Appleblim (Apple Pips, Skull Disco) Dubspot Interview: Production, DJing, Bristol +

[Photo by Megan Jolly.]

Although tropical storm clouds threatened to let loose outside of the Sub:Stance party here in New York last weekend, Appleblim was happy to risk the downpours for this interview. The following exchange took place mostly under an awning sheltered from the heavy rain, which the DJ and producer seemed to find pretty entertaining. These traits – an obliging and fun seeking attitude – have certainly guided him in a number of musical directions. An element of enjoyment is always present in his choices. If something is fun, he’s usually willing to try it. Using synths is a better time than tooling around with a laptop, so he’s started exploring that more. And mystery is entertaining, so he’s looking for ways to bring that back to a newly connected world of unlimited information. Appleblim also moved to Bristol a few years back because the people there share similar qualities. He says the scene is more about loving the music than making money, and it’s generally friendly and inclusive. When Appleblim first began making a name for himself with the Skull Disco label alongside Shackleton, it was all about experimentation for them. They didn’t anticipate that their fringe sounds would become so popular. But with exposure comes opportunities, and Appleblim started running another label called Apple Pips with the aim of putting other artists on. His sound has moved away from the cavernous, torch-lit drillings of his earlier days and onto techier influences with a silver lining to them. His sets reach both areas while generally leaning to the latter, depending on whatever catches his interest at the moment. The label is similar in scope ranging from the fringes and trends of bass music, to new house and techno constructs, to throwback 4×4 styles. Below, he discusses all this as well as some of his production and performance techniques. - MS

[Appleblim - "Vansan" | Skull Disco]

You recently became interested in synths and moved away from samples?

Well I do a bit of both actually. I recently got a hold of an old Juno 106, so I’ve been doing quite a lot with that and just making weird sounds with it. It’s just fun, really. I record it through weird mics and get strange sounds out of it. I’m still finding my way around the synth really. I’m not an expert at all. I’m just experimenting with it. I over-process it. I jam for a while, and then go in and edit. Then just keep piling loads of stuff on it, loads of reverbs on it. Then filter it down again. It doesn’t resemble the original sound at all in the end. But I still use samples.

Where do you get your samples from?

Anywhere really. Weird old records. It’s generally stuff off recorded records. But I’ve actually been recording stuff while I’m in New York, and I’ll use some of that. I’m pretty basic and just use whatever mic is at hand. It’s the imperfections that really give it it’s character. Unless you want to get a really well recorded vocal or something like that, or a very truthful sound. But if you’ve got a really cheap mic, it doesn’t matter – it adds to the ambiance. I don’t really worry about the quality as long as it sounds good to your own ears.

Do you still use Fruity Loops?

Occasionally, but I’ve converted to Logic for the main stuff.

[Appleblim + Al Tourettes - "Lipsmacker" - AUS Music | Photo by Matt Cheetham.]

Is it important for newer artists to be overly concerned with sound quality?

Personally, I’m not a fuss. I’d rather have something with a vibe than something that’s perfectly recorded or a very faithful sound. It depends what you want really. Certain records, it doesn’t matter if they’re lo-fi, they still sound good. I’d much rather hear a record that sounds interesting than well produced. Something with grit and imperfections is better than something with hi-fidelity but no character.

Do you feel that all your tracks should be heavy for the dancefloor?

Well, if it works, it works. You can bug out on the dancefloor to a tune that just sounds weird. It doesn’t have to be something well produced. For me personally, I just want to dance to something that’s got a good rhythm or a good feeling. It doesn’t matter if it’s got the best compression or the best loudness. It’s more like a mood really. It’s a mixture. Anything can work, it doesn’t have to follow a particular set of rules. If it makes you feel good or makes you move, then it’s a good piece of music.

What’s something that you learned in music technology school that you feel you couldn’t have done without?

