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Netsky – Second Nature

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Background

Does someone like Netsky even need an introduction? Usually I’d say I Refuse to do one, but he’s been absent from the scene for a few years and just a few weeks ago we had a “I just discovered Netsky” thread over on R/DnB, so maybe he actually does need one. Let’s go down Memory Lane.

Netsky, named after the computer worm with the same name, is somewhat of a legend of the scene. Pronounced Net-Sky and not Net-Ski, by the way. He started producing around 2009, Give And Take a few months, and was quickly discovered by DJ Hype and Pascal during their search for new talent for their liquid-focused sublabel Liq-weed Ganja Recordings. Releases on Grid Recordings and all sorts of other labels followed quickly, garnering more and more attention in a very short amount of time. Enough attention to get a recording contract with Hospital Records and win the “Best Newcomer Producer” award at the D&B Arena awards in 2010. 

That’s exactly when things really kicked into full gear for the Belgian producer. Multiple iconic Netsky tunes like Memory Lane, I Refuse, Eyes Closed and Tonight, a collab with Danny Byrd, date back to exactly that year. It was also the year he released his first album, Netsky. Two years later he followed this up with his second album, creatively titled 2. He even started the Netsky Live Band that year. All was well. Sadly you cannot find said sophomore album on Spotify anymore, but I bet you can still find it on Pirate Bay. I mean, you shouldn’t do that, just buy it if you want it. I just wanted to make a reference to his track Pirate Bay. You get me.

By the time his third album 3 was released, around 2016, some people in the scene were becoming increasingly frustrated by the change of direction in Netsky’s style. People were clamouring for more “glory days” DnB from him, but he wanted to explore other genres and directions. Some see it as selling out, some as him just doing whatever he wants. After 3, he took it one step further and turned his back on dnb for a while to pursue EDM. Shudder. Just like Pendulum with their Knife Party side project, that change of genres didn’t come out of nowhere though. His albums have always featured all kinds of different sub-genres in the electronic music spectrum, it has always been part of his repertoire. And while I’m not necessarily a fan of the David Guetta, Aloe Blacc and Lil Wayne era of Netsky, I am still happy for him. Must have been pretty wild to go completely out of the comfort zone that was DnB for him (at the time at least) and work with names that big. Also, at least The Prototypes and Toronto Is Broken DnB remixes of his tunes from that time are bangers. 

Late March, early April this year, at the (first) height of the lockdown, he posted on his socials that he would release a new DnB album this year. On Hospital Records. Out of f’ing nowhere. 10 Years after his first album, it was time for him to come home. During his series of lockdown streams and various interviews, it became clearer and clearer that it wasn’t all a big ruse, he was actually really excited to return to his roots. So excited in fact that he gathered 18 brand new tracks for this new album Second Nature, making it his biggest album to date.

But can this new album, this Return Of The Lost Son, live up to its hype? As they say in my favourite fictional TV show, let’s find out!


Track Breakdown

Mixed Emotions

The album begins with Mixed Emotions. No no, that was not supposed to be a review of the track, that’s just the title of it. My emotions for this collaboration with Kiwi producer Montell2099 aren’t mixed at all, they are in fact very positive. The stripped-down, laid-back production of it shows that Netsky actually meant it when he said he’d go back to his roots. Maybe not quite back to the 2009 days, but it certainly has that certified Netsky Feeling™ to it. It just feels warm. The beautifulness of this track is enhanced even further by the accompanying music video, which is Netsky’s love letter to Aotearoa, more colloquially known as New Zealand. Created together with Montell2099 and some people at the Kiwi radio station George FM, it showcases the stunning landscapes, cultural landmarks and people that inspired this intro to the journey that is Second Nature. (Update: Mixed Emotions is in fact not actually the intro to the album. I’ll mention the actual intro further down)


Destiny

As Netsky himself said in a recent interview with Red Bull Electronica, this album is not about a story or a theme. It’s just a collection of all the different musical styles that make Netsky Netsky. And one of those styles is Dancefloor. The first track that really goes into that direction is Destiny, a collaboration with the master of dancefloor himself, Sub Focus. Safe to say, his influences can be felt a lot. It is a bit as if Netsky took the Desire project files and injected his style into it. They even both share the same ‘Des’ prefix! Okay okay, it probably wasn’t anything like that and that prefix part is a bit far-fetched, but it is definitely reminiscent of it. Just like Desire, Destiny also has the same sing-along and festival anthem potential. 


I Choose You

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Next up, we got the first solo track, I Choose You, a remix of the soul classic I Choose You by Willie Hutch. As mentioned in various interviews over the years, Netsky’s parents are big fans of soul, funk and jazz. This is the first of many tracks on this album that make it crystal clear just how much influence his parents’ soul record collection had on him and his productions. If you listen to the original and the Netsky version side-by-side, the remix might seem simple at first, but it is just effective as hell. The vocals and the trumpets and just the whole arrangement in general just work really well in a dnb tempo. The happy vibes on this remix are dangerously contagious.

