Let me start this article off by saying that if you ever have the opportunity to go to a Destroid show, DO IT. Whatever it takes, just go. I’ve been to an absurd number of concerts in my life, across a ton of different genres, and I have never seen anyone command the attention of an audience so completely over the course of a set as they did, or set such an incredible vibe. From the second they started until the second they stopped, Destroid had Camp Bisco in a trance, and I have never seen a crowd rage harder. It is probably the closest you will ever get to experiencing something like that one scene from The Matrix Reloaded.
The afternoon before their late night set, I got a chance to sit down with Sean, aka Downlink, who was one of the founders of the band, alongside Excision. He had a lot of really interesting stuff to say, and although this interview is kind of long, I decided not to cut it down because for fans of this style of music, it’s worth a read. Here is our conversation in its entirety:
TSS: So, Destroid. What brought you guys to create this project?
Downlink: The project started a few years ago. It was myself, Excision, and Datsik that were mulling over the idea of how to come together to create one solid output of our energy. So we thought about doing this live concept, and it organically developed from being three guys with midi controllers into like, hey what if we kind of made it into a band? It originally was going to be Troy (Datsik) doing some live PA kind of drum stuff and then Jeff (Excision) and I were going to be more controlling the synth stuff, and then we started further developing it, and thought about the idea of getting a live drummer on board. So then Jeff and I started talking and we started to realize, you know, hey, let’s do this as a band, like a full live thing, and at that point Troy had kind of moved on and was starting to do his own thing, like his own label was taking up a lot of his time and stuff, so he wasn’t able to commit himself fully to the project. We kind of just took it in its own direction and made it a live thing. But yeah, basically the overall concept of Destroid was to try to come together in a live expression of bass music in a way that hadn’t really been done before.
TSS: It seems to me that the whole scene is kind of moving in that direction, going back to live instruments and stuff. Like the new Pretty Lights and the new Daft Punk, all that kind of stuff. It’s really cool. It must be awesome to be at the forefront of such a big thing.
Downlink: It’s a really good feeling, man. We feel like this is a very new direction, I mean its been done before, but not quite like this, and we feel that the EDM community is really ready to embrace things on more of a live format. It’s like, when they come to see a Destroid show or they go to see Pretty Lights or Daft Punk or something like that there getting more than just a DJ sitting up there playing tracks. Its like a full-on, immersive live experience with members on stage jumping around playing instruments and stuff. To me, I grew up more into the metal and rock, and stuff like that, so I grew up going to concerts, and that vibe to me was lost a little bit in the EDM world, and we’re trying to kind of put that back into it. It’s a great feeling, man, to be a part of that, and I think that the scene is going to start to shift more towards that. In the same way that pop music and rock music is starting to embrace EDM, EDM’s going to start to revert back and embrace more musicality.
TSS: I was at the seminar given by the lighting guys (Michael Smalley and Andy Cass) earlier today, who spoke a little bit about being involved in Destroid’s live show. From the way they explained it, you guys are pretty much like, just right in there doing everything completely live. They were saying basically with the light show, they just press play and it goes, and if you get off from it, its fucked. How do you compensate for that?
Downlink: Well, the way it works is there are elements within the set that are on backing tracks, because quite basically, the only way I can put it is that there’s too much going on in a lot of these songs for us to be able to play every element. So we took the idea that we’ll focus on playing the meat of the bass parts, like the main body of the dance part of the tune, we’ll play those bass parts. All the drums mostly are completely live, save for a few tricky fills and weird things that he can’t physically do, because when you’re making an electronic dance music track you’re not thinking about “Oh, we’re making this for one drummer to play,” you’re like, “Whatever, I’m going to make this complicated and crazy as I can,” multiple samples, this and that. So the way it works is, there’s always a backing track going, and a click track, so we basically stay in time the whole time. If we go over by a bar or two, we quickly realize, oh fuck, we’ve got to stop, because if we keep going, we’re going to throw this whole set outta whack. So there’s backing tracks and elements that keep things in line, and we’ve practiced this, you know, we’ve put hundreds of hours into this set, so, at the point we’re at now, we just don’t fuck up. I mean like, we know what we’re doing. We might fuck up in the body of the tune, when we’re playing it, but when it comes to overall timing and the whole time signature of the set, we don’t fuck that up.
