Friday, September 19, 2008

Unsung: abZ

I wanted to focus on a few great producers whose tunes I am nuts about, but who just don't seem to get any recognition. Unsung will be a regular profile series spotlighting names you may not know right now, but you definitely will soon. It's a big world, and lots of great music is being made that doesn't always get heard.

The thing about abZ, is that you probably HAVE heard his tunes and didn't know it. His tunes have been dropped all over internet radio and in live sets, but thus far, no one has taken the plunge and put his tunes out. That's about to change, as abZ has taken it upon himself to go the DIY (do it yourself) route and make it happen on his own dime. His influences are obviously solidly in the drum and bass realm, but his tunes don't hedge on the "harder than thou, mash you in the face" factor, rather a complex interplay between staggered, sometimes off-time beats, melody and bass movement (check out DKWSS Revisited on his Myspace to get an earload of one of my personal favorites). His remix of Cringer's "Gate B5" has become a Midwest staple, with its subhuman basslines and beat cutups keeping you guessing.

Being based in Pittsburgh, PA doesn't always assure attention in the musical world, but thanks to the power of the internets, and the worldwide reach of dubstep and bass music, abZ has made quite a name for himself amongst those who know. For those who don't, here's a little peek into the man himself.

Tell us something we don't know about you.
I have a good one for you, I have never flown in a plane. I'm not afraid of heights or anything like that. I even have a couple pilots in my family.

What did you do before dubstep? How did you find dubstep and what was the evolution of beginning to produce it?
I produced and dj'd drum&bass for about 10 years. I just kept seeing people type about dubstep on the forums. It sounded interesting so I found some mixes to listen to. I wasn't sure if I liked it or not at first. It was good enough that I kept listening to it. I ended up having a Joe Nice show stuck in the deck of the car for months on repeat. I started tracking down a few records that I was really feeling off of those mixes. I have a few weekly dj gigs playing dnb, I would just throw those records on at the beginning of my sets. I played a party where I was asked to play half dnb and dubstep. I ended up playing dubstep the whole night because everyone was really into it. I thought they might get upset if I started playing something else. I haven't played much dnb since. I didn't want to write dubstep right away. I wanted to absorb the sound for a while but I couldn't help myself and so it began.

You live in Pittsburgh, PA, which is not the hotbed of the dubstep sound. How do you think this affects your development as a producer?
Is it an asset? A frustration?

It is kind of in no man's land as far as dubstep goes but it's great to dj here. I was the first one to play full sets of dubstep in the area so I am responsible for quite a few addictions to dubstep that some people have developed recently. Every time I go out, even when I am not playing, people thank me for playing it here and ask me when I am playing again. People are genuinely interested in the music. It makes me feel like I am doing something important. LOL. I get lesser and smaller gigs here than I would if I was in a big city maybe, so it affects my performances for sure. I'm not sure how it would affect my production. I think I would be writing the same stuff no matter where I lived. Maybe I'd have learned about dubstep sooner.

What inspires you to write? Life, art, other music?
I guess it's just the creative process itself. That's just me. I always have to be doing something creative. Building something from nothing. I just have to get it out of me.

What is your favorite tune you have done to date and why?

That is a good question. I usually hate my tunes after I finish them so it's tough to answer. I guess the one I am working on now! Because it's fresh.

You have a label forthcoming. School us.

Yeah, Savory Audio. I have been kicking around the idea for a while. I have just been doing research and things of that nature. The base artists to start with are Jason Burns, Fiziks and myself. They are the only ones within a 2 hour drive of Pittsburgh that make dubstep and they do it rather well in my opinion. None of us has had an official commercial release yet. So we will all be debuting on Savory. I won't limit it to just us though; it is my intention to put out material from quite a variety of producers for whom I admire their works. It will also most likely be folks that don't get a ton of love from labels. It is going to be digital only and everything will be professionally mastered. Hopefully the first two songs will be available by October.

Any other interesting projects in the works? Remixes, upcoming releases?

Always. I don't like to talk about releases at least until they have been scheduled for release. I have had discussions with several different labels about various tunes, that is about all I can say. I'm not working on any remixes right now but those things tend to happen very quickly. I may have something finished by the time this is published. I have started working with a vocalist for something different. We have one song almost finished.

If you could work with any other producer, who would it be and why?

If I could also go back in time I would like to sit in on some of the legendary rock recording sessions of the early 70's. Wasn't the Dark Side of the Moon self produced? Maybe I'd write some tunes with Roger Waters or maybe I'd just sit there and watch him. Whoever I am working with, I am trying to steal as many tricks as I can. Hopefully I can return the favor.

