ShockOne: “To be next to guys like Michael Bublé is just fucking weird”

It’s a story as strange as it is true: out of the ashes of Perth metal band Xygen came three of Australia’s (indeed, the world’s) most killer dance music acts. Rob Swire and Gareth McGrillen (of Pendulum and now Knife Party fame) were the first two of the band to splinter off into the stratosphere, but working away quietly was drummer Karl Thomas.

While Thomas diligently honed his skills as bass producer ShockOne, his former bandmates were taking over the world. Patience paid off, though, and after a little success in the mid to late ‘00s with a handful of remixes and an EP, this year Thomas released the massive bass missive Universus, which shot into the charts and saw extensive airplay as triple j’s feature album.

As the Perth-born producer prepares to return home from his London base for the Stereosonic tour, we spoke about what it’s like to suddenly be in the charts, what’s next for dubstep and drum’n’bass, and just why people get so upset when they think their favourite genre has ‘sold out’.


How have things been since April, when the album was released to the world?

It’s been pretty great to be honest. The fact that people actually like the album is a nice relief. It feels very good to have that album out of my system now and to know it’s there forever and that so many people found something in it to connect with. The touring has been pretty hectic as usual.

The Australian Universus tour and the Groovin The Moo tour were both some of the most amazing performance experiences of my entire life. Particularly the Perth Universus launch show at Metropolis; I’ve never felt a vibe in a club like that in my life. Obviously as it’s my home town it was always going to be a special show. I think because so much of the Perth crowd has seen my evolution and growth as an artist over the years, and then to finally have the album finished and to come home and showcase it to them in such a special way, it felt very much like I was home again, like every single person in the club was there personally saying ‘congratulations dude, you did it!’ I doubt I’ll have a show that matches the vibe of that one for a while to come, so thank you Perth.

Did you ever think you’d experience such a crossover into mainstream charts and being the triple j feature album?

Never in a million years did I anticipate any success like that. I mean things like ARIA charts aren’t ever on my radar so to be up towards the top of those charts next to guys like Michael Bublé and Bruno Mars is just fucking weird.

But to be honest I don’t really think that’s what it’s about at all, I don’t like the idea of comparing and judging art based on sales or anything else. So I try not to pay much attention to music charts. If you spend your time chasing chart number ones it can easily distract you from your own true creativity. However, that being said, I can’t deny that it is amazing to know that so many people are into the album and for that I will be forever grateful. There are many elements surrounding a release that need to occur, outside of just writing good songs, for an album to be successful in such a way, so I’m incredibly thankful that the planets decided to align for this album and allow it the success it’s received.

Having a feature album on triple j had been a dream of mine since I was about 12 or 13, when I discovered the station and it changed my life. It was something that as a teenager/aspiring musician/up and coming producer seemed like a total pipe dream that you never seriously expect to achieve.

How does a metal-playing teen drummer end up journeying into the electronic world?

It was really through chance encounters and finding myself at Perth warehouse raves that I discovered drum’n’bass in particular. As soon as I heard it I was hooked. In retrospect the reasons I was attracted to drum’n’bass are obvious, coming from a heavy rock metal background, drum’n’bass and metal share a lot of characteristics: the dynamics, the energy, the aggression, the groove-based musical structure.

The movement to actually producing electronic music was probably a lot to do with meeting Rob Swire and Gareth McGrillen and forming the band with them throughout our teenage years. While playing in the band, Rob had already been producing electronic stuff for several years, so it was him that introduced me to early sequencers and trackers like Fast Tracker 2, Buzz Tracker and then Cubase. Straight away I enjoyed the notion of having complete control over every aspect of a song, rather than just being a drummer.

It only really took off when Pendulum exploded into the world, and subsequently our band had to break up as Rob and Gareth had to move to the UK pretty quickly. So I was left without a band and wondering what to do with myself. I thought ‘what the hell, I’ll take this electronic music thing a bit more seriously and invest some serious time in it’, so Jay (the guitarist from the old band) and I formed ShockOne.

