Thursday, 10 March 2011

SR Mix #72: Dro Carey [Trilogy Tapes/Hum & Buzz]

The internet’s got a lot to answer for. One consequence of it’s of access to media is becoming clearer as broadband becomes an ever more entrenched feature of modern life: a new generation of musicians are starting to take influence from across the board, with scant regard for genres or scenes. Sydney’s Dro Carey is a great example. His music draws from a host of sources – dubstep and UK bass sounds, classic house and techno, R’n’B, noise, jazz – and works them all into strange, asymmetric shapes.

Some feel immediately linked to the dancefloor, albeit abstracted, with upcoming Hum & Buzz release ‘Hungry Horse’ and recent track ‘Wreckshop Sugar’ stuttering with the same nervous energy that drives Night Slugs and Hessle Audio. Others, like the music from his recent Venus Knock EP, sound more in line with the warped lo-fi tape and synth experiments of travelers like Oneohtrix Point Never and Mordant Music. All are bound together by their twitchy, nervous energy, as though recorded live rather than sequenced, and all are presented as part of Carey’s complete online persona. His BRAIN-SO-SOFT Tumblr site places his tracks in the context of the music and art that influence them. Alongside his home-made videos and the prolific stream of sound constantly finding its way onto YouTube, the resulting sprawl is a subversion of social networking’s ability to summarise peoples’ entire lives for easy consumption, nigh on impossible to unpick or decode easily.

We caught up with Carey for a chat about his music making process, R’n’B’s current peak in popularity and how he became interested in UK dancefloor sounds despite living on the other side of the planet. In return, he’s recorded us a mix that offers a clue as to the diversity of his tastes, and how his music brings them together in jarring, but strangely coherent, ways.

SR: How long ago did you start making music?

Dro Carey: It was really when I was about thirteen or so, but I was actually doing scratch DJing, and was first inspired by hearing DJ Shadow. Then I wanted to do cutting up records and things, so that was the beginning, but I moved through a lot of different types of music. I played in free improv, noisy groups, a lot of different stuff – I’ve done ambient music too, there are some secret ambient releases under a different name.

When did the Dro Carey music start happening?

It was a couple of years ago when I thought of the name. It was just to do with hip-hop beats, basically, so that’s why it’s a marijuana pun. I was inspired by mixtapes where they have parodies of celebrity names, like Antwan Swisher and stuff like that, so it was Drew Carey to Dro Carey. It’s a fairly simplistic kind of thing. It was almost a bit of a joke because I was doing more experimental things at the time, and I thought this would be rap stuff, but I then just started working more with software rather than live instruments, and the electronic stuff still stayed as Dro Carey even when it veered away from straight-up rap stuff.

What sort of music inspires the stuff you’re making at the moment?

There’s definitely a lot of UK influence. I guess about a year ago I heard Shackleton for the first time and I hadn’t really listened to any UK electronic stuff, and then I just went through listening to everything on Hyperdub, a lot of grime, Joker, all the big dubstep names. It took a while to get into it actually, because I guess I wasn’t coming from any kind of club scene, and the interest I had wasn’t about that side of it. I’ve been going to more things recently because I’ve been getting to the stage of doing live sets myself, but really I didn’t come from a background like that, so it was more from listening to them in a personal space and it wasn’t about the heaviness of the bass.

Sonic interest, rather than functionality?

Definitely. And I’m still really interested in all the different strains of the UK stuff, I can’t quite separate all of those sub genres, but I profess to like garage, two-step, funky… I’ve listened to a number of old releases but probably, at the end of the day, there’s more of an American influence: techno and house, particularly Detroit artists. Classic stuff and more recent artists like Omar S, guys who are still going like Moodymann and Theo Parrish. Even the oldest acid stuff, definitely Model 500, Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir…

So you came to the UK stuff with very little club context – is there much of a scene where you are?

Electro and electro house is particularly popular in Australia. There’s obviously interest in dubstep but on a particular level – it’s the early or mid 2000s in terms of UK stuff, the 12”s on Deep Medi, Loefah, Skream, big on the wobble but with a fairly basic sub. They’re definitely not fully aware of all the influences you’ve got coming into it now, especially with a label like Night Slugs. There are obviously some places that have nights with more interesting stuff, but it’s largely electro and nu-disco. It’s quite different, the scene here, really, and I guess it fits with the sunny weather and vibe. But that’s not what really resonated with me. It was usually the gloomy London and Detroit sounds.

Has there been much interest in your music where you are?

It’s usually been abroad – Japan, obviously the UK, the US, in New Zealand.

I suppose the internet allows people much further afield to swiftly find your music.

Yeah, you say that, but I was on a message board thread to promote a Canberra show, and they were all saying they didn’t know Dro Carey was Australian. So the problem can be that the internet makes you so mysterious that people might not even know you’re there!

