Photo by Kyle Rober, Electrogenic
I always feel a little surge of hometown pride whenever a Boston-area musician earns recognition on a national or global level. Our small but passionate dance music community has the unique ability to cultivate niche music scenes; long-running parties Elements and BASSIC, for instance, are both responsible for putting Boston on the map as both a destination for accomplished producers and an incubator for notable local talent.
When I heard about AxH’s recent release on Tempa, I was pretty psyched on behalf of our bass music scene. Andrew Howard is a resident DJ at Good Life’s monthly dubstep night BASSIC; as AxH, he has successfully warmed up the dance floor for some of the genre’s most significant architects. His production skills have earned him global recognition, and now, with his Tempa release, he shares a label with a number of these dubstep figureheads. This Friday, he takes part in the Tempa Label Showcase at Good Life, alongside UK dubstep pioneer and new labelmate Youngsta.
I talked with Andrew about his transition from ragga jungle to dubstep, the BASSIC community, and his spectacularly deep and dark DJSOTW featured mix, below.
How and why did you begin producing music? What inspired you? Did you have any musical background or formal training before then?
At a young age, I was already playing the piano, recorder, flute, and later, the guitar, so music has always been a big part of my life. I started making music on a friend’s PlayStation in 1999. I was a teenager. We were into playing video games after long days of skateboarding, and his older brother was laying out a beat in this “game” when we got home one day. Everything changed from that day on. We passed the controller back and forth building beats for YEARS. I filled up memory cards. I’m inspired by creative freedom. It was so rewarding to create and listen back to the final product. It still is. It’s taken over my life. Passion. Obsession. I couldn’t be more thankful for that string of events.
Why did you decide to abandon your first project as Prodigal Son and start from scratch with AxH, moving from ragga jungle to dubstep?
I will always be a junglist, at heart. The Prodigal Son days were fun, but it’s just not who I am anymore. I hit all my goals with Ragga Jungle. I’ve definitely grown as an artist, and for me, emotion plays a major role in the music I create. Most of the P-son tunes I made while in the military on a laptop, out at sea, with the ship rocking, and my shit flying all over the place. It was a tense time. I made some heavy, dark, angry music. I was done with the jungle formula: Amens, ripped Hip Hop samples and dancehall acapellas. I was just over it. I’m a Hip Hop producer, as well, and Dubstep is the all-encompassing version of everything else I was already creating. Voltron genre. Everything I love all in one place. Hip Hop, jungle, dub, etc. It’s all in there. Dubstep forms the head.
BASSIC has been instrumental in developing the bass music scene in Boston, and was even recently mentioned by Mixmag for being one of the parties responsible for keeping pre-EDM dubstep alive in the US. What’s your take on BASSIC’s role in cultivating a community for underground bass music — and electronic music in general — in Boston?
BASSIC has been on the front lines since 2007, defending our country in the war on American Dubstep. It’s been a hellish battle, but the world is finally giving the Americans their due-credit when it comes to the Dubstep sound. BASSIC is one of the first U.S. parties to push Dubstep in the states, so it’s definitely been a long road. We’re found in the dark basement of a small, 200-person venue. We’ve always stressed ‘quality-over-quantity’, and the true heads waiting in line on a monthly basis know that. We’ve always represented and pushed the underground side of Dubstep, and we’re a Bass Music event, booking a broad spectrum of artists from around the world. We book who we love, and we want to share that with our fans and friends. There’s more to the Bass Music scene in America than “Brostep”, and that’s what we offer.
Dubstep has gone through a lot of changes & mutations since BASSIC started in 2007, from the original UK dubstep to the commercialized “brostep” in the US. Has BASSIC itself changed at all since dubstep has exploded in popularity in the US in the past few years? Why do you think the night has continued to thrive?
BASSIC has always stayed true to its ideals, in terms of who we book. Our night is 21+, and we cater to an older crowd, and have always liked mature sounds. We focus on the culture and the vibe. Always have, always will.
Who are some of your favorite acts BASSIC has brought to Boston?
Too many great ones to mention. They know I love them! Personal favorites, though: N-Type, J:Kenzo, Youngsta, Vivek, Gantz – the whole Innamind crew, actually, EshOne…
You just released an EP, Destroy, on UK label Tempa. This is kind of a big deal. For those who might be unfamiliar, can you give us some insight into the influence of Tempa in the UK, abroad, and here in Boston?
