It’s abundantly clear that drum & bass finally has more widespread appeal in the US dance music community. It’s impossible to deny the impact of Austin-based producer Justin Hawkes.

Beginning his journey back in 2013 as Flite, Hawkes has been on a tear since adopting his new alias in 2020 with “Lift Off The Roof” on Drum&BassArena and several releases on Monstercat. His debut LP Existential, via UKF-curated Pilot, is the most impressive body of work in his discography to date.

Hawkes masterfully blends rock, country, classical, and bass music influences to create a masterful self-portrait of an artist’s journey of self-discovery. Hawkes cements his sonic identity while exploring different genres and honoring his drum & bass roots.

Range and Roots

The album’s eponymous title track perfectly sets the tone. A Hans Zimmer-style cinematic opening eventually gives way to emotional vocals and a robust melodic bassline. “Better Than Gold” stands out on this LP, as the intro has a strong country influence with different members of Hawkes’ family involved in the track’s creation. The dominant guitar leads and wicked, distorted bassline are reminiscent of drum & bass’s first wave in the States during the late 2000s. “Blac Bloc” employs a similar cinematic intro to “Existential” before giving way to a fervent, futuristic bassline. “Inheritance” is one of the heavier tracks on the album and is sure to send club dancefloors into a frenzy. “Hold Me Down” is an emotional palette-cleanser for the album, utilizing a halftime beat, soft vocals, and a beautiful melody.

Hawkes teams up with fellow Austin-based artist Kat Whitlock for “Passion,” a melodic dubstep anthem with an old Circus Records flare. “Neverafter” is a cinematic DnB gem with a soothing distorted bassline.

“Cadence” is one of my favorites from the album. The percussion is reminiscent of a drumline and blends perfectly with one of Hawkes’ signature fervent basslines. “Dreambend” is a minimal liquid DnB masterpiece with a soft piano and beautiful topline FX entrancing listeners. Hawkes and Salt Lake City-based powerhouse Audioscribe combine forces for “Hymn” and create an incredibly diverse soundscape.

“Arbiter” enlists PAV4N of Foreign Beggars. An upbeat rock-rap hybrid intro gives way to a dynamic bassline that fills the sound spectrum. “Lotus Children” is another one of my favorites from the LP, pulling influence from industrial techno and UK garage. “Heliocycle” delivers my favorite melody of the album, coming from a mid-to-high-end bassline. “Tragedy, Humanity” is an emotional ballad exploring the paradoxical nature of existence. Finally, “The End of an Empire” wraps up the album on a melancholy-yet-hopeful note as a somber guitar and piano play us out.

A Sonic Identity

Existential exists as a self-portrait of Hawkes, evidenced by the somber expression on his face on the album cover. This LP is the result of Hawkes’ search for a sonic identity. Despite dabbling in various genres throughout the album, Hawkes’ production and sound design are incredibly cohesive. Existential cements Hawkes’ place among the elite DnB producers worldwide.

What did you think of Existential? Let us know your favorite track in the comments below or on our social media!

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