Bitwig interviews dubstep producer Silkie

Meet Silkie, the Dubstep Legend Turned Bitwig Certified Trainer

He witnessed the birth of dubstep in London clubs and became an influential producer in the scene. Now he’s ready to pass on his knowledge to the next generation.

Silkie (aka Solomon Rose)'s origin story begins in the late 1990s, when his sister tuned his radio to one of the local pirate stations. As a London native coming of age around the turn of the millennium, Rose absorbed by osmosis some of the most important developments in English club music: UK garage and its offshoots into dubstep and grime.

Silkie developed as an artist alongside these burgeoning genres and even contributed to their evolution. Over the past two decades, he has established himself in the bass music scene with releases on influential record labels like Butterz, Soul Jazz and Deep Medi. The latter published his most recent LP, 2021's Panorama, as well as a track walkthrough video in which the producer explains how he made some of the tracks in Bitwig Studio.

The presentation demonstrates that Silkie's talents aren't limited to music production; he's also an insightful instructor with invaluable experience. This year he pursued that calling by becoming a Bitwig Certified Trainer and founding Antisocial Audio, a bass music academy and vehicle for passing on his knowledge. We caught up with Rose to hear more about how he makes music and his plans to foster the next generation of bass music producers.

Can you tell us a bit about your musical lineage? Where did this all start for you?

Both my parents are Jamaican. Music didn't get played that much in our house, but my mum played music in the car and I would hear reggae and bashment. Never Jamaican swear words, though — that was even worse to her than English swear words!

I seriously started focusing on music around 1999, at the height of UK garage. My mum bought me a radio, and my sister came into my room and turned the dial to a pirate radio station called Ice FM. That’s how I started experiencing UK garage.

I started searching on the dial for other things, and I found Delight FM. I thought it was called “the light” FM — in my London accent “delight” and “the light” sound the same! There was no way at the time to figure out which one is which. There was a group on Delight FM called Living Legends, and two of the guys in the crew were Oxide & Neutrino, who ended up going into So Solid Crew. So I was finding out about So Solid way before it was even So Solid. That was the start of my journey, like 13 or 14. That summer all the kids in school were listening to UK garage and we were going to under-18’s parties. That's when I first got to see a DJ playing live.

How did that inspire you or influence your artistic development?

The next trend in school was that everyone wanted to be a DJ or have decks. My friend was the first in the crew to get decks, so we all went around his house and I became enamored with them. So that’s the moment when I went to beg my mum. It took a lot of pleading, but I got them for Christmas.

One of the decks wasn't working, and I only had one vinyl. I hooked the working turntable up to my stereo system and was playing the track and recording some of my ridiculous MCing on it, then pressing stop, reloading the tune again, doing that again. That was my little mixtape. When I finally got the turntable fixed, I started trying to mix. I was just winging the whole thing — I had no help, no one telling me how to mix, and there was no YouTube. I'm very single-minded and kind of stubborn when it comes to things I don't understand. No matter how long it takes, I'm just gonna do it. I remember the “eureka” moment when I got the mix in time and I ran downstairs to show my mum.

“When I talk to prospective students at Antisocial Audio who are curious about Bitwig Studio but hesitant to learn a new DAW, I emphasize the creative possibilities it opens up. I demonstrate how it can help them achieve their artistic vision. It's about reframing Bitwig Studio as a creative partner rather than just another software to learn.”

At what point did you realize you could be the person who made the music, too?

Around 2001 I was getting into proto-grime. I didn't have any musical training, but I had old garage tracks and some grime tracks and I started thinking to myself, “I could do this.”

Garage was a London-wide thing. You had producers from all over, but with the advent of grime, it was very localized to East London. A friend from West London was our link: He went to school in South London with some East Londoners, and he was funneling grime back to us. He became the grime lord in the West with mixtapes, because with pirate radio you had to be close to the antenna to be able to record it. I ended up getting a cracked version of Fruity Loops from him on CD, but it was a demo version. I couldn’t save a track and go back to it, but I could export the file as audio. So I’d try to make as many beats as possible before I had to export them.

Within those limitations, how did you go about trying to reverse engineer the garage and grime you were listening to?

