Every few months, we see the ‘dubstep’s dead’ conversation pop up on the web. It’s a pretty hot topic given Benga’s recent announcement (and the positive and negative reactions to his news have been pretty astonishing) and seems to reappear with a somewhat boring regularity.
But as I’ve always said, or at least from where I can see, dubstep is alive and well. The scene, and the music coming out of it, might even be the healthiest it’s ever been.
Last year saw some of the best 140 bpm music ever produced. Some of it was released, some of it stayed dub. Luckily for us, there’s a (particularly talented) DJ based in Chicago who got his hands on quite a lot of it – and was kind enough to create two Best of 2013 mixes for us here at FatKidOnFire. I sat down with DJ The Tornado, during the depths of the recent bad weather, for an in-depth discussion about what makes a good DJ, how America’s
killing (lolz) supporting dubstep and who we should be watching out for this year…
DJ The Tornado, how’s it going? Survived the polar vortex? Good, thanks! And yes, thankfully surviving. It seemed like it was getting better the past couple of days – in the mid-high 30s – now it’s back down to the single digits. That’s Chicago for you.
You’ve made quite a name for yourself these past 18 months or so, with your quality mixing skills (often across three decks). In your opinion, what makes for a good DJ? I could talk about this for hours. To me it’s a combination of selection and mixing. Knowing what to play and, just as importantly, when to play it. There are plenty of DJs who do not mix very well and smash it constantly. The vibe a DJ creates is much more important to me then whether or not s/he mixes flawlessly.
You can learn to mix. You can’t learn how to create a vibe. That said, there are far too many DJs, in my opinion, getting booked based on their merits as a producer rather than their skills as a DJ. They’re two different skills. Some are good at one or the other – very few excel at both.
How did you get into DJing originally? Unlike many of my UK colleagues, I didn’t grow up with pirate radio or tape packs. I got into DJing via hip-hop. Originally, I wanted to be a turntablist/ battle DJ in the vein of Mix Master Mike or QBert. Once I realized that was a lot harder than it seemed, I focused on mixing house and techno. Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, I’d always been around house, techno, and freestyle music, so it seemed natural to learn to mix using those styles.
I’ve always been an avid fan of music in general, and even before DJing was always trying to discover new music to play for people. At the same time I started DJing, when I was 14 years old, I was in various hardcore bands while also discovering the sound system culture of reggae, ska, and dub. I came of age in the era of Napster and file sharing which is how I discovered drum & bass, garage, and grime. I visited London in 2005 (after graduating high school) and decided I wanted to mix drum & bass and dubstep nearly exclusively. The internet made it very easy to get involved with, and be aware of, dubstep and grime; thanks to streaming radio and forums.
My DJing skill comes primarily as a result of playing house parties, sometimes for 5-6 hours at a time – just myself all night – with several crates of records and my own sound system. That’s where I learned what to play, when to play it, and how to play all different styles of music. I love playing everything from hip-hop to funk and soul to pop! In fact, alongside my wife I run a company called Gilded, where I am booked to play weddings and corporate events.
Vinyl or CDJs? Does it matter what you mix on? I only started mixing CDs in 2010, after a decade of playing solely on vinyl. It doesn’t matter the format so long as the music is good and the vibe is right. I still play both, though am primarily on CDs due to the amount of new and exclusive music I’m sent.
What’s the dubstep scene in Chicago like? What’s the scene like in general across America? Ugh, this is depressing to think about, haha! Honestly, in Chicago, it’s not very good. My night, BASSWEIGHT, unfortunately ended as a monthly because we were not making any money. However, I will still be trying to put on events occasionally, maybe one or two a year. Many of the people around during the ‘boom’ of 2009-10 left for various other permutations of “bass music,” be it trap or deep house or whatever else. We still get bigger names like Flux Pavilion, Skrillex, Caspa, etc. but anyone who is big in the underground – Hatcha, Youngsta, Digital Mystikz, N-Type – tend to skip our city when they tour, which is extremely upsetting. There are a couple of crews who book the odd dubstep act – for instance, Wolf Pack has brought out Badklaat, J:Kenzo, Coki, and many others in between trap and glitch hop acts during its run at Smart Bar, and 808 brought the Dub Police tour through, but by and large it’s dead – and it pains me to say that.
