Earlier this year, towards the beginning of summer Take aka Sweatson Klank came over to Europe for a month-long tour. This L.A based producer has been a favourite of mine for a few years now, after I discovered him when I moved to Japan in 06/07. After writing my piece on the return of the boom bap last year, he was one of the people I was most interested in interviewing and talking with.
In late May, thanks to both Mr Beatnick and Jim 2tall, I managed to arrange for a chat with Take shortly after he arrived to London for the beginning of his tour. Well actually we hooked up the day he arrived. Beatnick and I went over to Architeq’s house, where Take was staying, to do the interview. It was nearly 10pm, we all had some food, drink and a smoke at which point I realised it would be much more interesting to have a four-way chat with everyone rather than just the typical interview with just one person. And so what followed was a rather hazy, yet at times fascinating, chat with three producers, each with a different view, take and insights into the beat scene, the evolution of hip hop and electronic music and the current state of things, musically speaking.
So taking the diametric opposite approach of the classic, PR driven interviews, I chucked the recorder on the table after dinner and pressed record. Below is a transcript, slightly edited, of the recording – near enough the whole 1h30 of it. While I’m not one for simple q&a transcripts, they are often the most fascinating interviews and I think this one further proves that point.
As mentioned this isn’t so much an interview as a chat between like-minded people about the things they do and like. Despite this lack of focus, as some may call it, what emerged were fascinating insights into the history of the beat scene in L.A, its worldwide evolution in recent years, production, dub ethics and more.
A word of warning – this is a long interview, so I recommend making yourself comfortable. I’ve also included audio from each artist throughout the piece, so if you’re so inclined you can soundtrack the chat.
[I started recording as Beatnick and Take had a lengthy discussion about Joe Bataan and his music after Nick saw him the night before and recounted anecdotes from the gig]
Jungle Drums – Walk ft Ahu (Mr Beatnick remix)
(to Take) Ok well let’s start with the obvious… how does it feel to be in Europe? Apart from the jet lag that is.
Take: It feels good man, I’m happy to be here, very happy to be here. I love the UK and EU. The scene in the States, it’s basically a Los Angeles thing, well that’s what it feels like anyways. But its growing fast… what’s interesting actually is Colorado. It’s building a sort of scene of its own… have you heard of these guys called Sound Tribe Sector 9? [note: none of us had till then] These guys have built a huge following. They’re a sort of electronic jam band with a dyi kind of aesthetic, a bit reminiscent of Grateful Dead or Phish. I swear man it’s crazy. And these guys play huge places. (Flying) Lotus opens for them sometimes, Jason (Nosaj Thing) has opened for them too, all these people… Lotus does Brainfeeder afterparties for Sound Tribe Sector 9 shows, and it’s crazy because it’s opened up the beat music to a whole new realm of kids who fall into the hippie category. But they love beats and shit like that. And it’s all sort of centered around Colorado…
T: Yeah man…
In the mountains basically?
T: Or in Denver, well all of Colorado is mountains but anyways it’s a trip man. Back to the point though, it’s good to be here (laughs) Because people here are a little bit more receptive in general, musically, I find. And they’re also in tune to other shit you know.
T: I really think it’s true.
I think you could say the same about L.A. though. I remember talking to B+ years ago about the Keepintime project and he was saying how it could have only happened in L.A. because of how the city is, musically and culturally. It’s a fertile ground, but then again I’m saying this from the outside looking in.
T: It’s true.
It’s in a way the same as what you’ve just said about Europe, you’re looking at it from the outside too, and maybe we all don’t necessarily think like that at first, especially if we’re in the middle of it.
T: I just feel like here at least people are like… I don’t know if it’s because when I come here I’m thrown into the group of you guys and people that are already all doing it. When you’re in the States you’ve got your circle and group of friends and there are lots of us doing it, but you step outside of that and it’s people listening to strictly Kanye West and even worse. L.A. is a very pop culture oriented place, very much so.
Architeq: Would you say your stuff dominates the underground of L.A.?
T: The beat scene?
A: Yeah, or is it more underground even?
T: No it doesn’t dominate it at al. Definitely not.
Is it big enough that it’s one element of the underground but not all of it?
