Interview: Datsik Speaks on the Future of Dubstep and Trap, Drugs in EDM, and Rap Music
Canada's Troy Beetles, professionally known as Datsik, is no doubt one of the most unique players in the whole dance music game. Born and bred out in
Image via Complex Original
Canada's Troy Beetles, professionally known as Datsik, is no doubt one of the most unique players in the whole dance music game. Born and bred out in western Canada (Kelowna, BC to be exact), Datsik broke out with the initial North American EDM explosion when he linked up with fellow dubstep and bass music dons like Excision, 12th Planet, and Flux Pavilion, carving out his own take on the bass-laced low end grooves of dubstep. Since his initial 2009 SMOG Records release, a collaboration with 12th Planet, Datsik has toured the world, headlined festivals, released multiple albums (including his latest Let It Burn and his debut, the Dim Mak-released Vitamin D), and most recently hit 1,000,000 fans on Facebook. Just a week before Datsik kicks off the fall Firepower Records Most Wanted tour, Datsik took the time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions.
First off, let me congratulate you on reaching one million fans on Facebook. How does it feel to be a millionaire?
Haha! Well, it's kind of been a longtime coming, it's been a push working my ass off. It's cool, it's nice to have that many supporters and it's a blessing. I'm stoked to be where I'm at.
And speaking of where you're at, you've got your new record, Let It Burn. For fans who haven't heard it, or just want your perspective, what can fans expect from the project? A mix of styles? Straight up dubstep?
Yeah, I mean the core of the album is dubstep, because that's what kind of I'm known for, but it jumps around bit. I've got some 110, some electro, a little bit of drumstep, and the whole thing kind of has a bit of a hip-hop tilt. But yeah, I'd say most of the tracks are around 140, and it kind mixes styles, where some are more melodic, and others are straight up raw, like the title track "Let It Burn," which is probably the rawest track on the album. I'd say that's the basis of the album, and given the response from the previews, I'm excited to see how it goes down!
That's good to hear, because as a lot of the scene's top talents like Skream have moved away from dubstep, and I know there's rumblings that "dubstep is dead"… Even Zomboy told us earlier this year that "I think everyone came to the realization that dubstep was slowly getting a bit boring"…As someone who was instrumental in dubstep's North American explosion and is currently head of one of the premier bass music labels, what do you make of those comments and rumblings?
Some parts of that are true, at the same time, I feel like the genre isn't being pushed any further and it's like a lot of the dubstep producers are thinking "where do we go from here?" At that point, I think the only thing you can do is take a break from it and in doing so open the door for other music and so I think right now trap music is filling that void. I think with the progression of trap, as it gets bigger and it gets better, it'll start to open up doors for dubstep, because it is still the same tempo. And to say that dubstep is dead? That's kind of weird because at this point, there are still more people listening to dubstep then ever before. Maybe, it might be dead to a lot the tastemakers, but if you saw this year at EDC, the bass stage was completely full the entire time, and it was probably the second biggest stage after the main stage and it was all dubstep and trap. That kind of showed us, that well maybe the people in the UK have doing it for so long, like ten years now, are obviously sick of it. Like Skream has been in it since the start, so who knows? Maybe he's just really sick of it like some other guys and they're looking for some change - and [you] can't blame [him] for that. At the same time, again more people are listening to it then ever, so who knows; I'm excited to see where it goes!
Definitely well said, and I think a lot of your peers would echo that. Now that we've clarified that, dubstep isn't dead, what's the future of dubstep like?
Well like I was saying, trap is sort of the new age, bottle service take on dubstep and so I think more and more trap elements that get used at 140 with dubstep, and more minimal elements, will be how dubstep is saved. Honestly, I still love dubstep, will always love dubstep and am a huge huge fan of it and there are A LOT of people who feel the same way. For me, it's not just a fad. I've loved it since the start when I got into it. Personally, I think there is room for improvement - we just haven't found it yet. It just takes one person to find a new way to almost re-invent the world, because we, dubstep, went through this phase where everyone was just trying to copy Skrillex and do what he's doing. He was paving the way with his certain sound and carving his own path with dubstep and when other people are copying him and he hasn't put out any dubstep for a while now, and people don't know what to do. Now he's working on Dog Blood and all the imitators are left high and dry. So now it'll take someone to do something different, push the envelope, do something unique and try to incorporate all those elements that people love, like the deep house or trap elements and make a fusion, hybrid. Doing something like that will open doors for dubstep, bring people back and bring back, evolve, and re-vitalize the genre. One thing I will say though is that normally, dubstep DJs don't just play dubstep, when a lot of house DJs only play house, or just 128. Dubstep DJs tend to play everything, and that's why I'd much rather go see a dubstep DJ over a house DJ.
Well that was certainly candid and I appreciate that, and you've already answered some of my questions with that! On that note, what've been your favorite straight-up dubstep releases this year?
