Behind The Groove EP9: Escape Artist
Updated: Jul 27, 2021
Episode number 9 of Behind The Groove comes from Aussie producer Escape Artist whose distinctively Australian bleeps and bloops can be found on some of our favourite labels including the likes of Kalahari Oyster Cult, Salt Mines and X-Kalay. Accordingly, we were delighted to deconstruct the production of 'Metamorphosis' on Temporal Cast, a track full of evolution with stuttering broken percussion, gorgeous pads which are introduced midway and lots of weird and wonderful effects.
Finally, a big thanks to Harry Oscillate for putting this one together with me. This interview was conducted prior to restrictions being lifted in the UK.
R: Hey Escape Artist, lovely to chat with you and a big thanks for coming onto the series! What’s the situation in Melbourne at the moment? I've seen that there's been a few parties.
I always feel conscious of whether or not I’m rubbing it in, so I apologise for that, but it’s been really great to get back. Everyone's been so happy to be doing what we love, whether that’s a performer, someone who works behind the scenes, or someone who is a sound engineer.
Although it's still in a limited capacity it's different to what it was. I felt like there was a bit of fatigue at times with events, sometimes you just took it for granted and just went because it was something that you did every week. Now, we are like let's go and dance our hearts out, not just go to be cool and smoke. Not that there's anything wrong with that (laughing), but everyone's there just to vibe.
The first gig I had back was probably the most fun that I’ve ever had DJing. There were two live acts playing with me and I was like okay, it’s time to party. I tried to play the most dancy, full party-mode DJ set that I’ve ever done.
R: It’s great to see you out partying, it gives us hope that we will be back soon! It's interesting that you still have restrictions on the number of people.
Yeah, we are bringing it back slowly, where as it seems like the UK is adopting the approach of if we can’t do it completely, we won’t do it at all. Somethings better than nothing, that's true for me at least. [But] I’m not a promoter or anything, so I’m not sure whether it is commercially viable!
The dancefloor still feels crowded, not crowded as in you can’t move, but crowded as in it feels like there are people there and you actually have space to move, which I value.
H: Do you think that the whole time off, and I think that it will happen here, will bring the scene closer together? I feel like here the scene was so saturated. Do you think people will go support their local people instead of looking for the big names?
Yeah, I can’t really speak for the UK, but an element of that happens over here from time to time. But to be honest I think Melbourne is it’s own thing entirely and we’ve always had a really tight nit community particularly within the sound I’m in. Everyone knows and supports each other and it’s a really beautiful thing to be a part of. I feel very privileged for that position. But I definitely do feel like it has bought us even closer together, it’s made us realise how special it is, even though a lot of us have transplanted to Berlin or London.
R: Australia have a very particular Australian electro sound...
H: Yeah, aus prog is what I saw the other day (laughing)
R: Yeah as I saw you remixed Solar Suite on Echocentric which was a project which focused on Australian artists and then you have labels like Salt Mines which have lots of Australian artists. So I imagine having that kind of sound coming out of your country is a big influence?
Yeah, I was Saltmines number one fan since their first record in 2015 and managed to get a copy of the first one. The second one came out and sold out within seconds. I desperately messaged Rudolph and Shedbug to see if they had an spare copies and they were very gracious and met me at a pub and gave me a copy of some of their records. Two years after that I put some stuff on SoundCloud and we linked up. It was a bit of a dream come true to be honest. That whole thing is such a massive influence on me. Listening to the Saltmines back catalogue, it was always a dream of mine to make music that could potentially be recognised alongside that stuff, so to have a few records on that label now is pretty big for me.
R: It’s a very wholesome story. Are there any other big influences that you have on your music style?
There are heaps, how long have we got (laughing). I suppose I can give you a very brief synopsis on my musical evolution. I started playing guitar when I was about 13 and started playing and singing in really awful punk rock bands and writing my own songs. I was into that sort of thing for ages and then begun branching into stuff like Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath, they are my two favourite bands ever.
