Justin Aswell is a Finger Drummer, DJ, Producer, MC, Record/Mix/Master and teacher at Dubspot. His skills on the pads can be seen in his awesome Youtube videos that he began posting way back in 2006. Since then he has appeared on Native Instruments and Dubspot displaying his finger drumming prowess. While indeed talented there is a strong regimented work ethic behind Aswell’s success. We were lucky enough to talk with Justin about his practice process. The following is a must read for any beginning or aspiring producers.
You are well know online for your finger drumming skills. What got you into finger drumming and inspired you to post your performances online?
Well I’ve always been a drummer at heart. I was always banging on pots and beating rhythms on tables since I can remember. I played drums throughout my youth and when I eventually got a sampler it only made sense. Here’s this thing with drums loaded on it and I can tap out patterns like I would anything else. I didn’t really know I was doing something different for a long time. I’d been finger drumming for many years before I ever uploaded a video. It wasn’t even really planned out honestly. My roommate at the time bought a new camera and wanted to record something. I was already practicing and he just started filming. We uploaded it to YouTube and at the time there weren’t many MPC videos at all. It started picking up speed and before we knew it, it had made the YouTube home page.
What was it about Melodics that made you want to get involved? What do you like most about the app?
I was tagged by several of my friends in a video review done by DJcityTV on YouTube.I remember as soon as I saw it I knew I had to be involved. Ever since the days of Guitar Hero and Rockband I’d dreamed of an application like this. I’m really surprised it took this long for someone to create it! My favorite thing about the app is how well it shows wether you’re dragging or rushing particular rhythms. That’s always been a concern of mine. Sometimes you know you’re off but you just can’t figure out how to correct the problem.
You have released three lessons this week based around daily practice. They are called ‘8 on a hand’,’16 note accent’ and ‘Bucks’. Are you able to give a bit of detail as to what each exercise help users with?
Anyone that’s been in a marching band will recognize these to some degree. These are classics in the Drumline world. I’ve adapted them to make more sense in the finger drumming context. 8 on a hand is meant as an initial warm up and should played focusing on being relaxed and playing even. Bucks will get us accustomed to playing doubles and triples evenly. 16 note accent is both for technique and for a rhythmic understanding of the 16th note grid. This understanding will help to give the player a better ability to express rhythms on the fly.
You’ve previously stated that you believe that practicing five minutes a day, seven days a week is more effective than practicing once a week, for 35 minutes. Are you able to give insight into why this is the case?
Absolutely! Each day you don’t practice is an exponential loss. You lose more and more each day you don’t practice consecutively. I like to think of each day as stacking time towards improvement. If you practice back to back days you’re not going to lose any of the time you put the previous day. You may even find you’ve GAINED time by using consistency in your favor. This is called the compound effect. And the sooner you start using it, the bigger the gain!
How can becoming a better finger drummer help a producer or DJ get better at their craft?
Creativity is all about capturing moments. Ideas come and go very quickly. Have the ability to just play what’s in your head instantly without deliberation allows the artist to capitalize on ideas with ease. I’ve had so many people tell me “I just can’t get the rhythms I hear out of my head” over the years. It’s never the serious finger drummers.
Have you always been a naturally gifted finger drummer? How did your practice routines help with your development?
I don’t really buy into the idea of “naturally gifted” honestly. I think people may be naturally inclined or drawn to certain skills but it takes work to get good. I often say the only way to get good is to be bad for a real long time. I still feel I have tons of work even at the skill level I’m at currently. That’s why I still utilize things like Melodics in my arsenal of improvement. I practice constantly. I’m always tapping. My practice routine is my development. I wouldn’t be answering these questions had I not implemented them.
You have made videos with the likes of Dubspot and are very in involved in teaching music in particular finger drumming. Do you have any examples of how finger drumming has evolved since you have been involved with it?
Finger drumming is still very new to the scene. There aren’t any rules you know? The major difference I see would be how many people are out doing it now. When I first started posting videos there were only a handful of people posting content online. Now there’s a new video by a new artist daily. There’s groups that have a finger drummer in the line up. It’s really on the verge of blowing up. It’s super exciting to see.
What advice would you give to someone who is starting out and is wanting to become as good as you are?
Start practicing now. Practice often. Make a lot of music. Collaborate with diverse artists. Play shows. Play lots of shows. Post your progress online. Analyze your progress. Focus on both strengths and weaknesses. Don’t be overwhelmed by what you don’t know. Be excited there’s so much to learn. Stay consistent. Don’t stop.
What does 2016 have install for Justin Aswell in terms of music?
I’ve got a collaborative record with my dear friend Andy The Doorbum coming out in May on Fake Four Records. I’ve got a handful of records I’m executive producing. I’m traveling all over and taking up residencies in cities to do as much collaborative work as possible. 2016 is a year of fearless collaboration.
Justin Aswell has released some new practice exercises on Melodics this week that cover the ‘8 on a hand’ , ‘Bucks’ and ’16 note accent’ exercises he uses daily. While playing the hard lessons is awesome building a rhythmic foundation through daily practice will solidify your skills.
So try out these new lessons and start your daily practice today!
Mark de Clive-Lowe has been involved in music from the age of four. Since then he has gone on to live in some of the world’s biggest musical capitals. Whether it be London’s West End , New York or his current home in Los Angeles, Mark has used each pit stop to refine and at times revisit his craft. This week the New Zealand artist was able to answer a few questions about some of his career highlights so far and his creative approach.
You grew up in good old Auckland NZ and started played piano at 4 years old. In your teen years you became influenced by hip hop and started trying to make your own beats. However you would go on to sell all your looping equipment as you did not see the point of making ‘loops’. How did this affect your musical development and what happened next?
You’ve done your research! I was making beats when I was 14 and didn’t really know what I was doing. I remember waking up one day and thinking that making all these loops wasn’t really fulfilling me. That was my cue to get back to just the piano and Miles and Trane records. Ten years later and the opposite happened – I totally shelved my jazz and piano side and went full force into the beats, remixing and production world. Much for the same reason. Now it’s all come together as one story.
