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Music |

Interview: DJ Rhythmics

Wednesday 04 June 2014

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Words Darren Skene

Happy Hardcore (often known as UK Hardcore, for its country of origin) is a very distinct sound that has seen its popularity rise and fall several times over the years. Lately, it’s been back on the upswing, especially in North American cities like Los Angeles, Toronto, and Seattle.

A place you don’t often hear on the list of Happy Hardcore epicenters is Boca Raton, Florida. Nonetheless, that’s where DJ Rhythmics makes his home. Rhythmics has spent years refining his sound, staying true to his take on the genre through lean years as well as flush ones. His dedication and talent have helped earn North America recognition as a fast-growing hotbed of Hardcore support, and been recognized lately with a meteoric rise to global prominence in the scene. This has partly been driven by his decision to offer his music almost entirely free of charge directly to listeners, rather than going through distributors.

I had a chance to chat with Rhythmics about this decision and others; read on to find out why he thinks MP3 stores are dying, why he calls his music “Hardcore Rave”, and when he plans to adopt a pet lobster. Enjoy!

Tell me about yourself and your background:

I’m an artist; dance music producer and engineer. Part-time art snob.

How long have you been performing?

Under Rhythmics? About six years now. I’ve been DJing since I was about 17 though, under my legal name. I vaguely remember performing in a talent show when I was in 5th grade. I played a brain-dead rendition of Saints Go Marching and Heart & Soul on piano. I was so nervous that I ran off stage after I nailed it; didn’t even bow when I was finished.

A star was born that day. Or malignant stage fright. Either way, something started…

With which companies or organizations (if any) are you affiliated?

Futureworld Money Gang Represent $$$ In all seriousness, I mostly float around. I like making new friends, and with so much amazing music around, it’s almost silly to stick in one camp. I’ve had big remixes released on Futureworld Records over in the UK, but I also just recently put out a two-track EP on Stamina Records. I can’t talk about it yet, but I have a high profile remix coming out later this year on a very popular EDM label. I’m errwhere, mayne.

I understand you were recently signed with an overseas agent and have a UK tour in the works. Can you tell me a bit about those plans?

That is happening around October this year; I’m actually really ecstatic! I attended a couple of hardcore raves in the UK while I was in London mid-2010; feels amazing to go back as a headliner. Some of the best dance music in the world was born in the UK (including Happy / UK Hardcore), so it is a real honor to play in a personal Mecca of mine. My booking manager Andy takes good care of me! If any European promoters are reading this and are interested in having me play at a show, you can hit him up at andybowler@btconnect.com

Promo 3 (2014)

Tell me about the music you’re into:

Lord…this can go on for days. About half of the music on my iPhone is Hip Hop, so I’d say that takes up a good portion of my listening time. Currently really enjoying YG’s new album and Yung Lean’s last mixtape, although I have staple artists that are on constant rotation; mostly Peter Gabriel, Nujabes and The Postal Service. I started listening to a lot of modern trance as well after some recent support from Audien and Porter Robinson; even some piano pop from Raya’s debut EP, a vocalist I had the pleasure to work with on my remix of Flames. There’s so much good music out there, so I’m all over the map!

How did you get into rave music?

Funny enough, my very first experience with Hardcore music was through Dance Dance Revolution, an arcade game I played religiously from age 14 till 19 (yikes!). That was my whole introduction to the poppy Euro sound; Smile.DK, Captain Jack, you know, super cheesy, feel-good dance music, and some if it was Happy Hardcore. It wasn’t until I started playing Beatmania IIDX that I was introduced to the Japanese Hardcore collective Teranoid, which was an enormous turning point for me. Man, even talking about it now, I get really giddy; that music took me to crazy places, man. I had an enormous J-Core kick for a year or two, before I attended a local rave and heard a DJ play Scott Brown and Dougal & Gammer tracks, and became totally infatuated with UK Hardcore. Haven’t looked back since!

If you had to show your music to somebody using just one song that really captured the essence of the style, what song would it be?

I would say it’s a toss-up between ‘Candy’ and my Hardcore Rave edit of ‘Wings (Myon & Shane 54 Remix)’. For the style I push, they really showcase the things I personally love about Hardcore Rave; beautiful vocal hooks on top of energetic, melodic, euphoric beats.

Where can you usually be found performing?

At raves all over the place! And the odd festival if I’m lucky. I’ve been to Detroit three times though; absolutely love the crowd up there!

What are your musical influences?