T: Yeah, what really dominates I would say is mainstream music. First is all the hipsters who think they’re DJs, with ipods. So kids in super skinny jeans with tattoos who play bullshit electro type music that’s just dime-a-dozen, dancefloor banger type shit. Not even banger actually, but just with a bad girl on it going ‘Huh, Yeah’ or a repeated loop, something that is so dumb it’s almost back to good again (laughs) It’s so far gone and so bad that you’re like ‘well…’ It’s actually so bad that’s its kinda cool. So that really dominates the night scene. And then there’s the whole other side, which is the Hollywood side, all the parties that young celebrities and Hollywood people go to for example, where it’s just DJs playing Akon and T.I and all the auto-tune shit and mash ups. Then there is the rave culture which is really making a comeback, or never went away, who knows. Big parties with techno, house and lots of young kids from the suburbs. Those I’d say are the strongest things in the L.A. night life. The beat scene is definitely not at that level at all. We don’t even get played on the radio stations. There’s a couple of stations in L.A. that play more challenging music and they play a little bit of the kind of stuff we’re involved in but only the more accessible, friendlier shit. Whereas here, you guys have got the BBC…
Architeq – In The Cosmos – Out now on Tirk Recordings.
Well we were talking about this on the way up here with Nick. The BBC is obviously good musically. With something like 1xtra you have people like Benji B and others playing more challenging stuff, but then 1xtra is a station that’s aimed at a certain audience, so it’s unlikely that the general population will tune into it.
T: And with 1xtra, not to take anything away from it, they still play Akon stuff too.
A: Yeah that’s it.
BN: Without going into too much detail into any of the politics of the station or anything, there are other things that are important and the audience of an 1xtra, the target audience of a station like 1xtra, actually listens to the pirates (stations) really, that’s who they listen to first I’d say before 1xtra. And if you look at the representation on the pirates it’s nothing like any of what you hear on the major stations.
T: See I’m really curious about that.
The importance of pirate radios in London can’t be underestimated.
BN: That’s where people go to for the fresh shit.
Exactly. I remember when I first moved here I used to listen to this pirate radio called Itch FM which was a hip hop pirate station because they always played the freshest shit. In London there is a history of music moving at the pirate level, building, growing up and then getting picked up by the majors, at which point it gets moved along and the cycle starts repeating itself. There’s a book by Matt Mason, called the Pirate’s Dilemma, that touches on how piracy is essential to the process of innovation, and has been throughout the ages. I remember growing up in the south of France, we used to get pirate radio and rave tapes from the UK, like jungle stuff. And that’s why I think it’s a process that’s very specific to the UK, we never had anything like that in south Europe when I was growing up. In the UK, radio, whether it’s regional or pirate, has always been very important for musical processes of assimilation and innovation that have helped shape the sound of British modern music, regardless of genre.
BN: It’s funny you mention Itch FM, because Alex Chase used to do a show on there and I went to do a guest spot shortly after I met him. And, without getting into too much details, that station looked nothing like any other station I’ve ever seen in my life! Thing is today when I listen to Rinse FM, or the other pirates, which have all mainly moved to the internet, our scene, the beat stuff, isn’t heavily represented on these channels at all. Alex Nut is the only DJ on Rinse for example that really plays this kind of stuff. Rinse is one of the best stations because of the way it’s run and everything else that they do, Sub FM is good too. But even on those stations they don’t have a beat show, and in a way what we’re all into now is too old fashioned. These stations are really concerned with bringing something that is of the moment, and sometimes what’s of the moment is something that’s quickly made and raw but connects really well with a lot of what these people are doing and a lot of what our friends are doing. There are certain tracks where you’ll think that could fit into a mix or whatever.
It’s interesting you bringing the internet thing up, because if we’re talking about radio stations that are pushing more challenging stuff, the Mondayjazz guys in Lithuania have actually been, for me, some of the most active in the last couple years in terms of pushing the beat stuff as well as other underground hip hop and instrumental stuff, a lot of which is blowing up now. And these are guys in Lithuania showcasing music from around the world, from all the big cities, the artists and labels who are part of the beat/hip hop scene. It’s something I find really interesting.
BN: Well you can’t forget Mamiko Motto either, who’s from Lithuania and was doing the Hepcat radio show out there. A lot of people heard each other on that show, and for me historically that’s one of the earliest shows to really push stuff like that too. Her shows were really psychedelic and edgy, you’d hear Ardvaark beats on there… So yeah it just goes to show. Like 1000 Names who apparently have their own micro scene in Bulgaria, all because of their sound, big up them! (laughs)
T: More power to them.
BN: (To Take) So you should tell us about it all started over in L.A. ? Tell us the history!
Well considering you’re one of those producers who links the old and the new as far as beats stuff goes…
A: We want to know the family tree shit…
T: Ok… well to me how it all started over there is my friend Kutmah. He’s a DJ and he started a night called Sketchbook. And it was him, me, Eric Coleman, this guy named Orlando, who doesn’t play records anymore, and we would have guests. And basically it was the first beat night, the first… this was back when we were playing all instrumentals off hip hop records. And then the first Dabrye came out, and the Prefuse records and that kinda shit and we’re playing all that stuff, and going to record stores every week looking for stuff that was dope and rooted in hip hop but taking it to the next level without any MCs, all instrumental. Finding techno records that are supposed to be played at 45 but playing them at 33 to get that slumped out beat sound.