And for fun, if you could do a tune to be played at a Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game, what would it sound like?
It would be really corny. Some low ended polka with vox from Donnie Iris. Basically just like the famous "Here We Go Steelers". I am actually planning on doing a Penguins tribute tune. It would probably go better with a Sid Crosby highlight video than at the Igloo. I have collected a few samples like the horn down at the igloo and some goals called by Mike Lange. GET IN THE FAST LANE GRANDMA, THE BINGO GAME IS READY TO ROLL!!!!

Let's go Pens!

(I TOTALLY knew a question about hockey would get a good answer. - Shiva)

For more info and to hear abZ tunes, check out

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I forgot to ask him what TRG means!! ;)

Trying to pin down TRG's sound is a foolhardy endeavor. Once you think you have a bead on it, it slips out from underneath your perception and wallops you one in the chest, and you stop caring about what to call it and just start bobbing your head. If there is any one ingredient that stands out, it is a love for complex beat structures over a bed of face-pounding sub bass, but past that anything goes.

From the neo-garage of "Broken Heart", to the battering noise of "Horny", to the bubbling underbelly of techno and dubstep winding through his collab with Selector Dub U on "Losing Marbles", to the shuffled breaks of "Post Rave Blues Part 1", there's a little something for everyone's palate to be found in the TRG discography. His forthcoming release on Tempa includes the super sexy bleep-fest that is "Back In The Days", and trust me: it's a percy of a tune. His DJ set "vs." Martyn on Mary Anne Hobbs Radio 1 show has become a favorite amongst the bass-hungry masses as well, so you might wanna give the guy a listen if you are fortunate to have him gracing a soundsystem near you.

With so much going on, I am glad Cosmin sat down and shared a little bit about himself, his creative process, and random nerdy things that I was curious about. World, meet TRG.

What is your first memory of music?
At the age of 4, I managed to break a few needles on my mother's turntable scratching some Beatles records. I don't mean it in a Q-Bert way, I literally scratched the plates and had a lot of fun doing that...

When did you realize that music was something you needed to do?
Probably sometime in high school. Was listening to random electronica that was coming my way (Belgian hardcore, Orbital, etc) and I became fascinated with synths. The demo copy of Rebirth and a tape deck was my first attempt at a setup. Surprisingly it didn't work very well but it motivated me towards learning some basic computer music-making skills. I was into writing at the time (as in literature...) and I found out music was a better, fun way to express myself.

Did you play any other kind of music, or play an instrument first? If so, what? If not, why production?
I wasn't very musical to be honest; never played an instrument. It was just a case of hearing music that I loved, and trying to make beats myself. It took me a while to actually figure out a setup for doing that.

What led you to this crazy amalgamation of sounds known as dubstep? Was it a gradual process or an overwhelming one?
When I started to make music, I was doing this ambient, breaky stuff then graduated to drum and bass but I never excelled at any of those. There was an idea underlining the tunes, but I couldn't go past that. When dubstep came about I wrote a few tunes in a couple of days and realised this is my real playground; this is what I want to take further. I guess you can call it gradual 'cause it took me 4 years to get there but at the same time overwhelming 'cause it literally took 24 hours to turn to dubstep completely.

What song(s) are you most proud of and why?
I guess I'm still most proud of "Put You Down", that was my first proper 'future garage' tune and my first release. Some of the tunes I wrote after that sound quite poor in comparison, but I try not to think about it too much. I don't want to go back to that 'first' tune all the time; I have to keep going. Out of my most recent tunes, "Everything We Stand For/ Oi Killa" is a release I'm very proud of, and "Surreal(5AM)", forthcoming on Tempa, is probably THE signature tune.

You have a very eclectic sound, encapsulating quite a lot of moods, rhythms and sounds. Do you start out with specific ideas, or do they come to you as you go? Tell us a bit about your creative process. Does it start from a technical place of just building songs or is there some random inspiration or both?
The way I make beats is, I get inspired by random tunes in different genres, or moods, or vibes, places, people, and I feel the urge to start Cubase and start writing. I choose the beats and the sounds that capture my mood at a given time. I'm not very technical, I don't spend hours on a hihat, but I like to choose different, contrasting sounds and build up from that. I guess I'm eclectic 'cause my moods swing wildly, which isn't healthy, I know, but it probably makes up for it by being interesting :)

Dubstep has become such a worldwide scene. What advantages/disadvantages do you perceive being from Romania?
Disadvantages: Flights to gigs are longer, and I can't be in London for all the amazing parties. Advantages: Hmmm... I guess I enjoy a sort of creative freedom that allows me to go places in music without the restraints of a localised sound. So I can do my own thing without worrying I have to be part of a niche.

