MDC Interview#48 " Babyshaker "
Babyshaker is Scottish-born producer Gavin Hislop.
Well known for releases on Peace Off, Rancourous Records, Amen-Tal to name a few.
Over the last 10+ years Babyshaker has toured the UK, EU North America, Canada and even making it to Isreal.
Q. Where are you from? What kind of environment did you grow up in and how did you encounter music?
I grew up in a very small farm village in Scotland called Fintry. As a young child it seemed like the middle of nowhere; there is no shops, no bus service and a few hundred people live there. There were less than 10 kids in my year at primary school. I think living in that kind of environment spurs creativity in young people who are that way inclined. People from Fintry tend(ed) to get stuck into their hobbies and generally progress at them very quickly. I think that is due to the lack of interruption or distraction from living in a larger town or city. Both of my parents are very creative in their own ways, my mother is a super talented gardener, and my father can build literally anything – he built a black smithing forge in his garage during lockdown for something to do.
My first encounters with music that I can remember are through my parents playing music in the car. I have quite fond memories of listening to Marrilon or Mike Oldfield tapes. My father used to play a tape called ‘Masters of Metal’ to my brother and I when we were 7 or 8 ( I think?). That would have been my first introduction to metal which went on to become a lifetime obsession.
Q. What kind of music or art influences you?
Musically I think it’s easier to pin down what doesn’t interest me – bland, unimaginative music.
It seems like such a cop-out answer, but I honestly listen to just about everything. Recently I’ve been researching and listening to a lot of film score work by people like Clint Mansell and Johann Johannsson, metal bands like Full of Hell and TheTonyDanzaTapdanceExtravaganza, jazz artists like Thelonius Monk and Vulfpeck, the new Ars Dada EP is rad, the acidic IDM stuff coming out of Analogical Force is wicked, Icepeak from Russia have been on repeat in my car, OHM resistance have been dropping gem and gem, I really like singer/songwriters like Jose Gonzales and John Smith. Triple G Recordings are absolutely killing it right now with the harder sounds. Last month I was listening to a lot of Bela Bartock and Antonin Dvorak. The new Audeka record is currently sitting on my turntable. YUKU are putting out some seriously cool music right now. Everything they do seems to be gold. I am a massive fan of what they are doing. I think there’s moments of brilliance in nearly all types of music, you just have to look about.
Visually I’m a big fan of abstract digital art and dark cinema. Particularly when combined. I love movies like Beyond the Black Rainbow, Kill List, Akira, The Fountain. Anything that puts you on edge and provokes thought. I used to be a member of an artist collective called Depthcore where I would collaborate with artists on AV projects (you can probably still find them and I imagine they looked dated as hell by now). I still go back to that site and use some of the pieces by graphic artists like Justin Malller, Precursor, Brian Smith and Bart van Leeuwen as a visual aid for some of the music I’m making under my new project Blockdata. More recently I’ve rally been enjoying the work of Brian Sum. Robots are cool.
Q. What you into when you were a teenager?
As above, I grew in a somewhat isolated town as a teenager, so most of my free time was spent in my room either playing guitar or PC games, or outside getting up to absolutely no good whatsoever.
Q. I think Babyshaker's music is heavily influenced by Jungle and Breakcore elements. When did you first learn about these two?
I recently realized that my first experience listening to jungle was probably when I was about 15 listening to ‘Ultrasonic Sound’ by Hive on the Matrix OST, however I wouldn’t actually get into jungle or even realize that’s what it was for about 7 or 8 years.
When I was studying music in Perth I was getting right into Squarepusher and my friend gave me a copy of The Chocolate Wheelchair album by Venetian Snares, which was the first time I had heard the term ‘Breakcore’. From there I started digging into the labels pushing it at the time – Peace Off, Sublight, Terminal Dusk, Zhark, Hymen and obviously Murder Channel. It was by searching ‘Breakcore’ on Myspace that I got talking to Jeffery Raxyor and Erlend Ars Dada probably 15ish (?) years ago now.
Q. When did you start making music? How did you get started
I started recording my own guitar playing with a Tascam 2488 using a Zoom RhythmTrak RT-123 drum machine. I wish I still had some of those recordings because I do enjoy a good laugh.
Regarding making music on computers, I started with a very low spec PC running Reason 2 which I ended up sticking with for ages. As much as it was a bit of a joke DAW back in the day (due to it being 99% MIDI with no audio recording or editing functionality) it was an awesome way to learn the fundamentals of subtractive and additive synthesis, mixing, MIDI sequencing, drum programming, samplers, signal flow and hardware routing because of the way you could flip your rack around and re-wire the virtual hardware.
