DatsiK: Bigger Bass!
Thousands of dubstep producers there may be, but practically every North American basshead, if asked, can name a handful of DJ/producers that define what’s big, bold and blown-all-the-way-out-to-hell in the scene: Kill The Noise, Excision, Downlink, 12th Planet and Canada’s Troy Beetles (aka DatsiK) being chief among them.
Alongside the aforementioned talents, DatsiK, took the initial South London template of dark, brooding basslines and slow, grinding tempos and transformed it into the rough, in-your-face sound of a generation.
Initially starting out as a hip-hop producer in his hometown of Kelowna, B.C., the 24-year-old DatsiK got turned onto bass music in 2008 through a trip to the Shambhala music festival—a long-running countercultural pilgrimage DatsiK refers to as “Burning Man in the forest.” He encountered Excision, another Kelowna resident, at the festival and afterwards began recording for his label, Rottun Recordings.
Slowly building a rep for nasty, tearing tracks as a solo producer and an increasingly in-demand collaborator, DatsiK helped to pioneer a sound which brought dystopian video game/Hollywood sci-fi sound-production values into the mix, helping to expand dubstep’s reach beyond the underground and towards a roughneck audience often shunned by EDM’s old guard. Whether one considers the development good or bad, it definitely changed the game.
And it also has brought him notoriety beyond the usual suspects in dubstep. Metallic-rock pioneers Korn, in particular, tapped Beetles as an opening act after he co-produced “Tension” off of the group’s dubstep-heavy comeback LP, The Path of Totality, and lead vocalist Jonathan Davis returned the favor by singing on the DatsiK/Infected Mushroom collab “Evilution” on DatsiK’s debut LP, Vitamin D [Dim Mak]. Beetles has also worked with Diplo on “Barely Standing,” and executed remixes for the likes of Dada Life, Linkin Park and Zedd.
And at the tail end of 2012, DatsiK launched his own label, Firepower, with initial releases by the 18-year-old producer Barron and the Boston-based duo Terravita leading the way. Accordingly, he’s introducing the full vision with the Firepower Tour. Running through mid-November and featuring support acts Delta Heavy, Terravita, Bare Noize, xKore, Getter and AFK, the shows offer a full-scale A/V experience built around the concept of a visual vortex shooting out of the stage, with DatsiK at the center. Combined with 50,000 watts of PK Sound augmenting the in-house systems of each venue, it makes for a pulverizing experience that should alert the vets of heavy metal and extreme music that a new night is rising in North America.
And even then, DatsiK will throw the industry another curveball, as he finally intends to make good on his promise to shift his sound back towards its minimal roots. As a relative old-schooler, DatsiK sees the latest excitement within the current spate of Dirty South-themed “trap” tracks, and in a rare moment of peace and quiet in Kelowna tells us it’s what he plans to bring into his sets.
“I feel like it’s kind of bringing dubstep in a full circle,” he says, “because people are getting sick of just the super-insanely noisy stuff and they’re starting to appreciate really simple but really well-produced [tracks] – the heavy, big ideas.”
And as our talk with him showed, DatsiK has no shortage of them. We’ll leave it up to him to provide the details.
DJ Times: Tell me a bit about what you’ve planned to thrust in these kids’ faces when you bring the Firepower Tour to them.
DatsiK: I call it the Vortex. It’s basically this massive, picture-like a funnel, except we tilt the funnel towards the crowd and have me standing in the middle of it. This funnel’s about 12-feet wide and 12-feet tall and I’m standing right in the middle of it. It’s inward projection mapping from the front and whatever the front projector casts on me, if there’s any light being cast on me, there’s a rear projector behind me as well, picking it up behind me—so it looks like I’m completely immersed in crazy visuals.
DJ Times: Sounds wild. Who designed it?
DatsiK: V-Squared Labs are the ones designing it. And then on top of that, we’ve got some extra lights and we’ve got lasers that we’re touring with and we’ve also got a big PK Sound system that we’re bringing, in addition to whatever they have in the clubs—so it’s gonna be loud.
DJ Times: Is there anything new you’re planning to do with the Firepower Tour in your set, in terms of what you’re gonna be playing around with on that stage?
DatsiK: I’m using Ableton onstage and Ableton is as crazy as you wanna make it. It just comes down to how much time you wanna spend making edits in Ableton, so that you can perform them live. But as far as what I use onstage, I use a [Pioneer] DJM-900nexus mixer and I use a laptop, like a Macbook Pro, and I have a Novation Launchpad and I’ve remapped the DJM-900. I’ve remapped the effects on the 900 to effects in Ableton, so that I can basically use the knobs for other things that are controlling stuff in the computer, as opposed to controlling stuff in the actual mixer, so I can bring my own effects onto the knobs on the mixer.
