Percussion Lab News & Updates
Percussion Lab keeps you up to date with news, ramblings, and anything else music related from our sphere of artists, DJs, labels, friends and contributors.

JUNE 26, 2013

Hailing from the sunniest coast, Dfalt released the first in a trilogy of beat tapes - Helsinki Beat Tape (Part One) - last week. Dude was kind enough to put together a mix of primed summer tunes and speak with us about his production style and process, his history with Def Jux, and when's appropirate to smoke weed and listen to Yeezus.


PT: Let’s start things off with your featured mix. Could you offer some background on your track selection?

Dfalt: Yeah, I pulled them from artists who I've always admired and who I feel have influenced who I am, not only as a producer but as a person. These artists form my core set of influences in the way I approach and listen to music.

PT: Given your predilection for the beats from the 90s, etc, what are your opinions on the new generation of rappers and hip hop producers? Do they yet hold a torch to a crew like ATCQ, or CoFlow, etc? I’m thinking of kids like Joey Bada$$, Children of the Night, Danny Brown, A$AP, etc etc…

Dfalt: For me they're hard to compare. Although, I love the way hip hop has been evolving over the last couple of years. Hip hop got stuck in this sort of preset synth sound around the early 2000s, basically when people were really getting sued for sampling. You heard korg tritons on every track which for me made hip hop extremely boring. Labels were extremely afraid to release sample based music so things got a bit stagnant. I feel like producers now have finally gotten a handle on how to make a beat more interesting than just picking a stock sound and looping it. For those artists you mentioned, I have nothing but respect for them. I hear their influences in the music but they're making it their own, that's how you evolve.

PT: What’s your perspective on today’s world of underground hip hop compared to your time working with Def Jux?

Dfalt: There was always this unknown in the Def Jux days because we were operating through the craziness of napster, the birth of blogs, piracy, print magazines dying, and myspace. Probably the most tumultuous time for the music industry because no one knew how to handle the internet. Even though record sales are still down, the internet has become an incredible tool for independent musicians and labels. I would say there is no such thing as underground hip hop anymore. You either have Facebook/Twitter or you don't. Those who would be considered underground today might be headlining festivals tomorrow. Look at Macklemore.

PT: Your Helsinki Beat Tapes will be released as a trilogy. What was your motivation behind this? What does each part represent in connection to the whole?

Dfalt: I love the idea of an album spanning the series of a few releases. Over the course of a year, or even a few years, fans of the first part will tune in to see where the second part will take them. It still amazes me that after all the changes to the music industry, the distribution and promotion system, people are still putting out records the same way they did 50 years ago. So I wanted to try something new, even if that means putting them out on an antiquated medium like the cassette.

PT: When are Helsinki parts 2 & 3 expected, and how do they compare to part 1?

Dfalt: Hard to tell. The set will be meant to be played back to back so Im working on the sonic landscape for part two right now. I'd like to have the second installment out by the end of the year though. We'll see.

PT: LA Weekly spotlighted your love of weed and its effect on your productions. Do you find the herb integral to your creative process? How often do you produce w/o it, and how does sobriety hinder/help your productions, particularly when compared to being stoned (if at all)?

Dfalt: It's funny how they took the whole smoking weed comment and ran with it. It's true, I did smoke a lot of weed around the time of recording Part One but I'd say for the most part I'm sober while actually producing. Weed helps with the ideas but when it comes to the technical side of music like navigating Ableton or specific plugins, I work much more efficiently with a clear head.

PT: Some of Helsinki pt 1 sounds 100% throwback, whereas some, such as “Beggars”, hits a wonderful balance of golden era tendencies with modern day techniques. Is working in a certain fashion, either using old, established techniques vs. new ones adorned by limitless technology, a conscious decision for you? Or just a matter of - “let’s see w.t.f. happens in the studio today.”

Dfalt: I like to limit myself in the studio, the idea of limitless technology make me anxious so I try to keep my tools to a minimum. The idea of traveling with my studio in my backpack is much more enticing than having a huge studio with tons of vintage gear that looks nice but hardly used. I think the music on HBTP1 is a balance of my influences and my need to experiment and push myself. Some tracks on the record are a nod to where I came from along with where I'm pushing myself to go.

PT: On that note, would you mind giving us a rundown of your studio setup? A typical day in the Dfalt space?

