Monday, November 14, 2011

Futureproofing Vancouver: Taal Mala

We've already had a great deal of talent featured on Futureproofing Vancouver, and a diverse breadth at that, but there's perhaps no better singular representative of the truly inspiring, fearless and diverse nature of Vancouver's electronic scene as one Taal Mala. A junglist at heart, his music has and does encompass pretty much every genre you could think of coursing throughout the hardcore continuum, from rave to jungle to techno to dnb to garage to grime to dubstep and a little house as well -- enough that you could mistake him for a UK producer that grew up on all that stuff in its natural habitat. His music is separated from the pack by a keen musicality missing from so many North American "dubstep" producers, an ear for melodies that are catchy and memorable without being simple or predictable, and an elastic flexibility borrowed from jungle that makes them eminently danceable to boot.
He's got a bit of a Midas touch in that he effortlessly masters every genre he gets near; this boy is no dilettante, and he sounds as if he's had every strand of dance music flowing through him since birth.  It comes natural, it feels natural, it sounds natural: this is why that, even in a crowd of already talented producers, it's so perplexing that Taal Mala hasn't broken in a big way outside of the confines of the 49th Parallel and the Rocky Mountains.  Take his "Rudeboy Junglist Raggamuffin Selector" mix, an ALL-ORIGINAL mix of prime ragga jungle replete with exclusive LiGHTA! vocal spots from Jamaican MCs... that he can make a 55-minute mix out of completely original unheard tracks with Jamaican cred to boot and have it but a minor part of his oeuvre is a testament to his incredible talent.

A real hardware geek and enthusiast (he owns one of the city's best sound rigs), if there's one thing common to all of Taal Mala's music it's a dedication to no-bullshit professionalism. It's not a matter of stuffy pretension but simply expert execution, that same cool-headed domination of every aspect of dance music that fuels his genre jumping in the first place.  There are no shortage of DJ mixes on his eponymous website, but his mix for Futureproofing is about as best an encapsulation I could have possibly asked for, fifty minutes of his original productions spanning all genres, and mixed together seamlessly at that.


Fast Eddie - Acid Thunder [taal mala refix]
Taal Mala - Plus
Taal Mala - Anti Gravity
Taal Mala - Elegant Replica - Forthcoming Aufect
James Blake - CMYK [taal mala remix]
Taal Mala - Solar Orbit
Taal Mala - Mash Up Di Place
Taal Mala - X Axis - Forthcoming 10pin
Taal Mala - Output Your Insides
Taal Mala - Toxiques
Taal Mala + El-B - Can't Stop
Ulae (Max Ulis + Self Evident) - Eastsiders [taal mala remix]
Monolithium - Simon & G Funk [taal mala remix]
Taal Mala - Baseband
Taal Mala feat. Keke - lighta! run di area
Elephant Man - Vampires + Informers [taal mala remix] - Subatomic Sound


Have you always been based in Vancouver, and if not, when did you come here?

I've lived in Vancouver since 2002, when I moved here from Ontario.

What sets Vancouver apart musically from other cities, and what appeals to you about it?

Vancouver has a very unique music scene. We're very spoiled here when it comes to the frequency and quality of the shows that happen here, and the crowds that come out to these shows are generally very enthusiastic and knowledgeable of the music they are hearing and are going out for the music and for the dance, not just for the sake of being out. Vancouver's underground scene thrives on this. There is also a strong element of oppression from the Vancouver city itself, which I believe keeps the core of the underground scene so strong because we have to work so hard just to be able to have venues, which there is a dire need for in the city right now. Vancouver City Hall has been on a rampage of trying to eradicate all the underground dance venues in the city. Vancouver's underground scene is suffering right now because shows are being forced into clubs, because all the spaces are getting shut down, but this is something that will make it stronger over time, because this crew of people isn't going to back down so easily.

When it comes to the creation of the music itself, Vancouver is alive and overflowing with incredible amounts of talented producers and DJ's. I can definitely say the best and most talent saturated city in Canada, and many of the producers here are of world class level and several of them are breaking out internationaly as we speak. 2011/2012 is our time.

You have your own sound system that you use and rent out for events, correct? What's the situation like for systems in Vancouver? Is it hard to find good sound?

I do have a sound, Yes. The situation for systems in Vancouver, or lack there of, is pretty sad. There's like 2 decent club systems in the whole city, and none of the underground venues have anything worthy of noting, nor is there resources to make this so. There is amazing gear available to me in this city, but the shows can't afford it and the venues can't facilitate it. My soundsystem is just barely decent enough to my standards, but it rarely gets out these days because there's no resources to financially support a sound installation that's up to my standard, where I would be running dedicated power distro, and supplementing the speakers I have, with additional gear to get a nice full clean top and heavy bass. I've put about $12000 into my setup, and with about twice that I can get it to where I'll be happy with it. At the moment there isn't really any venues that can facilitate, or fund proper sound, so most of the time we're settling for bollocks setups.

Are you a bit of a gear nerd, then? How much hardware do you use in your own productions?

