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One U.S. artist that undoubtedly reflects the sounds of his hometown is Detroit’s Sinistarr. Heavily influenced by the city’s rich house, techno, and electro heritage, Sinistarr first broke onto the scene with ‘Detroit Diesel’ in 2008. Since then, he’s been pushing his sound forward, signing tunes to the likes of Metalheadz, Hospital, and others. TiD&B’s Melissa caught up with him recently to discuss how he got into drum and bass, things that annoy him – brostep and drumstep – and the D&B scene in Denver where he currently resides. He also dishes out info about his recently released Cetra EP; his debut musical departure from drum and bass which has received widespread support from across the music community.
TiD&B: How did you get started in drum and bass and what did it take to get your big break with ‘Detroit Diesel’ on Creative Source in 2008?
Sinistarr: I was always fascinated with music and a fast learner. Even early on, I remember tinkering with the Windows 95 theme so that it would play my customised version of the sound each time I booted up my computer. It wasn’t long before I made it a personal goal to make a tune and get it signed, but it was about two years prior to ‘Detroit Diesel’ that I first seriously sat down and spent time honing my skills.
In addition to working on my production, I networked and learned from a lot of people both in person and online. All this was going on during the time when Myspace was popular and I was also connecting to people via AIM. In not too much time, I was able to score some vinyl and digital releases and have been keeping it moving since. It’s hard to believe everything was so drastically different only six years ago.
TiD&B: Your home town of Detroit obviously has a rich history when it comes to house, techno, and electro. How did you get into drum and bass and how has the city influenced your music?
Sinistarr: I will always channel my Detroit house and electro influences. One of the first things that got me into drum and bass though was seeing Goldie’s ‘B.U.S.T.E.D./Everybody Loves Sunshine’ movie in high school. It had a weird drum and bass soundtrack that intrigued me. That’s when I started following and collecting music from Aphrodite and the other artists many people reach for when they first get into drum and bass. I was very passionate about researching anything I could get my hands on. On the American side of things, I remember collecting all the volumes of Breakbeat Science’s Exercises series.
Once I start producing, I had to decide what sort of angle on drum and bass I wanted to take and what would make my sound unique. I wanted to still listen to techno, but also see how I could take that sound to 172…173…175 bpm. That evolution is how I found my sound.
TiD&B: Method One recently talked about the need for drum and bass artists to listen to a variety of other genres to keep things fresh, do you agree?
Sinistarr: That’s totally true. I listen to a lot of alternative rock. I still listen to a lot of ‘90s music, actually. When I was younger, I was like a sponge listening to the radio. Funny enough though, it was more the production that I noticed more than anything. For example, if something even like a pop tune came on, my mind would bypass the vocals and go straight to dissecting the string arrangement or other elements. I also listen to a lot of hip hop like Danny Brown and J Dilla.
TiD&B: Speaking of dissecting sounds, what are your favorite production tools?
Sinistarr: ASC and Vaccine are avid users of Renoise and introduced me to the software recently. It’s pretty inexpensive and has full-fledged studio capabilities which you can do everything on. It’s actually how my last EP, Cetra, came about – it’s the first tune I finished on there. I think Renoise is better than Logic and Abelton, although I still use Logic for drum and bass. It’s every program I learned all in one program, and I love it.
In terms of hardware, I just bought two Korg Monotron ribbon synthesizers. My Yamaha DX100 is responsible for my new EP as well. I also wrote ‘Shudder’ for Renegade Hardware on that thing. I’m always trying to get my hands on more hardware.
TiD&B: You’re now based in Denver, what’s the scene like there?
Sinistarr: One of the advantages of being in Denver is that I’m more central to the rest of country. Flights are shorter, budgets are higher, and there are more gigs in my reach.
I have to say too that the music scene in Denver is thriving and growing at a ridiculous rate. From a D&B standpoint, we have Recon, for example. They’ll bring in headliners and won’t even charge a cover; it’s based on donations. The other crew, Sub.mission, which does dubstep, but books drum and bass acts (like lil’ old me) can get 1,200 people out for show on a Tuesday. It’s nuts.
