Full disclosure: this interview has been itching to get dropped. It's not like we didn't want to drop it, but you have to time these things perfectly, and with Starkey's new EP Inter-Mission out now, today's as good a time as any to drop it.
Philadelphia's Starkey is one of those producers that we'd hope many in the American electronic music scene would try to imitate - not in sound, but in drive. He's been dedicated to creating his own lane, focusing on the bass music scene from a more "urban" angle. He's been doing his thing with the Seclusiasis and Slit Jockey camps for a while, and has gotten the ear of Planet Mu, No Hats No Hoods, MistaJam, and other esteemed labels, DJs, and publications, all while doing it his way. Starkey strives to be original, and holds quality over quantity in every measure. While this interview was primarily done with a focus on his awe-inspiring Orbits album release from last year, many of his views ring true today.
Just going through your back catalog, we pick up multiple references to science and space. Would it be fair to say you have a fascination with science/science fiction? If so, how does that factor into your approach to creating music?
Yeah, I definitely take science and science fiction as an inspiration for a lot of the concepts on my records, the art design, etc. I really like the play between the sterile environments of, say, a spaceship, and the rubble of a post-apocalyptic world. There's also a lot of great music in the scifi TV and film world which were some of the first places to embrace synthesizer technology back in the day. There's always been an experimental side to science fiction because it is thinking about the unknown... so it's a great way to build around the concept for an album or release. And with science we are always discovering new things, it's just exciting to learn more about the world we live in.
You’ve spoken on your desire to create an album that you really should rock from start to finish. Was it hard to create some kind of central theme or mood that flows from start to finish, especially with an album that features little to no lyrics or speaking?
Without lyrics it can be difficult. There are only two songs with brief lyrics on this album, but there's usually something musical or textural in my tracks that connect them. I tend to use lots of rich synth textures; I'm a sucker for good arpeggios as well. I also like to use really big drum sounds, almost like "We Will Rock You" style. If you combine that with song structures which take the listener on a journey, I think there's definitely a way to develop an album that can be epic in scope. And that's what I tried to achieve with Orbits. To be honest, I just want to have something that I can listen to for an hour and really enjoy from start to finish.
Were there any tracks or concepts that took a bit longer to convey on Orbits than others?
A lot of these songs only went through a couple revisions, because I would deconstruct things as I was making them. So when I did that bounce, the track was almost there already. I think the track that was one of the hardest to get right was the opening one, "Renegade Starship." I wrote that track with the intention of it being the first song on the album. So when you go into writing something with a specific goal in mind, it can sometimes be very difficult to develop it. Most of the time I just let the song develop naturally, and I think I did that to some extent with "Starship," but it's different when you're writing something that you want to make a statement for an entire body of work... and that's what I tried to accomplish with the opening track on this album.
Your sound is steeped in bass music – primarily grime and dubstep, but you also retain elements of hip-hop and other sounds as well. There are points on Orbits where you definitely seem to be stretching the perceived confines of “genre,” really exploring where you can take a track or melody. Would you say that you’re getting more confident with yourself as a producer at this stage in the game? Do you get nervous or scared (probably not the right terms) when creating tunes that might be outside of what many expect from you?
I don't sit down in the studio and attempt to write a certain style of music... I really try to let it come naturally. If I want to play guitar, I play guitar. If I want to sing, I sing. It's really whatever the song calls for. But recently I have started thinking about where I see my production going in the next few years. Does it go more in the live production side of things, or is it more electronic, do I sing more, less... All of these things ultimately matter when you are trying to establish a sound around a musical project. "Starkey" for me has always been a kind of free-for-all. It's a reflection of how my mind is musically, and all my interests are taken in as references. I think most people who would be listening to my music appreciate a wide range of musical styles, so they go along with my Music ADD. But the difficulty comes in that connection; creating a sound so that people recognize it as you. I think that's more important to me right now.
Orbits, when properly listened to from start to finish, maintains cinematic qualities. Years ago, artists like Daft Punk and Q-Bert have essentially made long-form movies to accompany their albums. Would you ever want to engage in a project like that? Could Orbits be that project?
