- Words Darcy Culverhouse
DnB's hottest prospect, Bou, talks about his free party origins, the greatness of 'Baddadan' and how he's always elevating his production.
In an arbitrary warehouse in the heart of London, flocks of DnB buffs gather together, eagerly anticipating a night—by DnB Allstars 360°—filled with filthy blends and delirious double drops. The atmosphere is charged with excitement, as the crowd converge around the DJ decks in the middle of the room. DnB talisman, Bou, kicks off his—promised to be— electrifying set with the spookish introduction of his hit track ‘Baddadan’—the debut of his collaboration with DnB ultra’s Chase and Status. Hands hover over Bou’s head, while gun fingers point to the sky, aligning with the robust and punchy beat. Goosebumps form as the heavy bassline roars with the dancehall-flavoured vocals atop as the beat drops. A collective “Woah” erupts from the crowd as the chorus takes hold. Bou grins. The audience moves with unbridled joy and ecstasy, swept away by the fusion of jump-up and rolling drum and bass, ensuring a night etched in Bou’s memory forever.
While many DJs might have felt a sense of trepidation stepping onto the leading DnB platform, DnB Allstars 360°, when you’re armed with Bou’s dubs, the crowd are at your disposal. He’s a household name in the scene and rightfully so. Bou’s sound—characterised by dense basslines, bold melodies and breezy beats—has placed him at the helm of the evolution of the sonic blueprint of the genre, as well as instigating the club culture shift that has Gen Z ravers hooked. It’s not just ravers who are smitten by his zestful soundscapes, major-league players such as Carl Cox, Skrillex and Shy FX are regularly seen spinning his tracks in their sets, not forgetting his efforts entering him into the BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix hall of fame earlier this year.
For Bou, his current success was somewhat impossible to imagine from his beginnings. Fleeing from the war-torn state of his birthplace, Algeria, to Manchester when he was six years old, it wasn’t until he was in his teens that he got addicted to DnB’s sound. First witnessing the scene at a free party, he became hooked on YouTube production tutorials as well as being a sustained listener to Soundcloud’s jump-up scene. From the age of 16, he began selling his tracks for 50 quid a pop to pay the bills and build a better life for himself and his family.
From releasing tracks in 2015, it wasn’t until 2018 that Bou began to reap the rewards of his efforts. Whilst he tuned out a steady flow of solo tracks, collaborations and regular ‘dub pack’ USB releases, he saw himself featured on Bru-C’s ‘Streetside’—which garnered popularity in the UK Singles Chart—as well as collaborating with DJ all-star, Example, in 2022 on the track, ‘Deep’. Fast forward to 2023, riding the euphoria of ‘Baddadan’’s success, he has just dropped his new EP, Swerve It— featuring D Double E and P Money—a project that is an ode to his blend of crunchy beats, crisp kicks and wavy baselines, showing that he can continue to make the filthiest rollers in the game.
As he sits at the peak of his artistry, we catch up with the DnB prodigy as he blows, to talk all things ‘Baddadan’, free parties and his production secrets.
Let’s start in the now. You’ve just released Swerve It, a five-track EP on your own record label, Gossip. How long has the project been in the pipeline and what would you like listeners to take away from it?
The lead track was made in a writing camp over two years ago. It was originally me and Mila in the studio. We wrote a few tracks, and being in London, I thought, ‘Who can I get on the vocals for this track’? Straight away, P Money came to mind. I rang him, he turned up, wrote his verse, recorded it and that was that. It was only a couple of months later that I thought about adding some weight to the production side, so that’s where Camo & Crooked and Mefjus came in. Having a record with all these great names felt truly amazing but then me and my team thought, ‘What could be the icing on the cake?’ Who else other than D Double E, of course? And the track was complete. The EP was a spur-of-a-moment thing; it was originally only a four-track EP with, ‘Nan Slapper’ being the lead track, but it was very last minute when we added ‘Swerve It’; it just felt like the right thing to do.
‘Nan Slapper’, featuring legendary UK MC B Live, is the most recent single off the record. It was also the second song you played in your now viral DnB all-stars 360 show, which went off! Why do you think that one gets such a good reaction from fans?
