Sepalcure (Hotflush) Dubspot Q&A: ‘Fleur’, Hardware, Performance, Songwriting +

[Sepalcure - "No Think" (Hotflush, Jan. 2010). Art by Souwgen.]

Praveen Sharma and Travis Stewart seem like very different people. The two make varying styles of music as solo artists, they take divergent approaches to developing their sounds, and each has his own view on artistic identity. And yet the style they’ve created together as Sepalcure is cohesive and unique. Their music is one of those cases where telling people the label they’re released on is more descriptive than which genre they associate with. So no, it’s not post-dubstep or whatever, it’s Hotflush music. Granted this enviable level of creative control, the pair have taken advantage of that freedom while still maintaining an identifiable strain of concept.

Their new EP, Fleur, ranges from the boom bap title track to the ambient closer “Inside”. A sense of nighttime paradise pervades the release, which takes a forward thinking approach minus a futurist fetishism. Ethereal vocals, heavy but warm kicks, low end vibrations and live effected instrumentation are present throughout, combining in an air of refined pleasure. They reveal a glowing environment normally reserved for the enjoyment of a select few. Deep sea bass weight, lofty chords, dynamic percussion, and a textured interaction between all these elements creates an attentive sense of space that’s nearly a physical presence, with every sound absorbing the qualities of each track’s location. The kicks are the most noticeable loop, but there isn’t much else repetition other than theme. You’re almost guaranteed an introduction to a new sound, rhythm, or melody with every eight bars, often in four. Elements will slowly drift off into the subconscious or subtly transform, although they might suddenly return with a new vigor and updated agenda. You can listen to each track a number of times and continually pick out new bits, and yet the arrangement is so well organized that this massive display rarely gets confused or busy. By including a beatless track absent of melody, they seem to have sated any desire to ride on atmosphere alone, and only use this as a starting point for the rest of the release. It’s engaging, mood setting, balanced, progressive, and diverse. It’s electronic yet natural. Dark but light. Hard and soft. Demanding and yet passive. Fleur manages to attain all this in one idea, allowing for an appreciation on multiple levels.

Outside of Sepalcure, Praveen is working on a new solo housey project, Braille, which he will premier for the first time next month at Twisup in Brooklyn and Forward in DC. Travis will take his eclectic Machinedrum alias on tour through Europe starting in mid-March. -MS

[Sepalcure - "Fleur" (Hotflush, Jan. 2010).]


What are your live set ups?

Sepalcure - We have two laptops, Travis Machinedrum uses an Akai MPD and a trigger finger, Praveen uses a Novation Launch Pad and a Korg NanoKONTROL. We sync up via MIDI and run Ableton Live on both laptops. We run audio through a DJ mixer (usually a Pioneer 909). Our Ableton session is loaded with tons of edits and stems from our tunes, our friends’ tunes, and tunes we love in general.

What does a Sepalcure performance entail?

Praveen - Lots of jumping around and grinning. I pull a few dance moves too. We’re definitely amped up on stage.
Travis - We tend to do live remixes of our own tracks to start our sets and gradually increase the tempo and start more into a b2b DJ set but with Ableton so we can do quick blends and loop sections.

What do your solo performances entail?

P - Lots of jumping around and grinning. More dance moves too. I try to have as much fun as possible. Right now these solo sets have mostly been DJ style. When I last performed as Praveen, it was a far more mellow loop pedal, drum set, melodica affair.
T - Machinedrum performances are similar to Sepalcure performances but obviously without Praveen, but I tend to play keyboard/synth and sing over a lot of tracks.

What are your studio setups?

P - For synths: Juno 6, Korg Mono/Poly, Roland Space Echo, Sequential Circuits Six Trak, Rhodes MK2, Nord Lead 1. Also, acoustic and bass guitars, plus Ableton Live. The Praveen stuff is pretty heavy on the harmonium, toy piano, melodica and shakers. Plugins are pretty irrelevant to me these days since Travis has shown me how fast working with the built in Live plugins can be. A few highlights are PSP Vintage Warmer, Altiverb, Audio Damage stuff… We use Reaktor and Massive for a bunch on Sepalcure stuff as well.
T - I have a pretty modest setup at home. Just my laptop, Akai MPD (that Praveen gave me), Novation Nocturn 25 key, some guitars, random mics, cassette tape recorders, kalimba, cats.

[Sepalcure - "Your Love", (Hotflush, Jan. 2010). Art by Souwgen.]

How do you approach creating a Sepalcure track?

S - Changes every time. We’re trying to make sure we’re both in the studio together to start new tracks but afterwards we might pass stuff back and forth since we’re both so busy outside the Sepalcure project. The general idea is one man engineers while the other’s jamming out on keyboards or something, and then we switch it up. Gives us a chance to both touch on the other’s work and also create some new layers for the track.

