Spheres exist within dance and electronic music, artists gravitate to those on the same page and operate within a niche which allows for likeminded collaboration and reflection. Patrice Baumel is an Amsterdam based producer and disc jockey who needs little introduction - the former Trouw resident has evolved across the years both in sound and style. Now a significant international presence his music is widely supported and fiercely championed with recent releases on the likes of Kompakt, Afterlife and Correspondant help pave the way for a bright future...
Amirali has cast a shadowy presence for several years, working amidst the undercurrent of dance music he has crafted niche sounds for the clubs which have since grown into mighty triumphs. His own imprint, Dark Matters, has released music by the likes of STL, Fort Romeau and AboutFace whilst his own music has appeared on Crosstown Rebels most prominently.
We asked the pair to talk shop, see below...
Patrice Baumel interviews Amirali
PB: How does your multicultural background influence the music you make?
A: From a very young age I was exposed to many different types of music, I come from a musical family; my dad is an architect, but he also plays the piano. As an avid music fan himself, he always had a wide variety of music in the house, from Classical and Jazz to Blues and Rock’n’Roll, he also had a section dedicated to some rare old Persian and Middle Eastern music. As a kid I grew up listening to his collection and was immensely influenced by it. I was about 4 when I started learning the Piano and an Iranian instrument called Santour. With the Piano I started practicing classical pieces from the likes of Chopin and Bach, but playing Santour was completely a different world; I don’t want to get too theoretical but there are different modal scales in Persian music which is quite different from the western music scales and the way the instruments are tuned is relatively different from the way a Piano is tuned for instance. Experiencing all this taught me to bend the rules instinctively and think openly about music and creating it. When you’re a kid you’re like a sponge, you just absorb everything you see and experience, so I was lucky enough to be in such an environment from an early age.
PB: Writing lyrics and composing music are different disciplines. How do you combine them in your workflow?
A: I first consider myself a producer and then a songwriter; that automatically shapes the way I work and simplifies my writing process. Sometimes I come up with an idea, it could be a melody on the Piano or a bassline with a synth, and then I would move onto working out the melody for the vocals and the lyrics at the end. But this could be completely the other way around, I don’t really like to limit myself to certain ways of working because I get bored very quickly, I always feel the need to change things around. I like to feel that every time I go into the studio and play with my instruments it’s like a first encounter.
PB: What does your bucket list of things you want to achieve in your musical career look like?
A: It’s kind of hard to say, I try not to think way ahead of myself and focus on what’s important now and what needs to be done in the present time, but it would be a total lie if I say I have no goals or desires; I’ve always wanted to form a band and it’s actually not that far from reality. It’s something I’ve been working on for some time now and with the help of my amazing team I’m getting close to where I want to be as an artist.I would also like to score films in the near future, It’s something I see myself doing for sure. The most important thing for me is to have a complete creative freedom to express myself as an artist and be able to share it with people around the world. I love playing music for people, I love getting on stage and performing and I just feel so lucky to be able to do this.
PB: If from one day to the next you would lose your hearing, what else would you do with your life?
A: It’s very scary to even think about this, I would probably go mad if something like that happens. But if I could stay sane I would probably be an architect since I studied it, or a painter, a sculptor, or a chef, who knows.
PB: Writer’s block is something that occasionally hits all of us. Have you found an effective way of dealing with it?
A: If I realize it’s not a good day in the studio and I’m not feeling inspired, I don’t really tackle with it, I’d just get out of the studio and come back a few hours later or even a day or two later. If I feel I need to have a break, I just take it. I don’t really believe in working and being locked in the studio for long hours as I think it could be quite unhealthy mentally and physically; it could really drain you out and kill your creativity.
Digging through new music helps me tremendously to get inspired, and I’m not just talking about electronic music; I listen to a lot of different types of music on a daily basis. I also check out a lot of live bands when I’m in London. If I hear a melody or a bassline in a track that catches my attention, which doesn’t come to me all the time I have to say, I would just be like, that could be the starting point of my next track. And that’s how I start a piece, with a simple idea that I just heard in someone else’s track.
