The formula sounds basic enough: move to L.A., play some gigs, get noticed by one of the biggest names in the business, play a few festivals, retreat to your studio for a while, drop a genre-bending, ear-catching debut that pushes your adopted scene to the next level. As anyone who’s been dubiously anointed an overnight success can tell you, however, there’s nothing basic about it.
We caught up with Deco (Matt Rosenzweig) who just released his debut LP Timescales to find out how he has gone from being a college DJ in Atlanta to being “discovered” by Insomniac to playing Electric Daisy Carnival and being among the next big things in L.A.’s bass movement since moving there in 2006. Timescales, whose influences and styles include Dub, Drum & Bass, G-funk, Hip Hop, and Techno is out now on Deco’s own label Deceast. While Deco’s concept for the album winks at bass music’s pedigree, his aim is clearly targeting its future. You can catch Deco on his biweekly radio show on Sub.fm, and at one his many upcoming gigs including L.A.’s Medusa Lounge on November 17th featuring a very special guest. Stream Timescales in full after the jump, and take notes along the way – Deco is as adept at dropping knowledge as he is at dropping beats.
VIBE: What was it like meeting Pasquale Rotella and being the resident DJ for Insomniac?
DECO: Pasquale and I were introduced by Drew Best, the founder of the SMOG dubstep collective. I met Drew at the very first SMOG event he threw about a month after I moved to L.A. from Atlanta in 2006. Drew was working at Insomniac doing web & design work but wanted to spend more of his time on SMOG, so he suggested me as his replacement. Insomniac was just getting back to producing successful events after some tough post-9/11 years so it was a small operation – pretty much just 5 or 6 of us working out of Pasquale’s living room.
I was active in the Atlanta Drum & Bass scene before moving to L.A. At the time L.A. had the largest D&B scene outside of London. I was one of the only DJs playing the lighter liquid style of DNB and after a few months of meeting people in the scene I was able to start playing gigs around L.A. My sound was well suited to opening sets, and I’ve always taken a bit of pride in being a DJ that knows how to play as an opener, and eventually found myself playing alongside people like LTJ Bukem, Breakage, and Hospital Records artists like High Contrast. Pasquale and the Insomniac guys caught a couple of my sets, heard some of my mix CDs, and eventually asked me to become a resident for Bassrush, Insomniac’s bass music brand (at the time it was strictly D&B).
What are some of your fondest memories, surprises or lessons from that part of your life?
The memories and surprise of watching the rave scene explode in popularity stick with me big time. The first EDC that we produced at the L.A. Coliseum was pretty surreal, a huge party at a historic venue in downtown L.A. that barely got any media coverage. I was handling some of the PR for Insomniac at the time and getting any press outlet to even come out to cover the event was like pulling teeth. Making those huge events happen with a small crew of people was some of the most fun, most educational, and most stressful experience I’ve had in music so far.
Lessons: If you’re trying to make your way in the industry/business side of music, you’re going to want to give up and find something else to do because of frustration, politics, burnout, etc. Once you’re convinced it’s time to quit, give it another 12 months and see what happens. Make sure you get to know the people who are buying your music, tickets to your shows, or supporting you financially in any way. These people are super important and taking the time to talk with them and learn what they’re about makes things better for everyone.
What’s the inspiration for the data-based concept for the album cover?
I wanted the cover to be referential of the music but I was having trouble coming up with a visual representation of “timescales” that I was happy with. I started toying with a data visualization library called D3.js and was able to come up with a combo of data about the songs on the album (length, number of busses/audio channels in the song itself, etc.) and a type of data viz (Sunburst) that yielded visually interesting results. That the cover of the album was generated by visualizing the content of the album seemed cool to me, so I left it at that.
What was it like meeting/working with D&B DJ/producer Hive?
I met Mike/Hive many years ago when I opened for him at a gig in Atlanta. He moved back to L.A. from S.F. a couple years after I got to L.A. and our paths crossed once in a while around town. He really knows music production and engineering, plus he has a certain reverence for the studio and the creative process that I don’t encounter very often anymore. When he launched his mastering business, Darkart Mastering, earlier this year, I jumped at the chance to start having him do mastering for the label.
The album was mastered at his studio in L.A. over about 3 days and I was fortunate enough to attend the sessions. I gained a huge amount of knowledge out of the experience and it’s done a lot to improve the quality of the music I’m working on that will come out after the album. He also has a great ear when it comes to textured, sometimes dirty analog depth, a big part of the album’s sound.
How did you balance all your influences into a coherent sound?
