“The elk (or wapiti) is one of the largest species of the Cervidae or deer family in the world, and one of the largest land mammals in North America and eastern Asia.”
Fittingly enough, elk-obsessed EshOne‘s sound, one we’ve featured before, is almost as large as the land mammal he named his record label after. Not only is his music of truly epic proportions, Donnie is part of the new wave of American dubstep producers slowly taking the genre by storm. And, if that’s not enough, Elk Beats is one of the most exciting underground labels we’ve come across in our travels across the bass music spectrum – and one that is definitely deserving of more recognition and support. Unfortunately, we’ve never actually sat down to learn more about one of the most interesting characters (and his record label), so we figured it was about damn time that changed.
And, as Elk Beats has just announced its inaugural vinyl release (something every dubstep imprint should aspire to), we figured the timing couldn’t be better. So hold onto your hats, get the subs ready and read on (and, if you entered the ELKWAX001 competition you should head to the bottom of the post)…
Donnie, it’s been a fair while since we last caught up with you. How’s life? I am well! I’m living in Taos, New Mexico, now. Spending a lot of time with those close to me, and exploring the state in my free time. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve been.
Given we’ve not featured you (properly) on FKOF before, can you give us a quick rundown of who you are, how you pay the bills and what else you do? Well, I guess most will know me from seeing me play around the ‘States, or from my label, Elk Beats. Most of my working time is spent running my cattle ranch and building websites. I like to go out fly fishing at least a few days a week. I tie flies and am beginning to make bamboo fly rods. It’s become more of an obsession than a hobby haha! I also love to skateboard and snowboard, the latter being a bit easier out here. Taos is one of the best mountains to ride, in my opinion. I’m very lucky to live in a spot that’s renowned for fishing and snow sports.
First off, you seem to be a prominent part of the new wave of American producers making an impact in dubstep. How did you find your niche in the genre – and how would you describe the EshOne ‘sound’? I’m not sure really. I’ve always just made it! J:Kenzo practically had to hunt me down to get the tracks for Artikal. I seem to find it more interesting when people actually find me, rather than shoving my music in people’s faces all the time. I try to incorporate a lot of the atmospheres I’m in and found sounds into my music…
Almost all of my tracks have something like a layer of a subway station atmosphere I recorded while touring really low in the mix, or maybe some big wood doors on my ranch shutting layered over the snare. Some people seem to think that it’s more organic sounding because of that. Most don’t notice! I also like to make the rhythm sections of my tracks very prominent and moving. It is dance music, after all.
You’ve a fairly impressive roster of releases to your name – including the much-lauded digital/ vinyl EP with Artikal Music. What’s your process for building tunes? Since I’ve been DJing mostly my own music (almost for the past 6 years), I’ve been cutting it all to dubplate. Acetate, in my opinion, is even harder than vinyl to mix. So I’ve always made my tracks very simple. Just DJ tools, really. Easy to follow, minimal intros and not too much going on so that they can be blended easily. I think it takes a DJ to appreciate the tunes – and that’s why a label like Artikal picked them up.
What can we expect in terms of new EshOne releases over the coming months? Anything you can tell us? I’m working on tracks specifically for Artikal. I hope J:Kenzo and Mosaix read this so they know I’m not slacking! I am trying to make tracks that are a bit more complete, than my usual DJ friendly stuff. I also want to preserve my sound in them, keeping them as raw and minimal as possible. It’s kind of tough, but some of the stuff I have going is going to be my best stuff yet, by far. I really like working with Artikal, so you’ll probably find most of my stuff lying with them or Elk Beats in the future.
What’s your studio set up like? Just a laptop with Renoise on it. I use Reaktor and a couple other plug-ins for sounds, but I keep it really simple. I don’t even plug in my MIDI keyboard most of the time – I just use the letter keys on my laptop. I go back and forth between making beats on headphones and studio monitors. I had my field recorder stolen from me a while back, and I really need to replace it. It was one of the most important parts of what I do.
Elk Beats. How did that all start for you? How would you describe the imprint? I started the label back in 2011 with my friend Misk. He’s since gone on to do other things. I’ve been running the label myself for the past couple years, and have recently added Shelby Fyre on as my co-pilot. She’s rad and has really inspired a lot of what we’re doing. The label is entirely self-distributed, and generally has no direction other than me liking the stuff at the time. It’s a fun project to watch grow and it’s nice to not be tied to any distro or other third parties. I have no influence as to what I can do with the label other than the connection with the supporters. It’s kind of like a family thing.
