Thursday, September 1, 2011

Futureproofing Vancouver: HxdB

I just recently did a profile on Warsaw label Concrete Cut, highlighting the label’s virtuosic versatility in the larger context of an underappreciated local scene with a vibrant cast of characters with as much to offer as any better-documented hub (London, Berlin, Los Angeles, et al).  Well, I like buried treasure -- a lot.  My hometown of Vancouver -- in British Columbia on the west coast of Canada, for those unfamiliar -- sits in a similar position to Warsaw, with a large, colourful and close-knit scene that could rival many of its better-known counterparts.  We can brag about having Kode9 play all the way back in 2005, and an early support system and love for dubstep -- ahead of much of the rest of the world -- has laid the groundwork for an exciting and deeply experimental dance music scene that mirrors London in the ongoing brilliant reinventions and incorporation of other genres (house, electro, juke) into what was once the dubstep template.  All of this is why I’ve decided to start a series of features on the best the city has to offer, featuring interviews and mini-mixes of original material, an aural snapshot of what each artist is about and a chance to see inside one of North America’s most inspiring electronic music hotspots.

Photo by Vasho Pekar

Name: HxdB
Hometown: Vancouver
Vancouverite since: a long time
Associated labels: Gradient Audio, Tectonic, Brownswood, Surefire Sound, Friends of Friends, Crude, Innovative Leisure, Aufect, 10Pin, Mindset, Formant, Palms Out, East Van Digital
Essential tunes: "Typewriter Tune VIP" (Surefire), "New Sense" (Crude), "Booyant" (Tectonic)

First up is one of the city’s most adored DJ/producers, HxdB (pronounced Hexadecibel).  Severine Erickson has long been a staple in the city’s bass/dubstep community, always playing memorable sets chock full of the finest dubs from our continent as well as The Continent.  Increasingly focused on steppy, garagey tunes, Erickson’s most recent sets have done a fascinating job intertwining narratives between the UK-based “future garage” hybrid-revival and ongoing experimentation in the US with dubstep and hip-hop forms for something that sounds surprisingly natural.  Seeing HxdB open at our Night Slugs night here in the city in March was inspiring, and it’s no small feat that Erickson’s set held its own even against stormers from Bok Bok, Girl Unit and Kingdom.

Distal & HxdB - BOOYANT (Clip) : Forthcoming Tectonic by ΗxdB

He’s also an amazing producer, and as he moves further and further away from established genre his music only gets stronger.  His most recent material has seen him traverse new territory in this whole “future garage” business, making the most out of white space and clean, resonant tones.  While the defining feature is a gentle but mechanical swing, HxdB’s productions are also marked by his almost new agey melodic sensibility, where catchy melodies tend to flutter and float, taking the scenic route along each chord progression.  To kick off the Vancouver series, Erickson has provided an absolutely stunning hour-long mix of all original 2011 HxdB productions.  It’s a stupefying hour of music that would almost certainly fool you into thinking it was the work of a number of unknown geniuses were it not for Erickson’s cheeky but restrained personality constantly poking through.  He's got releases come and gone on all sorts of labels big and small, most notably his collaboration with Distal "Typewriter Tune" which I raved about on Resident Advisor earlier this year.  Another collaboration with Distal, the unbelievable "Booyant" (trust me, it's special), will be coming out on the legendary Bristol institution Tectonic later this year. 

Photo by Vasho Pekar

He's also involved with Gradient Audio, an upstart digi (for now) label with a focus on the prismatic, farthest-flung variants on "bass music."  Most notably they released the rather intriguing Future of Bass compilation, a comprehensive and even overwhelming collection of names you've probably never heard of before providing a wide and inspiring outlook at how weird and out-there this stuff really can get.  It's no surprising that with his fingers in a project like this that Erickson's own music is so all over the place.   Because he has such a wide and growing body of work, I've tapped him for a special hour-long mix to kick off the Vancouver series -- the rest will be in more digestible chunks.

Playing around with dubstep and garage, HxdB’s mix is an hour of snappy drums, lithe basslines, layered with shimmering synths that accent without saturating: Erickson has a different approach to synths than many of his counterparts, preferring subtler and classier progressions to the kind of undulating saturation of so many producers operating in the same spectrum.  The beats vary from dubstep-lite to full-on garage (his speedy remix of Resketch’s “Good For You”), and sometimes in between -- centrepiece “New Sense” swoons with the rhythmic arcs of dubstep, but claps with the swing-and-skip clatter of garage and rounds it all off with housey chord stabs.  But no matter how jazzy, nervy, skittery, or stoned his music gets, there’s one thing holding it altogether: the bass.  Every track finds some wonderfully womblike pocket of low-end frequencies, whether it’s luscious bass stabs or big, elliptical phrases that’ll either turn your stomach or massage your brain.  If there’s one thing conspicuously absent from Erickson’s productions here, it’s the good old LFO wobble, showing how far from original dubstep he’s come.  His collaborations with fellow Vancouverite Self Evident are especially promising, finding a new niche in garage revival, tropical-tinged without feeling gimmicky or giving into cheap sunny Balearica.  And something must be said for penultimate track and 3rdeye collaboration “Transpacific,” because it’s just kind of wonderful.