I got in a creative flow when making the album and all of the music sort of came together without me having to force it. If I found myself spending hours or days trying to force a musical idea, I eventually just dropped it and moved on to something else. On the flip side though, now that the album is done and I’m trying to figure out where to go next, musically speaking, it’s been tough to get back in the flow and get a big batch of new music started.
After being an active DJ, out in public, what was it like spending so much time in private/isolation?
This is the first time I’ve ever had my studio setup outside of my bedroom. At the beginning of 2013 I decided it was time to have a dedicated space for music-making, so I found the cheapest, smallest rehearsal space I could, did some basic sound treatment, and moved my gear over. I then spent every day in there making music without much of an agenda. A few months in to that stretch I was playing around with a sequence of demos and realized I basically had about half of an album done. That gave me enough of a “light at the end of the tunnel” moment that I buckled down and finished the 2nd half of the album in a couple weeks. I definitely went a little stir-crazy being in this tiny box of a room for 12+ hours a day but I think that’s mostly worn off at this point. It’s been really nice getting back to a more active gig schedule the last couple of months.
You describe your gear and working process in generous detail. Ever worry someone’s going to steal your recipe? Or is teaching/inspiration the point?
Teaching and inspiration is definitely the point when I’m discussing process. I like sharing that sort of stuff and I love talking about it and nerding out with other producers. I was also frustrated early on by having a hard time finding anyone to help me learn how to make music when I was starting out (pre-YouTube), so sharing what I know is one way I try to help other people avoid that frustration.
You’ve said, “If this record sounds entirely foreign to you, we encourage you to delve into electronic music’s past…” A lot of DJs used to keep their crates a mystery. Is that an outdated mindset?
I don’t think it’s outdated at all, Keeping the mystery around some artists makes their work more enjoyable and entertaining. I don’t think I’m one of those artists though; I’d rather flip it and err on the side of transparency versus the side of mystery. I do want to encourage people that are new to electronic music to go back in on the history a bit; electronic music is usually very focused on the next big thing and people sometimes forget to keep listening to music that wasn’t made this month.
What are some of your favorite G-Funk essentials that you feel influenced tech/dubstep?
There was a big wave of this “purple” sound of dubstep a few years ago from artists like Joker, Gemmy and Guido but it seems to have died out a bit recently. It’s a shame because there is some really cool music in that style – that was definitely the inspiration on “Cali Trunk Rattle”, as you can probably tell. That was really the main style of dubstep that took influence from the G-Funk sound. Aside from that, I still love that era of west coast hip-hop. I keep the standards in rotation, like The Chronic and Doggystyle and Lethal Injection, and I’m always discovering new regional classics thanks to KDAY’s non-stop mix weekend programming that features tons of classic west coast funk, hip-hop, electro, and freestyle.
You’ve lived in L.A. for a while now – what are of your favorite spots, party nights, crews?
For nightlife, my favorite DJ-oriented club venues in L.A. right now are Medusa Lounge and Complex. Medusa Lounge has been around for a while but Complex is newly opened this year. For live music, I see bands most often at The Echo/Echoplex. It’s such a classic indie music venue and I’ve seen some great shows there – my favorite recent one was The Budos Band. When I want to get out without going to a club/music venue I pretty much go straight to dive bars with good jukeboxes or beer bars. Starlite Room and The Fifth are my preferred dives, Tuning Fork and Bar One are my fave beer bars. As for party nights, I always support my friends who do Respect, the Thursday D&B weekly at Dragonfly, and SMOG, who do a monthly-ish Sunday session at various spots around the city. I’ve been having a lot of fun at the more underground house events taking place downtown like theLIFT, We Own The Night, and Voodoo. Lately I’ve been getting more into L.A. sound system culture and have been checking out roots reggae and dub-oriented events from crews like Dub Siren Hi-Fi, Umoja Hi-Fi and others who are building their own sound systems. The quality of the sound at these shows is so good, it reminds me of the early days of L.A. dubstep.
Who’s up and coming or overlooked on the LA music/DJ scene that you’d like to shout out?
My good friend Mesck is my pick for the next artist to fly the LA flag on a national/international level. He makes dark, cinematic dubstep with amazing sound design, percussion work and refined aesthetics. We’ve made a lot of music together and he’s contributed a ton to my label Deceast, both as a musician and as a designer. In the last year a lot of people have sat up and taken notice of what he’s doing – I think his time is here!
Can you disclose the special guest at your “Deceast X Timeless” gig in November? You teased it was a VIP.
Yes! We are very excited to have dBridge as our guest for that event. He runs the excellent Exit Records label, and previously was part of the pioneering D&B collective called Bad Company. I’m especially excited as his album The Gemini Principle ranks as one of my top D&B LPs of all time.