Dfalt: I just moved my studio from Downtown LA to an artist studio in Venice Beach, about 5 blocks from the beach. It's a windowless bedroom sized studio with everything in arms reach so if I need turntables, mpc, maschine, synths, etc I have access. The whole building is filled with professional visual artists, a nice community to be a part of. Lately I've been focusing more on the business side of music now that I have the beat tape out. During the day it's business and at night I'm usually diving into the second part of HBT.

PT: Given your commitment to the visual component of music, and your vocal work with Cassettes Won’t Listen, how do you treat storytelling differently in an instrumental context, or one w/ lyrics?

Dfalt: I'm actually on hiatus from the type of singing/songwriting I was doing on previous CWL recordings because instrumental storytelling is much more enticing to me. Telling stories with lyrics is obviously much easier to do but can be very misunderstood. The idea of sonically telling a story, or providing a backdrop to create your own story, is very exciting. So that's what I've been doing with Dfalt and I've done the same thing on the next CWL record. It seems right now the difference between Dfalt and CWL is tempo. The next CWL record amps up the energy much more than previous CWL records.

PT: What album (not your own) really nails the lyric-less narrative for you?

Dfalt: First one that comes to mind is Endtroducing.

PT: I’d love to hear more about your monthly event, Beat Tape, where visual art and music meet in a live space. It’s a combination that almost every music event needs to utlizie these days, and the results are increasingly out of this universe.

Dfalt: Beat Tape is currently on hiatus because the venue we had it at was just sold. We're now looking for the right spot to relaunch it. It was basically a Sunday afternoon (3pm-9pm) backyard vibe with DJs, performers, and live artists (usually painting). Im a fan of afternoon parties where people can come and kick back, drink beer, eat food, and chill while being exposed to new music and art. A setting where everyone can meet, collaborate, etc is what Beat Tape is all about. We hope to have a new party set up on the first Sunday of every month, starting again in August.

PT: Tomorrow's Harvest or Yeezus?

Dfalt: That's a tough one. I appreciate how Kanye evolves so Yeezus is actually an album I've been enjoying digging into. I just can't stand him as a person. I bought Tomorrow's Harvest the day it came out and it's just classic BOC. So it depends on what time it is. BOC in the morning, Yeezus after I've had some coffee.

Helsinki Beat Tapes (Part One) is out now on Daylight Curfew.

MAY 15, 2013

Ahead of this Friday's stint at Cameo Gallery, our friend Owen caught up with us on London's community, multitasking and more:

Nooka: First off, give us a little detail on your background, roots, and main influences.

Owen Howells: Hello, well I'm half English half Welsh. Born in the midlands, raised in Australia, now living in South East London where I've spent most of my adult life.

I make and play music, especially house and techno stuff. I'm 26 so have been at it quite a while but still have lots to learn. My roots and influences would be early raving experiences in London, places like The End, and being exposed to the UK's pirate radio network at a young age.

Nooka: How have you seen London adopt a community feeling towards its local talent? Do you ever feel like being in a major hub of music doesn't give enough credit to the natives making the scene thrive?

OH: Yeah I guess, London's got no shortage of great music, as I'm sure you know. It's everywhere. 

More specifically, the stuff I'm into. Your Fabric, Toi Toi, Half Baked and Jaded etc never let their guard down music policy wise, it is undisputedly all about the music week in week out with those guys, and of course Apogee where I hold a residency.

I don't know about everyone else, but all my favourite DJ's are London selectors, and residents. Raymundo Rodriguez, Craig Richards must be seen if your ever over. It's taken me a while but I've started to notice the difference with resident's etc. That longer standing relationship with the crowd can make for something really special imo. and I guess perhaps knowing the venue, crowd, sound system a bit better than the visiting guest all ads to it. London credits it's natives for sure i reckon.

Nooka: What are some of the hardships you've faced in starting and running a label? What are some surprising perks?

OH: We've struggled to have sober meetings, hehe. It's something we're still working on.

It's not cheap, but thankfully there is 5 of us, which helps with that side of things, still early days but no problems to report yet. A nice perk and been that we've got to meet people, all sorts including other musicians that perhaps we wouldn't have crossed paths with before.

Nooka: Is this your first time playing the states? Describe a little of what we can expect.

OH: It is yeah, I've visited as a youngster briefly but this will be my first time playing, I'm well excited. Looking forward to visiting some of your record stores in NYC, and just exploring a new place and meeting new people.

Expect a mixture of house, techno and maybe some other bits!