Yes, 100%. I love film and love the idea of doing something a bit more adventurous. I don't know if Orbits is that project because it's done and is already out; it is what it is. I think I would have to develop that concept from scratch if I were going to try something like that. I try to never do anything half ass either. That's part of the reason why I haven't been doing live sets for the past few years. When I do another live set, it's got to be ridiculous. Something that people would experience like Amon Tobin's ISAM shows or something of that caliber of detail and artistry. I have ideas, but it just takes the right people and time to execute them.
In your travels as an artist, you’ve dropped releases on Planet Mu, Ninja Tune, Civil Music and many more labels, although you still run your own imprints. When does the decision get made to put out a tune on Slit Jockey as opposed to No Hats, No Hoods or another imprint?
It all really depends on the project. For me, Seclusiasis and Slit Jockey exist for us to sign music that we like to, and help push a family of artists that are all really good people and should be heard. For me personally, I do a lot of remixes for the labels, but don't put out too many releases as the actual artist. Usually it's in the form of curating a compilation or something like that. But, that has changed a bit recently with me putting out the "DPMO" 12" with Trim and I plan to put something out on Seclusiasis in 2013 as well. All the labels I've released on I've been a fan of... so if they were looking to work with me, I took this as an opportunity to broaden my reach as an artist. A lot of these labels have a great following and have gained a lot of respect over the years for putting out quality music. I'd like to think that Seclusiasis and Slit Jockey are in that league as well by this point. Because it's very easy to lose quality control in this industry with digital-only releases becoming more and more prevalent, and it being easier and easier to push those kind of releases out. There are a lot of labels doing releases like every week, and I think the "because we can" world takes over the quality control world. We don't do that, and never will.
We already received a single (and video) for “Command.” Any plans for other Orbits tracks to be released as singles?
Not sure. However, we are working on concepts for a few videos.
Choice Cuts 2 dropped on Slit Jockey in November of last year. It featured the digital release of “DPMO,” after being released on vinyl months prior. How important is it for you to maintain that vinyl exclusivity, or vinyl releases in general, going into 2013?
Not sure. Ha. Vinyl is really rough once again. It had a spike in the mid-2000s that pretty much coincided with the rise of dubstep and grime, which were in there early days very dubplate and vinyl driven. However, most DJs switched to CDs and Serato, so vinyl is kind of dying off again. The "DPMO" / "Poison" 12" was the first thing I did as a solo Starkey release on Slit Jockey and Seclusiasis in such a long time, so we wanted to make it cool. That's why we did the white vinyl with the clear sleeve. It looks good, it sounds good, and it has two singles with instrumentals. Kind of just a classic approach to a vinyl release. I'm really happy with how it turned out.
With Slit Jockey and Seclusiasis, you guys push some exciting new talent. What’s 2013 looking like for you guys, release-wise? Anyone we should be checking for specifically?
Thanks. There's a lot of stuff planned for 2013. On the Slit Jockey side of things, there's a DS1 album, a Sduk EP, a J Beatz EP, and a bunch more. On the Seclusiasis side there's a Knight Riderz single and album, a King album, a Warsnare EP, plus the next installments of the Street Bass series, and others.
With EDM being a major buzz word in the US over the last few years, how do you feel about the dance music scene’s rise over the next few years? Anything you’d like to see more of, as well as things you’d rather do away with?
I hate the term EDM, haha. It sounds stupid. Ha. Yeah I don't know what's going to happen. People are probably going to get sick of electronic music and there will be a new wave of bands that take over again most likely. Seriously though, I don't think electronic music will go away because pretty much all the pop and hiphop records you hear today are built around electronic music... and the mainstream world has been dipping into the underground for a really long time to find new sounds for its artists. Plus, electronic music has now become almost more affordable to do than play in a band... which also changes people's entryway into the music world. That doesn't really answer your question as to what I'd like to see more of, but I guess I'd like to see more experimentation and less sound-a-likes.
Finally, do androids dance?
If programmed the right way.
Inter-Mission is out right now. Here's a track from the EP, "Lies," which you can download for free: