When he was growing up in Tours, France, French-English hip-hop/electronic beatmaker, producer and finger drummer extraordinaire Beat Matazz dreamed of, much like his heroes AIR, being surrounded by analog synthesisers, sequencers, and drum machines. With time, as he fell in love with the music of Flying Lotus, Samiyam, Prefuse 73, James Blake, Hiatus Kaiyote, and Amon Tobin, caught their vibes, and began to build his own collection of customised studio gear and software. Electronic music production led him towards his current area of expertise: finger drumming.
Beat Matazz has been presenting his furiously funky finger drumming routines to live audiences since 2015, but earlier this year, he took things to a new level when he ousted all challengers to win the Sample Music Festival 2018 Finger Drumming Competition in Berlin with a ridiculous routine. Since then, he’s been building relationships with Herrmutt Lobby’s Playground App, Akai, and us here at Melodics. With an upcoming Melodics lesson based on his winning performance in the works, we spoke with him about finger drumming and his time at the competition. Check out his winning performance here (scroll to 2:33)
Could you talk a bit about your musical experiences before you started finger drumming? I started out at age six as a classical percussionist, xylophone, marimba, and timbales. When I was a teenager, my teacher agreed to teach me drums as I wasn’t to keen on classical music. These experiences gave me the rhythmic skills to drum in many bands for many genres. I played pop, hip-hop, electro-funk, experimental, world music and even in a marching band.
How did you end up adding finger drumming to your skill set?
In parallel with drumming, I started using music software like Reason and Ableton to make music for fun. After years of composing, I became frustrated and bought my first Akai MPC500 [sampling workstation] off Leboncoin (the French version of Craiglist). Hardware-based beatmaking made sense to me, and a gigantic world opened up. It allowed me to link the unlimited creative paths afforded by software to a tactile instrument. I remember sampling George Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ and thinking, “Oh my god this sounds like a perfect hip-hop instrumental!” At the time, I was attending an art school in Nantes. I was very focused on sound art and music. They kicked me out, which gave me the perfect opportunity to fully devote myself to music.
You discovered finger drumming by using the Akai MPC500. What was it about the process that inspired you to devote so much time to developing your skill-level?
I love the portability of pad controllers and the musical genres that rely on them. The research process you go through to create these very personal textures and sounds are very important to me. You can tune samples far more than you can tune a real snare drum. I can also put more of myself into the rhythms of the music by playing them. I love the trance state I enter when I’m in my home studio. Thanks to my previous drumming experience, and having created tracks with software, I already had the core skill sets. I just needed to combine them. I tweaked my finger positioning and started to work and play hard.
What sort of approach did you take when you started practicing your finger drumming?
I didn’t know what I was doing when I started. I’m very spontaneous when I create and have no habits. My approach is always the pursuit of pleasure, and feeling the desire to create. Since I started playing and making music, that hasn’t changed. My first sample mine was old vinyl I found in flea markets. Even the most shitty records sometimes have two chords that make my day. Fat basses are what I need to feel, so I got an old analog synth: the Korg MS-10 (plugged into the Korg SQ-10 sequencer). The people who designed that marvelous device where thirty years ahead of their time. It’s become a spine to my beats.
How did you transition into taking part in events like the SMF 2018 Finger Drumming Competition?
After spending years developing my techniques, I knew I had to make the world know what I’ve worked for. Last year, I won a battle in Paris at the Bataclan, a legendary 90s hip-hop venue. Being acknowledged by the hip-hop network changed how I looked at myself and my music. It also made me be more specific in my thinking around who would be hearing my music. Battle audiences know exactly why they’re at the end. Battling is so raw; you find out what the crowd thinks of you instantaneously.
What were your thoughts on the SMF 2018 Finger Drumming Competition in Berlin?
The skill level was very high in Berlin. The team was so nice and devoted, and so were the participants. When I was there, I understood that I had found my place. Geeks were able to scratch and jam for hours, with or without spectators. It was a space where musicians were speaking a common language, all with the feel of a real community, and the codes and sounds that quote the subculture. It was real and vibrant, and it felt so good to be part of that experience. The experience was great. We need to gather together and feel those vibes more often.
Stay tuned for a new Melodics lesson from Beats Matazz. Find out more about him here on YouTube or Facebook.
Whether you’re talking about theatrical live performance, EDM studio sessions, film and television soundtrack/sound design work, musical education programs, or her Akylla duo project with Saratonin, Sherry St. Germain is an accomplished and assured achiever. Based in Las Vegas, Nevada, she’s a classically trained multi-instrumentalist, producer, and singer/songwriter who has – among other accomplishments – collaborated with Steve Aoki, Excision, Stafford Bros, Revolvr, and Genesis, performed on a flying piano for Cirque Du Soleil, and written music for male stripper comedy Magic Mike.
In conversation with Melodics, Sherry expands on her thoughts around the power of daily practice, improvisation, musical simplicity, and taking the time to share what you’ve learned with others.
You can also play the Sherry St. Germain and Akylla Melodics lessons by following the links below.
How much time do you spend playing music? If I’m not playing, I’m producing, or teaching, or performing, so I’m kind of always in a music mode. I’m the type of person who leaves the studio and then goes home to the studio. I was raised in music. There are a lot of people that I teach on the side; I don’t even charge them, I teach them cause it helps me. I had a lot of teachers, who helped me on the side. When you teach something, you become a master at it. That’s the last stage, like in martial arts. I think that whole statement “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” is bullshit. When you do teach you explain things, you break them down in layman’s terms, which is a different type of thinking. When I teach something, I learn as well, which is really really nice.
What would you suggest to someone who wants to make music part of their daily life?
