Friday, March 30, 2012

Futureproofing Vancouver: Daega Sound

Vancouver likes its dubstep, or at least it used to—it’s hard to tell these days. Since the advent of (and thanks to the hard work from) the city’s LiGHTA! crew, this duo of brothers (Ben and Josh) has been pushing a smart and sleek dubstep sound a little bit removed from some of the more obviously dubwise and reggae-influenced music of the other members. That’s not to say they lack anything, but you can tell the roots of Daega Sound come from a history of techno and garage as much as the other touchstones, more concerned with percussive agility than heft and wobbles, more preoccupied with buffed chrome textures than ruffnecked aggression.
The first time I saw them play (a set heavy on their own material), I was struck by how... tribal it sounded. Not in a shitty tribal tech house way (obviously), and not in a pseudo-spiritual Digital Mystikz sort of way either. Instead, they carried this iridescent throb meted out in dollops of synth and staccato drumbeats that seemed to stack their weight on top of each other so each bar ended with a real bang, only accentuated by the sexy sharp swing most of their productions incorporate. There was something about the chords and pads they used—sensually pulsating, soft-focus blobs—that held an allegiance to the sort of half-awake twilight reveries you’d find on the best Chain Reaction releases, and a powerful yet not overtly masculine sense of physical pressure that reminded me a lot of Scuba. Mid-period Scuba is not a bad reference point here, and Daega’s sound takes all the good parts of the Mutual Antipathy era and places Paul Rose’s clinical steel into a warm bath of reverb and bleary early dawn melody.
Daega are an example of a Vancouver duo making it past that seemingly impermeable Rocky Mountains barrier, notably playing Pinch's well-loved Dubloaded night in Bristol (I was there—it was great, and amazing to see two local guys play with Pearson Sound at a night curated by Pinch). The mix they’ve done for me here is a short but near-perfect display of their own wares: oscillating smears of sanguine warmth, drums that click and clack with accidental precision, and melodies that course in spurts through the cold metal framework like antifreeze. Loaded with dubs, it showcases their recent six-track EP release on Scottish label Echodub, as well as their forthcoming single on Seattle's Car Crash Set.


Daega Sound - Let It All Go - Echodub
Daega Sound - Winter's Horse - Forthcoming Car Crash Set
Daega Sound - Whirlpool - Dub
Daega Sound - Legion - Forthcoming Car Crash Set
Daega Sound - Bug In The Rug - Echodub
Daega Sound - Mole Man - Echodub
Daega Sound - Construct - Dub
Daega Sound - Fonica - Dub
Daega Sound - The Ridge - Dub
Daega Sound - Unspoken - Dub
Daega Sound - Stranded - Echodub

RYCE: How long have you guys been making music for, and how has it changed over time?

DAEGA: We have been involved in music since we were about 5 years old. Classical as we grew up, then branched out into experimental bands.It was in our late teens that were exposed to electronic music—Ben immediately bought turntables and we began DJing. We’ve been making music as Daega Sound for a little over 4 years. Most of the change has happened in the production arena. We have been learning how to write and mix over the years and the quality evolves and gets better whereas the vibe with our sound is very congruent over the years. We are both intrigued and driven by the same vibey deep rolling beats and bass that we were when we began writing.

Have you always been based in Vancouver?

We grew up in a small city a few hours north of Toronto. We spent some time in Victoria as well as living in Toronto and Guelph, Ontario, where we promoted as Balance Productions and performed as DJ Sela (Ben) and Deep Six (Josh). The west coast was calling us though and we returned to Vancouver where we we're based for about 7 years before shifting the headquarters a short ferry ride from Vancouver to the Sunshine Coast.

When did things start picking up for you, and when was the first time you played outside of Vancouver, and where was it?

