The place to find and share independent music. From hip-hop to pop, dubstep to drum n bass; Beatnik is your filter.
Meet DJ Devastate: Sweden's new funk pioneer
Hailing from Helsingborg, Southern Sweden—or what he calls “the world’s most boring town”—DJ Devastate is going global with his music. Having pounced on all the opportunities the Copenhagen hip-hop scene has offered him to connect with US and European producers and musicians, Devastate’s own music is predictably crossing borders.
After spending spent a few hours chatting in central Gothenburg, Sweden, DJ Devastate is eager to play us music we haven’t yet heard in a small hotel room. His thumping beats and scratched hooks have landed him and his group Elite Fleet collaborations with anyone from Masta Ace to Maylay Sparks to J-Ro of the Alkoholiks, and he will have plenty more to come during 2010. Skipping between released and unreleased bangers on his laptop, the need for a proper soundsystem couldn’t be greater.
While a lot of Devastate and Elite Fleet’s music can seem like a pick-and mix for any hip-hop head’s goodie bag—a thumping beat, an MC heavyweight with a scratched hook sprinkled on top—there is also another side to Devastate’s work. As a complement to piecing together individual tracks (all of which could be singles), Devastate also seeks to build coherent sound structures to sustain a mood throughout several songs, and even a whole album. His 2009 debut, Movement / Silence, just released when we meet, was created with a patient approach to production.
”What I like about the album is that there is a vibe throughout it, and I think that is kinda rare in music albums today. Every tracks fits with that sound,” Devastate points out over a beer in a rowdy pub full of office workers who, like us, are laying the groundwork for the rest of their Friday night.
The ambition to build and sustain a musical vibe requires patience, from both listener and artist, something Devastate reckons is missing in a large part of today’s music. ”I think it’s a real problem these days, when everyone is listening to music digitally and just skipping quickly through new songs without really giving the music the attention a lot of it deserves.”
From his scratched word plays to the analogue sounds heard throughout Movement / Silence, the vinyl medium is central to Devastate’s music. Like any wax enthusiast, he has his own favourite spots for crate-digging for records. Having spent much of his youth ”doing rounds” in a selected few Copenhagen record stores, Devastate now gets his samples for no less than 60 SEK (6 Euros) in other places.
”We’re talking outback barns man… where you buy records by the case. I always get anxiety attacks in records stores because there is so much I want to buy,” Devastate admits. “Then you have to listen to the records, and I want to really listen to a record, not stand there with a couple of headphones going through everything I’m about to buy. I can’t listen to music like that. So I don’t listen to anything when I’m there–I just take the records, real cheap records, and go. I find it, and I take it.
Movement / Silence is an album that allows Devastate’s sound to unfold incrementally with each track. For it to happen, a nearly obsessive attention to detail was employed in the production process. ”I spent a lot of time on small details, really stupid things, just to get the atmosphere right on this album… I mixed “More Moves” [a bonus track] for three straight days,” he confesses.
Consequently, the album should be slowly digested for full effect; only when the first tune has dissolved into the last is the listening experience complete. Elements of 60’s and 70’s records are incorporated through analogue jazz and funk samples that take us back to an earlier era. Devastate blends this type of nostalgia with turntable wordplays and heavy hip-hop drums, creating an album that can best be described as fusion. Live instrumentation is also provided throughout, with Swedish fusion artist and owner of Analog Sweden studios, Fredrik Segerfalk, playing the keyboard on several tracks.
”The thing I like about fusion is its intricate sounds. You know, the pattern with rhodes combined with analog synthesizers.” It was that familiar clash of instruments that initially inspired Devastate to embark on a fusion project. “I had made some beats and when I played them to Segerfalk he added some rhodes to them, and it dawned on me that ’maybe I should do something with this sound.’”
A key theme in Devasate’s fusion experiment is the mix of old samples with live instrumentation. The listener is met by sampled loops over which live solos are incorporated. Emphasizing music as ”defining a moment”, Devastate and his featured artists constantly employ timeless musical references while at the same time creating a unique moment in the present. ”Spoken”, a soothing jazz tune with live drums played by Zoltan Csörsz Jr., is a perfect example of this.
“I started working on ’Spoken’ like five years ago. It was basically a loop, but I took it totally out of context from the song and started building on it… Zoltan only did one take on it. I wanted only one take [on the drums] to give it more of a live vibe, because the piano is already a loop.”
That’s funny, because when I was reviewing your album I mentioned ’Spoken’ and talked about the free-flowing piano in there, but today when I was listening to it again I started thinking that maybe it’s just a loop…
”It’s a loop, but it doesn’t sound like it because Zoltan played the drums live and I added some strings and some minor arrangements. That’s what I think is the magic of the album, that it’s a lot of loops but with a live flavour to them.”
Many of the tracks have a pensive and melancholy atmosphere. Is that just a musical preference of yours or was it a sad creative process as well?
”Well… as far as jazz goes, there is such a huge spectrum to cover, and it’s never been the cheery, big band jazz and happy kind of jazz that has appealed to me. I like more intricate, fusion-type of jazz. Those kind of harmonies just resonate more with me. I added tracks like ’Spinnin’’ to break that melancholy mood and add different flavours to the album.”
DJ Devastate toys with our perception of the past and present by piecing together samples and live instrumentation, forming every minute detail on the album to fit conceptually. The creative process of the album is not something Devastate thinks can be repeated, simply because he’s in one way has ”lost that vibe”. Rigorous art projects like Movement / Silence have a clear-cut creative process with a beginning and an end and can’t easily be repeated.
Given his apetite for conceptual experiments in different genres, Devastate is not likely to replicate his Movement / Silenceproductions in the future. It’s not on his agenda to become a go-to fusion producer, but rather to build his music over a defined period of time and for every song to be molded by the same process; no song is complete without the next. These are work habits that do not naturally fit in with the hip-hop industry, something Devastate is aware of.
”If I’m going to do a project with a rapper I really want to sit with them and do it in one motion, you know? I’m really into fitting things in to a concept. I want to do albums, not compilations… It seems producers have to suck up to rappers and you have to have a big name [to get to work with who you want]. So in a way it’s not very tactical that my debut album has no rappers on it. And it’s crazy that I got an album like that out on BBE too…”
Now label mates with J-Live, DJ Jazzy Jeff and DJ Vadim, among plenty of other prolific artists, DJ Devastate is grateful that the legendary BBE imprint put their weight behind his album. Having heard his material through Devastate’s good friend Maylay Sparks, BBE decided that his project fit the label’s profile.
Mostly riding out the release of his debut album, Devastate is also devising his next project, with nothing concrete on the table just yet. This year, Devastate’s crew Elite Fleet, which he forms together with Big Ape, DJ Create and DJ Connect, all from Helsingborg in southern Sweden, will release their full-length ”Swedish Export”. The album will have the four producers share production credits with a guestlist jampacked with US rappers—Cali Agents, Jeru the Damaja, and The Last Emperor to name a few.
Once ”Swedish Export” has been released, we may begin to anticipate Devastate’s next solo release. Fittingly, that gives us time to spin Movement / Silence from beginning to end, over and over.