Few producers embody the very definition of psychedelic bass music like Whitebear does. His latest release further defines this sound, twisting basslines and surfing soundscapes like it is nobody’s business. He has just finished up a pretty ferocious Australian summer, throwing down to packed dance floors all over the country. This last month he released his 5th EP MOR, and he is about to head back to the US for a massive run of dates at festivals and venues throughout the summer. We managed to sneak in a visit to the pub for a few beers and a chat before he leaves Australia for the winter.
[LIS] My impression of you, especially after this summer is that you are one of the hardest working bass music producers in Australia. I’ve seen your name on almost every line up I’ve looked at, how’s it all going?
[Whitebear] Yeah it’s been really good, the last 2/3 years have really picked up and have been solid through the summer. I’m not getting so much work that’s it’s too tiring but I think I’ve got a good balance, I still have a couple of weeks off here and there to work on tunes. It has taken a while though. I found that playing America once grew my fan base really quickly, as opposed to playing Australia over three consecutive summers – it’s a much smaller scene over here.
You released your first EP in 2011. How long had you been producing before that release?
Yeah through Enig’matik, who are now back in action. I first started producing in 2011 as well, and the EP came maybe 7 months after I started producing.
That’s a pretty decent turn around.
Well Josh from Mindbuffer was my computer production lecturer at RMIT. We were working on this assignment where we had to make a track, he heard it and sent it to Mitch, who is the other guy from Mindbuffer, who sent it to Jake from Enig’matik and it all started from there. It was a whirlwind start and it has been whirlwind ever since really.
There was a break of a few years between the first EP and 2014’s Transmute | Release. What were you up to then?
I was just figuring out the sound and trying to learn production a bit better. I feel like I’ve only just gotten to a level that I’m happy with in terms of production quality, and having said that I will probably say the same thing after the next EP and look back at this one as not quite being there, but that is always the case.
Some say that’s is the sign of a good producer. You and I actually crossed paths around that time, it was a Monday night, the opening night of The Art of Andrew Sieker exhibition at Workshop bar in Melbourne’s CBD. I was spinning some tunes and I played one of your tracks so you came up and said hi.
No shit, that was you? That’s fucking hilarious. I remember that because I was sitting there with my mate having a beer and I was hearing these tunes and thinking ‘this is sick,’ then I said ‘you know you’ve made it when you rock up to your local and some random DJ’s playing your tunes’ and then “Recalibrated” comes on! Shit man, that’s funny.
Anything else interesting happen between the first and second EP?
Lots of learning man, getting my foot in the door here in Aus and other places around the world, pretty much just trying to hone my sound and spread the seed as far as possible. That and a failed US visa application.
I do remember seeing that on social media, what a bummer. You’re with Re:evolution now though?
Yeah, Anand is an absolute boss. He represents basically any of the big Psybass guys in America. I was working with another agency from 2014 onwards, but they had never really worked with internationals where they have had to apply for the O1 VISA which is notoriously hard to get, so that failed just through little mistakes here which was no one’s fault really. I’m stoked to be working with Re:Evolution now though, my new agent is super on to it. He aced the paperwork part of it and pretty much singlehandedly got me my visa, and now can go back and forth as much as I want for the next three years.
So is a relocation to the states on the cards?
Not sure, moving there would mean playing lots of gigs, but I’m really weary of not oversaturating the market because I write music really slowly, so I feel like (A) I would get bored of my tunes and (B) everyone else might, so I don’t know. I’m just going to go this year and see how it goes. America is a great place but I also really love living here.
Your first EP was very glitchy and dark but pretty different from the glitch hop that was around at the time. What was your inspiration for the sound?
Mindbuffer had a big influence with Josh as my lecturer because he opened whole new worlds to me with the whole glitch/IDM thing, but I was also really inspired by Aphex Twin and Amon Tobin. Over time my sound has become a lot more danceable but I am still really influenced by those guys, Amon Tobin especially. You listen to his stuff from back in like 2004, and it sounds like it could have come out this year. He is just so far ahead of his time it is insane. So I guess that was the inspiration for the glitch side of things and over time I was more inspired by the sound design and progressive nature of the stuff coming of Zenon Records. So I suppose I tried to fuse the two things, the slower side of glitch and the dark prog aesthetic.
I caught your set at Rainbow Serpent Festival this year and got to experience the showcase of your more progressive psytrance side into the glitchy stuff, which was a good bridge from the night of psytrance beforehand into the day or glitch hop that followed.
Yeah, I’ve been playing a lot of those slots recently after prog acts or even full-on acts. I don’t even write psytrance, I guess I dabbled in prog, not anymore but they just seem to always put me there.
You have a suitable back catalogue to pull from as well.
Yeah I think it’s kind of cool that they have decided to put me in that slot, as it’s always a slot that happens at festivals anyway, so if I’m the only one to do it that just means I’ll get more gigs.