It’s very difficult to boil it down to a few, as I feel all the music I listen to rubs off on me one way or another. If I had to name a few artists that were major contributors to my song-writing and musical sensibility, I’d say Peter Gabriel, The Postal Service and VNV Nation. As far as Hardcore Rave music, Darren Styles, Gammer, Scott Brown, Nu Foundation and Teranoid were the standards I held my own music against, and I definitely hear a lot of them in all of my tracks. On a wider scale, Hudson Mohawke and Rustie’s uniqueness and sound are immense influences as well.

What makes a song stand out for you?

Originality for sure. EDM is so flooded with tracks that sound the same, so when I do hear one that sonically stands out, it’s a really special treat. Interesting percussion samples, melodies or riff-style choices, those are the kind of things that grab my attention immediately. I guess a good vocal hook wouldn’t hurt.

What motivates you to perform?

The places and people I discover on my travels, the sound of ravers reacting to tracks made by my friends and I, man, what wouldn’t motivate me to perform? I guess plane travel and layovers can get horrendously boring after a while, but it’s always so worth it. What motivates me to perform? The chance to play in Japan again. There, simple answer Japan.

What differentiates you from other performers?

I’m not scared to play tracks. That sounds ridiculous, but I feel a lot of artists and DJs hold back from playing tracks that aren’t normally heard in a club/rave environment for fear of killing the floor or not holding up to some image they have. If it sounds good at 170, I’ll play it, and even though I have played a few tracks that brought the dancefloor to a grinding halt, I’ve found the majority of ravers are more than game to hear new sounds. At my last show in Detroit, “Dope Song” by Danny Brown, a very heavy rap tune, had one of the best reactions of the night, as well as my Trap remix of Dougal & Gammer’s ‘Monster’ under my Ayobi alias. I enjoy taking risks, and the way I approach my sets are never the same. Oh, and although my ADD is nowhere near Gammer’s level, I guess my quick mixing and mashing helps keep things interesting. Nothing more boring than hearing a DJ play tracks from intro to outro, for both the performer and the crowd!

Describe your production method and studio.

I have a fairly basic studio; FL Studio / Ableton Live, an M-Audio Keystation-49, 2x Yamaha HS8 monitors, and a Blue Yeti microphone. I used to have a very convoluted studio setup with analog hardware, but the more time that passed the more complacent I got with digital software, for better or worse. My production method isn’t that much more interesting either. I have a blank template on FLS that already has some basic stuff set up and a piano instance open, so I can get to writing immediately. For remixes and engineering work, I usually go in with an exact idea of what I want to do, but 90% of the time for my originals, my process is very organic. I jam for 10-30 minutes on my keyboard until I play a melody or chord progression that catches my ear, transcribe it to midi, assign it a sound (or keep it as piano), and slowly build around it. I find that outside of remixes, if I approach a track with something very specific in mind, I end up spending too much time on technical stuff and run dry on creativity. I rather just let things flow out of me, good or bad. My biggest tracks were all arranged/written in a single session that could have lasted anywhere from 5 to 12 hours (obviously the mixdown and finishing touches could have taken weeks more).

What is the single most important thing you would tell an aspiring new producer?

Be unique. In everything you do, from bootlegs to original tracks, be unique. Did I mention be unique? BE UNIQUE! Oh, yeah, and finish tunes! No matter how good or bad! I’ve seen potential talent spend years getting wrapped up in the engineering side of things and trying to replicate sounds from their favorite artist only to find themselves without a single finished track (or worse, being a clone). I mean, I guess it’s cool that you spent your life replicating the growl from “Cinema (Skrillex Remix)”, but we already have a Skrillex…and he’s really good at his job!

I can’t begin to explain how far back my eyes roll when I’m asked questions like what kind of compression settings I use on my leads or what kicks I use. I can give someone entire project templates, but that won’t teach them how to write tunes. So yeah, 1) Write and finish tracks. 2) Be unique. 3) Don’t fret over engineering and technical stuff that really doesn’t matter in the end.

On what labels (if any) have your tunes appeared?

I have tracks signed on Futureworld Records, Stamina Records, Evolution Records, CLSM, Rebuild Music; those are the few that come to mind. Most of my music is independently released for free on my Soundcloud and Bandcamp though. I think the MP3 industry is a bad joke, and I rather give my music out for free and expose it to the masses than have it hidden on Trackitdown and giving half of my profits (if I’m lucky) to distributors.

