DUBBED OUT IN CROATIA: An Interview with Egoless

I first caught wind of Egoless when he decided to release his ‘Selected Works ’09-’12’ for free and was blown away by ‘Congo Jazz’ and the more hip-hop slanted tunes on that release. Flash forward a few months later, he decides to give away a second volume, again for free, and filled to the brim with reggae-indebted tunes that just slay on a proper system (Check the reworks of Author’s ‘Jah Live’!). However, what really caught my attention was his commitment and deep love for roots reggae and soundsystem culture, going so far as only utilising hardware, foregoing DAW’s altogether. Soon after, his Lion Charge gets announced and almost immediately sells out everywhere with prices fetching a high price on Discogs already (#fucktanmushimushi). As the ‘dub bug’ worms its way back into the scene, Egoless seems to be on the tips of everyone’s tongues at the moment and looks poised to become a bigger player within the scene in 2015. We at TRUSIK had the opportunity to sit down and have a chat with Egoless and see why DAW’s are a hassle, the nature of his live shows, and other topics. Without further delay, here is our interview with Egoless.

TRUSIK: Let’s start with the basics, can you give us a little biography of yourself and what you do outside of music?

EGOLESS: Hello, I’m from Croatia, currently reside in the city of Zagreb. I’m a music producer and live sound engineer, mix engineer and play some instruments and it’s basically all I’ve been doing for years. And that often means poor but happy 😀 Outside of music I usually hang out with my lovely girlfriend and periodically attend various music gatherings 🙂

TRUSIK: Your production style is very indebted to reggae, dub aesthetics, and the whole of soundsystem culture, so what attracts you to this genre of music over other genres?

EGOLESS: I can’t properly explain it by words, we often refer to it as ‘vibe’. If you listen to old ‘70s dub records, you can almost feel the presence of ‘something’ sacred and universal when listening, so empty yet soulful, the smooth and hypnotic bass lines rolling repetitively, creative intro fills, the warmth… It’s amazing how tunes from that era cut through soundsystems today! Also there’s this ‘fuck you’ rebel attitude pointed towards this absurd system we’re living in, so coming from a punk background, everything about it just connected naturally with my being. Nothing beats the traditional soundsystem dub dance for me. There is not too much hype involved, just a space full of 99.9% positive people who came to relax, hang out, spread good energy, talk, dance, enjoy the selections and soundsystems with a massive low end… In one word, they’re here for the ‘vibe’ and the whole soundstystem thing is great, so much enthusiasm and love involved! Other genres such as DNB, harder techy dubstep, techno… I sometimes find them too nervous, mentally and physically exhausting.

TRUSIK: The way in which you make music is committed to the traditional way of creating dub reggae, utilising a mixing board, reverb tanks, and Roland space echoes amongst a lot of other hardware. Do you find that to be limiting or creatively freeing for yourself as a producer?

EGOLESS: I got really tired of everything sounding so perfect and clean. In order to saturate in the box you have to use ‘this’ plug in, ‘that’ emulation… then your CPU overloads and you have to bounce tracks and so on. It can get quite frustrating. When in the real world you can just take some obscure preamp you can find basically for free, connect it to the insert point on the mixer channel, smash it, and voila, instant colour and character! Also, for example, nothing digital, and I mean NOTHING sounds gritty and fat as my analog delay unit combined with a Midas board preamp. I’m yet to find a VST delay to compete with it without a need to put a ton of eq’s, filters, compressors, saturators ’n’ distortions in the chain.

Lots of people want to have a full control over their music and sound. I want the complete opposite. I leave a lot of room for accidents and imperfections. Sometimes I’ll drive the delay, reverb or preamp too hard accidentally and end up with something that completely blows my mind. As I mostly don’t use DAW’s render engine anymore, but ‘print’ the music in realtime through the desk while mixing and dubbing it live a lot of strange stuff often happens. I tend to use these aesthetics in dubstep genre. My recent vibes and goal is to make music where you can’t actually distinguish if it’s dub or dubstep. I want to completely intersect both genres equally to maximum by using the original mixing techniques established by the founders of DUB. So my next outputs will definitely go in that direction with the occasional drift to the experimental side of things which I also love.

TRUSIK: Following the same vein of using analogue hardware over DAWs, you’ve been known to eschew the more ‘traditional’ DJ tools like CDJs and vinyl, preferring to use the mixing board to create new live versions of tunes. What was your main impetus to do so and given that, how do you structure your live shows?