In terms of how I learned how to make music with computers, my very first introduction to that was in college in a MIDI sequencing class which went nowhere fast. I had a friend who was getting into it at the same time as me, so we would bounce ideas and new things we had worked out off one another. We were making similar but somewhat different music at the time which I think was beneficial learning -wise. That aside, most of my learning was spent at home on my own just through raw trial and error.
Q. When did you start the Babyshaker project? What did you do before Babyshaker?
Babyshaker was started when I was at Perth college, I think in around 2005 after my mate hooked me up with a copy of Reason 2 – which I actually ended up sticking with for way longer than I should have done before moving onto Ableton Live (I really liked the ReDrum and I miss it every day). Before that I was playing guitar in bands or with friends.
The first Babyshaker live show was myself and my mate Lyall (who was called Problem Child). We played using Reason 2. We would open multiple project files at the same time, trigger one then try to blend the next one in as some form of a mix We’d map a midi controller to which ever project was playing at the time and mess around with effects. At this point I didn’t even know things like Ableton existed.
Q. You released the Augment Handle EP on Peace Off in 2015. Please tell us how this EP came about.
I met Frank Rotator at the Bangface Weekender (2013 I think?) when Jeff Raxyor introduced us. A year or so later I had been working on some stuff that was quite in line with the Peace Off sound at the time, so I threw a demo over to Frank and he replied with one line ‘’def fucking super tip top good’’, which I still find funny as fuck.
The tracks were started after Jeff and I returned from a tour around Canada and they are named after various things we encountered on that tour. ‘Mosquito’ because the little blighters were everywhere. ‘Kamloops’ after we camped out over-night in a tent in Kamloops with Graham MkUltra during a road trip between Vancouver and Calgary. ‘Balcony Session’ because we did a lot of BBQing and drinking on the balcony of the promoter for a show in Vancouver. ‘Empty’ – We played a show in Edmonton which was totally empty other than the bar staff and the other artists. Classic Breakcore.
Q. What was the state of the UK scene around 2015? What was the most striking thing about that period?
I actually have no idea to be honest. Around about that time I was more interested in just making music in my studio space and not at all about playing shows, I ended up taking several years off playing shows after doing a few with the Augment Handle material. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with playing live.
Q. How did you go about creating the music for Babyshaker? What kind of equipment did you use (DAW, main plug-ins, etc.)?
My DAW then (and now) is Ableton. There was a period where I was rewiring Reason into it but it eventually became too much hassle. I love Ableton’s time stretching abilities, there is so much you can do with the different algorithms to get some nice tweaked out granular effects. I still use them to this day (a lot), however nowadays I tend to use them to get a nice base effect before resampling and reprocessing that sound into oblivion. It is a nice way to get a good harmonically rich starting point.
A lot of the synth, bass and effect sounds on that EP came out of Reaktor. I was building a lot of studio and live tools in it at the time. I’ve been getting back into it recently but it’s so time consuming. I was using Reaktor a lot live too but the number of times my home-baked patches have shit themselves on stage has become both a running joke and a massive hassle.
Plugin-wise, it was pretty much just the stock Ableton plugs at the time for EQ, compression, limiting and saturation. I was using Ozone 5 a bit for the harmonic excitation which it did well.
Q. I think Babyshaker's Amen Break is very unique. What did you have in mind when programming Amen Break? How did you try to create your own personality with Amen Break?
They way I look at the amen is that it is arguably the most important part of your track when it comes to jungle, breakcore or whatever. What interests me about it is the potentially kaleidoscopic nature of its use. It’s not nessecarily just drums. You can paint melodic phrases in your track by re-pitching portions of it, you can get some wild effects out of it depending on how granularly you approach the programming and resequencing of the break. The color and characteristics of it can set up (or ruin) the whole vibe of your track. There’s a unique kind of musicallty that comes with the amen break that I’m yet to find in any other. With that in mind I’ve tried to make something that’s characteristically mine sonically. The way I like amens to sound is clean, and razer-sharp but also punchy. I’m right into the idea that your sounds don’t necessarily have to blown out with distortion to sound heavy. Ebola, Dr Bastardo and the Flashbulb do this really well.
Q. You have recently been working under the name Blockdata. Please tell us how this project started. What is the concept behind Blockdata?
Blockdata started out of frustration with Babyshaker. I had managed to get it into my head that the only thing I could release as Babyshaker was amen-clad jungle, which was fine but it wasn’t what I wanted to write all the time. In fact, I was spending far more time making other types of music.