I think because it has a lot of meaning to the scene. So, let me explain, the ‘nan’ part of ‘Nan Slapper’ refers to a very tongue-in-cheek in-joke amongst the DnB community, where fans use their nan as a reaction to describe how a particular track has made them feel, for example, ‘That bassline hits so hard it just made my nan spit out her false teeth’. Why this has become a thing, I don’t know! In DnB we just roll with it. The ‘slapper’ part refers to modern-day slang language, like: ‘Yo, that tune Slaps’. That’s how you get a ‘Nan Slapper’.
There are so many subgenres of jungle and DnB, what drew you towards jump-up specifically?
I think it was just the timing of me coming through college and living in Manchester. Jump up seemed like such a fun genre and scene to be part of. The music is fun to make and I really enjoy it. The people that were part of the scene back then were the most relatable when I was getting into music production and DJing.
If you weren’t making DnB, what would you be making? And do you dabble in producing other genres or are you strictly on a drum and bass wave?
That’s a tough question, as I like to make all sorts of music. I dabble in making US rap, drill and sometimes various styles of house music.
You started Gossip over two years ago now. How have you found running the label and balancing that with more commercial releases on majors?
It’s been great having my own label. It’s nice to have full control of things and when you want to do them. Sometimes, as an artist, you can overthink your music but with Gossip it’s run by what my gut tells me. If it feels right, we do it! Also, not only does it allow you to connect back to your roots and your die-hard fans, it’s also a playground for experimenting with your music.
‘Baddadan’ has been everywhere this summer, shutting down festivals up and down the country. What’s been your favourite or most memorable moment when playing it live?
To be brutally honest, there have been too many to mention. I would like to thank everyone for supporting me and making it the track it is today but I think the stand-out moment has to be when I played it for the very first time live at the DNB ALLSTARS 360. For a track to get that kind of reaction, considering nobody had heard it before, still blows my mind to this day!
What are your two favourite tracks to double-drop in a mix at the moment?
I have a few, but I think it has to be the go-to: my remix of ‘Spartanz’ by Dominator, dropped with one of my other tracks, ‘Spook’, on Souped Up.
You were introduced to DnB through the Northern free party scene. If you can remember any of it, describe that first rave to me and what drew you initially to the idea of raving in the first place.
My first rave was when I was about 15-16 years old. It was an illegal rave as I was still way too young to be in clubs. It was a pop-up rave at a countryside hall location; it sounded like a proper laugh. Being young and adventurous my mates and I got a taxi up there and got stuck in. It was absolutely wicked, we had the best time and it just made me want to do it again.
I first caught wind of your music when you released ‘Poison’, which is over six years old now. Looking back at then and where you are now, how have you looked to move your music and the scene forward?
I’ve always tried to evolve my production each and every time I go into the studio. It’s really important to me as a producer to not get complacent with making music and always look to push myself and try new things, which will allow my music to mature and evolve. I also think it’s very important to push the limits of what music can do. The music business is a highly competitive industry so you have to be prepared to go that extra mile to stop things becoming stale. Basically, I’m dedicated to the studio and I believe that’s where a lot of the positives come from!
You’ve talked previously about how your parents initially struggled to understand the vision, mainly because of the financial insecurities faced by music artists. When was the moment that they realised your dream was becoming a reality?
I think the moment it all changed was when I could provide for myself but also for them, it was around my late Teens-early 20s. I proved to them that it is a stable job and that you can make a living from it. Since then, I’ve never looked back.
Along the way, you’ve built a cult following that’s been with you on every step of the journey. What are some of your best memories of interactions with them throughout your career?
It’d be unfair to point out particular ones, but to answer this, it’s certainly when I’m launching new projects or pushing something that means a lot to me personally, for example, when raising money for charity. My fans always turn up, support and always go that extra mile for the cause.
What’s next for Bou? With chart-entering singles and major collaborations under your belt, is there anything else you’d like to achieve before the year’s up?
I have to be very humble with this one and say that I’ve had the best year of my life. Again, I’m incredibly thankful to everyone who has supported me on this journey. I think the end of 2023 will consist of me playing some more amazing parties, including concluding my first USA tour and taking some much-needed time to soak up everything that’s happened to me this year.
Q- And what are you manifesting for 2024?
There will be a lot of exciting stuff to come from me, be sure of that. This year has fully inspired me to do more, work harder and continue giving back to all of you guys that have supported me on this amazing journey. I’m fully ready to release loads more music for you guys!