Every year has a couple of defining moments, but nobody could have ever predicted the magnitude of surprises that 2020 had in store. This year has produced countless paradigm-shifting developments, and the past nine months has brought the lives of people around the world to a grinding halt. From waves of swelling social change and restraint to a pending economic crisis and a global racial reckoning, it’s sometimes hard to remember what life was like before COVID-19.
The electronic music industry in particular has felt the wrath of the coronavirus to an unprecedented extent. With the pandemic still raging on, artists remain without their main source of income, venues are still closed, and festival season ceased to exist this summer. According to this year’s IMS Business Report, the complete value of the industry as a whole will spiral by $4 billion (56%) as a result of the continued uncertainty.
Despite all the bewilderment COVID-19 has generated, the lockdown period has proven to be quite elucidating for some, with many artists finding clarity within the chaos. Feeling threatened by the ambiguity of the situation, producers have been navigating the waters of the unknown like only they know how: by creating.
We heard from an array of producers who have been using the pandemic downtime to find creative outlets and explore their own musical processes – Scuba, Josh Butler, Avision, Robert Babicz, and Fabio Florido. Dive into their experiences below.
A rare window of opportunity away from a typically intensive touring schedule, this year has been full of studio breakthrough moments for many artists, including London-based musical contrarian, Scuba. Renowned for his abrupt stylistic left-turns, advancing through the depths of dubstep, house and techno, he deliberately pushes against dance music currents. However, he exclaims this hasn’t been without its myriad of mental barriers: “When you are a music producer, one of the biggest challenges is overcoming those hurdles in your mind.”
Real name Paul Rose, Scuba is working through his fears of making mistakes and staying true to his own creative voice, and thus is recreating that initial inspiration which first got him into music by reconnecting his past with electronic music.
“I’ve been learning to get over my inherent biases, my fears of making something which other people won’t like and just being able to create something which takes my own sound a bit further down the path.”
His most recent EP, ‘Forgive Me’, on his label Hotflush Recordings, is a prime example of this. An infectious, colourful expansion of his sound palette, it is comprised of dazzling arpeggios, a striking guitar solo and immense vocal stabs. “I’ve been a guitar player since I was 10 years old, and it’s quite a challenge to utilise a guitar into any house or techno track – a lot of which is about be willing enough to take the risk of putting those textures into your material.”
Already headed in this creative direction despite the pandemic’s restrictions, he places emphasis on the importance of learning to love the process. “I wanted to use guitars differently, more in the way that I use synth lines. So, it was all about not thinking of it as playing a guitar but more trying to unlearn what I already knew and instead focusing on using my instinct from a synth perspective, and enjoying that learning curve.”
Such as with life, music production is one constant learning curve in itself. Thus, collaborating with others only bolsters an artist’s ascension further. Sharing practical wisdom with those from different musical backgrounds offers producers the opportunity to learn from others to improve workflow and understand their artistic perspective, and can form some unlikely relationships going forward. Just ask Josh Butler.
“It’s been up and down for sure. Some days I’ve not been in the studio at all, other times I have been in there all day, but I’ve been experimenting across the board” the Warrington-based producer explains. One of house music’s most revered talents, Josh is strongly admired for his addictive grooves and remarkable rhythms. However, Josh has been charging his innovative spark differently.
“I’ve been experimenting a lot recently, many collaborations too, as you can hit a real creative block when you’re not feeling inspired during these times.”
Exploring a wealth of different avenues over the past few months, he continues: “I’ve been working on some drum and bass with Shadow Child, some more Latino-influenced beats with Dennis Cruz, and my house material has leaned towards more emotional moods with less drums, more atmospheric elements, more of a melodic feel.”
With promising signs of events being promoted and gigs appearing on the horizon, the ORIGINS RCRDS boss admits he is feeling more hopeful and uplifted again. “I’m more fuelled to make house again for the dance floor. I can visualise playing these tracks behind the decks again. Picturing gigs in the studio has always been a constant for me.” Optimistic and motivated, he enthuses: “I’ll reflect on previous gigs where tracks I’ve made had been received positively, and will always guide new productions to fit into those kinds of moments.”