The first thing that I tried to do was recreate the So Solid track “Dilemma.” The drum pattern took me a long time, maybe six hours. I had to learn the program and learn how to make the beat at the same time. Then I just kept going from there. It's funny, because I've actually gone full-circle and I'm producing UKG. I'm launching a new label soon called Bedroom Rat Records to put out some of the 2-step and 4x4 garage I've made recently.

Another part of the story is my friend from school named Harry Craze. We were in the same music class, and I knew that he liked drum & bass. I liked garage. We were kind of taking the mick out of each other because I would say “Drum & bass is for druggies,” and he would say “Garage is for girls.” It was childish. I was upset he said that, so I challenged him to make a garage beat. He came back with his little Yamaha sampler and played it to me, and we became friends. We started bouncing off each other and making tracks together. That helped my growth as well.

What was the path from there to your first record?

The first record was “Dark Square” in 2002. It was me and Harry Craze as Grimey Beetz. The story behind it links into how I got into dubstep. My friend DJ Heny.G and I had done some DJing together. He was working at a record store in Soho and had put out some UK garage tracks back in the day. When Harry and I made this track, I told Heny to come to my friend's house, we're making tunes. He heard the track and was like like, “I know a guy that could put this out.” He was the same age as me and Harry, 15, maybe 16. I don't know why he was working in a record shop! It was a different time.

We were like, “OK, but don't don't play it to anyone yet, yeah? We want to do some more work on it.” We burned off a CD for him. But he ran off and played it to the guy who managed the record store, and that guy wanted to sign it. We got upset with Heny at first, but then we got excited because we're getting our first record put out. Then Heny said the guy needs another track for the B-side. We used the same kind of MIDI, but we just changed some sounds because we didn’t know what else to do. We gave it to the guy, he ended up pressing it.

Heny was going to FWD around this time, and he gave the CD to Youngsta. When Heny told me Youngsta played it at FWD and it went off, I was like, “What's ‘forward’”? It was an over-18s club, I don't know how he was in there. It was a different time, as you can tell! So I'm like, “Well, I need to go to this place that plays my track.” That's how I started getting into dubstep.

That must have been quite an overwhelming sensory experience, going from listening to your track in a bedroom production setting, to a record, then on a speaker stack in a basement at FWD.

I just remember experiencing bass in my chest like an out-of-body experience. When you think about bass musically, it’s just notes, but I was properly feeling it at FWD. I'd been to garage raves, and obviously there’s bass in garage, but when the track is focused on bass, it’s the whole driving force of it.

While you were evolving how you listened to and experienced music as a teenager, was there also an evolution in how you produced and the tools you used? How did you broaden your palate beyond Fruity Loops and MIDI?

At that point I think I was using FL 3.5, because that's the version where VSTs came in. I didn't have much of a studio: a computer, a speaker that had a hole in it, and I was working in mono. Most people wouldn't realize that's what I was working with, but it kind of put me in good stead in a way, being able to try and get as much as I could out of that. I made additions over time. When I went to college around 2007, I got a student loan and bought two really old-school, cheap Alesis speakers.

Inside Silkie's studio - via Bitwig
Inside Silkie's studio - via Bitwig

What are you currently using in your studio?

Nowadays, I have more outboard equipment. I’ve found the joy of synthesis and turning knobs. I know some people would think outboard stuff is a waste of money to buy if you don't use it that much, but I think if you get joy out of it — even if you don't end up using it in a track — it still feels like you've got your money's worth.

The DAWs I use are Bitwig, FL Studio and Studio One. Bitwig is my creative playground. FL Studio is like my oldest son — it’s reliable and really easy to make a drum beat. Then I've got Analog Rytm from Elektron for beats and just mangling sounds and the Elektron Octatrack MKII for just messing about. I've got the Syntakt — that's cool for blips and blops, those kinds of sounds. And the Analog Four because I like working with audio, so I'll record that and then work with it as audio.

When I'm working in Bitwig, a lot of the time I'm using The Grid for basslines and anything that I want the modulation to go wild on. I've got the Neutron by Behringer, a semi-modular that I can use with The Grid as well because of the CV integration. I can use my soundcard, which has DC-coupled outputs, to hook the CV signal from Bitwig into Neutron. I also use the Behringer X-Touch control surface. I've basically written my own script for it.

You said Bitwig Studio is your “creative playground.” What makes it more suitable for creative tasks for you?