Let’s talk talk Shanti Planti.
Shanti Planti is great. People mistake it for a label but it is actually a collective started by my friend Quanta as an outlet for him to release tunes because he was sick of getting messed with by labels. No disrespect to any labels that I have worked with, but you need a certain amount of money to run a label and due to that, it makes it hard to make money as an artist. But since Shanti Planti started, it has actually been a viable source of income for a lot of us just through selling music. Everyone pays their own overheads (artwork, mastering, etc.), but in return you keep 100% of the profits. Whenever a release comes out most artists will share the release, so you reach a much larger number of people through the collective than you would otherwise. We have distribution through Dubmission records as well who distributes to iTunes, Spotify, Addictech., etc, so we just cover all basses. I am excited to see Shanti Planti grow – we want to get it to the point where we can utilize our huge roster of great artists a bit more through shows or festivals.
It’s good to see the artists taking control like that, I look forward to seeing it bloom.
It’s great, and the support we have had from other big names in the scene outside of Shanti Planti is great too.
On my walk over here I passed a record store, and I glanced in and saw the top 20 album chart. I noticed a Bon Jovi record sitting around number five or six, and I had a bit of a chuckle. It’s amazing to see the same old music being fed to the public for decades now, yet at the same time we have such a rise in music like yours which is very underground. You’re not going to hear it on any big commercial radio station, yet you manage to have a supporter base and sell music and all that. It’s interesting to observe how the landscape has changed so much.
I think it’s a good thing that there is so much shit out there because it forces people to look for something more and delve in to the underground. It’s like a symbiotic relationship with the mainstream pop shit, I don’t think we’d survive without it. I know that sounds weird but I know it definitely drove me to look for the better stuff. But that being said, it has created a really unwelcoming spotlight on our scene here is Aus over these last few years, with a huge influx of people coming to festivals and behaving in ways that we haven’t really seen before. It has resulted in the police being more involved in these festivals and using more force to make an example of people. For example, at the party I played at over the weekend in Queensland they had to kick out around 40 lads because they were starting fights, stealing shit and creating a bad vibe in general.
I’ve heard similar reports from a festival here in Victoria recently as well.
I suppose it is a natural progression. Our scene has been growing exponentially over the years and is becoming more and more mainstream, so it is inevitable that more people are going to clue on to it and start going to these things. Obviously with more people you’re going to get certain people that you don’t necessarily want there, even though it is supposed to be all inclusive, and we want everyone to participate and be happy however some people bring the wrong attitude.
That’s right, and I think that’s an issue within the scene at the moment – we want to be as inclusive as possible and embrace as many people as we can but at the same time some of those people aren’t behaving in ways that uphold the moral standards that everyone is used to and it creates conflict.
I’m okay with outsiders coming in to the scene because in my experience they are generally good people, they just may not have the same understanding of the code of conduct that everyone else does. I mean we were all that person once right? But I definitely draw the line at violence or theft. It will be interesting to see how it all goes, whether it pushes festivals back to the illegal renegade party form it initially was or if we can manage to all work together to keep it flourishing as is. I suppose we’ll find out in time.
Hopefully the authorities, existing party people and newcomers to the scene can all find a way to get along and the festival scene here can continue to flourish because there are some pretty remarkable parties happening these days. What is your favourite festival?
Earth Frequency for sure. For me Earth Freq has been the top boutique festival for years. Their programming is on point, all the acts that they get are amazing, the site it beautiful and they are a great crew to work with. They are definitely one of the few festivals in Australia that really give bass music a voice. I’ve played every year since 2014 and I’m really grateful for that.
After you tour the USA for the next six months, will there be a Whitebear album in the cards?
I’d like to write a full length album, I think it might happen after this American tour. It’s been hard these last few years coming in and out of Australia to really get the time to sit down and work a whole album, so im thinking it might happen next year. Now that I have this three year VISA, I can possibly set up shop in the states, find a spot and smash out a full length album. Doing this music thing full time, I’ve found I’ve needed to be playing constantly to survive and that doesn’t really lend itself well to being able to sit down for enough time to make a full length release, especially because I write really slowly.
You excited to get to the states?
I am definitely looking forward to getting back there, it’s been three years. It’s such a receptive crowd over there, even my first tour there nobody had really heard my shit but it was just really awesome to play for them. Sure I got a few requests, people would just come up and ask me if I could play some hip hop. It’s funny, over there they ask you to play hip hop whereas over here they ask you to play psytrance. In fact it happened to me just this weekend, I had one guy yelling ‘play some fucking Psytrance!!’ You can’t help but just laugh about it.
That sums out the Aussie scene right there. Let’s leave it at that, thanks heaps for the chat.
Catch Whitebear on his journey around the USA