Music has taken you around the world and you have been able to experience many different scenes. Are you able to describe in one sentence how each of these locations has shaped your musical journey?
Auckland – Was where I grew up for the most part. My first experiences playing with other musicians and exploring my own taste. Of particular influence from there were Nathan Haines, Manuel Bundy and back during my round one of early-teen years beat making there was the whole Voodoo Rhyme Syndicate that I was part of along with a lot of great Auckland-based hip hop and R&B/dance artists. We were all influenced by different aspects of US and UK music culture and it was pretty special to be able to incubate those influences so far from those epicenters – it allowed me to be free of any creative expectation but still be inspired by it.
Tokyo – I have a lot of family in Japan, but most pivotally, I spent my last year of high school there. My Buddhist priest homestay host father was a jazz head through and through and we’d go out most nights to check out some incredible live music – often touring international artists, sometimes local artists – which was hugely inspirational to me. I got to see the working musician lifestyle first hand and fell in love with it. I went back to NZ after that year and fairly promptly dropped out of law school in favor of the minstrel life!
West London – In the mid to late 90s I drew a lot of inspiration from the UK’s jungle movement especially. 4Hero’s “Loveless” was a seminal piece of music for me – I’d never heard anything quite like it – and I was regularly consuming the latest jungle and drum’n’bass 12s that would land at the local record store in Auckland. By the time I got to London in 1998 that movement was at its peak and what became the West London broken beat was forming. That whole community blew my mind. They were taking the entire history of everything I loved – soul, jazz, funk, house, jungle, breaks, afro carribean and afrobeat, and creating a new form from all those influences. I quickly became a core member of the movement collaborating with artists who I consider to be some of the most creative anywhere – IG Culture, Restless Soul, Dego, Bugz in the Attic – it was an amazing time. I evolved as a musician and producer there, and really developed my live show concepts touring Europe almost every week.
Los Angeles – I’d visited LA a few times touring before relocating there and was hearing a lot of great music coming from there too – early Sa-Ra demos, J*Davey, Blu and the whole Sound in Color camp – it was like a version of the West London scene but half a world away. When the opportunity came to move there it felt like the right thing to do. A decade in London was plenty for me and it was the right time to start a whole new chapter. LA has been most pivotal for me in that it reconnected me with my jazz roots. I hadn’t played the acoustic piano or a jazz gig in over a decade having been so deeply in the beat scene in the UK. In LA I was able to find my love for the piano again and bring everything together, full circle so to speak. Now the music is riding this line right in between jazz and beats, live musicians and sampling/live programming – really fusing the worlds that I grew up on.
In 2003 you said you had a ‘Jazz Epiphany with a drum machine in Budapest’. Describe this story and what you learned from this epiphany?
Up until that moment I would always pre-program my beats for live shows. The MPC3000 was the heart of my rig and I’d change patterns or say, mute the kick, live, but for the most part it was pre-programmed and I’d be playing keys live over the top. This one time in Hungary, we performed the whole set – including the encore – in the main set. I’d planned on there not being an encore. When the time came though, the crowd insisted on more, the promoter insisted on more, and I felt like I didn’t really have much choice in the matter. I remember walking back on stage and looking at the MPC thinking, “dammit. I guess I’m going to have to program a beat live right now!”. I was nervous for sure. Something I’d never done before and had no idea how it would turn out. I hit record on the MPC and started banging out beats. It was a complete epiphany. The whole spirit of improvisation and spontaneity that I had grown up with in a jazz context now became apparent to me in a whole different setting. From that day on, every gig was programmed on the fly from scratch. Often with no preconceived notions. It was never like performing a routine – it was about using the drum machine as a creative instrument and improvising grooves and ideas that could be sequenced on the fly live on stage.
In a previous interview you described a funny story about your first visit to South Africa, and how you ended up playing a live set on National TV during prime time. Are you able to give a bit of background into this story?
I do remember my very first show in SA – I’d just stepped off the plane and was so hype to be there. For years I’d heard how soulful house was on a whole other level in SA and how the audiences went nuts for it all the time. I was doing a full live production live remixing set and tore into it, tempo wise at a similar bpm to how I was playing peak time sets in Europe around this time – starting around 122 bpm and building up to 130 or so. The frustrating thing was that I could tell that the set just wasn’t connecting with the audience and I couldn’t understand why. The support DJ after me got on when I was done and dropped a jam at about 110 bpm and suddenly the whole room was in the pocket. That was a huge epiphany. In SA, they like their jams slower! My next set I started at 100 bpm and peaked at 122 and had the whole club entranced the whole way. It was great too, because even though the context was house music, when you slow it down, the music has so much more room to breathe. As soon as you get into the mid 120s, it’s mostly the kick and off beat hats that are driving everything. It was great to get away from that and remind myself of the beauty of being outside the box.
I was asked to do a live remix set on national TV on that first SA tour – that was kind of mind blowing. A 2 hr set, live on TV, with no ads, on a Friday night! SA just has a whole other culture when it comes to soulful music. I really can’t wait to get back there again.
How did you get involved with Melodics? What about Melodics do you think benefits its users from a production and live performance standpoint?
Sam hit me up really early in the conceptualising process knowing my interests in both pads as a musical interface and music education in general. I’m big on empowering creative and sharing process. There’s no need to hide any special tricks from the next enthusiast because we’re all going to use the same equipment or interfaces in a different way. Melodics can give the committed student more confidence when it comes to rhythm and the language and conversation that the different parts of a drum kit or beat have with each other. Especially for producers who step sequence or draw in drum programming it helps them work infinitely faster and have a more direct connection between the idea in their brain and the reality coming out of the speakers.
You are releasing your second lesson called ‘The Ummm’ on Melodics this week what can users expect from this lesson?
The idea of ‘The Ummm’ was to take a classic Native Tongues style hip hop vibe but push it up to a dancefloor tempo, bridging those different worlds. I wanted to make sure there was both a rhythmic and harmonic vibe to it so it’s a combination of beat and Rhodes sample. I wanted to use as few elements as possible to create something that sounds pretty complete already. Often simplicity is where the beauty of a vibe is!
