FRENCH BASS MUSIC PRODUCERS DIRTYPHONICS ARE ALWAYS ON THE MOVE. From their early beginnings in heavy rock bands, core members Charly and Pitchin moved into DJing about 15 years ago, and stepped up to producing the related styles of dubstep, drumstep, trap, and drum ‘n’ bass around 2006. Their constant touring, which has seen them alternate between two-, three-, and four-person DJ/live performance setups, will send them blanketing four continents this year.
Write Your Future includes elements of “heavy guitar music.” With no time to slow down, Dirtyphonics produce most of their music on the road, and with the new Write Your Future EP out on Dim Mak, the group arrives full circle to its rock roots, incorporating metal-influenced guitar into its lead single, before oscillating back through dubstep and trap styles, all the while grounded in their signature sonic filth. Now the recently Americanized Frenchmen have relocated from Paris to Los Angeles, where a new environment and new studio have them psyched up to continue their ongoing adventures in dirt.
The first single off the Write Your Future EP, “Power Now,” has almost a speed metal feel, with a lot of heavy guitars. Is that a direction you plan on pursuing more?
Charly: We started making music when we were kids, and when we were teenagers, we played in metal and hardcore bands. So this heavy guitar music is something we’ve always had within us, and on our debut album Irreverance in 2013, we did “Walk in the Fire,” the first time we incorporated a bunch of guitars and metal elements.
Pitchin: With “Power Now,” we went full-on metal-crossover-bass music.
Charly: It’s something we always really wanted to do—bring this guitar-rock element to our music. With the awesome feedback we got for “Walk in the Fire,” we thought, “hey, let’s do more of this.”
Pitchin: So we incorporate that double-time drum part, which we’d never really heard before in bass music, but we never really know what we’ll do in the future; it’s just what we feel like. And Matt Rose, who did the vocal on “Power Now,” definitely adds something more, because “Walk in the Fire”…
Charly: …was pretty much instrumental. We’ll probably do some more guitar rock/metal/whatever you want to call it—fusion. Some of the electronic music today tends to be a little bit stale, and it’s very cool for us to explore elements from our background and our culture that you wouldn’t usually find in today’s electronic music. It’s a way for us to build from our past and expose the kids who got introduced to electronic music through what they call EDM now or the later stages of dubstep to this rock element and show them you can go further than the usual structure or instruments they normally hear.
Do you always try to make music wherever you are when traveling?
Charly: Pretty much. We always have a very portable studio setup, which is basically a computer, a little MIDI controller, a portable [Access] Virus TI Snow and a ¾-size guitar…
Pitchin: …this bad boy right here! [Pulls out the guitar.] That works really well.
Charly: It can fit into bags. So anywhere we are, we can put down some synth, some guitar parts, whatever.
Pitchin: Recently we’ve been working way more on the road, because at first we had to. But it works pretty well, recently even better than in the studio. Being on the road and producing music maybe with fewer elements, fewer synthesizers and being on a schedule…
Charly: …you get straight to the point.
Pitchin: Yeah, you have a timeframe to do something, and you have to make it happen in a certain amount of time.
Charly: We’ve been touring forever, very intensively, so we’ve always written parts on the road, like put some parts down and eventually work those back in the studio. But within the past year, we’ve had deadlines to meet before we could go back to the studio. So we had to figure out how to write faster.
Who gives you your deadlines?
Pitchin: Us, the label or remixes. The remixes are maybe the hardest…
Charly: …because you’re not on your own schedule. Labels always try to give you a deadline, but eventually it’s all about the music, and we’d rather not put out anything shitty just because we had to. That’s also why we haven’t done much new original material in a little while between our first LP and this EP.
Pitchin: But now you really have some tools you can use to master and finish a track anywhere, with these bad boys right here. [Pulls out a pair of the high-end Audeze LCD-series headphones.]
Charly: Yeah, that into the [StudioFeed] SubPac [tactile bass backpack]—that’s really all we need.
So you feel that with the SubPac you can understand how the bass frequencies will translate to a club environment?
Essential items: Audeze LCD-series headphones and StudioFeed SubPac.Charly: Totally. There’s two different things: You can feel the bass, and the second thing that’s very important but people don’t really talk about is that you don’t have to make your headphones or monitors as loud as you would to feel the bass, and you don’t get tired as fast as you would if you didn’t have it. So you can work longer and more precisely than if you didn’t have it.
Pitchin: We started to use the SubPac at the beginning of last year, and it is really convenient. The SubPac and Audezes really changed the game.
You mentioned mastering briefly. What other mastering tools do you use; are they all software?
Charly: Yeah, we always use software; that’s how we’ve learned. If you’re a mastering engineer, you need a bunch of tools, and whatever works is great. But to be honest, we’ve always been a little surprised by producers at studios who have so much outboard gear, but they don’t use it! I guess it looks nice in your studio, but at the end of the day, they do everything from the computer.
Pitchin: iZotope is always there, and Waves.
Charly: Eventually if you want a master that will work well across the board, you want to go to a mastering studio. But if you’re talking about writing a song that will work in a club or on your computer or headphones, you can definitely do it from home.
