British producer, DJ, and owner of the Khazad Records music label.
Interview: Elena Savlokhova
When and how do you feel the most alive?
I think I feel most alive when I am in a high-pressure situation, but also when I feel confident in my abilities. I think this is the reason that I enjoy performing in front of people, I feel the pressure to perform which makes the satisfaction in producing a good performance all the better. I often get sudden rushes of anxiety before gigs but once I am playing, I relax into it and it almost becomes second nature moving through tracks. I had the same feeling when I used to play piano, quite often my hands would guide me through the music, and if you think about situations like that too much and try too much then often that’s when mistakes come. So, performance situations are probably when I feel most alive and, at the moment, not thinking of anything else.
What got you initially excited about music?
I have always been around music, so there is no real point I can pinpoint as a defining moment that I got excited about music generally. But if I had to say why I get excited about music it would be the immersive nature of it and its ability to transport you back to a certain time or place. I remember as a child listening to music and creating music videos in my head and that was because of the immersive nature of music and my own fascination with it. With dance music it is the sense of community and being with like-minded individuals that excites me most about it, to walk in to a room and feel an instant connection with everyone there is a very rare and special feeling, it is part of what makes club culture such an important part of society in my view. The relationships you build within that free and open space can have a huge impact on you as a person and how you develop socially. There is no way I would be the same person I am today if it wasn’t for those early experiences in clubs and raves, whether that’s for better or worse I would have to leave that to someone else to decide.
What qualities do you dislike in people, both in life and in work?
I think it’s always best to try and find the best qualities in a person, but if I had to choose something I really dislike it would be a lack of empathy, being close-minded and an unwillingness to accept people who are different from yourself. I think it’s really important to always put yourself in someone else’s situation and access a situation from their point of view. Through doing this I think you can always be empathetic to both sides of a situation, whether you agree or not at least you are trying to understand an opposing parties’ views. I think people are also far too quick to judge and discriminate against someone because of their life choices, again this is something I don’t understand and comprehend. If someone has made a choice of how they want to live it has fuck all to do with you, so just keep your views to yourself and move on.
Do you think it’s ok to be an asshole sometimes?
Never intentionally, you never know what people are going through which might cause them to act like an asshole. But if someone is consistently like that then it’s not ok. I would try to distance myself from anyone like that. Something deep seated must be going on to cause someone to act like an asshole, or maybe it’s just ignorance and an overactive ego.
How to get through times that suck?
I think the most important thing is to stay focussed and positive. З
Occupy your time with things that bring you joy or make you happy. The same goes for the people you spend time with, surround yourself with supportive and like-minded people and you will be able to get through any low periods.
Who was or is your biggest teacher in life and what have you learned from him or her?
I would have to say that the biggest teacher in my life has been myself. I never had much luck with music teachers and with regard to my production and DJing I am completely self-taught. I think it’s highly beneficial with something creative to be able to formulate your own processes and not be too heavily influenced by others. Especially with DJing, although I wouldn’t stigmatise people who have had lessons, I think it is something that is very difficult to teach someone, I think it’s more an intuitive thing that relies on understanding the music and how tracks are created which aids how you formulate each mix. At least that’s how I see it. I’ve also taught myself in other fields, such as setting up my record label, Khazad Records, I have people who have given me advice but aside from that nearly all aspects of it I have taught myself through trial and error.
What’s the wisest thing you’ve heard or realized in your lifetime?
I think I’m far too young to have had a realisation of wisdom, but up to now I would say following your gut and your instincts is something I have realised is a good way of approaching life.
What modern trend upsets or frightens you?
I think the modern trend of not trusting experts is something that frightens me. It started with Brexit in the UK when government ministers openly talked about not always trusting the experts and ever since then it’s taken hold, especially on social media. It’s not a new phenomenon, but it’s certainly become more widespread and evident with the ability of social media to spread false information and narratives that aren’t backed up with any evidence. A classic case is the reactionary anti-vax movement that’s taken hold as a result of covid.
Wild and crazy ideas are given credence because people’s views spread so quickly before they are challenged. The idea that people who have dedicated their life to creating a marvel of science are then abused and discredited by people who have read a few articles online. It’s madness and is very depressing.
If you could have a conversation with any historical or famous person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
I am a huge fan of renaissance art and I studied it at university, so I would probably choose Michelangelo who is one of my favourite artists. I think it would be amazing to get his perspective on how his art has become so famous and whether he agrees with the endless interpretations of his art. Whether what art historians and critics have written about him really reflects how he felt about what he created. Although he was hugely celebrated at the time, I’m not sure if anyone would have really asked those questions, there wasn’t the same critical media around then and most works were created for private patrons. It would be interesting to ask whether he had any idea of the impact of his art, and if he did know would he have altered the work he did, was he satisfied with the legacy. I would also ask if he had always known he would become a great artist, did he have a feeling that he was gifted, or was he just working blindly with no real idea of where he would end up when he undertook his apprenticeship. To gain a perspective in to the mind of one of the greatest creatives in human history would be fascinating, or perhaps underwhelming.