Describe your workflow and creative process when it comes to production? What equipment do you use?
I like to start from different places – sometimes I’ll be sitting at the piano composing in a more traditional way; other times I’ll start on the drum machine banging out a rhythm idea; or playing around with harmonies on the Rhodes; sometimes I’ll be chopping up a sample and finding the inspiration there. For the most part though, it is important to me to have fundamental rhythmic, melodic and harmonic elements in any one track so that it has identifiable signature elements – to the point that you could play the same signature elements on a piano or a guitar and the track would be recognisable without any of the production or electronic elements.
Some of my favorite workhorses at the moment are: NI Maschine, Ableton, Logic, NI Komplete, Arturia collection, Fender Rhodes, Roland Juno 6, Korg KP3+… I love analog synths too – can’t wait to get my hands on a new Dave Smith Prophet keyboard.
What advice would you give to someone who has just seen one of your performances or songs and decides they want to be a DJ and producer just like you?
Practice. That’s the only way to be able to execute anything live. So yeah, diligence goes a long, long way. Also to be open to a diverse range of music. If you primarily make house music and you want to find your own sound, then the last thing you should be listening to is house music. The more diverse a range of musical stimuli you have, the wider range of influences and inspirations are there to be drawn from. I’m also a big proponent of understanding music theory – music is sonic mathematics, and the more you understand the rules and formulas that make up the language, the more empowered you are when you create.
“Hip Hops the love of his life yeah that’s apparent / Jazz gave the piano life it’s so exquisite” – Describe how these bars from John Robinson on your song ‘The Mission’ describes your career so far and your album/club nights ‘CHURCH’?
JR really nailed it with his verses telling the story of my musical journey thus far – he’s an amazing MC like that. Hip hop has been at the core for a long time – I’ve always resonated with it and especially in my formative early teen years in NZ, it was everything. I love the whole concept of 90s hip hop production too – sampling the history and flipping it into a whole new context. The mash up before that even became a term. I had a funny relationship with the piano growing up – my dad forced me to take lessons from a very young age so I felt like I never chose the instrument myself. It wasn’t really until I connected with jazz music that the piano started to become my own instrument and not just the one I was told to play.
CHURCH is all about sharing my whole journey with the audience – from the jazz club to the banging dancefloor, blurring the lines between live musicians and electronics, improvised moments and live sampling and remixing – one minute we could be in a jazz groove, the next in a deep Detroit techno-meets-afrobeat vibe. That freedom.
Make sure to try out Mark de Clive Lowe’s new lesson ‘The Ummm’ this week and also follow his work on his website and social channels ->
The legendary DJ Jazzy Jeff shares an inspiring Hip Hop instrumental called “Don‘t Forget” as his debut Melodics lesson. This instrumental was also used as the fourth track on Dayne Jordan’s debut album ‘Memoirs of Dayne Jordan.’
Like what you hear? Learn to play this beat made with one of DJ Jazzy Jeff’s drum kits from his personal collection today! Also check the trailer video we have put together for this lesson featuring some wise words from the man himself.
There is more insight to come as we have an in depth interview from Jazzy Jeff, hopefully arriving next week. So keep an eye out for that.
Our finger drumming video of the week comes from the super talented BeatsByJBlack who flipped our Tall Black Guy lesson in Melodics. This kid is an up and comer so make sure to check out his Instagram page.
Finally the team are loving watching all your performance vids on social so keep them coming. Just post your video with the hashtag #melodics and we will find and regram / share them on our social channels
Starting out as a DJ back in 1993, Buddy Peace has naturally progressed into the realms of beat making and production. Known for his attention to detail and his ‘collage like’ offerings, Buddy continues to push musical boundaries. This week were able to ask Buddy a few questions about some tracks that have inspired him through out the years, and also delve into his creative process when it comes to production and DJing.
On your Youtube Channel you have a series of Finger Drumming videos called the ‘Bag Lunch’ Sessions. Each episode sees you finger drumming in a different location including a schoolyard, train and even a rooftop. Can you give a bit of insight into what inspired this series and the eclectic locations?
I really wanted to make some battery powered pad-tapping performances where I wasn’t bound by plugs and mains outlets, just me outside with a battery powered sampler and a recorder. They weren’t all rigidly rehearsed, mostly I just familiarised myself fully with my pad arrangement and got a rough idea ready, and then just powered through. They were made around some of the coldest times of year too and the will of myself and that of the cameraman didn’t hold out to laborious sessions, so I made them as quick as I could. I just wanted to have something interesting in each session, just different and pleasant or somewhere I passed by a lot in London. The train one was fun, and the rooftop one was cool because of the time of day. You can get some lush sunsets round London sometimes.
You stated in a previous interview “Some ideas I have start rattling in my brain and I can’t work on anything else until they’re finished, I get proper tunnel vision on things like that.” Are you able to explain this and how it relates to your creative process?
It’s a process that still retains control over me to this very day… Sometimes I have ideas that grab me by the collar and won’t let me go, and I’m basically a slave to them until I’ve seen them through – not all the time, but usually with the bigger ones that’s how it goes down! I’m a little better these days with time division though actually. I had to spread my efforts around a bit more efficiently to get certain things done, but yeah I do get that locked on tunnel vision thing happening a lot!
You have also been asked if you could have a scotch with any musician dead or alive it would be Jason Molina? What about his music or as a person inspired you? Do you have any songs from him that you would recommend to people who have not listened to his music before?
Ahh… That’s a musician choice which, in retrospect, I wish I had made differently. I said that before he died, and as far as I’m aware his death was very much connected to alcohol. That was devastating, I guess you can only know so much about certain artists but I definitely didn’t know that his private life travelled that path. I was lucky enough to see him play solo before he passed, and it was pure magic. I knew his music so well before then, but what hit me was the way that literally on the first second of him singing his first note, the entire venue – which at that point in the show was full on noisy and chatty – completely fell silent. His voice quite literally shut the whole place up with such quickness and it gave me chills. He and one of his bands (‘Magnolia Electric Co’) made one of my favourite songs ever, which is called ‘Farewell Transmission’. Again, something that just hits you from the very first chord as soon as the track starts. I’m getting goosebumps thinking of it, I have to play it now! So yeah – check that and the whole album, as well as the album ‘Didn’t It Rain’ (by his band ‘Songs:Ohia’), and his solo ‘Pyramid Electric Co’. All gorgeous, all haunting as all hell, and just wonderful bittersweet, soulful, end of the day perfection.