Things have been steadily gaining momentum since our first release in ‘08. Slowly at first, yet each year seems to bring new opportunities so we can make ground. Summer performances at West Coast Canadian festivals Shambhala, Soundwave, Bass Coast and New Forms Festival have definitely helped to introduce us to new listeners which has undoubtedly brought more opportunities. Last year we played Live at MUTEK and in the UK for the first time at Pinch’s night Dubloaded in Bristol. Our 6 track Ep that we put out with Echodub out of the UK late 2011 has also aided in bringing our sound out the world with support from some notable UK DJ's/Producers such as Loxy, Appleblim, Chef, Om Unit and more. Though there were many shows outside of Vancouver before we were Daega Sound, as Daega our first show outside of the city would have been live in Victoria at the Jungle Room shortly before our first performance at Soundwave on Vancouver Island.

Has Vancouver been a nurturing home for your music and your careers? How often do you play gigs?

Vancouver has been a good place for us to build up: solid people, productions, and scene. Most of our gigs as Daega Sound have been in Vancouver, though now we play less in shows Vancouver and more outside the city. We probably play 2 a month on average, with some busier times and some quieter times depending on the time of the year.

You guys are still making dubstep at a time when a lot of people are moving away from it; do you feel like the genre/format is still important, that there are still things left to be said?

It's all about the sound. We didn't get into dubstep because it was popular, but because we found a sound that encompassed everything we loved about drum & bass, techno, deep house and 2step/garage and rolled it all into one. The tempo just works for it. Its at a funny time in its evolution—paradoxical, right now there is less “dubstep” being made at a time when there is whole heck of a lot of dubstep is being made. In our view, what we produce and feel doesn't really have to do with something being left to be said, rather we feel the sound is still very relevant and has by no means become passé for us. The original sound, the “space, pace and bass” has always been and always will be the message - if you're looking for a message. A number of producers that were producing “dubstep” when we got into the sound have indeed shifted the focus of their current production's. This is always good for the evolution of a sound and a scene in general, but, an important point to remember is that this shift in productions doesn't nessecarily reflect the interest in the sound from the dancefloor. Is the genre/format still important? No less and no more than it ever has been. When it comes to the dancefloor or to the headphones, its our belief that peeps will always feel “space, pace and bass.”

How do you feel about the sort of mainstream explosion in popularity of dubstep, and the kind of stuff that is popular?

Popularity trends follow the same line, and there's not much you can do about it. A lot of factors go into making something popular... perhaps too many to discuss in this interview! We may have to raincheck on this one...

When you guys play a set, for example, what are some recent dubstep artists/labels that are still doing it for you? Even labels that used to release dubstep aren’t really releasing it anymore, outside of a choice few.

Kryptic Minds, Pinch, Benga, Distance. Tectonic, Chestplate... not to mention our own dubs/releases

Daega Sound is not purely a dubstep outfit, though, and I know that you guys are fans of lots of other stuff: any plans to branch out more with future releases?

We will always be putting out the deeper side of dubstep, but yes we are currently writing some heavy and deep drum & bass tunes. We are planning on releasing a bunch of these tunes over the next year on various labels. We've always written music at different tempos, just haven't put any of the tunes out yet. Expect to hear more in the 100-110 bpm range, techno, tech and deep house and downtempo in addition to the dnb.

What are your upcoming releases, and last year you started up Fathom—can you explain exactly what it is and what your plans are with it?

Coming out in 2012 so far:
Legion / Winter’s Horse on Car Crash Set
HsPtl WbBle - Mat the Alien (Daega Sound Remix) on Really Good
Daega Sound and Hxdb collab, two tracks 12” on Crude records
Whirlpool/Falsehood/Egore – 3 track EP on DPR Recordings
More to come... stay tuned!

Fathom Recordings is our grass roots record label. We press 12” vinyl and number and hand silkscreen the jackets in a limited edition format. The basic philosophy is simple: create an artifact in this digital, disposable and deletable age.

Why did you feel the need to start your own label? What do you think of the record label situation in Vancouver in general, is there a lack of good options or viable platforms?

Our starting our own label had nothing to do with a lack of good options or viable platforms but because we wanted our own label to express ourselves creatively on our own terms. We choose the music, the art, the schedule and the direction.

I saw you perform at Pinch’s night Dubloaded in Bristol; how’d you get in touch with him and have you played anywhere else outside of North America? How were you received in Bristol and elsewhere, did you find the audiences receptive?

