Friday, 11 September 2009
INTERVIEW: DFRNT [Echodub/On The Edge]
Alex Cowles has an impressive DIY ethic. Producing deep, engulfing synthesized dubstep under the vowel less DFRNT moniker he’s on the eve of releasing his debut album, ‘Metafiction,’ a dual CD project that includes remixes from Scuba, DJ Madd and Ital Tek amongst others. But the Echodub label boss just doesn’t seem content with unleashing 18 tracks on the public, along with running the Sitting Ovation blog he’s also working on a broader magazine project whilst continuing to DJ, produce and hold down a day job.
We sent a mainline to the Scot whilst he was deep undercover in Bruges to press him on a few matters to accompany the exclusive mix he’s provided us.
Sonic Router: Can you provide those who may not know you with a bit of background info?
DFRNT: year old producer from Scotland, who works as DFRNT, heads up the Echodub label/collective, manages a magazine called Modus, and writes the SittingOvation blog. I've been producing dubstep for a year or two now, although I've been listening for a few.
Outside of music who are you? What do you do on the daily?
9 till 6 I'm a web designer, so that takes up the bulk of my day. I'm also doing one or two freelance projects in my spare time, although I've got to cut down on all that, to spend more time with my beautiful fiancee, and our new puppy. We've just bought a house, so I think that should help influence some new sounds and direction.
How did you first get into making music? What was it that infected you to do produce?
Well I used to play instruments as a child, and when I got a computer at home, I think it was the logical progression to see if I could use it as a tool. I was big in to the eJay programs. Dance eJay and suchlike, which helped me gain an understanding of the workings of a sequencer, as well as a bit of practice making songs with loop based software. From there it was a short jump to Sonic Foundry (now Sony's) Acid program, via a short-lived stint with FruityLoops.
I caught the mashups bug and did that for a while, but I never felt like I connected properly with the music, since I was already working with finished tracks. The original production followed that really. I felt with the original production I could really try and take it somewhere. Without the copyrighted material it felt like I could give it more value.
What aspects of dubstep connect with you, and similarly spur you on to continue producing?
It still amazes me today that everyone seems to know everyone else, from the smaller guys starting out, to the bigger producers. It's a bit trying to call it a very close community, but in some respects it feels like that. It's something of a musical movement which I feel like I can really be part of. I sometimes tell people that for me it's like what Punk or Rock & Roll was for my parents. Something new and exciting that they grew up with.
Production wise, I'm really inspired by a lot of the new talent that is emerging. These producers who can string something beautiful together seem to be popping up all over.
What’s your production set up like? Has it changed a lot since day dot?
I started with just a PC and headphones. I think I could still strip the setup back to that today and keep producing, although at the moment I'm working with a couple of studio monitors and a set of those lovely wee Korg Nano controllers hooked up. It's basic, and all my sound making material is software based, but it works for me, and it keeps things simple and clutter free.
What are the biggest influences on your music right now?
Aside from the new producers that are cropping up all over, I guess there are a few things. My move from the city out to a small coastal town is probably going to have a big effect on my music although I've yet to see that really develop. I still find influence in the bigger producers who are doing their thing; people like Breakage or Scuba. I'm also enjoying the Djing at the moment. It's giving me lots of ideas for tracks, and I feel like I'm working a little more towards tracks that I can play out in a club.
Your debut album ‘Metafiction’ is on its way, tell us about the inspiration behind it?
Well it started as just a collection of tracks I had that I felt were a new direction for my sound following the initial EP I put out on Insectmind. I didn't want to let them all go for free, and figured that actually I'd probably be able to put together an album with a few more.
I'd sent Z-Audio some Echodub tracks with a view to asking them to distribute our stuff for us, but Zac called me up and asked me what my own production plans were for the future. I explained about the album possibility, and they and he picked it up for release on his label On The Edge, so it's now grown from just a handful of tracks to a double-disc CD with 18 tracks and 5 remixes, as well as some vinyl releases to go with it.
You have some big name remixes on the second disc on the album how did they come about?
Well it was decided that some of the tracks on the album would probably not be ideal for vinyl, considering their lack of dancefloor sensibility, however with a couple of well placed remixes, there was the potential to get the tracks out to people going to the clubs, and so it was just a case of asking people if they were interested.
I decided to approach some producers who had influenced the original productions, so there was this nice full-circle thing going on, where they'd be remixing tracks that had been inspired by them in the first place. Indigo I was working with through Echodub, and Synkro was connected to him, and to On The Edge already, and then it was just a case of taking a chance on the likes of Scuba, Ital Tek and Quantec. Luckily they all liked the album and agreed to do a remix. To be honest it's still not really hit home how lucky I've been with the remixers. It's a real honour to have them onboard.
Tell us about your label Echodub, how did it come about and what projects are currently under way?
