[INTERVIEW] Datsik Talks Hip-Hop, His Current Tour & Firepower Records
January 17th, 2014Adam Liderman
As bass music fans know, there are few artists who drop heavy, grimy beats that shake your to your very core; Troy Beetles, aka Datsik, is one such artist. Born in Canada, Beetles has rose to prominence in the bass music scene as EDM exploded in North America, alongside friends 12th Planet, Excision and Flux Pavilion. Initially a hip-hop DJ, Datsik is known for creating some of the deepest, darkest dubstep and has toured around the country (not to mention world) multiple times. I had a chance to catch up with the talented producer right before the start of his Digital Assassins tour.
So you’re kicking off the new year with three co-headlining dates in Boston, Philly and NYC with GZA from the legendary Wu-Tang clan who you’ve notoriously pledged allegiance to over the years. I’m sure you were psyched. How did that end up coming together? How did GZA end up in the mix?
Well, it was kind of a game-plan that we set up with my booking agent. They asked me [if i wanted] some sort of hip-hop on the bill; that hadn’t really been done. We talked about who we should get and I suggested a couple different Wu-Tang members and GZA just kinda ended up sticking. Being able to play on the East Coast with a member of Wu-Tang…I think it will be a good look.
I played one show with him actually already – it was in DC, it was a massive – with Dr. P and Dodge & Fuski and GZA as well. It ended up selling really well and it was really cool to see his performance in front of a completely different crowd. Total EDM crowd. The hip-hop crowd vs. the EDM crowd is way different just because the kids are all decked out head-to-toe in raver gear and neon shit, and the hip-hop crowd is kinda more reserved and don’t wanna be seen going crazy – they’re kinda just watching and maybe chain-smoking a bit but also enjoying it and you know, chillin’.
Did GZA play with his live band?
No, he didn’t have his live band that time so I’m excited to see what he does with this live band – I think it’ll be really cool. I got to spend some time with and chill with him a bit and he’s a really cool dude, so I’m really stoked to have him back and I think it’ll make for a couple really interesting shows.
Are you personally involved with selecting the openers on your tour, is it something that’s kinda packaged together as part of it, or – how much of a hand do you have in putting this together?
100%. I get to pick who (assuming the artists are down) but I get to usually pick who I want to bring with me on tour. Getter wasn’t on the Most Wanted Tour, so I figured he had to come for a string of dates on this tour, and people are really excited to see him.
HeRobust’s been killing it, stoked to have him as well; I think it’ll be really cool. Never actually met him, so it should be interesting. Heroes x Villains – love those guys; [I] spent some time with Heroes x Villains when I was in Atlanta and they’re really cool motherf*ckers. And then we got Protohype a date. We got Subantics who will be joining me for the Canada run. Must Die! is coming with me on a few solo dates.
“That’s kinda how we roll with Firepower shows – we stack the lineup and make sure people are getting tons of bang for their buck.”
[It] should be sick. I think it’ll make for a really cool lineup and everyone’s really excited to see everyone on the lineup too. We bring our own PK sound system and all our own lighting; rolling with the Vortex Lumen.
We saw you open at BassLights in Virginia right before New Year’s – which was fucking fantastic by the way – and I was kinda curious how you balance playing a heavy set without, potentially taking the hype away from the main act. Do you ever tone down your sets? Can you even do that without compromising your own sound?
I actually had a good chat with Pretty Lights about this. That was one of the main concerns he had in putting me on the show – he’s like ‘you play really heavy, and I just didn’t really know if it’d make sense’, but because Pretty Lights is a full-live band, it’s almost kinda like seeing two rock bands.
“It doesn’t really matter if one plays heavier than the other, because they’re two completely separate different shows.”
I think once we you add a change-over into the mix, it completely changes everything and kinda resets the energy and it almost makes it feel like each act is it’s own band. So okay – Datsik is allotted one hour, so we’re gonna give him that one hour and after he’s done, 10 minute change over, then we have the next act on. It gives people the chance to reset whereas opposed to your normal club setting, if I were to play up to when Pretty Lights played, it wouldn’t really make sense because I’d be playing a bunch of heavier stuff and all of a sudden Pretty Lights would come on with way mellower stuff; it’d be a weird transition. But because of the change-over, it makes it a lot better.
I was talking with Pretty Lights about this and he said that he was really stoked at how good of a show it was and realized that it didn’t really make a difference was awesome. If anything, people are stoked to hear something mellow by the end of it. It’s cool; it ended up working out really well with both shows and hopefully me and him do more shows in the future. I’m totally thankful to the BassLights camp for having me out, and I’m good friends with both Bassnectar and Pretty Lights, so it was only a matter of time before it happened and I’m really stoked that it ended up being those two shows.
