Featured Artist Baseck
DSI INTERVIEW – BASECK
Baseck is a Los Angeles-based experimental electronic musician. His roots run deep in L.A.’s underground rave scene since the early 90s. Baseck’s fascination with sound brought him to turntablism at an early age. His attraction to hands-on hardware, learned from scratching records, led to audio manipulation with small battery powered toys, drum machines, then modular synthesizers. His unique style and mastery of a wide range of music hardware segued into his involvement with music technology. Since 2013, Baseck has been working with synthesizer companies to design concepts to enhance user playability. Variatic Basicus, a Eurorack module created by Noise Engineering, was built for his live performance needs. DSI’s Tempest analog drum machine includes presets designed by Baseck. His style builds on past musical experiments, combining the 80’s drum machine sounds of Breakdance and Industrial, with a future approach to Drum & Bass and Braindance using both analog and digital hardware.
We caught up with Baseck for an in-depth conversation about his music.
First and most importantly, when was it that you decided to go sleeveless and will we see them come back any time soon?
(Laughs) About five years ago they all fell off. I was walking a lot in downtown LA and it was so hot I cut them off. I felt so liberated. I just cut every single shirt. The only comeback is long sleeves. So it’s long sleeves or no sleeves.
How’s life in LA?
LA’s dope. I’m glad to be back here from Portland. There’s just so many parties going on. I’ve been back four months and I think I’ve played at least twenty-something in those four months.
You’ve been gigging a lot.
Yeah, it’s been pretty rad. It fuels the creativity of writing music, because every time I play, I try and add something fresh. That stuff stays in the machines that I later want to use for songs. It all fuels the same beast, creatively.
Gear-wise, you’ve been kind of married to the Tempest for a while now.
Yeah. I feel like the sleeves came off when I got the Tempest about five years ago. (laughs)
So how did you initially get into playing music?
I started out DJ-ing because I loved going to raves as a kid. I started going to them when I was 12 or 13 and we would hear a bunch of DJs playing. It was my cousin, Mario, and my brother, Jose, and a group of friends we had. We always had friends that were 3 or 4 years older than us so, we would say, “Why do these songs sound different?” You know — they had like different takes. It was because of the different ways the DJ’s were mixing the record.
So then we got really into DJ-ing and then we were also into hip-hop and we really loved the very futuristic sound of scratching. My cousin Mario’s uncle showed us a video of a scratch tape, a scratch VHS with like DJ Qbert and those guys cuttin’ it up. And we were just like, “Wow, this is on a whole other level.” The frequencies were just weird. I kind of felt like scratching was very odd, like how the 303 was such a weird sound. I just remember scratching was so unique. It was like alien. I feel like synths and scratching share similarities.
So yeah, got into DJ-ing and messed with that for a very long time actually. I used to tour just doing DJ sets of turntablism with very weird music. Like noise, ambient, breakcore, drum and bass, IDM, or whatever people called any of the real far-out stuff. From there I started making music on the computer using Fast Tracker 2. It was on an old Windows computer running DOS or something.
So then my computer crapped out and a friend said I need to get hip to these Gameboys because it’s actually a Tracker and that was Little Sound DJ and it was awesome because it was very limiting. You’d only have 5 channels of sound. People say 4 but there’s 2 pulse channels, a wave channel or a sample channel, and a noise channel. But the sample channel was actually 2 channels in one. So then I made stuff on the Gameboy for a long time. It was really funny actually because when I made music on the Gameboy, I always prided myself on being super punk rock. I’d roll up to a show with like 2 Gameboys and plug it into the DJ mixer, play my tracks and kind of scream over them or do scratching turntableism. I looked at people with gear like “You don’t need all that stuff!” I never really had any money so the Gameboys were like, “Yeah, what’s up? I’m gonna rock this festival with just like these 2 small things.”
Were you more of a scratch DJ or a straight up DJ? How did you see yourself?
I think it was both. It’s like a headbanging, thrashing, rave DJ but with like turntablism and scratching at its core. It was taking styles that people weren’t really doing much turntablism in, that were super futuristic and cutting it up and kind of playing with how I thought it should be played. Because with drum & bass and jungle, the drums are so cut up and everything is so chaotic, I like to use that palette and cut it up even more. It got very cut up in that bit of playing. I was just splicing genres together and using noise sometimes as the scratch record instead of using traditional hip-hop sounds. It became more avant-garde. You know, using a turntable as an instrument.
Well then after that, I always had friends that were into modulars and drum machines and stuff. I just never really touched them and they always wanted me to get into them. They were always trying to push them on me saying “Baseck, you gotta check this out. This is right up your alley.” They would show me certain controllers, certain new modules that came out for Eurorack and I would just touch them and I’d be like, “Nah, this is not my jam.” Because you know with the Gameboy, I was using little toys that I found. Like little toy drum machine pads that I could press the buttons really fast and button mash on those.