Nooka: Lastly, how do you see the ever-increasing global nature of music (via internets) changing the sound and doing harm/benefit to party nights?

OH: Oo this is a biggie, the rise of new technology and especially the internet has obviously effected music in an almost un comprehendible way, it tipped it on it's head. I'm actually part of that generation really, I think i remember Napster must of popped up when i was about 15ish?

The more I learn and further I go, the supporting of vinyl and record stores becomes even more necessary and ingrained in my life. perhaps it's a bit selfish because I love the stuff but I really hope that part of the culture never dies. And it's my love for that that keeps me playing mainly vinyl and working towards opening my own record store.

On a positive side, i think that advancements in technology have empowered a lot of people creatively. With it being more affordable to set up a little studio at home. The same could probably be said for starting a small label, i wonder if the technological advances help the DIY attitude along a bit?

MAY 7, 2013

Our resident DJ, Nooka Jones, sat down with Brendon Moeller to discuss the current state of social media, transitions in life, and staying true ot self. Check out his feature mix, and stay tuned for upcoming releases from Echologist on Prologue and Soul People Music.

Nooka: Morning

Brendon: Good morning, sir.

Nooka: How are you doing?

B: Yeah, not bad, not bad. You?

N: Pretty well. Got a strong pot of mate.

B: Yeah I'm doing fine from the buzz from the first cup of coffee of the day. Seems like it's a nice day brewing. Summer is moving in slowly.

N: So. I currently read that you're residing 60 miles upstate new York. How are things up there?

B: It's great. Basically, we have a nice house that is in a real rural farming area, surrounded by forrest and lakes. Having lived in Astoria for 15 years prior to this, it's nice to have some room to breathe and some space for my wife and I's two kids.

There are times where I wish I was closer to the city and it wouldn't be such a drag to hop down to the local or catch somebody's set somewhere. For the space and having the ability to have my studio set up like it is now, and my neighbor as far as way so I can crank shit as loud as possible. It's good.

N: You've been up there for a few years, so you might not get down as frequently as you'd like to. But I was wondering, you've been in and around NY for about 20 years now, and I was wondering what your take is on how you've seen NYC evolve over the ages.

B: I spent my first few years really soaking it up and getting inspired from everything going on, coming from Johannesburg. It wasn't sort of a cultural wasteland, but it was not as abundant in culture as New York was. When I first got here, I was going to bands, to clubs, buying up CDs and books and collecting. Really soaking it up.

Then it got to the point where I was like, "Ok. Now it's about taking all that in. Not being so consumed by it, and focusing on what it is I'm trying to do and what I have to bring to the table." So I stepped back from that to take things on. I got married, as well, which brings about other circumstances. Now, I will venture into the city if it's something I think is gonna really be something I have an experience. I've become more selective now, and the real joy in my life now is the fact that I get to be with my family, my kids, I get to spend a lot of time with them. 

Getting back to NY. NY never stops, so you can always go into that city anywhere and you're gonna get something great. As far as music, it's still just a hub of inspiration. I miss being able to pop down and catch someone's set. Now it becomes a deliberation. I've become such a studio hound that any time that isn't spent in the studio, I want to spend with my family.

I don't think I've been the kind of person that needs to be somewhere to be inspired. Inspiration comes from inside your head and the rest is just out there to enjoy. You can't say someone is going to be a better artist for being there at that time. I tend to think that you need to look inside.

You could argue that having so much going on, and being presented with so much information and art, can sometimes confuse and get in the way of your peer creative instincts. It all depends on the person and how you go about working.

With our industry, there's a lot to be said for networking. You could argue that being in the world of "club music" is more of a popularity contest than it is about artist statement. The networking and social media politics that drive the scene is crazy.

N: Of course. Do you have a personal opinion on that? Is it good or bad, or something that will change what the scene stands for?

B: Well, I guess, it...

N: It's kind of a loaded question, so I understand if you don't want to answer.

B: Well, it's something I think about a lot. I talk to my wife about this social media world that we live in. Basically, Facebook and Twitter have tapped into two human characteristics or emotions that seem to have run amok. One is exhibitionism and the other is voyeurism. Both of those, combined with narcissism, leads to... it's a trick thing right now. Part of me finds myself wishing I could just walk away from this and let the music be the ultimate communication that I have. Because, you know, I have people contacting me on social media that I don't know, and they talk to me as if we've been friends for years. It's kind of bizarre when that happens. Then I think to myself, "Well if these people really got to know me they might not even actually like me." So it's all based on this flimsy notion. It's not real. It's not built on any realness. That becomes problematic.