EGOLESS: I consider my setup ‘digi-log’. For me it’s a perfect combination of software and traditional analog mixing desk + some hardware units. For around 12 years I’ve been making electronic music I almost never ever considered DJ-ing. Some say it’s a foolish idea, because I could get a lot more gigs, but I want to be able to control and manipulate the sound as much as I can and create unique versions every time I perform live. It can get quite unpredictable and fun. Once I got a great response from the crowd at last year’s Seasplash festival by accidentally leaving just the 4×4 kick drum on. I’ll never forget that moment, I was like “ooops” and the people were like “yeaaaah”, and I started building tune around that kick drum. So this way of performing is very open, leaving space for many surprises to happen.

Also, a lot of people recently have provided me with multitracks of their tunes to mix them live, some real gems in there, so it’s great to be able to support other producers music and remix it live. Other than that, most of the tunes are my own, with many of them being exclusive, just for live acts. I’ve established a collection of around 50+ tunes ready for live remixing and the number is growing daily. The main difference from a DJ set is that I don’t tend to play just like 2 minutes of one tune and then switch to another quickly, I like to develop the vibe of a tune a bit slower. I want to hypnotise, not hype the people. Since all the tunes I play live are looped at one point in time, I could basically do a 5 minute intro and buildup and then drop the bass line if I wanted to. So I’m the one arranging the tune live, it’s flexible and very adaptable, sometimes tricky, and almost every day I find some new tricks and ideas for upgrading my live performance.

I’m glad to say I’m starting to get more and more booking requests outside of the Balkan’s area around Europe and abroad, so I’m really looking forward to spreading my vibe around.

TRUSIK: You’ve given away two big compilations of Selected Works spanning from 2009 to 2014 which act as a ‘sonic journal’ of sorts, showcasing your progression from working with a variety of styles to a more fully realised, reggae oriented style in the later volume of your selected works. So my question seems to be, what was the reasoning behind releasing such a larger body of work for free, given the quality of production?

EGOLESS: I had a bunch of offers from labels to release most of them digitally during the timespan of creating those tunes, but I accepted none, even when I didn’t have any opportunities to release music on vinyl. I just hate releasing (selling) digital only records. It feels so disposable, au pair with today’s way of living. Where will that 320 MP3 be in like 20 years later after you’ve changed 7 laptops, 10 hard drives, 10 smartphones and lost around 50 USB sticks? I would rather give all unreleased music periodically via social platforms for free to the people who support me so I’ll continue with that practice. It all just makes sense, and it’s no loss for me because the people who support my work, as I saw recently, give the love back by buying my vinyl releases. Respect!

From my perspective of view I think that vinyl buyers & DJ’s kind of respect music a bit more than a bunch of DJ’s who are just searching for a new banging ‘tool’ on Beatport to play out and be cool on stage (not all of course!), just to replace it with even more banging one few days later for $0,99. After all, for example, just compare Beatport’s top dubstep bestsellers and Juno’s or Redeye top and you’ll get the point. I have nothing against ‘mindfuck’ bangers, it is a legit form of expression, it’s just not my type of vibe and a way I think and feel about music.

Talking about Shitport, you have these global digital music selling platforms that earn most of the $$, while countless producers and labels who actually provide the content for their sites usually don’t see a cent. On the other hand I always remember with a smile on my face few years ago I got an email from the mighty Rob Smith (RSD), who wrote that his friend Naoki from Tokyo had played him a record of mine and that he liked it. Naoki is part of Disc Shop Zero in Japan, and sells records. The industry should be run by music enthusiasts like him, who actually listens to the records, not by some mindless corporations that are in it just for the profit.

I’m not getting into an argument over which format is better sound wise but with vinyl, you wait for it to arrive, you look forward to it, you feel happiness when you get it, it’s just a real and emotional experience. And that’s my argument.

TRUSIK: In particular the Afro Dub System tracks on your Selected Works ’12-’14, strike me as an interesting synthesis between dub aesthetics and African music styles like highlife, like if King Tubby meet Fela Kuti! Can you speak more on how that project started, if you collaborate with any other musicians on that project, and the specific influences that you draw from when you build an Afro Dub System tune?

EGOLESS: I had the idea of combining African oriented music with dub and reggae for a long time. There is a lot of astounding similarity between the two in general. You mentioned Fela, when comparing afro-funk and reggae/dub, they both rely heavily on hypnotic repetitive rhythmic and bass patterns, pentatonic scales, rich harmonic brass lines, and even the lyricism is quite the same as in reggae, addressing important social issues, discrimination and so on.