So finally the thing that stuck is when my homie, Cyrus, had a Tempest. He was like, “This is so you. This is like a machine that’s meant to thrash on.” I borrowed it from him for maybe a month or something. I think he was out of town a lot. Or maybe he was like, “Learn this thing to show me what’s going on with it.” (laughs)
You know the first couple of weeks I was like “I don’t know about this thing…” because it was so in-depth and I wasn’t used to the machine. And all the synthesis I knew was from the Gameboys, and that was just basic oscillators with envelopes and pitch bends. Nothing really too in-depth. So to me it was just a whole other world.
Picking up the Tempest was crazy. I felt like “I’m a professional now,” because with the Gameboy, the sound quality was so bad I always felt like it was this niche thing, you know? But the Tempest, the way the low end was sounding and the digital-ness of it and the super-beefy analog everything. I was just like, “Wow this machine makes me feel like a pro!” I was like, “I need this machine!” You know what’s funny? I’m still that way about it all the time (laughs). It hasn’t stopped. I just feel like it was made for me. It has that super-futuristic thrashing that you can get from it.
At NAMM, you were really animated and stoked on the Tempest.
You know, it’s funny. The Tempest was actually my second drum machine, or actually the third that I ever owned. The first was, I was 15 or 16. Then I got another one after that. The Tempest is what gelled. And then the Tempest opened me up to, “Oh, let’s find the other drum machines I’ve heard about!” So then I started getting into all the old analog drum machines. Then started getting into all the later PCM drum machines. It’s kind of funny because sometimes I’d look around my place and I’d have 40 drum machines. One time before I moved, I had 45. But the whole joke is kind of like, I don’t even need those because my Tempest is gonna be the best thing I can use. So everything is always drums with me. I think I have one polyphonic synth in the studio. Other than that, even when I do have synths, I try and make percussion with synths. I love just pounding. “Warrior rhythms” is what I call it.
Jumping back a little bit, what was the first music instrument you used and thought, “I’m going to make a song and just start jamming and see how things go”?
Even before trackers, when I was just DJ-ing, I loved samplers because I had those old Gemini mixers that had the scratch master and they had 8 seconds of sample time in them. So that was my first sort of thing with production. Someone came over one time with a drum machine. I think it was a Yamaha RX11 or 15 or something. So I had an 8-second sampler and one of those Yamaha drum machines. I would put the VCR in the sampler. Someone else brought over an Alesis rack mount reverb, so I would try and find like a drama like on the Lifetime channel. Something that was dramatic. Some moody music and then I would just turn the TV off and then try and hit it on beat to these crazy drum beats that I was doing on the RX11 or RX15, I can’t remember which one. I have one right here with stickers all over it. But I was kind of like, “Whoa, this is a whole other thing!” Because that drum machine, it sounded like it was trying to sound like a rock machine. So it was like, those samples with the reverb, that’s what first got me hyped. And I was doing stuff that sounded like blast beats, you know? I think I heard like a Ministry song or something that someone brought over.
Or Digital Hardcore?
One of those ones, yeah. (makes fast repeating drum sound with his mouth) Just blast beats and I was like, “Yeah I can do that on this drum machine.” It was funny, because all the stuff I was DJ-ing was really twisted. I thought it was called industrial but it just sounded like machinery and it came from more of a gabber background, a gabber noise background. So I’d tell people, “Oh you like industrial? I do too, check out what I have.” They were like, “Whoa, this is another world,” you know? I kind of strayed away from the question but you were asking what were the first machines that really got me hyped.
Right. So what did you first start off on to actually make music?
I think that was the first thing. I was pretty young. I think I was about 16 or 15, I don’t remember. But then from there on, I took a break. That’s when a lot of my friends started getting on the internet and that’s when they hipped me to Trackers. And that got me really hyped because I could cut up samples extremely fast and with precision. I like being really intricate. It was like arranging a whole world and being so meticulous about where every single sample is gonna go, where every roll is, where every sound is gonna get panned.
So it allowed you a lot of control.
It allowed a lot of control. To some people it sounds random but it’s really precise with the edits, you know? Because later on, they started this stuff in DAW’s with like, beat repeat and stuff that was mimicking that style of editing. And that would be an auto function that someone would just turn on. (laughs)
In the type of music that you do, would you say it’s more percussion-oriented or very rhythmic-oriented? And a follow up to that question, when you’re working on new music, do you start off with a beat and then sort of go for the melodic aspect of it?
