Croydon based beatsmith Deft has never been one to sit still when it comes to taking risks with his production. Although he hails from the birthplace of Dubstep, his association with the genre is loose at best, with his work frequently veering between ambient, electronica, DnB and House influences. Carefully avoiding any discernable niche, the Deft name has instead become a byword for variety and high value production delivered imaginatively and emotively, with his latest offering on WotNot, the ‘Always Greener’ EP out next Monday, the perfect example of this. Roping in traces of the aforementioned genres alongside a clearly audible fascination with music soundtrack work, its five tracks offer up a snapshot into a creative mind that is brimming with ideas.
Catching up with the man himself recently, we spoke about the process behind this new EP, its stunning artwork, and a recent eye opening trip to Japan…
Since the new year, has the focus been on the forthcoming release?
The release was finished last summer-ish so the beginning of this year has mainly been about writing as much new stuff as possible. I’ve really been getting into the whole 170 realm of things, mixing Juke, Footwork, DnB and Jungle and I’m having quite a lot of fun with those tempos at the moment! In the long term I haven’t really been thinking about what i want to do next, I’ve just been trying to experiment as much as possible and found this new thing to do, it’s good to go back and listen to jungle tracks – it’s all new stuff I wasn’t into before and It’s something I love about doing all of this, you get the opportunity to go and explore new territories.
A blending of styles resonates throughout the ‘Always Greener’ release, was this the idea initially? Did you have a theme for the release?
When I put a load of tracks forward to Jed and Arun at WotNot, I already had an idea of a theme, which obviously changed and developed over time but initially it kind of relates to-well it’s personal to me – a lot has been going on recently in and around my life, which is reflected in the EP through the narrative – the title of the EP being ‘Always Greener’, as in the grass is always greener on the other side. It’s a little statement of the time for myself. I’m quite a negative thinker and always have been – this is something for me, to be like: ‘don’t be negative all the time!’.
When it comes to a release, I don’t like having all the same tempo, I do find it boring as a producer – in my opinion it’s more exciting to hear different styles, that still share a certain coherence.
Yes, it’s more distinguishable track by track I think – Is each release a checkpoint in your career/life then?
It’s more like a diary of sorts, my own life checkpoints – more so with the past 3 releases that I’ve done – when I look back at them now I can see how I was feeling etc, which might not resonate with other people but it does to me, which matters just as much.
It’s harder to express through instrumental music I suppose…
Yeah, I mean I’ve always had a love for film music and scores and how emotively driven it can be. I can take a lot of influence from film…
Is it something you’d like to do in the future, score a film?
Yeah definitely, I battle with myself because I’m not musically trained – other than playing drums at school – but I know what I want to make and know my way around a keyboard…ish (laughs) I know there are black and white keys, ha! Maybe I’m being my worst enemy, not thinking I’d be able to do it, but sound design and film music have always been something I’ve wanted to do, yeah.
You brought up something before with Hyponik, space and sound, are you conscious of that when producing – is there an ideal setting?
My course focused a lot on the more conceptual side of sound and working a lot with sound in different spaces and environments. Although I found it-I dunno, it was really interesting but realistically I couldn’t see myself progressing on that side of things – looking back now, a lot my processes are based on the work I did with sound on my course. I don’t actively think ‘I’d love the listener to be here or there’, but rather create an atmosphere in each track I make, something I’ve always loved to do.
Does that transfer to your sets?
Nah, as of recent with my DJ sets I tend to go quite hard – I dunno whether or not it’s because my music’s all over the place, so the lineups I play are normally quite varied – but yeah right now, I’m into pushing it pretty hard. When I first started playing out and using my MPD to do ‘live’ sets, I was definitely more inclined to make the room a little more moody. I’m working on an actual live set at the moment, and have been for a while now bit by bit.
What’s included in your live set?
At the moment, its an APC40, a Korg Nanokontrol and a MPD, but I’m trying to ween the APC out of it. But yeah, it hasn’t progressed that much in all honesty, I think making music has taken precedent recently.
So the release is out on WotNot on Monday – you guys have a strong family vibe it seems…
It’s amazing with all the guys, I’ve known Jed and Arun for roughly 3 years now I think…
How did you come to know Jed and Arun?
Jed sent me a message on Soundcloud, he liked my stuff and he was doing shows with Tim Parker every other week or so, or once a month, and he played my stuff on NTS, and at the time I was like ‘Siiiiiick, radio play!’, it was all very exciting!
The boys later came to the Macbeth early on, when I was playing for Lucid w/Gang Colours, and since they’ve become two of my best friends – it’s strange, as I’ve never been overly outgoing but the environment with them is chilled – we have a lot in common, personally and musically. We crack a lot of jokes together, along with all the other people involved with the label and all the people we’ve met along the way. Everyone’s wanting to help each other, and it’s good to have all these people round you to bounce ideas off and get honest opinions. The thing I’ve found with electronic music is that when you send out music or receive feedback, its either praise or no reply, no criticism – it’s good to have that honesty.
Soundcloud was your starting point, as I’m sure it now is for many others. What does it mean now that anyone can put out music?