It just grew into this night and we did it for 3 years at this tiny spot in Hollywood called The Room. And then we moved it to this other spot called Little Temple and it basically became this night where all these hip hop and other producers would start coming through. Then someone would bring a boombox and everyone would stand outside. Basically it kinda sucked to DJ there by that time because when you’re DJing half the people that you want to hear you DJ are outside with the boombox standing in a circle, smoking weed and everyone’s throwing in their CDR! (laughs) They’d play their latest beat and everyone in the circle would have their heads down listening to it, smoking blunts, just like ‘ooooohhh!’ and meanwhile we’re inside DJing for ten people while those guys are clocking in and out because it was more interesting outside. Keep in mind this is long before Serato or digital djing. We were kind of vinyl purists but we started letting people play their CDRs inside. Lotus would come through when he was really young, Ras G, and all these people. We’d put out notepads and markers on the tables and the night had no dancing really, just all about people chilling at the bar or tables and listening to music and drawing and having beers and going outside to smoke weed or whatever. And that’s why it was called Sketchbook, cos’ we had the sketchbooks out. And so basically that’s where to me it all began.
It’s interesting because as more people started coming to the night, more producers were coming and they were hearing what we were playing and people would come with their CDRs and all of a sudden everyone got on this whole ‘yeah fuck MCs I’m just gonna do beats’ tip. Everyone would do instrumental shit and the influence just started to pan and spread. Everyone used their own influences whether they were into psych rock or something else. Like DJ Nobody was way into psych rock and others were into dub, others into electronic and so everyone took their influences and started doing this sort of hip hop influenced beat shit, and it grew from there. Then Kutmah decided to end it, well we kinda all decided but it was mainly his decision because it was his night, he was the founder. We were working so hard to buy records every week but the night was free to get in, so we’d make 30 bucks off the bar sales at the end of every night yet we were spending twice as much on getting records to play, to show people what’s up. So we ended the night and a year or a half later Low End Theory was born with Kev at the helm and that became the focal point of beats in L.A.
Sketchbook was started in 2001 and went on until 2006 or so. And we had so many guests come through too. People would hear about it and come through. We had Prefuse, Dabrye, SA-RA, even Prince came through one night! (what?!) Yeah Prince fucking came through. Just like anyone that was into beats came through really, and it was weird because we felt like we weren’t getting anything out of it because we were working so hard to bring this new style of music to people. And other than our close friends and all the producers, no one was into it. There was never any girls there (laughs) And all the people didn’t drink much so we didn’t make money off the bar, they all smoked weed and hung out the front and so basically we didn’t make shit and we were feeling like it was a dying cause and then after we ended it of course everyone was asking for it back, and the beat scene started to grow and more and more people started to come out. Out here it started to spread and then in the last couple of years it’s just…
So how does it feel looking back on it over nearly ten years. It must feel pretty bugged no?
T: It is pretty bugged. And sometimes I feel a little bit old you know like ‘damn!’
[The discussion then moved to how I discovered Take’s music, realized how far back it went and how when things blow up there’s always a seeming lack of any focus towards history, and where things have come from]
T: I do feel that way a lot, I hear so much stuff these days that is so formulaic and people just… I’m not gonna name any names but it’s just so many people out there doing shit that is cool but it’s also not. What are you bringing to the music?
Ernest Gonzales – Self Awakening (TAKE remix) – Out now on FoF Music
Where’s your voice?
T: Where’s your voice, yes. What are you adding?
A: Where’s your personality?
T: Yeah totally, be you. Try to do your own thing.
It’s playing to that formulaic element you mentioned. Playing to a set of rules that you believe are there.
