A heady medley of mind-exploring bass styles

Atlanta producer DISTAL provides a heady medley of mind-exploring bass styles in this week’s mix, and it comes off a treat.

DISTAL – Michael Rathbun – has been putting out a string of excellent releases (on labels such as Trouble and Bass, Soul Jazz and Surefire Sound) for a good few years now, and after honing his beat-heavy, juke-infused ghetto-house rip-ups, he’s just released a superb debut album, ‘Civilization’, on Tectonic, bringing together his masterful genre-blurring experiments.

Running through juke heavyweight DJ Slugo, UK producer Surgeon (whose ‘Magneze’ track offers some fine, hectic post-Detroit vibes), trippy techno bass-cadets Kamikaze Space Program, several tracks from Rathbun himself and even a blast of Fatboy Slim (fear not, it actually slots in rather nicely with Rathbun’s considered touch), the mix is a full-on encapsulation of the aggression, beauty and complexity put forth by contemporary bass music.

We caught up with Rathbun for a chat, ahead of his Clashmusic mix.

How long have you been producing for?

I always dabbled and experimented while I was studying in college and DJing (2002-2007). But late 2007 / early 2008 is when I decided to tackle doing it full-time and get really serious about it. After I heard ‘Underwater Dancehall’ by Pinch I knew I had some direction with what I wanted to do. I modelled a lot of my earlier stuff to that album.

It’s a term that gets chucked around a lot, but ‘Civilization’ really is a genre-splicing record. Did you want to explore your own musical range on the album?

Yeah, I jump around a lot in the studio so I wanted to make sure ‘Civilization’ was a nice, broad representation of my work, while still maintaining the theme I created for it.

I spent a very long time on the tracklisting to make sure it was cohesive as an album, and told the story I meant for it to tell. I’ve found that when you produce a dynamic range of sounds there’s a specific challenge that comes with creating EPs or albums. You have to get it just right.

The album seems to get a bit more complex, and heavier, as it progresses – was that intentional?

I don’t know, I’d have to disagree with that, I think. I can see how ‘Drop Like This’ and ‘Gorilla’ back-to-back might seem like the heaviest tunes near the middle, but I put a lot of darker and heavier tunes like ‘Feed Me’ and ‘Venom’ closer to the beginning as well. I actually wanted to make sure the album ended on a light note with tunes like ‘Boca Ratawn’ and ‘She Wears Pearls’. I drew a few referential graphs when I was doing the tracklisting and I wanted the album to be a lot of hills and valleys of energy.

Why did you choose Tectonic for your first full-length album release?

They chose me. It was such an honour. Tectonic was one of the main reasons I am doing what I’m doing today, so for this all to be coming full circle is quite a bit of fantastical irony. Shout-outs to Dave 2562 for throwing a few of my tracks Pinch’s way late 2010.

Would you say that Atlanta’s music scene has influenced your productions?

A bit, I suppose. I grew up and still live in a culture surrounded by rap and hip hop, so my love for the hi-hat and sub tones probably falls in line with that. Some of my main influences definitely come from southern rap (Three Six Mafia, Geto Boys, etc).

Your studied synaesthesia [crudely put – a complex condition which combines sense elements, so that, for example, individuals may ‘see’ sounds in certain forms or colours, or ‘hear’ visual stimuli] in college. Do you experience any synesthetic phenomena / perceptions yourself? If so, has this influenced your productions?

I always see music in shapes and colours. Maybe not as hardcore as some true synesthetic people I’ve read about, but usually sounds and tracks have a certain shape and colour for me.

When I collaborate with closer friends, it’s funny to hear myself or someone else describe what they want next (“Something square”, or “Something purple, right here”). It’s also interesting how much people don’t even realise they’re relating two unrelated sensations in their head. My whole life I’ve seen days of the week and months as colours in my head. Tuesday is always red, Wednesday is always blue!

‘Civilization’ is out now on Tectonic Recordings.

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Distal tracklist

1. DJ Slugo - Telegraph It
2. Sinden & Wafa - Bijou
3. Surgeon - Magneze
4. Helix - Stacks
5. Fatboy Slim - Song For Shelter (DISTAL Bootleg)
6. Broodlings & Mite - 303 Trick
7. DISTAL - Preach On Hustle
8. DJ Funeral - Out There
9. Halp - Silver
10. Aquarian - Obsidian
11. Kamikaze Space Program - Minus 28
12. DISTAL - Not Cool

Check out the previous episodes of our Dj Mix Series on iTunes HERE or individually on ClashMusic.com HERE

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