Make a Track Without Leaning on the Genre

It’s getting a little hard to hark back to the days when dubstep was an emerging sound that was quietly gathering acclaim as a movement that housed some of the most creative and forward thinking electronic musicians in the world; impossible to pigeon hole, on the cutting edge of production technique and ideas, dubstep was an antidote to cookie cutter music and a constant pallet cleansing experience. In under six years from first poking its head above the parapet and getting hit by its first signs of mainstream acceptance, dubstep has become a victim of its own success and the public face of the genre is perhaps now amongst the most formulaic of any music in recent history, based almost solely around the visceral effects of hard synths and wobbling drops and eschewing any pretence of smart songwriting.

Keep the blueprint, change the tools

The original genre luminaries have largely disowned dubstep as an allegiance and are busy behind the scenes creating the same new, exciting music they always were, albeit without calling it anything in particular. The important point is that as soon as you define a genre by a specific sound as opposed to an approach or a philosophy, the walls close in, freedom gets reduced, and what was once an exciting, edgy side to a broad spectrum of music suddenly becomes cliched and, without different audio aesthetics to bounce off, samey sounding.

Still with me?! Good. This assignment is all about remembering what it is you love about making music by removing the most overused technique you have from your audio pallet. Do you make dubstep, and do you abuse that wobble formula a little too much? Glitch and breaks, and sit a little too hard on those auto beat stutter plugins? How about hip hop, and stuck sampling the same sounding records, with the same chops…

Throw it out! Try and approach the same goal¬†with your music, without using your most overused tool to get there. Take a look at these examples of tracks that exemplify what I’m talking about:

Examples

I’m a nut for detroit hip hop, and to extend a cliche, J Dilla changed my life. A particular track that had a huge effect on me, however, was Slum Village’s Tainted, produced by Karriem Riggins. The soul, swing, and unmistakeable groove of my favourite sound is all over the track, but rather than being a sample based outing, the lead line is a live played electric piano. Getting the confidence to play instruments to create grooves rather than rely on records made me think about how I liked music to sound in a whole new light…

If you need any further inspiration to think outside the box and expand your style, Boonie Mayfield has taken the concept of moving from sampling vinyl to playing samples he would have looked for and run with it:

I’ve laid into dubstep a little bit today, but the truth is that because ‘dubstep’ was just a label that meant many things to many people, there’s really no canonical way of retelling ‘where it all went wrong’. At its most basic, though, I’d characterise dubstep as a genre that relied on laid back, even half time drum patterns, with the rhythmical drive dictated by bass. To that end, James Blake fits the bill and his particular brand of sub bass heavy, borderline experimental music is simply an approach to the same end as anyone else experimenting with halftime percussion and floor shaking sub frequencies…

We’d love to hear your assignments, as always. Let us know in the comments too if you’ve any particularly nice examples of music that is exemplified by its approach rather than simply aping the most popular contemporary sound!

Yung Miss – The J. Dilla Project

I know that Dilla tribute projects are ten a penny… perhaps more. It’s always easy to listen to some Dilla beats, but all too often the artists who jump on the tracks just aren’t up to scratch – and even when they are, the aforementioned glut of projects means that there tends to be a definitive version by that one emcee. Continue Reading

Athey Road - First of Spring

Athey Road – First of Spring

How wonderful that, for those of us in the UK at least, the clocks have given us that extra hour of daylight in the evening. The title to this track by Athey Road was what caught my eye initially, but what caught my ear and gave me the impetus to write about it was the Erykah Badu vocal snips that are used more like an instrument than any discernible message.

recorded vocals can have so many applications for an electronic music producer

From this technique, to the ‘composite phrases’ style of vocal appropriation to create new messages that J Dilla mastered, to the isolation of words from a song until they become poetic in their mantra-like nature by artists like Burial, recorded vocals can have so many applications for an electronic music producer. Perhaps the human voice is the most versatile instrument of all…

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