Promo 2 (2014)

What story do you try to tell with your music?

A fun one. I guess I have my melodramatic moments, but it’s mostly a fun one. A story of love, colors and euphoria set to the tempo of 170 BPM.

Describe the sound that defines your music and sets it apart from somebody else’s.

Melodic, emotional, energetic, colorful euphoria. Japanese hardcore was my first introduction to this style of music, and they place heavy emphasis on melodies. I think it’s very obvious in my music what an influence it had on me. I take great pleasure in making harmonic tapestries full of melodies and counter melodies, and although it’s taken a while, I’ve thankfully gotten to a point where I can do that while keeping dancefloor sensibility intact.

What’s next for you?

Besides touring and gigging, my #1 priority right now is pushing the Hardcore Rave music and name in the USA. I have three big projects that are going to be distributed for free, with remixes from some of the best hardcore producers in the world. I also have a couple of collabs featuring not only some good friends, but some really big EDM producers. Wish I could say more, but…well, let’s just say that we’re living in very exciting times! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is the best time to make Hardcore Rave music.

So what is Hardcore Rave?

Hardcore Rave is a name I came up with to describe a more universal, non-country specific style of UK Hardcore. For many years, I labeled myself a UK Hardcore or plain Hardcore producer, but I realized a couple of things. For one, people would always scratch their heads when I told them I was making UK music. “Shouldn’t you say you’re a US Hardcore producer?”. You can take off the UK, sure, but then you’re left with Hardcore, a word used to describe everything from Hardcore Metal to Dutch gabber; totally ambiguous and a catalyst for arguments.

I feel Hardcore Rave describes the genre very well. I see the music I make as EDM (rave music) intensified and set to 170 BPM with a four-on-the-floor kick; hardcore…ified if you will. UK Hardcore has always had a severe identity crisis, but I think that’s part of its beauty. It doesn’t know what it wants to be; it just simply adapts to the times. It hears a genre and says “Oh yeah? Well I can make that even more fun”. What can I say? I love this music.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I see Hardcore Rave being at every major festival in the world. I see myself living in California. Also see myself having a pet dog. A pet lobster too. Probably having a lot of pets.

Do you have any heroes? If so, who and why?

For as seemingly popular as he is, I think Peter Gabriel is one of the most underrated songwriter / producers of all time. He was doing resampling work as early as the 1970s, and is the kind of guy who goes out to a junkyard, records himself breaking a TV with a sledgehammer, and turns it into a melody. He is never scared to make the music he wants to make and experiment with all kinds of eclectic sounds, and I follow the same mantra. A more obvious choice though, is Darren Styles. To me, he will always be the greatest Hardcore producer of all time. The man is a musical genius.

What’s your favourite on-stage memory?

At my last show in Detroit, Gammer walked up to me and yelled in my ear, “THAT GIRL SAYS SHE WOULD TOTALLY MASTURBATE TO YOUR MUSIC”! Best feeling in the world, man.

Of what achievements are you particularly proud?

Headlining in Japan! I never thought I would get to visit Tokyo in my lifetime, and it was everything that I had dreamed of. Also, Darren Styles telling me at EDC Las Vegas 2013 that my music inspired him. Now THAT was one I’ll never forget.

What other interests outside of music do you have?

I read a lot on Astronomy and Psychology. A good portion of my free time is spent on Wikipedia articles relating to either of them, and the Google searches that result from it. Honestly, outside of music, I’m a bit of a bore. I like going to the mall, the beach, playing board games with friends…the simple things. I love running and walking around my neighborhood. Florida drops the ball on damn near everything, but when it comes to weather and nature, we’re one of the best. I really want to get into more structured outdoor activities though. Hiking, rock-climbing, cycling, gator wrestling…something!

Something most people don’t know about you?

I’ve been a vegetarian for almost a year and a half now. My girlfriend at the time showed me an article about how lobsters and other crustaceans feel pain much like humans do. Lobsters are my favorite animals, and I was so traumatized by the article that I decided to stop eating animals right then and there. No regrets! Should probably start wearing a badge that says “ASK ME ABOUT WHY I’M A VEGETARIAN”. I can talk about animal rights forever!

Where can people find your music?

Probably some Russian site. Also my soundcloud: www.djrhythmics.com

Favourite drink?

Evian natural spring water. I hope to be sponsored by them soon. No, really; it’s the drink of the Gods. Try it! You’ll never want to drink tap water again.

 Words: Tim Ellis