Start out playing for five minutes a day. If you can do five minutes a day then eventually five will turn into ten mins, and ten mins will turn into fifteen minutes. You can use it as a way to learn and share. Often, I’ll decode a song and its chord changes, because I want to learn it. Afterward, I’ll show it to my friends, and I’ll try to perform alchemy with it. The majority of the people I work with on production in the DJ world, don’t know a lot of theory, so they will ask me if things are in key, and I’ll advise them on works and doesn’t. Sometimes just making sense of a song musically is a good way to practice and stay inspired. When I’m doing production work for Film and TV, they send me songs to learn, but they don’t want you to rip them off, they want you to make something with the same energy. You have to think about what makes a song appealing by dissecting it. This has been really good practice for me as well, learning which chord changes resonate with people. That’s been a good way to practice as well.
Any other tips?
Sometimes I practice by playing along to mixes online. I’ll pick a different mix, chill hip-hop, house music, whatever, and play along. That way, every day you are gonna be stimulated with something new. When you learn something new every day, you get happier. Happiness releases endorphins which you associate with learning, and you want to do it more. Why I like playing along to mixes is it’s a way to find cool things you can learn. If you love house music, practice to house music, if you love trap music, practice to trap music. Do the things you love, and you will only get better.
How important is improvisation to what you do? I’m doing it all the time. I think every day is kind of an improvisation. You always end up having to wing it. I prepare as much as I can, but a lot of it is improvised, which stems from being excited when you hear stuff. Something inspires me, I want to do something like it, and you end up off in a completely different direction. Music makes you use both sides of your brain.
Speaking of using both sides of your brain, what’s your take on finger drumming? I think it’s dope. I love finger drumming. It’s so good for technique cause it helps with piano. It helps with everything. It’s so great for hand-eye coordination, and it makes you better at rhythm in general. I think finger drumming and piano go hand in hand. Melodics has finger drums, keys, and v-drums, and all of those are going to help you in whatever you do. They all rely on elements of rhythm, and keys even though they aren’t rhythm, they have a rhythmic sense to them.
When you’re in a band, even if you’re the best drummer in the world and you do all the fanciest shit, nine times out of ten no one will want to play with you. They want someone who can groove and keep time. People don’t even care about the fancy stuff half the time; they just want the meat and potatoes. John Bonham [from Led Zeppelin] wasn’t a crazy drummer as far as soloing goes, but when you listen to his groove, it’s everything. You can’t help but move to it.
Based in Las Vegas, Nevada, Sherry St Germain is a classically trained multi-instrumentalist, producer, and singer/songwriter. Over the last fifteen years, Sherry has applied her diverse skill sets and energy to high profile film and television soundtrack work, theatrical live performances, studio sessions, and her Akylla duo project with Saratonin.
Most recently, Sherry has been involved in production work and collaborations with a who’s who of EDM and dance music talents including Steve Aoki, Excision, Stafford Bros, Revolvr, and Genesis. From playing a flying piano with Cirque Du Soleil to writing music for male stripper comedy Magic Mike, and beyond, she’s never short of a story or ten.
In this Q&A, Sherry discusses how she got started playing music, entering the EDM scene, and how the mechanics of music keep her inspired and interested.
Play lessons by Sherry St Germain and Akylla by following the links below to open the Melodics app:
How long have you been working in the EDM scene for? Since around 2015. Before that, I did Film and TV soundtrack work for twelve years; twenty-four-hour turnaround jobs. I worked on Magic Mike, Something Borrowed, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Knight Rider, Nashville, all those shows. I would do whatever they asked me to do because I wanted to learn. After twelve years of that, I started ghost producing for some popular EDM artists. I was writing for people who were making a lot of money in the EDM world, and I thought “Hey, I could do that too!” I switched over, and my first break was with Steve Aoki. I’m new to the scene, but I have been making electronic music for fifteen, maybe seventeen years. I love the unity vibes in electronic music. We share sound packs and plugins between producers, and it’s very nurturing. People want you to grow and will show you what they’ve learned. If you do that with your friends, you all get a lot further. There is more power in numbers. Could you tell us a bit about how you got your start playing music? Basically, my mother was a classical piano teacher, and my dad was a singer. Growing up from two years old, I had to practice classical piano every day, for four hours a day, until I was 14. We grew up on the road with my dad on a tour bus. We were surrounded by jazz musicians. We were just surrounded by music my entire life. I didn’t really have a choice but to get into music. When I was 14, I stopped playing for a while. I’d been forced to practice every day, so I really started to hate playing. I would run away from home, and they’d call the cops to look for me, all because I didn’t want to practice [laughs]. Imagine if Melodics had been around. This is why Melodics is so dope. When I was a kid, I had to practice playing baroque piano pieces, which I didn’t want to play. If I’d been able to practice songs I liked, it might have been a different story. In hindsight, classical music is really really good. It’s encoded with sacred geometry, and the mathematical makeup of the universe, so it’s good to learn that stuff. What I would have liked, would have been if it had beats or something I could move to. I needed a groove. I do a lot of music teaching work with teenage girls. I’ll take their iPods, see what they are listening to, decode it, and help them learn what they want to learn. Unless you’re learning something you love, you’re not going to want to learn it. How did you go from stopping to playing again? I started to party in the rave scene and was really inspired. From there it flipped very quickly to wanting to practice piano over dance music. I would take napkins and write down the music theory of songs I liked; then go home and try to recreate them. I was infatuated with the sounds I was hearing, but I didn’t want to practice traditional music, so I started practicing to house, dance, and electronic music. Could you expand on your ideas about learning something you love into some advice for people starting out with their playing? Find songs you love and learn them. They’re the ones that will inspire you. I learn the chord structure of songs, and I start to reverse engineer them. Then, I’ll make a completely different track that was inspired by one of them. When you study songs, you start to reverse engineer by default. You start to learn chord changes, patterns, and rhythms that you can incorporate into your own music. Eventually, you’ll just have this toolbox of turnarounds, changes, and rhythms you can mix and match into anything. Anything you are learning becomes part of your vocabulary. Music is a vocabulary, and you’re learning all these little phrases. You’ll have this toolkit of all the phrases you’ve learned you can pull out at any moment.
