Dubspot Interview: Brenmar (Grizzly / Discobelle) Talks Production, DJing, Genres +

[Photo by Jommy Tokio]

Brenmar‘s sound is big and passionate, always with an ear to the club and a heart for vocals. His early R&B remixes got the floors moving, whether by means of some big room hype or sweaty 3am up close and personal sway. Raised in Chicago but based in New York, he’s proven that the lines between dance music and hip hop or R&B are fine ones easily traversed with the right touch. Like-minded labels such as Grizzly and Mixpak are his most recent supporters, and he’s ingratiated his listeners with a gang of free downloads. Soon to come is a project with Daniel from Nguzunguzu called Chiefli. Also expect a new hip hop geared EP – with that Brenmar touch of course. Just last week, however, he dropped his newest effort, the Let’s Pretend EP on Hum + Buzz. - Mike Steyels

[Brenmar - "Done (Don't Luv Me No More)" | Grizzly, 2012]

What’s your production setup?

It’s pretty minimal man. A Macbook Air, a little M Audio MIDI controller (the tiny Keystation 32), a little Akai LPD 8, and then some Event 20/20 monitors. Abelton Live is my main baby, then I fuck with the Melodine, Sub Boom Bass, Albino, and FM 8. I like the new digital synths. I don’t like the retro ones too much, except for the M1 a little. And the digital Korg MS20 is kinda cool. I’ve got a lot of soft synths and I use the Wave plugins. I was real nerdy about that stuff when I was young, and I was always reading the blogs and web sites. Everyone was always raving about the Wave stuff, and they were right. They can really make your stuff sound great. You need to know what you’re doing with them, but once you figure it out, then you’re good to go. I don’t really frequent those web sites anymore, but I do pick up Future Music and Computer Music magazines whenever I can.

Do you find collaborations useful in learning new production techniques?

Yea, I’m all about that. It’s a really good way to learn. Everyone makes beats differently, for better or worse. You might find out that the way you’ve been copy and pasting is just outdated or something. That’s if you’re in the same studio, as opposed to doing something online.

What is your approach to DJing?

I use CDJs with a mixer and Serato usually. I used Traktor for a little bit, but found it kinda clinical. Everyone I knew was using Serato, which seems more natural and is more streamlined. The effects on Traktor are a lot better, but I’m not interested in that. I just want to rock the party and play good music. I try to be the best DJ I can be, but at the end of the day what the people care about is what you play, not so much how you play it. You mix two songs together perfectly, and that’s cool. But if the songs are mediocre, you’re not going to get much of a response from the crowd. They’re not going to get hype off your blend. But if you play two dope ass tracks back to back, it’ll still go off even if you trainwreck. As soon as the chorus or the drop comes in, the crowd’s going to forget about the trainwreck. Maybe a couple nerdy dudes up front will care. I don’t really plan my sets out and just take each show as it comes. Like, I’ll plan a little bit if I’m opening up for so and so and it’s going to be a 1,000 person capacity. So I’ll tailor it a little for that. And if I know the crowd expects something that is a little out of my range, I’ll do extra to get there for them.

How important is BPM in a set?

I’ll usually start between 120 and 130 and I go from there. Shit, I’ll work up to 160, 165. Once I’m past 135, 140, I’ll go back and forth between like hip hop, old school dubstep stuff maybe, kuduro, and R&B. Most genres that work within that range of 130 to 160. Some juke and a little footwork. But then I’ll bring it down to like 80, 90 BPM. Reggaeton and R&B. Then up to maybe 100 and 105. I kinda go all over the place. I’ll end at like 160, then jump to 90 BPM. It depends on, say, the vibe, or how much time I have. But if you do too much of that, it’ll disjoint the dancefloor. I have done that, to my detriment. The crowd wants to vibe out. There are people who listen to every song you play. But there’s a lot of people who are just chillen, socializing, drinking. They’ll go to the bar, to the bathroom, and come back. And if you’re switching up the vibe and the tempo like every second, it’s hard to keep a vibe. If someone comes back from the bathroom and you’re playing hip hop, and they’re like, “Oh, I love this,” and you only play one song… So, if I go with a genre, I’ll stick to that for a few tracks. At least three or five songs, then switch it up.

[Brenmar - "Be The One".]

What was Chicago like, and how does it influence your sound?

