STARKEY: Intergalactic Dubstep
Out of Philadelphia comes Dubstep maverick Starkey, who’s latest release “Open the Pod Bay Doors”, is trippy. Let him tell you about his plans for 2012, his ideas on experimentation, the Dubstep scene in the States and Drake.
Words & Interview: Aim
Images: Courtesy of Starkey
While the US slowly catches up with Dubstep, a UK-sparked Electronic music movement that is already seeing the rise of its own post-genre in most parts, stateside few have yet to fully capture the raw blend of banger beats and deep, hearty bass lines that have become synonymous with the champion sound. Probably one of the most popular right now is LA-bred producer Skrillex, who made 2011 his breakout year (and the year of Dubstep in America) with the release of two EPs (More Monsters and Sprites and Bangarang), several sold-out world tours, lest we forget, five Grammy noms to boot, including Best New Artist.
Now venture closer to the Atlantic, a couple of skips across the pond from the UK to the genre-defiant city of Philadelphia. More gritty and melodic, and less Pop, the city is home to Sci-Fi fiend, producer and Seclusiasis label head, Starkey (nee PJ Geissinger), whose spacey sounds have been cutting up parties since 2005. Back then he was all about Grime and Bass. But having recently released his latest material offering, the atmospherically-lucid EP experience, Open the Pod Bay Doors, he says, he thrives on experimentation; a necessary element in his musical quest to define what Dubstep really is in his own backyard. And 2012 may just be the year he’ll stake his flag on the scene.
You’ve been experimenting a lot lately, what’s sparking the newfound inspiration?
I always try to be diverse when it comes to the production of the records and show like that I don’t pigeonhole my sound. But I think that maybe this one is the most varied of the bunch because the first song, the title track has like guitars and loads of acoustic drum sounds. It has that straight-up almost like Rock vibe at moments [Laughs]. I’ve never actually gone there. Plus the track “Rayguns” opens up with some really big drums and has that kind of crossover Indie-type vibe to it. Then it gets like grimy and gritty, and all Electronic.
I don’t know; I bought a guitar back in like January and I always grew up playing bass and piano in bands. And I’ve always been into epic post-Rock, you know. I played hardcore like when I was in high school and stuff. So I think I just kind of felt like doing something even more left-field from what I was doing, and seeing how I could incorporate that style or that sound into something that still felt like a record that I would make. It’s been a lot of fun. I don’t try to plan anything when I’m in the studio. It just kind of happens and I think those are the records that tend to be the most exciting. And those are the ones that other people gravitate towards as well. People think it’s so much of a departure, but I don’t know; yes, it is probably the most varied, but I think that’s how I keep things interesting.
Generally speaking, you’re definitely one to take risks, but right now in music it seems to be quite the norm. So now that everyone is trying to do what you do naturally, what do you do to take it up a notch? Or do you not even think about it at all?
You know, recently I started every once in a while thinking about trying to do something specific in the studio, just to try to like change it up. Like, “I’m going to go for this kind of approach…” For instance, I recently did another remix for J-Sweet, who’s like a Grime producer, for his track “Kerb” last year, which is one of my favorite tracks of all time. I went pretty out there with it; It’s pretty vicious. Then I was doing this other one for a release that we [were] putting out at the beginning of December, and I literally did a stripped-down, 8-bar Grime track. I’ve never done that before. And funny enough, you now, a lot of people comment on the blog form and stuff, saying ‘it would be cool if you did a straight 8-bar track and see what it sounds like…’ So I actually thought of that when I was sitting there, like alright let me do this, you know. [Laughs] I already went extreme and did something that I really, really liked that wasn’t necessarily a signature, you know, Starkey thing. And I stripped down a track that I would enjoy mixing in a club—and you know, you don’t really mix songs for longer than a minute, even if it’s a five-minute track. They’re DJ tools if you go back in time and ask the DJ godfather [Laughs]. But I’ve always written songs, not DJ tools or tracks. So I did approach it [differently] and did two songs now that I like that are DJ tools, tracks for emcees—just not a song, but just a beat in my opinion. So yeah, I’m venturing out. [Laughs]
I also think it’s a healthy time in music, but you’re also flooded and inundated with so much music because of how accessible this stuff is. And things become so fast; Everyone is on to the next thing. Like the Drake [Take Care] album leaked this week [at interview time] and probably half the people are already like, ‘So okay, what’s the next’s thing that’s gonna leak?’ I’m like, “What?” You know what I mean? I want to make records that, you know, not to be cliché, but that stand the test of time, that people would want to listen to on repeat listens. I don’t want to make records that are like today, that I will play on the regular and get sick of days or weeks from now. So that’s how I really approach everything that I’ve done, like the Space Traitor record, Ear drums [and Blackholes], this new thing. Besides remixes and stuff, I’ll probably do an album next year of my own stuff instead of a mix of collaborations. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve done that, like actually put out an album, from start to finish that really plays like an album.
