Photo by Nick Minieri: beantownboogiedown.com
We caught up with Starkey the day after he played the Ninjatune Showcase at Great Scott on Thursday night as part of Together 2012. Lately he’s been working with everyone from Trim from Roll Deep to Guy Sigsworth (Imogen Heap) to Frou Frou, and is definitely a producer to watch. Whether it’s “street bass,” “space man beats” or the oldschool grime and garage he discovered when he first moved from Pennsylvania to London back in the early 2000s … you can always be sure Starkey will have plenty of skillful tricks up his sleeve.
And if you’re interested in hearing his opinion on new producers to look out for, space travel, and the end of the world as we know it, you’ve come to the right place.
Do you ever get “Are you Amish?” when you say you’re from PA? Because I get that a lot.
I mean, pretty much most people know I’m from Philly. I guess in my old passport photo I look like a Quaker, I had a giant beard I was in college and I had scruffy hair and stuff. I guess [Laughs] … if you look at that picture … but not that anyone’s gonna do that.
So especially in beat music like bass and dubstep, it’s always interesting to see what genre people label their own music. I’ve heard music like yours categorized as beats, glitch, trip-hop, aquacrunk, purple sound and UK Bass, among others. But you call your sound “Street Bass.” So what does that mean?
The guy I run Seclusiasis with, Dev79, he said it one day. He always comes up with cool slang words and stuff that we can put on flyers and stuff like that … and I was like, that kind of sounds like what we’re doing, you know … we’re mixing dubstep and grime, originally, and a little hip-hop. So we’re like,
“Street Bass, that sounds kinda cool, so let’s throw a party and just put Street Bass on the flyer.”
It’s almost like, for us, an attitude. It’s not really naming a specific genre of music. It’s almost like taking all these things and putting them together: lots of vocals, lots of mash-up of styles.
Do you get that question a lot?
People ask us what it is and I’m like, you know, it’s part of what we do. It’s not necessarily everything I do. I wouldn’t label every record I’ve ever made as that kind of style, but I think it’s an overarching approach to, especially our DJ sets, like the people who are in our family, our crew.
You think about it, you know, OK, “street music:” Philly, vocal-driven music, lots of heavy bass …
so everything kind of goes in there. You can play dubstep, you can play grime, you can play hip hop, you can play all these different genres, even dance hall, you know? We started playing grime back in the day. It was hard to get records and stuff so we would play some dance hall, some hip-hop mixed in. We’re just trying to mix it up.
So what’s your studio set up like?
I just built a new studio in my house, actually. I finished the whole basement of my house. (In Philly?) I actually live just outside of Philly. I live in Abington. I moved there about two years ago. Pretty much because I just wanted to have a house where I could just make as much noise as I wanted, so I was like, you know what, I’m just going to move slightly outside the city.
But I have a nice set up with, you know, big keyboard, and a couple of outboard keyboards, my turntables behind me. But I mostly use a MacBook, I have every program you could possibly imagine on there, but I mostly work in Logic. And I teach a community college in Philadelphia three days a week and I teach ProTools and Logic and Ableton Live and music business there. So that’s cool.
Photo by Sydney Lindberg: UNregular Radio
I know you’re classically trained in a lot of instruments. You played piano, and you were in the marching band?
I was never in marching band, I hated it. I played bass. I played clarinet, oboe and saxophone in school band but not marching band. I couldn’t do marching band—they asked me to do it. They asked me to play bass on the sideline. I was bored out of my mind for like four days. I was like, I gotta quit.
I moved to London when I was 20. When I was 18 I was playing in hardcore bands and I played jazz and I played in a space rock kind of band … and then I moved to London when I was 20, went to school in London, worked at a recording studio there, met some people.
Which one did you work at? Because I lived there, too.
I worked at this studio called Core Soho, and I met a lot of people there. Actually funny enough, you know the band The Boxer Rebellion? (Yeah…) I worked with them when they were there. They had a different name then. They were just in that movie … that Justin Long and Drew Barrymore—that love story movie—they got pretty popular in America because of that.
Yeah I lived in London for three months--
Yeah, for school.
When was that?
Two years ago, actually.
OK cool. It was 2001 for me.
So it was probably a different scene.
It was garage; garage was huge.
It was the music. Like when I was there, So Solid Crew was really big. “The Streets at Dusk,” his first single, had just come out. There was no such thing as grime or dubstep yet.
So that’s how you go into bass music, really? In London?
Between the garage stuff, I was like, “Oh, this is kind of cool.” I kind of kept in touch with what was going on. And then grime happened. In 2002-2003 it started becoming grime a little bit. I was like “Wow, this is awesome.” And then I started DJing grime in 2004.
Were you still in London then?
No, I was back in the States. I was back in Philly and I met Dev79, who ran this crew called Seclusiasis and I played a show that he was putting on. I had just become Starkey. I was doing bands and groups and stuff and all of a sudden I was on my own. And the music I was making was very similar to what I’m making now. It was electronica mixed with grime and dubstep.
And he’s like, “Your music is really interesting. What kind of stuff do you listen to?”
And I’m like I really like this stuff from England called grime and not many people know about it. And he’s like, “You like grime? I love it, I didn’t know anyone else had heard of it.” So we became friends.
So he already had that label? I thought you co-founded that label.
He had it as a crew and he was releasing a couple of things and when we formed the company, it was me and him. It was like super underground. And then he was like, “I’m doing this radio show, so you wanna come do it with me?” It was in West Philly, Pirate Radio as well as Internet.
I did that, and then he’s like, “Let’s just throw a party and play grime,” and I’m like, wow, that’s going to be hard, but let’s do it.” …you know?
So we started a monthly at this dive place in Philly and one floor was a techno crew, the TBMO guys and then the other floor was our party, and we called it “Get In,” or “In” … I forget which one it was. And we played mostly grime and people were just like “What the fuck is this music you guys are playing?”
That venue doesn’t even exist anymore. It was this place called La Tazza—this hole in the wall in Old City. It was awesome. It was so much fun. We were just playing music, whatever records we could buy from England and ship over. It was still kind of affordable to do that.
Which record stores did you like the best in London?
At the time there was Uptown. They sold a lot of grime. That doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s kind of with another one. Black Market was more dubstep and like garage and drum & bass, so I didn’t go there. Rhythm Division was great. Those were like the main ones.
And it was new music for us and sort of new music for everyone. So it was a lot of fun.
Since then I go to England all the time. I’ve been there twice already this year. I played at Fabric in the beginning of March and stuff. I played FWD, the seminal grime, dubstep stuff last year. I’ve played a lot of those things. And I go to England to work with artists and work on records and stuff.
Who have you worked with?
Most recently I was working with Trim who used to be in Roll Deep, and then I’ve been writing with Guy Sigsworth, who was with Imogen Heap, and that guy from Frou Frou—they did that song in Garden State, you know, “Let Go?” He was with Björk for years, he’s wrote for her and stuff … he’s written songs for Britney Spears. He did the whole new, last two Alanis Morissette albums, he produced them and stuff. So he and I have been writing together with a bunch of random people. So that’s been pretty cool.
Um, I don’t like to talk about a lot of the production stuff until it actually happens, you know, because people from labels tend to just nix projects, and it’s like, “Alright, that was great, thanks,” and people talk about things prematurely and then they get canned. Like, you’re stupid. Not only did the record not come out … you told people about it. [Laughs]. Ultimately, it’s not your fault.
You don’t still do the radio show do you?
I was doing the BBC 1Xtra thing every other week, so I stopped doing the Seclusiasis Radio, but 79’s still been doing it. And he did it this month while I was at home .. but we’re on Sub FM now. We’ve been doing it with them for about three years now.
Starkey on BBC 1Xtra -- Daily Dose of Dubstep:
Who would you say were some producers to look out for?