It’s those very of moments the world has been starving for since dance floors were left deserted way back in late March. A movement prided on the core values of community and freedom of expression; dance music’s alacrity can be translated through Anthony Cardinale’s recent outing on Mindshake Recordings – ‘Feelin’ You’. It features two bumping house cuts comprised of jackin’ groove filled with funk, soulful vocals and summertime vibes.
More commonly known as Avision, the hotly-tipped New Jersey-based prospect grants it was always a personal goal of his to incorporate his disco influences within his groove-infused New York techno approach. “Over the years, I have certainly matured as an artist. This has improved and upgraded my sound, but I try not to stray away from my creative process unless I need to change it. This EP taught me how to work with different samples, and how to evolve them into something more personalised.”
Inspired by the coronavirus, Avision’s mindset has evolved greatly, as he explains:
“Having this allocation of time purely for producing has placed me in a greater mindset and I’ve finally been able to become the producer I have always wanted to become rather than having an urgency about my process.”
Underlining his identity as a musician first and foremost, Avision has really been able to fine-tune and evolve his current sound. Referring to his ‘Innocence’ EP, which came out on Maceo Plex’s label, Ellum, earlier this year, he says: “House and techno music is always about that bomb record, which takes your attention away from the quality sometimes, and with my material this year – I wanted that bomb substance, but shining a real quality through in the nuances.”
Whilst a bomb record is subject to personal preference, a quality record never lies. With over 30 years’ experience in the game, Robert Babicz has made his fair share. A proud purveyor of Babiczstyle, Robert’s acid-drenched sonic exorcisms illustrate his razor-sharp ethos– to work hard, make mistakes and move on, and his lockdown time is a testament to this.
Bringing about a unique artistry encompassing sound, vision, emotion and spirituality, Robert is accessing a special state of consciousness whilst bringing new perspective to his ethos.
“I’ve discovered that being functional is not so important right now. With this, I realised I wanted the happy accidents to return to my productions. It’s almost a throwback to the 90’s, not everything was perfect. But, in a way, when you push the wrong button and something happens that isn’t planned, it can be amazing.”
Stepping into true solidarity, Robert is embracing live streams from home in the ‘new normal’. “It’s crazy when you play the music you want to play for yourself in front of a camera with no crowd, you just let things happen. If people think this is boring, I don’t care, I am having fun. I even started to cry during one of my live streams because I was so emotionally touched by something I was playing.”
Bringing attentions to a different context of quality, Italian native Fabio Florido is detailing his story of self-discovery during these confined times. More specifically, he’s exploring the spiritual chapter of his life reconnecting with himself and nature.
“It is our purpose as artists to recreate what is around us, or what the world is experiencing, and channel this through our creative art.”
Suffused with emotion and sincerity, his ambient indulgence was born after participating in healing ceremonies in South America, which inspired him to look to nature as a source of inspiration. Focusing more on creation with the sole intention of encouraging healing and sending positivity, this has evolved into Fabio releasing a stunning full-length debut ambient album of atmospheric works, ‘Back to Earth’, on his label RUNA.
“When a techno artist decides to go more experimental or ambient, the impression I get is it tends to be very dark. With my project, I absolutely don’t want to touch any sadness or darkness – that’s my techno identity. With my ambient venture, it’s more peace and calmness which I want to transmit.” He continues: “Currently, I am trusting my intuition and translating my raw emotions into the music I am creating, forming an intentional narrative of helping others through soothing instrumentation.”
In what has proven to be a valuable reset button for a majority of artists, the pandemic has proven a powerful interval away from the fast lane of the pressures of non-stop touring life. Fabio emphazises: “The time to yourself is essential – you get time to reflect, to recharge and refuel. It all forms a part of your bigger picture and vision to allow you to be creative, and once you gain perspective, you realise that feeling isn’t worth sacrificing again.”
After all, time is the coin of your life, and only you get to choose how it should be spent, lest others spend it for you.
In the meantime, the pandemic unpredictably continues to dictate the pace of our world, and the return to the dancefloor feels like a never-ending tug-of-war between life’s seemingly forever-changing limitations and our always resurgent, hopeful perspective as an industry.
At the end of the day, facts are facts – the pandemic isn’t disappearing anytime soon, but neither will our desire to keep creating. If anything, this is adding more fuel to our red-hot eternal flames of inspiration.