I was really into psychedelic music when I was a bit older, around 16 and 17. I'm from a rural part of Australia, the bush I suppose you could call it (laughing), and when I moved down to the city for Uni my friends introduced me to some really good techno. That was a pretty early influence. My friends showed me a Tin Man track and I was like hang on a second, maybe dance music isn’t just what I hear on commercial radio, maybe there is good stuff out there and yeah, I went down the rabbit hole. So those early influences are still coming through today. These days I really love the classics of UK techno like The Prodigy and Future Sound of London, I can’t get enough of that big room euphoria.
R: Yeah, it’s interesting you said about psychedelic rock as I feel like that has gone into your productions now, it has that psychedelic edge.
I hope so! It’s my favourite stuff for sure and I still make psych rock stuff. Maybe I’ll show you at some point but I’m not quite brave enough yet. Even the Australian stuff like Tame Impala, they are amazing.
H: I can really hear some psytrance sounds in your tracks as well, not full on psytrance, but the things coming out of Australia like bleeps and bloops.
It’s quite something, I think it has definitely has almost a residual influence on the community here that makes the stuff that I make. There's a festival called Strawberry Fields and one time I went in 2013 they had some really good acts. There was some high quality international DJs like Moodymann and then as you got progressively later in the night there would be psytrance playing.
So, I think that a lot of people would end up at those stages and be thinking "hmm, what if I use the elements here in other music which isn’t so scary. What if I can move my legs in time to this?" I’m not that much of an athlete so I can’t do it. I definitely feel like we are embracing that part of a cultural heritage because that whole bush dove is a big thing here, I don’t know if psytrance is much of thing over in the UK.
R: What kind of stuff are you working on currently?
I’m working on a few records. The next one will be out around July. For that record I am making straight up bangers and DJ tools. In the music I've been making recently I've tried my best to make huge epic drops and breakdowns, where as now I want to make something functional that can fit in a DJ set. I’m also trying to start work on an album, I’m not entirely sure what that’s going to look like. I would like to release one again, that was my first release and I think it would be nice to revisit that format.
H: Do you think corona has influenced your style?
I think maybe it has because I feel the same way as I did when I started producing music. That time in my life was very much about solitude. I was at Uni doing my Honours year in Literature. I was spending a lot of the time on my own researching and writing for that paper and Ableton was my escape from that. My study breaks were going into Ableton and messing around with drum rack and it all came from that. It was my procrastination tunes that I was making out of either boredom or not wanting to write that god damn thesis. Where as now, because of Covid, we have had all had to go into that solitude mode and I feel like it has influenced me in that way.
Now I'm wanting to make music which is pleasurable to listen to on headphones, just sitting around or lying in bed, or going for a walk. I think I’m more conscious of the idea of music being consumed in different situations, people sitting around listening to it on their own rather than in a massive club which has bought be back to my roots as a producer.
The Creation of Metamorphosis
For this track it’s just all Ableton but I do use hardware. I’ve got some synths, guitars and a midi keyboard. This particular one I made quite quickly and all on the laptop because I wanted to experiment with all these different things that I'd heard in songs that I was inspired by. I was working in [my laptop] because it's so immediate. You don’t need to plug in anything and the room I was living in at the time was so small that I couldn’t have any of my synths set up. I was doing everything in the box so to speak. Sometimes [I use] a little bit of hardware but not too much. Lots of plugins, stock Ableton stuff, whatever works in the moment.
R: Where did the name for the EP come from and the track itself? I feel like it is reflected in the track itself.
I was revisiting ‘Metamorphosis’ by Kafta. I was reading it for the second time and I was also thinking about the way that my life was changing and the way my view on music and my relationship to production was changing. I think this was the point in my career where I was beginning to take it a bit more seriously. I was being to realise that maybe I can do this as something a little bit more than a hobby, which is a nice experience but also daunting. I was trying to understand the direction that my life was heading in. I feel like within the track there are also points where it changes. From the beginning to the end there is a evolution, or a metamorphosis.
When creating 'Metamorphosis' what element did you begin the track with?
I don’t have a usual workflow or process that I follow at all, which is a bit concerning. I always feel like I should have some kind of bassline but I’m a very chaotic Aquarius, I always mess around with stuff until it sounds good and then I build on things from there.
