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.