About eight years ago, when no one cared much about hip hop’s evolution from its established 90s templates at the hands of people like Dabrye, Prefuse 73 and Danny Breaks, a tight knit group of DJs and producers in Los Angeles would get together every month and play those new school beats to a small but eager audience. The crowd had the chance to sit around and soak in the sounds while doodling on pieces of paper or alternatively - as the idea of the producer as the focal point of the music instead of the rappers started to take hold - go outside to smoke weed and play their beats on a boom-box for each other to vibe to. The party was called Sketchbook and it was founded by none other than Kutmah – the L.A visionary now living in London – and featured the selection skills and knowledge of Eric Coleman (he of Mochila fame), a guy named Orlando and Take. Some of the guys playing beats on the boom-box outside included a certain Flying Lotus, Mr Dibia$e and Ras G by the way. When Sketchbook folded a couple of years later – because all the money went into buying new records, to break them, and the night wasn’t a money thing (as Take put it to me in 2009) – it was soon replaced by Low End Theory. It picked up where Sketchbook had left off in providing the city a hub for showcasing the more alternative side of hip hop and electronic production. The rest, as they say, is history (if you’re interested in that sort of music that is - otherwise Google is your friend, unfortunately I’ve got a narrative to stick to).
Take went on to become one LA’s nicest, yet under recognised, producers. He is most notable for delivering the ahead-of-its-time long player “Earthtones And Concrete” for Inner Current in 2007, alongside the “Dirty Decibels EP” for Eat Concrete in 2008. He also released on seminal LA imprint Poo Bah, Dublin’s All City records and most recently Alpha Pup - where his third album was released in 2010. At the same time he changed his name from Take to Sweatson Klank. And while I wish there was some romantic or interesting story behind the name change, the actual impetus was that by the end of the 00s having Take as your artist name meant you were by and large un-Googleable, and we all know that’s no way to survive as an artist these days. Plus Sweatson Klank is a much cooler name anyway.
Finally, breaking the proverbial production silence after two years, Sweatson Klank returns this year with a new, refined sound. It reveals the kind of savvy and chops that only experience can buy you. The first taste of what this new cuvee of Sweatson Klank sounds like is the “Elevate Me EP” on Project:Mooncircle, which drops this May and should be followed at some point this year by a full length. Having been privy to the new music since last winter, I can safely that this is Sweatson’s best work to date for me. It rivals the highlight that was “Earthtones And Concrete” in terms of establishing him as someone who knows how to take hip hop places you never thought it could go. The new music showcased on “Elevate Me” and the forthcoming album flirts with higher tempos, slicker melodies and smooth yet substantial bass tones not forgetting some memorable chops and sample flips. Sweatson is, after all, a hip hop man.
To celebrate the new EP and his forthcoming European tour, we asked him for a guest mix. We also shot over some quick questions to find out where the new sound had come from, where it’s going and other interesting things - like what the hell happened to that beats thing that was so hot three years ago and which is the best spot on the old continent. He duly obliged with a 40 minute mix, which rams in a serious amount of the sounds that have been influencing him as well as the work of peers like Om Unit. Read on and listen loud.
"Hip hop is
forever in my
heart so I
it comes through
in my sound, no
matter what the
You’ve been making music for over ten years with your output evolving over the years, along with your artistic personality. What would you say is the main difference between the new music you’ve been making and what came before it?
For me, it’s really just the evolution of an artist. As you might gather from this mix, I love all kinds of music and my influences have always come from so many different places. Most often, my music is shaped by life and its experiences. Of course we are all also influenced by what we listen to and that is constantly changing. I’ve always said that for music to continue being fun we have to try new things. I’ve never been one to get stuck in one sound. I like to experiment and at the same time just put my own touch on things. This new music is just the natural evolution of where my head has been at musically in recent months.
Personally the most surprising element of the new material you’ve been making – including some of the tracks on the “Mooncircle EP” – is that you’re working at a tempo more traditionally associated with dance music, yet the music is distinctively hip hop in both its approach and delivery. Was there a specific reason behind this, did you purposefully aim for it or was it more of a result of what came naturally while writing?
It just came naturally. Hip hop is forever in my heart so I suppose it’s inevitable that it comes through in my sound, no matter what the tempo is. I really try to not get caught up in all the sub genres of electronic music. I just do what feels right to me in the moment.