I grew up there my whole life up until five years ago when I moved to New York. I grew up on the North Side near Logan Square, a very Puerto Rican area at the time. Lots of families, but lots of gang shit too. My mom wouldn’t let me go out too much. But in my early teens I started venturing out. We were just kids, so there was no clubs for us, but there would always be house parties. It was the late 90s when juke was poppin off hard. It was the cool shit in Chicago. Like Gant Man and Slugo. There were still Dance Mania tapes and re-releases all over the place. It’d be like teenagers in the basement grinding up on each other to juke. It was what it was. You’d hear hip hop on the radio and from cars. Absorbing all that while growing up is why I make what I make, and why 150 BPM music isn’t that fast for me.

Do you produce with the club in mind?

I almost always think about the club. All the instrumental Brenmar stuff is done with the club in mind, but within different contexts. Like not every song is a peak time banger in your face. I’ll also make a track that you can open up with. Or it might be for a hip hop and R&B party. But then there’s stuff like my Jamie Foxx remix. It’s too intimate to play at a bigger public club, but I’ve used it at house parties and it’s amazing.

When you make music, do you try to mix up genre boundaries?

Yea, all my stuff kinda falls between the cracks a little bit and occupies a certain gray zone there. You can’t really call it just hip hop or just dance. There’s certain elements of both. I think that’s where things are headed, and where they get interesting. There’s no use in rehashing the same formula if it’s already been done to death. When I sit down to start a new track, I’ll decide on a tempo and style. Once I’m in the process of working, I’m borrowing stuff from all over the place. And you have to, or else it’s too random. You have to have some sort of minimal outline or blueprint, or else you’re just staring at a blank screen. The more you can hone in and focus, the easier it becomes. But I don’t let it restrict me. Say I’m working on a hip hop beat, then suddenly I find this cool techno chord progression or something, I’ll use it. If it sounds good, then it’s good. Nothing is made out of scratch, everything is a combination of something else.

[Cassie - Me & U (Brenmar remix)]

How do you balance your sound with vocals?

It’s still something I’m working towards. I haven’t done too many original vocal tracks in the way I’d like. It’s one thing when you are playing with a sample and you can do whatever you want with it. But it’s another thing when your’e dealing with a real person whose lyrics mean something to someone, and there’s egos involved, etc… It’s a whole new ballgame. When it works, it’s amazing, but it takes effort. Everyone has to be on the same page. I’ve met with some writers, and have a couple tracks with original vocals, but they aren’t released because I couldn’t stand behind them 100 percent. Once you start releasing stuff that you’re iffy about, the crowd picks up on that and you get stuck in situations you don’t want to be in. There’s a difference between writing an instrumental track and writing something for a vocalist, because you need to hold back. If you give them too much, you almost hinder them. Sometimes you just want to hint at a vibe or emotion, and hopefully they’ll pick it up and go from there. But for instrumental music, it has to move and you need something to take the vocals’ place. Either the lyrics or the melody of vocals first grab people’s attention, and everything else comes second. For most people. In a way, you’re replacing that lead line with vocals. But like I said, it’s more complicated. I’m still working on it, because I’m so used to writing for myself, that I need to scale back because I might overproduce the instrumental, even though I’m all about minimalism in general.

What makes for a good vocalist?

A knack for melody is really important to me. I emphasize that in a lot of my productions. They’re pretty melodic. There’s a lot of things you can kind a hum along to. Lyrics are something I’m trying to place more importance on. Stupid lyrics can ruin a really good song. But to me, if the beat is wack, I’m not even trying to pay attention to what they’re saying. Emotions and believing in what you’re saying are important. I really love female vocalists that are very confident and know they’re the shit. That way it’ll be easier for me to think they’re the shit. Like if someone is applying for a job, and you ask why they should get it, if they say they don’t deserve it, then they probably won’t get it. There’s a lack of security that a lot of vocalists need to overcome. It’s not everything, but it’s a really good start.

What type of lyrical content are you looking for?

A good metaphor for love is always a winner. The Dream is amazing at that. In hip hop, a certain amount of humor in what you’re saying is always good. Like Juicy J or Dipset. They make me laugh all the time. Even Kanye. Jay Z’s wordplay and punchlines are fabulous. For me, it’s about the beat, the melody, and then the lyrics. But they all work together and are important to me.

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