TSS: So is there any improvised element to it?
Downlink: Definitely, there are improvised elements. It comes within each track. There’s two different tracks we could be playing with regards to the bass parts, and that also gives us control, over the fretboard, with which samples we want to trigger and when we want to trigger them, so we can do retriggering, and basically loop something like you would on a Beat Repeat in Ableton. So basically it is like an Ableton set, but we have it laid out on a guitar, so we can basically jump around within the Ableton clips just on the neck of the guitar. So there’s absolutely some improvisation. That being said, we’re trying to keep it relatively controlled, because with dance music, when you start improvising a little too much, it starts losing that repetitiveness and starts to become less dance-y. It’s all a work in progress, we’re developing the set, and we’ve already talked about how we’re going to make more interlude-y live components and it’s going to develop more to where it’s going to look more like a band show rather than a DJ set, which is what we started out with, because we’re obviously from a DJ background, you know, we thought okay, well lets keep this kind of like a dance music set, but now we’re starting to see that crowds are more receptive to like, we could just stop the music and be like “WHAT THE FUCK’S UP?” and start doing some weird shit, and people would be like, cool. So it’s going to grow naturally and organically, and it’s definitely going to be a lot more improvisation and live stuff as we progress with the set.
TSS: What’s it like to be in the suit?
Downlink: The suit, man, is like a really cool feeling, when you’re standing up there in a fucking badass robot suit, but at the same time, it’s like running a marathon with a snow suit on, and a backpack on, and trying to be very precise with an instrument, all the while, you’re basically fucking melting inside the thing. I’m not going to lie and say its all roses man, it’s a definite challenge, and we’ve got cooling systems, and we’re kind of lightening the suits a little bit, kind of figuring things out to change it and make it easier. Actually tonight is the first show we’ve played since we’ve done a bunch of modifications to the suit, so we’ll have a better idea of how things are working after tonight. But overall, it’s not easy.
TSS: I bet. So you were saying you grew up on kind of a rock and metal scene, like right now you’re wearing a Soundgarden t-shirt. What brought you into electronic music and who were your influences there?
Downlink: Well to be honest, I hated electronic music for the majority of my youth. I grew up like a skateboarding pot smoker that listened to grunge and some hip hop, and lots of metal, like nu-metal at the time. Everybody laughs at it now, but back then, that’s what it was and that’s what the 90s were about, like sick alternative rock and nu-metal, and that was my thing. And then, towards the end of high school, I went to my first rave with some friends. I’d never really heard electronic music before, and ended up experiencing the rave, and it all came through to me. I heard some hard neurofunk drum’n’bass, and I was like wow, I’d never really heard music this raw before, and really, really took a liking to it. Here I am 13 or 14 years later, fully immersed in EDM now. I still listen to rock and metal all the time. At home I’d rather listen to rock and metal, and classic rock, I mean I listen to everything. I could be listening to Shpongle one minute, and the next minute its Slayer, like I’m all over the map with it. I think its part of the music scene, as a professional, you’re going to end up listening to everything, and yeah, coming from metal straight into EDM, it just took me in a hard direction. We started going straight into the harder stuff, drum’n’bass and then kind of chilled out, got into some hard dubstep and stuff like that, but now with Destroid, its coming full circle, man. We’re starting to make it all band-like again.
TSS: With other bands and other musicians right now, who are you really into?