Brian Hazard, better known as Color Theory, is an American singer, songwriter, keyboardist and electronic music producer from Huntington Beach in California. His personal career highlights include winning a grand prize and Lennon Award in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, recording three songs for the Ubisoft Just Dance series, and having songs featured on MTV’s The Real World. Over the last twenty-five years, Brian has crafted his own singular visions of what synth-pop and synthwave music could be. Across nine albums, as many EPs, and countless singles, Brian has imagined and evolved a soundworld where the gloriously colourful synth flourishes, uptempo drum machine funk, and expressive sentimentalism of the early eighties never went out of fashion. Far from retro or throwback, his is the work of a longstanding believer and lover who continued to groove under the light reflected off a pixelated 8-bit disco ball. As he puts it, “Somehow I never outgrew the 80s.” In stolen moments between studio sessions and family time, we caught up with Brian to find about how he approaches playing and producing music.
You can also play the Color Theory Melodics lessons for Pads, Keys and Drums by following the links below:
Color Theory – In Motion (Drums) Who are your musical inspirations, and why? Historically, Depeche Mode is my biggest influence. I love how they create a unique sonic universe in every song. I grew up on Depeche Mode, The Cure, and The Smiths. Later on, I fell hard for David Sylvian and Japan, which brought more of a literary aspect to my music. Over the past few years, I’m less influenced by particular artists or bands, and more by arrangement or production ideas I spot in the wild. Maybe it’s the opening theme from an anime or something in a commercial. I think that’s because I, like most people, don’t listen to music the same way. Spotify changed all that, probably for the worse, but it is what it is. Finger drumming and keys are great starting points for people learning about music. How do you see them as fitting into a music maker or producers skill set? It doesn’t get more fundamental than rhythm and melody! Breaking down a song into its core elements is a great way to learn how music is constructed, and drums/bass/melody is generally enough to stand in for the entire arrangement. The piano provides the best visual model to understand high versus low notes, and eventually to learn scales and chords. What’s your background with piano/keys and drums/pads? I started out on the piano in middle school, played in the drumline in high school, and ended up with a degree in piano performance. While I have formal training in both keys and drums, and even have a little experience playing drum set (well, a lot if you count Rock Band), I confess my drum parts are a weak link in my production! Back in college, I was really taken in by virtuosity. I aspired to learn all the Chopin Etudes, and I regularly listened to Chick Corea, Joe Satriani, and other technical masters. But at some point, I decided that showmanship was nonsense. Perhaps I’ve been overcompensating with overly simplistic arrangements ever since. If you could start out again with keys and production, what areas would you initially focus on to develop your chops from? I was exposed to a lot of hocus-pocus pseudoscientific, technical concepts that took years to dispel. Setting aside the pedals, the only aspect of sound production we have under our control at the piano is the speed of key descent. The hammer is thrown at the strings, and from that point on, we have zero influence on the resulting sound. Knowing that you don’t have to waste your time worrying about unnecessary wrist movement, “finger vibrato,” and other nonsense. So at the piano, I’d focus on making sure every finger is touching the key before it’s pressed. I used to call that “playing from the key” but that sounds rather obvious. There’s probably a better term. With production, again there’s so much nonsense out there. Learn how to EQ and compress. That’s 90% of the battle. Multiband compression, spacial imaging, harmonic synthesis, M/S encoding, and other “advanced” techniques are generally not essential, and can easily become a distraction. Is there anything else central about playing and production you wish you could go back in time and tell your younger self? My biggest mistake was thinking I had to figure out everything myself. I should’ve interned at a local studio or hired others to mix my music until I learned the ropes. Instead, it was all trial and error. I could’ve really used a mentor. Keep in mind this was before you could find a dozen tutorials on every aspect of music production on YouTube. But the concept still applies. It’s better to spend a little money and learn from the best than to waste time going down dead ends.
Mark de Clive-Lowe is an internationally renowned keyboardist, producer and DJ, based in Los Angeles.
Half Japanese, half New Zealander, he began piano lessons at age four. We had a chat with this master of the keys to find out what makes him tick. You can play Mark’s course here.
Tell us a little about your music.
I’m a studio producer and live musician. My most formative years were spent living in the UK for a decade from 1998 – deeply entrenched in the broken beat scene, collaborating with the best of London’s underground talent. In combination with my deep love for jazz music, that time spent in London informs a lot of what I do – whether I’m producing for a soul singer, lacing keys on a dancefloor joint or exploring something more experimental. Sometimes I’m writing for acoustic instruments, sometimes in an electronic setting, and often it’s a combination of both.
What’s your background with keys?
I grew up playing piano from a really young age in New Zealand and in my teens it was a mix of jazz on the piano and hip-hop on the speakers – I’d practice the piano inspired by people like Herbie Hancock, and try to make beats inspired by Native Tongues hip-hop. I’ve collaborated with so many of my favorite musicians and artists – Pino Palladino, Bugz in the Attic, DJ Spinna, Kenny Dope, Leon Ware, Kamasi Washington and dozens more.
How do you think the keys skills fitting into a producer’s music making ability?
I see instruments and being able to play them as a fundamental skill in music making. You can make music using a 16-pads interface or just a laptop, but there’s something so real and very human about making music using a traditional music interface – a keyboard, a drum kit, a guitar or any other conventional instrument. Even just having a bit of knowledge on a keyboard opens up new understanding and infinitely more possibilities in expressing creativity.