Oh yeah, everything… rhythm is a dancer (laughs). Everything usually starts with rhythm, you know? And every time I’m doing anything, I start tapping on something or just coming up with something in my head. And from there it just goes pounding on the machine. It usually always starts with the kick drum (laughs). That’s kind of like my go-to. It’s always like kick, snare, some weird percussive laser sounds, and once I build the world from that, I just let it loop. Then I hear the bass lines come in like an acid bass. I think a lot of the songs that I make are very… there’s not too many tracks of melodies. But they’re still there and they’re kind of full and take up space. Or maybe it’s kind of desolate. I don’t know. I think the rhythm is kind of the marching element. The melody is kind of this wave over the top. Unless it’s something very… you know, some parts of the songs are very fast arpeggios. But yeah, it’s usually always the rhythm. Like the tracks I do collaborating with friends and stuff that are always, “Hey we need some drums for this track!”
Is there a particular BPM you like to work in?
Yeah, yeah. Usually 180BPM is kind of my go to. And you know, it’s cool because if you get half time or something like that, you get 90 and you could do like a 4/4 90 under it. If you’re playing somewhere where they’re not used to something that wild, they’ll kind of bob their head in half time and then go really spastic over it and glitchy.
And then just blast them again with the 180?
Yeah. But you know, I got asked to play some more techno type of warehouse parties recently. So I did do some 130 or 140 BPM sets and sort of go up to 160 or 180 at the end and that’s been a challenge for me to go that slow. But I feel like that’s building off the hard Detroit electro sound and then glitch it up and do my own weirdness in between that, you know?
And you’re retaining your voice in the whole thing.
Yeah. Or you, know, it’s like even with the old-school drum machines, too, just finding that old gated reverb sound, you know? I think that’s such a beautiful sound from the ‘80’s and then double-time glitching over that. It’s like a real favorite of mine. It’s just like bringing the past and the future together. That’s my jam!
That’s why I love the Tempest, you know? I feel like with Roger Linn and Dave Smith, when I use that machine, it feels like it has this lineage to it. I have a Sequential Tom and sometimes when I do tracks with my modular synth, I’m using the Sequential Tom and then going double time with the glitchy stuff over it with my modular. I could just do all that stuff with the Tempest, anyways, you know? If I’m putting a lot of random parameters varying, I’m just gonna… it’s the depth of the Mod Path where panning is going to the decay of a bunch of sounds, to panning, to a little bit of pitch, or to opening up filters, or just whatever, you know? It reminds me of a modular where I’m sending random to a bunch of parameters.
You go through a lot of gear. Mainly drum machines, right?
I want to touch every drum machine that was ever created. (laughs) I research constantly and my watch list for auction sites would be for like 100 machines. I’m always looking for something that’s out there that I never had before and a lot of the times I get them and people are like, “How do you even know these weird machines?” And you know, money wise, I’m not in a financial position to keep all this stuff. Cevin Key told me one time, because when I go to his studio, he still has all the original machines from all the Skinny Puppy stuff from the ‘80’s or even from his other project, Images In Vogue. I think he still has some machine from that time. He always tells me, “Do not ever sell any of your gear!” Because that way, 30 years from now or something, I’ll have all these amazing pieces. But financially, it just doesn’t really work out for me. So that’s kind of like my assets. You know what I mean? (laughs) I’ve spent everything I have on drum machines. I think if I want to buy a vehicle or whatever, like reboot the studio, I’m like, “Okay I gotta get rid of some of my assets.” (laughs)
Those are your tools so it’s kind of hard to say goodbye to stuff like that.
Yeah, and it’s rad too because then it happens all over again. Then I get settled down or whatever — I’m in my new spot or doing whatever I have to do — and then I’m like, “Alright, this stuff is starting to flow again, here I go with another swap of a dozen or more machines….” You know? (laughs) It kind of keeps in rotation.
Well it’s probably an issue with space, too?
Oh yeah. Like now I’m sharing a studio with my friend and I just keep piling stuff up and it gets out of control. I’m just setting up more and more double-tiered keyboard stands with boards on them and they just keep on piling on like a museum. And it’s like, “Yeah, get a triple-tiered keyboard stand for like $100 and put 3 planks of wood on it!” (laughs)
All this stuff is amazing, with drums with synthesis, and there’s so many cool people. I think it’s just amazing that Dave Smith is still doing really rad stuff like the Tempest. I just have a love for all these genius engineers that have been creating this stuff. Being involved in the modular community you can hang out with a bunch of people who are doing really incredible stuff. The brain power behind that is super inspiring — to see someone come up with a prototype of an instrument and then to be able to play it and use it at shows. Sometimes when I play a show I’m looking down at the Tempest and I’m just thinking, “I can’t believe this thing exists,” because I’m panning sounds like on a Function One sound system. And the way the low end sounds, and you know, when every thing is coming together, it’s like this was made for me!