You seem to be one of the first musicians (alongside people like Odd Future) really taking advantage of Tumblr to create an online space for your music and project a complete personality online.

My idea of how you put music online has changed from what it used to be. For past projects I’d make a MySpace page or stream them on Soundcloud, but I was actually inspired by the way hip-hop is promoted online, particularly by Lil B. The way he would deliver songs in their first appearance online would be a YouTube video. You just build an archive of things that people can gradually get into. That idea came from his stuff, and from not really worrying whether people were actually seeing it. The Tumblr is weird, it’s quite impersonal with a fairly stark design, but it just groups everything together and I post whatever images are interesting me. And then there’s Twitter and Facebook pages, so an assault from every angle.

What approach do you take when producing?

I would like to get some analogue equipment but right now it’s just a midi keyboard hooked into Reason. I take an approach whereby I sample everything and try to adapt those to form elements of the track. So it may not be a bass synth I’m sampling but I would make it into one, or it wouldn’t be a keyboard or percussion but I would make it sound like that. It’s really sample based, but not really loop-based, playing samples as if they were actually instruments. But I try to make sure that… Well, if things are still too recognisable I feel they haven’t really served the purpose of re-appropriation. Then again, I’ve got some fairly long vocal loops from R’n’B that people probably can pick up on sometimes. I guess the rules are different for acapellas, you can jack more of that.

I suppose it depends what you’re aiming to get across. There might be something specific in the vocal loop you’re interested in.

Yeah, you hear something in the vocal you want. But I do often try to modify them quite a bit.

That’s happening quite a lot at the moment, there are an awful lot more people referencing people like DJ Screw as an influence on the way they treat vocals.

That was a big influence on me before I’d ever heard of witch house. Admittedly, it may have only been for a few months before, but I’d heard of screw tapes before that.

It’s interesting the way that’s happened recently. There are an awful lot more people, perhaps vogueishly, referencing R’n’B, juke, chopped and screwed hip-hop and so on.

R’n’B didn’t used to be cool! It’s funny, because I’ve read quite a few reviews of the Venus Knock EP on Trilogy Tapes where people talk about an R’n’B influence. While I like R’n’B, on that record a lot of my tracks don’t sound like it. They’re quite harsh and gritty, where R’n’B is about really smooth, slick production. So I’m kind of surprised that people have mentioned that. But then it’s a reference point that’s quite in fashion at the moment.

Do you tend to have a specific aim for a track in mind when you start?

Yeah, but often I stop right in the middle and redo everything, and it ends up sounding totally different. There’s a track called ‘Much Coke,’ which is a bit sunny. The original one was much darker and I didn’t like how it was sounding. It was all in the same sitting, I just switched everything up, worked with the same samples but it totally changed from what I envisioned. It took on a new cocaine association, Miami kind of thing.

Intensity’s an interesting thing when you’re doing instrumental beats. I try to build up and strip down percussion over the course of a track and generally keep things quite quantized. But I’m not ever trying to make a particular format or genre, or even aim for a club track, but I do appreciate the linearity of those type of tracks. I admire an evolving techno track more than a one and a half minute, Los Angeles, jumping all over the place kind of thing. I do like that kind of stuff but I tend to like longer and perhaps more ‘compositional’ electronic music.

But there’s a certain similarity between your music and, say, a lot of the current LA beats stuff in the sense that it’s really grainy and gritty sounding…

I never really consciously seek to downgrade the quality of a sample. I’m not trying to do really lo-fi stuff. I put it through a lot of effects, but I guess the main device I use is changing the pitch or the speed. That brings out a lot of interesting textures.

There’s a turntable-based musician/sound artist called Philip Jeck who’s talked a lot in interviews about the process of slowing samples down – the fact that when everything’s slowed down you start to hear new things you didn’t even realise were in the original track. On a separate note, it’s quite interesting that you live in Sydney, where it’s a lot brighter and sunnier, but your music’s so much darker.

It is. As I was saying earlier, it’s drawing from totally different places. It’s darker and it’s more reflective of internal things – of me, rather than external influences.

You talked about playing in free-improv and noise groups earlier. Do you find that the process of being expressive when making electronic music different to that process when playing an instrument? Do you feel you have the same capacity for emotional expression when you’re making sequenced electronic music?

I think once you’ve got a foundation going, you’ve got a bit of a beat going, you like it and you start to jig around in your chair, nodding your head, dancing in your seat, you start to experiment on the keyboard playing live over it. That’s what I do – not going in and penciling in all the individual midi sequences, but maybe playing something live and then quantizing it afterwards. I get into a pretty similar zone as when I was playing jazz on piano and clarinet.

Shackleton’s always adamant that he avoids strictly quantizing and using loops, in favour of something that’s more spontaneous. I suppose that’s why his music sounds so human. That, and the fact that melody is so often implicit in his percussion rather than being made explicit through synths.