You have a unique style of improvisation. How do you incorporate keys into your music and your live performance?
Keys are my main interface to creating music – I have a USB controller keyboard hooked up to Maschine and Ableton as well as some hardware keyboards and sometimes a grand piano or Rhodes. I create and loop everything from scratch each show and really enjoy challenging myself to find new ways to approach the same themes from show to show.
What’s your all-time favourite song to play?
Any song that has lush harmony is a favorite for me. Harmony is the heart of the music and can bring so much emotion to a song. Whether the song is 100% electronic, acoustic, or somewhere in between, it’s one of the most powerful tools you have to create with.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and J Dilla are three very special inspirations for sure.
What’s in your opinion the most useful aspect of keys to master for music production?
Anything that helps you move around the keyboard with a sense of confidence is more than useful. Every little skill or technique you can learn is a key to unlock the instrument to another level.
Prior to working at Melodics, New Zealand’s Rodi Kirk built a rock solid reputation as a dependable party rocker, Red Bull Thre3style Championship winner, touring DJ, and record producer under the alias Scratch 22. Alongside his production efforts for himself and others as Scratch 22, Rodi was one-third of crucial low-profile jazz rap trio The Unseen, and legendary Auckland party collective The ARC. In 2017, Rodi took up the role of Head of Education and Content Strategy at Melodics.
Before his daughter’s birth, Rodi Kirk had spent the majority of his decade-plus career in music working as a producer and focusing on the end goal of creating recordings. “After she was born, I didn’t hit record for a year,” Rodi explains. He’d just come out of a particularly demanding jazz project and wanted to take a break to get into the groove of fatherhood, but without losing his connection to music. Instead of writing, recording, and producing, Rodi started spending a small period every day playing music, with no goals but to create a regular sense of musical engagement for himself. As he continues, “It was a really powerful experience because, at the same time, I had the realisation that by existing in a moment, my music became a lot lighter with more variation, and it felt really cathartic. It was my way to relax.”
“I had the realisation that by existing in a moment, my music became a lot lighter with more variation….It was my way to relax.”
By engaging with music as a process and not an object, Rodi was tapping directly into the idea of Musicking, and the historical context of music before the 20th-century recording revolution. A concept formalised by New Zealand-born musician, educator, lecturer and author Christopher Small (1927-2011) in Musicking, his 1998 book of the same title, throughout his academic career, Christopher advocated for the return to music as an activity. He riffed on thoughts around musical relationships: the relationship between composers and players and the relationship between players and listeners and dancers. In the process, Christopher presented a 360-degree vision of music through musicking, one where the shared engagement of all involved determines the quality of a musical performance.
By stepping away from recording, and simply reveling in playing daily, Rodi was the performer and the listener, and musicking was giving him what he needed. “If your end product is to create a musical product, that is fine, but it carries a lot of baggage with it as a result of that process,” he explains. If your end goal is to create a musical experience for yourself, that’s a lot lighter and often more enjoyable.” Like Christopher, Rodi sees music as a process or activity, which if you consider the history of music, is what it was for tens of thousands of years. Over the last six or seven decades, music’s role as an active activity within daily life subsided, as recorded music created a passive relationship between producers and consumers.
For Rodi, the rise of DJing and the technology Melodics trades in like pad controllers, is a reminder that people once had, and still want, an active engagement with music. So why not deliver an easy, intuitive, and encouraging entry point into shifting people’s relationship with music back into the engaged, everyday mode our ancestors knew it though? As such, in line with Christopher’s thoughts, Melodics lessons, and the deep practice learning process they draw from, serve to create an easy workflow for integrating the act of musicking into our daily routines, and reaping the multitude of associated rewards that follow.
“A simple but really powerful idea …that greatness isn’t born; it’s grown.”
“Music learning can produce a sense of accomplishment, build self-confidence, enhance emotional development and strengthen discipline and intellectual curiosity,” Rodi enthuses. “It’s widely proven that music and arts, as part of a curriculum, has huge flow-on benefits to other aspects of education. Confidence is key, and positive reinforcement and building good habits around practice creates a really powerful feedback loop.” Practice doesn’t always make perfect, but it can lead to something close enough. “A simple but really powerful idea we have here is that greatness isn’t born; it’s grown.”
We checked in with producer Mark de Clive-Lowe to get the info on his new course.
How would you describe your new course Bassline Bootcamp?
I’ve made a range of bassline examples over different style and tempo beats. They all look at applying different ideas to take you from a simple single note vibe to bringing in fills and embellishments that you can apply in your own creations. Basslines are little melodies themselves so it’s a great way to learn multiple skills at the same time.
How would you recommend Melodics users approach your course to get the most out of it?
Some of the lessons have challenging aspects so I’d definitely recommend using the practice mode to loop up those bars or sections that are harder and slowing them down. Slowing down whatever you’re practicing is the magic trick to mastering something – it might not seem as fun, but it’s definitely the tried and true method.
What will Melodics users be able to do after finishing this course? How will it help in regards to their overall music production?
If you go deep and really nail it as well as taking note of the associated information – like what key something is in and what technique it’s applying – you should be able to build basslines around any chord progression, create fills and make alternate versions of your main idea.
Are there any other comments or things you want users to know about this course and the new Melodics lessons?
Practice makes perfect!
To try Mark’s course in the Melodics App simply download and head to courses in the LEARNING tab.
Sinden is a Los Angeles based producer/DJ who has done it all in the Electronic music world. His work has seen him host his own show on Kiss FM, start a record label and produce a catalogue of music that has torn up dance floors for decades. This week Sinden answered a few questions about his new Melodics lesson ‘Crystal Maze’ and also talked about his journey from gig promoter to DJing at some of the biggest festivals around the world.
