An Interview with Starkey

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There comes a time when a producer exists who will continue to lead the underground bass scene. Starkey is popular for bringing Grime music into the states and leads the ‘street bass’ sound, continuously pushing fresh releases under his three labels: Seclusiasis (with Dev79), Slit Jockey, and NOREMIXES. Inspired by an eclectic field of frequencies such as those found in the UK grime, garage, and hip hop scene, his taste also extends into classical music to trip-hop to post rock. He has carved a full spectrum feel with no limits. Outside of sound, Pj has been inspired by film industries since his early childhood days and aspires to fuel his creativity through both mediums.

Below, Starkey shares some elements from his long-standing history as an artist, which helped make him an unstoppable force. His latest Odyssey Five release with Hamburg’s Saturate Records on 9/9 marks a new approach, as he highlights thematic atmospheres through deep ambience, synthesizer design focus, and no beats – a style found in NOREMIXES. Be sure to catch Starkey on his All Grime tour happening now!

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Congratulations on all of your creative success. What does the present moment feel like?

Thanks. Right now feels really great creatively. Over the past couple years, I’ve made some music that I’m really proud of. I also started the NOREMIXES label as an outlet for producers and composers whose music I really love, and I have also been working on music for some films, which, having grown up with my parents owning a movie theater, is one of the things I’m most interested in creatively.

What’s your setup like – both in the studio and live settings? Favorite tools?

My studio has expanded a bit over the past year. I have a computer with a ton of hard drives attached for sample libraries and sessions, a couple synthesizers (Korg N1 / Juno 60 / Korg Wavestation) and a Pittsburgh Modular Move 208 with various eurorack modular pieces.

For DJ sets I’ve been using Rekordbox on CDJ2000s for the past couple years, and for the live sets I was running Ableton Live with the eurorack case and a few midi controllers and iPad.

Daily inspiration?

I love films, primarily science fiction… But I’m also really interested in space and science in general. My kids are a huge inspiration as well – seeing them develop, getting into music and being creative with art/drawing.

What’s Philly like? Favorite spots?

Philly’s an interesting place. It’s a good place to live I think, but the club scene has always been a bit of a mess. Most of the clubs aren’t very high quality, so you have to really enjoy the music because you’ll be going out to hear it on not-so-great-sounding-systems. There’s a pretty strong food and beer scene going on in Philly right now, which is great for when you want to get out of the house.

You released Odyssey Five recently on Saturate Records. Tell us a little bit more about this release.

When Saturate talked to me about doing a release I was kind of in the middle of a bunch of different projects. I’m always writing. But I really wanted to start the record from scratch and write the entire release in order, something I have never done with a record. So “Apsis” was the first track written, then “Anomaly” was in the same session; I just continued writing. It all morphed into one cohesive record. When I sent it to Tuomas at Saturate I actually sent it as one track. I had no plans to write any specific kind of music or try to do anything other than write music that I want to listen to. Most of the release is ambient, or at least the tracks don’t have any ‘beats’, and that’s just kind of what happened.

“Tropical” is dope. Heavy bass fuels a classical, enigmatic feel. How long did you work on this track?

I think that track was about two days of solid writing and production. Production-wise it’s probably the most diverse as well. I played guitar on it as well as recorded vocals. They’re all heavily processed, but you can hear them in the second half of the track. I made the opening bass sound first; it was meant to harken back to the bass growls in “Anomaly” but push it a bit darker. I made both sounds using the same synth, an Alpha Juno 1 / 2 emulation.

What is the vision behind NOREMIXES?

NOREMIXES was formed out of my interest in releasing music that doesn’t necessarily fit what we’re doing with Seclusiasis and Slit Jockey – modern classical, synth music, experimental electronic stuff, etc. I listen to loads of different music and wanted to create a platform for artists, composers and producers who I love and release their music. The label feels like a family, with everyone supporting each other’s work. Our Noresidency series last Spring was a prime example of that – we presented intimate concerts at the Art Dept. in Philly with such a vast musical sound from experimental folk to avant pop synth music. A bunch of those performances were released this past summer as a series. The Noresidency releases are available as a pay what you want albums on Bandcamp and are streaming on Spotify/Apple Music.

Grime & Beyond” extended mix was recently released featuring 98 tracks. Old school to fresh classics – great flashback presence. What inspired this mix?

We had talked about me doing an “All Grime” tour where I’d just DJ grime records from back in the day to present day. This will be a huge departure from the last tour I did for my The Transponder Orchestra album.  That was a live set of all my own music with the hardware setup I mentioned before. This All Grime tour will showcase my love of DJing grime records front and center so I was obviously down to do it. When we announced the tour, I wanted to drop a mix which sort of reflected the Grime sound, but since it was a mix, and not in a club setting, I added the ‘beyond’ aspect to it. I just dug through hard drives and my record crate when planning that mix. I didn’t actually plan track for track, but just grabbed music I thought I would play in the mix. I did the entire thing in one take from start to finish and just stopped when it seemed like it should be over. The reception for the mix was great, which was really nice to see.

You’re co-owner of Seclusiasis w/ Dev79, a collective of sound revolving around “street bass.” What’s the main vision here?

