Another day, another artist ticked off the FKOF hit list. It’s an absolute honour to welcome the New York-based (via Bristol, Japan and Budapest) Hungarian producer to these here pages – I’ve been hunting for a chat with the one and only DJ Madd for a very, very long time!
Sitting down around the latest release on his Roots & Future imprint, Peter and I caught up about his recent move across the pond, what it’s like running your own record label, honing your sound and much, much more. This one’s a long read so get the kettle on, roll up and enjoy…
Hey DJ Madd, how you doing? Good thanks! Sipping coffee and working on tunes, the usual vibes.
You recently moved out to Brooklyn right? How is it over there – and why the move Stateside? Yeah last year was pretty much about travelling for me.
I was going in & out of Bristol for the last 5-6 years and at some point I felt like I need to hit the road while I’m able to do so. I got a bit too comfortable there, I didn’t really have to leave the house or socialise and as much as that was a perfect scenario I wanted to push myself, be a bit ‘uncomfortable’ again in new situations. Just you know – be able to wake up and not be able to tell exactly how my day is going to be?
I decided I would save up some money and head over to Japan – something I wanted to do since my first trip there. It was a short visit in 2010 and I really wanted to see Japan properly. So I packed my bags and lived in Tokyo for 4 months – it was one of the best experiences of my life. The people I’ve met and being part of the local scene for longer than a night or two is something that will stick with me forever. Huge thanks goes to Naoki from Disc Shop Zero for making this possible!
Just before Japan, I visited North America and I had the same feeling as with Asia – “need to come over here and see what I can do with music”. As usual, the stuff you see & read on the internet about America is total bullshit. It’s not “all brostep” and EDM. I’ve already met loads of great people who just want to write, promote and party to good music.
And they work hard to make that happen! The scene here right now is in a very interesting phase. As lots of others have stated, the commercial dubstep boom is done so now you have all the people coming out wanting to take it to the next level (without being stigmatised with something they’re not even a part of). I think 2015 will be an awesome year for all sorts of music over here.
As for myself, I’ve so far kept a low profile since arriving here. I haven’t left the house that much because I wanted to start 2015 with a bag of new beats, and now that I have that I’m ready to get on the road and see where I can take my sound over here.
How’s everything going with your Roots & Future imprint? It’s been a slow period since the start but, all in all, I’m happy how things are going so far.
The distributors (Unearthed & Railbird Digital) are professionals so a huge bigup goes to them for having zero problems on that side! Regarding releases, I’m really pleased about the feedback I’ve been getting. The records are doing good and it looks like they are not being forgotten in a month so couldn’t ask for more really!
What can you tell us about the latest release? I’ve been playing around with the idea to do a little side project for the label to fill in the gaps between vinyl releases, this is how R&F Unlimited was born. It will most likely not be something I do very often, but it’s great that I can just work on a few tunes and have them on Bandcamp the week after. This will be very handy between vinyl releases.
This is also a sort of test-run for different tempos. I have been working on a lot of jungle/ 808-heavy beats and, while most of those are probably not for vinyl, this is still a great way to get them out there. Most of the new (non-dubstep) tracks I’m working on are in the 160-170bpm area, so this is also a special opportunity to put out something totally different, like Dub Foundation which is 100bpm.
What’s been the benefit of starting and managing a label – is it something you’d recommend others doing? I would definitely recommend it to everyone!
At some point you realise that even if you have a smaller label – it’s still all yours. Nothing compares to having your own project going on and if you’re a producer yourself then the benefits of what you learn on the way can be huge. Just seeing the costs of pressing a couple hundred records will definitely put things in perspective on what others and yourself are willing to put out on wax.
It made me very self conscious with my own music as well. Being able to decide which of my tracks get a release in a couple of months and when do I have to say ‘nah I can do better than that’ and start another tune is really helping me push myself further. Unfortunately, I tend to take that to the extreme, hence why there have only been 3 releases since 2013. End of the day, it feels good that I’m able to say no to myself even when I have nothing coming out for a longer period – less is more and all that.
The scene is in a funny place right now, there are only a couple labels with a bigger brand behind them, so I think people are less skeptical about new producers & new labels trying their wings. A couple of years ago, you looked at the amount of big labels with crazy good releases one after another and you just went – why bother starting a new one?
Now you can actually make moves and if you do it right people will support you from day one.
In terms of your sound as a producer, would you say you/ your sound has evolved since the label’s inception? I’d like to think so for sure. Even with the current 3 releases, I can look back and say “Yeah I wanted the first one to be very rootsy, the second one is half reggae with Follow Dub slipping into more dark dubby vibes, and the third one is again something different with techy vibes but still having that dubwise sound.” For me, that’s a good progression.
The biggest benefit has to be the constant reminder that I can’t put out the same type of music – it doesn’t matter how much it sells. That is something that might not be very obvious when you’re just trying to score releases on other labels. Most labels (just like R&F) have a certain sound, but a lot of people fall into the error of trying to recreate that sound to fit into the label’s previous releases. That does work sometimes and some labels are pretty ok with doing the same ideas as long as they’re popular, but most label owners will want you to take that sound further and experiment with it. That is what I’ve been trying to figure out in the last couple of months myself, trying to see where I could take my music instead of writing another 100 reggae-dubstep tunes. It’s very easy and comfortable to get caught up in one specific vibe, especially when it works but at some point you have to try and break out of that.