On a global level, if you’ve been into the original Dubstep sound for long enough, Tempa is one of the first labels to come out of your mouth. It’s a staple in the scene, and is responsible for releasing some of the most popular and influential Dubstep songs in the world: Midnight Request Line by Skream, Night by Benga and Coki – undisputed Dubstep anthems, just to name a couple. Tempa launched the careers of artists like Skream, and nurtured its exclusive artists like myself, J:Kenzo, Proxima, Nomine, etc. I would say Tempa is definitely one of the pillars of the Dubstep scene. Foundation label. I know the love for Tempa in Boston is strong, especially now!
You’ve joined the ranks with some pretty legendary, genre-defining artists on Tempa. You’ve also appeared alongside some pretty big names on Rinse FM. How did you connect with these guys across the pond?
Time and networking. As a promoter, I do have some opportunities that not everyone will have. The one-on-one time with the artists lets them get to know you on a personal level, and the connection is made and strengthened over time. None of that really means shit as a producer, though, unless you’re making strong beats to back it all up. I started making Dubstep in 2007, and it takes time. I became friends with N-Type in 2009, and have been sending him beats for a long time. He came to the states and played BASSIC, and after that, he’d tell people what was good with Boston, me, my beats, etc. Youngsta knew about me before we even met, thanks to N-Type, so we connected instantly and started making moves. Tempa was always always a goal for me. It’s still so surreal, but I’m happy to be here. It felt like family already, honestly. Tristan from TRUTH and J:Kenzo are friends of mine and label-mates from Tuba. Youngsta and I hit it off immediately. N-Type is old school Tempa blood. It’s where I want to be. I’m surrounded by family, and I talk to most of them regularly.
Tell me a bit about Destroy and your ideas behind the tracks.
My release on Tempa contains 4 tracks: A1 – ‘Destroy’, B1 – ‘Giant Footprints’, B2 – ‘Everdine’, 1 of which is a digital-only exclusive, (‘I Feel Safe’). I would say I have a very dark, tribal sound. The first 3 tunes represent this well, while ‘I Feel Safe’ is a more personal, emotional stepper. I wanted to release tunes that best represented me, and the sounds I wanted to push, and I feel I’ve accomplished that on this release.
The featured set for DJSOTW is your Rinse FM guest mix on N-Type’s show from this past November. Considering the former pirate radio station’s influence in the birth of dubstep in London, appearing on Rinse is a big milestone for any dubstep producer. How were you invited for the guest mix? What are some of the highlights?
Funny story really. N-Type asked me to do a guest mix for his Wheel and Deal podcast series. It was right around the time our release came out on Dubs Alive together, (AxH – Boulevard Stroll/N-Type remix). I recorded a mix and shot it off to him. A week later, I emailed him to get the details on when the podcast would be ready, and he said it would be available in a few days, and oh yeah, going to guest mix it on Rinse.FM, as well. No big deal. Haha. It was truly an honor. I usually play 100% original sets of my own music, but for this mix, I wanted to showcase the beats I’ve been getting sent from friends and fellow producers.
Despite your success, it doesn’t seem like you’ve played much outside of Boston. Why is that? Do you intend to play elsewhere at all in support of your release and visit your labelmates in the UK?
It’s something that bothered me for a while, but once I put everything into perspective, I’ve decided to let it happen as it should. I’ve been a DJ for as long as I’ve been producing music. I love it. I am a hermit when it comes to making beats, though, and I am not very good at self-promotion or getting myself bookings. I also have a strong stance on playing for free or paying for flights/hotels out of pocket, and that’s the promoter in me. I played in Washington D.C. [earlier this month], but it’s true, I don’t play out too much. I hope that changes. I definitely know what I’m doing on the decks, and I have a lot of music to share! I’m mainly hoping to get proper representation; a professional who knows how to handle the bookings and can line them up for me. I’m a team player, and love being able to focus on the creation side of things.
How do you see dubstep evolving over the next few years?
Dubstep is alive. It will continue to grow, and I can’t wait to see what’s next. I could speculate, but I’m going to just sit back and let it happen. I hope to see more insane collaborations, more percussion-driven rollers. I don’t know. We’ll see.
How do you see your own sound evolving over the next few years? What are your plans for the future?
I hope to incorporate more live percussion and instrumentation. I’ve finally put together a nice studio for myself, (slash, pretty sweet man-cave), and I’m hooking up all my gear. The vocal booth and Neumann U87 are getting some love, for sure. I have a lot of rack effects I’m incorporating, as well. My percussion crate is also being put to good use. Bongos, melodica, wooden flute. A non-English speaking fan always comments on my beats and calls me a wizard, and I think that’s hilarious. Wizard Beats. I’m excited to see what the future brings. Namaste. (Just kidding, I don’t say that).
LABEL TAKEOVER PRESENTS: YOUNGSTA, AxH
W/ DAN IN ALLSTON
28 KINGSTON STREET