Interview: Distal (Embassy, Tectonic) Talks Atlanta Dubstep, Juke, Production, DJing +

[Photo by Megan Jolly.]

Distal is an artist that’s never happy without diversity. His music can be as slow as hip hop and moombahton or as fast as dubstep techno and juke. It ranges from the chirpy blue skies of “Android Tourism” to the club hedonism of his “Cranberry Goose” remix. But it’s always got an edge of futurism to it and frequently features a unique sound palette paired with creative songwriting. The producer has always detoured around the most popular sounds of the day, carving out an individualistic niche in the fringes and shadows of varying styles. In his hometown of Atlanta, he preferred electronic music to the omnipresent rap world he grew up around, and now he steers towards juke and deeper bass music rather than the filthy dubstep that recently blew up there and across the world. But Distal’s output has steadily garnered interest and he’s secured some envious entitlements in the past year or so. He collaborated with DJ Rashad, one of the biggest names in juke and footwork; Embassy Recordings, his label, has secured a rare vinyl deal with ST Holdings distribution; and he will soon release a full length album on Tectonic Records. While in New York a few days back for a performance at the Turrbotax party, he stopped by Dubspot to talk with us about ‘thug-step’, Atlanta’s wariness about juke, his continued love of dubstep rollers, a new curiosity for moombahton, and feeding off the crowd as a DJ. - MS
[Distal - "Apple Bottom".]

How do rap and dubstep work together in Atlanta?

Rap is king. It’s everywhere: in the suburbs, in the country, in the city. We’ve got three or four different rap stations. So when people go out to clubs, the most comfortable thing for anybody is rap. And they just mix it in with dubstep. It’s at the right tempo. People have been exposed. It works so well. They’ve been playing straight up dubstep on Atlanta radio stations. It’s the more bro-oriented stuff. Hood music is naturally aggressive, and a lot of the aggressive brostep is pretty intense. So this ‘thug-step‘ thing happened. It’s more popular on the dubstep side, with the scene kids. But there’s still a lot going on with artists wanting to collaborate. Like the Guicci Man collabo. They’re talking about doing bass, dubstep, and house remixes of the whole album. Mad Decent is putting it together with Heroes x Villains, formerly known as Megan Fox.

But I don’t get that much love in Atlanta. I throw a lot of parties there, and I do it big in other places, but I don’t get much love there. I guess it’s because I don’t play thug-step all night. I do stuff with Atlanta Dubstep, and we’ll throw heavy dubstep shows, more future bass oriented and techno stuff. And then we’ll switch it up and do a massive line up with a big name like Borgore or something and just ram it out. Then build up some cash so we can bring out Silkie or Ramadanman. A nice balance. My partner Mayhem is into really hard stuff and really deep stuff. It used to be kinda non-profit, but we’ve expanded to where we’re also an audio/visual rental company. We’ve got an S-Corp going. Trying to make it legit.

How did the juke night go?

I did a ghetto house and juke night where we had DJ Assault as a resident, because he lives in Atlanta now. He’s from Detroit, but he moved down to Atlanta. It was kind of a no-platform night where we played whatever we wanted and it worked really well. That’s how I like to DJ: play whatever you want, just play good music. In the end, the club owner wanted to switch everything over to Top 40.

Assault is gonna be on Embassy. The next release will be a remix of Wheez-ie. Wheez-ie is in Boston but he’s from Houston. I really like this guy’s stuff. It’s juke and footwork. He studies at Berklee College of Music, so he’s got an intense musical background. His stuff is very musical, very soulful, but still very ghetto all at the same time. Assault is remixing a tune called “Barefoot Billy“. The vocals basically just go, “In the club, no shoes.” I’ve played it in Atlanta and had people taking their shoes off and putting them up in the air. And the club was nasty.

Since Atlanta hip hop is built on an 808 palette, it seems like juke would catch on there. Is that happening?

I’ve experimented and played a lot of like Ying Yang Twins and Ace Hood with juke. But I think the speed is still a little too much for them. Even though it’s really half time, 80 BPM, it’s still got these crazy toms on top or something. So people are still a little stand offish about it. But with the right crowd at the right time, people will just go off.

[Distal+Rashad - "Stuck Up Money" | Photo by Megan Jolly.]

Will you be working on any juke projects with people from Chicago?

I’ll be releasing with Ghettophiles. They’ll be putting out “Boca Raton” and “Got The Block Hot” which are 150 BPM and 134 BPM. So they’re not completely juke. We’re going to get Tameil to do a remix. He’s actually from Jersey and does Baltimore Club house. And we’ve got Hilti from France. Om Unit will be on it as well. I tried to get a lot of Chicago guys. But it’s really hard to work with some of them because they just go missing. My release has been in the works for a while because they’ve had so many problems with getting some of them just to sit down and make the tune. And it’s really hard because a lot of them are just on hardware usually. But me and Rashad collaborated on a track together. It’s called “Stuck Up Money” and will drop on Well Rounded.