Futureproofing Vancouver #1: HxdB's 2011 Showcase Mix
HxdB & Self Evident - Cloud Turtle // Unsigned
qp - sol jerk (HxdB RMX) // Forthcoming C/C/S
Taal Mala - Elegant Replica (HxdB RMX) // Forthcoming Aufect
LWSD - Keep it Round (HxdB RMX) // Forthcoming East Van Digital
HxdB - 2 cap // Forthcoming C/C/S
Distal & HxdB - Booyant // Forthcoming Tectonic
HxdB vs. Cairo - Bassixx // Forthcoming Party Guy
Resketch - Good For You (HxdB RMX) // Forthcoming Inhale
HxdB - New Sense // Forthcoming Crude
HxdB - Mustard (Cure Rerub) // Gradient Audio
Blind Prophet - Recollection (HxdB RMX) // Unsigned
Nouveau Palais - Drama (HxdB & Self Evident RMX) // Forthcoming Surefire
Jack Dixon - Lost Count (HxdB RMX) // Forthcoming Silverback
Cedaa - Palomino (HxdB RMX) // Unsigned
HxdB feat. Cairo - Once Bytten // Forthcoming Party Guy
HxdB - FLunK // Forthcoming Party Guy
HxdB & Self Evident - New Stylee // Forthcoming Palms Out
HxdB & Self Evident - The Light // Forthcoming 10PIN
HxdB vs. 3rdeye - Transpacific // Forthcoming Frijsfo
HxdB - Stylish Cadaver // Forthcoming Inhale 


RYCE: A lot of my readers might be new to you; introduce yourself!

HxdB: I am a Canadian producer, based out of Vancouver, with a handful of digital and vinyl releases on various record labels. Random fact: I am a serious beer-snob.

When did you start making music, and when did it develop into something closer to what you do now?

I have been producing music for several years, but only very seriously for about 3.5 years now. I think over the course of the last almost 2 years, my sound has been progressing and changing. When I first "found my sound" a couple years ago, I started to focus heavily on the deeper, more emotive sounds of dubstep and UK garage. I have however noticed a change recently, in both my production approach and the palette from which I draw influence. I have been listening to and implementing more dancefloor-ready, house and UK funky influenced material, moving further away from the realm of "dubstep".

Have you always been based in Vancouver?

Yes, for better or worse.

What do you make of the Vancouver electronic music scene right now, and is it in a healthy state?

At this present moment, I would like to think of the city's scene as currently in the "rebuilding" phase. Let me explain myself - A few years ago, the underground dubstep scene was in it's height here, there were huge shows happening almost weekly, and it wouldn't be surprising to see 400-500 people out every weekend. As things progressed, people's interest seemed to wain, both from the perspective of the of the party-goer, and from those involved in putting the parties on. With the rise in popularity of "brostep" and other splinter subgenres of dubstep, there was a huge paradigm shift. Massive brostep shows took over the city, catering to young college students and more of the "Granville Street" crowd (which for your uninitiated readers, can be summed up by saying 'ED HARDY'). The founders of Vancouver's scene from those earlier days went back underground and started focusing on all of the "in-between" sounds and not necessarily what is in favour at the moment. One other thing of note, is that the city of Vancouver has taken a very strong stance on how some of our more infamous underground venues like the Dollhouse, Red Gate, the Woods etc are being handled by the law. Seeing each of the venues being attacked by, and with the exception of the Red Gate, shut down. So, it's bitter-sweet. To know that sure, our shows are much smaller now, and it's much more difficult for us to plan and promote events for the reasons above. But, we know that this rebuilding phase is necessary. The people that stuck around are the true fans, and we're seeing more and more new faces all the time. Plus with the increasing open-mindedness of Vancouver's artists, promoters and fans of other genres, I believe we're moving towards a very bright future for electronic music here. There is some hope for our venue situation also, with the emergence of the W2 media society, which has been working closely with the city to provide us, with a safe, legal venue that can go later than 2 am.

What makes Vancouver special? Do you identify yourself as a distinctly Vancouver artist, do you identify with your city?