As what Picasso had once said “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” But there’s a fine line between the two. It’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to. Authenticity is invaluable, originality is non-existent. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. There are of course tons of other ways to get inspirations from. I’m lucky to be living in London where I’m surrounded by and get to enjoy some of the most beautiful parks, endless exhibitions, art galleries and a diverse atmosphere, which also help fuel my creativity.
PB: When I compose music, it’s always from a DJ’s perspective and with the dancefloor in mind. Do you write your music for a certain context or life situation?
A: If I make something that people can dance to then that’s great, but most of the time I don’t really think about it. One day I could come up with something really weird and obscure and the next day I could come up with a dance record. I think this switching from one side to the other has helped me to keep things fresh and interesting in the studio. Earlier we talked about writer’s block, maybe this could be another good way of pulling out your creativity, by doing something completely strange musically that you would not normally do or you are not used to.
PB: What do you consider the most difficult aspect of living the artist’s life?
A: Being an artist is tough, if someone likes to have a comfortable life, they should never think about becoming an artist. You have to sacrifice a lot of things in life to become a real painter or a musician. To make a living by selling records is not an option anymore unless you’re Beyonce. So you have to constantly be on tour, which can kill your art practice and any sense of normality. But I have to say it’s very tempting and exciting to be on the road and I feel very grateful for being able to do what I love and play my music around the world.
PB: Tell me one thing in life that you really suck at. For me, it’s surfing. I absolutely love it and completely lack the talent for it.
A: [Laughs] That would be public speaking, I’m quite shy.
Amirali interviews Patrice Baumel
A: I know you live in Amsterdam, but tell us a little bit about your background and how has that influenced your musical life?
PB: I grew up in East Germany. My father was a music journalist with a big record collection. I think that exposure to music, the many hours of often involuntary listening to it and developing a musical ear have helped me become a better artist and be able to translate emotion into music (producing) and vice versa (DJing). Also the privilege of having lived in both communist and capitalist systems affords me a rare outside view at both and helped me tremendously learning to think for myself and not being very susceptible to propaganda and group think.
A: Is making music what you always thought you’d end up doing?
PB: Not at all. I started producing when I was 27, before that I didn’t even think I’d have the talent to write music on my own. Also DJing was more of a hobby I happened to stumble across while working as a barkeeper. Even today I think there are many other ways left for me to earn a living, I am interested in so many things - from architecture to cryptocurrency.
A: How do you solve your creative needs being constantly away from home and studio?
PB: DJing satisfies that need pretty comprehensively. However, not having enough time in the studio is one of the most frustrating aspects of a heavy touring schedule. The few hours a week that I still have are often corrupted by sleep depravation - a huge creativity killer - and a mountain of non-music related responsibilities. This underscores the importance of finding balance in life - taking care of everything, body, mind, family, creativity. I’m still learning the ropes.
A: Do you have a habitual music making practice?
PB: I am a morning producer; my best hours are from 6am to 10am. If creativity strikes, I might do a little extra in the evening but I am a firm believer in less hours but better quality. I have noticed that pulling an all nighter at the studio will destroy my next day and is only something I’d do if I need to meet a deadline.
A: What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
PB: Easily the computer and Ableton Live. My work is heavily sample-based and Ableton is a super sampler offering a thousand ways to manipulate audio. I love working with hardware but Ableton is at the heart of my studio and the only thing I really need to make music.
A: Tell us about the process when you go in to sample things in the studio.
PB: Every bit of audio that comes out of my computer is routed through my analog mixer. I can turn on Netflix or Spotify and record it straight into Ableton. That alone offers me a universe of sound sources. I also have an old radio hooked up and I can just record static noise from that. Acapellas and human voice in general are popular sound sources sampling.
A: What kind of things have you been trying to learn lately?
