Be warned. Search YouTube for the artist named 'Occult' and your eyes will be assaulted by all manner of strangeness that can never quite be unseen. But if you dare to dig a little deeper you will find an electronic producer of serious quality.
Little talked about, the 24-year-old Briton has been stealthily building a portfolio of the kind of intelligent, atmospheric and transportive beats that are deserving of more attention. Looking through the fan comments, words like 'deep', 'spiky', 'sparse', 'extra-terrestrial' offer hints to his sound. Standout releases over recent years include a collaboration with Congi on the 'Same Kind' E.P., beautifully enhanced by Segilola's vocals and the artfully restrained menace of his dubstep remix of Squarewave's 'Dirty Game'.
A journey which began 10 years ago experimenting with Cakewalk and Rebirth software gained momentum as he embraced the futurism of dubstep, joining up with label Macabre Unit Digital founded by Demon. However, in recent years he has adapted his deft programming to a more "conceptual format". Records such as the EP 'SMBH' on the label Merkaba Music lean towards the ambient tripped-out side of the spectrum – a transition he describes as being like "opening a door". Perhaps musically now more at ease in his own skin he found a kindred spirit in Audialist (aka Felix Carne, the Swedish producer who this year released the excellent EP ‘Square One').
Their collaboration EP, entitled 'Smokin Sessions Volume 28', marks the first in a series of projects and it's clear they have hit upon an intoxicating formula with Carne's mastery of texture complementing Occult's understanding of space. 'Sleep It Eat It Drink It' in particular uses clever sample selection and emotive keys that elevate it to something special. It has all the tightness of beautifully programmed snares along with a warmth that is hard to pin down, simply put – it just works.
The boy from Milton Keynes now finds himself based in Lithuania after pursuing love and opportunities and, considering the strength of his output, it seems to have paid off. His DJ residency at The Mine in Brighton sees him regularly flying back to the UK and with his podcast Pillowtalk and DJ sets at festivals and film events, he lives by his words: "When you try to vary your everyday life it can be very inspiring."
R$N caught up with Occult to talk about the art of collaboration, his take on making money in music and life in Lithuania.
What inspired this new release?
For a while I’ve been trying to experiment with and build on the slower tempos I have dabbled in before. I listen to a lot of different music, and have always enjoyed the idea of taking elements from everywhere to create something new, I think Felix [Audialist] feels the same.
Felix and I had been collaborating and discussing the direction of our sounds individually and felt it was time to introduce listeners to a new project. A statement that presents us in our own light and a kind of teaser to the collaborations we will release this year. I want to focus on the mass of inspiration you can take from the world around you, as opposed to simply taking inspiration from somebody else’s music. I think I speak for both of us when I say that a key inspiration we use is life itself.
How did you come to collaborate with Audialist?
I had heard a lot from Felix and always admired his music, to me he is an innovator. I heard his track “Dead” and contacted him, he had also heard some music from me and was keen to work together. As I said before, we discussed a lot of ideas about experimentation and combining our old and new styles, I suppose we simply make the music that we want to hear. We both enjoy working on very detailed layers of texture, unorthodox audio manipulation and the mixture of very melodic elements with loud and lo-fi beats.
How does the creative process work between you?
Me and Felix work in a number of ways. For this project I simply passed him all of the elements to my original track and told him to go wild and vice versa. Because we both have a lot of fun sampling, we treat the original song as any other sample, which lets you create entirely new versions of a track.
During our collaborative process we are constantly firing bits and pieces back and forth, sometimes he sends me just one or two samples of something he has made, sometimes I send him entire drum tracks and he does the rest. I have an Audialist folder on my computer that I can explore and use as I please. You could say that this removes the true essence of creating together, but the removal of identity from the samples that we share gives us an unhindered work flow, and we surprise each other every time. I spend some time in Lithuania, just across the way from Sweden. At some point I’m sure we will meet and work together in person.
How does this EP differ from your previous releases?
In the past I have mainly released dubstep music. I’ve been working hard on something more experimental, and it's begun to come a lot more naturally to me, without hesitation.
The music has become less hardcore and more a reflection of my reality. My earlier music has been an attempt to describe some kind of post-apocalyptic science fiction story, I find it more fulfilling and interesting to communicate my true experiences. This doesn’t mean it's become more emotional, simply more realistic. I felt like this music opened a doorway to something i will enjoy working on for a long time.
How has your own artistic process changed since you began making music?