Well, it has to be the people. Of course I believe that we're a direct product of environment. I just believe that we have so many fantastic people here, contributing in a positive way to do their part and contribute their energies to music and just art in general. It's very bohemian in that regard, and one of the things I most cherish about this place. I certainly do identify myself with my city because so much of my material inspiration comes from my surroundings - People I meet, places I see, things I experience...However, I think some who hear my music might have no idea where I'm from, because you can't really attribute a particular sound to Vancouver, there are simply too many.

Pretty much since the beginning you’ve always made music that fell in between established styles; how would you classify your own music?

You've asked the question I most hate in a way that I am actually interested in answering. Nice. I think the basis of your initial question is partly the answer. I have always made music that honours whatever has caught my interest at the moment ie. books being read, movie recently watched, beer tasted, music being listened to, horses, etc. It's only natural for me to experiment with the blending of motifs. I've always sort of strived to make material that is at once both something that could be danced to, and something that will hopefully provoke thought or emotion. To classify my music? I've said this in other interviews, I'd really rather not, however there are certain realms that my music touches upon, including UK garage/funky, house, techno, electro, grime. I love to play with shuffled percussion, moving snips of beats and hits around unquantized to try and create that perfect swing and lend a more organic feel, or even just make shit sound straight up weird. I realize I'm getting off topic, but I think that's a strong part of what identifies my music. Bass Electronica, ha!

What do you think of “dubstep” these days -- whether it’s real dubstep or whatever it is that gets called dubstep -- and do you get annoyed if you’re referred to as a “dubstep” producer?

Dubstep is what it is. There is still an incredible amount of excellent material being released all over, especially from the more established UK labels. It's nice to see that many labels have stayed ahead of the curve and been looking forward to different sounds. Labels like 2nd Drop, Immerse, Hemlock, Hessle, Planet Mu, Punch Drunk, Tectonic, Black Acre, Hyperdub and several more have continued to innovate and not remain locked to a single genre or sound. That being said, I am pretty fed up with the inverse of this. The sheer tsunami of cookie cutter dubstep producers and annoying Soundcloud fanbois. I think the word dubstep, unfortunately is getting a very negative reputation due to the amount of unimaginative producers, creating their own hype machines via Soundcloud and Facebook spam, ala "Heeeeeey bruv, check out mi phat dope wobble tune, bassface swaggggggerstep." Now, don't get me wrong I'm not hating on everyone here, the people that are touring and hustling in the game legitimately, are doing it up, and deserve mad credit! It is slightly annoying when people call me a dubstep producer because it means they likely haven't listened to my music for 2 years, lol! I actually don't really give a shit what people call me nowadays, just book me and you'll hear what I am.

Did you find it was more difficult to get gigs, get tracks signed, and so forth because you didn’t fit neatly into any one scene or style?

Gigs have always been a bit of a challenge for that reason, in addition to the fact that I was fairly new in this scene when I actually started performing. I had to earn my stripes I spose, not to mention as a fledgling DJ, I wasn't really the greatest, hehe. Getting tracks signed on the other hand has never really been much of a problem for me since I am really good at the networking side of things.

The mix you’ve done is completely based on your own productions; are you a particularly prolific producer or is this more of a survey of your entire career so far?

I am pretty prolific, but I produce in spurts typically. The tracks in the mix are all productions from the last 4 months, so it is a survey of a very recent iteration of myself. On my soundcloud you'll notice I have about 60 tracks up, those are the survey of my entire career so far.

You don’t usually play sets of all your own material; what does your usual set consist of?

My usual set consists primarily of amazing tracks that I get sent daily, plus about 25-30% original tunes of mine. I haven't purchased music for a very long time, mostly because I'm poor, but I've been putting together some pretty epic sets with my friends' music. I guess you could say I'm quite privileged in that regard. Things are on the change for me as a DJ though, having recently sold my turntables and mixer, and purchased 3 portable MIDI controllers for my new stage show. I feel that since I have always been a producer first and DJ second, that this is just a natural move for me. I'm having SO much fun with it already, I know it was meant to be. My performance at the festival, Bass Coast project was my inaugural performance and was truly an epic experience...Video soon come!

You seem like you’re somewhat prone to collaborations, what is it about the collaborative process that appeals to you?

The range of inspiration that you get from working with so many different individuals is so gratifying, and I feel really keeps me challenged as an artist. For remixing, I always put so much pressure on myself, to make sure, first that the tune I am remixing, I am totally in love with. Second, to make sure that my remix does the amazing original justice, and Third - Make sure the remix also has a distinct part of me throughout it. Online collaborations are fun too, watching as the song evolves as the parts are sent back and forth. Nothing beats sitting in the studio with someone though. I think the work I've done with Distal and Self Evident is some of the most fun and rewarding I've done. I love the tug-o-war and friendly sparring that goes on as ideas are built and decisions made about the tunes as they progress. Not to mention the obvious rewards of learning what each other has to offer in the studio technically.

