The Beat Hamster
*** ill o.g. ***
Battle Points: 1
Making beats is one thing, but putting together a collection of beats with a theme between them is much more difficult. Spuntastic recently flipped a sample to win the Beat This! Competition, but he also takes pride in making instrumental albums with movie samples. He has a lot to say about his beatmaking process as well as what needs to change in the Hip Hop industry. Let's take a look...
Sup? What's "Spuntastic" all about?
Yo what's up Fade.
"Spuntastic" is all about creating beats that can stand on their own feet. That means they don't necessarily need someone to spit over to reach completion. I'm aware of the power a well written instrumental can have. "Tool" for example is a band I'm listening to since I was like 16 years old and those guys are absolute geniuses when it comes to instrumental parts that have the energy to transport your mind into other spaces (take a listen to "Merkaba"). I'm mostly trying to achieve the same thing. Creating music that isn't just a background noise for someone to talk over. Music that makes you think without someone telling you to think. And music that evokes certain emotions.
The name itself sounds a bit goofy - even kinda dumb - and that's fine. I'm always trying to be chill and not take myself and what I do too serious. Making beats is supposed to be something I like doing and if I was starting to become all competitive and severe about it, I'd just constantly disappoint myself because I'm never really satisfied with my performance. In the end, making music would become something I have to force myself to, kinda like a job. That's also part of the reason I'm not really interested in making money with my stuff.
Regarding where the name derived from, "Spun" refers to the 2002 movie of the same name. "To be spun" is used to express the feeling when you're on drugs and go through multiple days without sleeping up to the point where your reality gets completely distorted. I've actually developed a passion for film before I developed one for music. That's why I'm using movie quotes in my beats. It's a way to merge my two biggest interests. Also it's my way to appreciate those movies/series I'm sampling along with its creators and last but not least a good quote on the right beat can amplify an emotion or give an impulse for thoughts.
Your flip of William de Vaughn's song was really dope. How did you put it together?
To be honest I never thought I'd win the battle with it, since I didn't really chop it up that much. The first time I heard the sample I knew I wanted to go for that funky bassline and after I realized everything I arranged with my chops was just a rip-off of the original one and would never be as funky, I decided to use the original loop and go for a clean remix. Means I tried to compensate the lack of originality with a good mix. For the bridge I just took parts of the piano-solo, nothing fancy. Since that part doesn't have a (noticeable) bass, I put the bassline from the beginning - right after the percussion intro - on it. That's how I got my arrangement.
After that I was looking for the right drum samples and recorded the drumline. I wanted hard-hitting, dry drums. And then I mixed it together. A lot of filtering, EQing, compressing, etc. I basically created two channels for every sample so I could work on the low and the high-end seperately and tried to achieve a balanced mix. Sidechain-compressing on the high-end to give the drums that little extra punch and a tiny bit of reverb for the atmosphere. The overall mastering was restrained since I didn't want to ruin the clearness and I still have a lot to learn when it comes to mastering.
It sounds like you played the keys halfway through the beat rather than use the ones from the sample. Is that correct?
Nah, the melodies and bass are sampled entirely, no VSTs used. But the keys needed some extra attention because they were too loud and annoying in the first couple of mixes I did. But I didn't want to lose the loudness of the background by turning them down. In the end some compressor and EQ-fine-tuning did the trick. I'm satisfied with how it turned out. You have the keys panned left and the slight guitar strums on the right. The balance is pretty nice.
What do you think is the hardest part of flipping a sample?
Not to be too hard on myself. Often when I listen to something and think "this might be flippable" I'm already biased by the original melody. That means when I'm chopping and trying to flip the sample I often think my arrangements are shit and not worthy of the original, so I throw the project away. I personally have this urge that my sample flips need to be appreciations of the originals (even when I flip them into oblivion and noone will ever know what I used) and when I have the feeling that I'm spitting all over the original song because I think my flip is total bullshit, I'm deleting it. After more than six years of beatmaking I still try to find a good balance of not being too hard on myself but also not getting too careless. I am my own biggest critic. That's both a blessing and a curse.
