Scuba has toed the line between these two taste cultures for years. He cut his teeth making bass-heavy broken beats in his hometown, London, back when the word “dubstep” connoted hoods-up introspection at small clubs in Croydon. When bass music became a mainstream phenomenon—and, of course, one that sounded quite different from the music that Scuba and his cohorts had spawned—he went to great lengths to distance himself from what it had become. “I just didn’t want the word to be used in association with me, at all,” he says.
In an attempt to disassociate himself from dubstep, he started to brush aside interviewers who asked about his basshead days and began experimenting with new sounds. His explorations have included somber techno 12″s under the SCB alias, bouncy house tunes as ESS, and a string of smoldering big-room bombs under the main Scuba banner. Each new moniker and each fresh development in Scuba’s style has appealed to a different taste culture, which reflects his own confusion about the direction he wanted to take his sound.
His restlessness also alienated a lot of his fans and ended up in an awkward limbo between EDM stardom and niche club culture. Depending on whom you ask, Paul Rose is either one of the biggest sellouts in the underground universe, or the smallest fish in the mainstream sea. “I was just on the right side of the line,” he tells me. “I reached the conclusion that if I was going to develop [the commercial path] further, I would very quickly be on the wrong side of that line, and I didn’t want that to happen.”
His latest offering, the Phenix 2 EP, seems like a declaration of intent, as if Rose has finally decided where his creative loyalties lie. The press release, which was sent out along with the record on June 30, warned listeners that this one is “entirely devoid of the euphoric hallmarks of the Personality era,” which makes it “distinct from what came before it.”
Indeed, Phenix 2 trades cheekiness and cheesiness for wordless depth and—for lack of a better term—seriousness. Epic anthems like “Adrenalin,” the first tune to mark Scuba’s transition out of dubstep and into big room culture, were engineered to demolish large clubs and bring ravers to tears. This release, on the other hand, appeals to smoky afterhours clubs rather than the big-ticket gigs he says he’s grown sick of playing within the last year or two. He rattles off a list of them: “Fabric on a Friday night, horrific Ibiza stuff, regional UK gigs.”
“People who are into that kind of music want to hear songs,” he says. “They’re not interested in DJ sets. I see DJing as a creative challenge in itself, and putting on a bunch of hits in a row doesn’t really meet that creative challenge.”
It remains to be seen whether or not Scuba can win back the fans he estranged during his flirtation with EDM culture. There was, he admits, a “dodgy big room house thing that happened last year,” which he describes as “a bit regrettable” and which he can trace to his Ibiza gigs. Once he started performing on the White Isle in 2012 and 2013, he felt the pressure to appeal to large audiences who paid good money to dance in the sun to massive, euphoric house beats and recognizable jams—a far cry from his roots as a purveyor of moody bass tracks.
“It’s like with anything: If you want to continue getting good, you have to do the business,” he says. “Everyone always says that you shouldn’t ever do things just for the money—and that’s a really easy rule to adhere to, until you start being offered lots and lots of money.”
Although the paychecks were tempting, Scuba knew his crowd-pleasing Ibizan DJ sets weren’t a long-term plan. They did, however, help to catapult him into the circuit of huge festivals—so far this year, he was booked to Mysteryland USA, Ultra in Miami, and the somewhat more curated Igloofest. This fall, he’s supposed hit Electric Zoo New York, among others, but he had to cancel most of his upcoming appearances due to ongoing medical issues. Health problems also forced him to nix some appearances last spring and earlier this summer—but his frustration with the big-ticket gigs he’s played over the past few years might have had something to do with it, as well.
Still, he seems a lot more optimistic about his about American festivals than he does about clubs in Ibiza, which he says have developed narrow conventions about which styles of music they’ll support.
“Those big American festivals, they all have a techno stage now—a big stage,” he says. “Recently, in America, you can play really hard, and kids actually like it more than playing happy, house-type of stuff. Kids who got into it through the EDM routes are used to huge horrendous kicks and noisy shit, so they relate to it a lot more than the slow, plodding house sets. The techno thing in America I think is going to be big over the next five years. It’s got legs there.”
Techno’s promising future is good news for Scuba, because he won’t have to choose between his ambitions and his creative integrity. Nevertheless, it’s hard for him to decide exactly what his creative integrity sounds like and whom it appeals to; the connoisseurs’ rigidly-defined standards of which styles of house and techno are acceptable chafe him, but he appreciates their devotion to the culture and music. “I don’t like dogmatic thinking, and the heads tend to think in a dogmatic way,” he says. “But equally, I want to be taken seriously by people who take music seriously. That’s a bit of a tight rope to walk.”