I started with a sample from a drum sample pack and it has all of these amazing sound effect type things. I was just messing around with this particular one to try and make it sound rhythmic. I was slicing it up caveman style which is fun. That’s where it began and then I started with drums to make something people could dance to.
It’s just me throwing in unlabeled sounds and figuring out what sounds good where. After that it's just chaos. But controlled chaos. I can understand it, but I pray for anyone who tries to make sense of it that isn’t me. In this channel I have all of the drums and then all of the low end which is not something I usually do. I think I wanted it all to sound cohesive. I was listening to a lot of timedance at the time that has that really crazy sort of sub bass like Tessla. I’ve got all of these different sub parts which are interplaying throughout the track in there as well as all of the regular drum elements.
H: Do you try and work on the bassline as you are doing the drums?
Definitely, my friend Brett is a really good producer in his own right, he's about to put some stuff out as Hex Editor, he taught me everything I know about Ableton essentially and he always says that the number one thing for a good track is to have that cohesion between the kick and the bassline. When you are in a pattern like this you can visualise where the bass is going to be hitting and where the kick is going to be hitting.
R: When you put your drum patterns in do you use MIDI to put them in or do you write them in?
Usually I’ll think of the main drum part and I’ll do it in the session mode, I’ll have everything lined up and jam. Then I think okay, could this be the part of the song and then I know it’s ready to enter the arrangement mode. I’ll then think what can I take out to be the intro part, and then re-add things [as I'm going along].
H: When you first opened up the project I was like how has he had made a track with just 4 elements, and then you opened up the drum rack and I was like ah, there it is.
You should see my track on Kalahari Oyster Cult, a track called 'Another World' it literally is 4 tracks. It’s 4 of these but one of these is a drum rack which has a lot of things in it. It’s deceptive. As you can see here I’m not so into grouping at this stage, I think I made this in 2019 and I think that my abilities as a producer has grown exponentially since then. I’ve begun to take it a lot more seriously for better or for worse, so I’m very into grouping, very into having separate channels for things and doing the right things for producers, where as here I'm just sort of renegade.
Effects, Automation and Mixdown
In the drums here I have some sends, some delay and a filtered reverb, so this is just like low passing, LFOing to give different characters and then I’ve got some compression but that’s all kind of boring.
I have this channel where I’ve got a bunch of macro effects essentially on the master channel to effect everything in the track. I don’t know why I started doing this but I would listen to tracks and it sounded like a DJ was playing them and sending them through an amazing filter and delay. It sounded really pristine and nice so I thought why don’t I just do that? Why do I have to rely on a DJ to put effects on my tracks? The capability is all here and I don’t know whether this is good practice or not as a producer, whether it messes things up, but I don’t care.
I’ve got reverb, flanger and a frequency shifter on a premaster, so all of these tracks are being routed into the pre-master track which is then routed to the master. I did that because I got this mixed professionally and mastered properly, so I couldn’t have all these wild effects on the master because then they couldn’t do their job.
R: Do you usually have it mixed by someone else?
No, but this time the label that I released it on, Temporal Cast, is run by some beautiful friends of mine, James and Kunsun and Max, and they work really closely with a producer called Cale Sexton. Hugely recommend his stuff. So he did the mixdown portion of the record 'Metamorphosis'.
Usually I don’t have someone doing it. I’ve had it done a couple of times. Cale did this one and I had Priori doing my ‘Supernature EP’ a couple of years ago on Saltmines. They did an amazing job and I tried to learn as much as I could from that. At this point in my career I'm trying to stand on my own two feet when it comes to mixing.
H: I think it's interesting to have that collaboration going on with a mixdown.
Yeah, it's something I’m still very much learning and I'm keen to keep growing in that respect. I'm at a point where I need to do it myself in order to get better at it. I need to give myself that opportunity to make mistakes and improve that way rather than getting other people to do it constantly. Not that there's anything wrong with that whatsoever, I suppose just for me right now I do want to grow in that area.
H: I'd be scared that if I gave it to someone else to mixdown it might change the vibe I was going for.