When I flip something I tend to rely on filtering. What's your secret?
Filtering is definitely the first step to go for me. Especially when I'm using the bass of the sample like I did with this flip of William de Vaughn. To me compressors are just as important as filtering when it comes to sampling. It took me way too long to actually understand what a compressor really does but after I did and fooled around with it for some time, I definitely noticed an improvement in my mixes. Decent compressing can enhance the sound of a sample very much. Bad compressing will totally destroy every dynamic and make it sound flat. I like playing with that. Because sometimes you want to destroy dynamics to get a certain sound. Also convolution reverb is something I apply on pretty much every high-end of a sample to create some space in my mixes. Since I'm digging the minimalistic beats, there's more room for me to fill and I like to fill it with atmosphere rather than another instrument.
How and why did you get into beat making?
When I was at university a good friend introduced me to instrumental Hip Hop. At this point I didn't even know this niche existed. So one day he gave me his headphones and told me to listen to this one tune. He played Fat Jon's "How you feel" to me. It like instantly became the best thing I had heard in a long time. Afterwards he gave me Dexter's "Jazz Files" and that's the record I listened to when I decided to make beats myself. Up until then I was already looking for something to do musically since the band I played drums in split up, because we all went to study in different locations.
I knew Propellerheads Reason because I made some very bad minimal electro with it when I was younger. I wanted to create Jazzbeats but learned pretty quickly that I have a serious gap in my Jazz education so I started to orientate myself by things I knew and that were movie scores and soundtracks for the most part. One of the first samples I flipped was Chris Thomas King's version of "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues" which he played in the amazing movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" by the Coen-Brothers in the role of Tommy Johnson, the famous blues guitarist who claimed to have sold his soul to the devil in exchange of mastering the guitar.
That beat landed on my first beat tape I ever made (now it's on the "Burn After Listening"). A poorly mixed collection of sample-based and original beats. But my friends seemed to like it and encouraged me to keep going with it. So I started digging instrumental Hip Hop artists, bought some vinyls (DDay One's "Heavy Migration" was one of my first vinyl records) and tried to consume as much as I can about mixing and mastering.
For the why. It's a way to express myself. And even if I think art is the dumbest way to express oneself - because there's barely any feedback since every human being is a narcissist (including me) and unless you're the artist, the art work is too inaccessible for anyone else to really understand it - I keep doing it because finishing a product that my personality created is a great feeling. This means that I'm making beats mainly for myself. The reason I put them on the internet is, there's a possibility some people might enjoy listening to them and who am I to deny them this enjoyment? Music should be free.
Your other beats are also smooth but hit hard. How would you describe your style?
A cinematic experience.
No seriously. I never really thought about what specific style my beats are. Whenever I'm feeling a sample, I'm trying to make something with it. Like I said I got introduced to this scene via Jazzbeats and wanted to do something similar. Now I never really made a Jazzbeat myself but still listen to it a lot. I sampled from Blues to Soul to Classic to Psychedelic to Metal and most of all original scores from movies and games. The only consistency is my drum style I guess. I like the minimalistic "Boom Bap" pace. It has to hit hard, it must encourage you to nod your head to it. Then again there are those beats that are more than just a "head-nodder" to me. That's when I wanna transport a certain message and give the listener something to think about. Most of the time with a quote that actually is intended to be funny. Which often gets misconceived since I have a very dark sense of humor and we live in the era of political correctness...
So, what do you have in your lab?
Nothing much really. I work with Reason 8, also have Ableton 9 on my desktop PC but barely use it. For sample chops, drums and basslines I use my cheap Akai MPK Mini which is getting annoying because it only has 8 pads to play at the same time. I own a Technics SL 1210 MK2 along with a Sony TA-F 120 amplifier; a Tascam US-122 MK2 audio interface and a Ibanez western guitar I sometimes record with, when I have ideas. Also a Rode NT1-A microphone that I didn't use in like 3 years. At the moment I lack the money to get better hardware. But I'm already keeping an eye out for Maschine.
I noticed that you have quite a few album releases. Tell us more about that.