I've been following a lot of the deeper UK stuff, and this one guy in particular that I really enjoy BIOME and he's making a hybrid of really "beats" stuff, but it's super heavy and it has a ton of weight with big drops and big drums. It sounds like the kind of shit that got me into it, and when I hear the stuff that he's been putting out, it's really exciting. Other than that, stuff on the label like Protohype and Getter. Getter is really bringing it back to the old-school shit, like the 2009 shit, and Protohype has the whole melodic side of things down, and really all the kids on the label are, in my opinion, killing it in the dubstep scene. I feel like as a whole, Firepower has it locked down. Obviously the kids I'm signing, I truly believe in and hopefully together we can make a dent in the scene.
Yeah man, I definitely think you guys are on to something. Now you mentioned the 2009 style of dubstep and when it comes to your particular unique brand of dubstep, ever since your earliest releases, you've always had a distinct hip-hop influence, a certain swagger to them (no pun intended). You've even sampled from the likes of Method Man on "Southpaw." It's now 2013 as you said, trap could be the bottle service take on dubstep, and we've seen hip-hop and electronic dance music really come together in a way that we've never seen before. What does all of this mean for you as a producer? What's been the most exciting part about that?
Well I really just think that, like I was saying with trap bringing back the minimal stuff, when I go and play a set, obviously the core of my set is dubstep as the kids come to the show and want to hear that and go crazy. At the same time when you mix trap in, it just makes sets that much more dynamic and gives people a break. It's a minimal, kind of cool way to get people to freak out. It's cool, and refreshing, and i'm so stoked that trap has been introduced to the scene, even though it's been around a long time as the southern rap stuff, but now there's new EDM trap and it's crossing over with the normal trap and you have guys like Diplo working with 2 Chainz and crossing the two worlds together, adding EDM trap elements into the normal trap - bridging the gap between the two and I think it's really cool to see what happen. So personally, I love that trap is in the scene, and the one thing good about trap is that I love that you really can make it at any tempo, like 100 BPM trap with the same hats, or 128 stuff at half-time or the 140, typical dubstep kind of trap or the 165 stuff like Baauer's "Roll Up" remix; that kind of stuff opens doors and bridges gaps between genres, so having trap become part of the EDM scene, is a good look for us.
I'd definitely agree with that insight, but I have to ask you, speaking of the hip-hop angle as a noted hip-hop fan, and someone who brings up Wu-Tang some in their interviews, who's your favorite Wu Tang member?
I'd say Method Man, but two weeks ago though, I had a show in D.C. and GZA was on the bill and we swapped info, so hopefully in the future we can do a track together! He was super cool, and all those guys are super chill though, super cool and I'm excited to see if we can make some magic and get on tracks. It'd be sick.
So besides Method Man being your favorite individual and GZA being super cool, what's your favorite Wu album, solo or group?
I would definitely say 36 Chambers as that's the first one, and I have that vinyl and every single tune on the album is an absolute hit. That's the classic right there, and Wu-Tang at it's finest.
Favorite song on the album?
I'd say probably "Bring The Ruckus," haha!, It's so raw and playing it live, people just freak out, so that's probably it.
Do you drop Wu-Tang in your sets?
I had at one point. I was playing "Method Man" for a little bit and had a cool mash-up of that and now I usually play some Biggie or some West Coast shit; I just kind of find a few tracks per set and slip them in but I don't go overboard with it, and enough to give people a break. Works really well!
You've also worked with MCs like Messinian, Snak The Ripper and you even recently remixed Talib Kweli on Pretty Lights' record. How is that different from working on your own instrumental?
Well it's much easier, a lot easier. It gives me a theme and I feel like I work best with direction right away. If someone is just like "remix this," I then have to find an avenue in which I want to take it in. I find that when I'm given a bit of direction, I work better so let's say I want to make a track that incorporates fire trucks, the sound designer in me comes out and it's a lot easier to just make a track with a specific theme, and I find I work a lot quicker that way. So I have to do it that way now, because I've written so many tracks, I have to try to find something new to learn on every track.
You're talking about writing with themes and concepts, and you said dubstep was the core of Let It Burn, is that what you mean or something more specific?
Dubstep is like the core of the album and with "Let It Burn" I was just thinking fire, dark, machine guns and rain, and stuff like that. So halfway through the song, there's this breakdown at the half-point in the song, and there's this car driving and it stops and sees something in the future and then it shoots at it before it blows up and goes into the second drop. I used to have a lot of fun scoring videos and movies, or whatever, so it's cool to be able to incorporate that into the music and still make it work for a DJ. So just little things like that make it a whole lot more fun.
I can imagine and speaking of fun, You even laid down some bars on "Too Late To Say No" and then did that for the video. Do you plan to rap on more of your tracks?
Haha I just did it for fun, and I didn't think of doing it for any other reason. I've done it in the past for some previous hip-hop tracks of mine but just screwing around, so when we're doing the video, the director asked me to do it. I said "sure, totally, whatever" and it was fun, but that's all it was. I think it turned out alright and some people think I should never do it again, so I take everything with a grain of salt but I had fun doing it and I might do it in the future.
Okay, so speaking of rap and this is a hypothetical question, if you could work with any rapper or rap group in history and executive produce an album, from concept to finish who would it be with? What might that project look like?