We all have songs that shape us musically as we move through life. Are you able to give some insight into the relevance of these two songs and this album for you personally?
Yeah that’s my trio of childhood right there! Wow. Basically my first 5 years distilled into three track titles. ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ triggers a very exact memory in me as a toddler, sitting playing with cars sitting by the radio. I’m right there as soon as I even think of it, it’s like memory synaesthesia or something. ‘The Show’ was one of the first rap records I full on fell in love with. My brother bought it and we rocked that 45 for all it was worth. As for Dire Straits, that was a firm fixture in the car stereo on many road trips for me as a kid. As far as Adult Orientated Rock music goes, I’m sure that still has power in it to melt me into tearful mess as a full grown man. Ah I can’t front, I still like them!
You’ve worked with many great emcees in your career so far from Sage Francis, Buck 65 to B.Dolan. What for you is the most inspiring thing about collaborating with others when creating music?
It can cut through a lot of the voices you have in your own head when you make stuff solo, which is a good thing indeed. I don’t mean necessarily negative voices either – just those judgmental ones and some that want you stay on that familiar road. When you work with someone else, especially in the same room, you have so many intangible benefits and conscious/subconscious cues happening that all add to the end result (I mean, if you get on, of course!). I think I’ll always enjoy the process of working by myself first if I’m truly honest, but I love the differences and the enjoyment of working with others – it really is a refreshing process and gets you out of your own head.
You have previously said that it all started with DJing for you. Tell us about who ‘DJ Chronic’ is and your first mixtape in 1993?
Haha, good lord. DJ Chronic was the ever so awesome name I gave myself in my very first year of DJing with a Technics hi-fi turntable with pitch control and a Soundlab DLP-3. I was reading a ton of hip hop mags and listening to non-stop rap radio and was crazy inspired by it all and so I gave myself that name after all that weed I wasn’t smoking and started drawing graffiti ganja leaves on everything. My graf was okay actually back then but yeah, that name was shortlived (probably lasted like 6 months) although I did keep scratching and mixing.
What was the first equipment you used for Djing and production. What set up do you have now?
That janky mixture of turntables I mentioned above, as well as I think a Kam mixer, which had one of those shitty built in samplers. You’d sample in and boom, an instant low-grade low-bit barely audible sample at your fingertips. It was fun sampling gunshots though, I had a time with that. My first sampler was a Yamaha SU10, which is dope for loops and things but not a lot else. I did make a lot on it though. It was all Akais after that. I now use mostly laptop but I still have a gang of controllers and pad-based toys around me, loads of Novation goodies, that kind of stuff.
What advice would you give to a person who woke up this morning and decided that they want to become a hip hop beat maker like you?
It helps to have a core love for it, which won’t be shaken by either fame or setbacks. Some people can blow up quickly, some people can take a while, but it’s the same with most areas of music and creative arts – if you’re in it for that fame then you’re missing the most interesting parts. It sounds simple but love for what you do, and of course skill and practice, will take you a long way. You’re also off to a good start if you know music – music in general, as much as possible from all areas. I think in my day things were a little more walled off than today, and it was harder to widen your musical perspectives as you couldn’t look anything up on the internet which was a far off sci-fi idea for many of us. There really aren’t any excuses to broaden your interests these days which is awesome. Get inspired by it, it’s amazing.
The word ‘collage’ has often been used to describe your productions and mixes. Are you able to give a bit of insight into this and how a mixtape by DJ Riz played a role in this development?
That Riz mix triggered all of that in me for sure! Goddamn, that tape. That thing was insane. I was into the Steinski stuff from years ago, which I heard on old radio shows and my brother got me into old jungle which I always recognised samples and breaks from, and I just loved the idea of taking chunks of music and contextualising them into whatever form you like. I wanted to start doing that soon as possible, and Riz was a huge inspiration scratching-wise. I love hearing it now and knowing what’s going on – back in ’93 I was just having my wig pushed back by an avalanche of 80’s and 90’s rap and wasn’t sure what were the tracks and what were the mix parts (I did know some of it though at that point from radio tapes and such). Later on I got into DJ Shadow, Skratch Piklz and all them, Beat Junkies, Madlib, Mr Dibbs, DJ Signify, and stuff like that. Lots of DJ stuff but mainly around drum heavy and psyche bits and pieces. I think that’s why I fuck with Gaslamp Killer and the Low End Theory squadron these days. I love all of that stuff so much!
How did you find out about Melodics?
I met some wonderful people through Novation, and was invited to perform a demo for their Launchpad Pro, and Sam from Melodics got in touch with them who got in touch with me, and that was basically it! Sam showed me what it was about and talked me through it, and I was all in. It’s such a great idea and to be honest, a long overdue one! There are a lot of pad-pushers around and with so many innovations in controller technology and interface improvements, it’s an area that’s really growing and developing in such an exciting way. I’m really glad Melodics are here!
You are releasing your Melodics lesson called ‘Disco Frost’ What can Melodics users expect to learn from these lessons?
That one was a steady uptempo jam which is a goodie for just hitting certain pads simultaneously which can be trickier than it looks. It’s not a complex one by any means, but I use mainly separated chops and not whole chunks of beats or samples that often and that’s what this is really. I have a ton up my sleeve though, you’ll hear those soon!
How has finger drumming changed the game for both producers and DJ’s? How do you incorporate it into your work?