Elk Beats is an interesting label – seemingly only pushing self-released music. Is that a deliberate choice? If so, why – and is it working for you? Well, for digital releases, the sales are kind of low. This may be a bit to honest for the public, but I really don’t care. When I sign music, I generally give the artists a disclaimer that it’s not going to sell much. I’d want them to grow with the label, and put out creative stuff, and in turn, I’ll do my best to promote them and include them at the forefront in future projects. This has turned off a number of potential artists and releases and that’s cool. I’m not interested in being in the charts. I’ve never intended to put out so much of my own music on the label, it’s just sort of turned out that way. I’ll also add that I’m extremely picky – I don’t like 95% of the stuff people send to me.
You’ve recently, having spent the label’s history pushing digital releases, just announced ELKWAX001 (with a pre-order which sold out)! Congratulations on that one; an absolutely huge look. What’s the rationale for the move into physical? I had no clue that we’d even sell more than a few copies! The response to the pre-sales blew my mind. The money model of the label was originally to first release digital sales, in order to not only fund the production of vinyl, but to build an audience for it. It’s worked out great. The digital and merch sales paid for the mastering and lacquer cutting, and I decided it was time to just go for it. So I paid for the pressing itself. It’s always been on the horizon for the Elk Beats label to include vinyl. I’m very excited the time has come and I’m glad we’ve waited so long. I’m really proud of the tunes what we’re debuting with and I’m excited to contribute these to the vinyl community.
Where does the vinyl vs. digital debate fit into all of this? Nowhere really. I think that digital sales are convenient and vinyl is just cool. I like traveling with digital files sometimes when I don’t have the time or money to cut new ‘plates and I love my records and acetate (except when moving them to a new place to live! I’ve played on CDs, Serato and mostly dubplates throughout the years, and I like them all for different reasons. In terms of the label, it’s cool to be able to offer the digital DJs files at a low cost and it’s also nice to be able to offer the vinyl collectors and DJs something exclusive and special. Something for everybody.
I know we’ve discussed going into this in more depth in a later post, but can you give us a brief overview of how it’s been doing vinyl as an independent label? The process has been really interesting. Mastering was a breeze, I went with Precise in the UK after hearing tracks from friends that sounded phenomenal. They were a bit more expensive for a Stateside production, being that shipping was overseas for the lacquer and such, but it was totally worth it. I’ve been working with United as a pressing plant, and although I don’t have the final run in my hands yet, the test pressings and their customer service have been great. After the pre-sales sold out in less than 8 hours, I’ve been approached by a few shops to carry the record. I’ve decided to send a handful out to a couple stores, just to shake things up a bit, so those who missed the pre-sale should keep their eyes open. I just messaged a friend of mine, who’s made a track I’ve been playing a lot and truly love and tentatively I think we have ElkWAX002 on the horizon, which will include a remix from myself.
I finally managed to catch you playing live in Brooklyn earlier this year – with a tonne of new material (including the track we’ve picked up on FKOFUn/Known02!). You’re known for a decent live show; any secrets there – or is it just a turn up and play what the crowd wants kind of vibe? I think it’s because I never get to DJ at home. I sold my turntables for rent money in 2006, and didn’t buy any again until 2013. So for those 7 years, I only got to play when I had a gig and I’d be really excited. I’ve played gigs where I’m labelling my dubplates while on the decks playing, and had literally not played or heard them yet. Most of the time, I’m on point with the mixing and I like to mix very fast. A lot of people will say I’m a great DJ, but I’ll admit that there have been a small handful of times when I’ve been less than perfect while I warm up – at least by my standards. I will say, though, that I always bring the right music, and I always connect with the room I’m in. At the venue, it’s all about having fun, and that’s what I intend to happen.
In terms of playing out, have you got any massive dos or dont’s for a dubstep dance? Know your timeslot. Watch your crowd. Most importantly, have fun and love the music you are playing. If people see that you are having fun, they are going to as well. We’ve all seen that DJ that stares at the screen or vinyl and looks uncomfortable…
What’s the market like in the US for booking shows at the moment? We’ve had a few people say America is finally coming round to the deeper sound; from your experience is that translating into gigs? Or is there still work to be done? So much work to be done. I see a few guys from the UK coming out and doing well. There is a lot of media coverage based in the UK for this type of sound. As for the Stateside guys, if we are not on the EDM circuit, we’re looking at a couch to crash on and hopefully a few bucks if the show does well. We’ve literally heard shit like “Let me sell some weed so that I can pay you, ’cause we lost money last night.” I’ve been on my own after shows, left at the venue in cities I’ve never been in, with a 100lb record bag. Last year I did ok as far as bookings go. This year, it seems that a lot of the promoters I used to deal with have moved on to other sounds. It’s always moving and I’m sure there are always going to be Ups & Downs (haha)!