You are originally for the UK but have been based out in LA for a while now. What made you want to move out to LA and what are the biggest differences between the scenes?
Yeah I made the move coming up to 6 years soon. I wanted to switch it up and see if I was compatible to live here first and then decided to make the move permanent. The scenes are really different, musically, although they do share a diversity that you would expect from a major city especially one like L.A, where dance music and club culture scene has always flourished.
In a previous interview you said that your first break came off the back of meeting Jesse Rose. Are you able to explain this story. How it came about and what it led to?
At the time Jesse and I were both promoting our respective club nights in London. We got along really well and stayed in touch. Anyway, he called me some weeks after to ask me whether I’d like to help out with his labels one day a week. I was passionate about the music, already DJing & interested in the music game and grateful for the opportunity. Jesse really nurtured me and through him I was able to see how the industry gears operated. He gave me insight of how independent labels run, we were a stones throw from a lot of the labels and distributors so we’d do the rounds and got to meet a ton of people. Also not only that, I started to listen to more House music and he also introduced me to Dave (Switch) and we started a run of productions together.Those 2 were making House records that were blowing my mind. It really put me on the path, without that I wouldn’t be here but there’s no such thing as coincidence.
In the same interview you mentioned how your path could have easily gone down the club promoter route. What made you choose the music production instead?
Yeah I was promoting my club night in London with a friend but its not really for me. I really wanted to contribute to the scene but that wasn’t more forte. Music production was a natural progression from DJing which I was already mucking about with. I felt that was more my field, my strength. I had been collecting records since I was a teenager and was fascinated with how they were made. I remember hearing things like Aphex Twin Selected Ambient Works & stuff like Mantronix when I was a teen and also Jungle for the first time. Knowing how to be able to make music in that era was a myth. Meeting Switch and Jesse put me in this studio environment for the very first time and it taught me everything.
What was the first bit of gear you ever purchased? Is there a story behind it?
My first hardware piece was the Virus TI Snow in 08. I was starting to think about music ‘outside the box’ haha. It also had the integrated software interface too which I was more used to seeing. Producer friends had always told me about how the Virus had a beautiful sound, something that would really rev up the bass lines too. I still use it in the studio pretty regularly.
How did you initially get into Dance Music? Was there a song,artist or person who got you into it?
I was about 9 when I got into dance music. A lot of the music in the pop charts was club tunes, albeit a more commercial form. I remember hearing Steve Silk Hurley’s Jack Your Body which was a Bonafide House record which also got to Number 1 as the biggest selling record. That was one of my earliest memories of electronic music. I always say in the UK we’ve been lucky to be surrounded with great pirate radio, for instance. Radio was may gateway into all of this as I was too young to rave. In my local town we had 3 or 4 independents selling wax and I’d make regular trips up there to buy records and scoop up all the rave flyers for my bedroom wall. I always made sure that I was a connected to the new music as much as possible.
You seamlessly DJ in club and festival environments. Outside of scale what is the biggest differences in how approach these sets?
Club sets are always a bit more adventurous. I’ll experiment more with tunes I’ve just finished and wanna test out. Festival sets you tend to stick with the tried and tested but thats cool too, I feel. The mixing dynamics are different with the pacing. Festival sets are really short and you tend to power through things a bit faster.
You have produced numerous songs on different labels. Out of all these releases which is the most meaningful to you and why?
Yeah so many, its tough to pick but I would say releasing on Atlantic Jaxx. Basement Jaxx were already an act that I had a massive amount of respect and look upped too. Switch and I had made a track which Felix from Jaxx wanted to press up which I was so gassed about really early on in my career. Putting a tune on wax was a big deal for me as a vinyl lover and when I look back on it now still is.
You’re productions are high tempo and always chopping and changing. Where does your unique style stem from?
I think that really comes from listening to loads of different styles of music and growing up with radio also the influence of fidget that Switch and Jesse Rose was making. It was rewriting the rules of house for me and shaking things up without constraint or adhering to a formula.
How did you first hear about Melodics?
Matt at Serato first showed me the program. I was intrigued by it. My immediate impression was I could really do with signing up because my timing could be better haha.
You make your Melodics debut this week with ‘Crystal Maze’. What advice would you give to Melodics users before playing this lesson?
This was my time sitting down with Melodics and I don’t often finger drum. I got to grips with it quickly and found myself moving through the lessons. For me persistence paid off and made me wanna get further. I would say making the track slower and gradually making it faster to normal speed was a really successful method – good feature.
What is your perspective on finger drumming? Do you use it much in your production/DJing process? What intrigues you most about it?
The DJ set has shifted so much from where it came from, finger drumming is becoming more the norm in this Performer DJ environment, its become an extension of turntable-ism, another tool to use alongside the mixer, the platter, f etc. Its opening up more possibilities of what you can do and is advancing the art and I welcome that. I’d like to use it more but I honestly don’t think thats my strength. I love the human element in finger drumming, the swing and also the slight off times that happen. Also the guys that do this that are at the top of their game are so crazy to watch, its inspiring.
Your latest project is a compilation called Sinden’s House Line. Are you able to explain how this came about and what has been the best part of this project?
Its a comp that I put together and released with Insomniac Records. It came about from hanging with the guys from the label chatting some dance music genealogy type stuff haha. We were reminiscing about blog house era parties and sounds and talking about how its come to influence whats happening today and that got us on to this concept of a comp that nods to the past a little but keeps things moving forward. The whole vibe is centered around warehouse parties, the underground, really appreciating music irrespective of trends, music politics, social medias influence. Something fun with that lo-fi nod.
If you were stuck on a desert island for a year and could only bring there albums with you what would they be and why?
It has been a big year for San Francisco-based DJ/producer Atish. The past twelve months have seen him travel around the world and perform at many iconic music festivals including Burning Man , Desert Hearts & Strawberry Fields.