What do you look for in potential Roots & Future releases – any tips you can share? Not going to lie: from the start, I set up the label for my own releases specifically. This was about the time Black Box disappeared and I didn’t want another label being pulled out from under me.
I’m starting to feel the itch to release other people’s music, but at this point it might look weird to have the first 3-4 releases myself and then suddenly bring in new names. I think in a year or so – when I have a more constant flow and the label is on track with a definite couple releases a year – I will fire up another one which will be for other artists.
Thinking back, I’m glad it turned out this way. I don’t think it would’ve been fair to other artists to sign them to a label which I’m just learning how to run, then just go travel around and trying to deal with it on the road. A bit more time and I will be able to properly pick up new names and get them out there, help their careers – something I’ve always wanted to do.
For Roots & Future, I think the main plan will be to have a platform for myself and maybe get some collabs and remixes on the go eventually. I’m perfectly fine with 2-3 releases a year, it’s a good way to show where I’m at musically at the moment and I already have some names in mind for remixes so I’m pretty excited about that!
Do you have a favourite record in your back catalogue? I think that would be the ZamZam Sounds 7″. I’m really happy that I was able to release on that label, the amount of thought & care that goes into each release is amazing. I always wanted to have a dub 7″ release and couldn’t be happier with how that release turned out.
For sentimental reasons, Rizla Dub comes as close second. I was still living in Budapest when I made that tune, and being able to have it on the WAR series around that time was an epic move for me in music (one of the first moves really).
On a more general note, what’s your 2014 ‘record of the year’? Any producers that came through and stood out for you? In no particular order:
D-Operation Drop‘s Body Rock was the intro tune for a lot of sets last year, it’s a great tune with dub/ reggae elements but keeping it dark & tribal – smashed it.
The new direction Sleeper is going for is definitely up my alley. His tune Coxsone Dub goes down awesome. Looking forward seeing what his new imprint Crucial will bring this year!
Quest‘s Vampires’ is sick as well. Just sub, drums and eerie pads – takes me back.
Tour de Force – a local crew from Brooklyn. They run the Dub-Stuy system and they had a debut album last year. Their tune Battle Cry is somewhere between dub and dubstep so I’m obviously loving it. I made a remix but honestly I still reach for the original a lot.
Also keep an eye out for my buddy Thelem – he has some sick forthcoming material lined up for this year. I’m one of the handful of people who’s not that huge on old grime beats so hearing his own take on it is refreshing.
For other tempos:
I was really happy Congo Natty got picked up by Big Dada for the album. It’s great to see the oldschool jungle heads being in the spotlight. Jungle Souljah from the album is not the one that gets played out the most but it’s definitely my favourite.
I’m also feeling the output from Om Unit & Machinedrum. I’ve just recently started looking around the jungle-footwork crossover world last year and the attention it has been getting is well deserved. I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface so far, but another good reason to be overseas I suppose!
What can you tell us about what you’ve got in store for 2015? My main focus will be to slowly get my 160 bits out there.
I would also like to develop the label into a sort of “everything goes” dub influenced bass music thing, but that will be a longer process. On the 140 tip, I have a whitelabel lined up for 1DROP, a version of Billy Boyo’s 1 Spliff that’s gone down pretty awesome so far. There’s forthcoming material for Zam Zam Sounds, Moonshine and couple of labels I’ll keep on the downlow for now…
What news (if any) can you share about the label side of things over the next few months, any new releases coming? Next up, after the Bandcamp release, I will start putting RNF004 together.
The A-side will be a track I’ve wanted to finish for months (but I had to get the right vocal). And now I’ve got it, so well happy about that! It will be the first release on the label on the 160 tip so I’m excited to see how that will go down. I have a few ideas in mind for other tunes but nothing’s set in stone yet – I will probably finish it up in the next couple weeks.
After that, I’d like to look into getting some remixes done, I’ve already got a few names in mind, but that will probably be shuffled around a couple times so best not to say anything just yet.
What’s the dubstep ‘scene’ like in Brooklyn – you’ve got some amazing systems based there right? The two systems I’m familiar with are Dub-Stuy & Tsunami Bass Experience. Both kill it, and they’re not genre specific, you can easily come across them on various genre nights.
Regarding dubstep, it might not be as busy as London or Bristol, but I think there is still a healthy amount of dubstep nights going on. From what I’ve been hearing so far, the main challenge for promoters here is finding venues. On the other hand, some clubs seem to be really open minded. For example, Verboten, a club that (mainly) hosts really good techno & house nights, just had Contact NYC with Youngsta, Truth and AMIT.
Any final words or shoutouts? Shouts to everyone supporting the new material: Om Unit, Toddla T, J:Kenzo, Sam Binga etc.
Big thanks to the people who helped me feel at home at various parts of the world: Naoki & the family, Soi Crew, Zettai-Mu crew, Duusraa famo, and the rest of the Japanese crew!
Also shouts to Tika, Rozi, Kursk Innamind and Q-Mastah – who are my main partners in crime here in New York!