How did it feel watching the explosion of Pendulum and now Knife Party?

Pretty surreal to be honest. To watch your best mates go from rehearsing at my dad’s factory unit and playing to 20 people in Perth pubs, to playing to 80,000 people at Glastonbury within a couple of years is an incredibly bizarre thing. I won’t lie, at times it was hard not to feel a bit jealous – to see your mates live out your wildest dreams is both amazing and hard to deal with. On the one hand I was so incredibly proud for them and on the other I wished it was me doing it.

But in the end it taught me some incredibly valuable lessons, the main one being, that everyone has their own path and you need to stop comparing yourself to others and get on with what it is that you want to do. There is no one else responsible for your situation, be it professional or otherwise, but yourself and it’s up to you carve your own path in life. It’s really amazing to look back at where the four of us in the band came from and look at all that we have achieved individually over the years. If someone had told us what the future held when we were 16 it would have sounded like some impossible dream.

Why do you think there is such a backlash against dubstep and drum’n’bass at the moment?

Firstly I want to state that I don’t think there is necessarily a ‘backlash’ so to speak, I just think as everything does, things are moving on. What I do see happening though, and this isn’t isolated to dubstep or drum’n’bass or any particular genre, is an issue of people identifying with certain types of music and how that affects the social perception of said style of music.

For instance, with dubstep, drum’n’bass and bass music – even metal music – the people who listen to this type of music are generally incredibly dedicated passionate fans and usually consider themselves somewhat alternative and identify with underground culture. It’s not uncommon for people to listen to these styles almost exclusively. So with this you get some of the best crowds in the world in my opinion. I’ve never seen people go as mental in a crowd than I have at drum’n’bass, dubstep and metal shows; it’s insane and I love it and thank every single person who’s gone mental at one of my shows.

But I think one of the reasons they are going so mental and are so passionate about the music is the fact that the music is so important to them that it makes up part of their identity. ‘I am a metal head’, ‘I am a junglist’ – in short people use the music as a way to define themselves, partly at least. So when this music changes, gets commercial, or an artist someone worships writes music that is outside of the status quo or what they expect to hear from that artist, you see people getting incredibly angry because whether they realise it or not, their whole personal identity is being compromised.

Did you feel that you had to move to the UK to pursue your music?

I had people telling me I needed to get over to the UK for about four years before I actually did it. And while from a DJing point of view it makes total sense – it’s hard to tour the world as a DJ when you’re based in the second most isolated city on earth – I’m really glad I stayed in Australia and continued my career there for as long as I did. I like to think that my staying in Australia, and gaining some musical success while there, showed that as a drum and bass producer and DJ you don’t necessarily need to leave Australia to be successful.

Do you have any predictions or thoughts on where the Australian scene might be moving to next, and do you feel it’s simply following the rest of the world or forging out its own path?

Now more than ever I think the electronic music world, whether it be in Australia or anywhere else, is in a really interesting place. Now that the whole dubstep explosion has settled down a bit, and the American EDM thing is kind of just becoming ultra-commercial music, there isn’t really a bandwagon to jump on, which to me is an amazing and exciting thing. You can see and feel everyone looking at each other going, ‘What do we do? What do we make?’ and it’s at these times when I feel like you get some truly creative, out-there stuff coming through.

Do you think Australia should have a little more faith in our position as a true electronic music force?

To be honest, I think things are really good at the moment with artists being recognised and receiving support and success. I mean, shit: Flume, Ta-ku, Rufus, Phetsta, Ekko and Sidetrack, Wave Racer, The Aston Shuffle, Kito and Reija Lee, What So Not, Alpine, Sampology, Nick Thayer, Marlo, Tommy Trash, Naysayer, Chet Faker, Acid Jacks, Owl Eyes, Beni, Flight Facilities, Cut Copy, The Presets, Empire Of The Sun, Anna Lunoe, Jagwar Ma, Peking Duk, Alison Wonderland, Hermitude; all amazing Australian electronic artists doing their thing. That’s a fucking impressive list of fucking impressive music if you ask me. Go Ostraya!