We played a show with Pinch in Vancouver and he liked what we did there so we kept in touch. We were booked to play Mutek last year so we used that as a catalyst to set up a small tour in Canada and ended it at Dubloaded. It was a slow start to the night but it packed out quickly. It was a sweaty and awesome night and was an honour to be at Dubloaded and performing with DJG and Pearson Sound. We found the the audience receptive, open, well -ducated in the sound and full of energy – the feedback following the gig was very good. As far as performing outside of North America, UK and the States are the extent of our international gigs so far.

Can you talk a little bit about the mix? What’s in it, how’d you record it, etc.

The mix we did for you is a collection of forthcomings, releases and dubs. The first tune “Let It All Go” is out title track from our recent Echodub release. It's followed by some cuts from our upcoming release on Seattle's Car Crash Set imprint and some of our new unsigned dubs including the massive “Unspoken” and the deep and running cuts “The Ridge” and “Fonica”. This set was recorded live on the Sunshine Coast.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Some words with Ben UFO

Chances are if you follow electronic music in any capacity -- and if you're reading this blog, I think that confirms it right there -- you've probably seen or heard about my feature on RA surrounding the collision of "bass music" and house, documenting the shift from dubstep to house, the DJs who mix everything together, and a new breed of producers who are operating in a nebulous middle ground. That middle category elicited one of the most interesting interviews I did for the piece, Ben UFO -- one of London's best and most revered DJs right now -- willing to engage on a critical and thoughtful level unusual for your regular old interview, especially a shorter one like this. I was intrigued by what Ben had to say and thought it worthy of publishing the entire unedited interview here, because for obvious space reasons the actual RA piece only included bits and bytes of our dialogue.

RYCE: How long has house music been on your radar for? Did it predate your interest in dubstep/'nuum music?

BEN: If you have even a vague interest in electronic music, or pop music for that matter, it has to be at least ‘on your radar’. How could it not be?

My listening habits when it came to electronic music weren’t exactly sophisticated when I was growing up, and I wasn’t into house music at all, but house records charted pretty regularly and you’d be exposed to them nonetheless.

I came to dubstep through a love for jungle and drum and bass which developed at school and during my first year at university. I was hugely nerdy about it, and started obsessing over digging back through the music I’d missed in the early-mid ‘90s, even at the expense of checking for new music. I did go to nights and tried to DJ where I could, but my experiences with that music were largely quite insular and detached.

When I first started hearing dubstep and started going to nights, what felt most exciting was that this was amazing sound system music that was being made now. There was a sense that anything could happen, and that there was all this territory left to explore. The openness of the producers involved and their willingness to look beyond the confines of their genre was essentially what led me to think about house music in a different way.

Did you feel like house was antithetical to the kind of scene you got yourself involved in when you started up the Hessle stuff? Did you feel any sort of barrier between house and what you guys were doing as dubstep-related/parented "bass music?"

We started the label in 2007, and whilst we had no ambition to be anything other than a good dubstep label, house music was impacting on the music in various different ways. One of the first times I saw D1 DJ, he opened with Bass Tone by Sole Fusion pitched up to 135bpm and mixed it straight into Left Leg Out by Mala; Basic Channel, Rhythm & Sound and Chain Reaction had a huge impact on a lot of the Bristol producers coming through at the time, and on me as a listener; and with regard to Hessle Audio we’ve been lucky enough to have had the support of Hard Wax and a lot of Berlin-based DJs almost since the inception of the label.

When did you start incorporating outright house into your own DJ sets? Was it difficult?

There was a noticeable shift in the music a couple of years later. A lot of DJs, producers and listeners became disenchanted with dubstep, which had already developed an established formula, and were starting to look for something new. House music was being played on the pirates again, but rather than looking to the US or Europe for their records, DJs were incorporating tunes made by kids in UK inner cities which had all the traditional characteristics of UK pirate radio music.

