexa. In the last few weeks alone he’s released on Fatman D’s Biological Beats and Doc Scott’s 31 Records.
Zoom out for a grand view of 2022 so far and you’ll find missives on the likes of Incurzion Audio, Low Down Deep and its sister label Underground Soundz, DJ Hybrid’s Audio Addictand his own label WireTrap. A wider range of exciting and respected labels in a solo artist’s discography in less than half a year would be a challenge to find.
“Aye it’s been going great recently to be fair,” says Hexa, real name Harry Ellwood. “It’s funny. It dips sometimes, but then when it comes back things go even crazier than they did the time before. I just get into the flow and it’s like, ‘Okay I need to finish this for this label, then get on that for that label, then send this to that label…’ It goes on and on.”
Harry leans in towards the camera with earnest. A hugely prolific artist since the moment he emerged with his debut EP Level 1 on Incurzion Audio in mid-2019, he’s been a machine with his output, landing on the likes of Neksus Sound, Grid, Pick N Mix, Serial Killaz and Holographic Audio as well as the other labels listed above. It’s abundantly clearly loves the studio grind. An ‘all or nothing at all’ type of artist. He starts to smile. “You might say that,” he points to an impressive array of instruments around his studio behind him. “That’s how I ended up in this situation.”
Various Eurorack synths peep out from behind him. A pretty formidable looking Moog glares at us over his shoulder. “As soon you buy one thing you’re always thinking about the next thing,” he laughs. “The good thing is I’m not stuck in one method of making music. I’ve got lots of different tools to take me in a different direction if the creativity is on a downer.”
From a listener perspective, it’s hard to imagine Hexa ever being on a creative downer. You can almost hear the analogue hardware purr like giant cats or rev like motorbikes as his crunchy basslines cut through to the front of the mix. His recent Dark Matter EP on 31 Records is a fine example of his sonic range. It’s deep but tense. It’s aggy but carries plenty of warmth. It’s weighty but sparkles with just the right amount of a sci-fi / cosmic aesthetics to keep you well and truly drawn into the mix.
His Snatch EP on Incurzion earlier this year was a similarly broad canvas of twisted soul comprising a fathomless span of stark, pranged-out textures and stripped-back dark funk designs – a style that he’s really brought to life on his own label WireTrap. Launched in November 2021 and responsible for two stone cold EPs so far, Harry’s not rushing into things and has a very clear vision for the label.
“I started making these tunes over lockdown and people liked the tracks, but they weren’t what labels were looking for at the time,” he explains. “I was going to sell them directly on Bandcamp but a few of my friends like Oli Lewis and Zach Parallel make similar sort of sounds so I thought, ‘Why don’t I make an imprint for people who are in a similar area as me to maybe release music from all of us?’”
Good friend and fellow hardware appreciator Oli Lewis will be the first artist Harry signs music from for the label. “That’ll be out later this year, followed by a release from No Patterns,” Harry reveals. “I don’t want to rush those releases or overload it too much with too many releases. I wanted to take it slowly so I get a feel for how it works. I did the first few releases myself so I’m not risking anything for anyone else or letting anyone else down. Running a label you realise how much of a responsibility it is when you’re releasing someone else’s music!”
Having worked with such a wide range of labels, Harry’s three years of releases have given him the experiences and tools for a firm foundation as a label owner. But his deepest foundations, and something that could well be the reason why he’s been able to cast such a wide and universally appealing net as an artist, is the fact he’s from one of the most exciting and thriving city scenes on the UK’s drum & bass map: Newcastle Upon Tyne.
“We are pretty isolated up here to be fair mate,” laughs Harry who’s part of a generation of exciting, forward-thinking artists to emerge from the UK’s northernmost city such as Skantia, Nectax, Kastro, Rantik, Stompz, KL, Jak and Scudd. The vibe and strong connection between the majority of them is comparable to Bristol in the early 90s. All city natives, they’ve been left to their own devices and come up with their own menu and range of flavours. “Yeah I think that’s it you know. We’ve had the space to develop our own thing and pursue our own paths. You know, we’re not in that super competitive zone, it’s more like friendly pressure. None of us keep any secrets about how we do things and we all help each other. It’s like we all have the same end goal but we’re all doing it differently.”
From the 160 jungle explorations of Nectax to the technoid futurism of Skantia by way of Hexa’s heavyweight dynamics, Newcastle has less of a signature sound and much more of a spirit where each artist is happy to see each other thrive and can all roll their sleeves up and get stuck in on the same line-up at the city’s key nights like Lively Up and Dilate. Continuing the city’s longstanding tradition for drum & bass that’s existed since the pioneering days of Hidden Agenda in the mid 90s and the legendary likes of Original Sin, Sub Zero, Taxman and Craggz & Parallel a few years later, Hexa is part of a new generation of artists keeping the culture alive in the 2020s. If anything, it’s his Newcastle location that’s led to him working on such a wide range of labels.
“We’re not so close to the circuit here in Newcastle so working with so many different labels means I feel more connected to what’s going on,” he explains. “I get tagged on mixes or shows my music has been played on and it’s like, ‘Wow! How did that tune end up getting in there?’ I love that. It’s nice to see the music is getting out there.”
In terms of future Hexa music getting out into the world, Harry has many plans and has already started teasing new clips on his Soundcloud. Releases to look forward to include a batch of collaborations with KY that have already found favour in Grooverider’s current dub collection while releases on Incurzion and Low Down Deep are both on the imminent horizon. Plus a release on WireTrap is likely before the end of the year. There’s plenty more, too, as Harry always likes to keep a few extra tricks up his sleeve.
Tricks like this exclusive track he’s giving to 1 More Thing Patreon subscribers – Mercury. A haunted, eerie rattler that captures his sound and versatility.
“I love having tunes for DJ tools,” he grins. “You gotta have them. You never know who’s going to come along and ask for tunes and no one ever wants to be like, ‘Sorry mate, I’ve got none.’ It’s just not going to happen mate.”