Featuring: Thelem

Among the new wave of producers continuing to forge the ‘dubstep’ legacy, few come close to the focused comportment underpinning Thelem’s craftmanship. Often quoted by his peers for his acute attention to detail and meticulous mixdowns, Thelem’s approach to beatmaking has taken a rather experimental framework over the past year challenging not only himself but the status quo. Iconic labels such as Osiris have been slowly inching away from the purist foundation aesthetic to a more progressive, techno influenced sound that is now pushing it’s way to the forefront of the underground scene. [One of the family’s essential members had no trouble admitting this in a recent interview with Beared Magazine]. Immersion among this pioneering vanguard has given Thelem the audaciousness to demonstrate his awareness for innovative sound design through a prism of complex engineering, cross breeding dubstep with techno and bold measures of grime into a kaleidoscopic composition that delivers. Samples of this radical barrage can be found across the two records he has released this year via Innamind and Artikal respectively. From the ruffneck rollers of ‘Bring Me Down and False Imprint’ to the hypnotic textures of ‘Grainform and Petrichor’, Thelem’s ingenuity to explore the sonic envelope of electronic bass music has profoundly tested his capacity to discover his true potential. With an exciting project on the go, I was eager to include Thelem to our exclusive feature series and show some support of our own. Along with an engaging interview, he’s contributed an incredible mix as a testament to his versatility.

TRUSIK: Before we start I have to ask, how did you acquire the alias, Thelem?

THELEM: Well my alias story is pretty lame to be honest (laughs). I was working building ovens for a company called Merrychef at the time, making tunes for fun in the evenings and weekends. I was thinking while I was bored at work that I needed an alias, I had no idea where to start. I was quite into researching and reading about certain cults etc. For example the whole Aleister Crowley thing and the “Thelemites” and so on. So I just decided to call myself Thelem, it’s kind of lame and cliché but I just stuck with it. Some people ask me if I’m a “Thelemite” but I’m not, it’s just a random name I choose while bored at work, long story short.

TRUSIK: When was your first contact with electronic music, and how has it shaped you as the person you are today?

THELEM: Well I came into electronic music properly kind of late I guess. I grew up on hip hop and stuff like the Beastie Boys (who I saw at my first gig when I was 12), Wu-Tang, KRS-one, Big L, Lord Finesse, Hieroglyphics, Del, Tribe Called Quest, Mobb Deep, Biggie, man too many names to mention off the top of my head. I loved hip hop while I was at school along with some stuff like Prodigy, Chemical brothers but I never saw this as electronic music at the time. It was weird as I listened to so much of this music, but also never clocked or thought wow how are the beats made? I remember wanting to get turntables and learn how to mix and scratch like my mates older brother, sadly my mum wasn’t keen at the time as said it would just be faze and waste of money, so I never did (laughs). Anyways moving on, after moving out of home I ended up living with my mate Tom who was big into electronic music, he’s the one who really got me into it. We used to chill in his room smoking in the evenings listening to tunes, he would show me all kinds, all genres of electronic music and I guess I got hooked. We had a small system in his room: two subs, some kick bins and some tops. Was pretty crazy actually, we would take it in turns lying on the floor by the subs listening to tunes as it took up a good portion of his bedroom. Funny story the house inspector came round and wanted to see inside his room, she saw the system and her first words were “Good god”, lets say she wasn’t impressed (laughs). Anyways that was my first proper introduction into electronic music, that in turn led me on to going to raves and parties etc. I think that it was good being introduced to electronic music the way I was with such diversity, various sounds, various genres, it got me open minded pretty quick which I think is important.

TRUSIK: In just two years, you’ve gone from unknown to being an integral member of the Osiris family as well as for Black Box, Innamind and now Artikal Music. It goes without saying that you’re highly valued among the next wave of producers pushing the underground sound. Humble remarks aside, how does it feel to be where you are now compared to say, two years ago? Do you feel this recognition puts pressure on you to deliver beyond people’s expectations, or does it just encourage you to move forward and progress with your music?

THELEM: I feel very lucky if I’m honest, there are so many awesome producers with so much talent I sometimes wonder why I’m being recognised. I’m not complaining at all I just feel very fortunate to be where I am when there are so many great producers out there. I never thought that it would progress to where it has two years ago, I always wanted to get on certain labels, have tunes signed but never thought it would come about and it ended up happening which I’m extremely grateful for. To be honest I don’t feel any pressure anymore, I feel a lot more free to build what I want and really experiment lately. However a year or so ago I did feel pressure, I felt kind of stuck in terms of inspiration and creativity as I felt I had to make a certain sound. This year I learnt to let go a little, not listen to everyone so much and develop some more unique sounding tracks for me. I really feel I have been able to evolve a little and grow towards a new direction, which I’m exited for.

TRUSIK: It was only 2011 when you launched into the public eye with your debut EP ‘Lucid Dream’ on your own label, Orientis Records. You’ve come a long way since then, and as you said to me the other day, it’s only now that you’re beginning to find your own sound. Looking back over the past couple of years, how have you progressed in your approach to music production? How much of this has contributed to the development of your current sound?

THELEM: Like I mentioned above learning to let go a little and experiment more has helped me progress in terms of production. Not trying to be fixated on once specific style or sound, and playing more with various bpms has really helped out. So if one tune sounds completely different from the last and has a totally different vibe, don’t worry about it. I think that helps me in progressing. Also I think learning a little more about synthesis and learning to make more sounds on synths has definitely assisted me in getting closer to my own style/sound.