Do you have any other interests that you are obsessive about?
I am really into visual arts and I think design will save us. I also want to get back intro writing.

What achievement (musical or otherwise) are you most proud of thus far? What is something you want to achieve in the next 5 years?
Releasing for Tempa is something I wouldn't dream of when I started making music so I am most proud of that. Over the next 5 years...who knows? No idea if I'll keep making dubstep but I'd like to put together an album that really represents what I stand for. Gotta figure out what I stand for in the meantime, of course...

Dubstep has been taking many interesting directions as of late. What aspects of that growth and diversification do you find the most fascinating? What aspects do you find problematic?
The thing I like most about dubstep is that it's so diverse. There's stuff for chin-strokers, for lovers, for rockers, for the posh, for the ghetto... There really is no limit. Therein though, lies the risk, as some producers might think it's ok to chuck anything in there and make it incomprehensible. It's all up to the DJs in the end, the kind of sound they want to push. What I really love is the fact there are producers out there making good, quality bass-driven dance music. I like it deep and medi, I like it raw and sweaty, can't really go for one or the other. I think they complement each other really well.

It's a rainy Sunday afternoon. You have some beers, a comfy chair and headphones. What are you listening to?
Benji B and Gilles Peterson BBC Radio 1 archives. They play the best music in the world right now.

If you could collaborate with any musician (non-dubstep), alive or dead, who would it be?
D-Bridge in drum and bass is one producer I feel very close to in terms of vibes and ideas; I hope it's possible to work with him one day soon. The others would be Dan The Automator, Roots Manuva and Zoe Johnston.

And for fun, what is your favorite article of clothing that you own?
My orange Nike Hitops. Hehe...

Peep TRG's discography and listen to some tunes at
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Monday, September 8, 2008

What's good in the hood

So I haven't been posting much lately, but I have been getting a ton of really great music lately, so I thought I would share my thoughts and reviews on some killer dubsteppish tunes. New stuff on Immerse, Subsolo, 7even Records, Soul Motive, Bare Dubs, Hessle Audio, Revolve:r and a little fresh dub review action as well.

Kontext - Falling to Weightlessness / Aeromonarchs Attacks - (Immerse Records)

Following up a string of interesting releases, Bristol's Immerse Records hits the sweet spot with this crackly, minimal, techno-tinged monster of an EP. Kontext comes screaming in out of nowhere with "Falling to Weightlessness". Crackles and a shuffled up beat complement spacious synths and a rumbling bassline that will sit nicely in the deeper dubstep sets, as well as the satisfy the more adventurous techno DJs. "Aeromonarchs Attacks" keeps the crackle and the shuffle, but pulls the beat back for a more laid back feel while still keeping the forward momentum. Lots of space, weird background wibbles and some deep bass drops make for yet another killer tune. Massive first release from someone I am sure we will be hearing plenty more from soon (with his second release already out on Immerse, that's a guarantee).

A Made Up Sound - Next / Density - (Subsolo)

Dave Huisman (aka 2562) first caught my attention last year with his stunning remix of techno dubmeister Shed's "Masque", and since then has just knocked em out of the park with every release. Mashing together the rhythmic variations of broken beat,with the deep synth washes of Detroit, and tossing in subbass that will knock your socks off, his sound has proven that dubstep doesn't have to be slow, and that techno doesn't have to have a straight 4 to the floor beat. "Next" bounces along with syncopated beats and rock solid bass pulses, dotting the beats with deep synth hits and leading into some crazy wacked out metallic chirps along the way. Mental. "Density" hits right off the bat with a nod to Basic Channel depths and opposing rhythmic bits and pieces, with a funky little clap that gives it a funky shuffle to keep your ass moving. Seriously, this guy has not missed the mark yet. Tough, but deep beats and bass to give the dancefloor a little challenge.

Martyn & Marcus Intalex - After Seven - (Revolve:r)

While Martyn has made quite the mark lately with his lush dubstep-oriented tunes, this is the first time we have seen him and fellow drum and bass stalwart Marcus Intalex team up on the dubstep tip. And what a collaboration it is. Head directly to "JW On A Good Night" for a super jazzy dub roller standout. Standup bass augmented by the deeper end of the frequency spectrum, panned wood percussion bits and subtle rhythmic synth bits, breaking into a gorgeous melodic bit in the middle. I can't get enough of this one. The title track is more standard Martyn fare with echoed synths and some acidic drips and drops, while "Storm Watch" eschews the normal kick-snare pattern in favor of a deep growling bassline and a funky drum pattern that keeps the 140bpm push while retaining the laidback 70bpm bassline feel. When the guitar/piano bit comes in, it all turns into pure sex music. Not your standard "dubstep" fare, but then I expected nothing less from these two dons of deep production.

