I got the opertunity to shoot some questions to the Street Bass producer for 3barfire (originaly posted here) and this is what happened.
Starkey, known to has family, friends and publishing company as PJ, has been dominating the airwaves recently with an instantly recognisable brand of synthesized mayhem. His beats are expressive saws off sound that splinter and chip away at your eardrums just as much as they slap them.
Fresh from running his labels Seclusiasis and Slit Jockey and pioneering the gritty grime sound of the UK capital in his native Pennsylvanian home town, Starkey took a few moments to explain his love for the sound and introduce to his Planet Mu signed full length album 'Ephemeral Exhibits' to James Balf.
James Balf: I love the term Street Bass you use as a catchall phrase for what you play and make. What first got you into the underground urban dance sounds?
Starkey: It had to be, first and foremost, trip hop. Tricky, Portishead, Alpha... downtempo, hiphop influenced electronic music. Also, Bjork around the same time I think. I was also into some of the random tunes I would hear.... like from DJ Wally and such. Still to this day that era of music is still my favorite. But when I started college, I quickly got into the Warp and Planet Mu stuff.... Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Boards of Canada, Venetian Snares, Shitmat. I was going to school for music production and started producing my own tunes, basically to practice what I was learning in class and trying to have another output for creativity (besides playing in the band I was in).
JB: Can you tell me a little about your native Philadelphia and how it’s shaped your music?
S: Philly is a hip hop town... plain and simple. That definitely comes through in my music - a bit. Even if you aren't too into hip hop, you're surrounded by it every day. It definitely influences many aspects of the city... from how people act and talk, to how they interact with each other.
JB: The dubstep scene has embraced you over here in the UK and it’s wicked to see the age old US, UK dance music exchange isn’t dead. Since house and techno and even before that, the US and UK has been feeding off each other and bringing different influences to the table. When did you first hear about this stuff we call grime and dubstep and think, wow we could add this to what we have going on here?
S: For me... I was living in London in 2001, going to school, when I first discovered garage. So Solid's album was dropping and all that. I also heard ‘Has It Come To This’ by The Streets and instantly fell in love with it. It was just so different from the stuff I was listening to at the time. So after I came back to Philly.... I tried to stay in touch with what was going on with the sound. I remember hearing Wiley & Dizzee for the 1st time back in the states and was like "WTF?"... that was the most exciting thing I'd ever heard, It had such a raw energy to it.
JB: You flew all the way from the USA to come and spin a 10 minute set for Generation Bass - I have to big you up for your level of dedication to the Street Bass cause... How did it make you feel when Vex’d picked you and who would you pick if you were in their shoes?
S: Well of course it was something I wanted to be a part of. I was really honored when Vex'd asked me. They were a lot of people's first introduction to what is now dubstep in this country.... particularly with the Planet Mu link. They are amazing producers and such good guys. I couldn't believe they asked me to do it. I was flattered to be honest.
If I had to pick someone.... I don't want to say.... if there is a Generation Bass 2009, I may have to do just that.
But it will be difficult.
Starkey on Generation Bass
JB: Can you shed some light on yours and Dev79’s Seclusiasis Crew and the Sub FM show...? How did you hook up and what’s your plans for the label?
S: Dev79 and I met back in 2004. When we started talking about music, he asked me what I was into and I said, "well I'm really feeling this music out of London called grime." And he was like, "no way... I thought I was the only person in Philly who knew what that was." So… the rest is history really. That year we started the first party in Philly to play grime... seasoned with hip hop, dancehall and such. Seclusiasis was already a crew, throwing parties around Philly and such... but we kind of pushed the brand into a different place.
The radio show had been going on in some form since 2002.... a couple of years before I became involved with Seclusiasis. When we decided that I would take over the hosting of the show at the end of last year, I hit up the SubFM people to see if they would be interested in hosting the show because I really wanted to get back into the interactive aspect of doing a live show... and the chat room helps to achieve that. It's been great on SubFM.
Regarding the label side of things... I've been really pushing to make moves with things this past year. We started releasing Seclusiasis and Slit Jockey 12”s this year... with a bunch of releases planned for the coming months, including an EP from Raffertie, an album from Kotchy and a Dev79 single. We're also dropping a lot of digital releases with people from all over, including Small Professor, a Philly hip hop producer.
JB: I heard you drop some tunes on your radio show from a forthcoming mix CD for LoDubs, it sounds big! What’s some of the hottest tracks going to be for that?
S: Yeah... going to be mixing that very, very soon. Got all the tracks in now. A ton of great tunes on there... Zomby, Joker, a Raffertie remix of Food For Animals, O-Dessa, Dev79, BD1982, a Blackdown remix, Toast, DZ, Bombaman, Dubsworth, Cardopusher + more.
JB: What are your top dubplates right now and what do you have to keep wheeling back at gigs?
S: Every Raffertie tune... haha. There's also this guy called Stagga from the UK who makes crazy drops; everyone goes mental for them. Bombaman makes some stupid drops as well.