While his current life may be moving at a startling pace, the story of how Atish got here follows a slow and steady narrative, taking place over the course of seven years. This week Atish was kind enough to discuss his unique journey to becoming a DJ/producer and his debut Melodics lesson ‘Twiddles’.
You moved to San Francisco over 8 years ago which really exposed you to the underground scene. Tell the story of how you managed to acquire your first set of Technics 1200 turntables and how this got you going as a DJ?
Back in 2010, I had already been collecting vinyl for a few years, but never tried my hand at DJing. I was at a friend’s after hours and I saw that he had quite an impressive record collection, which I half-jokingly made an offer to buy. He initially declined, but 2 weeks later he sent me a message saying he’s leaving town and needs to unload his record collection ASAP to make some quick cash. I ended up buying the collection, and as an added bonus, he included two Technics 1200’s. At that point, I figured I should learn how to mix these records since I now had the gear to do it, and that’s how I stepped into the world of DJing.
Looking at your Soundcloud page you published your first mix back in June 2010 and have been very consistent in producing a new mix each month. How has this helped build your career and how far in were you when it started to snowball?
I attribute most of my following and career progress to my monthly Soundcloud mixes. Back in 2010, Soundcloud hadn’t taken yet the dance music community by storm, and there weren’t many DJs releasing mixes every month. So at the time, I had a lot of music to offer with less competition for people’s ears. This was fertile ground for me to build a solid organic following over the next few years. I think if I started my DJ career today using the same strategy, it would be much harder to progress at the same speed since a Soundcloud mix has less value now than it did in 2010. The sheer volume of mixes, podcasts, and DJs has increased like crazy over the last 5-10 years.
Things really started moving for me after my 2012 Robot Heart set was released. 2012 was one of the first years when the outside world really started taking interest in Burning Man culture and music, so I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. That set caught a fair amount of worldwide attention which opened a lot of new doors for me. Luckily I had a decent back catalog of Soundcloud mixes for people to browse if they wanted to hear more of me beyond the Robot Heart set.
A really unique part of your story is that you were a software engineer at Facebook before taking the plunge into becoming a DJ. Are you able to talk about how you made this transition? Was it an immediate shift or a gradual one?
It was a pretty gradual shift for me. I never had any intention of being a professional DJ. It was quite the opposite – I remember thinking that I would remain a hobbyist so I would never have to compromise my artistic integrity by depending on my art to make money.
But even as a hobbyist, I was touring domestically and overseas using vacation days or taking unpaid leave. I was coming into work dead tired on most Mondays. Beyond that, I was saying no to more and more music opportunities because I couldn’t make the time to take them on. The more I said no to things, the more I started considering making the jump to being a full-time artist. I wanted to know what my potential was. From a practical perspective, it turns out that I happened to be making just enough income from my gigs to at least cover my living expenses, but philosophically, I don’t want to be 100 years old looking back on my life regretting, wondering “what if I had made that jump?” So I spent about a year contemplating, deliberating, and having several discussions with friends and family, eventually deciding that it was time to try out this “artist thing” and see what happens. I’m really happy I made that choice. I have the best job.
You have also said that seeing how much you could grow as an artist was a big factor into why you left Facebook. What have you learned about yourself in terms of being an artist since leaving?
This won’t sound very romantic, but I have learned some of my limitations. I’m learning that even though I want to do everything, I can’t. I’m learning that taking on too much work can reduce its quality or my motivation. There’s only so much time and energy (mental, physical, emotional) that I have, and the task of managing these resources is as important as the actual creative process itself. It took me about 18 months of touring full-time to learn this about myself.
You have a great story about how you were fortunate enough to open for Lee Burridge at WMC by being at the right place at the right time? Can you explain this story and the impact it had on your career?
In 2011, I was project managing a series of boat parties my friend Gunita was throwing at Winter Music Conference in Miami. One of the boat parties featured Lee Burridge + Craig Richards (Tyrant) as the headliners. Due to a family emergency, the original opening DJ had to back out of the gig at the last minute. At that time, I had only been DJing for a few months, but Gunita gave me the opportunity to take over the opening spot. Lee must have liked that set, since just after the gig, he invited me to play his night at Robot Heart at Burning Man later that year, which is a really high profile gig. Playing Robot Heart in 2011 was special, but in the bigger picture, that opened the door to me playing Robot Heart in 2012, which as I mentioned earlier, opened a lot of doors for me.
Some would look at that moment and say that you were very lucky. Do you believe in luck or do you think you make your own?
For instance, in the above example with the boat party at WMC, it was pure luck that the opener had to back out of the gig (bad luck for him, good luck for me, I suppose). That was completely out of anyone’s control. But at the same time, there was a reason Gunita chose me to open instead of another artist with a bigger name or more experience. I suspect that’s because she appreciated my work ethic and attitude that she already saw from me as the project manager for her parties – I gave her 100% in the work I was doing, so she knew I would give her 100% for that opening gig slot. And again, I was really lucky that Lee happened to be thinking about his Robot Heart lineup when he heard me open for him. But at the same time, I worked my ass off preparing for that opening boat party set. I suspect he wouldn’t have invited me to play Robot Heart if I bombed the set, so all that work I put into preparing for that set inadvertently capitalized on that lucky timing. So I don’t look at lucky breaks as singular moments in time – I see lucky breaks as opportunities that emerge out of high-quality work.
But even if you’re good at what you do, there’s still no guarantee that you’ll get those breaks, which is where the other half of the answer comes in: creating your own luck. If you want more out of your career (or more out of life for that matter) you can’t sit around waiting for DJs to tend to family emergencies. You have to create your own opportunities. For me, it was releasing monthly Soundcloud mixes, starting my own record label, throwing my own parties, networking with other artists (even though I’m an introvert), offering to help people like Gunita…hell, even quitting my job. These are all pieces of the puzzle that increased my chances of getting more and more of those lucky breaks. There are no guarantees in life, but I do believe you can increase your odds.
