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There’s something in the water on the US west coast. The last twenty odd years of music, both popular and underground, will attest to that – from grunge to g-funk, turntablism to hyphy. The San Francisco Bay Area is a particular hotspot and in the last decade it’s been the incubator for a fascinating strand of electronic music. Influenced by the golden era of IDM as much as by the UK’s own hardcore mutations, producers in the bay have perfected their own blend of these influences powered by a devotion to sound system bass aesthetics and a hip hop ethos that references the genre’s sample science, its early philosophy of doing with what you have and a tendency for sweaty club friendly bangers.
You can trace back to edIT’s stunning debut for Planet Mu in 2004, it informed the birth of The Glitch Mob and Low End Theory and it’s also what San Fran’s Frite Nite collective – featuring the likes of Salva, Epcot, Comma, Eprom and NastyNasty – do best. It’s evolved over the years of course, catalysed by the speedy evolution of the technology that made it all possible in the first place, yet it remains uniquely “west coast”. Where the UK purposefully maintains a rough edge to the music – see jungle, early dubstep, hardcore – the west coast producers absorb that and then do what America seems to do best: reprocess it into a shinier and more powerful version. To some this might seem pointless, like a Hollywood blockbuster based on a low-budget French comedy, but that doesn’t mean there is no value or potential in it. In this case the music might be a shinier version of various genres you know giving it potentially more mass appeal yet there is still a slightly lunatic, demented side to it all. It’s an idea that’s been around for a while now and which has informed a fair few recent populist moves in hip hop and electronic music (see Megasoid’s legendary Turbo Crunk parties in MTL for a historically important, non-west coast example).
When I first heard the work of Eprom – who is the subject of today’s guest mix and q&a, showcasing his early influences – I knew instantly that it fit within that school. It’s hip hop, woven into the music’s DNA, and yet it’s also hardcore and rave. That creates an odd contrast which combined with the music’s engineered appeal means Eprom’s production are some of the most entertaining you’ll ever hear in a club. After a few years of releasing on various labels – including Warp and Leisure System – Eprom is dropping his debut album, “Metahuman”, this month on the Dutch imprint Rwina. Inspired by the next stage of human evolution, the album is a bold move by a producer who’s become adept at them. What struck me most about the music on “Metahuman” beyond the aforementioned uniquely west coast blend of a variety of aesthetics is the idea that it was inspired by imagined futures – the works of Moebius were an influence – yet made in the present and most importantly consumed in the present, reinforcing this idea that ultimately there is no future anything in music. There is just the now. I came across a quote from Burroughs the night before seeing him live last month (hat tip to Joe Muggs) which goes “if you cut the present open, the future bleeds out.” And that’s basically it. Eprom’s music bleeds the future into the now, smearing it all over your auditory system with lashings of subby kicks and other worldly melodies.
For this latest instalment of the PlayGround Mix series I shot over some questions to Eprom about the new album, its inspiration and creation process, slow/fast and this idea of a uniquely west coast aesthetic to the music. To help guide you through he also put together a mix of influences and inspirations that show how he got to the wonderfully bizarre musical world he now inhabits.
Let’s start at the beginning – could you summarise your background, how you came into music production and DJing, how you first started, etc.?
I grew up in a small town on the east coast, where my primary exposure to electronic music was through the internet, media, word of mouth, and radio. I played shows on college radio at a very early age, like twelve or thirteen, and began lifting vinyl that would come in on the promo releases. I got a copy of Aphex’s “Come To Daddy” EP as a promo this way. As I was exposed to more and more of these sounds, and learnt about the computer, I decided the next logical step was to begin creating. So at sixteen I pirated a copy of Acid pH1 and made about a hundred drum and bass and electro tracks. I didn’t start DJing until much later. Around 2005, a lot of things were happening in the San Francisco Bay Area that were really musically exciting. Dubstep wasn’t popular yet, what was popular was this really unique local strain of the spirit of early IDM crossed with dancefloor bass music that had very little regard for generic conventions. It was unique and heady and heavily influenced by psychedelics, so naturally being an enterprising youth I wanted to be part of that.
You’ve spent the last few years releasing music across a variety of labels, what was it about Rwina that attracted you as a home for your debut album?
Rwina was always about releasing the most intensely twisted and spectrally mutant music I could create. They stand for something real. They encourage me to make more fucked up music, which is the kind of feedback loop that makes me create the most potent shit.
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When we first spoke about “Metahuman”, you mentioned Moebius and “psychedelic sci-fi” as an influence as well as the album being about the next stage of human evolution. Could you expand on that a little – how do you see your music as fitting this idea, how is it a statement about this potential evolution and how did these inspirational works fit into the creative process?