PB: I don’t normally sit down and acquire a new skill or learn a new instrument. I just start creating and once I hit a roadblock which my current skill set is insufficient to overcome I try to find new ways around it. That is how I learn. I consciously keep away from certain things like musical theory. I don’t want to know the rules of making music sound ‘right’ in the traditional sense but simply follow my ears and instincts.
A: What differences do you notice in dance music culture comparing to the previous decade?
PB: The main difference is that today’s music culture paradoxically is a much more visual culture. Appearance, driving by social media and Youtube, has become super important. Visual identity and branding done right yield far better commercial results than just cool music. Whatever people desire the most for themselves is what they look for in artists they admire. Beauty, sex and success sell. In that way, music culture simply mirrors society as a whole.
A: What challenges do you face as an artist on a personal and professional level? Is there anything you wish to change or improve?
PB: Health is a big challenge. Eating right, regular exercise and, most importantly, sleep well. I need to get better at all of these things. Also, dealing with the internal and external pressure that come with the territory of a highly competitive profession. Another thing that is hard to deal with is mental hygiene. It starts with staying away from the phone and social media in general and keeping the mind still and sane. I have a mountain to climb in that area. Streamlining and outsourcing non-music related aspects of the job is another big challenge for me. I eventually want to get to the point where all accounting, paperwork and low level tasks that don’t contribute much to my overall success are outsource and in better hands than my own. That’s easier said than done as it’s extremely difficult to build an effective system and find the right quality of people to execute it.
Maybe the biggest challenge for me right now is to allocate plenty of time to simply do nothing but think and reflect. Achieving that would be a game changer. Right now I am way too distracted most of the time and feel like I am being lived instead of living.
A: What’s the last show that surprised you and why?
PB: A beautiful rooftop party in Thessaloniki in Greece. It was a Wednesday afternoon and I came there without expectations but was blown away by the beauty of the place - a panoramic view over the harbour and Mount Olympus and a rainbow - as well as the kindness of the local promoters and quality of conversation I had with them. I basically spent a perfect 24 hours in that country. High quality human interaction is the most rewarding aspect of my job.
A: What advice would you give a young producer starting out today?
Don’t be like someone else. That market is already taken. Instead, avoid competition and find your own artistic niche, bring something fresh to the table. Whatever you do, keep in mind that if you are a performing artist you don’t live on an island of self-indulgence but that you are there to entertain people. They should come first. Also, despite not being an artistic copycat, learn from successful producers, find out what makes them so good and take that on board for yourself. Be positive, be generous, enjoy the ride. And have big goals.
A: Where’s your favourite place on earth?
PB: I have many, so I’ll just name a few. For nature, I love the Scottish Highlands around Glencoe and the Isle of Skye. For relaxing in warm climate I am a big fan of Bali despite the fact that it’s gotten busy and dirtier. Byron Bay in Australia is a wonderful bubble of carelessness. As far as big cities are concerned, I love walking through the concrete jungle of Manhattan, the grittiness of Sao Paulo, the serene perfection of Tokyo. And I love Amsterdam, my home. Maybe my absolute favourite place in the world is my spiritual home in the Amazon rainforest in Peru.
A: What’s the last book you read?
PB: Zero to One by Peter Thiel, one of the sharpest and most interesting entrepreneurs and thinkers out there. The book is about changing the game rather than merely improving on what’s already out there. I’ve read it twice in a row.
A: Good to know, this goes on my to-read list.
A: Tell us about your current projects and what you’re looking forward to in 2018?
PB: I am working on a new single for Kompakt as well as a few remixes I still owe to people. Once that is done it’s time for me to sit back and think of the next big move. I feel that just doing the same thing over and over will deliver diminishing returns in the future, so I have to raise the bar for myself. 2018 is also the year of self-improvement in other areas. I want to become physically fitter and mentally stronger, a strong foundation will prepare me for the next step, whatever that may be.