A Chat With iO – One Of The UK’s Ascending Producers

Elle Evans

By Elle Evans

Elle Evans

30 Apr 2020

iO is one of the UK’s leading producers – the genius behind many of your favourite tracks! Having been given the title as a ‘Grammy Nominated’ producer through Burna Boy’s album “African Giant”, iO is also responsible for four tracks from J Hus’s chart topping album “Big Conspiracy” and three tracks from the critically acclaimed album “Common Sense” – insane right?!

Growing up, from the flourishing age of 14, iO started to teach himself how to make beats for fun in times of boredom. Having never set out with the intention of being a producer, he stumbled across what is now an undeniable talent. Since then, it’s been an up-hill climb to master and refine his profession. Through long hours of experimentation and hard work, he’s now co-produced “Disaster” from Dave’s Mercury Prize winning and chart topping album “Psychodrama”, “What Do You Mean” for Skepta on “Ignorance is Bliss” and a whole lot more!

It’s come to no surprise the evident growth of the emerging producer, with a boast worthy slew of hits behind him I caught up with iO and asked him some questions…

When did you start learning to produce? Was this something you had always been interested in?

I started learning how to make beats when I was 14 years old and I’ve only been taking it seriously in the last 5 years or so! That’s when I really really learnt how to produce. For years I was just beat making – there’s a massive difference. Making music was something I definitely wasn’t interested in! Boredom really got me into making music but music has always been in my home and around me. I visited my first studio with my dad when I was like 6 or 7, my older brother made music and has played keys my whole life.

What producers inspired you to start production? Were there certain beats you found yourself going back to or still do?

If I’m being completely honest, like I said boredom led me picking up production. However, producers such as Dr Dre, Timbaland, Pharrell Williams, DaVinche, Maniac, inspired me on a mad level! I remember when I heard Tinchy Stryder’s “Mainstream Money” produced by Maniac that had me going crazy!! I even tried to recreate that beat many times, thats probably the one beat that really had me going crazy and inspired me on a different level – I still listen to that now! Pretty much all of Timbaland’s beats inspired me though, how his drums would knock, how is percussions would be going crazy, with Pharrell it was the weirdness of some of his beats and chords that would get me going. Kelis’s track  “Milkshake”  I think is one of the ones that just made me go ‘wow, this is absolutely different!’.

Do you remember who your first ever session was with?

I think one of my earliest sessions that I remember was with a girl Nefera or Wolfie. The first ever song I recorded was with a guy called V Simmons, at the time he was called Starz. I don’t think the tune was even released to be honest but yeah that was my first beat with vocals!

Which software do you use and why?

I use Logic Pro X and FL Studio. I actually started on FL Studio and then moved to Logic when I got a Mac. I use FL for drums and building quick ideas, FL has this knock and rawness that is crazy! I se Logic Pro X because it has that clean polished sound, it’s also easier for me when I’m recording audio (vocals, keyboards etc) – however FL is definitely easier to use in general.

You’ve worked with J Hus quite a bit, more recently on his “Big Conspiracy” album. What is it like working with J Hus in the studio?

Hus is the livest to work with haha! Full of energy, full of ideas and good vibes, he’s jokes to work with. It’s musically fun to work with him, he’s just open to trying new things and new ideas – It’s always a vibe!  

Sonically, was there a particular beat you found challenging on the album and if so, why?

I wouldn’t say there wasn’t a beat I found challenging but sonically the maddest beat would be “Fortune Teller”. That beat was probably sonically the most interesting and fun to make, we didn’t think about it, we just vibed.

As a producer, do you think it’s more important to have a certain approach when working with artists? Is it important for you to build a relationship with the artist prior to working with them?

I believe you have to have a certain approach yes, how you approach working with someone depends on who you’re working with though. When you have a relationship with an artist it definitely is better. But sometimes it’s hard to build a relationship with an artist before hand if you’ve never met them. I’ve been fortunate, with some people I’ve worked with I saw them around a lot and had a few conversations with them, so when I’ve finally got to work with them it’s been like a ‘Oh, I’ve met you before’ kinda thing!

How is it going into a studio session with Dave in comparison to someone like Skepta?

I haven’t had the chance to work with Dave from start to finish in the studio just yet. When “Disaster” was made he laid his vocals and then I came just after. But from what I’ve seen, Dave is pretty chill, calm, good vibes, funny and good energy! Being with Skepta is pretty much the same too, energy and good vibes! We were up until 9am on the day we made “What Do You Mean”, it’s also a crazy learning experience because he’s been in the game for so long, seen so much, experienced so much, at times it’s literally like being with a teacher! He’s just spitting words of wisdom, it’s so crazy and insightful man.

Which artist has challenged you the most sonically and on what track/s?

I’d say every artist I’ve worked with If I’m being honest! You never know what you’re going to come out with, so it’s always a challenge to try push myself sonically and try new things in the studio.

What components do you feel are fundamental in making a ‘hit’ beat?

Every track is different! There’s no ‘key’ components I don’t think, you just need to feel it I guess!

There are a lot of sounds thriving in the UK at the moment including Drill, Afrobeat’s and even with the more melodic rap. Which sound do you enjoy producing the most?

I haven’t had the chance of doing much drill yet, hopefully soon haha! But I actually enjoy producing it all, different genres or styles of music make me feel differently. However, slyly Afrobeats / Afro influenced stuff makes me wanna move and dance and that just makes me happy!

Do you think sonically the UK scene is heading in a certain direction?

Obviously the Afro Rap has made it’s mark now, you’ve got UK drill crossing over too but I don’t think sonically we’re heading in one specific direction. I more think that we’re finally starting to believe in our own waves properly and the rest of the world is starting to see ‘Yo! these UK guys are sick!’.

You are now a ‘Grammy Nominated Producer’ and have worked on Number 1 albums, how does it feel to know you’ve worked on such big projects? Did your younger self ever dream of these titles?

Yo, it’s crazy! So so crazy! If you asked me 4 years ago, let alone when I first started making music that I’d be on such big projects I would’ve said ‘Nah no way!’ I know it sounds cliche but it’s so so surreal. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel real and its all happened relatively quick and I’m just getting started.

There’s a lot of producers flourishing through the UK scene at the moment, what qualities do you think you have that set you aside from other producers?

You’re right, there’s so much talent coming through the UK producer scene at the moment. But you know what, I just think I’m a silent ghost. I just let my music do the talking, I’ve come from nowhere pretty much then suddenly I’m just here! My sonics too, the way I place things, the way I put things together. I have so many sides to me musically and everybody is about to start seeing that. I’m not just one thing, I’m a lot of things. I want to produce a mean rap song and then at the same time the sweetest love song with the sweetest chords you’ve ever heard!

Looking back to your first session and comparing it to what you’ve achieved now, in what ways do you think you’ve grown as a producer?

I’ve learned so much about how to produce a song or track knowing when to keep things simple or not. I’ve learnt how to approach working with artists, how to voice my opinions respectfully in the studio, theres so much man! I’ve grown in so many many ways it’s crazy.

What more can we expect to hear from you this year? Any names we can look out for?

All I’m gonna say is, expect the unexpected! When it’s down to me, you never know what you’re gonna get! That’s all I’ll say haha!! But just keep an eye out for me. 

Keep up to date with iO via his Instagram here.