You have just released your first EP named Peculiar Colours on your label Manjumasi. Were you nervous at all about making the transition from DJ to producer? Why did you think it was time to move into this realm?
One of my biggest insecurities I carried was the fact that until the point of releasing that EP, I was “only a DJ.” DJing is a beautiful artform and undoubtedly has its fair share of challenges, but it’s harder to be a good producer than it is to be a good DJ. So I always had this cloud hanging over my head that I wasn’t working hard enough or I wasn’t as good as everyone else. I know that’s an unhealthy way to think about things, but that’s simply the reality of how I felt. So I had 2 choices: see a therapist to sort this out, or release a record. I chose the latter
This might sound backward, but I think most producers have the luxury of releasing their first record without anyone noticing – they can just get it out of the way and move on. But here, I already had a sizeable following. People were waiting for my first record, and to be frank, I wasn’t (and I’m not) as good a producer as I am a DJ. So I had to mentally prepare myself to be judged on something that isn’t a home run. So yes, I was nervous. It’s like, would you rather lose your virginity in the privacy of your own home, or with 20,000 people watching on the internet?
“I realized that many good things that have come my way came because I either treated people well or did someone a favor without expecting anything in return.” This is a very powerful quote of yours. Can you provide an example of how good things have come your way on the back of treating others well?
I think a good example is the one I already touched on, which was helping my friend Gunita throw boat parties in Miami. I did this on a volunteer basis – I wasn’t expecting to get paid, and I definitely wasn’t expecting a DJ gig out of it. I just saw someone who could use some of my help, so I offered it. 6 months later, I’m playing on top of Robot Heart at Burning Man.
Watching some of your sets online I have to say a defining characteristic of yours is how animated you get when behind the decks. Has this been the case since day one? Where does this stage presence come from?
I started playing violin around 5 or 6 years old, so I had been performing for large audiences in concert halls as long as I can remember. I definitely wasn’t dancing around on stage with my violin, but I think my comfortability with being in front of a crowd stems from those early experiences. I’m actually more comfortable dancing around on stage than on a dance floor.
You are releasing your first Melodics lesson this week called Twiddles which is a track off your new EP. What can users expect from this lesson?
There are two lessons – one lets you finger drum the percussion, and another lesson lets you play along with the lead melody. Both of them definitely took me a few tries to get them right, they aren’t easy. I have to say it’s pretty surreal seeing my own track used as a tool to help people learn, I think this whole thing is really cool!
How did you get involved with Melodics and what is it about the platform that excites you the most?
As a full disclosure, I’m actually an investor in Melodics. I think Sam, the CEO, reached out to me because I have experience in both the technology and electronic music space. He knew I would be the type of person who would immediately understand what Melodics is doing. I think finger drumming is really cool, but I’m most excited to see if, down the road, Melodics can revolutionize the way we learn how to play more traditional instruments. Perhaps Melodics can be today’s equivalent of the Suzuki Method.
You play the drums have those skills transitioned smoothly when finger drumming?
For sure. I think many same parts of my brain get activated when doing finger-drumming. I remember when I was taking drum lessons and learning some more complex patterns, I would sometimes get stuck – it was tough translating the written notes into drum hits. I eventually grasped the challenging patterns by not thinking about each single note hit, but rather by feeling the beat as a whole. I found that this same approach to finger drumming has helped me progress through some of the harder lessons. Maybe that will help you too!
With the release now in the books. What do you have planned for the rest of 2017? Any big goals?
The biggest problem I’m trying to solve this year is time management. How much time do I need to spend touring in order to have fun, stay relevant, and make enough money to live comfortably in an expensive city like San Francisco? How can I balance that touring time against running the label, producing music in my studio, seeing my friends/family, staying in shape, and maybe even being in a stable relationship. I don’t really feel a strong urge to be more famous, have more fans, or top the charts. I really just want to have all the variables in place for a balanced, artistically fulfilling life.
For more on Atish check out his social media channels
Akylla is an up and coming electronic music duo compromising of the talented Sherry St Germain & Saratonin. Since combining creative forces Sherry and Sara have gone from strength to strength, successfully building their reputation musically and forging an even stronger friendship personally. This week Akylla has released their debut Melodics lesson ‘Invincible’. The track ‘Invincible’ is a yet to be released track which will be coming out on Big Top Amsterdam next month. Both Sherry and Sara were kind enough to answer a few questions about their journey so far as Akylla.
Tell us the story about how you both connected and why you formed Akylla?
Sara: The two of us met in our friend’s studio in Winnipeg, Canada. I was there taking some production lessons and Sherry was coming in to mix a track. She was coming and I was leaving and we started to chat. I had heard a lot about her (this rad producer chick from Vegas) from our engineer, and she had heard of me from him as well. Both of us had our own solo music careers for over the past decade so we were both genuinely interested in what the other was working on. We decided we needed to get together and jam, and I think it only took two times before we realized that this needs to be a real thing. We’ve never looked back since. And we aren’t just bonded over music now, we are best friends.
On to the name ‘AKYLLA’ according to your bio – (In numerology the name Akylla has the birth path 8 and its meaning is connected to balance between the material and spiritual.) – What is the significance behind this name for you guys? Is there a story behind why you decided to use it as the name of your group?
Sara: To be honest we didn’t learn about the numerology aspect until after we chose the name. The first meanings that we discovered from the name were “Intelligent Women” and “Eagle” both of which resonated with us. But what also mattered was the way the name sounds and rolls off your tongue, how it looks written out etc. It didn’t take us long to settle on Akylla.
