Confident on the decks controlling the mix, some acid tech roller in full force when over the mic SP:MC tells it as it is, “Murderous Proxima. Remember… keep your ears to the ground… Proxima LP… Forthcoming Tempa… Producers gonna be getting their P45s when that drops”. Youngsta laughs in the background. The levels are high with the Dutch wonder’s sound design in full disguise. This was back in May, when AxH and Proxima were guesting on Youngsta’s Minimal Monday show for Contact preparation. The announcement of course had already been made a month before, when GetDarker organised a hangout session and Proxima revealed the details. We were all happy to hear the news but it was more interesting to see Tempa take complete faith in the young producer having only released three singles with the label. Building a debut album is not an easy process but as you will hear in his full album mix, ‘Alpha’ is his most fully accomplished music to date. The Dutch wonder has certainly come a long way since we last interviewed him around January last year when the building process, as it happens, had already begun. Do the math and it would seem that ‘Alpha’ has almost been two years in the making. And it shows. Hyper designed aural weaponry fully rendered with razor-sharp percussion, icepick melodies and violent metallic drums, it’s a Monolith of intelligent sound design packing intense sound system force. Having been teased long enough, I tracked down Gijs to talk about ‘Alpha’ and the building process behind it. For those who haven’t heard the complete album, check out the full album mix below.
TRUSIK: Easy Gijs, good to have you back, you must be exhausted yet very happy. How are things?
PROXIMA: Hey Alastair, I’m doing well thanks very much! It has definitely been intense the last year, doing an album has proven to be no easy task. I’m very happy that with its release on Monday, it’s all coming together finally and I can show people what’s kept me busy!
TRUSIK: I see you recently completed your thesis and finished University, Congratulations. I am interested though, what was your paper on and what did you conclude?
PROXIMA: Indeed I did! Although I wasn’t able to do the Master programme, because I moved to London in April. At that point I’d been a student for about 8 years and was giving a 3rd study a try, and was close to getting my Bachelor degree in Psychology when I left Holland. I felt like I had to finish something at least, so for the last couple of exams etc. I flew back and forth almost weekly between the UK and Holland, while also finishing my album. That was very hectic, but I managed to pull it off! The thesis I wrote was about mental problems that people with an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator sometimes develop, and the usefulness of a new type of online treatment program that can help with these problems by combining aspects of established treatments with the advantages of the online environment. So yeah, slightly different from writing dark bass music!
TRUSIK: Before we get into the music, I have to ask… how have you successfully juggled building an album, while studying a degree and managing a social life as well as DJ bookings, over the past year?
PROXIMA: Like I said before, it’s been hectic. Luckily I can be quite disciplined and so I managed to do everything I needed to do, even if that meant taking care of some very tricky mixdowns (the older tunes were an absolute pain) and keep a tightly organised studying routine for weeks.
TRUSIK: So we last interviewed you around January last year. Although the album project hadn’t been announced, had you already started the building process for it? Looking back, what kind of thoughts and emotions were you feeling when thinking ‘OK this is actually happening’…?
PROXIMA: Yeah I had just started working on it back then. I was really happy I was doing an album you know, I’ve wanted to do one for years. So it started to come together pretty quickly. I’d already made a couple of tunes prior to that of which I thought should be on my album if I ever were to do one. In Vacuo is one of them that made it onto the final version, so you could say I was ready from the start! The whole process has been so motivating for me, I was slowly getting the drive for producing music back again but the album surely sped things up. I’m even doing Drum and Bass again nowadays.
TRUSIK: We’ve heard a kaleidoscope of sounds since the increased output from your studio. How many tracks did you write in total until you were satisfied you had enough?
PROXIMA: Because I have been so motivated I’ve just been writing and writing. I remember when I was going through possible tunes for the album with Tempa, Youngsta said to me: “You are a machine, and we need to stop you for a moment and make a selection”. I just kept on creating new stuff, with the possibility for them to appear on the album in mind. When we finally decided which ones to use I must have had about 40 tunes to choose from. Not a bad situation to be in though probably!
TRUSIK: You updated us now and then about new and different techniques you had learnt regarding music production. Which of these have been the most valuable throughout the entire experience?
PROXIMA: They’ve all been really valuable I’d say. I’ve spent a lot of time creating a mixdown process that satisfies me, and this is still ongoing. Every tune is different so every mixdown is different, sometimes even drastically. How to bus groups, applying sidechain, how to set up a constructive stereo image, how to treat transients, how to balances the frequencies, where to limit/maximise/saturate and a million other things… this all varies almost every time. Coming from a DnB background I quite like loud mixdowns, while still maintaining clarity and sharpness in the sounds. Mefjus for instance does this so well, his tunes are always ridiculously loud but the sounds are still unbelievably well defined. He just makes everybody look like amateurs!
TRUSIK: With that being said, is there a personal favourite from the stack of tracks you built, which you consider to be your most accomplished production… whether it was one that naturally built itself or represents what you set out to achieve with this project?
PROXIMA: What I’ve been trying to do for a while now is sort of transpose the typical sound of DnB into a Dubstep environment. In my opinion this is something that’s not being done very often, so there’s room to try something new and refreshing. Good examples are tunes such as Pressurized (ft. P Money), Smog (ft. DRS), Nasty, and a bunch of other stuff I did recently. They all have a certain Drum and Bass weight to them, while using the Dubstep framework. I really like how those two styles blend together.
TRUSIK: What would you say was the most difficult part of the entire process? Mixdowns, struggling with perfectionism, the final track selection…?