When it comes to basic mixing techniques, a lot of the time taking away with EQ is more effective than adding. So if you’re always adding with EQ, you’re going to fill up your sound. There’s a guy named Michael Stavrou who sees it like a basic 3D box. So you can place your sound where ever you like in that box. You use panning for left to right. And then there’s depth where you place your sound with EQ. You can do a heck of a lot with those two tools, and don’t need much more to get a good sound. So even if you’ve got the most basic equipment, you can still do a lot with a little. But where you place things within the stereo field is very important. So where do I want this to sit? What do these frequencies share? And which ones are going to fight with each other? Same as with an orchestra, where it’s laid out in a certain way based on the strength of those instruments. So you’ve got the small instruments at the front, nearby. And then big ones are in the back because they carry a lot. Every instrument has its own character, and it’s the same with electronic music and it’s just a matter of giving it its best space. Every music program comes with spectral analyzers these days, so you just use those tools to look at where your kick is, where your bass is, your hats. You can see it and decide where to put them.

Most of your set at Bass Mutations contained a new element every few bars. Is that something you look for in music?

Generally, yea. But there’s no set thing. So a track can do the same thing for eight minutes and sound amazing. Or it can be something that subtly develops over time. I don’t think there’s any hard set rule. Dance music by its nature is minimal and repetitive. In terms of house music or techno. So I guess that’s always going to have a minimal development. But either way, really.

[Sideshow - "If alone (Appleblim and Komonazmuk remix)" - Simple Records | Photo by Shaun Bloodworth.]

Are you using CDJs more than turntables these days?

Yea, because a lot of the music I play is unreleased. These things don’t exist on vinyl yet. So unless you’re going to cut a dubplate, that’s your only choice. And I’ve kind of fell out of that habit, which is bad. Dubplates are great because you get the mastering engineer’s sound on them. If you can, you should be mastering things slightly at home anyway though. And I’m lucky to know a few people who are quite good at that. It’s a shame that I’m getting more accustomed to CDJs than turntables now because I still love records and still buy them. But you can use CDJs creatively in terms of looping and with extreme tempo changes and stuff. But I don’t use them very deeply at all really. I just play.

What’s the advantages of a place like Bristol over London?

It’s just more laid back. I’ve spent a lot of time in London and I haven’t quite got the energy for it anymore. I love it, but in Bristol I meet people and make friends really quickly and easily. It’s more intimate. You tend to bump into people all the time in the street, you all live within a certain radius and go to the same clubs. And it’s a lot more inclusive. It gives me a lot. The people that I’ve met down there have really leveled my head. I can’t imagine not living there now. In London, I’d never quite gotten that. I was living with a band at the time, so we had a lot of time close together. But I never found the same creative community as I have in Bristol. And you progress at your own pace. You’re not so worried about what’s trendy, or cool, or going to sell. It’s more just for the fun. People tend to be interested in what you’re doing and swap ideas. People are just really friendly there.

Any upcoming projects?

I’ve got several collaborations with various people from Bristol coming up. I’m thinking about letting those just slip out there. Not secretly really, but just to see how they get judged by what they are, not who they are. So I might just throw them out there and see what happens. We’ll see if I put my name on them or not. But in the meantime, I’ve got a remix for Skudge coming up with October from Bristol; another for Axel Boman, who’s a Swedish deep house guy and is doing a lot of good stuff (I played a lot of his stuff at Sub:Stance). Then there’s Oliver Ho, he’s an old UK techno guy from back in the day. I’ve just done a remix for him, which will be on a 12″ with Al Tourettes. Then there’s tons of stuff for the label: October, Borai, Gatekeeper.

Have you ever released stuff under a different name?

No. So I think that might be quite fun. I know everyone’s doing it right now. But everything is so easy to find and categorize these days. You can hear a tune in the club then find it on YouTube the next day. That’s kind of taken a bit of the fun and mystery out of it. Even though it can be frustrating to not know what you are listening to, it can be fun to be desperate to hear it again then go see that DJ again because you know they might play it. People are so overwhelmed with information these days, so having something that’s off the radar can be exciting. It kind of gets the passion for the music back rather than, ‘Oh, I know what this tune is, I can go buy it.’ The way of finding tunes has changed massively really. Obviously it’s great because you get your hands on loads of music, and it’s great to know what all the tunes were on the old whatever tapes. But sometimes it’s fun not to know that shit, innit?