Forsaken - Into The Sunset (feat. Mr Jo) / Last Saloon Swagger (feat. Joker & Ben Blackmore) - (Soul Motive)

Wow. Without a doubt, the second release on Soul Motive showcases some of the most creative sounds to emerge from dubstep in recent history. It may sound hyperbolic, but I would rate this as one of the top releases of 2008 thus far. This EP is like a spaghetti western if the horses were robots and the sixshooter was a laser pistol. Mr Jo's excellent harmonica skills (and one of those robot horses whinnying) start us off right with "Into The Sunset", playing off a standup bassline, an energetic kick pattern and frenetic woodblock percussion. When the guitars and harmonica meld into a spectacular breakdown, if the hairs on the back of your neck don't stand straight up as the bassline slides back in, well...I can't help you. Stunning. Just when you think it can't get any better, the tinkling piano intro and tavern conversation of "Last Saloon Swagger" rolls into the searing bastard child of Portishead and Ennio Morricone, drunk on whiskey and bass, and wrapped up in a blanket of blunted backbeats. Add in lazy guitars lightly dusted over a twisting bassline, and you have an example of dubstep pushing past its roots and becoming a whole 'nother monster entirely. Breathtaking.

BONUS: For an amusing story about the cover of the Forsaken release, go here.

J:Kenzo presents: Konnek Deep - The Vapours / Funky Biscuit - (Bare Dubs)

Barefiles creator Deapoh gives us the sixth release on his Bare Dubs imprint, staying off the beaten track in the process. Konnek Deep, whose release on Sonic Boom UK keeps the funk alive in dubstep, makes his mark on this excellent two tracker. You can hear the hip hop influences in "The Vapours", with its 808 percussion and slow drive halfstep beat. A staccato vocal sample and deep organ sounds atop a SICK sub sub sub bass, coupled with flanged out hi hats and conga bits keeps it minimal but will rattle any soundsystem worth its salt. It's the flip, though, that really does it for me. What happens when house meets dubstep? "Funky Biscuit" is what happens. Taking it 4 to the floor, and playing a funky bassline off of synth stabs, backed by an acidy organ wibble floating around in the background, by the time the break hits, and you're faced with that acid organ wibble gone mad, you wish you could just stay there for a while. But it's time to jack as the beat marches on into conga percussion and bootyshakin'. If you think the dancefloor needs to be less of a sausage party, and more people shakin' their asses gettin' down...drop this one and watch the steam rise.

F - Icon / Phase One - (7even)

French label 7even Records burst onto the scene last year with a sound straddling the line between deep Detroit techno and dubstep, and in 4 releases has become a serious contender in the high quality stakes. Newcomer F turns in two gorgeous tunes, with "Icon" being my current "go to" track. Detroit has never stopped influencing electronic music of all genres, and you can hear it in the metallic synth stabs, rolling over a broken beat synced with a lovely deep bass. When the atmospherics come in, it's heavenly. "Phase One" pulls back into a more halfstep feeling beat, without falling into the boring "boom clack" that has plagued dubstep beatmakers for a couple years now. There is a lot going on the background of this one, but it still manages to sound spacious and uncluttered, wrapping a rolling synth pattern around a syrupy bass, weaving its way in and out of clicky crackles and random sounds injecting themselves into the works and then fading out to make room for a hypnotic synthline. Big debut release from the mysterious F.

Pangea - Router / You & I - (Hessle Audio)

It's a common misnomer that dubstep is so named because of the dub/reggae influence, but its roots are in 2 step garage, and the current resurgence of the 2 step swing, melded with the depth of dub is a welcome counterpoint to the overly aggressive direction that has been taken in the last year. "Router" keeps the skippy beats and the rolling bass, then gives us the ghost of garage with lush vocals, dubbed out into the stratosphere. Add in some funky percussion, and if this doesn't get the dancefloor moving, I am not sure what will. "You & I" comes correct with a pounding bassline run, topped with more swung out beats and spectral vocals, keeping the funk and sounding like the soundtrack for a melancholy summer day. Gorgeous sounds taking it back to the roots, while still pushing the sound forward.

DUBPLATE HIGHLIGHT: Phaeleh (feat. Ngaio) - Fire

Urban Scrumping label head Phaeleh turns in an aptly named tune with his massive floorfiller "Fire". Vocalist Ngaio throws down some soulful vocals over a bassline that envelops you in sonic warmth and seismic wub. Ostensibly halfstep beats are given momentum by the bassline and the cut up breaks underpinning it all. You will be singing this one to yourself for WEEKS. Promise.
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