Also there's people at your gigs, standing up there with their iPhones filming or taking photos or messaging someone, "Guess where I'm at." It's like it's become more important to tell people what you're doing than doing it and experiencing it.

N: I totally agree. Haha.

B: It's a bizarre stage we find ourselves in. And how it effects the music... it's tough to say. I've certainly seen at my own gigs that it is not so much about the music and more about people being there, or being there because it's been hyped on by somebody that they should be there for that.

But that's the nature of the world we live in. We can go back and attribute this back to marketing/advertising. And what BIll Hick's said about it, that marketing and advertising is the "ruiner of all things good."

N: I think something that's related to this, too, is something I think about in parallel paths - is the growth of social media and its influence on our scene, but also the necessity for people to release continuously in order to stay relevant.

B: Exactly.

N: And something I find interesting with your discography, is that you continue to release a plethora of material, churning our lots of releases a year, and NOT doing it out of some sort of necessity to stay "alive" or relevant, but out of a necessity to breathe out your music.

B: Yes, I'm glad you said that. It's exactly how I feel. That's what I do. I'm a studio musician, and I love recording music and releasing albums. Some of my favorite artists of all time are artists that have release 2 albums a year. By the time I'm done, I want to have a massive discography of recorded music because that's what gets me going. I feel like I have so much to offer and learn, and to share this journey and release this music and have people interested in what I'm doing and saying musically is the ultimate blessing and inspiration. I'm happy with things the way they are.

Going back to what we were saying about social media. You look at someone like Burial who does not have Facebook or Twitter. He rarely does interviews and refuses to do DJ gigs because he feels that ultimately, all he wants to communicate is what he puts out as Burial on that record. The rest is nobody's business. And that is such a rare exception in this game. We all know everything about our favorite people now because it's all out there.

It's going to be interesting in 5 to 10 years to see where we are in this situation. Is being anonymous or just not playing this game, is it possible to succeed?

N: It's almost as if you didn't chose to participate, you would need someone else to speak on your behalf. Or else it would just get lost.

B: Exactly. If you look at all the promotion companies, these are the outsourcing of this by the artists and labels to do what you don't want to do. It's a strange climate for music because you wondering "What's real and what isn't? What's legitimate and what isn't?"

N: And especially, too, as that communication becomes ubiquitous– so people are doing it on their phones, in all sorts of environments– it starts to change, what I've noticed in NYC especially, is how it changes the club scene and people just letting loose, just experiencing a night for what it has to offer, rather than having to be connected and sharing all the time.

B: Yeah. It's a funny thing. Like you said, sharing, the concept is a good thing. But can you call it sharing, or is it an addiction or a habit, where people need to say everything? They need to let you know what you're missing out on, or look how great they are for being there.

N: Well, going back to what you've dedicated your life to, which is music. That's really admiring. Something I wanted to ask– Since music is your dedicated focus, what sort of intention did you have to set, maybe earlier on in life, to say, "I'm not going to pursue a 9 to 5 job. " What tribulations did you go through to come to that, and what motivations did you have to say yes?

B: Well it started around the time when I was in college in Johannesburg, SA. I finally had some friends who decided to form a band. As a kid I had taken music lessons, but they ended up alienating my love of music. I was listening to pop charts on the radio at the time, and wanting to go and make that kind of music, whereas my parents sent me for classical lessons, then trumpet lessons. I had no interest in that, and it sort of killed that desire.

When I got to college, I bought my first drum kit and started jamming. Once I got into the studio and jammed with musicians, I realized, "Man, this is what I need to be doing." At that time I was studying to become a schoolteacher and avoiding the forced military service in what was then apartheid South Africa. All along, I was doing as much as I could in this band, and also become somewhat of a music journalist for some small newspapers.

In my third year of teaching, I was like, "fuck man, I can't do this anymore." I'm supposed to inspire these kids, but I'm not even helping myself out. I'm a teacher who doesn't really want to be a teacher, and I'm a musician.

So I said to the guys in the band, "Let's move to the states and get serious about this." Unfortunately, they weren't into it. I basically realized I'm going to have to do it on my own. Which also coincided with the fact that I was listening to stuff like Aphex Twin and Future Sound of London, who were doing 1 or 2 man operations. So I said, "Why not go by myself and start recording on my own?" So I said fuck it. Fortunately, I had a friend in NY who said if I came over I could stay with him until I got my feet on the ground. That was it. I sold my car, gave away most of the stuff I could, and bought a ticket out.