DJ Times: Did you make all these yourself?
DatsiK: I’ve definitely made my own beat-repeat effects, that kind of effect where you can have the beat repeat with a pitch. I also have my own transitional effect, which I use for pretty much every single mix. It’s basically a delay mixed with a reverb. It sounds way better than any other mixer or any mixer could provide, so I use that a lot as well.
DJ Times: Have you ever considered selling those effects yourself, or to another DJ-software company?
DatsiK: I think it kind of goes hand-in-hand with making a sample pack. For example, Loopmasters asked me to do a sample pack for them, and I actually declined because I feel like I spend all this time in the studio—when I have time in the studio—making all of these tracks sound like me. If I sell that, then I’m basically selling my sound and I don’t really wanna do that. If I’m gonna spend the only time I have in the studio to work on my own stuff, I don’t wanna just sell it, so that everyone else has it, right? I’d rather sound individual, so that I guess that goes with the plug-ins, too. I’m not greedy or anything, but at the same time if I’m spending all my time doing that, I might as well reap the benefits, too.
DJ Times: Listening to some of your early tracks like “Nuke ’Em” and “Gizmo,” they’re very aggressive, but very minimal. So what do you use now that you used back in those days?
DatsiK: I honestly still use the same software. I think it’s just my mixdowns and ideas have changed. This year at Shambhala, I was hearing all the aggressive, super-noisy dubstep and I was also hearing the really minimal stuff on a big system, and I’ve decided that I want to start moving backwards and start doing more minimal, but really well-produced stuff. For all the people that know about minimal dubstep, especially in North America, they’re going to classify it with trap. As a DJ, you can get away with playing it because they think it’s, like, trap.
DJ Times: But it’s not…
DatsiK: You’re actually playing the dubstep from 2008 that just got missed because everybody was so busy dealing with the other styles. So it’s really exciting for me because now, coming on this Firepower Tour, I’m going to start playing all of the old stuff that I really used to, but mixed with the new stuff. And I bet you people won’t even know any of it is old because they’ve never heard it before.
DJ Times: Collaboration seems to be the name of the game with you, as so much of your early work was done alongside DJ/artists that define heavy dubstep amongst the current audience—people like Excision, Kill The Noise, Downlink, Chaosphere. What do those people bring that you were able to put into your own tracks?
DatsiK: With Excision, the biggest thing I learned is definitely mixdown. It has been crucial to the way I’ve developed into what I am now. He was, like, a Nazi about mixdowns. I pride myself most in my mixdowns now, moreso than the song itself, moreso than the musical content, moreso than the bassline—just how well the track is mixed down, how hard it hits on a big system. Downlink—he’s a master with [Native Instruments] Massive—so whenever we sit down with Massive, which is a plug-in most bass producers use to make their crazy basses, we just geek out. He always shows me new, cool things that I might not have known before and vice versa. Downlink is very good with sound design.
DJ Times: How about Kill The Noise and the others?
DatsiK: He used to be a drum-n-bass producer named Ewun. I always was a huge fan of his, and what I learned from Kill The Noise was clarity. All of his music is so clear and so well-produced and his levels are awesome. Working with Bassnectar, he’s all about the triplet-y kind of drums and reggae vibe, so it’s really cool taking that from him.
DJ Times: Chaosphere? Diplo?
DatsiK: He’s my roommate, so… [laughs] We geek out a lot and we work on tracks a lot. He’s coming along pretty well, still producing. Diplo’s always on top of what’s cool, so when I work on a track with him, I don’t bring the idea to him—he always brings the idea to me, so it just makes it easy. I flip it in whatever way I can and send it back—he just rearranges, gets a vocal and it just works. So we work really well together, actually.
DJ Times: Tell me about your workflow. How do you sketch out your ideas, and how do you use the tools at your disposal to do it?
DatsiK: My workflow definitely has always remained the same, but I get lazier and lazier as I go on, because computers get better and better. So, instead of doing a whole bunch of lanes of automation, I just take the lazy way and I duplicate the track with the exact settings, except I tweak a couple of things. It just makes the workflow way quicker. So instead of spending all that time automating something, I can just make a new track and change this parameter and—boom—it’s done. It took me five seconds, as opposed to two-and-a-half minutes. I was at a point where I was always coloring all my tracks according to what they were. Like, I’d take all my drums and color them blue, take all my basslines, color them black, different sweeps, color them red, whatever. And even that, I’ve just like gotten so lazy, I just don’t spend time worrying about that kind of thing. I just spend way more time getting my ideas down on paper, while I have them, and it’s really easy to get stale when you sit in the studio for too long.
DJ Times: So what are you using as far as computers are concerned?
