Dubspot Artist Profile: Downliners Sekt (InFiné, Barcelona) – Proto-Dubstep, Sound Evolution, New Album +

Dubspot blog contributor Mike Steyels speaks with Barcelona-based artists Downliners Sekt about their new album on InFiné and how they’ve refined their sound.

Left to their own devices, Downliners Sekt forge their own path. The global limelight began shining on UK artists working in dubstep and its fringes during the mid-2000s but Downliners experimented in the shadows beyond those British borders. They used similar tools and reference points and came upon like-minded conclusions, but never gained the momentum of their British peers.

“We started experimenting with proto-dubstep before it was a genre,” they explain. “When we came across the dubstep sound ourselves, the idea was to do drum n bass in half tempo with the same type of beat and powerful sub bass. But we were in France and dubstep was happening in the UK, so we didn’t get noticed. So we moved it into something different. Just changing our style from album to album, because that’s what we wanted to do.”

Without the pressures of success, they constantly reinvented themselves, trying out this direction and that. Such experimentalism endeared them to a loyal, but small, fanbase. Each track would be built entirely from scratch as they sought a new sound for every piece of instrumentation. There would be tempo shifts and strange time signatures because the tracks were like big, unwieldy puzzle pieces that barely fit together. Every drum hit and synth was unique. But that all took a lot of time and they had always hoped for more exposure.

Now they’ve signed to a respectable label, France’s InFiné, and that pleasure of discovery found in wrong turns and missed signposts is gone from their sound. In its place is a sense of direction and ease of motion. Their new album, called Silent Ascent, is set to a more fluid tempo, running between 127-140 BPM, as it’s geared towards clubs and touring. It’s also built on purposefully restricted instrumentation, and its rhythms are familiar to those in bassy British clubs with garage touchstones and house concepts.

“We’ve reached the limit of the way we’ve worked and the techniques we’ve developed since ’09,” they say. “For the first time, we used pretty much the same kick drums, snares, and sub basses. It creates a consistency. Like having a drummer who plays the same kit. We also have about three or four techniques that we’ve been applying to a lot of the sounds.”

Another benefit they see in these restrictions is that the sounds became more refined as the album went on. The samples they relied on would get better the longer they used them.

Reflecting on their past process, they say it was inordinately time consuming: “We had too many sounds, so sometimes we could spend a whole day looking for one sound. We’d get lost.”

They’ve also lifted the veil of mystery surrounding their identity, which they admit was a mistake in the first place. In the very beginning, they were actually an anonymous group. But they were never that concerned with the idea by the time anybody really knew who Downliners were. They had even revealed their names in old interviews, but the press continued to perpetuate the idea of anonymity. In their last press release, they decided to finally clear this all up and included their real names in it – Fabrizio Rizzin and Pere Solé.

This new straightforward outlook also coincides with a shift in British bass music, which is now less open to fringe ideas than it was when Downliners started. You can hear that new playing field reflected in the album, but the duo try and buck it at the same time. “The UK has less of a palette to experiment with these days, and while we still get a lot of influence from it, we have a will to experiment with ways of doing new things. We don’t want to use the same sounds everyone else is using, or use rhythm machines, or an 808.”

So Downliners Sekt has managed to find a main road with wide open lanes. But the orchards that pass by swiftly outside their windows are still bare and dark with winter moisture. The soundscapes and textures of Downliner’s past still echo in the new sound with a deep melancholy and brittle discomfort.

One of their signature sounds is created with a technique they call “infinite voices” or “infinite reverse.” Taking an acapella or a very clear sample, they run a very long reverb over it and chop the end of the tail and then resample it, often running it through new effects.

And like much of their tools, the reverb is a simple one, freeware from Apple called Verb. “We don’t use many plugins,” Downliners elaborate. “Our presets are based off basic plugins.” Side chaining is another important element of the new release.

Their ideal has always been to make something with nothing, and their tools were simple as always for Ascent. They used a Macbook Pro with Logic, a few MPD controllers, as well as a loaned Prophet and an old Juno they cut and paste samples from. But they had a mountain of sample banks to chose from that they developed over the years.

So they haven’t totally abandoned the map they’ve drawn on their own and brought them this far, they just refined it. They continue to chart new points of interest while taking advantage of major arteries. When writing, if they feel like the track sounds too much like somebody else, they’ll still trash it. And they associate their process more with rock culture than electronic music.

“We kind of play like rockers making electronic music. Everything is jamming and then mixing it all together afterwards. Sometimes we correct stuff, but we never write in the computer. Even our beats. We’ve always been categorized as electronic music, but even if we did something else, it would still be Downliners. We could do flamenco, really.”

And although their main point of reference is the UK, they are a major part of the Barcelona scene, where they’ve been since ’09. This is where the group dwindled into a duo, and created the production routine that defined Downliners as we know them now.

Barcelona is a city with a budding electronic music scene, but one that lacks its own definitive sound. Most of the influential artists there are transplants like Downliners, and they often look beyond the city’s borders for influence. There’s a thick strain of British ideas that runs through their sound.

But the city’s electronic scene is growing, Downliners points out: “Back in the 90s, with the start or Sonar and all, Barcelona became international. It became a new spot for electronic music, like Berlin and London. But here it was cheaper and warmer. It’s been a melting pot of people from all over since then, and that’s had its influence. It’s been a place where you go and play for a while, but it’s recent that producers started living here.

“It’s really the start of something now.”

Mike Steyels is a writer based in Brooklyn who focuses on forward-thinking electronic music, regional sounds from around the world, rap, dancehall, and more. His work can be found at MTV Iggy, THUMP, Vibe Magazine and others. Follow him on Twitter at @iswayski.