Hard Summer, side-stage for Kill the Noise. Everyone is there in support of their friend Jake Stanczak, who’s grinning from ear to ear as he blasts the crowd with massive waves of sound. He’s dancing, singing, screaming, skipping and somehow, at the same time, flawlessly cutting between tracks.
Up there, he’s a kid — a living embodiment of his own “Thumbs Up” single, yet his music is far from childish. He, like many of the other artists on stage that night, represents part of a major growing American bass music scene; built from the ground up by a group of self-made masters in the field of structured sonic chaos.
Today marks the 50th release from OWSLA with Kill the Noise’s Black Magic Remixes EP. Read our recent conversation with Stanczak below.
So pretty much everyone showed up to your HARD Summer set. It was a lot of fun to watch, you looked like you were having a great time.
Aw man, when I’m playin’ and turn around and see all those guys there — for me, I’m playin’ for those guys — I’m tryin’ to impress them, y’know? Fuckin’, my dudes gettin’ down or what? There’s somethin’ really inspiring about having that kind of support from those particular people.
How’s it been being a part of that family?
Working with Sonny, RH, Tim, and that whole infrastructure — Blood Company and OWSLA — I admire the way a lot of those guys think, and the way they do things. The kind of person I’ve become versus the person I’ve historically been has changed quite a bit. I used to be the kinda guy that just flies off the handles about everything. I’m still kinda like that to a certain degree, maybe you’ll see some of that on twitter.
KTN is a name that always comes up, specifically production-wise, when other artists are geeking out about making music.
It’s good to know, and it’s somethin’ I’m aware of. I guess the realization I’ve come to is that, in this environment, that’s not always all it takes. With dance music in general, over the last few years, my confidence has kinda gone up and down. The way I see myself as an artist. Before I used to only gauge my success on how well received my productions were — how many plays I was getting on Soundcloud and which DJs were playin’ my tunes, and y’know, how does my stuff measure up against the kind of people who have really inspired me to make music?
It’s like, I just got a new brochure from guitar center and Steve Aoki’s on the cover, and all the sudden, all these other variables about where you stand as an artist are relevant. You’re not just a producer, you’re an entertainer, and you’re a personality and a brand. The most exciting artists to me always have different layers to them. For example, with Deadmau5, even though a lot of the stuff he has to say kind of goes against the grain, I tend to agree, on a certain level, with a lot of it. And even when I don’t agree, I admire the fact he’s open about how he feels.
One of my biggest inspirations of all time is NIN, and Trent Reznor has always been the kinda guy that had opinions. He said a lot of things over the course of his career that kinda pissed people off, but he also brought to light stuff like getting into a bad deal with Interscope.
Have you found that the audience, whether it be yours, or the electronic music community, are becoming more receptive to weirder sounds?
Yes and no. The higher you get up the totem poll, the less places there are to sit, so you’re not gonna be takin’ as many chances. My perspective on it comes from a lot of frustration.You’ll be at festivals trying to get a good time slot, so you can really share your story, but you can’t because there are five other guys, back-to-back, more or less playing the Beatport top ten.
Growing up and going to a rock festival, you didn’t have five bands playing the same song in a row, y’know? Different artists were playing different music, and that’s what made it exciting, and fun. I’m hoping that same kind of sentiment reaches out to people who are receptive to it, especially younger people in the studio. They spend all their time trying to chart on Beatport and play big festivals, but it’s like, man, there’s so much more to being a musician than accomplishing those goals, y’know?
So what are some of the challenges you would put on yourself to sort of push yourself forward?
It’s hard dude, (laughs). Typically my whole ethos when it came to bein’ in the studio, up until this year, has always been to ride that line, where it was like, “OK, there’s enough cool shit that’s goin’ on that’s kinda mainstream or trendy, that I’m actually legitimately into,” y’know? Dubstep’s a perfect example. A lot of people criticized dubstep, for the same reason they criticize big room house right now. But, I saw the effort, and I saw the detail and the craft. It’s not easy making stuff like that. It was really inspiring to me.