Your first album was about half vocal tracks, but the new EP is all vocal tracks. Was that another conscious decision?
Dirtyphonics' productions make use of software from iZotope and Waves.Charly: It was definitely something we wanted to do, because in the past we haven’t used many vocals, overall.
Pitchin: Except for on remixes, and that gave us a taste for working with vocals. We had a lot of instrumentals at the beginning. For example, “Free Fall” with 12th Planet—we were not sure it would have vocals in the beginning. It just happened. We just met that girl [Julie Hardy of Clementine]; she was awesome; and she did this awesome job. Then we found ourselves with four tracks and four vocals, and it was actually surprising, even for us.
Charly: Vocals are sort of a new tool for us, so it’s cool to work with that human element, and at the same time it’s also a great way to reach out to people who would not necessarily feel your music as much if they didn’t have the vocals. The vocal thing is…
Pitchin: …it’s a natural link to people.
Charly: Yeah. It’s something everyone can relate to. It’s also what gave the EP its name—Write Your Future. There’s a play on words with writing lyrics and all that, but also having something a lot more human within this electronic environment.
Pitchin: It was interesting too having the opportunity to work with a rock singer like Matt Rose who also did a drum ’n’ bass song; Julie Hardy, who’s a poppy kind of thing; and Trinidad Jame$, who did a total rap/trap thing. In one EP, I cannot say we had it all, but we covered three or four different genres with three vocalists.
What’s your writing process with the vocalists?
Charly: We like to keep it open. We don’t like to set too many boundaries, because we think the whole point of a collab is to let everyone bring their own vibe. We’re control freaks when it comes to the music, but when it comes to vocals, we say, “do your thing,” and eventually we’ll rework it. But we keep them free to do whatever they want, because then it is something we did not think of, and we love to be surprised.
Pitchin: With Matt Rose on “Since You’ve Been Gone,” we actually built the track around the a cappella he sent. For “Power Now,” he sent us just the hook, and we worked with him more and more to make it a full piece.
Charly: Whatever works best for the song, we’ll go that route.
With the singers’ varying vocal qualities, is it a challenge to mix them right?
Charly: It really depends. Sometimes the vocals work with just some EQ and compression, and sometimes you really have to work hard to make it fit.
Pitchin: On this EP it was really easy, because they did it right; it was like a perfect fit on every song. On the track “No Stopping Us” [on Irreverence], we had to work a lot because Pavan from Foreign Beggars is a rapper, definitely not a singer. He knows that, but he found the hook of the track. And we had to work a lot to make it happen, to really auto-correct a lot and use vocoders, chorus, time effects, and all that. But nobody came up to me and said, “oh, he’s not a singer!” It was totally fine.
Charly: Sometimes with a song, you like the music you wrote and feel great about the vocals, but you also want to make some room, so the vocals and the instrumental don’t clash. You’ll rework the groove of the music to make holes in it, so the vocal can pop out or vice versa: chop some of the lyrics, so the end of the instrumental phrase comes out of the mix. It’s like dancing with someone. You’ve got your moves; she’s got her moves, but when you dance together you have to make everything work together. Sometimes it’s flawless, and sometimes it’s a little funny.
How do you like to perform as DJs? There are infinite possibilities these days.
Charly: DJ-wise, we haven’t really embraced the computer revolution. We feel really uncomfortable having…
Pitchin: …a screen onstage.
Charly: Yeah, so we like to keep it, what?
Pitchin: Old school, you could say. We still like to beat-match our records, find the right keys, and boost some stuff on the fly, or sometimes we just play routines we like because they’re great combos.
Charly: We like to mix. We would hate to show up onstage with a computer you plug into a mixer, press play, and everything happens smoothly while you just put in an effect here and there. We’d be bored. If that works for some people, awesome—we’re not dissing anything. But with what we do, there’s an insane challenge to make it happen smoothly.
Pitchin: Yeah, there’s always some random thing: You can just f*ck up, or a CDJ doesn’t work. And you just make up something on the fly. Then when you go offstage you’re like, “Whoa! That was a hard one!”
Charly: Coming back to our metal base, when you’re onstage with guitars and stuff, you’re not always sure you’ll play your part right. As weird as it sounds, we’ve always wanted to keep that risky element to our live performances, where yes, something can go wrong. So when it doesn’t, we’re happy about it. It pumps us up.
Pitchin: Even if something f*cks up, you still make it happen. You do something creative you never expected; the idea is to do something new and have fun.
Charly: There are so many ways to play with so much different equipment. Some DJs love to only look at the decks for two hours straight. Some like to just jump up and down and not really touch the decks. For us, it’s important to have a great balance between focusing on the machines, working the music and sweating a bit, and also having this strong interaction with the crowd. Eye contact, shooting a water gun off the stage, or touching them and sharing something, because everyone has access to music for free all the time. It’s losing its sentimental value. But when you go to a live show, you get something you’ll never get on the Internet: this energy, this contact, this vibe. And it’ll never be the same thing between one show and the next.
Read the extended interview at Emusician.com for more about the importance of deadlines, live visuals, and the difference between performing with four people and two people.