It’s kind of gone in a circle, when me and my friend began 10 years ago, we made a strange mixture of grime, hip hop, psychedelic rock and ambience using Cakewalk, the Rebirth 808 software and sometimes his electric guitar. This was just us experimenting with no knowledge in music production at all, now I feel like I’m back in this place, using any tool, any sound and any synthesiser in any way I want. I’ve started viewing the music I release as a contribution to the art world, as opposed to something separate.
This is the way I see computer music - it lives inside a computer. Whether it be in the car, on your Mp3 player, or in a CDJ. This means the music is completely cyber, perhaps pressing it to a vinyl or playing a live show that somebody can experience changes that.
As long as the music lives inside a computer, it is not real, therefore most of the strict rules and practices regarding music production can go out the window. When I push the tape saturator towards complete distortion I’m not doing any damage to the sound, it might sound like shit, but when I turn it back down the sound will be the same as it was before, I haven’t burnt or damaged any speakers, equipment or hardware because it was just a software effect, not a real life tool.
With this in mind I can do all sorts of strange and sometimes frowned-upon things to make my music, if I achieve the sound I want then I win. It also really helps to have let go of worrying about “how it will sound on a system.” My music is no longer for Djing, but for listening purposes.
By creating something that's my own, far down the rabbit hole of experimentation, I no longer have to apply context or make comparisons to my music.
What or who influences your music?
I take lots of influence from the things I experience, the things I see and the ups and downs of life in general. I like to travel a lot, returning to my very quiet home town surrounded by countryside and forests has a strong influence over my music. Making an effort to learn things brings me a lot of joy and inspiration. I like sociology, psychology, physics and art history.
My first human influence in electronic music was Dr. Dre, listening to his beats as a child made me question how you can make a sound that doesn’t reflect an existing instrument.
In recent years I’ve been very interested in the work and the philosophy behind the work of Brian Eno. He has a mind-changing documentary called 'Imaginary Landscapes' that I think you should watch on YouTube, this is just a nice starting point if you want to get to know his work. Recently I read a book by David Byrne of Talking Heads called “How Music Works” which was particularly inspiring. I'm inspired by the music of Vangelis, The Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Alan Hawkshaw and Lonnie Liston Smith. While I am influenced and inspired by these artists, it doesn’t mean I work to make my music sound like theirs, which is often the first thing people think when they hear the word 'influence'.
What other artists are you listening to at the moment?
I admire a lot of friends and artists around me like; Demon, Congi, Audialist, Mercy, Menik, Inwards and Faded. I like listening to all the beatmakers on Soundcloud, loads of cool hip hop stuff there. I love dubtechno and ambient music, hip hop, shitty trappy internet rap is hilarious and fun. At the moment I like all the music on the Project Mooncircle label, Fingers in the Noise, PartyNextDoor and Simon & Garfunkel to name a few random things.
You mentioned that you spend a lot of your time in Vilnius, Lithuania, do you find this contributes to your artistic output?
I have a lot of friends from Lithuania and have played many shows here in the past, I began coming here more often to visit my girlfriend, but I’ve started co-producing for a popular Lithuanian band, DJing and working hard on my own projects in a nice studio while I’m here. This definitely contributes to my creations, anything and everything can be used as inspiration, on a subconscious level, this is happening against your will. When you try to vary your everyday life it can be very inspiring, I find travelling helps me to do this.
Do you find that spending time outside of the UK gives you a fresh perspective on it? Especially with the recent elections, what insights have you had?
I’ve always disagreed with a lot of what is considered normal in the west, socially and politically, but we all know how pointless that conversation is.
How do your DJ sets compare to your productions?
When it's party time I’m playing music from my label and crew, Macabre Unit Digital – very bass-heavy, techy, future-sounding stuff. But I’ve started playing chill out sets more often, last year for example, I played a two and a half hour set on the chill out stage at Boom festival and I’ve been opening for a few 'Future shorts' film events. I have a podcast series known as 'Pillowtalk' that shows what I play during downtime.
What's in the future for Occult?
Hopefully further experimentation, to create something completely new – a label and movement of my own. I’ve been working with a friend of mine on a mixture of acoustic, electronic and vocal music that we dream of turning into a live show.
Finally, many artists talk about how difficult it is to make a living from music these days, what do you think the future holds for those who still try?
I think many musicians need to engage in diversification. Library music, mastering, engineering, Foley, scoring, producing pop or rap music, advertising, jingles, sound design, even teaching. You need to have your fingers in all the pies to truly make a living from music, which can be a very long process, one that I’ve been working on for a long time.
If you see yourself as an artist, working to make it your livelihood should naturally be very important to you. Take yourself to your work, if you see opportunities in a growing music industry away from home, go there.
Occult and Audialist – Smokin Sessions Vol.28 is out now.