Portals—Mark Wilkinson’s 2020 collaborative album with Sub Focus—was vital for the London drum ’n’ bass hero. It reinvigorated his creative process and set him up to produce “the album I’ve always wanted to make,” as he describes it for Apple Music. “Usually, when I finish an album, I want a break,” he says. “But I came out of that collaborative process really fired up and in the zone. I was really inspired to keep on writing.”
Laying down key tracks early, including “Keep Dancing” and “Frontline,” Wilkinson headed out on tour to New Zealand in 2021 to find out how the material hit on the dance floor. “When I make a track now, I usually know what it needs to work in a club,” he says. “But it was nice to road-test tracks and see how people reacted. That’s the thing about this album: I want to be able to play every single track in my sets for ages and not just a little while.” Moving from the big-room heft of “Keep Dancing” to the P-Funk-flavored “If You Want It,” the album finds Wilkinson unafraid to experiment, but always maintaining the weightiness that makes a great drum ’n’ bass record. Here, he guides us through his album track by track.
“Keep Dancing” (feat. Amber Van Day) “I watched The Crown and really loved the score. I love the strings and how epic it is and wanted to incorporate that into a drum ’n’ bass track. Amber [Van Day] had worked on a track with Brad Ellis—who I write with quite a lot. The track was really melancholic and chilled, but I loved the vocal and just put it on this. It’s got a few different elements. It’s got film score strings, then quite a fun drop, and then the bass kicks in.”
“Here for You” (feat. Becky Hill) “I’ve wanted to make another tune with Becky Hill since we released ‘Afterglow’ in 2013, but it’s hard to follow up. It had to be something really different, and this track has a quiet, almost soundscape feel to it. Becky’s got an amazing vocal range and can really belt out a tune, but I wanted to try something different with her here and the vocal’s delivered in a really gentle way.”
“XTC” (Remix) “I love the Solardo and Eli Brown original of this, and Eli’s an old mate who used to be in a drum ’n’ bass act called Loadstar. I hit him up and was like, ‘I’d love to do a bootleg of this,’ and he sent me the parts. I sent it to a few people, and it just started getting battered by loads of DJs. It’s such a bouncy, fun track and great to hear out all the time.”
“If You Want It” “I was really inspired by the What Kinda Music album that Yussef Dayes and Tom Misch made [in 2020] and wanted to make a track inspired by it. Then, funnily enough, my girlfriend, iiola, who also features elsewhere on the album, had recorded a cover of ‘Redbone’ by Childish Gambino. I pitched it down, so it almost sounds like a male vocal. My publisher sent it over to Donald Glover’s team and apparently he was really into it, which is nice.”
“Used to This” (feat. Issey Cross) “I wanted the kind of drum ’n’ bass sound that was really big in the early 2000s, with really melodic soft vocals over the top. Issey’s got a really sweet voice, and once I got the vocal, it was easy for me to know what I wanted to do with it. I made the drums super weighty, and then spent a while building this really thick bass.”
“Release Valve” “I’ve always loved The Prodigy, and I just wanted to make something that’s raw and weighty and would make people screw their faces. I’m wearing my influences on my sleeve and it’s got those big, spacey rave chords. I’m not going to say where the spoken word sample comes from, but if you search for old rave documentaries, there’s quite a few of them out there.”
“No One Else” (feat. Kanine & Clementine Douglas) “This is a track I made with Kanine, who’s a great producer. We got in the studio and just hit on this idea. He’s got this really recognizable, almost jump-up lead style. And then, we’ve got the brilliant Clementine Douglas on vocals. This goes off really hard.”
“Close Your Eyes” (feat. iiola) “This was a super-fun one to work on, which I wrote with my partner Shannon [iiola] and Tom Havelock, who I wrote ‘Half Light’ with. For me, this sums up the album in terms of the sonics and atmosphere I was trying to create. I kept the drums loose, so they have this kind of shuffle with lots of character, and the vocal has this kind of meditative narrative to it.”
“Feel So High” (feat. SHELLS) “Funnily, this was inspired by classic old Disney films and things like Singin’ in the Rain. I really love the melodies in those old films. Maybe it reminds me of being a kid and transports me to another place. It’s similar to ‘Close Your Eyes,’ in that it can give you that feeling of being lost in the moment in a warehouse rave or festival.”
“Frontline” “I began this on a plane from New Zealand, and then I had a whole day in LA where I was bored in the hotel room to finish it. I played Exchange in LA that night, and it just went off. I was like, ‘Right, I’d better finish that one.’ I worked on it more and tried to make the production as beefy as possible.”
“On Your Mind” (feat. Amber Van Day) “This is inspired by producers like Jamie xx and Fred again... It’s got those really dreamy chords. I had a session with Amber Van Day, and she came up with this really sweet, almost Groove Armada- or Zero 7-style vocal. Those acts are very influential to me. The vocals and production were so characterful back then.”
“I Believe” (feat. Sharleen Hector) “The vocal on this is by legendary singer Sharlene Hector. We wrote something together, completely different to this originally, a bit more of a stomper, but then I wrote ‘I Believe’ and managed to make her vocal fit on it. It’s ethereal but sounds epic too.”
“Fade Away” (feat. Jem Cooke and Pola & Bryson) “I bought a Moog Grandmother, which is a pretty basic modular synth. I decided to try and make an entire tune with it, but you have to spend a lot of time tweaking all the filters and layering things up. I wanted that Moderat or Jon Hopkins kind of sound, but once I made the initial track, I didn’t know where to take it, so handed it to Harry [Bryson] from [UK drum ’n’ bass producers] Pola & Bryson. He added this really unique piano, which is amazing, and then we brought Jem Cooke in for the vocal. She really did an incredible job on it.”


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