But now, all the stuff I feel is the “trendy” thing to be doin’, to me, isn’t challenging. It seems like every day there’s another kinda disposable track that comes out, that I’m just like, man, I don’t really see the point to workin’ on stuff like this. I don’t see it making any kind of impact or a difference in music. That stuff’s already there. It’s already happening. I don’t see any other way of improving on it, or making it different. So I’m more interested in pushing it in a different direction; finding out what that direction is, is the difficult part.
Would you ever think about getting back to your dnb roots?
Well, whether it’s on a conscious level or not, I’m always pulling those old chapters back open. There might be different groups of people who’d be really happy to hear me do somethin’ that I was doin’ years ago, but I don’t feel the same level of satisfaction, as a musician, doin’ somethin’ I already know how to do.
There will always be people online that are like, “Aw man, this sounds just like blah blah blah,” or whatever, but to be honest, those guys are ME, y’know? I’m the guy that, when someone puts the record out and it sounds like the last record, I’m like, “Man that’s not pushin’ the envelope! You already made this song. You changed a couple notes around.”
How do you react to all the youtube, twitter, and facebook comments? There’s a lot of noise out there but a lot of the opinionated ones are sometimes the most devoted.
It’s definitely one of those things where I’ve become more aware of my responsibility to allow people to have their opinions. Some artists just totally ignore and don’t respond, but I’m one of those guys that’s like, “Fuck you man! Explain yourself!”
Most of the following, at least that I’ve cultivated, kinda tend to agree with what you have to say, obviously (laughs), but it seems like the people that get the most attention are those who disagree with you. After a while, I was thinkin’ to myself, that’s not fair, y’know? Especially to the people who are supportive and really positive toward your music. You get used to hearing the praise so much, the only thing you start to see is the negative.
I guess the new sensibility I’m tryin’ to adopt is to say, you know what? It’s important everyone doesn’t agree with what you’re doing. Every once in awhile, someone does say something that has a lot of merit to it, and if it weren’t for criticism, you wouldn’t be successful.
What advice would you give to artists who are getting big overnight, in terms of dealing with the pressure that comes with that success?
I think the biggest thing is, you have to be honest with yourself. Chances are, if you’re one of those guys that ends up in the upstream of something really cool and exciting, a lot of people are gonna flock around you and tell you you’re killin’ it, and everything you’re doin’ is right, and keep doin’ what you’re doin’ or whatever. Which, to a certain degree, is true, but I think you can make a lot of mistakes along the way.
If you just did go along for the ride, all those people that swarmed around you while things were good, may have just squeezed as much money and opportunities from the situations as they could, and then kinda moved on to the next thing. And you’re kinda just sittin’ there, alone. A lot of the younger artists think once you’ve made it, you’ve made it, y’know? But just because you’ve blown up for a year or two, doesn’t mean you can support yourself for the rest of your life. You’re back to whatever it was you were doin’ before you started making music.
You gotta have the right people around you who are gonna level with you and tell you some of the stuff you need to hear.
What are your thoughts on the current press coverage of dance music?
Most of the time, whoever is writing the article — whether it’s a blog or Rolling Stone, Billboard or Spin — they’re usually a fan of whoever’s making the music, or they know nothing about the artist (laughs). It’s usually polarized.
I think it’s good to listen to editorial opinions if you’re responsible enough to take it with a grain of salt. But a lot of artists aren’t. A lot of people take it seriously and personally. I have my own personal sounding board of a good mix of people. Guys like Skrill, the Knife Party guys, people that I really rate as amazing musicians and producers, to average people who just love music; who don’t write, like my brother, and my wife. Obviously management, and label guys like Blaise and PR guys like Clayton. You start hearing certain scenes kinda coming to the surface, and sometimes bits of pieces of what each person says really brings the good or the bad points out of what you’re workin’ on. If you start listening to what everyone has to say about what you’re doin’, you’re either gonna say, “Wow, everything I do is amazing!” Or you get caught up in this world where you’re tryin’ to argue with people who feel like you suck because it sounds too much like this person… y’know what I mean? Those are the kinds of strong opinions that really dig deep and breed on me.