Your Artist Highlight mix for us in late 2012 is still one of the best showcase mixes I think we’ve ever had. What can we expect from the latest instalment? Last time, I used only my own music. Usually when I DJ, I play mostly my own stuff. Lately, I’ve been getting more music from producers I know, which is really nice. So I’m including that in this instalment. There is so much great stuff being made right now! This might be a bit darker, with less energy than my live sets, so it will be something different for those who know me. I wanted to make a mix that’s nice to listen to over and over.
In terms of new producers you play or sign to Elk Beats, who’s making the ‘sit up and take note’ tunes (as we call them) at the moment? Any US heads we should know about? Skriptah! The dude is insane. Mesck is ahead of the game for sure, and AxH has more tunes than anyone knows what to do with. I really like what I’ve been getting from the New World Audio crew, Numa Crew, Crix Saiz, Undrig, Bisweed, Deafblind, RDG, Bukez Finezt, and a lot of others that I haven’t even fully dug into yet. B.P.D.R. (Bulletproof & Dutty Ranks) out of New Zealand stand on their own level. The music they are pushing right now is truly amazing, and I hope that they get the love they deserve for it.
Of the events you’ve played over the past few months, are there any systems or venues that stand out as those you’d like to revisit? Have you got a favourite system or venue? There are a lot of them that I love and don’t get to visit often enough. In terms of system/venue combinations, Reconstrvct stands out for sure. I really enjoyed playing on the Dub Stuy & TGS rig for Tuba as well at the recent show I met you at. Barcelona in Austin is one of my favorite all time venue/system combos, as is Bassic at Goodlife Bar in Boston. Denver comes through as well, but I’m a 4 hour drive from there and have only played there once. In terms of designing a space for the music, Drew from Smog is a genius, and I wish he would do even more shows! The set up with all of the walls of TVs for the show I played with Goth-Trad and Mesck was the coolest environment I’ve ever played in.
Have you got any advice for producers looking to get started or get signed? Anything you’ve done that you’d recommend doing – or avoiding? Don’t send stuff right away. I used to send some terrible music to labels. Just let things happen. Be nice to people. Don’t take it personally when your tracks aren’t well received. Look at how you’re presenting them. It can be a really fun ride if you aren’t too hard on yourself and let the creativity take the forefront of your endeavour. When I lived in California, I used to have this thing where I went to venues with good sounds systems, and listened to DJs I didn’t necessarily enjoy. I’d come up with a sound I’d rather hear on that system in that given night and then I’d go home and make it. Sometimes it was out there, and I have come up with some of my best music like that. Get weird.
Click to DOWNLOAD (141MB)
- B.P.D.R. – Skankbot [dub]
- Crix Saiz – Dun Know [dub]
- Kahn – Over Deh So [dub]
- EshOne – One Last [dub]
- RDG – Desert Chant [dub]
- Thelem – Shottaz (TMSV remix) [forthcoming Artikal]
- EshOne – Petroglyphs (AxH remix) [dub]
- EshOne – Splashy [dub]
- RDG & Hitman – Mercenary Ship (AxH remix) [forthcoming Subaltern]
- Occult – Harbinger (Squarewave remix) [forthcoming NWA]
- Deafblind – Diswan [dub]
- Ago – Untitled 097 [dub]
- Dark Tantrums – No Rules [dub]
- Undrig – Backslider [dub]
- EshOne – Rungs [dub]
- Lapo & Ago – Everytime [dub]
- EshOne – Sinking [dub]
- EshOne – Qualia [forthcoming Artikal]
- Dark Tantrums – Realisation [dub]
- Bisweed – Airship [dub]
- J:Kenzo & Matty G – Flatline [forthcoming Artikal]
- EshOne – Ruby Tuesday [dub]
- District – Earlsdon Funk [dub]
- AxH – K’n’OJ [dub]
- B.P.D.R. – I Feel It [dub]
Elk Beats x FKOF test press competition
Thank you to the 130+ of you who entered our test press + tshirt comp a few weeks back – and apologies it’s taken a few days longer than anticipated to announce the lucky winner!
Big love and a massive congratulations to Ben Carvalho – you’ve nabbed yourself the prize! Someone from the Elk Beats team will be in touch to sort you out with the goodies.