Well I think it started much the same way as allot of labels – just a way to put out my own tracks. I thought I could handle it myself, and that way I could keep control of the music, the artwork, the promotion and resulting profits. From there I figured if I could do it for myself, then maybe I could do it for other people, so I approached a handful of producers who I really admired at the time, and asked them to come onboard. I treat it like a collective, so we have a set number of guys on the label and we all work together on things and I just stick to putting out their material, as opposed to releases from anyone. It's a different way of doing things, but I like the family aspect of it. I'd like to think that everyone involved feels like it's a stepping stone they can use to get their music further out there.
In terms of forthcomings, well we've got about 10 digital EP releases still to come through the usual channels, then we've launched Echodub Direct with a view to putting out free EPs. We're going to be stopping the digital EPs at number 20, and then moving on to vinyl releases, starting with a limited run that we're looking to do something unique with. We'll deal with sales and promo on that one ourselves, then get going with some regular EPs on wax. I'm planning more free compilations/albums too.
The two free compilations you’ve put out ‘Anechoic Chamber’ and the latest one ‘Echodub Loves Vol.01’ are very good indeed what’s the thinking behind these?
Well 'Anechoic Chamber' was a free album to promote the label and our producers. It was a “here's what we can do” type of thing, and we pushed it far and wide to really get the name out. We're looking to complete a “remixed” version of that album for release this Christmas.
'Echodub Loves Volume 01' is something a bit different, where I asked all the producers in the collective what new producers that they were feeling at the moment, and we made a list. I then approached them all for a single track to put on the compilation. Since there were so many we were enjoying, I decided to split it in to volumes and I've since been thinking that there's a potential to make it a series going forward. Perhaps bi-annually showcasing new talent, while also helping to put Echodub on the map for the styles involved.
You also run Modus Magazine and SittingOvation, tell us a bit about those projects?
Well SittingOvation was started in a similar vein to Echodub. I'd spend a while trawling the dubs section on Dubstepforum, and would get annoyed when someone producing something that I felt was beautiful didn't get much in the way of praise, or often overlooked entirely. So from that notion, SittingOvation was born to help raise awareness of producers that I rate. I've developed it to cover dubstep and dub-techno in a wider sense now, and as well as highlighting new artists, I'm trying to cover a bit more news and release info, although it can be a mission to keep it up to date in amongst other things.
I'm not quite sure where my desire to do Modus came from to be honest. I like the design aspect of the magazine work, and there didn't seem to be many print magazines covering dubstep that I was in to, so it was likely just a hole that I felt needed filling, so figured that it might be worth a shot. Turns out it's a lot of hard work, but we're working towards out first issue at the moment, and although it's taking much longer than I had anticipated, we've got some incredible content lined up so that it's not just another list of reviews, and actually feels more like a nice edited publication, that shouldn't date quite as quickly.
Can you shed some light on the mix you’ve done for us?
Well It is a collection of tracks that I'm feeling at the moment, with the addition of some exclusives from me. It was a bit of a test run for the new tracks to see if they'd stand up in the mix, as well as a bit of a showcase for the tracks I was enjoying. It's a mix that I've tried to add a bit of variety to with some more percussive, and slightly more experimental tracks than I'd normally play, while still trying to retain some of the feeling you'd get with other DFRNT mixes. I'm actually really happy with the way it turned out.
What else is coming up for you?
I'm playing Manchester on the 17th of September at Sicknote, which is going to be a bit of an album launch type thing, and then I've got a gig lined up in Edinburgh at a new night called Diamond Dollar, but following that there's no gigs set in stone. A couple of “maybes” including a slot with Silkie, and one with Kode9 but that's all in progress at the moment.
Have you got any more words of wisdom for our readers?
I guess to producers and DJs I'd say that if you're unsure about doing something to progress your musical career – just go for it. Do what you need to do to make it happen, and things will work out. You can't sit and expect everyone else to release your tracks, and for you to become a big DJ or producer if you don't put the hard work in. There are so many ways to push your output that if you just sit around waiting for someone else to do it – it won't happen.
Also – speak to people. Go and meet them and talk to them face to face. Speak to them online, AIM, email, MySpace, SoundCloud – whatever you need to do, but as you build relationships, you'll build your career. It's an age old cliché but it's most definitely “who you know.”
DOWNLOAD: DFRNT – Sonic Router Mix
01 Synkro - Digital Soul [Dub]
02 Roof Light - Kamino [Echodub]
03 3rdeye - Undulate [Echodub]
04 DFRNT - Saturation Point [Dub]
05 Egoless - Model 3180 [Dub]
06 Moonchild - Tears of a Cosmic Vein [Dub]
07 Myrkur - Homecoming [Dub]
08 Ike Release - Citadel [Dub]
09 Indigo - Creep [Dub]
10 Martello Rotativo - Get Busy [Echodub]
11 Synkro - Deep Down [Dub]
12 DFRNT - On The Move [On The Edge]
13 DFRNT - Sectioned [Dub]
14 Ike Release - Shinobi Dub [Dub]
15 Morphamish - Hold Sway [Dub]
16 Gravious - Continuum [Dub]
17 Vandera - India Joya [Dub]
18 DFRNT - The Darkness [Dub]
19 Seal - Crazy (Metaphase Mix) [Dub]