It’s kind of what I said above really, the changes in technology mean that you can chop beats very quickly, and you’ve probably already got your controller there ready and waiting for you, so right there you have so many barriers to creativity broken down instantly. From there you can just jam and bat ideas around with those chops, and it’s a cool way to get that rhythm in your hands. Also with DJing meaning different to things to people now, you can use pad controllers to control a DJ set which can be a set in Ableton, so again, you can incorporate all that stuff into a set so easy. I like to do just that actually – recently I’ve really been enjoying making sets using vocals and drums and just layering things up in Ableton, with parts in there to allow me to rock some pad-drums live. It’s so satisfying and while I’ll always love turntable DJing, after doing that for around 20 years or so this way is a really interesting change up for me. I’ll always want some kind of turntable element and I don’t want to change forever or anything, but having a new take on it all is mad exciting.
I understand you have been spending a lot of time in South East Asia and have visited all sorts of locations and places like Bangkok and ‘Noble Remix’ – What has been the most inspiring part of your travels so far and what was your reason for visiting this part of the world?
I can’t believe there was a signpost for ‘Noble Remix’. So dope. My girlfriend is over there a lot and we try and roll as a unit for the most part, so we end up hitting parts all over the place there and digging all over the place. I’m a big fan Zudrangma Records / Studio Lam and everyone involved, they’re a great crew who really put in work for that side of the world and I played at Studio Lam back in 2015 which was fantastic. It’s just madness, such a busy and frenetic place but with such dope musical heritage. They have some beautiful music in their past and right now in the present and I’m always so heavily inspired whenever I leave there, just tons of ideas floating around my head. I discovered Khruangbin in early 2015 too who use a lot of cue points from Thai music, and I’m a huge huge fan of them.
You are stranded on a desert island for a year and can only bring three records with you. Which ones would they be?
Spinscott has just released his second set of lessons for Melodics users to enjoy. It has been an awesome 2016 so far for the American ‘Junglist’ with his incredible finger drumming performances at NAMM earning a lot of social media coverage. Scott was kind enough to answer a few questions about his musical journey and share what he has learned so far.
You uploaded your first finger drumming video to Youtube just under 4 years ago, and got an amazing response. What prompted you to upload this video and were you surprised by the reaction?
I originally got my first drum machine for a Hip Hop production project in July 2012, but the first thing I decided to do was to try cutting up and playing classic breaks. (Junglist mentality). I had no idea that MPCs were used for live drumming, and coming from traditional DJ formats had never heard of “finger drumming”. I briefly searched youtube for live jungle, and couldn’t find anyone doing it with all one shot drums, so I decided to cut the breaks into single drums (one-shots) and film a quick video. I didn’t think it was a big deal, and was definitely surprised by the reaction. People requested more, so on it went.
In a previous interview you said “I tend to consider myself more of a music fanatic & performer than anything else really”. Are you able to explain this a bit more?
Sure! In my opinion, terms like “DJ”, “Producer”, and “Remixer” have become largely ambiguous, and at the same time kind of limiting. Some DJ’s mix realtime, others use auto sync, some say “Live PA” and are triggering sequences and loops, others actually play Live real-time sounds, and it goes on and on. From the production perspective, that can mean something as complex as composing an entire track from scratch using all original and custom sounds, to something as simple as combining a couple of sample pack loops together and releasing a track. Regardless, I think it’s cool that there are so many ways that people can experience, create, and share music! For me personally, I think Music Fanatic & Performer best describe who I am, what I do, and how I do it. (although, I certainly consider myself a DJ, Producer, Remixer, Coffee Drinker, happy dog owner, etc.)
What was the first Jungle track you ever heard? What was it about Jungle that captivated you?
The first Jungle I heard was actually on a mixtape my sister brought home from a rave in 1995. It was by a DJ called Mastervibe. Having been a drummer since the age of about 5, I was instantly pulled in by the complexity of the drums, and the way that the melody, pads, atmospheres, etc played smoothly with the beats. Jungle just seemed to have so many different sounds and influences, and SO MANY rhythms that were not limited to what one could play on a kit. The track “I Can’t Stop” by Lemon D, pretty much sums up what I love about mid-90’s Jungle.
You’ve also previously mentioned that you used to drum along to drum heavy tracks in your car and not leave the car until you got every note right. Delve into this story and how it relates to the amount of time that you practice.
Ha! Been “dashboard drummer” since I got my license… probably to the amusement of people who’d pull up next to me on the road. I’ve always played and learned music by ear, even back in the marching percussion and jazz band days in school… so when I got those first Jungle tapes, it immediately became a task to master every note. If you listen to mid-90s style Jungle tracks with Think, Amen, Apache, and other breaks a billion times and drum along, eventually they become burned into muscle memory. It also wears away the steering column and dash… After a while, you can completely freestyle with all of the intricacies of the breakbeats. Each one has its own characteristics, and that all settles in with time. I have never really spent dedicated time practicing, because I am always drumming on something and challenging myself with the beats. Lately my new fun self-challenge has been turning the drum machine around 180 degrees and trying to play my programs upside down.
What advice would you give to a person who has just downloaded Melodics and is wanting to get as good as you?
First point of advice would be to HAVE FUN! People succeed when they enjoy working towards success. What I love about Melodics is that it starts off very basic, and steadily increases in difficulty. I encourage people to focus on the style they like and are comfortable with, but also try the other lessons in styles they are unfamiliar with. Diving into new sounds is how new music and skill is born. If you really want to get accurate, try to start with the very first lesson in level one, and don’t just move on after getting a passing grade. Get a 100% perfect score 5 times in a row before moving on, and be obsessive about it.
I was constantly air drumming along with the records. Years later after buying the drum machine and learning it for a few weeks, I decided to try adding real-time Jungle rhythms over the mix, and that is where my format “Jungle Plus Drums” was born.
How did you find out about Melodics? What about the software intrigued you enough to make lessons?
I got an email from the CEO of Melodics, inquiring about my Jungle videos and a new lesson program, and I wanted to get involved immediately. When you have lots of content out there, people tend to ask how to learn and get started, and until Melodics I really didn’t have a way to show people how to begin finger drumming. The ability to share music and teach through Melodics lessons is something I am very excited about, especially because people can now try playing true 100% Loop-Free & Sequence Free beats.