TRUSIK: Your remix of U Won’t Mind (originally by Gantz) was received exceptionally well by fans. Is this an angle of production you enjoy challenging yourself with? How do you typically approach the break down of a remix?

THELEM: Yeah for sure, I really enjoyed the challenge especially as the originally is so good. This was actually my first remix I had ever done, in fact, I approached Gantz asking if I could remix it because after listening and playing it so much I had a vision in my head of my own remix version. It doesn’t happen often where I can somewhat visualise a whole tune in my head, and for this remix I did, so I asked him and he was down to let me have a crack at it.

TRUSIK: You pleasantly surprised your fans with the announcement of a new music project. Can you tell us a little bit about it; what do you want to achieve with this venture, are you building tracks with a conceptual aesthetic in mind, what challenges have you had to overcome so far, and are you tied by any deadlines?

THELEM: I’m very excited about this project even though I know it is going to take some time till I’m completely satisfied with the final outcome. The idea is to try and show a whole range of styles of sounds, genres and bpm’s, yet let them still have a consistent feel throughout which is the tricky part. The challenge I’m facing is being happy with every track. I go back to projects I’ve started and have completely gone off it, or I feel I can improve it so much more to the point where I might as well start again with that tune. The great thing is I’m not tied by any deadlines, so I’m just going to keep building and adding to the folder and really make it something special that I’m proud of. I really want to try and show versatility and break out being known solely as a pure “Dubstep” producer, I will always be making and playing 140/Dubstep as I still really enjoy it. I just want to try and show I can be more versatile with varied bpm ranges. I’m not in a rush for this, but I want people to be aware I’m working hard. It takes me a while to complete a tune from start to finish so I if it takes me a year or so then that’s fine. There have been so many great albums out this year from the likes of Machinedrum, Om Unit, Dj Rum etc. It’s a great inspiration to aim towards something that is across the whole spectrum of electronic music. I will however be making bits in-between for some singles.

TRUSIK: In your FKOF interview back in 2011, you mentioned how you like to dig through sci-fi soundtracks to sample the atmospherics. Which soundtrack do you find has the most ideal samples, and which is your favourite, and why?

THELEM: I very much still like to do this, it’s really hard to pinpoint which soundtrack has the best most ideal samples in as there’s parts from everything that are great for certain things and not others. For example, I have used various bits and bobs from a 70’s sci-fi film soundtrack titled “The Andromeda Strain”. I managed to get this on vinyl, which was awesome. I still find new bits in it when listening that I can twist up and use.

TRUSIK: A man of many talents, you also like to get creative with graphic design, having knocked up custom Tee’s for Hedmuk and Innamind Recordings as well as regularly selecting label artwork for Osiris Music. Is this an area you would like to focus on more? Which do you find more rewarding, making music and hearing people play it, or designing Tees and seeing them being worn?

THELEM: Yeah I manage to do a lot of graphic work in my spare time, as this is what I actually studied at University. I would like to focus on it more in the future, but at the moment I’m trying to make music my main focus. I already have quite a lot of freelance bits going on to make some cash, as well as doing VIVEK’s ‘SYSTEM’ label design work, Amit’s new AMAR’ label design work and various Innamind bits. I’m content with what I’m doing in terms of design currently. However it is great to be able to do what I’m doing with graphics as it keeps me fresh and current in the design world and I’ve then got something to fall back on in the future. To be truthfully honest I find making music that people play and buy way more rewarding. I find it takes me a lot longer to produce music and that a lot more work goes into it from start to finish, so I guess I feel the final outcome is more satisfying for me.

TRUSIK: You recently completed the Innamind tour of the US, and it appears that it went down exceptionally well. Was the trip an eye-opening experience? Would you say the scene in the US is very much alive as it is here in the UK? Any notable highlights or anecdotes you would like to mention?

THELEM: The US trip was absolutely amazing, I also want to say quickly a huge thanks to everyone that made it happen. All the promoters, friends, organisers and of course all the peeps that attended the shows! It was most certainly an eye opening experience and it’s great to see how much the scene is growing out there. I was lucky enough to play a small tour in the US last year and both times all the shows have been astounding. They have got to be some of the best parties/shows I have played. The scene in the US is very much alive, and it’s undoubtedly alive and kicking as much as it is here in the UK, if not more (laughs). Highlights are a tough one, every show was sick! Although the US has some of the best Mexican and Sushi I have ever eaten which is a great bonus (laughs).

TRUSIK: What else can we expect from Thelem in 2013, is there any forthcoming material, or other interesting projects you can inform the readers on?

THELEM: There will be some forthcoming singles etc, there’s also something special in the pipeline, but sadly I can’t say anymore about that for now.

TRUSIK: Take us through the mix you put together for us.

THELEM: The mix I did was just to show some music I’m really feeling at the moment, then moving on up the tempo range to some 170 stuff that I’m into. Hope people enjoy it!

TRUSIK: Finally, your five favourite tracks at the moment…?

THELEM: Wow this is a tough one, there’s too many at the moment! These are in no particular order:

Kid Drama – In Mind
Kahn – Over Deh So
Commodo – Buckwild (Gantz Rmx)
LAS – Malfunktions
Dom & Roland – Unofficial Jah

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