However, there are a lot of dedicated followers in Chicago – including the STFO crew [big up Riglow and gang!], who are very much loyal supporters of the sound. It’s just a matter of continuing to build. I don’t doubt that if we keep pushing people will attend events on a more regular basis. Thankfully, there are many who stuck through the ‘brostep’ invasion and discovered the deeper, minimal sound we all know and love.
Across America it is strong. You have Sub.Mission in Denver which, in my opinion, sets the standards for nights in the States. Dats Wots Up in Detroit, Too Future in Miami/Fort Lauderdale, CHURCH in New Orleans, Gritsy in Houston, reconstrvct and Subverse in New York City, Truth‘s Deep, Dark and Dangerous as well as Ritual in San Francisco, SMOG in LA, Amplitude in Minneapolis, Latter Day Dub in Utah, as well as Dubwise in Salt Lake City, Underground Frequencies in Kansas City, Sub Culture in Iowa… there is even a scene building in Montana! Unlike England, the US is very large and there are pockets where the scene does well and others where it’s still coming together. It’s great to see so many promoters pushing our sound throughout the US.
From the tunes included in your two mixes, what would you say the biggest dub/ release of 2013 would be? And what label was the best in your opinion? My personal favorite tune of 2013 that I featured in volume one of the mix is TMSV’s Haze – it’s such a stepper. In volume two, I’m quite fond of the Artikal remix of Sick’s Fatboy. A very unique tune that showcases both dub and techno elements.
With the likes of Wheel & Deal, Deep Medi and Chestplate starting to sign new and upcoming (or at least new to the imprint) producers, do you think we’ll see more of the established labels bring newer artists on board this year? I certainly hope so. Wheel & Deal has always been great when it comes to showcasing new talent – see the signings of Disposition, Twisted & Rakoon, Konvex and many others. Chestplate has signed Mesck, Artikal has signed Eshone, and Tempa has snatched up AxH – so I certainly hope label owners continue to look towards the States as a place for quality dubstep!
Which artists would you recommend we keep tabs on – have you got any tunes that consistently go off? I mentioned a few above, but Konvex is someone special. He’s sent me some new bits that are going to kill clubs. Mesck is a brilliant producer, as is Eshone – who has been putting out music for a while and is a favorite of Joe Nice. Other producers I’d watch are Sparxy, whose production has gotten stronger each year, D-Operation Drop, Piezo, Karnage (repping Detroit via Japan), Subreachers, Audial, Deafblind, Dubtek, Kelly Dean, Deco… The list goes on! Another guy who has been putting out tunes for a bit and has some new stuff that may surprise FKOF readers is Richie August. They are on a bit of a different flex than what you may have heard in the past.
Tunes that are special to me and always go off are DJ Madd’s Battle VIP and Compa‘s Dem A Talk VIP. For the past couple of months it’s all been about Wayfarer‘s Antimatter remix. MASSIVE track. Another tune that is unsigned but destroys the dance every single time is Kelly Dean & Kloak’s Contradiction. Someone has to scoop that up!
Any particular labels to check out? I’m proud to be an A&R for Dubfreq & Carbon’s Lem Deezie. I’d initially not wanted to be associated with any new labels because it feels like there is a new one every week. However, when I heard the music that was going to be released, I knew I had to be a part of it. The first EP featured Dubfreq, Ohmtrix, JKL, and Pote. The second release had a collaboration between Mutated Mindz and Dubfreq as well as the incredible Your Love by the aforementioned Dubfreq and a Stinkahbell tune. Currently, I’m curating tracks for an EP consisting of only American artists, which I can’t wait for you all to hear.
Other labels I’m consistently checking are the standards like Chestplate, Wheel & Deal, Dub Police, Tempa, Osiris, Biscuit Factory, Artikal, Uprise Audio… However, I’d urge you to support Bacon Dubs, Nomad, Roots & Future, SYSTEM, Annihilate Audio, and vinyl only labels 1Drop, Lion Charge, and Peng Sound. I love the vinyl revival that’s been happening of late!
Any final words or shout outs? Thanks for your time – and spectacular mixes – and we hope you have a stellar 2014! For tour and club dates be sure to follow my Facebook page. For general shit talking, I’m on Twitter. I seldom update my SoundCloud, but follow me for when I do. Finally, I’m going to try and upload more to my Mixcloud as I prefer its interface.
I’m hoping to begin a radio show at some point this year, so keep ’em peeled!
Big up to FKOF for the feature and the opportunity!