After his neck-breaking set at Electric Forest, I sat down with dubstep legend Funtcase. The U.K.-born producer and DJ has been in the dubstep scene since it’s underground inception. Funtcase rocks a ghastly graffiti mask and takes his crowd through a psychotic rage with nasty basses and electrifying energy. Learn more about how he got to where he is by reading our conversation below.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Vic: Hey, I’m here with James, a.k.a. Funtcase. So you’re from the U.K. correct?
F: Yeah, South U.K.
Vic: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got your start?
F: I’m from a little town called Bournemouth, it’s not really well-known by anyone, unless you’ve been on holiday there. It’s a nice really tiny beach town. I’ve lived there my whole life, I never moved away.
Vic: Still living there?
F: Yeah, all my friends and family are there, so it’s just home, you know? I could be moving to Chicago or New York or L.A. for my job, but I always felt like if I were to do a big tour, it wouldn’t feel like home. I feel like I’d be on a big holiday.
Home is when I smell the sh***y air in London, and the rain is going on. I get home to Bournemouth and see all the old people, and I’m like “ahhh, yes!”
Vic: So when and where did you start playing gigs?
F: It’s weird, cuz my whole teenage years, when I first discovered that I liked music over anything, my mom bought me my first drum kit when I was 14. I was playing drums for fun, at school, and I was in a band till I was 16. I had long hair and all of that.
Vic: What type of band?
F: Death metal bands, some thrash, and some hardcore bands. I was never into drum and bass or any electronic music. I was always like “Metal for life! I will never like anything else!” I was young.
My mom was a DJ, she DJ’s drum and bass, so I used to always hear it. There was one track I heard where I went “woah, this is actually kinda cool!” I heard that track and I had to find out what it was. Eventually I grew into a love for drum and bass and electronic music.
Vic: I actually see a lot of common ground between hardcore, metal, all the heavy genres of “rock”, and heavy electronic music, like dubstep, drum and bass, grime. That style is very similar in my mind, because it’s just about letting the rage out. Do you want to comment on that?
F: Yeah I agree. I mean, head-banging is kind of a new thing, but it definitely coincides with the mosh pit, which has been around for a few years now. It definitely has the same “vibe,” head-banging, fast-speed, all of that.
Vic: So I wanted to know what plugins are in your production arsenal. What helps give you your sound.
F: My main go-to plugins, cuz I use Cubase, are FabFilter for compression and EQing, and Waves for reverbs and delays. If someone says “put a delay on that”, boom! I go straight to Waves. I also use either Massive or Serum (synths) for my basses. I don’t use Serum as much as everyone else.
Vic: Really? I would think your basses were made in Serum.
F: No, mostly Massive. Any of my new sounds are a combination of the two. I’ve always just been comfortable in Massive, because I know what I’m doing. Serum, I don’t know, I haven’t figured it out yet. And that’s why a lot of my sounds are quite similar, they’re not the same. The same vibe, but not exactly the same, cuz I know what I want, and I have a general sound that I want people to recognize.
That’s the thing, everyone gets so shocked when I say that I use Massive. Everyone thinks that all the sounds in Massive have been done. I go “No, I use Massive.”
Vic: So can you tell me a little about your aesthetic on stage? How did your act evolve, and how did it get to how your show is presented now?
F: It’s weird, I was thinking about this the other day. When I started I was just doing head-nodding, making sure I’d do perfect mixes and double drops. Then it became a less about the mixing, and more about the entertainment. And that was just a natural evolution, that wasn’t me trying to keep up with EDM. That was me just actually doing that.
I realized that no one cared about the double drops anymore, they just care about a good drop in general. People don’t care, they just wanna go to a show and have a good time, and enjoy the music, rather than go “ooh that double drop was perfect!” The culture is less about the DJ and more about the entertainment now. So I naturally just followed that, I never ever tried to aim for that, but it always just happened.
I remember I used to just head nod when I was on stage, and trying to do those perfect mixes. But then for some reason, I just got more and more crazy over the years. I started jumping, and then I was doing this gun-finger sh*t, and then the claws happened. That wasn’t even from the beginning, it just happened mid-way through.
Vic: Correct me if I’m wrong, but from what I got, I see Funtcase as having very “psycho” vibes.
F: F: It’s more “punked-up.” I mean there’s a certain psycho element to it. For pictures and whatnot, I try to be this mysterious, dark character.
Vic: What I see when I see you on stage is like a villain from a monster movie, you know? Like Michael Myers or Freddy Krueger.
F: Yeah, you could associate the way I act, cuz I beat my chest on stage, say all this sh*t like “AWW F*CKIN’ HELL!” I treat that stage like I’m the f*cking god! And that really inspired the whole act. It’s almost like I’m summoning lightning.
Vic: I definitely love seeing you act out the bass with your hand movements and expressions.
F: Yeah, it’s weird, cuz I don’t know where that came from. I just did it. It’s almost like I’m orchestrating. You get conductors doing these movements [to the band], and I’m doing the same thing.
Vic: So let’s talk about the mask. How’d that come to be? Did you always wear it?
F: Nah, I was doing drum and bass for like 7 years before Funtcase, and I never had a mask. And then I got booked for my first Funtcase show in the second room of a club in my own hometown. I played to 5 of my friends and one random person, in the tiniest room on a table with the worst sound system. I was a bit nervous, cuz it was my first dubstep set.
