While most kids wait until they come of age to be introduced to nightlife, Daniel Lockhart, the dubstep pioneer known as Youngsta, was raised in the 90s club scene of south London. "I could get in and play as long as I was accompanied by an adult," says Lockhart. "I was actually doing that by the age of 13, 14. I was in and out of clubs from that young of an age."
Blood is thicker than water, and in Lockhart's case, his sister Sarah "Soulja" Lockhart was the catalyst for his career. "She had the links," he explains. "That's how I got on the pirate radio station, Freek FM. She had to escort me up there every Saturday at 2 AM because I was only 13, bless her. Then we'd go out to a rave after."
First experimenting with jungle, Lockhart knew he found his calling the moment dubstep appeared in the south London scene. As the genre began to take shape in the early 2000s, Youngsta was at the forefront, ready to elevate the new electronic sound. "It was a new thing to me. It excited me," he exclaims. "I'd been into jungle for a long time, but I didn't go down the jungle or drum and bass avenue. I just focused on dubstep. We were creating it, so I was so in the middle of it. It was such a mad time for a lot of us."
The burgeoning dubstep producer later found work with Big Apple Records, a label and shop in the town of Croydon that became a breeding ground for the genre. "I grew up in [the Big Apple]," reminisces, Lockhart. "I got kicked out of school, found the job through my pirate radio station, and then just kept going. It's crazy."
Lockhart's own career developed alongside Rinse FM, a station credited with bringing the UK sounds of grime and dubstep to the mainstream. Founded in 1994, Youngsta pensively reflects on the early days when he would jump over barbed wire fences and sneak into makeshift broadcast studios to play tunes on illegal air.
In 2010, the station was finally given a recognized FM status. "It was a massive change," Lockhart tells THUMP. "We looked at other professional radio stations to try and judge them. Do we sound as good as them? Can we sound better? What equipment are they using?"
Lockhart has been careful about leaving his dubstep roots behind. While others quickly moved to different genres when the scene began to fade, Lockhart took his time, feeling out other BPMs. He made sure to find the ones that best suited his dark and spacious soundscapes. "I was just very picky," he explains. "I think I still am, but I guess I've just changed a bit. That's what happens, isn't it? Your tastes change. It's still very similar, but it's just expanded. I feel there's more people making the stuff that I like."
Lockhart takes his sweet time for good reason. On a recent tour through North America, Lockhart played a mind-blowing set at a show curated by one of Vancouver's local leaders in bass music, Digital Motion Events. Winding his way through various genres, as he flawlessly layered track after track, Youngsta proved his deliberately selective ways pay off.
From techno to dubstep, he remains loyal to his signature sounds of the underground, while continuing to explore others. "I don't want to stop playing it, I just want to play what I like. And what I like at the moment, as much as dubstep, are all these other BPMs and different genres of music. But it's all the same kind of vibe and style," he says. "You're going to upset a few purist dubstep heads, that's the only problem."
Lockhart acknowledges the importance of staying true to himself. "If you are an artist and you are expressing your own creativity, whatever you are doing, you've got to expect and accept that people are going to have their opinions about you," he says.
"You've just got to get on with life. No matter what you do, you can't keep everyone happy. People are always changing, and I'm always changing."
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