Going back to your Vortex Lumen visuals, I was talking to some kids who saw you on the last go-around and a lot of them had been saying that as the tour went on, the Vortex and the visuals and the way they interacted with the music improved. Have you been tightening the visuals over time? Would you say they got better? How do you feel it adds to the crowd’s experience? Does it add to your experience?
One thing I’ve always made a point of and tried to do with my shows, is not have the same show every single night. That is something that’s very rare. When you’re doing a bus tour, you’re playing every single day and there isn’t a lot of time to change your setup and do something different to change the visuals. We have a VJ who runs all the visuals on the Vortex and so I basically set moods.
Lets say for example I’m playing an hour and fifteen minutes: for first fifteen minutes I want it to be really heavy, so I want him to use vibrant colors, the reds and strobes and crazy shit, and then next fifteen minutes, say I’m going into a mellow section, then I want him to do the acid-y kind of shit and the more washed out stuff and the pretty lookin’ lights – no pun intended – some prettier stuff. And then the next 15 minutes maybe I wanna do Drum & Bass, so bring back in the really bright sharpies and whatever and do crazy shit!
“I give [the VJ] ultimate creativity and artistic freedom in order for him to do whatever he wants – and when he’s doing whatever he wants, he starts getting creative and does all sorts of different things. This is why the Vortex will look different every single night.”
I’ll talk to him about after the show [about the things that really stand out to me] and say, “hey I really like this section, or this section, but I didn’t really like that one,” so he can basically take up a section I didn’t like and try to improve on that. Usually when I say I don’t like a section, after that, that section ends up being the best section because he really works on it and makes it pop. It’s cool, as the tour goes on, the visuals get sicker and sicker and the set gets tighter and tighter.
We try to push everything as much as we can, and it’s gonna be really interesting starting the tour off. We pretty much just all freestyle it. I think the first couple shows are gonna have the most excitement ’cause we’re gonna be right back on the road again and I think it’s gonna be insane starting off in Philly. Really really excited. I was working on my set a bit last night and made some pretty insane mixes and I’m pretty excited to play all these new tracks that I have.
You released your ‘Let It Burn LP’ back in late September which spanned a range of styles, touching on drumstep, electro and most notably some hip-hop influences. How do you feel the project was received?
It was actually received really well! People really liked the darker stuff, and stuff that’s has a bit more swing, so I kind of just gave it to them. Did a little bit of that, did a dash of hip-hop and all that. I gave out the record for free as well, and I think we got something like 30,ooo downloads or something crazy. It was dope – really well received, still sold a bunch of copies too and people overall were really stoked.
That’s great man! We crowd-sourced some of these questions from our community. From Lauren, was if you’d continue to release music with that option of ‘pay or leave an email address’ that you did with this LP? It really seemed to push your music to a larger audience and offer more exposure through social media and whatnot, as opposed to strictly selling a record.
I think it’ll be a balance. For a little while I’m gonna release a couple singles and then maybe do my next album next year – beginning of next year or towards the end of this year. I think it will be a balance. It was really cool giving out the tracks, I felt it was very beneficial, and I think that all good music should be shared, wherever people get it from.
“I don’t care if people get it from torrents, I don’t care if people buy it – it doesn’t really matter to me as long as people are listening to it. Ultimately, the goal is to have and do shows and more accessibility to your music means, ultimately, bigger shows.”
I think it was a good move, giving it out for free, and it’s not like we didn’t sell anything as well – a lot of people still supported it. It’s definitely something I’m gonna probably continue to do in the future.
You played the Palladium in Massachusetts last year or two years ago; I remember you mashing up Skrillex’s “Goin’ Hard” and 2Pac’s “California Love” or some shit like that and it was awesome. What would you say it is about hip-hop and dubstep that allows you to interweave the two genres so naturally?
I think it all comes down to the fact that I know hip-hop really well. Sometimes I can just hear tracks and be like – ‘oh that would be a perfect mash-up for this!’ I think this would go for any artist knowing any music. For example, if you knew rock really well, you could do rock mash-ups and stuff. Dubstep really has that genre bending ability. You can kinda mix anything with it – you can do heavy, soft, hip-hoppy or metal-y or whatever, and it’s still dubstep.
I think moving forward, with the whole hip-hop thing, I’m really trying to do more and more of that. I really love the whole 90’s era hip-hop you know – Tupac and Biggie, Xzibit, Wu-Tang, Snoop, Dre, all those guys, Mobb Deep, that was all my favorite shit. I’m sure a lot of people would agree, right, that that was the golden era of hip-hop.
“I think that right now [hip hop] is going through a phase…it’s all spoon fed, the lyrics are so stupid in most songs, it’s so watered down – they’ve made it so dumb.”
I feel that hip-hop is about telling a story or sending a message and intelligent verses and compositions put together in a really unique way… and…what rap has turned into…[is] so ‘bitches’ and ‘money’ and way too easily accessible and for me, I don’t really like that. It feels so spoon fed.
No no, sounds like a lot of conversations that happen in our living room.