T: Exactly. To me, I remember that period of hip hop I mentioned earlier from ‘96 to ’98, after ‘98 all that hip hop became so formulaic. The whole Premier template of a dope boom bap beat with a couple of [imitates MPC stabs] and then some cuts became the total norm for hip hop. All of a sudden every song was like that and it was so boring to me. I was like ‘no one’s doing it anymore!’ and it’s kind of how I feel right now with this beat thing. It’s all good head-nodding shit but I feel like saying ‘fucking step it up! What’s next?’ Let’s look forward and try and take it to the next level.’ I guess…
BN: I like what you said about there not being enough girls and it not being very dance friendly music because I feel that these are two things that are very much issues in the lifecycle of anything musically (laughs) If it’s going to be something that becomes enjoyable…
True but isn’t that when it becomes interesting to look at how all the different ‘local’ scenes have evolved over the last few years, whether it be in London, Glasgow or L.A. For example what the LuckyMe guys have done in Glasgow or what edIT has done in L.A. with their own take on the whole thing. Or when Sixtoo decided to start making what are essentially club bangers. The way I’ve always looked at it is that instead of making that good head-nodding shit like you said Tom they decided to make stuff for the club, but with the same mind frame of evolving beats, hip hop that everyone else shares. If you listen to a Megasoid beat, or something from Ed, something from you, something from Lotus, Hudson Mohawke, Danny Breaks, some guy in Japan, ultimately for me it all comes from that same starting point of wanting to move hip hop onwards. Yeah of course it all sounds like its own thing, Ras G doesn’t sound like Lotus and in turn he doesn’t sound like you Tom, but still there’s a running groove in the process behind it. So the beat shit is very male dominated, but it’s taken someone like Ed to say ‘well it comes from the same thing for me, and we’re going to do beat shit but we’re going to do it for the club’ and then you can have girls dancing to it, people drinking etc…
BN: I don’t think it needs to be like that personally. The way it happened in London, which has been very slow and mellow, is that it used to be a mix of different people coming through, especially at the beginning. It wasn’t at all male dominated and weirdly enough I don’t think we even used to play that much beat stuff, but it was all the people playing there, whether it’d be Bullion, Paul White, Ahu, Alex Nut or Floating Points to name a few.
A: Yeah I normally find that at these kind of nights, you never really hear that much beat stuff in the end.
BN: We never had a night that was strictly beats. I think that’s actually become a bit of an issue now, in that some of these guys have to go out there and rep this stuff. When really, people like Paul and Bullion when they’re at their best they’re not even playing that stuff, they’re playing some Gentle Giant or some shit like that! (laughs) Some proper music you know… (laughs)
A: Well at the end we’re all just proper music buffs and nerds.
BN: Having said all of that, CDR sort of works on the same principle as the beat nights Tom mentioned and in the five year cycle that I’ve been going there have been phases where something became dominant. What you tended to find is that if somebody had a banging hip hop tune that really connected with the audience then the next month there would be a bunch of hip hop similar to it, or at least inspired by it. There was a certain period, with Sound Species, when Paul White came once, when Bullion came, when certain people came through and there would be a small hip hop section being played, or actually quite a big hip hop section for a few hours that was random beats made by people. But then the dynamics would start to shift and you could never predict what would go down well. Suddenly someone would play a more dubstep influenced number, or something similar to Martyn, as there were always different producers from different backgrounds coming down every month. Those moments of surprise, of change always seemed to create interesting reactions in the end because it took people by surprise. At other times some people would bring African influenced music.
T: It’s interesting because dubstep is like that in L.A. now. At Low End Theory, it’s gone from being such a beat night to literally so much dubstep now. It’s more than half dubstep I’d say…
Architeq – Sleeping Bear Lament (TAKE remix) – Out now on Planet Mu
Yeah I heard Mixmaster Mike came through and did a dubstep set recently?
T: Yeah, Mike played dubstep. And Kev plays dubstep. Nobody plays dubstep! (laughs) Lotus was telling me the other day that he might start playing some Free Design and shit like that cos Elvin (Nobody) is not playing it anymore. And the thing is that’s what he was known for to a greater extent. Elvin (Nobody) has a sick record collection and has always just played super dope random psych sets mixed with beats and so on. The point I want to make is it’s really hard to compete sonically with dubstep with beats. You’ll play your beat, it can be the dopest beat ever, and people will be like ‘yeah’. And the next person comes on and plays some dubstep wobbler or something similar and it just destroys the speakers and everyone is going mental, and loses their mind. You can’t compete with that shit, it’s just so heavy and insane that no matter how good the beat is, no matter how good the hip hop style piece is it just can’t sonically compete with that on a loud system. But to me it gets very tiring quickly. If I’m at a club these days, i want to hear all kind of stuff, I get bored with a single style of music after about 15 minutes.
Personally, looking at it from a distance because I was in Japan and travelling the last 2 years, the most surprising thing for me has been how the L.A. and London scenes, the dubstep and beat scenes, have somehow connected and fed off each other sonically. So that in the UK elements of beat stuff, unquantization, weird synths melodies, started appearing in electronic music and in L.A. you started to hear more bass heavy stuff taking a cue from dubstep. In a way I’ve always felt that it was a strange mix to be happening, in a good way though.