PROXIMA: These things have definitely proven to be a challenge. Although selecting the tracks happened quite naturally I have to say. I had a pretty clear idea from the beginning what sort of tunes I wanted on the album, so that part of the process went quite smooth. Getting the mixdowns the way I wanted them to sound certainly took a little longer. Not because I couldn’t get them right, but because I’m a perfectionist indeed. I just got stuck on tiny details and nuances, tweaking them over and over again. At some point you just get tunnel vision and everything you do isn’t making much of a difference anymore, but to you it still is. That’s when you need to tell yourself to stop and consider it done, but when you’re working on something you really want to make the best you possibly can that may not be so easy!
TRUSIK: You also shared updates with us on collaborations and vocalists that would appear on the final version. Can you tell us a little bit how these came together, and how you decided who was going to feature and who best represented the concept of the LP?
PROXIMA: I’m so happy with the vocalists I got to work with and the end results. Getting them interested and motivated in a way that leads to the results you are looking for can be a delicate thing. They have to like the tune(s) you send them, and what they come up with needs to work for you in turn as well. I had a long list of names I wanted to work with, and in the end P money, DRS and Dnae proved to be a perfect fit.
For ‘Pressurized’ I wanted someone who could deliver absolute mayhem, and what P Money did is just ridiculous. He’s obviously a huge name as well, it has been a privilege to work with him. P Money is such an amazingly skilled MC, I was blown away the first time I heard his lines and the tune together. The result is a proper banger, and that’s what I was going for. You might need to listen to it twice because of all the madness that is going on, but it’s definitely one of my favourites!
‘Smog’ is a tune I wrote quite a while ago, so I’ve been used to the instrumental version for some time. At a point I started wondering how incorporating vocals with the groove it has would sound like, and DRS nailed this effortlessly. It all just works together so smoothly, his bars really complement the tune. I’ve been a fan of him for years so it’s great having him on the album!
Dnae has such a beautiful voice, and it works so well with ‘Afterwards’. I wanted to do sort of a jazzy, triphoppy Dubstep tune to diversify the album. This was important for me from the beginning: it had to be diverse and wide-ranging while still being coherent. An experience, rather than a collection of random music. This has been the main goal for the album and the tunes that are on it, together with the vocals, have hopefully realised this.
TRUSIK: I would also like to touch on your new life in London – again Congratulations on the move. Are you hoping that this pilgrimage will bring you closer to your goals as a musician, now that you’re immersed at the source of the sound? For example, your cousin Icicle has had a successful career being based in London, is this something you’re looking to replicate? What new inspirations, if any, do you think will influence your work?
PROXIMA: Thanks! It has been great so far, there’s just so much to do here. Now that my studying days are over I really want to pursue a career in music, so London is a good place to get things moving. Met so many great people already, got an amazing agent who arranges a lot more than just bookings for me and there’s a million other things that make this place so good for music. It definitely motivates the studio output!
TRUSIK: You’ve been touring a lot more I’ve noticed, especially B2B performances with Icicle at Contact and festivals. Which gig has been your favourite so far, and why?
PROXIMA: Yeah the last 6 months bookings have started to pick up again, after a relatively quiet period. The whole album process had really slowed down my output in terms of releases, something that’s pretty much inevitable I think. But with its release finally happening now it’s starting to look better and better!
I’ve had a lot of gigs I really enjoyed since I’ve moved to London, but one of the things that definitely calls to mind is Outlook Festival. What an utterly amazing experience that was! I did one before years and years ago, when it was still somewhere else and less organised, but that didn’t compare to it’s current state one bit. The line-up is ridiculous every year, and the whole set up around the fort makes it very special. I played at the Contact night at The Moat and on the Contact boat, and both were just incredible. The Moat’s sound system, the vibe, the enthusiasm of the crowd, the energy on the boat… it was one I’ll surely remember!
TRUSIK: So to the golden question… what’s next for Proxima? I haven’t seen many remixes by you before, is this perhaps an angle of production you would like to challenge yourself with?
PROXIMA: I think I’ve actually never done one? So it’s about time! Luckily I’ve got some interesting things in the making. Can’t really say much about them yet, but they involve music from certain pretty well established hiphop groups. Keep an eye on my socials for more info!
TRUSIK: Finally, what else can we expect from you in 2014, is there any other forthcoming material, interesting projects, or up and coming music gigs you can inform the readers on?
PROXIMA: I’m doing a lot of DnB again at the moment and I’m very happy about that! A sort of back to my roots if you like, and I’m enjoying every single minute of it in the studio. So expect some new ventures into Drum and Bass again in 2015! I’ll keep doing Dubstep as well of course, and keep on pursuing the mixed style I’ve mentioned before. Tunes like ‘Nasty’ and ‘Annihilation’ will hopefully see a release soon, and I want to continue on that path.
TRUSIK: Take us through the mix you put together for us.
PROXIMA: I’ve used all (and only) the album tracks for this mix, so you can experience it as a whole. It was interesting to see how they were going to blend together, and I must say I’m happy with the result. It’s a suitable way of presenting it in my opinion!
TRUSIK: Thank you for your time Gijs, we hope the album is well received by your fans – you deserve it. Are there any final comments / shout outs you wanna share to wrap things up?
PROXIMA: No problem! A big shout to TRUSIK for the on going support. Shouts as well to Icicle, Youngsta and everyone who made the album happen. And to all of you that like my music of course, without you I wouldn’t be anywhere!
TRUSIK: A track…
by your favourite new artist: Joe Ford – Off Centre.
Not an ultra new artist, but there’s definitely a lot waiting for this talented guy!
you’re currently opening your sets with: Proxima – Playing the Arp.
Works really well as an opening track.
you think was slept on last year: Bop – Spiral.
Very underappreciated in my opinion, while it’s such a great tune.
you give the rewind treatment every time: Hate to say it, but that’s probably Trapped.
I get angry looks when I don’t!
you would like to remix: Icicle – Problem. I would call it Proxima’s Solution.