We appreciate how much you use the Tempest and how you work with it. When you first started playing with it, how quickly did you feel it was becoming an extension of you?
Oh, I think it took a while because I was only scratching the surface of it for a bit. So I think finally after… you know, I actually started using modular gear after the Tempest and that’s when I started wrapping my brain around Mod Paths. And that was maybe a year after the Tempest and I’m like, “Oh, I understand using one signal to a buff mult and sending that signal to multiple places.” And then I was like, “Oh I get Mod Paths now.” Because there were some things I really didn’t touch and there were a lot of things on the Tempest that I wasn’t messing with, like velocity or pressure to open up filters or make the sounds longer. And I was only using the AD envelope setting for the longest time. (laughs) And I was like, “Wait a minute…” It was funny, because everything was sort of new to me. So it took a while. But more and more just started pouring out of it after I was using it.
Yeah, the Mod Paths really open things up.
Yeah. And then I really started getting down with the live performance mode of using the beat-wide effects and also the effects per sound. I actually learned how to scratch on the Tempest too! I take the resonant 4K digital oscillator and assign the touch strip to pitch and take that pad and assign it to a separate output and run that into a DJ mixer.
And with the DJ mixer, I have the techniques of crab-scratching and flairing and moving it really fast. I just move my finger over the pitch and move the other finger on the fader. I made a video the other day and started sending it to friends and I’m like, “This makes me want to start scratching again.” Like it sounds just like I’m scratching. It’s pretty bizarre. I’ve never seen anyone do that before. And also, the beat-wide effects are so amazing. Playing at a big club or something with a huge sound system or warehouse party and doing all the decays really tight and hit ‘em long and hear all the sounds get pulled and stretched.
Everyone always asks me, “How are you able to mangle all your sounds in real time where there’s this constant movement?” And that’s thanks to those 2 sliders and beat-wide effects. That’s super powerful for live. Oh, and once I found out early-on that you could do different tempos per beat while in 16 Beats mode… because sometimes I’ll have a really chaotic beat and then the next beat I hit will be all melodies and I’ll crank my reverb and have a moment where people can just mellow out. Then the next pattern would be extremely fast 180 again, when the other one would be 45 BPM. It would be quarter time with the 8 bar lengths. So I’d get these really nice long melodies, then boom, hit them again.
You basically squeezed every ounce of sonic ability out of it in performance.
Yeah. For an art show for my friend, Sarah Sitkin, she does these really wild molds of faces and it’s kind of horror-looking but more sci-fi, too, and really weird. She had me play her art gallery opening just a few months back and I played over 4 hours or something — just freestyling. It was all Tempest, creating stuff on the fly.
You didn’t get tired?
No, not at all.
So that leads us to the last question: What have you been working on recently and what can we look forward to coming out from Baseck?
Well, one of the things I’ve been up to is getting my own music out. Because I play live so much and I’m really fueled by the live show and I’ve always got tours booked and stuff just based on my live show. So I never really did it the other way that some musicians do where they want to get all the music out to be able to tour. I’ve always done it the opposite way. I’ve always been touring, then the music released to the public has always been an afterthought because I’m so addicted to the live show.
So now I feel like there’s so many songs I have on my machines or that I keep backing up on sysex dumps on my computer and starting my Tempest over from scratch. (laughs) All that stuff needs to be released. All that backlog. So now I’m working on an EP that should be out in less than a month on Kid 606’s label, called Tigerbeat 6. I’m gonna do an EP, which is almost finished. So that’s a thing to look out for. I just put up one of the tracks on my Bandcamp that if you buy my t-shirt or my patches or whatever, you get that track for free.
There’s that and a bunch of other labels have been asking me. I’m not sure where all this stuff is going to go, but definitely EP’s and albums coming out. There’s been a project, Black Line, that I do production with, that’s a collaboration a bunch of people, actually. It’s kind of like who ever goes into Cyrusrex’s studio gets whittled in as a part of it. So that has Cyrusrex, Douglas McCarthy, Bon Harris, our friend Brad Apodaca who lives down the street, Zack Meyers… I think that’s the main bit of it. Oh, and Ken “Hiwatt” Marshall is mixing it.
This is all stuff that’s gonna come out in the future. Paul Barker is on bass on one of the tracks. It’s kind of like super groupin’. (laughs) So just stuff we’re going to be doing with Black Line and just all my solo Baseck stuff, I think. There’s always stuff with friends that I’m doing, but I don’t know if that will see the light of day. But I want it to. I was living in Portland for about a year, working in the modular synth industry and all that, but now that I’ve come back to LA, it’s being super hyper-focused on parties — musical events that I throw in LA called Celebrate Everything, which are dedicated to experimental hardware performances. There’s definitely a crowd out there that’s hungry for it.