Downlink: Oh, that’s a good question. I mean really, when it comes to EDM and stuff, there’s so much out there, I mean I listen to everything. Specifically, I like the chill stuff, like Tipper, Gramatik, GRiZ, and Pretty Lights, and stuff like that, that’s the kind of stuff I really like to listen to when I’m chilling around at home. I also listen to lots of classic chill stuff like the Buddha-Bar stuff and lots of like world chillout stuff, like Talvin Singh, Cheb I Saba, like really world stuff, that’s the kind of stuff I like at home. But as far as metal and stuff goes, there’s Emmure, like there’s some really cool bands out there, I mean I still like Lamb of God and Mastodon, stuff like that. I’m really into Tool. There’s so much music, man. It would take me a long time to get into everything. I mean, Thievery Corporation, Boards of Canada just put out another album that’s amazing. Like I said, I could just talk forever about this, man. It’s my life, right? Hard to really pinpoint any favorites, I love it all.
TSS: I was reading that you guys are all planning on continuing your solo careers, so what’s on the horizon for you as Downlink?
Downlink: Well, quite a few big things, actually. I just finished up the first EP that I’m going to be launching on my own label, Uplink Audio, which is going to be showcasing artists that I’ve become friends with through the scene, and music that I really, really dig, as well as become an outlet for my own personal stuff. So that’s really a big thing for me, it’s been in the works for over a year now, and now its starting to come together. Within the next month, our initial release will be launched, so yeah, I’m going to be kicking that off, and devoting a lot of energy to growing that label over the next year, as well as growing a roster of solid musicians. Aside from that, basically Downlink is going to keep going, but Destroid has become such a big, monstrous beast that it’s demanding a lot of my energy right now. I still DJ, and I love doing the Downlink thing, but as it is right now, it’s like Destroid is kind of our baby, and we want to grow it up really good over the next 3 or 4 years and make it something crazy, you know what I mean?
TSS: Right on. I love to see everyone starting labels, and taking the power out of the hands of the monolithic music industry. Like that’s so sick.
Downlink: That’s just it, man. You’ve got your own control over everything, you know, you’ve got your control over release dates, time, artwork, promotion, who you want on your label. You can shape the sound of your whole, well everything with your label. With the face of the music industry now, its like, you don’t need big labels to do all this stuff for you, you can make a YouTube video, you can make a Harlem Shake, something like that, some viral video, or you can just put it out on Beatport and iTunes, and everybody can download it. Everybody steals music anyways. The way it is now, I release my music and a day later, the same day actually, it’s up for free. So I might as well just give it away and release it at the same time, that’s kind of what I’m going to start doing. It’s an exciting time to be a part of.
TSS: Hell yeah. I mean, it always blows my mind, like I’m just some kid, you know what I mean?
Downlink: So am I, dude.
TSS: Yeah, exactly, and its like, we have this platform where we can just share things and make it happen.
Downlink: It’s amazing man, the generation we grew up in with the internet, and the interconnectedness of everything in music. It’s just unbelievable. With Soundcloud and stuff like that, and Facebook, and Twitter, you’re talking and communicating with the whole music industry at any given time, right? It’s just amazing. Like you said, it’s taken the power out of the big money-hungry fucking massive corporations, and put it with the people. And then it becomes more about the music and less about the money. It’s like, I’m not making money off the music I release. I mean, a little bit, but that’s not what its about for me, its about getting my music out there on a platform that means something, and getting out there and playing some live shows, that’s where its at for me.
TSS: Do you think it’s going to continue like that in the future? Do you see this being the business model for a while?
Downlink: Oh, absolutely, it’s going to stay with this business model for a while. As long as there’s free enterprise on the internet, and people can basically get anything for free, I don’t really see things changing. I think where it’s come down to now is the live thing, like that’s where the industry’s at now, is just people buying tickets to live shows. That’s where we make our money. So that’s kind of why we shaped Destroid to be such a huge live thing. Like you can go and listen to the record and that’s one thing, and yeah its cool, its good bass music and stuff, but when you go to a Destroid show, you’re getting something you can’t steal off the internet. You can watch a video on YouTube and its nothing like when you go and stand in front of these robots slaying fucking shit with these guitars, and the lasers and the light show and everything around you. It’s a totally different thing. So that’s kind of where we’re pushing the industry, is big live productions, and that’s what I foresee coming over the next five years, even more crazy live productions.