A: Dubstep is just an odd format. It’s very simplified in a way but it’s effective, really effective, in a rave or on a big sound system. There’s something about it that sonically makes it work. Whether you have your criticism of it or not, when you go out and experience it you’re like ‘fucking hell’. You cannot not have that reaction.
T: But the difference is when was the last time you listened to dubstep at home or on your iPod.
See some dubstep translates to those situations, however as someone else mentioned recently the main issue with that situation is that you lose the physical element of the music. I might listen to a mix on the iPod and while that brings back memories of being in a dance, it’s never quite the same thing. And that’s why every time I hear a track from people like Mala or Kode 9 when I’m out, as soon as it hits, if the system can carry the track, it’s over. To me that’s the dub element, like we were saying earlier on with Sam (Architeq).
A: Yeah that’s it. That’s where I think a lot of dubstep sort of falls. Like we were talking about the situations where you’re listening to dub on a soundsystem and you’re getting the feeling of it against your body and also in your head, it’s doing stuff to your imagination as well as your body. So you can take it out of a club environment or a rave and you can listen to it at home and still have that head experience, that heady vibe from the music, which can happen with a lot of dubstep. You can take it out of its comfort zone, which is on a soundsystem, and listen to it at home and get the same out of it.
BN: What concerns me is that the music’s become polluted by a vast number of clone, formulaic tracks.
It’s like the template thing we were talking about earlier on. When you get to a situation where you’ve got a public crowd, that’s the stuff that always works best, the lowest common denominator stuff. If you look at crowds at something like Sketchbook or CDR and then you look at your standard crowd in a club, a dance or a rave they are two entirely different things. And that’s not necessarily bad, but it’s something too often forgotten. I’ve seen DJs like Kode 9 play in situations where regardless of the crowd or place he will make them flip because he’s the kind of selector that knows what buttons to push. So people might be expecting one thing and he’ll give them something entirely different but he knows how to do in a way that still makes them go wild and connect with the music. There are only a few people like that within that scene I think…
BN: Right well then maybe there only a few people like that in any given scene really. It’s a sad fact but the point is that there are people who just are and people who maybe aren’t and those who aren’t probably could be but they don’t understand why they aren’t or what they got wrong. (laughs)
I got that on tape you realise right?
T: That was good. You just title the interview that.
BN: I think the trouble is, and Laurent and I have been having this discussion a lot recently, is that we are living in times where the hype, the acceleration of culture now turns at a dizzying pace, almost like a wheel of fortune which is just spinning and pointing at different artists at random…
The lifespan, and hype cycle, of music scenes is changing at a ridiculous pace. And the biggest factor in this I think is the internet, and the way the internet has totally changed everything. Not just the communication element but also how music, and other media, are consumed.
A: Yeah it’s a big factor for sure.
T: It changed everything .
A: It’s funny hearing you guys talking about it like that because I’ve kind of failed to observe the scene that has any contact whatsoever with my own music. So you know… (laughs)
T: I used to be like that but nowadays I try to be more on top of things, which I still don’t know if it’s a good or a bad thing, but in a creative sense it bugs me sometimes. It’s not only distracting but I’ll find myself, when I sit down to make music, making shit and questioning the intent behind it. Is it really me or is it a side of me crafting something to please what’s hot at the moment. You know? And it’s the finest line to walk. What Sam does I really respect, because he’s completely disconnected from that shit. And the shit he makes comes straight from him and because of that it’s ridiculous. You definitely have your own sound for sure to me. At some point I’m going to make an experiment. Stop listening to any music for a year… (laughs) Then make music and see what comes out.
A: I guess it could be something to do with that, but I don’t know and I don’t think about it much to be honest.
But that’s the trick generally no?
T: Yeah that’s exactly it.
BN: I think whatever goes on, the purpose of all this is that we all enjoy the music and therefore we’re all interested in it, listening to it and talking about it. I think at the end of the day when it comes down to whatever everyone is doing in their own time, everyone agrees that there’s no point in sounding like anybody else and therefore it’s a real waste of time being too sucked into those microgenres because you just die with them!
T: I know man! (laughs) You need to slap yourself the fuck out of them!
[At this point the discussion turns to recent writings about the ‘wot you call it’ moment in musical movements and how it applies to not just dance music but also beats and even hip hop]
T: and now in commercial hip hop the new template is auto tune and it’s all just garbage.
Mr Beatnick – Daily Bread
The same way Neptunes were the template 6/7 years ago.