N: Awesome.

B: I wouldn't say there were tribulations. I would say my parents were slightly upset when their son went from a stable job kind of guy, to a musician. They did understand that I needed to chase this dream. Coming to NY was the best thing I ever did. When I got here, within days of being here, I knew that I would not be going back to South Africa.

N: Great. Thanks for chatting with me, Brendon.

B: It was a pleasure. Enjoy the mix.

APRIL 17, 2013

Percussion Lab: Being the son of Ed Ruscha, did you grow up in a largely artistic environment?

Secret Circuit: I would say it was definitely artistic. I didn't know anything else, really. I didn't really think any of my friends parents were odd or square for not being artistic either. I didn't really think about it. That said I was always making stuff for sure. Mostly drawings or just lost in my thoughts. My dad would go on trips and come back with Dali posters so I guess that really put me on a certain path!

PL: Speaking of environment, do you feel a connection to the music scene happening in LA? I guess it might be difficult to deny some connection at this point.

SC: In a way I do, but L.A. is always erasing things or brushing aside it's past. It's kind of nice in a way. There are certain bands that are definitely considered the L.A. sound like The Eagles or The Byrds, but it's not like N.Y. where things are firmly etched in the books. Really only now are people talking about it. As far as the scene in L.A. at the moment I find it more exciting than ever, really.

PL: How has the Beats in Space label been working out? Secret Circuit was one of their first releases.

SC: So far it's been amazing. I think the amount of exposure that comes from the radio show alone has helped tons. The history of the show already gives the label a firm foothold to start off with. Tim and Matt are both amazing to work with as well so it's a win! I feel very proud to be a part of it.

PL: I know the label is fairly young and still undergoing some changes, figuring things out, but do you have anything planned with them in terms of future releases?

SC: I think we are all just rolling as it goes and it seems we are all happy to work together! The full LP is coming out soon and that's a big thing to work on getting out there.

PL: It seems your productions as Secret Circuit only started getting recognized just this last year. You have a lot of self-released material from before. Any chance we'll get to hear that stuff in the future?

SC: Some of it has been released last year on the label Emotional Response. The album is called Tropical Psychedelics and it's kind of a survey of stuff recorded over the years some going back as far as '97. They are putting another one together now and also a dub remix EP which is really exciting.

PL: Can you identify the psychedelic wizard we know as Secret Circuit?

SC: It's basically a place I go mentally or spiritually. I guess you could say I'm constantly seeking, as it were. Sound, melody and rhythm are what I gravitate too. I guess at times I can be a tinkerer. I can really blast out on a synthesizer for hours but really most of the things I do are fairly immediate. Often times the first sound I get is what I use. There's a certain psychedelic principle to that process in that it's natural. Caves have reverb, mountains have echo, birds sound like birds. I find the music of Kraftwerk to have a very natural sound. Oscillations are natural. I try see things from the other side.

PL: Wearing a full face mask, referring to Secret Circuit as having "invit[ed] one basic member, Eddie Ruscha." Do you try to keep your own identity separate from the music you produce? You know, that whole artist v. art debate.

SC: It's funny but there are certain ways I approach a public persona, but it always depends on mood. Certain tribes wear masks and costumes as a way of inhabiting another being or spirit so that can come into play as well. I saw a heavy movie recently where this religious sect in Africa go through this strange and intense transformation literally frothing at the mouth for hours and thinking they are mighty political figures sacrificing animals, but then they go back to work as upstanding citizens. Answering your question, there has to be some separation. For me anyways. If I blast my brain out with a synthesizer for 5 hours and then step out to grab some coffee, you have to be able to order the coffee, or maybe say hi to a friend. It would be exhausting to inhabit that world permanently. It sounds kind of fun to do for a couple of days, actually!

PL: In terms of releasing on your favorite labels, playing with your favorite artists, creating an aura around your music—do you have an ultimate end-goal in mind for Secret Circuit?

SC: My end goal really is to ride this thing to where it needs to go. I don't visualize an end. It's like making a piece of music. Sometimes it may need a cold ending and sometimes it needs a long fade. I'm still writing it and I don't know what it needs yet.

Check out Secret Circuit's featured "Percussion Lab Mix" here.