It reflects that point, that there’s almost a melodic thing going on with percussion that you wouldn’t actually call ‘tuned percussion’ in the technical sense, like a vibraphone. You’re using a kick or a snare, but technology allows you to turn it into tuned percussion.

How did you get involved with Ikonika for the Hum & Buzz release?

She was looking at YouTube actually. Sometimes I do videos for other artists’ tracks if I’m into them, and she was looking up Girl Unit and watched the video I’d made for ‘Shade On’. It was cool that Girl Unit, Jam City, Night Slugs, they welcomed the videos I made, they actually used them to promote the tracks. And then the artists followed me back on Twitter. It’s weird, because I put those up before there was a lot of buzz about that label – that’s from Girl Unit’s first EP. I really love that EP, ‘Wut’ is anthemic, but it’s not as interesting to me as that first EP.

But yeah, she saw that video on my channel, saw some of my tracks on there – tracks like ‘Venus Knock’, the synths on that one appealed to her. It’s interesting; I don’t think I would do anything as repetitive as that again, it’s a bit hypnotic. She started following me on Twitter, and then she asked if I could send any tracks I’d been working on, so I sent a zip file. She said she wanted to put out two of them, ‘Candy Red’ and ‘Hungry Horse’, on the third 12” from her new label Hum & Buzz. She’s been great. I’m also working on an album for them as well. She’s pretty harsh about it, she’s pretty much going to curate it! I had a bit of a session a few days ago where I did a load of tracks, which I thought could probably be the album, and I sent them through and she only wanted one [laughs]. I really appreciate that in the end though, because we’re in no rush and she’s trying to get the best possible music out of me. It’s great because I’m always doing tracks and I probably would have wanted to change them anyway!

And you’ve got more music coming out on Trilogy Tapes in the near future, right?

We’ve got about four more different records in the works. What basically happens is that I put something online and Will [Bankhead, Trilogy Tapes boss] gets in contact and says ‘this should be on the record.’ And I’ll possibly be doing a limited white label of R’n’B remixes as well, but I haven’t done one for a while. They’re the only things I’ve had negative feedback for. But I think even guys like Deadboy cop criticism for their remixes. I guess people out there hold the originals quite close to their heart, and they may not particularly understand what we’re doing to them.

There’s been a real fad for R’n’B refixes recently…

There’s this weird fascination with Cassy in particular. The Local Action record is good, I liked it, but I got this sense that there was a bit of a glut of R’n’B remixes so I stopped doing them for the moment. I’m working on remixing Diddy’s ‘Dirty Money’ - this is something I guarantee no-one thinks is cool! But it’s actually a really good album. The production on it’s incredible, though the rapping isn’t very good. I’m into the whole package of those tracks really. I’ve listened to The Dream’s albums a hell of a lot, I’m into the saccharine, sugary melodies, I like those as much as whatever interesting synths I might hear. I like to think I appreciate it as a genre, rather than some sort of cultural platter to pick from.

What are your plans for the future, beyond the album with Hum & Buzz? Do you have any plans for live shows?

Yeah, I definitely want to do more live shows. I want to do two kinds, one where I’m constructing tracks live, and also DJ sets. As I mentioned, I’m doing more limited vinyl runs for Trilogy Tapes, and I’ve also got one coming out on Ramp. It’s quite different, it’s probably a bit more polished sounding than the Venus Knock stuff, and I guess it’s more paying tribute to classic house and techno. I’ve also got a release coming out on a Sydney-based label called Templar. I start a lot of projects, and what tends to happen is that they get interrupted by people who want to release my tracks from those projects. I’m working on a remix album of Australian experimental artists, with material going back to the eighties and early nineties. I get a lot of ideas like that, do one or two tracks, then come back later at some point.

It’s weird, I’ve never done any promotion of any of this stuff myself. It’s always just been people coming to me. I never cease to be surprised.


DOWNLOAD: Dro Carey – Sonic Router Mix #72


Missy Elliott – Ching-a-Ling
The Notorious B.I.G. – Nasty Girl feat. Diddy, Nelly, Jagged Edge and Avery Storm (Instrumental) [Prod. Jazze Pha]
Jozif – Jus You
Moodymann – Runaway
Blackstreet – Deep
Busy Signal – Jafrican Ting
Levon Vincent – Six Figures
Optimum – Light Year
X-103 – The Gardens
Urban Tribe – Program 1
Portable – Find Me
Max B – Techno Shit feat. French Montana
Bok Bok – Ripe Banana
Steel – Shake That
DJ Clap Pina – Bass GuaraChazz
Dro Carey – All Behind Wingless
Low Deep – Down Like That (Instrumental)
Missy Elliott – Hot Boyz Remix Acapella
Lloyd Banks – Fly Like The Wind Feat. Jim Jones (Instrumental) [Prod. Germ]
Abner Malaty – Spirals The Seer of Sound
Drake – Unforgettable Feat. Young Jeezy

Words: Rory Gibb

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