Do you think there’s life on other planets?, asks a disconcerting voice amidst a gradually building soundscape of otherworldly synths, tightly snapped drums and fat bass. I am listening to the track ‘Extraterrestrial’, by this week’s guest on New Music Cambridge, Fergus Holmes-Stanley, known artistically as Avran. It takes all the best elements of drum and bass and packages it into the shape of dubstep, allowing for the grit, depth and darkness that so much of today’s DNB lacks.

Avran is a DJ and producer from Birmingham, currently in his second year studying ASNAC at St John’s College. As we interview him on the show, his passion for drum and bass and electronic music becomes clear. He describes how he goes about making electronic music: “You take samples and make them your own... chop them up, take elements of them.” Much of the process of writing electronic music relies on “knowing how different waves work together, knowing what sound they will produce”. However, there is also the technical aspect: “working with so many plug ins- equalisers, reverbs... there’s a lot of problem solving.” In response to the misconception that electronic music isn’t ‘real’ music because of the element of sampling, Avran says “all music is really using old ideas and adapting them, making them your own”.

Avran’s love of music began in his childhood, when his parents took him to festivals. He learnt the drums, inspired by his dad who is also a drummer, and then went on to learn guitar and a bit of bass. The music he makes today brings soul and dub influences into drum and bass. He cites his greatest inspiration as Alix Perez, who “brought so many vibes into the genre. He brought out a lot of soul and that’s the vibe that I’m really attracted to”.

“All music is really using old ideas and adapting them, making them your own”

The influences of Perez’s soulful DNB can be heard on Avran’s track, ‘Resonance’. It begins atmospherically, building slowly and tantalisingly. The darkest moments are lightened by cerebral voices, creating a vibe reminiscent of acid house. As soon as this track has finished, we hear ‘Blinded’ by Monty, who Avran also describes as an influence. It is a classic DNB track elevated by the spaces between the dark dives of the bass drops, allowing space for the anticipation to build and the butterflies to kick in. Avran’s music creates entire soundscapes, and delivers a visual scope that makes it feel as if it could be played up on a stage at Boomtown Festival.


Mountain View

Transitions: Victoria at New Music Cambridge

We talk about how the DNB scene has had to evolve over lockdown: “There has been no funding from the government for the music scene, which has caused a lot of anger and pushed a lot of artists toward doing illegal raves”. This is obviously not ideal during a pandemic. However, Avran does also emphasise how people have worked around restrictions in a more legal way, with sit-down events. Of course, it’s not quite the same: “you want to stand up and dance”, especially with this kind of music. Avran tells us about an event he went to in July: “I went to an event in Manchester and it was the first time [since lockdown] hearing electronic music out of a sound system. Walking to that event and hearing the bass, you get butterflies in your stomach. It was surreal being in there, you could feel a catharsis of all the people... To hear the music you love on a proper sound system is one of the best feelings in the world”.

Avran also speaks about the positive effect of DNB on mental health: “There are so many good effects for your mental health of being able to let go for those few hours of pure good vibes”. Avran’s belief in the joy that this music brings is one of the factors that led him to start his own show on Cam FM, Underground Sounds. This show platforms the work of other DJs in Cambridge. At the moment , DJs admittedly can’t perform in clubs, and so Avran says: “I just wanted that platform for people, so that they can work on their skills and then get some gigs when we’re back to reality.”

“To hear the music you love on a proper sound system is one of the best feelings in the world”

Towards the end of the show, we ask him how the music scene in Cambridge compares to that of his home town, Birmingham: “Cambridge doesn’t have the liveliest club scene, however, there is a small but discernible DNB scene”. One of the Cambridge DNB events, Warning at Junction, has been around for 25 years.

Quickfire Questions

If you could only listen to one thing forever, what would it be?

‘Solitary native’, Alix Perez

Best song to belt in the shower?

‘Sundown’ by canine

Most unlikely song?

‘Wet Field Day’ by Elephant Sessions

What is a musical event you would travel back in time to see?

Closing set at Boomtown from 2019

Which artist would you most like to meet, living or dead?

Alix Perez

This show aired on 4/11/20, catch up with New Music Cambridge on the Cam FM website:

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Underground Sounds will be hosting a charity livestream on the 27th November, to raise money for Cambridge Homeless Support Charity ‘Jimmy’s’.