There’s a Mark Twain quote that has somethin’ to do with this perspective: “take heed when you’re arguing with fools, because onlookers might not be able to tell the difference.” That’s 100% true online. Some people have an opinion just to create controversy, and fill time. Another thing I’ve realized, is that sometimes people start fuckin’ with you because they want you to respond, because they’re fans.
But, I think it’s important people have opinions. I think blogs are important. I think it’s great bigger publications are trying to understand the music and present it to a larger audience sincerely. But yeah, at the end of the day, musicians man, you’re the one that’s supposed to have a vision; the one who’s supposed to be telling some kind of story. I think if you start allowing people’s opinions to dictate what you do, then you’re not a musician anymore, or tellin’ a story, you’re just tellin’ people what they wanna hear.
With these sites, I think you can get traffic by doing something that has intrinsic value. Something that’s really well written and interesting. If you are gonna make a controversial point, you better be ready to back it up with a lot of facts. “This is how I feel based on…” Based on what? Y’know what I mean? Based on someone else’s opinion?
One of the funny ones I saw recently in LA Weekly was talkin’ about “The Top 5 Most Douchiest DJs”. It’s like, c’mon man, this is stupid. It’s playing on how dumb all this shit’s become. Thinking about the writer — you’re a writer man, or a journalist, have some pride in your work. “The Top Ten Dubstep Haircuts of 2012”? That’s how you want people to know who you are? Because you wrote an article like THAT? Really?
In the same way a song can be art, so can fuckin’ writing. There’s a heart involved in that. I think a lot of the cool shit that happens flies under the radar because it isn’t low-brow.
I think OWSLA and Blood Company are perfect examples. I’m not just sayin’ that because I’m biased or anything, I chose to be in this world, with these people. Here’s a group of people who have built a platform where a lot of people care about what they have to say, and instead of just tellin’ them shit they already know, they’re like “Here, check this out.” With OWSLA, they’re not just gonna play you a bunch of stuff that sounds like Skrillex, they’re gonna show you all their passions for music, and all these different artists. And Nest HQ, here’s another platform they can use to show another side of their creativity and work with a bunch of other dudes and creative people.
They’re not afraid to take risks, y’know? It comes down to trusting your intuition. The natural inclination for most humans, especially when you get something of value, is to hold on to it and protect it, and do whatever you can do to ensure someone doesn’t take it away from you. But, that’s always the wrong thing to do. If someone throws you the ball and you just hold onto it and stand in the same place, you’re gonna go nowhere. Sometimes that means you have to step outside of where you’re comfortable.
That’s what I’m looking at now with workin’ on music videos. Before I got involved with music, I was really passionate about doin’ video stuff. Anything visual really. Now I’m at a point in my career where I have the opportunity and the budget to do a cool video. When am I gonna step up and direct my own music video? Or, get in the studio with some of these guys who are actually my friends now, who know how to edit and shoot video?
I feel like a lot of your music is cinematic in nature, like the opening to “Kill the Noise Part II”. Is the visual element something that plays into your production as you’re making it?
Yeah, man. I said on twitter the other day, so many songs have come out sounding like they were written about thousands of people jumping up and down at a festival. I hear the song, and that’s all I see in my mind. I don’t see a beautiful landscape with fuckin’ dinosaurs runnin’ around, (laughs).
All the artists I grew up listening to were writing songs about a certain mood. Even if it wasn’t specific, it was a feeling or a certain time and place in their life. For example, with that marching stuff in “Kill the Noise pt. I and II” — getting louder and louder, “Kill the Noise,” chanting — I pulled that straight from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, which was a super inspiring record for me.
I would rather have a thousand ravers jumping up and down to a story about something, and know all those people came to the show because they know the song and it had some kind of relevance in their real life. That to me is inspiring and lets me know I made a contribution.
To celebrate OWSLA‘s 50th release, the label is giving away 50 Nest memberships. To enter, forward your Black Magic Remixes receipt of purchase to firstname.lastname@example.org. The EP is available now through Beatport, itunes and Spotify.