DatsiK: I have an iMac, a quad-core. It’s got 12 gigs of RAM, and I have two 23-inch screens and then I also have an Akai MPK49 [controller-keyboard] that I use for doing all my stuff to do with keyboards, writing melodies, whatever else. And then I also have a pair of ADAM Audio A8X monitors, and I really like those. They’ve got insanely clear high end because they’ve got the ribbon tweeters, and the stereo imaging on them is incredible. I’m just blown away, so they definitely help with mixdowns.
DJ Times: You use a lot of video-game sounds and sci-fi effects in your music.
DatsiK: Well, I used to play a lot of Halo [laughs]. Halo is my favorite game ever, but since I started DJing as much as I do now, I rarely have time for video games anymore. And when I do, I’m usually playing them on a bus just kind of screwing around. So I really like Halo. I like Battlefield and Call of Duty. Those are the three games I’ll sit down and play online or whatever, screw around. But other than that, that’s pretty much all I play.
DJ Times: So, how do you get those sounds and use them?
DatsiK: I do sample a lot of movies, but I won’t use a full scene out of a movie. I’ll take, like, six different parts from a bunch of different movies and splice them up to make them sound like there’s a robot walking or something like that. So that’s usually how I get my robotic sounds. Stuff like that is perfect for me to use in Ableton, so I’ll bounce out this loop of a robot walking and then I have it forever and I can bring it over every single track that I play in Ableton. That’s where it gets really fun because now I’m going into my old projects and I’m finding all these cool things that I did that I never ended up using and now I’m just bouncing them out and I’m using them in Ableton.
DJ Times: Tell me about your role in your new label, Firepower. What do you intend for the label?
DatsiK: Firepower, what I’m doing is releasing my playlist of unreleased tracks to the rest of the world—basically, these tracks I’ve been playing in my sets for a while. They’re from these producers that people may or may not have heard before, but I’ve been playing them and they’ve been going off in the club. So the whole purpose of Firepower is kind of releasing that music and trying to help out the kids who are releasing those beats. What I’m releasing on Firepower is just my taste in music at the time, so who knows where it will be? Maybe in a few months, it’ll be releasing more minimal stuff on Firepower.
DJ Times: How do you see the deadmau5 argument about everyone “just hitting play”? Is it possible to prove him wrong in the live arena?
DatsiK: My homie Z-Trip said on Twitter that I don’t care if you push buttons. You just better be pushing 7,000 of them instead of seven—you know what I mean? If you wanna push buttons, just take it to the next level. It’s just like DJing. You can sit there and you can DJ to the very minimal amount or you can be like Z-Trip and you can cut and scratch every single track that you’re playing and do something completely original. It’s all about how much effort you wanna put in, and I think for deadmau5 to say that is, maybe that’s his opinion, but it’s definitely unfair to the people that actually work really hard onstage.
DJ Times: Tell me how you use the Sugar Bytes Effectrix plug-in.
DatsiK: I use Effectrix for resampling like crazy. For example, remember how I told you about how sometimes I’ll sample movies and splice them together? Effectrix usually ends up being a very good tool to help with that. Say someone in a movie is shooting a pulse cannon or a laser gun or something: I’ll take that laser gun and I’ll run it through Effectrix and just throw the loop on it. So instead of it being, like, “peew!” it’ll be, like, “p-p-p-p-p-pew!” You bounce that to audio and you can just re-run it through Effectrix, try throwing a scrap loop over the top or just doing vinyl stomps on it to see what you come up with, or you splice that with another movie sample. It’s all about how creative you wanna get with it.
DJ Times: You also use Camel Audio’s CamelPhat.
DatsiK: CamelPhat is great. I think it works best in doses, though. You don’t want to use too much of it. Whenever I’m using it, I’ll just use minimal amounts. It adds warmth and it kind of acts as like a limiter in a sense, and basically kills your headroom. But it’s only killing your headroom that you’re not really using, if you use CamelPhat right. So it allows you to turn the sound way up if you need to and you get way more volume out of it without actually having it sound distorted.
DJ Times: I know you talk a lot about Wu-Tang, and we’ve also talked about trap. But what do you think about some of the newer production in the field, like Odd Future?
DatsiK: Odd Future’s awesome. One person I really respect, though, is Pretty Lights. I’ve become good friends with him. Instead of taking samples from a record, he has this whole process. Say you want to acquire a choir sample; he won’t go find a choir record and try to sample that record. What he’ll do is get a choir in the studio and record a choir. He’ll get it pressed to vinyl. He’ll sample the vinyl itself and run it through a tape machine and cut the tape in order to give it that 100-percent authentic sound, instead of just finding the sample that works. That kind of ingenuity is crazy when it’s applied to dance music. It’s really cool to see a hip-hop producer’s take on it and I think a lesson can be learned there moving forward—it’s not always the best, cleanest sound that works. Sometimes it’s the most natural vinyl sound that has the best feel.