The possibilities are now endless, it’s so open for anything to happen and at such a rapid pace. I dunno, you can’t really dictate anymore or tell what will happen next – it’s really exciting but at the same time…there’s a lot of shit music out there! (laughs). It’s great, anyone and everyone has a platform – but it’s a topic that has been floated around for a while now. Music has somewhat lost its integrity, due to its disposable nature, there doesn’t seem to be much respect for music anymore. It’ll be in one week and out the other. Maybe it’s a good thing to keep people moving forward, but really…it’s a difficult question!
Looking back, in order to get to the level you’re at now (audience etc), would have taken a lot more physical effort – now promotions like free downloads are integral?
That’s it, its switched. Before, you gigged to promote your music now you promote your music to get gigs. Its a change that’s naturally happened and you just have to adapt – try interesting and different ways to promote music. The whole process is very formulaic, – promo run of two months, features, interviews….(laughs). But, for example, Pitchfork Advance offers something that is a little more engaging. But I guess I’m a product of all of this myself, look at me talking about rapid change and things getting boring really quickly..!
Do find you’re set now with a platform to build on or is there anything else you’d like to try?
At the moment I’m pretty happy with what I’m doing, I think naturally that will change. Everyone needs to progress in what you’re doing, no fun in staying the same – in the future I’ll want to deviate into the live stuff, working with bands and the like. I played in a band for a brief period on drums in a stoner doom Metal band – was really good fun and I enjoy working with other people and collaborating, that side of things I’d love to get into a bit more. But at the moment I want to focus on getting myself to a stage that allows me to do so…and I don’t think I’m there yet.
I wanted to ask about Japan…can you give an insight to that experience. what’s different over there in terms of receiving electronic music?
It was really eye opening over there – really put in perspective how small the London bubble is. They take music a lot more seriously over there – like, d’you know what Otaku is?
You know those obsessive collectors of everything anime/manga – Japan has that collectors vibe going on, so there’s lots of collector’s editions and special Japan only editions of everything, which people are willing to pay a fair bit of money for and invest in. From the people that I met over there, online piracy wasn’t really as big a thing, the promoters bought all of their music and were record collectors – it was really cool.
Who were you with?
A group called Life-Force, they started in the 80’s, bringing over Chicago House, Detroit Techno and UK House I think, and were the first to do so. They’ve been in it for years and if they find something they like they’ll try their best to bring it over to Japan. I didn’t get to go to many clubs outside of where I was playing to see what the nightlife was like, but talking to Submerse, who was living out there the first time we went, he said every Sunday he’d use to go to this guy’s cafe, kinda like CDR, but on a smaller scale with 10-15 or so people and give feedback and critique over music they had been making. So the sense of community in the niches was very strong from what I saw.
It was great over there and I can’t wait to go back! Playing the shows, me and Jed got the gist that House, Techno and Disco were the faces, so we played a lot of that – when I did try to deviate and go faster, it didn’t go down as well but people stuck around to listen. The crowds seem especially when dancing, reserved, but as the night thickened, you see them loosen up. The second time I went, we went to a few more different cities, but I ended up staying in Shimoda for a few days. It was such a stark contrast to Tokyo – when you think of Japan, you immediately think of Tokyo, lights, people, being busy, but where Massa (our promoter) lived was beautiful – on the coast, quiet and quaint. We stayed there for 5 days with his family which was a really pleasant experience.
That must have been nice, I imagine you don’t usually have the chance to explore outside of shows abroad?
It was different when we went to Japan. We were there for 13 days and had 4 shows planned along with other press stuff, so we had much more time to explore. But mostly it is go for the night, play, sleep, go home again. The Japan experience was a lot more enlightening and fulfilling.
Do you think that experience has affected your output since returning?
It really got me in the mood for pushing things with my music. Like going to Tower Records in Tokyo was great. It’s 8 or 9 floors full of music and I spent a good few hours in there picking out funk and disco compilations. They have a floor for jazz, for ambient music and so on…in the urban section they had a whole aisle devoted to new jack swing, haha. I learned again the value of music and how rich it is over there.
I have to ask, because it’s fantastic, who did the artwork for the EP?
Ah, that was my older brother, Lun. He did both covers for my EP’s on WotNot, and they’re both fucking amazing! I’d already had an idea of the style in which I wanted the artwork. I found the picture online of a Markhor, its a goat with with big spiralling horns and, although it’s a goat, it does look like a noble and wise animal – almost like a stag – so I sent images to my brother and he banged that out in a week. It’s amazing and looks so good on the vinyl sleeve too. He’s a graphic illustrator living in Hong Kong, and has for the last 6/7 years.
Anything else on the release we should know about?
Yeah, there’s a video coming out for the track ‘Emerald’, which is on its way and should hopefully be out for release day. There’s a release party at some point which is still in the works and possibly a launch viewing of the video. You can keep unto date with everything (if you’re inclined to do so) on my Facebook.
Great chatting man and looking forward to the release, serious vibes!
‘Always Greener’ by Deft is out next Monday 24th March on WotNot.