A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to pose some questions to Travis Stewart aka Machinedrum, a good opportunity to put forward some questions that weren’t your run of the mill ‘tea or coffee’ discussion topics. Like many, I recognise Travis as one of the front-runners for experimental music mastery, whilst also maintaining a solid stance as a dancefloor filler.
Hopefully I’ve done the guy justice, he seems to be one of those down to earth dudes that isn’t trying to be a down to earth dude all the time. Ahead of his upcoming London show, we spoke about the recipe for successful collaboration, his love/hate relationship with social media, Berlin and a bit more in between and as expected, he responded honestly and openly.
I really liked what came of your collaboration with Om Unit under ‘Dream Continuum’. The ‘Reworkz’ EP must have been fun to make, considering you’re both jungle heads! Is a shared interest vital for a collab? Or can it make things just as interesting working with someone from a different sphere of the industry?
The shared interest definitely helps, but I think its more about how you vibe with someone that really makes a collaboration possible. If you can’t hang out as a homie with someone then collaboration is near impossible. Communication is also paramount in successful collaborations.
Is there anyone you’d like to work with you haven’t already? You seem to be pretty prevalent with the remixes which, to me, says you have a lot of time for other peoples music.
I’d love to work with Steve Reich, Autechre, The Dream, Timbo. I have a lot of time for music in general wether it be mine or others. I balance the time between both quite nicely I’d like to think.
What do you think you’d be doing now if you weren’t involved in music? Any other aspirations as a younger?
I’d be doing something creative for sure. Whether it be visual art, writing, acting or maybe even video game design.
Other than the obvious immersion into a more established music environment, did the move from North Carolina to New York alter anything about you that you didn’t expect? Both musically and personally?
Don’t forget that Orlando Florida was in between NC and NY. I went to school for audio engineering there. I learned a lot about engineering and production in Orlando and prepared myself to work in studios with rappers and singers. Then I moved to a place where I could use those skills to the fullest potential, New York City.
Feel free to palm this question, but I’m curious as to whether you’ve had to do any commercial music to make money in the early days? For a T.V. advert or something perhaps?
I’ve done some remixes for commercial artists or made music for television here and there but I’ve never “dumbed down” my sound in order to get the job. It took a long time for people to take me seriously and I missed out on a lot of opportunities to make some cash but at the end of the day the time spent embracing my creativity was worth so much more than a quick check for making some cheap sellable music.
For an unenlightened Englishman like myself, I’m curious to know how trends and styles differ from state to state in the US. We all know the South is big on Country and the North West gave birth to Grunge but what about electronic music?
Without going into too much detail there has been quite a bit of diversity state to state in the US in the past, but you don’t see it as much now. Music in general has become so globally connected that you don’t see localized genres as much anymore. As far as electronic music goes today it seems like the west coast tends to breed more of the aggressive hip hop influenced electronic stuff thats out now.
The east coast alternately tends to be a bit more House-y or 4/4 oriented. This is probably because of it having a more european connection most likely due to its geographic proximity to the EU. This is a generalization of course as there is this huge Trap movement coming out of Atlanta that has spread worldwide. Let’s not forget Mid-American music capital Chicago, home of some amazing electronic music history and most recently the Footwork and Juke movement.
In terms of influences, do you find yourself reverting back to artists and tracks from your early days or do you tend to be affected more by new releases when making tracks?
I go through phases of both definitely. More recently when it comes to “new” music I generally depend on my friends to enlighten me wether it be a new artist or even their own music. I just recently re-bought a bunch of classic stuff I listened to growing up that I no longer have on CD, and its definitely given me an exciting perspective point. It goes without saying that everything I listen to be it good or bad will influence me in one way or another.
I understand you now live in Kreuzberg, Berlin? Quite a hub for hip-hop and was pivotal for the punk-rock movement in Germany, what’s it like living there?
Ah it’s refreshing for a journalist to finally recognize something about Berlin’s music history outside of techno! History mixed with modern innovation is a nice way to describe the feeling you get living in this city. You really feel an electricity in the air here that is quite inspiring. There’s also a nice balance of hard working and relaxation that I enjoy, its necessary to achieve some sense of balance.
What’s your opinion on ‘Trap’? Can you see it becoming part and parcel or is it just a blip in time?
I almost wanna say no comment, I get asked this a lot recently. It’s nothing new, its just really popular now for some reason. I prefer it to Bro-step. People gotta stop dropping that “Damn Son” sample though. I can’t take the song seriously if I hear that shit.
So festival season is well and truly over and the sun has begun to retreat cowardly behind a wintery blanket. What’s your plan to keep warm? Have you got much coming up over the next few months?
I definitely spend more time in the studio during the colder part of the year, which is a great way to keep warm! I have a bunch of gigs per usual but definitely not as much as the summer, so look forward to a lot of new Machinedrum material.
’SXLND’ was definitely one of my favorite releases this year, it really stuck out. What were a few of yours?
It’s always hard to determine whats my favorite as my taste and preference will change multiple times within a year. At the moment I’m digging the new Flying Lotus album, Barker & Baumecker, Jimmy Edgar’s Majenta, Scuba’s album from earlier this year is great. Oh yeah and the debut Dawn Day Night record is huge!
I’d like to know your opinion on promotion and connectivity within social media sites. Have you found yourself using web based, social media devices more to promote yourself and your releases etc or more for connecting with artists/fans that you wouldn’t of had the opportunity to, say, ten years ago?
Obviously with the availability and easy use of the technology it’s impossible to not involve it somehow in promoting yourself as a musician. However I feel that it has changed things in a way that isn’t necessarily bad but also leaves me longing for the way it was. For instance a artist could be quite successful being mysterious with little to no self promotion at all. It was more up to the label to spread hype through magazines and radio instead of the artist being responsible for promoting themselves.
On the other hand I look at it as a positive evolution in how a musician and fan connect as it is definitely important to give back to loyal fans somehow. It’s just made it a bit harder to make that connection feel special now that there is such easy accessibility and open communication between the artist and fan than ever before. With things like twitter we know when our favorite musician is doing anything from making a new tune to taking a dump, and that takes away a lot of the illusion and sacrifices the magic of anonymity which in the past most definitely added to the allure and spectacle of a musician.
And finally, in what environment do you most enjoy listening to music? Are you more likely to form an opinion on a track/album in a club with a crowd reaction, or at home on the laptop with a coffee?
I appreciate listening to music anywhere really, a better question would be where or more specifically when do I not like listening to music. I kinda hate listening to music with snobs and academic types as the so called “listening session” tends to get a bit overrun with opinions and comparisons rather than just feeling and enjoying the music. Imagine if someone was reading a new book to a group and everyone kept interrupting to talk about what they think about what they heard, you’d never get through the book!
Soundcrash and The Upfront Project present Machinedrum with Flako, Memory 9 and Ambassadeurs at Lightbox in Vauxhall, London on Friday 23rd November. Click here for tickets and info.