Dev79 started Seclusiasis before I was part of it. We met through the laptop battle events he was throwing in Philly, and we found that we had a mutual love for the grime music coming out of London at a time when hardly anyone I met had any idea of what I was talking about. Ha. I started doing the Seclusiasis Radio show with him and then that spiraled into us taking the label aspect of Seclusiasis seriously and me becoming an owner of the company. Street Bass was born out of the time when flyers for club nights would be loaded with various genres and just look kind of crazy – hiphop, house, dubstep, blah blah… ha. We’ve always been interested in mashing up styles and playing diverse sets, so we just thought we’d come up with a phrase that kind of encapsulates what we do. One day Dev79 just said Street Bass, and I was like… that’s it!  Let’s just put Street Bass on the flyer; it’s what we do. The Street Bass Anthems and Street Bass Bootlegs series blossomed out of that.

Slit Jockey is your other label pushing grime, dubstep, 2-step, and street bass frequencies. How do your labels coalesce together?

Slit Jockey was really formed for being more grime and dubstep leaning. Seclusiasis has always been a bit more diverse releasing hiphop projects and other things that maybe lean into the ‘indie’ world as well as footwork and other club sounds. But the artist and producer releases on Slit Jockey have always had their foundation in grime and dubstep. Its brand from day one has always been based around the white label aspect of pressing dubplates, something that was very popular in the early days of grime.

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You brought grime style music out to the states. What triggered the inspiration that led to becoming an innovator within that scene?

I was going to school in London in 2001 when garage was really huge. I wasn’t really exposed to that music here in the U.S., so it was all new to me. During that time, things were already starting to shift in a different direction with The Streets’ first singles coming out and other like-minded artists. I really loved that sound and kept in touch with it when I got back to Philly. When I formed what would be the Starkey project, and with those first Starkey productions, you can hear how much of the grime sound was a huge influence. It wasn’t the only one though. I was hugely influenced by the trip hop scene, as well as post rock artists like Mogwai, Sigur Ros, etc. All of those sounds – as well as my love for sweeping classical music – played a part in developing what has become the ‘Starkey’ sound. Through the years things have morphed a little, but listening back to my first releases from 2005, they still feel like the same person made those records.

Who are some of your favorite producers?

It’s all over the map…. Tim Hecker, Eprom, DJ Pound, Rudi Zygadlo / Golden Ratio Syrup, Autechre, Nicolas Jaar, Vanessa Amara, Steve Hauschildt, Beck-Fields, Alessandro Cortini, Kuedo, Steve Moore…. That’s just off the top of my head.

In what direction is grime progressing? What would you like to see more/less of?

Over the past couple years there has been sort of a grime resurgence with two extremes of the sound developing at the same time and kind of influencing each other: the more pop, vocal sound and the non-dancefloor sound experiment sound. I’m always in the camp of more good music, which for me is usually pushing the boundaries a bit. I love interesting melody and harmony, but also like a bit of an edge to the production.

Describe the creative process of “Apsis.”

Like I mentioned before, it was the first song I wrote for the record. I started with the arpeggiated melody you hear at the very beginning on the modular system and just kept building the track from there. I wanted the synths to be pretty manic and create a sense of urgency at the opening with multiple sounds taking over the same melodic arpeggiation. Textures in music are really important to me; I love when the same melodic or harmonic content can seem so different when played through a different instrument.

How does the synthesizer fit into the puzzle with track creations?

I don’t really think much about the sounds I choose to use because once you spend a lot of time with a synthesizer, even a software synth, you start to learn what it does best… And what kinds of sounds you can get out of it. So I tend to just grab for something on instinct and almost force it into the production. With the hardware stuff, you really have to dial in the sound right away because you have to record it as audio. This adds a level of spontaneity to the production which I really enjoy. I do the same thing with synths on the iPad using the iConnect interface. You can digitally send the sound into the computer and capture it as audio.

Any new projects?

Always. Don’t want to say too much, but I’m working on some film stuff as well as a new project with a vocalist and production for some other artists.

Favorite collaborator?

Oh, that’s a hard one. Honestly everyone I’ve released music with has been great to work with. A few of the sessions with D Double E were really memorable. One we did in Philly during the World Cup. The U.S. was playing, so we had it streaming on the computer to a big screen TV while we were recording and writing. The studio was also freezing cold because the air conditioning was on full blast and we couldn’t adjust it. It was just a weird one, but that was where he wrote and recorded the hook and some of the verses for “Screwed On.”

Anything else?

Just be on the lookout for even more new music in the near future. Also, hope people can make it out to the All Grime tour this Fall if I’m in their city. Should be memorable.

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Odyssey Five

“Apsis” spirals into infinite galaxies as you hear mesmerizing and flourishing melodies and awe-inspiring sounds reach an extreme point in its orbit. Deep sub bass sparks roots, as synth design highlights an innovative, cinematic, and classical approach found within all layers. A diminuendo through deep ambiance in a flexible arrangement that provides a sense of soothing atmospheres.

“Anomaly” has a peculiar feel of depth. It’s an anticipation of an aftermath through synthesizer satellite magic. It’s a flow that permeates into aphelion through sporadic high and low tones creating a suspenseful vibe.

“Aphelion” livens up through a far point that floats clearly through meditative key structure. Trippy melodies resonate fully as it imagines synchronized leads. Minimal drones provide more mystery as a steady flare blends in smoothly with dexterous ambiance.

“Tropical” is a heavier glance through enigmatic bass feels. Starkey’s vocals create an organic feel and guitar recordings add a classical rock touch.

“Perihelion” nears the orbit, it’s a luminous and ethereal balance through crescendo ignitions and layered sounds provide calming depth. Celestial atmospheres provide a wondrous vibe into the starry blanket of an astronomical expedition.

“Tropical (Dj Pound Remix)” has loads of grimey and bass fueled leads fused with electrifying and wonky synths that make for a wormhole adventure.

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Starkey Music

Seclusiasis

Slit Jockey

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