How do you approach solo tracks?

P - Lately it’s been all about feeding the Mono/Poly into the Space Echo over a beat. Been getting a lot of mileage out of improvising with hardware synths these days. If I am not freaking out about the track or loop by the time I’m messing with vocal snippets, I usually mute all the synth tracks and start layering new ones. That’s something I’ve learned over the years – never get too hooked on your initial takes. They’re usually far more forced than your second. There are three main steps for me: The initial improvised session for the core of the track (drums, synth & vox), a second phase of arrangement and effects, and then the last phase is tweaking the mix every time I play the track out and take some mental notes.
T - I have a more “first thought equals best though” approach than Praveen might have. I tend to start and finish tracks within the first session. It sometimes leads to unfinished sounding tracks, but I’m quite happy with them.

How do you build the sound pallet for a song?

P - We’ve both got loads of unused sounds we’ve created over the years, so a tiny bit of stuff in the early Sepalcure jams was pulled from there. Honestly, it’s pretty spur of the moment. We’ll be sitting there listening to a track sometimes and beat boxing some sounds we want to add – usually we just jump on the mic at that point and add em. I think the important thing is to never get too locked into a pallet. That was the idea behind the Fleur EP at least. For the Braille stuff [his new housey alias], I’ve gotten back into starting with a 909 base for the track and layering synths and vox for a while. If I’m dancing in my chair, I know I’m heading in the right direction.
T - I tend to start tracks as an 8 to 16 bar loop, and start to add more and more layers until i have an idea of what the beefiest part of the track is gonna sound like, so when I start arranging the track I know what I’m trying to build up toward.

What are the main tenets of a Sepalcure track?

S - Man, last year we would have had three specific things to say, but these days we feel like we have no idea, and we’re kinda happy about that.

Sonically, Fleur sounds overwhelmingly non-electronic. Was it a conscious attempt at organicness?

S - It was just what we were feeling at the moment. When we realized Hotflush had a lot more freedom to offer us creatively than we may have initially thought, we decided to mess with the script a bit and bring some instruments in we hadn’t used in a while. There are always organic elements in a Sepalcure track though – everything from our own vocal snippets to shakers or field recordings.

Did you actively wish to counter the prevalence of aggression and darkness in dubstep with Sepalcure, or was it simply a take on the genre you wanted to explore?

S - It was sort of a conscious decision but we weren’t forcing anything – thats just our style when we get in the studio together.

What genre do you find is most accepting of deviation from the guidelines they’re built on?

S - Why trap yourself in a genre? As far as dance music goes – this weird musical world Sepalcure lives in seems to at least be hungry to throw out the blueprints and allow all sorts of different influences.

How do you go about gaining an understanding of a genre new to you?

P - If it speaks to me, I’ll respond. There are some technical aspects of a genre or style necessary to converse the language, but at the end of the day I’ve got to be really excited about a sound for it to be worth touching on.
T - I’m pretty bad about being authentic a lot of the time when it comes to really knowing genres. I’m not a historian, I just listen to music and get in to whatever is within my reach. If I’m bored and drunk late at night, I might do some Youtube digging and see where it gets me, listen to mixes on Percussion Lab, XLR8R, Fact, etc…

What are common mistakes that producers make when interested in working within – or taking influence from – a new style?

S - Hah! We dunno – we’ve probably made a few of those ourselves. As long as you’ve got a unique sound and you stand out from the pack, we feel like you’re doing alright.

Are aliases necessary for an artist to maintain an identity yet explore different styles?

P - Depends on the artist and project. Personally, I like the creative freedom; the lack of preconceived notions given by a new alias. It would also make little artistic sense to go from Praveen & Benoît to something like Sepalcure or my housey Braille stuff.
T - I make tunes that I want to hear, period. If other people like it, then awesome. If not, then they should just keep listening to whatever they liked that I did in the past.

What’s next for Sepalcure? You’re working on the album, right?

Slowly but surely! We’ve got a Daedelus remix coming out in the next few months and our remix EP with remixes by Falty DL, Jimmy Edgar, Daedelus and more out on Hotflush this summer.

Upcoming shows or projects you’d like to promote?

P - Gonna be repping Sepalcure solo style down at SXSW & WMC while Travis is away in Europe as Machinedrum. We’re playing New York’s Unsound Festival in April. Also debuting my new house project, Braille, at DC’s Forward Festival and Brooklyn’s Twisup in April. First 12″ is due out on Rush Hour in April and another release on Hotflush later this year.
T - I’m doing a Machinedrum EU tour starting March 17th. I’ll be going to Berlin, London, Paris, Vienna and tons of other dates you can check on Look out for the SXLND EP coming out this summer on LuckyMe, plus a digital release of the TStewart Image Generation cassette tape I put out last year, also on LuckyMe.

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