Broken Bottles

So contagious indeed that Netsky decided to put a stop to them. As mentioned earlier, Netsky has planned to show all sides of his sound on this album. Broken Bottles is the track on which the EDM side of him shines through the most. If you are familiar with the tracks he produced in the last few years (I wouldn’t judge you if you aren’t), this one is like a DnB version of I Don’t Even Know You Anymore with Lil Wayne. Straight up going into Sad Auto-Tune Song territory. That statement alone is probably enough for some fans to throw some bottles. Maybe the song isn’t even about alcoholism, but about DnB purists’ reaction to the Auto-Tune. However, even if you aren’t a fan of the vocal style, you might still get a lot out of this one. While I also really like how the stripped-back piano sections during the buildup set the mood, the drops are where the track shines in my opinion. They emphasise the hurt and anger the protagonist goes through. They also just bang, especially the second one. Probably not for everyone, it’s a grower though.

Blend

Time for some more collaborations now! First we have Blend with Rudimental, a melting pot of different ideas and styles. We’ve got the funkiest of the funky basslines, we have trumpets and all sorts of brass, we’ve got catchy vocals by Afronaut Zu, there’s a organ taking us to church, point is, we got it all. Really fun track! 


On Let Me Hold You

Next up we’re diving straight into liquid territory. On Let Me Hold You Netsky and Hybrid Minds combined their strengths into one beautiful vocal-driven anthem. They really pulled all the strings to craft something great here. A forward-moving yet emotional piano, a stunning vocal performance that could probably lead to world peace, and the aforementioned strings that will make you cry effortlessly. My favourite moment comes right before the second drop when the production is stripped-back completely, leaving just the strings and the vocals. It works so goddamn well man. This whole track is a wave of emotions crashing right into you. 


Look At Me Go

You might already know this next one. Look At Me Go, featuring, I wanna say Hardcore?, producer Darren Styles, feels like Netsky is talking directly to us through the vocal sample. “Look at me jumping between wildly different styles from track to track!” This one is even more wildly different though. Take one part 174 bpm 4×4 beat, 2 parts Psytrance influences and a tablespoon Blood Sugar (it’s honestly uncanny) and you get Look At Me Go! Really fun track. That WAKAME WAKAME WAKAME GO vocal will never leave my head. And no, you can’t convince me that this isn’t what the vocal says.


Don’t Care What People Say

Over the following three tracks Netsky pivots away from barely-dnb to not-at-all-dnb and shows us what his style would sound like in other genres. Don’t Care What People Say is a funk-drenched 80s-themed vocoder love anthem. Pretty much Netsky’s take on Daft Punk. Even though this usually isn’t my genre, this one really hooked me. Probably because the production on it is clean as a whistle. But, like, not a used one, one that was just recently cleaned really thoroughly. You get me. 

Complicated

You know what’s in vogue right now? Chilled out tracks at a tempo slightly slower than DnB with some breakbeats. From The Prototypes to Sub Focus & Wilkinson, everyone that is releasing an album seems to be doing it. Even Gydra and Turno tried their hand at the tempo, but their experiments weren’t quite as chilled out. Complicated is Netsky’s entry in the series. It starts out seriously mellow, but the drop soon enough introduces a loud but warm bass melody into the mix that spices things up nicely. Not a very complicated tune, but it fits the vibe he’s going for very well. 

Free

Okay enough of that expedition to the unknown non-DnB lands, let’s get back home. Free is the second track of the album that is a re-imagination of a vintage soul tune, this time it’s Deniece Williams with her smash hit Free. The elements of the original track are all there, but produced and mastered very differently. The trumpets are way more prominent, the vocal has been cut down to the main “I just got to be freee” part and arranged completely differently. He of course also added things to it, from the small male vocal to the breaks in the buildup and throughout the drop. I can’t believe how well that technique of taking a classic soul song and rearranging it into a dnb track has worked on me. Twice now too. Compared to I Choose You, Free is way more mellow, but just as enjoyable. 


I Saw The Future In Your Eyes

This next one is special to me. Way back in late March, when lockdown had just started, Netsky completely blindsided us all by releasing I Saw The Future In Your Eyes pretty much out of nowhere. It was the single that kicked this whole album project off and was the confirmation we all needed that, yes, Netsky is actually going back to Drum & Bass. And judging by this first single, it would actually be kinda amazing. It gave us something to look forward to in a time where most news were kinda bleak. The track by itself already gives you a sense of beautiful melancholic hopefulness that was emphasised tenfold by the times it was released in. If you are a fan of the Old Netsky™ sound, this track is for you. Amazing vibes all the way through.


