The Nina mobile app is now available on iOS.Download from the App Store.
hero image

Sully Might Be the Best Producer in the World—And You Probably Don’t Know What He Looks Like

Second Floor

A look back at the UK artist's long (and decidedly low-key) career and the many bangers he’s created along the way.

By Shawn Reynaldo


Shawn Reynaldo is a Barcelona-based writer and editor who specializes in electronic music. His First Floor newsletter often zeroes in on developments in the genre’s corresponding industry and culture, but the Second Floor column is designed to spotlight the music itself, examining trends, recommending releases, and keeping tabs on what’s happening both on and off the dancefloor.

Is Sully famous? Not Taylor Swift famous, obviously, but famous within the realm of dance music? Or even just bass music?

He’s certainly notable. He’s widely respected among his peers, and based on all the glowing reviews he’s received over the years, the press seems to like him, too. The guy has released several dozen records, most of which have apparently sold pretty well, and he maintains a relatively steady gig calendar. But famous? Genuinely famous? I’m not so sure. Outside of a few drum & bass message boards and some select pockets of social media, the UK artist born Jack Stevens is rarely held up as some sort of superstar. And based on his low-key public persona, it’s safe to assume that he likes it that way. While many of his contemporaries are posting endless selfies and chasing virality, Sully doesn’t talk to journalists much and seldom puts his face on the timeline. On the rare occasions he does say something on Twitter, he’s more likely to talk about mince pie than his latest record.

As cliché as it sounds to say that any artist is “all about the music,” Stevens appears to be exactly that, and has been for more than 15 years. Quietly operating from his home base in Norwich—a city most people outside of the UK couldn’t readily locate on a map—he’s gradually become a sort of below-the-radar hero, someone who people in the know might describe as “your favorite DJ’s favorite producer.” Sully tunes have long been in the record bags and pen drives of bass-loving selectors around the globe, and in recent years, some of electronic music’s most celebrated artists have made a point to publicly showcase and/or praise his production genius. In April of 2020, SHERELLE invited Sully to put together a mix of unreleased productions for her residency at BBC Radio 1. When Bicep were booked to close out the very last night at Printworks before the massive London venue closed last year, the duo ended their set with Sully’s “5ives.” Surgeon, one of the UK’s most venerated techno dons, cheekily responded to Sully’s UH-03 EP by publicly commenting, “Sully kills it every time. I'll be upsetting techno heads with this.”

There’s something amusing about the idea of Surgeon trolling techno diehards with one of Sully’s jungle rumblers. But, in truth, even the most stone-faced Ostgut Ton obsessive is bound to be charmed by a reggae-tinged roller like 2019’s “Verité” or the serpentine swagger of “XT,” which surfaced earlier this year on Sully’s own Uncertain Hour imprint. Stevens’ drum & bass creations may nod to the 90s, but they never feel like a nostalgia exercise. There’s a palpable sense of vibrancy to his work, and though his creative approach to drum programming (more on that later) probably has something to do with that, one can’t dismiss the fact that Sully has never been “just” a junglist. Surveying his many releases, he’s never been “just” anything. Dubstep, garage, grime, footwork, jungle—Sully has dabbled in them all, and on his various expeditions up and down the hardcore continuum, he’s repeatedly struck gold by exploring the unnamed territory that lies between those various sounds. That in and of itself isn’t all that unique. Bass music has always been home to a glut of stylistically promiscuous producers. What sets Stevens apart, though, is not just his remarkable consistency, but his consistent excellence.

At any given moment, dance music has only a handful of “buy on sight” producers, and even fewer who’ve managed to maintain that status for more than a few years. Artists like Joy Orbison, Shed, Moodymann, Donato Dozzy, Martyn and Objekt fall into that category, and Sully’s many bangers are arguably as potent as anything they’ve done. But given his aversion to the spotlight and drive to constantly refine—and, at times, totally revamp—his sound, he perhaps fits more comfortably into a cohort of eccentric shapeshifters that includes the likes of Legowelt, Mosca and Scratcha DVA. Like them, Sully appears to be genuinely interested in exploration, and while he’s undeniably a soundsystem devotee, his musical influences stretch far beyond the dancefloor. In 2016, he slipped tracks by Guns N’ Roses, Portishead and Ashanti into a DJ mix for The Astral Plane, and during a 2021 interview with DJ Mag, he cited Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Kate Bush and The Cure as favorites.