How have you seen finger drumming evolve since you have been involved with music and where do you see it heading?
It seems to be becoming a lot more common to see DJs hitting pads during sets, which I think is cool. The convergence of traditional mixing and live performance is a primary driver in the electronic music realm, which can be seen as all of the major gear makers are adding pads to their new equipment. Also, the live elements bridge the gap between electronic music performers and other musicians. I predict that it will continue to grow, as there are so many different ways to integrate pads and finger drumming into projects. Just like scratching and creative mixing, it is another tool that can help differentiate a DJ’s performance.
If you really want to get accurate, try to start with the very first lesson in level one, and don’t just move on after getting a passing grade. Get a 100% perfect score 5 times in a row before moving on, and be obsessive about it.
Your live performances have a bit of everything, with live finger drumming, mixing, a bit of scratching, and real-time remixing being key components. What made you want to incorporate all these skills as opposed to being a traditional ‘DJ’?
Back in the late 1990s when I was spinning Jungle on vinyl, I was constantly air drumming along with the records. Years later after buying the drum machine and learning it for a few weeks, I decided to try adding real-time Jungle rhythms over the mix, and that is where my format “Jungle Plus Drums” was born. As I built full routines, I incorporated those into the show. Ultimately, being able to drum, spin tunes, and multitask in the booth makes things very fun, and every set is different and quite unpredictable. Sometimes I bring my bongos to gigs too and play on those with the music.
You are a skilled drummer. How has this helped with your finger drumming performances and what are the key differences between the two?
Thanks! Coming from a drumming background definitely is a great advantage to bring to the table, but I don’t think it is necessarily required to become proficient with finger drumming. Actually, I think hand drums (Bongos, Congas, etc) are more closely related to finger drumming than kit drumming is, however the standard drum rudiments apply across the board. Any experience with drums helps build chops, so where it really comes into play is from a stamina and endurance perspective, and obviously the rhythm is helpful!
You absolutely killed it at NAMM this year getting a lot of social coverage from the likes of DJ Tech Tools and Pioneer DJ. Tell us about your NAMM experience and how it has impacted the rest of your 2016.
NAMM was an amazing experience, and something I have wanted to attend for quite some time. When Melodics asked if I would do demos at their station in the Pioneer DJ booth, I decided to book the trip. I spent a lot of time working the booth and showing folks Melodics, and was asked to do finger drumming demonstrations on the Pioneer DJ stage and the AKAI booth. That was awesome, and it was definitely a highlight some of the DJ Tech Tools guys. NAMM was a great demand creation opportunity, and has led to several opportunities with manufacturers and for booking opportunities for 2016.
What has been your musical highlight so far since getting into the DJ game?
There have been so many great highlights with music, it would be hard to pick just one or two. Overall, the highlight in all of this for me has been the opportunity to share music with people, and meet other music fanatics through traveling to shows, releasing tracks, and pushing limits on my video routines. In 2015 I was able to tour through 15 cities/states in the US, and it has been great to see the audience on my channels expand at such a nice pace.
Name one place you have always wanted to visit and why?
Well, I have been to the UK twice, but not for performances. That would have to be the place I’d most like to bring Jungle Plus Drums sets to this year, as it is the birthplace of so many of the styles of music I love. As for visiting, I have always wanted to see the Phi Phi Islands.
In preparation for this interview I have watched a lot of your videos. In almost all your performance videos I have noticed there has been a gold beetle and a coffee cup or thermos in shot. What do they mean?
Ah, you saved the most popular question for almost last! There are many strategic and subliminal reasons why I use those objects in the videos… watermarks for authenticity and brand imaging are two of the primary ones. You may also notice that many videos have electric clocks in the background. That is to show that the video was recorded in realtime with no speed alterations. As for the Beetle, that one’s gotta remain a secret.
We have a laid-back jazz infused hip hop lesson called ‘Vib’ now available on Melodics. The samples for Vib come from the Smokers Unite sample pack on the Loopmasters website and can be downloaded for your own productions.
To mark this release the team has decided to do something a little different and have made a list of some of our favourite laid-back hip hop tracks.
1) MF Doom – Saffron Original Sample:Sade – Kiss Of Life
Starting off the list is the one and only MF Doom. The masked emcee has rapped over many amazing productions in his career. The track ‘Saffron’ contains a Sade sample and some Special Herbs for Metal Fingers himself.
2) Pete Rock & CL Smooth – They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y) Original Sample:Tom Scott – Today (Featuring The California Dreamers)
The legendary combination of Pete Rock and CL Smooth released two albums and an EP in the heart of Hip Hop’s golden era. The sampled horn for ‘T.R.OY’ is arguably its most iconic element.
3) Souls Of Mischief – 93 til Infinity Original Sample:Billy Cobham – Heather
‘Yeah, this is how we chill from 93 ’til’.. The lyrics to the hook say it all. The original sample is sped up significantly, most likely on a SP-1200. This was common on jazz samples at the time because the SP-1200 did not have much sample time.
4) Nas – Still Dreaming (Featuring Kanye West & Chrisette Michele) Original Sample:Diana Ross – The Interim
One of my favourite tracks from Nas’ Hip Hop Is Dead album. The verse and hook from Kanye West sit beautifully with Chrisette Michele’s vocals. Oh and how can we forget that Diana Ross sample capping off a truly beautiful track.
6) The Herbaliser – A Mother For Your Mind Original Sample:Roy Budd – The Car Chase
A hip hop duo out of South London. They are renown for there jazz influenced productions. Other notable career accomplishments include making the soundtrack for the movie ‘Snatch’.
7) Nightmares on Wax – Les Nuits Original Sample Of The Bass Line:Quincy Jones – Summer In The City
Sampling one of the most heavily sampled tracks of all time Leeds producer Nightmares On Wax put together this song back in 1999. As the video suggests this song is perfect for going on long scooter rides and singing in a laundromat.
Flying Lotus is no stranger to the experimental. His adventurous productions have made him a household name amongst beat makers around the world. Tea Leaf Dancers utilises a Free Design sample and has sultry vocals from British songtress Andreya Triana.