Does the personality of an artist in any sphere somehow affect the way you perceive his or her creations? Would you still be able to watch a film or listen to a certain piece of music knowing that the person behind it is repulsive?
This is a really interesting and difficult question. I think the personality of an artist does absolutely impact your perception of them. But I think it can be difficult to ignore significant figures in culture when their personalities come to light. I think a classic case is Michael Jackson, his music has had a huge influence on me and Off The Wall is one of my favourite albums, but with the accusations around him, you question if you should be engaging in listening to the music. But for me especially with Michael Jackson, Quincey Jones is such a massive part of his career that for me it’s unfair to disregard all that music when he wasn’t the sole creator, and they are some of the best pieces of pop music ever created. I think there needs to be a difference between enjoying the art and elevating the artist, maybe the former doesn’t always have to lead to the latter. It’s a difficult moral question to answer.
What are your destructive and productive places?
I think my most productive place is almost certainly in the studio. I am becoming known for how much music I produce and put out and I attribute that to my workflow but also just to my passion and enjoyment in the process. For me it’s the most enjoyable part of my day, when I was younger, I would have spent hours on video games but now I sit in the studio for hours on end trying to constantly get better. It’s positive for me because, as I mentioned in another question, it’s a way of shutting out the world around you and just being completely absorbed. That being said I suppose it can also be destructive as I apply far too much pressure to myself and I have a very short fuse when it comes to technology. So, I suppose combining those to parts of my characteristics with something I love doing can on occasion be destructive mentally, but what’s important is to know when to step away for a while, otherwise, you would begin to hate what you enjoy most.
What do you think you’ve done this year that’s good?
One of the few things I can take as a positive from this year is the music I’ve created. I feel I have moved to a new level of my productions from the sheer amount of time I have put into it. Without that focus, it really would have been a very bad year for me after I lost my job because of covid. I’m thankful I have something I enjoy so much that I can fall back on, almost as a form of meditation where I shut myself off from the world completely. Without that escape, I would have found myself in a very bad space mentally.
If you were a musical instrument, which one would you be and how would it reflect your personality?
I think I would have to lean towards the percussive side of things, so I would say the drums. Having played them for around 10 years I will always have a strong connection and love for them as a musical instrument. I suppose in terms of how they reflect my personality, they are loud and hard to ignore but also work away in the background in quite a humble way. I would like to think that’s a characteristic of my personality that comes across when people meet me, that I am a pretty humble person and although everyone has a certain need for validation, I think it says a lot about a person if you don’t need to shout about it all the time. The drums can also be a very methodical and rigid instrument and again that’s a big personality trait of mine, I’m a stickler for being on time, meeting deadlines, etc. But it helps me to ensure I get shit done. I need those barriers.
What art piece (book, painting, music, poem, film…) resonates with you at this moment in life the most and why?
Musically, old-school hip hop is something that resonates with me most currently. I’ve always loved that era of west and east coast hip hop but found myself rediscovering a lot of those artists recently. The aggression and passion around the flows is something that I love about that type of music. I’ve also spent so much time in the studio this year it’s good to be listening to completely different genres. I also often find it very inspiring and have sampled a few hip hop tracks over the last few months using vocals and breaks to give a new dimension to my productions.
If I had to choose a piece of art, I would probably choose The Last Judgment by Hieronymus Bosch. It’s an amazing representation of pure chaos originating from the vices of humanity. I think it resonates with me particularly at this moment in my life as this period of the pandemic has been so chaotic and despite showing the best in some people and the light at the end of the tunnel, it’s also highlighted the very worst in people and I think sadly more of that is set to come over the next few years.
What question would you like to be asked in an interview and what would you answer?
Something that is rarely asked of producers and DJs is their politics. It’s something I’m keenly interested in and I think is tied intrinsically to music. A well knows DJ tweeted a couple of years ago that music and politics should be separate, but I could not disagree more. You cannot separate the two in my opinion. Especially with the current constraints being implemented across the industry because of the pandemic and the pressure that Brexit will place on touring artists. If club culture and the wider industry continues to be ostracised by those in government, then serious questions have to be asked.
Not only is music a means of fighting back against the oppressive natures of government through protest, it is also a breeding ground for free thought and expression away from the boundaries of a broadly conservative capitalist system. It’s a way of voicing your opinion through a different medium to arguing on Facebook, it’s a form of political expression that needs to be rediscovered fast before it’s lost to the business centred music industry that holds such power today.