There was a time I just released every beat I made by itself on my old Soundcloud account. But after a while this confusing mess started to annoy me so I deleted everything, closed down my account and created a new one with a new name - the one I'm using today. I wanted to be a little bit more organized. That's when I started working on the "Burn After Listening". Looking back now it's still a nice album but I'm already thinking about taking it down because the mix is just awful.
Anyway, this was my first and only album that didn't really have a theme. It's more an introduction to what "Spuntastic" is. The whole thing is basically just a reference to movies I'm digging. After that pretty much every release had a concept. My first concept EP was "The T.D. Files", a homage to the series True Detective. Just like "Fuck Society" is a big homage to Mr. Robot.
I'm not very fond of the idea to make an album that effectively is just a collection of beats without any connection to each other. For those kind of releases I'm using Soundcloud. Those concept albums are basically my way of showing my appreciation towards the original pieces of art. And then there are those self-critical releases like the "Inherent Flaws" and "Hitting Rock Bottom". I would never sample a quote from a movie or series which I wouldn't agree on with its content. So yeah, I think if people wanna know what I'm trying to say with that, they can go listen to those albums and figure it out themselves.
Your track "Elliott" off the "Fuck Society" album is super smooth but really sets the vibe. That concept album is dark but also sends a message. Is it like you're trying to make a movie soundtrack?
With "Fuck Society" I'm showing my respect to one of the best series I have ever seen so far. Every sample I used on that album is taken exclusively from "Mr. Robot". The quotes from the series, the music from the score by Mac Quayle. The thing is, I'm absolutely digging the score but it's only really effective combined with the pictures of the series. Listening to the score on its own can be effective too, but only if you create your own pictures while doing so. For example by walking around outside. So what I tried to create is a sound that has this atmospheric vibe of a score but is audible on its own without the necessity of visual input to have a certain effect on the listener.
So yeah, in a way I tried to make a movie soundtrack. But mainly it's just a big homage to Mr. Robot. I think this series is pointing out everything that's going wrong in this world and is not just focusing on politics and the economy - like most critical releases do - but also makes society responsible for it, since we all are just watching this development but ain't doing shit against it. Just listen to "kingdomofbullshit" and you'll know what I mean. I wanted to transport this message of the series on the one hand, but also transform it into a feeling. I would love to do a "beats soundtrack" for some kind of visuals one day though. That's like a main goal I wanna achieve someday.
What do you think of the popular style of beats we hear today? Do you think it needs to change?
I'm not really familiar with the beats in nowaday's mainstream since I'm not listening to radio, watch music-TV or read anything about the more popular "stars" out there. I guess the reason is because I don't like it. I'm not sure if the music changed because people's taste changed or if people's taste changed because the music changed. You know what I mean? Who is manipulating whom. Who does REALLY create the trend? I did read your article with the time-machine and I would absolutely agree on preventing labels to influence the sound. But on the other hand, is it really their fault our world works like it does? We live in capitalism and the foundation of capitalism is growth. So what do you do, you start producing what sells best. And nowadays obviously 18 year olds crying about losing their girlfriend on a Trap beat or underaged girls singing about their vaginas sells best. I'm totally exaggerating right now but you get my point.
The thing is, I don't really blame them. First of all there is nothing wrong with people having different tastes. It would be horrifying if it wasn't like that. And secondly the rules of the market taught every one of us to create what the bigger part of people wants. The only one to blame here really is society. People created the world we live in and the people are responsible that this system is still up and running. Like Elliot in Mr. Robot says, we vote for this system with our money and property. Means we voted for this style of beats by extensively buying them. So I don't think it needs to change because I don't think it matters. I think the only change that would really matter is to liberate music from money entirely. Creative Commons all the way. Without a business around music only those who are actually in the scene for the sake of the music will keep creating it. But this will never happen.
Alright, thanks for doing the interview. Do you have any last words of wisdom for other beatmakers?
Do what you wanna do, keep it chill and spread the love. Also thanks to you Fade, I appreciate you're taking your time for this and keep IllMuzik running. Much love.