I'm not the type of person who wheels up tunes just because people are calling for it.... it needs to be completely warranted.
JB : Apparently ‘The Message is Love’ was voted the sexiest breakdown in grime history (this may or may not be true) and the other night I heard Blackdown play your remix of it on Rinse FM. Did you give it a good work over to see if any of that good lovin’ advice would rub off on you or do you think you were the only person qualified for such a task?
S: This was in the same week that Boomkat was talking about touching me with a big massive stick... hahaha. I guess it's a sexy breakdown... but it contradicts some of the other lyrics in the tune, obviously.
Silverlink ft. Badness & Jammer - The Mesaage Is Love
That tune is just wild. I remember running into Robin who runs No Hats No Hoods on the corner of Bethnal Green Road and Brick Lane earlier this year. He was like... “I got this new tune and I don't know what's up, it's just wild. I'll send it to you”. I was like, “cool... I'm playing fabric tonight so I'll drop it”. So I think I was one of the 1st people to drop that tune - ever. It's crazy... plain and simple. I slowed it down a bit for the remix to 140, so it would mix better with my typical sets.
JB: I hear you’re a classically trained musician, have you got any non Street Bass endeavors on the table at the moment or are you concentrating on ripping up the dance?
S: Nah... not right now. The concert music is on hold. I mean, if I got commissioned to work on a piece, I'd be all about it. But, the last piece I did, ‘Bending Light’, took a year and a half to complete. It's really all about the Starkey stuff right now.
JB: What’s you studio like now compared to the set up you started on?
S: When I started producing music as Aunt Jessica (which subsequently became a group of mine)... I was using a Gateway PC w/ Acid Pro 1, Fruity Loops 1 and the Hammerhead drum machine. I had a Sound Blaster soundcard which was fed by a Behringer mixer and my Korg N1 keyboard. I was mixing on the speakers that came with my computer.
Now I have a couple of Mac laptops.... and still use the Korg N1 (but mostly as a MIDI controller for the fully weighted, 88 key keyboard). I mostly use a Motu 896 interface w/ Logic 8, Reason 4, Ableton Live 7, Kontakt 2, Melodyne plug-in and a few other plug-ins here and there. I'm all about re-wiring. I'm not a hardware junkie at all... but I do have a Juno60 and the Moog Satellite Synth along with a 1/2" 8tk machine.
JB: What else inspires you outside of music?
S: Sci-Fi movies are a big one.... definitely. I'm all about outer space and thinking about the future of the world. Also, been getting back into comics a bit lately…
Zomby - Spliff Dub (Stareky Remix)
JB: Your hooking up with Blackdown’s label Keysounds to release ‘Gutter Music’ on 12”, I heard him describe it as being, “like a mutant Daft Punk/grime jam”, which isn’t far off at all. You two are kind of pushing a nice grimey, off kilter, urban bass thing as well as the deep meditational stuff. What was it like hooking up with Blackdown and what treats can we expect on the flip side to the 12”?
S: Blackdown hit me up because he had heard some stuff of mine that he was feeling, and he wanted to write about me in his Pitchfork column. It was really great to hear that he was interested in what I was doing. So I sent him a bunch of tunes, ‘Gutter Music’ being one of them. He hit me back saying that both he and Dusk loved the track and would be interested in putting it out on Keysound. Mike at Planet Mu subsequently wanted to put it on the album as well... so that's why it's only on the CD version of the album, and not the vinyl, because I had already promised it to Keysound. The 12" will be all gutter.... with a vocal and a VIP mix.
Can't tell you who will be on the vocal yet... but believe me, it will be good.
JB: Your debut album 'Ephemeral Exhibits' drops soon Planet Mu, what can we expect from that beast?
S: To be totally honest, I'm really happy with how this album turned out. You know sometimes after something is finished you look back and say there's things you want to change or would do differently, and I really truly feel as though this album is a snapshot of where I am right now. That's where the title comes from. It wasn't written per se as an album, but it really flows well. Mike has a great ear for picking out tracklists and running orders.
The music is basically a culmination of everything I've been doing for the last year or so. It's got the vocal cutups, the grime-influenced stuff as well as tunes that are more dubstep or hip hop influenced. There's even some sci-fi / electronic stuff on there. But it really does feel like a complete album when you listen to it from start to finish. I'm more a producer that wants to write songs, not just drops. If something doesn't keep your attention for 4 minutes... then it shouldn't be 4 minutes.
Also, Love the Chaos did the artwork and it's completely gorgeous....the CD especially. I can't wait to see the finished, printed version.
JB: And finally... are you planning on coming back over soon to play some more hype sets in the UK?
S: Yeah... I'm looking at January 2009. Another Europe mini tour with hopefully some dates in the UK…
Words: James Balf
For more info on Starkey go here: www.myspace.com/starkey
Starkey's album 'Ephermeral Exhibits' is out on 24th Nov on Planet Mu Recordings
You can download a pre album mix from Starkey at the Electronic Explorations website - Week 43: http://electronicexplorations.org/the-show/week-043-starkey/
With thanks to PJ.