This wasn’t music being made with the dubstep scene in mind at all, but a lot of listeners latched onto it straight away. A few DJs started incorporating it into their sets, but fairly awkwardly at first. I remember seeing DJs play out and you’d hear 30 minutes of dark UK house and an abrupt pause, followed up by 30 minutes of dubstep and grime. I wanted to find ways to bridge the two tempos naturally, and whilst the music I play has continued to change and evolve, that’s essentially the style of DJing I’m still exploring three years later.

When did you start to notice a shift towards -- I'm only using this problematic word to differentiate it from that dark UK house you mentioned -- "actual"/'traditional" house in dubstep/dubstep-related sets? Do you feel that you were one of the first to do this?

To my mind this question misrepresents what was actually going on. I find the critical fixation with “UK Funky” as exclusively HCC-related music rather patronising, and the implicit suggestion that UK producers introduced syncopation to house music in 2009 (this is something I’ve had people tell me multiple times) is patently absurd. There is obviously a direct and vital connection, but if you scrutinise the selection of UK DJs when this music was emerging it becomes immediately apparent that a debt was owed to US-based producers as well. Tracks like ‘No Hook’ and ‘Soundbwoy’ by Kenny Dope, ‘I C U’ by Karizma and ‘Don’t Panic’ by DJ Gregory immediately spring to mind as staples of otherwise UK-focused DJs, to the extent that all these tunes were widely bootlegged and sold to an audience who were more familiar with the productions of people like D Malice (who actually remixed and bootlegged various house classics early in his career), Roska and Hard House Banton.

I don’t feel comfortable with this as a descriptor of the music I play but to use your term, I have perhaps shifted more towards “traditional” house music more than most, but this is as much to do with personal circumstance as anything else. I moved into a house with old friends a couple of years ago, both of whom are deeply immersed in house music in London.

A lot of dubstep/bass music champions -- and those who might have resisted or even would still resist house's encroaching influence -- might have said that "house" lacks the rudeness factor of UK music, of UK hardcore continuum music like jungle/dnb/dubstep. Do you feel the same? Did you find it difficult to reconcile and incorporate house music with the kind of music some more dubstep-hungry audiences would have been expecting? Were audiences receptive at first or was it an over-time thing?

That kind of attitude doesn’t allow for the enormous variety found within all of that music, UK or otherwise, and it’s a dichotomy I rejected a long time ago. If you’re after aggression and propulsive rhythmic energy listen to a few Steve Poindexter records or something - and on the flip side there’s plenty of jungle releases which display all the melodic delicacy and nuance of the most beautiful Chicago records.

A few years years ago, Nick Craddock ( linked me to these cassette rips of a Spencer Kincy set at a night in Chicago called Deep in the Flowers ( – hearing those for the first time completely changed my perspective on how house music was ‘supposed’ to be mixed. His mixing style almost couldn’t have any more in common with UK pirate radio DJing - hyperactive cutting, quick blends and spinbacks… I can’t overstate the impact hearing that set had on my DJing.

You say that set had a major impact on your DJing -- how did your DJing change and what's the difference, in sort of layman's terms, between mixing for a dubstep set and mixing a house set?

It didn’t change at all; it just reassured me that I could DJ naturally and that I didn’t need to emulate any particular style just in order to play the music I like.

When you started to try to bridge the gap between house and dubstep, did you find audiences to be resistant/turned off at all?

I did, for a while. Most people from our corner of the scene will have experienced heckling from people expecting dubstep… It’s to be expected though. Music moves so quickly and scenes will always need a bit of time to catch up. If anything it’s a huge privilege to be booked to play on such a diverse array of lineups – last year I’d find myself playing back-to-back sets with my heroes from the dubstep world one night and find myself playing alongside amazing house DJs the next. I hope that continues.

You said that a lot of people were looking for something new after becoming disenchanted with dubstep... do you think there's something reductive or misled by turning to an older form of music instead of creating something new?

HCC-related music in the UK has always mined older music for inspiration. I still see what’s happening now as a route towards creating innovative new music. Listening to older records and acknowledging their influence is just another way of looking for unexplored territory, and another way of creating an interesting context for the production of new music.

Do you see yourself as part of a house scene or still the experimental, underground, open-minded scene that once birthed dubstep?

Hopefully both.