Right now? (Yeah.) A lot of the people that I’m really into we end up signing to our label. This guy named DS1 from Sheffield is one of my favorites. This guy named Bassboy from Sheffield as well, he’s really good, he’s been doing some stuff with Mistajam’s new Speakerboxx thing. That’s with Ministry of Sound, I think.
Yeah there’s so much good music going on right now. Dnae Beats from San Francisco, who’s on our label. NastyNasty, who’s a good friend from San Francisco, he’s dong some really cool music. Distal, from Atlanta, and then all the regular London Crew, you know, J-Sweet … Stuk, who’s on our label, his album just came out in the beginning of this year. It’s really, really good stuff.
Yeah I just wanted to go check some new stuff out.
I’m just really excited about the music that’s going on right now. I think it’s a good time for people to start really experimenting and trying to do different things.
Yeah ‘cause there’s really no rules now—
There’s nothing. It’s like a free-for-all right now. Anything that’s exciting.
Definitely. So some of your stuff is space-themed, and I’ve heard a lot of people call it “space man beats.” And one of your biggest singles was “Open the Pod Bay Doors..” where does this idea come from?
I just like Sci-Fi movies. [Laughs]
And I like the idea of sci-fi soundtracks and I like movies like 2001 Space Odyssey and Gattaca … things about, what’s the future gonna be like … and I like technology and how that’s gonna influence people’s ability to interact and do things in the future. I’m obsessed with like, space travel. I wanted to get on Virgin Galactic really bad, you know…
What if they had people—you know how they’re trying to send people to Mars and shit?
One suggestion would be to send people to Mars without promising a return mission so they could explore it to see if human life would survive, but they wouldn’t have enough fuel to come back. Would you ever volunteer to do something like that?
No. [Laughs] I’d want to come back.
But I’d go to space in a heartbeat.
What do you think’s going to happen on Dec. 21, 2012? Do you think the world’s going to end or is that just hype?
No. [Laughs] I just think those people and their calendar—
You think they just got sick of writing it or like, died? That’s what I always say..
Yeah, they were just like, “Who knows what’s going to happen in this year, so let’s just end it.”
We literally have had this same conversation with my friends … that they probably just got sick of doing it and were like “fuck it,”
Yeah it’s like, “What’s the point?” So no. I don’t think the world’s gonna end … unless someone just blows up the world. Which is a possibility…
Yeah… like self-fulfilling prophecy.
You know, Y2K… again. That was scary, wasn’t it?
Well, no I didn’t think it was actually going to happen.
[Cracks up] I know, I was just joking.
Oh okay. [Laughs]
Did you go out and buy like, milk? Like loads of milk?
No, but everyone in Allentown was doing that.
Were they? They bought like generators …?
Well, yeah, you know how it is there… the night before it’s like, “Oh I’m gonna go get in my bomb shelter…”
I was like, “I’m gonna buy a machine gun.”
Do you bring that on tour with you, too?
I was like, “You’re not gonna come to my house, Y2K…” [Laughs]
So what about the future. Are you planning on going to a lot of other festivals this summer, or…?
Yeah probably. Some of them are planned. I’m doing this Gnarnia thing, Emissions festival out in Northern California. And probably Europe again. I just got a new agent in Europe so they’re sorting stuff out.
Yeah I was gonna say, when do you want to go back?
I’m probably going to go back in June. I was just there [Laughs] in March. I go back and forth all the time. Which is not bad. It’s good living on the East Coast so you can fly over pretty well.. it’s easy. It’s like, not that far.
Um yeah I played the Dour Festival in Belgium the last two years, so hopefully I’ll go back there. Hopefully do some more stuff in London, and around … just around. It’s been pretty cool. Last year was a really good year for shows and stuff, and this year I’m hopefully going to release a new album. Release a new EP or something before summer. I have so much music that hasn’t been released. A lot of it I played last night…
Yeah I was gonna say, how do you think the show went last night?
I loved it!
So in this picture, what’s that thing on your arm?
It’s a tube from an air conditioner!