What are your plans for 2012 in terms of reaching a bigger audience?
I’m working on some stuff with some big artist names in the studio right now, which will finally see the light of day in 2012. So yeah, I’m doing some things that will expand the audience, but I’m not necessarily changing my sound or my approach to do that. I also think that people are finally catching up to things that five years ago they wouldn’t have really paid much attention to. Like I mentioned Drake earlier, he’s a good example. If you listen to the Drake album, and you pay attention to the samples, it’s not very commercially viable music in the Pop sense. Like most of the record doesn’t feel like that. They’re definitely taking a risk in a Pop sense with the music that they are releasing, but at the same time it really works because it takes it to a different level. So I think somehow the labels and the A&Rs are really starting to catch up with what’s going on in music and in general. I think audiences are getting smarter in a way, like they’re open to trying new things. So I think all of that is healthy for the industry and the scene.
What about the club scene? You were talking about DJing, but what’s the scene like under the red lights? Where is the best place to be?
To be honest with you, in the US—I play in San Francisco and in Denver probably more than anywhere else. San Francisco has always been a pretty big Electronic music hub at least for the like last 20 years or so.
Denver is really going nuts! Like seriously…they have that whole kind of like jam-band, Burning Man crowd—this scene of just like Bass music in general and people like the Glitch Mob and Mimosa, even people like, Skrillex—they’re really just open to this music. So I’m like constantly going to Denver; I’m constantly going to San Francisco, and then in Europe, obviously, the UK has been really responsive to what I’m doing. So I’m in England a lot, but then also places like Belgium and the Netherlands. I played in Russia this year [at interview time] for the first time and that was crazy!
It really depends; the different scenes and the different places you play, it’s all about the lineup and the promoters and what they have kind of established as “the sound” for their club or for their party. And that’s always interesting to see where you fit in that realm of things because for some people, the term “Dubstep”, which is like the buzz word right now, it’s something that they’ve been following for six years and they understand a lot of where it came from. For other people, this is the newest thing that they just found out about last year. So the frame of reference varies and is very different, and that makes it somewhat difficult for someone coming into the space. You just gotta hope that the promoter that booked the place know your sound and the kind of vibe you’re going to bring. And I just do what I do in the club; I don’t care if the person before me is playing tear-out Dubstep, just aggressive stuff. I don’t really do that; I dabble in it, but I’m all about hills and valleys. I’m about giving the people a journey that can be for the dancefloor, but can also be for your car or your earbuds.
So how exactly are you mixing it up during your sets?
I play lots of Grime and lots of Hip-Hop, and I mix it all up very quickly in the club. I think that for a lot of people it’s very energetic. Even if they prefer a certain kind of sound, they still get into my set because they’re not technical, just energetic. I really get into it. I ENJOY playing my music.
Are there any tools or sounds that you’re completely tired of hearing, production-wise, that you’re doing your best to stay away from? Like overuse of synths…?
I’m a big synth guy [Laughs]. I love synths! I know what you’re talking about that, like everyone trying to remake that Major Lazer….[Laughs] Yeah, let Wes [Diplo] do that. [Laughs] Yeah, I don’t know; that’s kind of annoying and it’s a little irritating. Then again, I like some of that Dutch house stuff, I just don’t like when people imitate things. Either do your things—Music for me is like art, what I need to do. If you want to do it, that’s one thing; but if you need to do it, that puts you in a different league. I was in London and was actually having a conversation with [DJ] Swindle and [DJ] Quest working on a record together in the studio, and we were talking about how we need to do this. Quest was saying how he hadn’t been in the studio for a couple of days and how he was starting to get antsy. [Laughs] It’s not something you choose to do, it’s something you live for. For me, that’s really important in music. Yes, there are a lot of copycats out there right now and that’s a bit upsetting. I don’t think it’s a specific sound, but it’s specific people who create sounds and do things that other people end up copying because it gets copied so much. And we get sick of it, but it’s not the fault of the person who created it. They just did something that was really cool and people enjoyed it.
What do you think about the Electronic music explosion that’s happening right now, here in the States?
I think what we do is really genuine and we really love what we do. And I think it’s pretty amazing what’s happening with Electronic music right now in America and how it is being received by people. I also think it’s because there’s a gap in the work for angst-themed music and I think this is taking the place of that. [Laughs] Kids are growing up with Hip-Hop music and the incorporation of Hip-Hop in the Dubstep sound—that whole thing kind of works for kids.
Do you think it’s going to last?
[Laughs] To be honest with you, the world goes in cycles. The people who continue to make authentic music will do it and consider it art, and will treat it that way. They will be successful and always be something that people pay attention to. But will the mainstream still care about this in two years? I’m not really sure.
Let’s hope so…
I’ll just keep doing what I do….
Download Starkey’s Open the Pod Bay Doors EP, HERE
Follow Starkey on Twitter, @StarkBotBeats