You’re a bit of a Vancouver staple and yet you’ve only ever released on labels based elsewhere in the world; is this a concern for you or is it just the way things work now?

It's the way things have always been for me, and really, not too much of a surprise since my music isn't typically what is in favour in the city. I see things changing though, I have 3 releases upcoming on Vancouver based labels, 1 digital on East Van Digital, and 2 vinyl releases, on Aufect and 10PIN.

Do you feel like the internet and its ability to bridge geographical gaps is beneficial to a strong and close-knit scene like Vancouver or is it going undo these communities in favour of larger, non-physical musical communities?

It's tough to say really. I mean I recognize the importance of the internet, and rely on it heavily but I see the negative side of it too. Though, people are so concerned about their facebook friends and twitter, and can forget it's still really all about getting out and enjoying yourself with flesh and blood friends. I think no matter if we approve or not, both dynamics will exist in our society. The interwebs are here to stay and help/annoy the shit out of us, so we might as well find our own happy balance.

You’ve been somewhat involved in Gradient Audio. What is Gradient, where is it based, and what exactly is your role in it?

Well, Gradient is based wherever the homeboy Jason B1t Crunch3r is at. He is a travelling rogue, scouring the American highlands looking for the next Simon Hung of Dubstep. Jokes! Gradient is a really cool label, exploring several avenues in the bass music continuum. Anyways, up until recently, I have been the "behind-the-scenes" guy, helping with web design, art, A & R and promo.

You have a compilation out now called “Future of Bass” featuring a number of tipped producers and some brand new names. What kind of sound are you trying to showcase with the release, and did you compile it yourself?

Yes, I compiled it myself, and I did the artwork too! I alluded to my friends that send me amazing music before, and this is a culmination of several months of just that. People kept sending me tracks that were blowing my mind, so I decided to use my position with Gradient to the advantage of all of us. It was a no-brainer really. I wanted to show some of the great variety that forward-thinking bass music has to offer. These are artists that I have a very close affinity to myself, so really an extension of what I myself was already doing musically.

Gradient Audio is digital only, correct? How do you feel about the disparity between physical and digital releases, and the idea that digital-only releases flood the market without any sort of filter?

Yes, Gradient is digital only at the moment. We are coming up with a plan to release upcoming LPs and larger EPs as CD, but it's unlikely vinyl will ever be an option. Simple economics at the moment. While, I help to operate a digital label, I completely agree with the idea that digital labels flood the market. It's sad, even Gradient had to flood the market at it's inception, just to meet some ridiculous requirement that Beatport had for us to have our releases stocked. Some of the label's first releases did not get the amount of attention and recognition that they deserved I feel. With this new era of immediacy, music certainly does feel, less special, less "collectable" in some regard. I mean, the sheer volume of music out there is enough to boggle one's mind. I think this is the new, big, challenge for labels, to be looking past what is now, and be looking for what is next. Those will be the labels that are, for lack of a better term, "collected".

There’s quite a few labels based around our general geographical area that are digital-only or mostly digital, is that purely a money problem, a logistics problem, or just a preference?

It's really a tricky subject. Vinyl is still the holy grail for producers. Ask, pretty much any producer and they'll profess to you their lust for their music on vinyl. The problem is, so few people are buying it nowadays. Add to that, the distribution houses of yesteryear are shrivelling up and dying. For most labels to even consider the venture into vinyl, they need to either have lots of money, or potentially sign a tricky P & D deal, that could leave them on the hook for huge costs, or risk losing the distribution. That being said, I think it is still possible for a label to make the venture successfully, they just need a solid promotional plan, top quality product, and hopefully some love from blogs, publications, etc. To address your question specifically; For most labels, yes, money is the issue. I think most people's preference would normally be what they can choose to make more money for themselves and their artists, get music out more quickly and easily and without the hassle of making back insane amounts of money cover manufacturing costs.

Judging from the tracklist, you’ve got quite a bit of stuff coming out in the near future, anything we should watch out for coming out soon?

"Savage Pets" just dropped on Gilles Peterson's Brownswood, also, my split EP with Self Evident on Crude. Vinyl coming on Tectonic, Innovative Leisure, Inhale, Aufect, 10PIN, Mindset & Formant. Digital releases coming on Fat!, Friends of Friends, Silverback, Palms Out, Surefire, Frijsfo, Car Crash Set, Party Guy, Inhale & East Van Digital...whew!

And what have you got under your hat for Gradient Audio?

A huge LP coming from one of the most exciting dubstep producers I can think of, Culprate, has just been released, also, EPs from Sephirot, VAX & Blind Prophet. I'm also compiling Volume 2 for Future of Bass. There will be plenty more surprises coming up too that will keep people interested and guessing, including a sneaky drum & bass LP.

Photo by Vasho Pekar

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