BN: Oh god I’d forgot about that… (laughs) See for me the worst one was… I loved broken beat to the point where I bought all my records from the distributor and was trying to collect everything and be on it all the time. Then one or two years later the style started to evolve a bit more and the word broken beat started circulating. And all the guys making it were doing interviews and saying we don’t really call it anything. It’s basically the same thing that’s happening now with ‘w’ word (laughs) And so what they did was say ‘fuck it, if you’re going to pin a tail on the donkey then put it on’. But it was more of a joke for them. So they called it broken beat, but there was nothing broken about it, it was fixed! (laughs) This is what fixed music sounds like, there’s nothing broken about it.
It’s the same thing that happened after Shadow released Entroducing and somebody called it trip hop…
T: Ah Jesus Christ!
DJ Shadow and DJ Krush being labeled trip hop was just absurd.
T: Trip hop was the worst. When I first started making records, everyone called my shit trip hop and I’d be like ‘please anything but, anything but…’
And then you had glitch hop after edIT’s first album came out, with Prefuse also getting bundled under that term at times. And then you had IDM too, it just keeps repeating itself in a way.
A: IDM was one of the best terms yeah…
BN: In a way I think if you’re going to call the current sound anything it should be blip hop, because it’s quite funny.
T: So wonky is what they call the beat shit out here then? Or is it the more wobble, dubstep shit?
Well, it’s a bit of both in a way. It started with something Martin Clark wrote for his Pitchfork column in 08, where he traced similarities between people like Joker and Zomby, dubstep producers if you will, and people like Hudson Mohawke and Flying Lotus, especially in their use of synth and mid-range melodies. The thing is that, like all the other terms we discussed, he just sort of put it out there and it stuck and took on a life of its own.
BN: Personally I don’t think it’s that accepted, and I think the more people resist it, it will become lost. That’s how it moves on, I don’t think it’ll stick.
A: I think a lot of people just now… I’m observing over here, and people like Bullion and Paul White they’re moving with things pretty quickly and they’re quick to evolve and try new things, and that’s what intrigued me first about the beat scene, the fact that everybody was going off in their own direction and not coming back.
T: That’s how it’s supposed to be.
A: And the stuff that comes as default is just left behind, and that’s what will be wonky or whatever.
What I find interesting is that while on one hand the internet has helped to create this template of beats and other new musical genres/scenes much quicker than before, at the same time it’s also brought artists closer and made it easier for them to talk to each other and fasten the backlash against these formulas, and the stupid names. Something that before might have just been confined to cities, or local areas, is now a global thing thanks to the internet, and it works both ways – bullshit and templates spread faster, but so does solidarity among producers and musicians wanting to just do what they feel like doing and move things forward. So producers can, like you said Nick, decide to resist the collective move and continue to do what the hell they want. And of course, so can fans.
A: There’s a similar attitude among a lot of us, we all share that want for progression…
A: It’s not necessarily, something you need or have to do, it’s just something that happens and you never want to stay in the same place for too long do you?
T: How many times can you make the same song over and over? How many times can you pertain to the same formula.
So… moving on, I’m going to throw this one out there. Somebody said ‘writing about music is like dancing about architecture’ (laughs).
A: Who said that again?
I think it’s Johnny Cash, I read it again recently. As a writer I’m not even going to argue this one, but as musicians I’d thought I’d ask how do you feel about the quote?
A: Well you do sometimes wonder what the fucking point of it is… (laughs)
T: I don’t really like it when writers try to showcase their linguistic writing ability by writing about music in a way that’s trying to show off their writing chops by describing the music. Just like random shit, metaphors into metaphors… ‘when the drums hit it was like butterflies flew out of a nest and rained onto the floor of the green glass as I lay there soaking up the bass tones’ and you’re like ‘hold on, what?!’ (laughs)
BN: Is that a pitchfork review? (laughs) I think one of the greatest things I ever read was a Pitchfork review of the new Clipse album, which was like reading some bizarre encyclopedia of what they’d done… and I couldn’t figure out whether or not I wanted to listen to the album.
T: You shouldn’t be writing about music, you should be writing books about whatever the fuck you want to write about, science fiction, or whatever, you should not be writing about music!
BN: If it gets to a point where you can’t even say anything about the record or music itself…
T: Right! After reading the review you’re like ‘I’ve no idea what this record’s like. It sounds like a dream, a journey, and yet I have no idea whether that record is dubstep, hip hop or some techno. What is it?!
BN: I don’t think I ever read a review that managed to describe what the record/music sounded like in any convincing way.
Well you can’t, it’s too personal in a way and you’ll never, ever get everyone to agree.
BN: I think at the end of the day, writing about music is a lost cause of sorts but the things that make it interesting are the people behind it and some of the things in it. I think the more you’re able to talk about how music is made and what the context of it is, then you’re ok.