Waiting All Day To Get To You

One thing I love about Netsky is the cheery cheesiness, or cheesy cheeriness, of some of the lyrics in his songs. I’ve definitely lost most of you here I think, but I’m not going to back down on this. Something about hearing positive lyrics just makes me smile. For me, one of the most cheesy, positive happy vibes, sing-along tracks on this album is Waiting All Day To Get To You. The vocals are so simple, 90% of the lyrics are already in the title, but damn if it isn’t catchy as hell. Those vocals are complimented extremely well by the guitars throughout the song and the heavy but melodic bass in the drop. I’m sorry, but I have no choice but to bop up and down and sing along. 


Power

Ew, emotions. Good thing the next track is a true banger, gotta blast those feelings away. Power, featuring the Brazilian funkmaster Urbandawn, will blast your socks off. Maybe the foot too. It’ll powerwash your whole body. POW, just like that. But even more than that. Probably why it’s called POW-er. In true Urbandawn fashion the funk in this track is palpable, from the signature funky guitars in the buildup and breakdown to the powerful basses in the drop. There’s even some fun half-time business in the second drop! The different styles present on this album are honestly insane. Huge track.


Float

Speaking of half-time. The next track on the list, Float starts off as exactly that. In contrast to Power, this one is more float-y though. Okay that was a way too easy joke, I apologize. This one is an interesting one. If I had to keep myself short I’d describe it as a chill spring-time vibe. Also, there’s a flute. Speaking of, while listening to the drop I do wonder if someone just misspelled “Flute” while writing the title of this track. Or maybe that similarity was intentional and I’m just stupid. Or maybe it wasn’t and I’m still stupid. Who knows! Very very unique track. Won’t be the first one I’ll recommend, but it’s certainly interesting enough. But maybe you, the reader, will love it, who knows? Hey, whatever flutes your boat.


Dreaming Of U

The non-dnb block of the album continues with Dreaming Of U with Elias, arguably one of the poppiest tracks on the album. While not my favorite track of the bunch, I still appreciate things about it. For instance, I love the way the vocal is layered, that high/low layering will always work on me. While it’s not groundbreaking, that little drum “dudum” during the buildup and outro is also very lovely.

Everybody Loves The Sunshine

We’re nearing the end here folks. I think we could all do with another soul-track-turned-dnb track, to lift the spirits a bit. Just in time for the literal darkest times of the year we got our summer anthem of the year: Everybody Loves The Sunshine. Just like with the other two soul classics before this one, Netsky took most of the elements of the original by Roy Ayers and transformed them into something new. Something faster mostly. Even though it still sounds simple, I have to admit that this strategy has actually worked a third time on me. I didn’t expect myself to like it as much as I do, but here we are. I’m just a sucker for happy vibes I guess.

Hold On

Finally, we’ve arrived at the end of the – wait. There’s a track missing. Hold On, featuring the prolific UK singer and DnB vocalist legend Becky Hill, should be in here somewhere, right? That’s what the website says at least. It’s also included in the album mini-mix he just uploaded. But it’s not there in the review copy we got? Uhm, well, the 20 seconds I can hear in the mini mix are pretty nice I guess. Best review ever.


Basic Instinct

Okay but now we are here. The last track. The last frontier. Basic Instinct. Fitting name, because after I finished listening to it my basic instincts kicked in and made me restart the track immediately. Pure vibes. At it’s core it’s like a more melancholic version of I See The Future In Your Eyes, but it’s also much more than that. All the elements come together perfectly to actually make you feel like you’ve just returned home after a long journey. All the tiny vocal bits, the melody continuing throughout the breakdown after the first drop and smoothly going into the second drop, all the melodies working together during the drop… There’s a lot to love here. And I love all of it. Stunning.


Summary

There’s one thing that defines this album in my opinion and that is diversity. Nearly every single track has a unique idea or sound to it, while still clearly being a Netsky track. It really speaks to his production capabilities that he is able to craft so many great tracks in so many different styles without losing his identity. 

Even with all the diversity there’s still some reoccurring themes in this album though. His parents’ soul influence on him is undeniable on this album, with three tracks being basically DnB remasters of old soul classics. With big names like Hybrid Minds, Sub Focus or even Urbandawn being involved, this is also the album on which he most embraced the dnb scene itself. 

My highlights are Let Me Hold You, a track that only got more beautiful the more I listened to it, Waiting All Day To Get To You, whose catchy vocal will probably never leave my head at this point, Power, which just blows me away every single time, and Basic Instinct / I See The Future In Your Eyes, which both just have an amazing vibe to them. 

All in all, way better than expected!

Review by lefuniname

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