I think that there are ways around that it depends on the way you are doing it, the way I’ve done it in the past was two different ways. For the first one, I just sent over the project file over to Priori and he did his magic, edited it and did his mixdown within the project. Then with Cale I bounced everything out, so if you do that bouncing they wouldn’t be able to over write the effects you have put on.
For the automations you can see in here there is a reverb. The reverb swells, as does the flanger at different times, and the frequency shifter also follow this. I’m trying to create these nice change ups in the tracks via effects. It’s like having a reverse symbol. I was experimenting with that idea with having effects on the master for a couple of different tracks which was really fun.
Apologies, again there is no process at all it just kind of comes out like naturally from whatever element I start with. That was the swelling, sub synth. The next part was the drums and I was thinking okay, what kind of bassline would go well with this? What can fit around the swelling synth, and the low end and kick and snare pattern?
I was messing around with this Operator setting here. For the life of me I can’t figure out how to use Operator in Ableton but I’m absolutely fascinated with it and anytime I get something out of it which sounds half way decent I think that I am god. So I really enjoyed using this in this project. There's not many effects on this because it already sounds so nice. It’s so weird it has these like 2 different notes going on which sound really but also tough. That was the first part of the melody.
Then I was doing some call and response stuff. They play off each other. That was the second part of the melodic elements. This is the Jupiter Arturia plugin, one of my favourite and then I have a string which is one of Legowelt’s samples. I use that stuff so much, all of the 909 stuff sounds insane.
[The string] came from me playing around on my midi keyboard, I had the pad running and I was just noodling on the keyboard to see what would make sense and that string came through.
Writing and Arrangement
For this one I was really fascinated by a track that I was listening to. It was one of the Minor Science releases on AD 93 early days where there's just a really calm intro and all of sudden there's the biggest bass you’ve ever heard in your life and it's just incredible.
I was really inspired by the idea of having a massive change up and I really wanted to do something where you have the calm intro and then it leads to this drop where there is just a big sub bass. I’m definitely not sounding like Minor Science in anyway., but his stuff is really inspiring and I can't believe some of the sound design that the producers on that label are capable of. It's so much fun to listen to and makes me want to get better all the time. I’ll play this drop for you and then explain the way that the rest of the structure works.
That core of the track was what I really wanted to put forward. I wanted to make something that was big and attention grabbing. That was the start of the structure, that was the first idea of what I wanted the song to end up sounding like. After that I was like okay what's the intro going to be like, it's going have these elements, then it's going to build up.
So I just had the pad part sitting here and I figured out how to do this drop with all of these weird effects and then I just played it through. After the drop the pad just faded in and I thought ah that’s kind of cool, maybe I’ll just leave it like that. Then these little drum elements come through, the filtered high hats and the bass comes back and the arpeggio comes back. So yeah, it becomes this beat crescendo of sub bass and then it lands on this calm sounding new age pad and then this electro-ey sounding house. The structure kind of came about almost by accident.
H: I love it when artists mess with the form of art. It’s nice to spruce it up and not be two minutes of intro and two minutes of outro.
100%, this is how I knew that this track was one to keep hold of. I showed one of my friends and he was listening to it and right at the end he said "ah, you’ve finally realised that there are no rules to making music". That was definitely what I was inspired by in those 90s tracks where some of them make absolutely no sense but it's part of a tradition now.
There's also all of these effects, I think I was trying really hard to make these synthy sounding breakdowns where everything is falling apart and that played into the structure as well.
H: Is there any external VSTS you use? I see you have Abbey Road, is that the J37?
This a play reverb which I send things into. The track sounds a bit different because I am preparing for a live set at the moment so I’m just fine tuning and making things sound better. I’ve got the Moog plugin, I’ve got the whole Arturia collection. I’ve got this delay I really like from Isotope, I really like it because you have the option to high pass or low pass filter it, so if you want to send an entire drum bus to it, you can move it around and all of a sudden the kicks not being delayed but everything in the high end.
The Jupiter I’ve shown you. There’s one called Fossion from D16, a 303 replicator.
A lot of stock stuff and there is this chorus here from Arturia, part of their Juno 106 recreation.