A: Ultimately it’s a key way of how people find out about music, so it is important.
BN: You’re talking to people who’d rather be making music, and I’ve got to be honest I don’t read too much about music, I prefer things that say ‘listen here’ and I make up my own mind because I don’t have time to process all these other opinions.
A: I often find that the music that you come across and that you really love is the music you get from friends and through bizarre means, the ones that you find in the most obscure places seem to be the ones that you cherish the most.
T: I think a lot of writers nowadays also take the easy way out: ‘sounds like…’ and you’re like ‘really?!’ And as an artist that’s one of the worst things when you’re reading your own reviews. ‘Sounds like King Tubby meets Lindstrum’, if they said that about you you’d be like ‘fuck, fuck that!’
A: Is it that simple? (laughs) On acid is a good one as well, something on acid.
BN: Anything on acid is always a bad idea innit?
[at this point the conversation drifts towards iPhones and the usefulness of Google Maps, especially when hunting for bargain shops and thrift stores in the L.A area]
So (to Take) you were saying earlier on that you’d moved on to using computers in the last few years. How did you find the jump in the end?
T: It sucked! It was a rough transition. It was such a learning curve for me. You have to understand that when I started making beats and stuff, all I had was a sampler. I would make and sequence whole songs in that thing. And then beg friends who worked in real studios to let me come in during off times and help me record and mix it. Back then, that meant, taking the 8 outputs of your sampler and running them into ADAT machines… Remember ADATs? Big VHS tape digital recorders. Each one recorded a stereo track so big studios would have stacks of them for multi-tracking. Then they would all be master controlled/slaved by another machine called the BRC. Man they would always go out of sync and so on. It was such a process just to track a song. But I’m glad i got to experience the studio process before the computer came into the picture. Soon enough all the studios had pro tools and began doing stuff digitally. So then I would always have my friends who worked in the studios record and track my stuff for me. At one point I realized I had to learn how to do it myself because i was totally dependent on other people if I wanted to record/track/mix a song. So I got with it and slowly started learning to record and make music with computers and it was hard, because I was thinking ‘why do I have to sit here and learn, do all this complicated shit when I can do it all on my sampler right here!’ Really what it comes down to is wanting to make music NOW, and not having to wait till after you become proficient on a bunch of software.
Like I said I just missed the whole computer boat first time round. Like we were talking about driving, or languages, when you don’t learn something at an early age, then when you get to a certain age it’s painful to learn, and it was like that for me. I think I’m getting a lot better at it, it’s been a good 5 years now so. All my newest stuff that I’ve worked on I think has been by far the best shit I’ve made. I mean I still sample a lot, I just basically do everything in the computer, I just replaced the machines with the computer, but all my music is still heavily sample-based.
Do you find that you still need a physical relationship with your music, which you can get through sampling?
T: Yeah I still have that because of the way I do things. I’ll sample off a record, bring the samples into the computer, and the way I use Ableton is that I’ll assign all these samples to my MIDI controller and play them with it, just like I used to with my Ensoniq ASR 10 for years. Then I just experiment with playing the samples using the controller in real time, so I still compose by triggering real time samples and coming up with patterns like that. It’s the same concept, but now I can actually EQ my samples inside the computer, compress them, whatever, the amount of control I have over them is exponentially more than being on a sampler with 30 seconds of sampling time and being forced to chop every last drum kick to the exact amount so I could use that extra tenth of a second for something else.
So you were saying you think that your recent productions are some of your best work so far…
T: I think so. I haven’t really done that much in the last year, I haven’t released that much but the things that I’m most happy about are the remix I did for him (points to Sam), and a new track that I just did coming out soon called Self Awakening. Also I did a remix for Lotus, though I actually did two for him and the one he didn’t pick is more ambient, different. I don’t know… what do you think? It sounds like you’re disagreeing with me, ‘I’m not feeling your new shit, I like your old shit better’ (laughs)
Ha ha, not at all.
T: I’ve no idea what direction my new shit is going to go in. It’s kind of all over the place. There are several different projects in the works and they are all different.
BN: I think that’s good though. Just push it and make it for you.
T: Ha I want to hear some of your new shit dude!
B: You’ll see. Most of it has been much more uptempo, I played some new stuff last night and I think I may be done with just trying to get blazed and getting deep into that zone. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen sometime, but I’m far too much into going to dancing clubs now to make laid back music. So it’s all uptempo. But it’s cool because if you take hip hop styles and apply them to danceable stuff it sounds really fucked up but that’s how interesting things happen.