A day before that show, I was booked for a festival to do graffiti (I was a graffiti artist as well), and it was a dress-up thing. So I was in a full costume, with the same mask I use now. [The next day] I thought I took everything out, but I left my mask in the bag. So when I pulled out my CD case, my friend saw the mask and said “ohhh! Wear that!” So I put it on and played, and it became a thing. It was such a sh*tty, low-budget suit, I don’t think people even knew what it was. But yeah, it was my friend’s fault.
Vic: Well I gotta say, I love the aesthetic. It really fits the music, and it portrays everything you’re doing on stage.
F: I’m glad I’ve got a mask! You always see perfect-looking artists, which appeals to people. I don’t have a face of music. Like, Calvin Harris is a good-looking muscly dude, Diplo is a good-looking muscly dude. Then you’ve got Valentino Khan, who’s got this redneck, handlebars mustache. You’ve got Borgore with this good-looking, but aggressive vibe. Everyone has their look, and then there’s me. I’m just some young, grey-head dude, haha! I don’t look like what my music portrays, so I’m thankful I have the mask. If I didn’t, what the f*ck would I look like? I’d have to put a hood up and die on stage!
Vic: So talk a little about how you got to the point where you can do this for a living.
F: I came in when dubstep was still completely unknown, but was starting to turn heads a bit. July 2009 was my first release called Gorilla Flex, and that was really off-key dubstep, but it did really well in the dubstep scene. Dubstep was so underground at that point.
It was when my good friend Chrissy Chris, who had a station on BBC Radio One, was playing a festival with an MC. And he started his set with my tune as the intro, and the crowd went f*cking apesh*t, they went nuts! It got two rewinds.
Vic: Rewinds? They played it back?
F: Yeah, we do rewinds in England; it’s our culture. It’s huge in England. If a drop is that good, and the crowd goes crazy, we rewind it and play it again, and the crowd loves it. You can’t do it in America, though! People are like “what the f*ck are you doing?! Why are you stopping the music?”
But yeah, from that point on, people were like “Yo! What is this music?” It was very energetic dubstep, which was really new in that scene. All the dubstep at that time was either really minimal, or it didn’t have that energy. The energy we have in dubstep now is so upbeat, and it was not always like that. It was slower, it was 140 [BPM] and everything was more about a powerful sub. At the beginning, it was all about sub, even the drums. And that’s the thing, it was about the power of the sub, rather than the energy of the tune.
That’s when I came in and brought my DnB sound into dubstep, and that’s what turned peoples’ heads. It was the moment when us energetic guys came into the scene. Dubstep was just the new thing in England, and I was lucky enough to be in the perfect moment in the scene to come up in the U.K.
Vic: So did this happen in London, somewhere else in the U.K.?
F: Dude, this was all over the place. My schedule in 2010 was beyond crazy! I think I did seven shows in one week. One show Thursday, two shows Friday, two shows Saturday, another show Sunday and another show Monday.
Vic: Wow! How’d you even pull that off?
F: Well this was in the U.K. It’s not like the States. You can get anywhere in 2-3 hours.
Vic: I mean in terms of energy, I wouldn’t even be able to hit play haha!
F: I wasn’t doing what I do now. I was head-nodding and just DJing, it wasn’t so crazy. If I do that now, I would be dead after two shows.
Vic: How do you compare the U.K. scene to the American scene today?
F: It’s hard to describe the U.K. The best way to think of it is they take it for granted. It’s like they don’t care about the superstar lifestyle, they don’t go crazy for DJs. They don’t ask for pictures that much. Compared to here [the States], it’s completely different. In the U.K. everyone is very chill, they go enjoy the music, and then they go home. No one head bangs, they just dance to themselves, and just enjoy it. They don’t cheer when a drop is good. And then they go home. It’s good, it’s all about the music and vibe. There’s no like “YO! Can I get a picture?? You’re the greatest!!”
In America, everyone considers DJs like these gods. People dedicate their lives to DJs.
Vic: You mentioned earlier that you kind of like that though. Becoming a god.
F: Oh yeah! I am so unbelievable grateful for America. The scene died so much in the U.K. and Europe. If there was no America, I’d probably be out of a job right now. There would be no Funtcase. If America did not exist, dubstep would’ve died in Europe, I would probably stop doing dubstep.
Vic: What scene do you think is dominating England right now?
F: House has been a thing lately, but I think dubstep is coming back. I played my first show in London, at a commercial club, it was 500 people, me and Doctor P. And the club was f*cking grand! Absolutely packed, and it was great. It was underground as f*ck, the ceiling was low, it was hot as f*ck, there was steam everywhere, people going mad. So dubstep is coming back, thank god!
Vic: I’m sure some weird sh*t goes down at your shows.
F: **Chuckles** Yeah!
Vic: Give me a story that pops into your head. Weirdest thing you’ve ever seen in the crowd.
F: I mean this is not really weird. I saw a guy in Holland in a wheelchair, and people were lifting him up; he was crowd-surfing in his wheelchair! The weirdest thing that’s happened to me was actually when I was 19 in a band. A girl threw ramen noodles at my head, and it turns out she won a competition and got a life-time supply of these noodles. I had said on Myspace (I think it was in those days) that I love Ramen noodles, so she threw some at me. So I was like, thanks!
Vic: Well that was a great conversation, any last words you have for WNUR or our listeners?
F: Just want to say thank you to everyone, I love everyone so much. Thank you for keeping me in this job!