The other big deciding factor was the name – Babyshaker was a pretty suitable name for a breakcore project. Jarring and arguably offensive, a bit like the music. I had considered a re-naming but that just feels like a cop out (to me) so I decided to start fresh with a new name and I’m glad I did.
The concept behind Blockdata is to just write whatever kind of music I’m excited about writing at the time. The less time I spend worrying about what people are expecting from me and the more time I can spend just making music the better. It’s a very freeing concept, I don’t get writers block at all anymore. I’ve put out some hardcore, some DnB, dubstep, glitch, ambient, down tempo stuff with acoustic recordings, some bits I don’t know what to call. I’ve been hovering around Drum and Bass quite a bit recently though, I feel like it acts as a nice vehicle for interesting sound design that’s still quite accessible and dancefloor friendly too.
Q. Blockdata has released a 12" record "Vacuum Decay" on Ohm Resistance. How did this come about and what is the story behind it?
Vacuum Decay was a little while in the making. Each of the tracks started as sound design sessions in Ableton. Usually, they are ways of teaching myself something new through trial and error or a way to try and develop a new process. In this instance most of them were me trying to come up with new bass sounds. Because I had been working on them all at roughly the same time, they ended up sharing a lot of the same sonic characteristics as they were fleshed out into tracks. The more that the idea of an EP using these tracks formed, I started to share instruments and sounds between the tracks, which is why I reckon that EP sounds so cohesive.
I briefly met Kurt Submerged at the Bangface Weekender and had already been pestering him with demo material for a little while, and when he heard ‘Siren’ he took the EP on for OHM Resistance. For which I could not have been happier. OHM is such an impressive label with so much varied genres of music that it feels like a good home for Blockdata. Big ups Kurt <3
Q. What are you most conscious of when you do sound design?
Creating something sonically interesting that is exciting to listen to each time you hear it.
Q. What advice would you give to people just starting out in music production?
What is the first piece of equipment a beginner should spend the most money on? (Headphones? Speakers? etc.)
For someone just starting out I would recommend picking up an inexpensive laptop or a secondhand desktop, a basic audio interface like an audient ID4 and a set of Beyer dynamic 990 Pros. Most early/small DAW projects do not need a lot of power, you’re unlikely to be running 100 channels with multiple processes on each that early on. You can pick up ‘lite’ versions of most DAWs very cheaply (and some free ones). It might be worth trying a few and identifying which of them has a workflow that suits you. I’d recommend 990 pro headphones specifically as they are impressively good quality in terms of build and audio fidelity for their price, but more importantly they are open backed. A nice set of open back cans is an inexpensive way to start off and gives you a reasonably good emulation of near field monitors in terms of their detail retrieval, sound stage and stereo image. If you happen to be trying to work in a noisy environment it’s probably worth looking at the 770 Pros instead, which are closed back. I would try and avoid splurging loads of cash on lots of hardware early on unless that’s something you specifically want to do. I tend to find the more options you have at your disposal the easier it to get a bit lost and unmotivated from not knowing where to start. Software-wise I keep my plugins list small. Learn your tools inside out. Self-imposed limitations are a nice way to spur creativity. Don’t get bogged down by how your music sounds compared to other peoples. I could go on for ages.
Q. What's the best party/festival you've ever played at?
I can’t just pick one! In no particular order – Jungle Syndicate, Balter, Bangface Weekender – all 3 of these were just bonkers fun with awesome crowds.
Q. How have the social changes caused by Lockdown and Corona affected you since last year?
Have you been able to create any positive changes from this?
Obviously, the entire live scene has been shut down since early last year, and I think that has resulted in me working on more types of music that are a bit less dancefloor orientated. The most obvious change is having so much more time at home and being able to use that time to work on new music. I think that probably suits the average hermit-crab music producer quite well.
Q. What is your future schedule?
Release-wise I am currently writing an album which is nearing completion. I’m super excited about that, it’s got a little bit of everything I like to do genre-wise at the moment; DnB, glitch, jungle, classical, film score, halftime etc etc. I have a remix I did for Ars Dada coming out at some point this year (I think). That has some guitar-playing from me, his jazz drum programming, some upright bass and lots of weird sound design and a light smattering of amens. I’m looking at possibly starting to play live again (as Blockdata) towards the end of this year if lockdown allows. I’m just trying to decide if I want to build another annoyingly unstable live rig with Ableton and Reaktor or go down the more traditional route of Traktor / CDJs.