T: I agree man. I’ve been doing more uptempo stuff too. I’m a little cagey about how people are going to receive it. I don’t really care at this point. I think you’ve got to remember that whatever you make is a creation from inside yourself so you should accept that and roll with it. It’s what comes out of you and that’s the beauty in and of itself. Whether or not the hype gets behind it and people jizz their pants over it is not really the point. It’s like we were saying, when you start thinking about that and you get too far and starts to question too much then you start making music for other people and you’re fucked.
That applies to all creative processes I think, that moment of contemplation. I remember one of the earliest bits of advice I got on writing was at school when one of my teachers told me that you should write and not go back over it, do it once and leave it as is because that’s your writing in its purest form. And that’s one of the most difficult things to do when you’re writing, stop yourself from going over things too much, correcting them, changing them.
T: Michael Jackson did 92 takes of ‘Don’t stop till you get enough’ and they used the second take. Quincy Jones kept saying ‘do it again’. So it’s like you’re saying, a lot of what you do creatively is at its purest when it’s pretty much untouched.
A: Yeah just do it, put it out and people take something from it if they do and if they don’t, they don’t but you can’t agonise over it.
T: One thing that’s really hard though is once you start performing out live you start to get a taste of crowd reaction… I love making slow shit, I love making ambient shit and weird ass shit. That’s what I want to make most often, but then you can’t play that stuff out when you perform.
B: I don’t know I think it depends on what your abilities are. I’ve sort of tried to rock that but then I find that as a DJ I always end up speeding up somehow. Even you ended up pitching up one of my beats on your mixtape.
T: Oh yeah…
B: So I just realized it happens whether or not you’re consciously trying to do it. I play that sort of style, it’s so much fun to play slow shit on the radio, to play in certain circumstances and then sometimes nothing else will work. Look at Gaslamp he doesn’t play slow, weird shit all night, he plays a bunch of other stuff as well, but then works it in and I think you still need to have a DJ sensibility. Alex Nut, when he first started playing when he was really playing 100% beats I still think he was making sense of it all, he was telling a story and building something around it.
T: See I’ve always DJed on tempo, when I used to DJ a lot more I always started my sets slow, 89bpm or whatever and worked my way up to the hundreds later on. It was always like that. And now when I play my music live, when I first started designing my live set I realized that my songs were really slow. I never thought anyone would want to sit through 45 minutes of slow ass shit so I went and warped it all to make it faster than it was. I don’t even know if it’s for my own personal enjoyment, but I sort of enjoy hearing my songs as if they were played at +8, just like ‘yeah +8, I love it’! (laughs)
B: Well when I heard you play my song and it was pitched up it only confirmed my feelings that it was a great groove but it needed to be faster to work properly on the floor!
T: It came out dope in the mix.
B: That’s the other thing, when you write music and everything is programmed then you still have the option to contort the tempo and that’s dope because you can just find the right tempo that the music needs to sit at. I think tempo is a big issue and like everyone was saying so many people are sticking to a certain tempo for the beat stuff that when you’re having it all night it’s a hard thing to keep rocking and keep people interested.
It’s like you were saying unless you want to rock to a crowd full of dudes who want to smoke weed and stand around all night.
B: It works in some spaces, like Hearn St car park where Brainfeeder is being held, or even open air festivals, then it’s ok in a way. But in clubs, nowadays with the smoking intolerance it’s hard.
T: And the girls too. I mean girls play a big role in it. I don’t know about you guys but I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had a girl come up to me and just hate. ‘Won’t you fucking play something I can dance to’ (laughs) I’ll be playing a Dilla beat or something and they’ll be like ‘play some hip hop!’ (laughs)
A: I remember seeing Matthew Dear once and he had a girl jump on the stage next to him and start giving him grief about playing house and rnb and shit. I remember the image of Matthew Dear just pointing at her and telling her to fuck off and go somewhere she could listen to that shit, it was so funny.
I remember at uni we used to run this night and had a sign that said ‘no requests’ exactly for these occasions.
T: We had one at sketchbook too, Kutmah painted a huge banner that said ‘no fucking requests’.
And as they say ‘that’s that’. Big thanks go to Sam for the hospitality, and food, and to all three of them for their time, openness and patience with getting this done.
Architeq’s debut album, ‘Gold + Green’ is out now on Tirk recordings as are the 2 EPs that preceded it, all of which are very worthy of your time – check and buy them here.
And I believe the latest Beatnick release is his remix of the Jungle Drums single ‘Walk’, which is also out now.
For the latest info, music and more from these guys check their myspaces and soundcloud pages. It goes without saying that they are each recommended in their own right.