Musical duos always have different ways of collaborating and creating. Are you able to describe your process in the studio when creating a track? How do you guys work together? Has it always been easy?
Sara: Yeah I think that’s part of the reason why we bonded so quickly. From the start, it’s always been very fluid with us in the studio. One idea leads to another, and most importantly we have so much fun! A fly on the wall will see us falling on the floor laughing, jumping up and down when we get excited about a drop we made etc. This doesn’t mean we don’t take it seriously because we do, it’s just that there’s a very playful energy between us even when we need to buckle down into boss mode.
Sherry:Inspiration hits at all times but mostly I get all the music/production ideas out in the day and then do the singing and writing at nighttime. I’ll generally sing some jibberish. Then Sara will come in and decide what I’m saying and we’ll both write the song and arrange together from there.
Your onstage performances are full of energy and different gear. Are you able to describe your onstage setup? What gear do you use and for what purposes?
Sherry: I rock the MicroKorg, APC 40, Ableton Push 2, Midi Fighter 3D and the Komplete Kontrol. I know it’s a lot of gear but they all compliment each other live and keep it challenging. My live set up also forces me to grow as a musician.
Sara: My set up includes 2 CDJ’s, a Z2 mixer (with Traktor), for DJing, and a Midi Fighter (with Ableton) for playing in percussion, synths, and samples live.
Watching through your ‘Shenanigans’ videos the MIDI Fighter makes numerous appearances. What inspired you to purchase the controller and how does it help with your live performances?
Sherry: I saw a video with Mad Zach he is one of my greatest teachers, but he doesn’t know it. I’ve watched all of his tutorials. He’s an amazing teacher, performer & creator.
How has the art of finger drumming influenced your live performance skills?
Sherry: Level up!It’s the next evolution of music. It went from musicians playing to not playing at all and now we finally have the technology to bring that back! Basically, as long as it lights up as you hit it, I’m down.
You have just released your new lesson “Invincible” on Melodics. How did you discover the app and what benefits does it have for aspiring producers?
Sherry: I was in at Ableton headquarters in L.A. I was trying to get a device made for me for playing live and my friend Cole over there said “Have you heard of Melodics? I think you’d love it” and that was it I’ve been hooked ever since.
The Electronic Music scene is a very male dominated environment. What has it been like navigating this world as a female duo?
Sara: I think this is something that Sherry and I have been used to just from the music scene in general and so we are pretty thick skinned about it. But we would be lying if we said that it didn’t bother us to see such a lack of representation from women in this industry. It does, however, feel like the scale is starting to balance more, and we are extremely happy to not only tip the scale ourselves but hopefully inspire other females to step up if this is their calling.
What has been the best on stage moment you have both had so far since forming Akylla?
Sara: Oh man, hard to pick one. I have always loved the live stage, but performing with Sherry is the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. It’s the same as the studio in the way that it’s so natural and fluid. We feed off each other’s energy and both have the same work ethic about making our show as tight as possible. I will list one funny memory though. When Sherry and I were playing our second show ever together and this guy from the crowd comes to the stage and yells over to us “ ARE YOU GUYS BEST FRIENDS!? “. We thought it was hilarious and the fact that that’s what was coming through made us feel like we were doing something right.
Sherry: Sara just said it! I’ll never forget that moment. It’s like he could see the joy on our faces and had to ask us right in the middle of a performance, while I was scratching with a sine wave/white noise on the Midi Fighter.
If you were stuck on a desert island for a year and could only bring three albums with you what would they be and why?
Sherry: Tough question.
1) Pink Floyd- Dark Side of The Moon
2) Best of Iron Maiden
3) Best of Aretha Franklin
Because I can air guitar to the first two and get into my zone with the queen of soul.
Sara: This is so hard. But I’ll name a few albums I’m pretty obsessed with.
1)Paul Wall & Chamillionaire – Get Ya Mind Correct (2002).
This album came out well before either of them really blew up, but they capture the sound that exploded the Dirty South Rap genre. It is a sound that I just can’t get sick of. I played it all the time back then, and I play it all the time still.
2)Radiohead – The Bends (1995).
So much love for all the Radiohead albums, but this one, in particular, hits me very deep in my heart. Start to finish I love every song, and since I was 13 I’ve known every lyric.
3) Tool – Lateralus (2001)
Again, love all the Tool albums, especially the earliest ones. But there is something very special about Lateralus. It’s as though Tool broke out of the 3 rd dimension and decided to take us all with them. I’ve been lucky enough to see Tool (and Radiohead) four times.
You have collaborated with the likes of Excision and Steve Aoki. What other artists would you love to work together with in the future?
Sherry and Sara: Zeds Dead, Alison Wonderland, Skrillex, Diplo, Kill The Noise, too many to name
What has been the biggest thing you have learned in terms of music production in the last year?
Sherry: Multi-band compression is your best friend. The OTT is Epic and makes everything sound so big and automation on the LFO tool swing/rate and filters are super rad for sound design stuff.
What advice would you give to someone trying to make it as a professional musician?
Sara: Just know that it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes hard work and dedication, but if it’s truly what you want to do the reward is worth the sacrifice. Also, enjoy the journey! Live in the moment and be grateful for every step.
Sherry: Practice every day! To songs that you actually like. Don’t practice to some outdated system just to get a certificate. Some of the greatest musicians I know aren’t schooled “traditionally” but they slay harder than most. Practice to the stuff you like so your mind stays stimulated and your heart is fulfilled. If you’re passionate about it, do THAT! Your passion is your purpose.
Any other comments or shout outs you want to make?
Sara and Sherry: Yes! We have teamed up with Bakermat and his label Big Top Amsterdam! Our track “Invincible” (which is also the track used for our Melodics lesson) will be released next month!