Where did the influences for the new material come from? What was it that motivated you to write this new music and evolve the sound in such a way?
Some of it comes from listening to a lot of the non catagorizable music from the UK and Europe that has been coming out in the last couple years. The other half, I have to say, is inspired by mid - late 1980s American R&B. If you listen to the sounds on the EP, a lot of the samples are freaked from these kinds of records. Similar to fashion and how certain looks always come back around, this is where I am at in my current evolution as a record collector -after spending years collecting the classic breaks, soul, and funk of the late 60s and 70s. It’s only natural to me to now move onto this 80s sound. So, these are the records I have been listening to as of late and of course the influence comes through in my own sound. If you listen closely to the EP this will make sense I think.
The EP is out this month and I believe an album is in the works. Are you able to give us a bit more information as to what shape it might take, what we can expect?
An album is forthcoming. It’s hard to say but you can expect the further evolution of my sound. The album has some vocal guests which I am really excited about, including Anna Wise from SonnyMoon, SelfSays and Doc Illingsworth from Detroit, alongside several others that I’ll keep on the hush for now. Tempo wise the album is all over the place. The focus is on the songs themselves. I try to think about an album, in an old school way. It should play all the way through as a cohesive stream rather than just a beat tape. It’s something that should take you on a journey and that you want to listen to over and over, because your experience with it and where you are at in your own life continuously grows.
Has the new music you’ve been making impacted or influenced your live shows or even just your approach to performing?
Most definitely. Vice versa as well. Performance plays a big part these days. There is a fine line between making music for dance floors - bass heavy club systems - and making music that is interesting enough to also be listened to at home, or on headphones on a bus ride. I guess I try to walk that line.
How important is LA to you, both personally but also in terms of making music and being an artist?
LA is home. Personally, it is an important place to me: family, friends and so much to offer. It’s difficult to describe the magic of this place in words. It always has been, and that is why it has such a bad name in so many ways. Musically, this place is a huge inspiration. So much talent has gravitated here from all over the world.
You had a hand in sowing the seeds for the LA beat scene revival in the late 00s and you’ve also been a witness to its evolution. How have things evolved on that front over the last few years in LA would you say? It seems to me that we reached a collective plateau by 2009, with this idea of a scene and sound - and a lot of the innovation and experimentation that drove us there had largely evaporated. What are, if any, the exciting things today on that front for you? For example I’ve found that, quite ironically, one of my favourite things from recent years is the re-emergence of MCs making use of production from the new school of beat-makers; or even just MCs jacking and re-appropriating beats that were never meant to have rhymes on them. You told me in 2009 that a big driving factor in the LA scene was this sentiment of ‘fuck MCs, I just wanna do beats’, so I find it interesting that we now seem to have come back full circle in a sense.
I do agree that a lot of the innovation and experimentation has slowed down. Things are sounding pretty formulaic in a lot of ways. If you look throughout music history though, this always happens. A new genre or style evolves out of innovation and then settles into a sort of rut. It happened to rock, soul, hip hop, disco, d&b and pretty much all music. What seems to eventually happen is that most of the people who got into something while it was hot eventually fall out of it after a couple of years - and the true artists continue on and evolve their sound into the next level.
I have to agree with you that in recent times, the re-emergence of MCs and vocalists on tracks has sort of come back into fashion. I’m feeling it too. I think it has to do with the fact that the whole “instrumental beat” thing has come full circle. The beats scene did its job by inspiring lyricists to come with it in new ways and to step-up to the plate. I think it’s great and I’m loving a lot of what I hear.
You’re coming to Europe for a tour soon, so where would you choose as your top 3 favourite spots on the old continent and why?
That’s a tough one. I have so much love for Europe and the UK. I was born in Paris and moved to Los Angeles when I was 5 years old. So I always love going back to Paris and France. It’s just fascinating for me to discover parts of myself through my home country and the culture which I left at a very young age.
I also love Vienna, Austria. Such a cool city: great people, architecture and style. When I’m there I don’t really feel like I am in Western Europe. It somehow feels like a place that is caught between the Eastern and Western European ways of life.
Lastly, Germany is just so far ahead in so many ways, I really appreciate that. Every time I play Germany, the response is great. It’s a huge country with so many different big cities and they all have something to offer. The history there is deep and you can feel it in the air.
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