I wanted the sound to equally represent the combination of afro-centric music and dubwise vibes. Now I want to explore more the polyrhythmic structures of African music and try to incorporate it with dub. Currently, it’s just a solo thing with a lot of work, learning and exploring ahead, but I would love to see a collaboration with many musicians and vocalists in the future.

TRUSIK: Following up with the Afro Dub System question, is there potential for a full length as Afro Dub System, or is ADS more of side project to help keep the creative juices lively? I’d love to see ADS develop more fully!

EGOLESS: It’s a side project for now, currently on hold a bit because quite a few things have started to happen with my main ‘project’ so I’m concentrating fully on that for now. But in the future I would really like to see ADS go on stage as a full band or expanded live act and I hope I’ll manage to pull it off someday 🙂

TRUSIK: A couple other productions of yours that caught my attention were the cuts ‘Rain Radio’, ‘Soulstice’ and ‘Cosmic Flu’ from Selected Works ’09-’12 which were more hip-hop influenced. Is hip hop/rap another of your favourite genres, or where these rather experiments in form as they stand out particularly (at least for me) within the larger context of your Selected Works.

EGOLESS: I’ve never listened to much rap music privately, but I do like the groove and the whole sampling heritage which I also utilise in my music on a daily basis. Due to set circumstances, over the last 10 years I was involved in working with a few hip-hop oriented bands, either doing live sound engineering and recording/producing for them or playing guitar and keys live, but I really feel the psychedelic offbeat style Fly Lo & Brainfeeder’s label started doing a few years ago, so these tunes you mentioned are probably influenced by the whole ‘beats’ scene. There were a lot of ‘oldschool’ offbeat producers like Dilla but for me, Fly Lo pushed the limits of psychedelic and rhythmic creativity to outer space! I still love the moody vibes in Rain Radio.

TRUSIK: 2015 seems like a breakout year for yourself with forthcoming releases on Lion Charge and ZamZam Sounds, what else do you have in the works for the coming months? And could you perhaps speak a bit more on how those relationships developed?

EGOLESS: 2015 will definitely be my most productive year vinyl release wise. The Lion Charge record is out and out of stock pretty much everywhere. I never expected the pre-orders to sell so quick – just two days. I am very happy with the support but it also shows that J:Kenzo has done a great thing by having such a dedicated and strong base of people who support the label and the sound we’re pushing.

My communication with Kenzo started somewhere around the beginning of 2012 when I realised he had played my first 12” ‘Rainbow Dub’ record on Mistajam’s BBC 1xtra show. I found his e-mail to pass on my thanks, and we started communicating a bit. I remember him asking me at the time for some unreleased tunes, as he was starting a new vinyl imprint dedicated to the dubwise side of things. Of course, that label is Lion Charge and I am more than grateful to be a part of that story… Maximum respect to the man!

The 7” ZamZam record (Yërmënde feat. Daba Makourejah + version) was delayed a little bit but it will also be out very soon. I believe Craig Morton (aka. Monkeytek) who had also worked with Lo Dubs records introduced my music to Ezra, we started chatting, and quickly settled a release. Both labels are from Portland so there’s a connection between the two.

As for near future, I’ll continue releasing with the mentioned labels but also with a few others. I won’t mention them for now, but I’ll just say that everyone in this scene knows about them 🙂

TRUSIK: And one last, and perhaps more generic question, but what producers within (or outside) of the bass music spectrum are making your ears prick up, so to speak?

EGOLESS: In my opinion the scene is really healthy right now, the dub virus is spreading once again, and after the metalstep noise calmed down, a truly creative output started rising…

LAS (probably my favourite producer atm) & MIKAEL, the Finnish badmans, KAIJU’s New Year mix is pure fire, SLEEPER is onto some really nice dubwise vibes recently (Coxsone Dub is s.i.c.k!). The whole INNAMIND & SYSTEM roster is more than great (big up Jeremy & Vivek!), ZAMZAM’s output is nothing but amazing, the D-OPERATION DROP crew deliver properly and when EVA808 does a dubstep track it’s usually weird and grimey as f*k which I like a lot. 45/7’s roster has a nice output of unique jungle/dub combination (not the corny sampling of full reggae tunes over a dnb pattern)… I could continue for an hour, so much good music out there!

And of course Tom Jenkinson aka Squarepusher, he is really in his own category, an everlasting inspiration and a true genius!

Peace & love !

To thank his fans for all the support – EGOLESS has given away his version of ‘Guiding Star’ along with two dub cuts.

EGOLESS – Yërmënde (feat. Daba Makourejah) will be released soon on ZamZam Sounds.

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