What’s your set up?

I run Logic Pro 9 with a laptop, Mackie monitors, some MIDI controllers, and an external soundcard. Pretty simple set up. When I DJ I use CDJs with Serato. I used to do vinyl, but it’s too limiting because you can’t pitch things the way you want to. On CDJs, you can hit plus or minus 100, so you can start cranking stuff up a lot faster. Turntables give you plus or minus 8 and that’s it, so you can only get to a certain point before you have to start over.

What are you doing with moombahton right now?

Sinden came to town and stayed in Atlanta for a few days. We started talking about it so much, we just got in the studio and were like, “Hey, let’s do it.” I like it because it’s a slower tempo. It gives you so much range because it’s so open. I feel like it’s like when I first heard dubstep. I mean, I came from breakcore, drum n bass, and gabber. That mix was very full, and it was a fat mix. Dubstep offered so much room, it was so sparse. You could do so much more with the sounds, and that’s how I feel about moombahton now. I really enjoy the rhythms too. I feel like I do more reggaeton actually. I’ve made a moombahton tune I guess, but whenever I play it to people who are familiar with reggaeton, they’re like, “You could sell these as reggaeton beats to the emcees in Atlanta.” I’m trying to do more tropical stuff. More Latin influenced stuff. I’m taking a lot of reggaeton emcees vocals and chopping them up – then finding out what they mean later. I work at a lot of tempos too, and this seemed like a cool one. I jump around a lot and don’t limit myself.

You work in all these genres now. Is that because of an implosion with dubstep as a genre?

I really, really still love classic, dark, deep, Moldy style dubstep. I still really respect it. I’m just more picky with it because there’s not as much. But there’s a little resurgence going on. There’s Subreachers from Belgium, who we just signed some tunes with. There’s Commodo and Lurka from the UK. There’s a lot of good stuff coming out of Belgium now. Mala just moved there. To Antwerp.

How has your crowd changed?

I get booked for all kinds of events now. I get booked for house events, dubstep nights, juke nights. So people never really know what to expect, which is cool. I performed at DEMF, and it was clearly all house people. I found myself in the middle of this playing lots of dubstep. They were into it, but thought it was a bit weird. So I would phase out of that and go into something else for a while.

[Distal - "Android Tourism" | Photo by Megan Jolly.]

When you DJ, how important is crowd reaction?

I’m big on it. I usually request a microphone and talk to the crowd. There’s so many DJs that I really love to listen to, but they’re so boring to watch. You have to make the most of what it is, and it’s you sitting in front of a computer. You got to entertain a little. So I get on the mic. Like when I play “Apple Bottom“, I’ll say it’s for all the girls with apple bottoms. I jump around and get into it. I try to get excited. Because I mean, shit, I’m doing what I love.

Embassy has a vinyl release coming up?

Yea! Embassy’s first vinyl release will be Clicks and Whistles. It’s crazy because all these people are losing their vinyl deals. It’s so hard to get vinyl deals anywhere. We went to ST Holdings distribution and we wanted vinyl from the beginning, but they were like, “No, not yet.” Then they approached us wanting to do vinyl. They were like, “These tracks are so good.” They asked us to do it. That was exciting. It’ll be 300 pressings to start out, and they’ll repress if it needs more. I think that’s standard right now.

Upcoming releases of yours?

I just signed with Tectonic. I’ve got two singles this year, and then I’m doing a full length with them; a double LP with 14 tracks for February. I’m just looking to get out of America for a bit. Go see Europe. I’ve never been there before. And I get people asking me to come all the time, so I’m trying to get someone to set it up, because it’s kinda like money just sitting there. But this is exciting to me, because Underwater Dancehall was the album that pushed me over the edge with dubstep and made me really fall in love with it. So to be on Tectonic I feel like I’m living in a movie or something. The singles are finished and three-quarters of the album is done. The second single, which is really deep, will have a Jakes remix and Archie Pelago did a remix for it. They took the original and covered it with live instruments. I’ll have some juke, house and dubstep on the album. The lead track will be creepy and sluggish – really weird with gorillas screaming. It’s called “Gorilla”. I locked myself in a closet and just screamed and added the gorillas. It’s really dark and evil and weird. But I want the album to have a theme of tension. Basically, I had a lot of stuff done that me and Pinch really liked, and I decided to hold off on other signings and compile it all. All of those tracks have a tense, on-the-edge-of-your-seat style to them. Where nothing is really breaking loose. I want to run with that. And then have space as a secondary motif, like dark futuristic sounds. Sci fi.

[Photo by Megan Jolly.]


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