Basically I could either complain about it, or I could try to recreate my own version of it and I think that’s what I’m gonna try to move towards. Bringing back some 90’s flavor hip-hop and try to use what I’ve learned from dubstep and apply it to 100BPM and really try and move in that direction. Over the last couple days I’ve been spending a lot of time working on that kind of stuff, and it sounding really cool and I’m really excited. It’s a different, but unique way to approach EDM.
One of the best examples of that hip-hop/dubstep blend that you’ve put out, was the ‘YES’ collab with Bassnectar that you did a few years back. It had samples from Rebel MC & Top Cat. Any word on potential collaborations with the nectar in the future?
Yea! I’ve actually been talking with him – funny that you mention that. After BassLights, I’ve been talking to him over the phone and he really wants to bring back some of his older stuff from Mesmerizing the Ultra and all that, and do insane new remixes of it. So I’ve been going through all his old tunes and trying to find the right one for me to remix. I might hit one of those and try to make a super heavy different remix, but like, still have it be recognized, you know what I mean?
Any collabs with any other artists?
I started one with Pretty Lights that’s kinda weird, but cool. Totally Pretty Lights flavor, but with my style of production. It’s sounding pretty dope so far. Another one, I just started this track yesterday – you know who Travis Barker is? I’m going out to his studio in two hours and we’re gonna try to record some drums over the top of this beat, that’s totally hip-hop but goes into dubstep. Also got another couple things.
“You know what I’ve really been doing lately? I’ve been working with kids off the label, and all this new talent that I’m finding – I’m doing collabs with all of them. I really respect their music.”
I found this new kid – he’s got like 1,000 followers on Soundcloud or something like that. We started a collab and it’s sounding really fucking dope. Hip-Hop/bass crossover.
Which actually leads in to my next question – do you find yourself scouting for new talent? Is there a method to the madness? I sit around and I try to scout people all day long looking at Soundcloud and finding new artists, but as a record label owner, I’m sure you get a LOT of stuff coming your way. How do you even sift through that?
We do check all the demos that we’re sent, but a lot of the times when something’s meant to be heard, it always ends up across my desk, so to speak. We have a couple of people who help with that – Tanner, Getter, he also helps a lot with that. He’s like a good scout for the label, he’s always looking out and he’s got his ear to the ground, sitting on the computer a lot. He’s constantly getting good tracks and he shows me some. Some of them I’m like, “this is cool”, others I’m like, “this is not cool”, but most of what he send me is really good.
The other tracks are basically stuff I find on Soundcloud. Sometimes I’ll be kinda zoning out and just going through Soundcloud and linking to all these different people’s pages and I’ll check out all this random stuff and occasionally I’ll find some really good shit and I’ll just – reach out to them. It’s a really natural way in which the label works and once you’re on the label, you’re basically family.
“I’d say it’s probably the thing I’m most proud of that I’ve done – starting a label.”
We do tours, we have so much fucking fun, everyone’s super down to earth, it’s cool, we party, we have fun, we do whatever we want. It’s cool to be able to offer that to kids who haven’t been on tour before.
Any releases we can expect from you guys this year? What’s happening in 2014?
We put out a release almost every week, every second week. We took a little break for January because it’s a slow month. We got some new shit coming. Should be good. On the last tour, the Most Wanted tour, I did a shitload of collabs with all the artists on the bus. Track or two with Funtcase, another two with Protohype. Did another one with Mayhem. Just basically a bunch of collabs – hopefully can get all of those done and release the Most Wanted EP!
So when you’re creating a track, before you figure out the sounds you’re shooting for or where you’re trying to go with the track, is there an emotional driving force behind your creative process? What gets you in the zone?
I would say so. It really depends, it’s weird. When I start a track, I never really just spawn something from thin air – it’s always an idea that I hear from somewhere else, or something I’ll hear another track and I’ll be really stoked on one part of that certain track, and then I’ll sit down and try to recreate it but in doing that, I end up coming with something completely different. And then at that point, when I start writing the melody, that starts creating the emotion.
“It’s really weird how I operate. I can hear ONE really cool melody in a different song, and I’ll analyze it and I’ll put it down and change the key of it, and then change a few notes around, and it ends out kinda working out.”
Sometimes that is the best description for me, or sometimes if I’m completely isolated and have no music around me – that’s also another big source of inspiration, because then I get bored – and I’m like okay, there’s no music happening around me right now. I’m kinda fiending to go on my computer and start working on shit.
Last question, and this one’s a quote from a fan: “Do your bass drops at live shows really make your fans have to change their underwear?? I’ve heard multiple friends say this so, and I must know If it’s true!”
You’re gonna have to go to the show and find out for yourself. Bring an extra pair of underwear though!
Special thanks to Jill & Marissa at MSO PR, Eddie Richard for coming through during crunch-time, and to Lauren P and Corey G for their questions.