I think all good sci-fi is psychedelic in the classical sense - the inner workings of the human mind are on display for us to probe and manipulate. It is not psychedelic in the visual sense, with the trappings of ‘psychedelia’ that we have come to associate with that word - dancing bears, blacklights, flangers, or even drugs in particular. Psychedelia to me always meant fundamentally questioning our sense of self. I think that is why sci-fi is important, because it allows us to throw the human psyche into impossible situations and imagine how we would adapt. So if my music isn’t necessarily ‘psychedelic’ to someone in the sense of having familiar sounds that one associates with psychedelic genres of music like psych rock, psytrance, etc. it’s because it’s psychedelic in a different sense.
Sadly Moebius passed recently – for anyone unfamiliar with his extensive work, what would be your recommended works?
While making the album I was reading “Incal”, which has a cool typically French strangeness to it. I am also a really big fan of “Arzach” which accomplishes so much through visual storytelling. I wanted to achieve something similar with music which is mostly wordless. There are occasional snippets of words, but often they are just parts of words. I prefer them to be unintelligible to force the listener to focus on the sonic aspect of the voice-sound rather than the lyrical content.
Back to “Metahuman”, the album builds up on your previous work and solidifies it – how did you approach putting the album together and writing music for it?
The album has been in the works for a couple of years. I didn’t really realize it was going to be an album until about a year ago when I looked at all of these tracks and realized they fit together.
Was tracklisting for it an easy process? The album flows quite nicely in that regard which isn’t always easy with dancefloor minded stuff.
I bounced it back and forth with Akkachar at Rwina and he was very helpful in organizing the tracklist. I know how to program a live set but an album is different because you want to have these undulations of intensity, with peaks and valleys on a fractal scale. A live set is more about this slow linear progression, whereas an album demands more intricacy.
You also previously told me that you’d aimed to get a sense of alien weirdness in the music while still keeping human/organic qualities. How did you set to achieve that and how do you think it translates ultimately in the final product?
I try to create the most alien sounds possible and then play human melodies with them. There are references to rap and 2-step and hardcore, which ground the album in dance music but I always want it to be a little weird.
The music you – and other current producers you’re affiliated with like NastyNasty, Comma, Salva and more – make feels to me quite distinctly west coast. By that I mean that there seems to be a common thread in your collective work whereby sounds, styles and influences that I would venture primarily originate from the UK/Europe (drum’n’bass, garage, dubstep and other hardcore mutations from the last ten + years) are assimilated into the music and reborn with a twist that seems to be distinct to American, and west coast-based, producers. There’s the low slung of hip hop that’s always lurking in the rhythm or the melodies, a real refinement of the idea of big sound system music in the bass frequencies and an energy that translates well to live/DJ sets. How do you see it from your end?
I definitely agree with that idea. I see that. I see a lot of west coast producers repurposing rave sounds to their own nefarious ends all the time. Even when I create tracks that aren’t sample based, like “Feldspar” - which is sort of a caricature of dubstep - or “Pipe Dream”, I have the mentality of flipping something, like sampling without sampling. Building on musical ideas or structures and re-engineering them for dark purposes. Like Salva’s flip of Green Velvet, it’s taking a rave staple and completely flipping it into something insanely twisted. I think that mentality comes from early hip-hop as well as early hardcore. It’s viral, it’s not tied to either hemisphere. We’re all assembling fragments of each other’s music.
You’ve spoken about the diversity in bpm range and musical styles in your sets – how you go from 70bpm all the way up to mid 90s via both double time and half time/normal speeds. What is it about this whole slow/fast way of mixing and bringing music to people in a live setting that appeals to you?
I like the building in intensity of those tempos, and the physicality. I like dancing, so I like to bounce around like crazy during my sets and that whole bpm range corresponds directly to the active heartbeat. If you dance along with me, your heartbeat should be synced to the bpm.
Tied to the previous question, why do you think this style of mixing/live is more popular now in contrast to the past ten + years where the dominant strand was DJs and live acts sticking to one bpm/style for most of their sets and parties that provided the same thing all night (in the UK and Europe anyways) e.g. a drum’n’bass night or a garage night or a dubstep night.
I think the rise of internet culture and the encouragement of musical ADD is what has created that shift. People tell me they get “bored” with one bpm for too long. Personally I love dubstep nights and techno nights, but I know a lot of younger people can’t handle it. But I think shifting bpms and styles is more interesting, and gets back to earlier roots of hardcore and even live music before those genres existed.
Lastly what happens after “Metahuman”? What’s the next step of Eprom’s own artistic evolution? Or is it too early yet…
Already have a couple more EPROM releases on the horizon, but I can’t talk about those just yet. My collaboration with Boreta as Nasty Ways is taking off, we are working on our first proper release now, very excited about that.
Albums Eprom - Metahuman
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