Yet if there’s one thing that truly animates Sully, it’s the production process itself. The aforementioned DJ Mag feature is one of the few interviews Stevens has agreed to during the past few years; in it, he speaks at length about technique and software, enthusiastically opining that while past eras of dance music were often focused on emulating and re-creating the sounds of vaunted pieces of gear, things have “got to the point now where there’s more to explore with just ripping sounds apart.” He still has plenty of reverence for those who came before him—"5ives” was released on Over/Shadow, a label that rave icons 2 Bad Mice launched in 2020 as a successor to vaunted ’90s outpost Moving Shadow—but if Sully is intimidated by their legacy, he doesn’t let it show. Granted, he doesn’t show much of anything, save for his music, which continues to run laps around what many of his contemporaries are putting out into the world.

In 2024, there’s a solid case to be made that Sully is one of the most thrilling jungle producers on the planet. But as anyone who’s followed his work over the years already knows, Stevens is so much more than that. He’s a low-end magician, an artist whose teary-eyed garage is no less rewarding than his ragga smash-ups, and whose most recent offering hints at yet another new direction. Sully may not be someone that the average dance music fan (or even the average junglist) could pick out of a lineup, but those familiar with his work gleefully pay homage to his talents. Below are some of the key tracks and releases that have prompted folks, myself included, to start gushing whenever his name comes up in conversation.

“Phonebox” (2008)

[Frijsfo Beats]

“Phonebox” wasn't the first Sully release—his solo debut had dropped a year earlier, as had a handful of tunes he’d made as one half of a duo called Innasekt—but it was the first real indication that his talents were not to be overlooked. Sitting somewhere between garage and dubstep, the track combined the silky grooves of the former with the heady bassweight of the latter, and arrived right when terms like “post-dubstep” and “future garage” were being tossed around to describe the flood of hybrid creations coming out of the UK. It’s not easy to make a dubby, wobble-infused lurch sound fun or sexy, but Sully, who was still in his early twenties at the time, made it sound like the most natural thing in the world.

“Jackman’s Rec” (2009)

[Frijsfo Beats]

The word “wonky” is rarely used to describe garage records, but the rubbery basslines of “Jackman’s Rec” put a unique spin on the traditional UKG shuffle. The track, which was actually the B-side of Sully’s Reminder 12-inch, also had a sort of late-night sheen, its melodies gleaming like a freshly detailed sportscar under the sodium glow of street lights. That said, it’s not a flashy tune. It forgoes dime-store fireworks (and the proverbial “drop”) in favor of mid-tempo meditation and a distinct sense of confident cool.

“Toffee Apple” (2011)

[Frijsfo Beats]

Part Timbaland, part Joker, the strutting “Toffee Apple” is easily the most carnivalesque item in Sully’s catalog. In 2011, the post-dubstep landscape was in a particularly playful mood—the influence of folks like Hudson Mohawke and Rustie likely had a lot to do with that—and it seems that Stevens decided to go along for the ride. “Toffee Apple” still had enough chunky low-end to inspire a wrinkled-up bass face or two, but its glittering, borderline cartoonish melodies were clearly the star attraction.

Carrier (2011)


During the late 2000s and early 2010s, Rinse FM was at the center of the bass music universe. Few broadcasts were more influential than Dusk & Blackdown’s Keysound shows, and once Sully, who’d been a devoted listener for years, began sending the duo his tunes, it wasn’t long before they added him to their label roster. His Keysound debut, a 12-inch called The Loot (Remix) / In Some Pattern, dropped in 2010, but it was Sully’s debut full-length, Carrier, that made the biggest splash. Headlined by melancholy garage cuts like “2 Hearts,” “In Some Pattern,” and the R&B-flavored “Let You,” the LP showcased Stevens doing what he (then) did best. Yet he also used the record’s back half to stretch his creative legs and combine his tears-in-the-club sensibilities with the fleet-footed sounds of footwork, most notably on the piano-flecked, chipmunk-voiced song “Trust.”

Blue EP (2014)


In the aftermath of Carrier, Sully retreated to the lab, keeping relatively quiet until the Blue EP surfaced nearly three years later. While his penchant for bright melodies remained intact, the record represented a significant left turn, delving headlong into 90s-era jungle sounds. The lone exception was Logos’ shimmering “Vapour Dub” of the LP’s title track, but its sci-fi-meets-new-age soundscape was eclipsed by the electricity of Sully’s cracking, drum-heavy original. The plucky “Charms” was another standout, and while Blue was perhaps more of a foundation than a masterclass—think of it as Version 1.0 of “Sully the junglist”—it clearly set him on the path he continues to walk today.