10) Apollo Brown – Blue Ruby Original Sample: Unknown
Our final beat is a pure instrumental from Detroit based Apollo Brown. Apollo was fired from his office job in 2009 and gave himself one year to make it as a producer. Three months later after the release of his first LP ‘Clouds’ he was signed to Mello Music Group.
So what do you think of our list? Is there something that we missed? If so let us know in the comments.
Next week we have some more lessons from our growing team of Melodics Artists. You will have to wait and see who it is. But I can promise that it will be ‘Massive’!
Eskei83 is a German DJ and producer that was the winner of 2014 Red Bull Thre3style World Championship. His victory has catapulted him to the upper echelons of the DJ game which sees him tour the world doing what he loves. This week we were fortunate enough to ask him a few questions about his DJ journey, touring the world and get insight into what inspires him creatively.
Your hometown is Dresden, Germany. Tell us about the city and how it shaped you musically?
I started my club DJ career in a local club in Dresden. At this time it was the only club for hip hop, RnB, funk, soul, etc. I came there with just Rap records to play my first show, but the manager said I won’t need my records – they had a whole collection built in the DJ booth. I discovered a lot new music, new & old. I learned about the history of the music and about the tracks that made this club so popular. They had some tracks that nobody else in the city played. I learned a lot about selection, building a night & became creative because I was DJing Friday & Saturday each and every week for 4-5 hours straight. I tried to come up with a different set every week. All on vinyl records.
What made you want to become a DJ? Was it a particular moment,artist or song etc? How old were you?
I started getting interested in Hip Hop culture & Rap music when I was 14 and wanted to become part of it when German Rap got popular. I wanted to be part of the movement and was impressed by the DJs for each group. So I made my own beats and got turntables to record scratches on my beats.
What was the first DJ equipment you ever bought? What equipment are you using now for your live sets?
I started with belt driven Turntables and a 2 channel mixer with no EQ, only 2 up faders & 1 crossfader. That’s it. After my first gig on Technics 1210 turntables I knew I had to get them. I also got a Cassette deck to record my mixes.
Now I use a Pioneer DJM S9 mixer with turntables & Serato DJ, after rocking years with the Rane 62 in combination with a NI Maschine MK2.
What was the hardest thing about learning to become a DJ when you started out?
Bringing records from A to B But honestly it is to stay focused and rock the party no matter what. You’ll never have a crowd in front of you, where everyone knows you. So it’s about making people happy and showing them your way of putting songs together. I like to catch their interest with interesting songs, new techniques and live performances. Staying motivated every night, even when you play for a half empty club or your equipment is not working – That’s the hardest.
You won the RedBull Thre3style in 2014 in Baku! Your winning performance had everything from Kanye West to Lenny Kravitz and even a shout out from Grand Master Flash. How long did it take to build that set and what is your process when creating your DJ performances?
I didn’t create a specific set for Thre3style in 2014. I learned the hard way in 2013 what happens when you are stuck in your set and not able to react to the crowd/venue/judges. Everything I had for Thre3style 2014 were routines that I had been playing in my previous shows. Some of them I had been playing for years already. In regards to my winning set I decided to put it together in Baku after watching the other DJs & judges playing and made last minute changes after soundcheck. I had my bits & pieces ready and just had to squeeze it into 15 min. And that’s the way I prepare my sets all the time. Also when I come across new ideas while improvising during my shows & live streams I try to perfect them in the studio later.
Describe what winning the 2014 Red Bull Thre3style felt like.
I’m very happy about the title. I’m even more happy about all the interest I have received since entering the competition. It opened many doors internationally and it helped a lot with promoting myself as a live performing turntable act than a regular DJ just playing tracks. They book me on stages now, give me space to do my little tricks here and there. The promoters that book me, know what they will get and its cool to get booked for this type of DJing.
How did you hear about Melodics? What did you like most about the program?
I know Sam Gribben from back in the day when I was working for Serato on trade shows like Namm & Musik Messe. We stayed in touch and I was really excited to see what he will come up. Last year he wrote to me about his new app a couple of weeks before the launch to get my feedback on it. I think this way of learning is awesome. I’m a big fan of the DJ Hero game, that is similar to Melodics – however Melodics is more professional. More about learning. In my first few sessions with the software I became better at finger drumming and had so much fun learning. Some people say I’m good at this – Melodics showed me that I’ve still got a lot to learn. And to practice on Melodics with the hardware you’re also performing on stage with is awesome. You learn new patterns daily and can practice them to internalize them. The cue point drumming lessons teach how other DJs flip classic drum loops. The lessons from DJ Day introduced me to a new way of breaking down a loop. Really dope.
How do you use cue point drumming in your live sets? How do you see this skill evolving in the future?
I use it very often to create surprise rhythm changes to popular tracks, do tone play or just jump through the track. People love it when they can see what you’re doing. I like creating something with the sounds they just heard before and understand easily. Plus it’s a dope visual element too, easier for them to understand: you hitting a pad and a sound comes out the speaker.
Scratching is more complex to understand for the regular viewer/listener, because you are moving records & fader. I love both techniques though.
I think Finger Drumming is famous already and people are interested in learning it. There are big names like Araab Muzik that made it to festival stages “just” with finger drumming. That’s amazing. To incorporate a simpler style of finger drumming into my Dj set makes it more unique and I think more & more DJs are catching on.
You have released a set of cue point drumming lessons this week for all Melodics Users. Can you give a bit of background about these lessons and what users can expect?
These lessons are actually the rhythms that I use when I play live. In these lessons I use a track from Elènne who is on my label Crispy Crust Records. The song came out late 2015. The patterns work with all kind of tracks and I use them couple of times in my sets with different tunes on all kind of tempos.
If you could give advice to a DJ just starting out what would it be?
Have fun learning and don’t get distracted when some techniques you’re trying are not working. Sometimes it takes repetitive learning to master a new finger drumming or scratching technique. I’m learning all day and try to get at least 10 minutes practice a day.
You perform over 150 shows a year all around the world. However you have previously said that you ‘rarely get to see the city you are playing in’. Is this one of the hardest parts of being a world famous DJ? Are there any other downsides?