I would probably do it with Dr. Dre because I feel like it'd be a good clash, in that I know he'd want to keep it super West Coast and I tend to write that stuff a lot easier then most other hip-hop, so I think we'd make something cool. I'd try to let him take the lead and then basically just step in to add production elements and be his engineer and make it sound electronic and add elements here and there, and in doing so, come up with something cool.
Ah man that'd be cool! I hope it happens!
Yeah man it'd be sick!!
Okay we're talking a lot about hip-hop and rap right now, What's been your favorite mixtape or album of the year?
Favorite release of the year? Hard to say, I come from a different faction of hip-hop I guess. My favorite stuff happened already! Like my favorite hip-hop was in the '90s. So it's like new Drake? Whatever. To me it just sounds 'dime-a-dozen' but there's one guy I've been kind of following, Jon Conner. He's sort of intelligent rap/hip-hop and I just feel like rap has been dumbed down so much, like the stuff you hear on the radio has been dumbed down like crazy and for me it's painful to listen to. I'm just sick of the bottle poppin', "I got bitches, I got money" - it's been choked to death. Like dubstep, in order to save hip-hop, you've got to bring the intelligence back to the table. To me, hip-hop and rap are two different things; Rap being about bitches and money and gangsterness, and hip-hop being about sending a message, and intelligence, and composition of words and rhymes. It'd be cool to be see more hip-hop then rap being brought to the forefront.
Okay, so you think Jon Conner is doing his thing with the intelligent rap and hip-hop, and think Drake is sort of "dime-a-dozen," a throwaway--
Well not exactly, Drake isn't bad, but some of these guys who pop up, it just sounds recycled.
Haha, alright, back to dubstep. Now you're heading out on your Most Wanted tour next month, another installment in the Firepower Records tour history, what's different about this tour versus your last few ones?
I'm just stoked because we've done the grinding and this tour should be dope so I'm excited. We've got most of the Firepower crew and Funtcase, and we're super excited. I've also never dropped an LP right before a tour, so that's different. We also souped up the Vortex and the PK system, so this is the 5th bus tour and it'll be exciting to see how it happens! It'll be dope to have all my friends with me and hopefully we'll bang out some new material, partying.
Well speaking of partying, and I have to ask you about this, but lately there's been a lot of talk in the news about "molly" and the relationship between drugs and dance music. As producer making the music, a DJ with festival headlining gigs, and your own stellar label, how do you feel you fit into the conversation?
I mean, regardless of the industry, people are going to do drugs. There's no two ways to look at it. Just because there's electronic music it doesn't… It could be a rock show and people are doing heroin. It doesn't matter what kind of music, if there's a concert, it's going to bring that kind of behavior and the activities. I think right now, EDM is a lot healthier than let's say rock & roll. Obviously, we're more advanced… you know… I think everyone should just be cautious of what they're doing, you know? If you're going to do drugs, you know only do. I don't even know if I should say this, I don't know. If you're going to do it, do it responsibly and know where you're getting it from. What happened at Electric Zoo was very, very sad. Everyone felt really bad for the two people that you know... and the families that were effected and it's just very unfortunate. It happens. I guess… people are going to do it regardless, though, and to put sort of any ban on anything is not going to solve the problem. It's about being more responsible and making better choices and being educated about doing drugs before you do them.
I appreciate the candidness. I know a lot of have shied away.
I would just say, that I've been there and I've done that. You know, it's around, it's in the music industry, but it's also everywhere. If you're going to do it, do it responsibility and just make sure you're with people you trust.
Well thank you for that. So moving past that, you've been part of the scene for a while now, making dubstep with Excision three-four years ago and you've been around and have seen the scene grow to the point where dubstep, or EDM events at the smaller size to now filling up NBA arenas. What's been the coolest part of that?
The coolest part has just been being blessed with the opportunity to travel as much as I have been, and I get to see the world. You know at first I was like "oh my god, this is a lot of work just because of the traveling" and that people see the glamour not the gritty side - though I am not complaining at all, and want to make that clear - but there is a lot of traveling, lots of flying with no sleep, constant moving from one place to another, moving zero to 60 - it's great, and you want to check out some of the places but sometimes you only get to see the inside of the club. So in the last few years I've tried to get out more and see more of the places, explore more and utilize the time and opportunity in each city to see new stuff, try new foods, open my mind. So the last few years have been really cool because I've been back and forth to Europe a few times, China, and I think it's been really interesting and cool, and I've realized how fortunate I have to this kind of job - not job, but career. I also think starting the label was the best thing ever because now it's like we've got this gig in Paris, with the Splash guys, and we got there and had Terravita there, Bare Noize there, and just so many homies there. So being on the other side of the world, partying with my friends, label mates my homies is the best thing in the world. So i'm just very honored and very fortunate to be where I am at, and just generally very happy.
That's great to hear, as I'm sure it can be tough to stay grounded in your situation. Now one final question: do androids dance?
Ahh definitely! I make robot noises, so I would assume that since I make funky robot noises, that they do!