“Flock” (2015)


Linking up with Fracture’s Astrophonica label for the first time, Sully dropped “Flock,” a track that in retrospect feels like his first true jungle anthem. The lead cut on an EP of the same name, it was another clear nod to the 90s, and the contemplative sounds of artists like Photek and Adam F in particular. But more than anything, it felt like a commanding exercise in restraint. Stripped nearly to the bone, the song included little more than some rollicking Amen breaks and an assortment of soft-focus, new age-adjacent melodies, but Sully’s commitment to (relative) minimalism made every element shine brighter. And those chords! Nearly a decade after the song first surfaced, the opening notes are still giving people goosebumps on the regular.

Escape (2017)


In the wake of “Flock,” Sully’s jungle endeavors continued, most notably on the Lifted / Rotten EP for Rua Sound. But he also began to dip his toes into grime, first with 2016’s spooky Vamp EP for Black Acre, and then with Escape, his second full-length album. Not one to do something half-assed, he even enlisted respected MCs Jamakabi (formerly of the pioneering Roll Deep crew) and Jendor to guest on the record. Yet as much as he committed to the bit—and hit a genuine high note with the slippery menace of LP cut “Assembly 2”—he ultimately couldn’t tear himself away from jungle. In a sign of things to come, Sully closed out the album with the bruising couplet of “Vanta” and “X Plus Y.”

UH-01 EP (2018)

[Uncertain Hour]

Sully kicked off 2018 with Soundboy Don’t Push Your Luck / 368ft High & Rising, a bonkers 12-inch for Rua Sound offshoot Foxy Jangle that combined ruffneck jungle with bits of R&B. It’s still one of the wildest records he’s ever released, but it was quickly overshadowed by something more significant: Sully’s decision to set up a label of his own. Operating under the name Uncertain Hour, the label kicked things off with UH-01, a boisterous two-tracker on which his freewheeling (and slightly ragga-sh) drum programming reached acrobatic new heights. With its percussive assault, the manic “Vacancy” harkened back to the days of hardcore, while the similarly kinetic “Digitalis” employed the same sort of crystalline melodies that shaped the sound of the Blue and Flock EPs a few years earlier. As a statement of intent, UH-01 was pretty damn effective. Sully quickly followed it up in 2019 with UH-02, an EP of brawnier, techier jungle sounds.

Swandive EP (2020)


If Swandive hadn’t dropped in the middle of the pandemic, it would have laid waste to dancefloors everywhere. Sully’s Astrophonica releases always come correct, and this record captured him at the peak of his powers. (It’s no coincidence that one Discogs commenter’s assessment of the EP was, “SULLY ALWAYS COME WITH THE BLOW A HOLE IN THE WALL ENERGY.”) Both “Werk” and “Swandive” were brain-scrambling, percussion-led rollercoasters, while the buzzing bassline of “Poison” might be the most sinister sound Sully has ever committed to tape.

“5ives” (2021)


The anthemic might of “5ives” has already been mentioned, and while there’s plenty to be said about the potency of its taut wobbles and spine-tingling string riffs, what really made the track stand out was its willingness to be legitimately massive. This was IMAX-ready jungle, a tune whose brawn and flawless sound design could compete with the most gargantuan EDM tracks, and do so without getting moronic in the process.

“Nights” (2024)


For most of his career, Sully more or less operated as a lone wolf, periodically emerging from his cave to drop a new set of tunes before retreating back into the darkness. Over the past few years, however, he’s become a willing collaborator, repeatedly teaming up with fellow jungle obsessives Tim Reaper and Coco Bryce, and also linking with bass veteran Basic Rhythm (a.k.a. East Man) on a couple of releases. Is working with others the latest new territory that Sully has set out to explore? It’s possible, especially considering that his most recent single, “Nights,” which dropped in March, was a proper vocal tune that put the soulful pipes of Tbilisi-born, Manchester-based artist Salo front and center. It wasn’t exactly pop, but it did significantly dial back Sully’s usual bedlam, potentially indicating that he’d hit another creative fork in the road. Will jungle fanatics come along for the ride? Sully did soften the blow a bit with his more percussion-driven “Not Just a Dub Mix,” but regardless of how people ultimately respond, he’s likely to follow this particular muse wherever it takes him. Given his previous track record, that seems to be the only way he knows how to do things.

Nina is an independent music ecosystem.

Join over 5000 artists, labels, and listeners using Nina to share their music, build their context and directly support artists.


Now Playing