It allows me to explore and experiment in ways that other programs might not. The main area where I feel very free to experiment is with the Polygrid and using modulators. Bitwig Studio offers a lot of flexibility in terms of modulation and cross-modulation, which leads to those happy accidents and unexpected outcomes. It's a DAW that encourages thinking outside the box and trying new things, which aligns perfectly with my creative process.

When you described learning to DJ and learning to produce, you painted a picture of a very determined autodidact who figures things out on his own. How was your experience teaching yourself to use Bitwig Studio?

Learning Bitwig Studio was a bit of a transition for me. I was already familiar with music software in general, but Bitwig Studio had a different workflow, and I had to adapt to its approach. Initially, I tried to make Bitwig fit my existing workflow, but I quickly realized that it offered solutions to certain creative challenges I had encountered. So I allowed Bitwig's way to become my way.

I bought version 1.1 in 2014. I did it in the sense of a Kickstarter, like showing support. Technically I could finish a track on it, but 1.1 wasn’t able to do what I wanted to yet. With version 2, the modulation system didn't have to be nested anymore — you could put modulators on the devices, and you could put as much as you liked. I was like, “Okay, this is making sense.” I actually built tracks in version 3 and version 4 that ended up on the album Panorama: “Big 45”, “What You Want” and “Did You Know”.

People tend to have a lot of inertia when it comes to trying new DAWs, but they don't have this same reluctance to learn how to use a new soft synth or groove box, for instance. What's your perspective on this attitude as someone who has learned many programs and instruments?

I understand that people often feel reluctant to learn a new DAW because it seems like a significant undertaking, especially if they've been using the same one for a long time. I think the difference in attitude when it comes to learning a new synth or instrument versus a DAW is because people view synths as exciting creative tools with instant audible differences. They may see a DAW as more of a utilitarian tool for organizing their creative ideas.

When I talk to prospective students at Antisocial Audio who are curious about Bitwig Studio but hesitant to learn a new DAW, I emphasize the creative possibilities it opens up. I show them how Bitwig Studio is not just a spreadsheet for organizing music, but an integral part of the creative process. I demonstrate how it can help them achieve their artistic vision. It's about reframing Bitwig Studio as a creative partner rather than just another software to learn.

Dubstep producer Silkie in his neighborhood

You mentioned Antisocial Audio, the music production school you launched this year. Could you tell us how this came about and what your plans are for the future?

The idea for Antisocial Audio came about because I'm always the person in my producer circle who people call to figure out how to do stuff. It's a little annoying to keep on being asked questions, but actually, when they understand what I’m talking about, when I’m able to explain it, I actually get a buzz from that. I’ve always thought I should teach, but I didn't go to a traditional college, so it would be difficult to be a lecturer at university or anything like that.

Then I went to Argentina earlier this year and met up with a friend who does graphic design and told him about the idea I had about teaching music. I ended up going to Buenos Aires and met up with a girl called Tessa, who booked a party there, and I was talking to her about the idea as well. When I got home we all started chatting, and I decided I'm gonna do it. I started the company in the UK and began the process of trying to find clients.

The idea in the future is to have a bass music academy. You've got schools that teach EDM, but there isn’t anything focused on bass music. My idea includes mentorship at different levels, so that we'd be teaching music theory to total beginners, but people who are intermediate to advanced maybe just need some help with arrangement or finding inspiration. It doesn't have to be a whole course or a massive commitment, just advice from a person who’s been there and done that. My plan for the future is for a lot of older bass music producers to be able to pass knowledge back down to the youngest.

Focusing on bass music goes back to what you mentioned at the beginning, the lineage. All the strands of electronic music are interconnected, but bass music is a direct connection between Caribbean and the UK, and that can often be overlooked.

You know, when I speak to students or clients, I'm always trying to impart that knowledge that we got for free because of our backgrounds and where we grew up. It's important to make sure sound systems are still a thing in future, because with the bass we’re using there's almost no need for a big sound system anymore. But we still need to feel the bass, like the whole excitement of going FWD, rocking your chest. I just want that to keep on going.

Photos by Alex Kurunis.

Want to learn from Silkie? Use the code BITWIG23 to get 15% off lessons with Silkie on Antisocial Audio's website.

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