As for Detroit, they still have good shows and my musical heritage lies there, but currently – with the exception of very few people (and they know who they are, because I’ve told them) – it almost pales in comparison to what Denver is doing. It’s definitely different here in Denver, I noticed it from the get-go when I moved here.
TiD&B: That in mind, would you say drum and bass is still underground in the U.S.?
Sinistarr: This is a really hard question. I think drum and bass is evolving here and catching a new wave of supporters. It’s weird because it’s being brought more to light by the whole dubstep craze, although it’s the older genre by far. There are people doing well (some with their skills being rather questionable), but also good musicians who are struggling because of how they choose to position themselves in terms of genre – it’s like they are almost stuck, when they can do a lot more. I’m not saying everyone should be a commodity, because drum and bass is always seen as an underground thing, but now all these people are getting into it from that perspective. I guess I could say I see drum and bass still coming up…
TiD&B: ‘Cetra’ is your first departure from drum and bass, and a move I’m seeing more and more from the long-standing U.S. D&B influencers I’ve been talking to for this series. Do you see this as part of a larger trend? Is drum and bass getting stale here? What’s the deal?
Sinistarr: ‘Cetra’ definitely takes things in a new direction, but I’m definitely still writing drum and bass. This is not my swan song. I’m just branching out more now, but it’s been coming for a while.
I was recently talking to Sean Roman (Mutt) in Miami, who doesn’t do drum and bass anymore, about this topic. He told me, “I feel like you hit a certain point as a producer where you plateau, and then what do you do?” After writing tunes for labels like Metalheadz, Renegade Hardware, Hospital, etc., I feel like I needed to experiment. If you can do that, you’re good to go long term. I don’t want to do things like tacky brostep or drumstep or anything like that, which is loud and annoying – and awful.
The problem I have with some artists “branching out” is that they’re not harkening back to their roots – they are on the next hype. As an artist, I feel you have to set a precedent for what people will expect of you. Don’t make it sound like you got bored in the studio…Don’t make it sound like you’re a drum and bass producer trying to do house or hip hop. Do you!”
Another opinion is that you have to keep your influences together and coherent, and keep pulling from those as you evolve. I’ve been listening to things like ghetto tech and Bmore house for 10 to 15 years. Why not put that in my music? It’s all shared DNA. You stay true to that and people will continue to respect you. I’ve been getting such great support from the drum and bass community and beyond for my new EP, just because it is what it is. Just make it sound like you.
Ok, I’ll get off my soapbox now! But as for drum and bass work you should look out for, I do have a remix coming out with Gridlok coming up, so be on the lookout for that.
TiD&B: Speaking of Gridlok, who are the major forces on the U.S. drum and bass scene today? Who else should we look out for?
Sinistarr: Gridlok definitely is, but he’s doing much more than drum and bass. He’s writing music as an all around producer, and not just a D&B producer, so he’s really someone I feel that’s doing it right. Another one out there is Random Movement. He’s a great friend and his catalogue of work is amazing. He also pulls heavily from his classic rock and jazz background and recycles that back into his music in terms of samples, drums, and synths. He’s a one man band.
TiD&B: What’s in store for you in the next five years?
Sinistarr: Calculon, Pawn, and I want to start up a label. We’ll focus on what I call “boutique beats,” so basically everything across the board, not just drum and bass – quality tunes. Aside from that, the ultimate would be to score a movie or indie flick. I just actually had someone from the licensing company for O’Neill snowboards contact me!
You know, I really just want to write good music. Not dumbed-down stuff…just good music.
TiD&B: So wrapping this up, where does this leave drum and bass today?
Sinistarr: I was just checking out Fracture’s tune ‘Get Busy’ and I made a comment about how a lot of people were about to argue over it versus enjoying it for what it is. It doesn’t sound like “regular” drum and bass so people aren’t sure they like it. People need to branch out and embrace how things are always evolving into something new and different. You see the forerunners of drum and bass doing this; let’s see where it takes us in the next year or two, or five, or more. I’ll still be writing drum and bass, but there are other things, musically, that need tending to as well.