I travel a lot and I have so much fun doing what I do. I’m blessed to be able to go and party with crowds from all over the world. The positive feedback on my shows is what keep me going. But yeah – it’s sad not having enough time to catch up with friends in the city or do exploring/sight seeing. I’m at the airport in Vancouver at the moment and didn’t managed to see my Thre3style family Kenny MacIntire & FlipOut. Another downer is to not being at home with your family. I wasn’t home to spend Valentine’s Day with my girls this year. But I’m on the way home now and happy to see them soon.
What is the most rewarding part of being a world famous DJ and touring?
Going to places you never been to before and realising that people already know who you are and who love what you’re doing. Also to inspire people and get a positive reaction is what really keeps me going. If I’m down & exhausted from touring I need just one cool track, idea, inspiring video, or positive email/post from fans to go back to being creative. It’s cool to see that I can give something back to the scene and keep people inspired.
Tell us about your label ‘Crispy Crust’.
Crispy Crust is the label I founded end of 2014 with the Drunken Masters from Munich. We met each other in 2013 and had the same vision. I’m a big fan of them as DJs but also as producers. It was logical to team up and to create an outlet for the music we make, love and want to support. That’s Crispy Crust.
Final question. If you were stranded on a desert island for a year and could only bring three records what would they be?
I think it would be a Q-Bert Super Seal scratch record and two J Dilla instrumental sampler to cut over it. After a year practicing I think I would be a lot better than I am now.
This week DJ Day released his first set of lessons on Melodics. In honour of this we asked him a few questions about his career and his new lessons.
In previous interviews you mentioned that a turning point for you was hearing Jazzy Jeff scratch in back in the early 1989. What was it about these performances that inspired you to want to become a DJ?
I think the first song to do it for me was “Rockit” from Herbie Hancock. I was obsessed with that song and played it probably hundreds of times. Years later I would hear the Rock the House album and then He’s the DJ I’m the Rapper, which had an entire side of the album dedicated to Jeff’s DJ skills. There was something kind of otherworldly and sonically unique that was being done with turntables and I knew from then on that I wanted to do it myself.
You have also said that when starting out you wanted two Technic 1200’s for Christmas but ended up getting two boomboxes. Can you describe this story a bit and also delve into what gear you use now for Djing and Production?
Ha, yeah it was a one piece belt drive turntable/radio/tape deck unit. I would play an instrumental or self-made tape loops on cassette on a separate boombox and record me scratching over it with the turntable on a 2nd boombox through the built in mic. You make due with what you’ve got if you’re determined to accomplish something. I would come home every day after school and try to figure out how to scratch holding down the phono and tape buttons like a crossfader to cut the sound on and off. Once I started understanding it, I just never stopped.
What are your thoughts on the increasing prominence of cue point drumming for DJ’s? How do you see cue point drumming evolving further?
I think it’s a great thing. Especially for people who might not be super technical on the scratching side, but still want to incorporate another level of expression while DJing. It’s only gonna make the art form better and more creative over time.
How did you find out about Melodics and what intrigued you about the product?
I found out through meeting with Sam, ironically at Jazzy Jeff’s house last year for the Playlist Retreat. I was hooked once he showed me how it works. I think it’s gonna help a whole new crop of people who are doing live beats and finger drumming.
Tell us a bit about the cue point drumming lessons that you have made for Melodics? What can users expect and how can they incorporate these skills in their own sets?
I wanted to use a break that everyone is probably familiar with (it’s been used on a million songs for over the last 20 years). I think flipping something everyone in the crowd knows is a great way for them to understand what you’re actually doing up there on stage. I wanted to have lessons on there for the beginner and for the more experienced finger drummer. As well as give a variety of genres and styles. Hopefully it can help inspire some new ideas from people.
You’ve collaborated with some amazing artists and producers including Aloe Blacc, Miles Bonny, People Under The Stairs and Exile. How have these collaborations throughout the years helped your skills?
I’ve gained a ton of ideas and insight into making music from all of these artists. I wouldn’t be doing finger drumming at all if it wasn’t for Exile. He put out an album a few years ago called ‘Radio’ and needed a hand on tour and asked if I would assist. I gave finger drumming on the MPC a try and together we came up with an hour long routine and toured the US and Europe. I’m absolutely grateful to work with such creative and intelligent artists.
What piece of advice would you give to someone who has ambitions of becoming a DJ and producer?
It’s such a different animal now with the need to sell yourself being almost more important than your talent itself (which is f*cking wack and should not be your main focus at all). My advice is: 1. Be yourself and take chances. Trust your instinct and your idea of what moves you. 2. Practice. 3. Practice some more. 4. Find a balance of marketing yourself and actually being good. The world doesn’t need any more lame DJ’s who are good at social media but suck on stage.
If you were stranded on a desert island for a year and could only bring three records with you what would they be?
Man, this is always a question that changes every time. Right now at this moment it would be
Lord Echo – Melodies
Lewis Taylor – S/T
Erasmo Carlos – Sonhos & Memórias
You live in Palm Springs but have toured the world extensively for music. What has been your favorite place to perform and why?
Brasil (é muito bom!) and New Zealand (kia ora buds) are definitely at the top of the list. The vibe and the warmth of the people is unlike anywhere else.
This week we have new cue point lessons from one of Palm Springs finest musical products DJ Day. With a career that has spanned over two decades DJ Day has done it all. From cutting his production teeth in the LA underground with the likes of Exile and People Under The Stairs, to becoming a highly acclaimed DJ behind the turntables.
DJ Day brings us five lessons that are cue point flips of the “Impeach The President” classic break.
In fact one of the lessons will walk you through exactly how to perform the flip and recreate the beat for ‘Top Billin’
The other flips that DJ Day has cooked up include Dancehall, Shuffle and Swing grooves. These patterns can be further applied to other tracks in your library to help add something extra to your DJ sets and production sessions.
We have more coming from DJ Day this week with an interview and a video of him performing some of these lessons. So stay tuned and enjoy the lessons.
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