Gear nerd would be an understatement I think. I pretty much choose gear over food if it comes down to it. I've got a pretty decent analogue synthesizer collection which is always expanding, with a few of the choice pieces being my Roland Jupiter 6, TB-303, Korg MS10, Sequential Prophet 8, Yamaha CS15, and several others. I use a lot of analogue effects as well, tape delays, spring reverbs, analogue delays and filters, tube preamps and compressors. I've just started to record to 1/4" tape again for mastering.
Most currently, I've been putting together a modular drum machine with the Analogue Solutions Concussor modules. These are standalone modules that are exact replicas of the drum circuits from the Roland TR-808TR-909 drum machines. They're shockingly replicating those original sounds flawlessly. These days I'm using as much hardware as possible, as it gives a much more hands on approach to making music and you can't even compare the sound to inside the box software versions. I'm currently designing my own synthesizer modules based on classic components of vintage VCO/VCF/VCA's that I love. I'm just getting into the prototyping stage with this and hoping to have a full system both for myself and available for purchase by next year. 

How long have you been making music as Taal Mala and how would you describe it?

I've been using the moniker Taal Mala since 2003. It's hard to describe what taal mala sounds like because I don't even know half of the time. It seems more and more these says that every tune I produce is completely different in style and tempo from the next. The influence of classic techno/acid/jungle/hardcore is prevalent throughout most though, and the obvious influence of jamaican music, reggae, dub, and dancehall are quite standard as well.

You also have The Original Uptown Parlour Orchestra project, what exactly is that and its purpose?

The Original Uptown Parlour Orchestra is a music project of mine where I have recorded several classic dixieland, ragtime, and swing standards with analogue synthesizers and drum machines. It's purpose is for my selfish amusement primarily, and hopefully others too. Most people either really love it or really hate it. It's meant to inspire laughter and absurdity. It's really funny to me. Inspiration for that comes mostly from the early synth recordings of wizards such as Jean Jacques Perrey and Wendy/Walter Carlos.

Do you have any other musical projects?

I've got a project called Bass Emperor with my roommate Frederick, which will eventually surface, and I'm hoping to put my drum kit to work as part of a deathcore metal band in the near future, which is coming together slowly.

You might have been associated with dubstep at one point; how do you feel about the way the genre has exploded and mutated and where do you situate your music now?

I'm definitely continuing to play dubstep, and produce music that could be called that. Despite the bastardization of the original definition of the sound, and the immense amount of rubbish music being produced and released within that framework, there is so much great and original music coming out at the moment. I think that because of the genre mutation there has been a wonderful array of fringe styles within the 140bpm-ish template, drawing from origins of dubstep, grime, and UK garage, and because of the saturation of that tempo, producers are filling in the blanks from 125bpm all the way up to 150bpm. This range in tempos being explored while maintaining elements of those styles, as well as combining with those nods to several other genres, has destroyed the idea of genre as we know it at this point. Everything is colliding together from all angles and the idea of genre is dying, and fresh and original sounds are coming through strong. My music currently falls into this as well, as I have been all over the map as far as tempos and stylistic pigeon-holeing need not apply here. Bass Music.

What do you think of the way a certain sector of dubstep has kind of exploded into the mainstream, especially in a city like Vancouver? Is it something healthy or a sort of corruption?

It's both. I feel like in one way it's really unfortunate that there is some people that are experiencing "dubstep" as the mainstream type of generic poppy rubbish, and may not know the roots of the sound and how it used to be. The Vancouver music heads that have been around for the last 6 years, know what that is though, and were part of something as it was evolving and are aware of the differentiation. It's obvious to anyone who actually has taken the time to research and catalogue the music that some of the producers that are choosing their bank accounts over their artistic integrity and producing a lot of the current mainstream crap, were some of the people that originated the sound in the first place, and have just taken opportunities handed to them as being in this position, to expand to a more mainstream audience, make more money, and lose their artistic merit. In Vancouver, this mainstream sound has created an outlet for people that are not so particular about the type of music they're listening to, and are just out to party and looking for whatever is "cool". This is making space for the real music heads in the underground scene once again to come out and enjoy music without mainstream manglers douching all over them. This situation has it's pros and cons.

What do you see as your role in a local community that has somewhat splintered and fragmented in terms of stylistic/generic preferences and aesthetics?

I think my role is exactly the same regardless of what the current dance music trends are. Myself, and all the producers and DJ's I have been working with over the years, especially everyone in lighta! sound, have made our role in the community as connoisseurs and ambassadors of good music and sharing that with our friends and community that hold quality music as an important part of their existence. We were doing this before dubstep, and will continue to do this throughout whatever trends/genres/aesthetics or lack thereof are taking place in current dance music. It's all about good music and fun times, innit?

What would a typical Taal Mala set consist of these days, and do you find it hard to get bookings in a place like Vancouver if you don't hew closely to a certain genre or style? 

There is no such thing as a typical taal mala set, and I think that is my strength and what gets me my bookings and will continue to do so into the future. One day I could be playing golden era ragga jungle, followed by deep dubstep, followed by acid techno, and the next day rocksteady and ska 45's, or breakcore, or grime, or UK funky, classic garage, dancehall, or even all of these in one set in the same night. I'm not known for being predictable, and I know that I will always be diverse as a DJ because I love and collect so many different styles of music.

Finally, could you talk a little about the mix you made for Futureproofing? 

The mix I have done for futureproofing is a wide array of tracks from my own productions, remixes (both official and bootleg), and collaborations. There's a little bit of everything in here. Some old, some recent, some classic ideas and some future ones, with BPM's ranging from 145-127. Most of these are unreleased tracks. A couple of them are forthcoming to be released.

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