You may be familiar with Pugilist as one half of dubstep duo Perverse but with the arrival of his second solo release on J:Kenzo’s Artikal Music following his debut on FatKidOnFire, and a stockpile of 80+ dubs, you could say the man is on a mission. Pugilist, real name Alex Dickson, has been fully revealed as the musical multi-linguist he is, with elements of dub techno, dubstep, half-time d&b, techno and ambient all peppered into the Raindance EP. His artistic stylings are as elusive to define as his background. Originally hailing from Scotland, but relocating to New Zealand in his teenage years, bass music producer Pugilist now has himself firmly rooted on the Melbourne scene, which he cites as a constant source of inspiration. I met with Alex to discuss his forthcoming EP and the creative process behind it, his opinions on the local scene, and how his broad spectrum of influences came to be.
Thanks for sharing some of your time to talk with me, obviously most of your followers will be aware of your role in Perverse, but could you take us through your initiation into electronic music?
I started going to clubs when I was 18, and when I went to my first dubstep gig what caught me was how accessible the music was. These guys make music on their computers, are able to travel the world doing so, and reach a wider audience without having to fork out on instruments. All you need is a laptop and some software to get started.
As a Kiwi artist, what were your initial breaks into international acclaim, and how did you get there?
It’s all through Soundcloud really, the internet enables people who may be on completely opposite sides of the world to send music to each other. In terms of my own beats, the first tune we made as Perverse, we sent it to DJ Crisis, and it got played on Rinse FM, which was pretty awesome for us, we were like “is it that easy?”. It was pretty inspiring to see that you can make music on the other side of the world and then send it to people in the UK or the US and it gets airtime.
You recently relocated from Auckland to Melbourne, do you see many differences between the sound system culture in Australia and New Zealand?
It’s a pretty solid scene here. I’d say in New Zealand that Christchurch is probably the hub of bass music and sound system culture. There’s just so much stuff going on there like; Subtle Sound System, Eyes Down Sound System. Melbourne has some great independent sound systems as well, they are both pretty flourishing scenes I think, and they are only going to improve.
And where do you think the New Zealand / Australian scene is going?
I think it’s heavily growing, there is more and more producers coming out of the woodwork. From New Zealand you’ve got the likes of Headland and Akcept. There is a whole bunch of producers over here [Melbourne] who are doing lots of things, the more local talent there is pushing the sound, I think the better it is overall. I think its gonna progress nicely over the next couple of years.
Any artists in particular we should look out for?
I’ve been really into these guys called Another Channel recently. Dubbed out sorta Rhythm & Sound vibes, I really like what they are doing. In Melbourne there is a producer called Intech that I collab’d with on the Raindance EP, I think he is gonna go pretty far, so keep an eye out. Also there is another producer from Melbourne called Mystik, he’s one of my good mates who is going to be up and coming soon.
The forthcoming Raindance EP on Artikal Music is your first solo physical release, has this record been a long time in the works?
It’s been a little while in the making. I’ve been working on it since last year. It pretty much all came together as one, all the tunes were made in one week which is why they all have a similar feeling to them. It’s been something I’ve been looking forward to for a while, so it’s good to get it out.
What type of creative process is typically involved in creating a Pugilist track?
I’ve got my workflow really down, because I’ve just been smashing it out for like 6 years, so I can throw ideas together really quickly. I don’t really go in with any particular idea in mind, I just sort of start getting a groove first and foremost, then go from there. I don’t just make one particular bpm of music now either, so I could go in and it could be a dub-techno track or a dubstep track or 170, hip hop, whatever. It sort of takes shape along the way.
In terms of production, do you have a preference for certain tools, or synths, analogue or digital?
My production setup is extremely minimal, I literally make most of my tunes on a shitty laptop and headphones. I’ve had the whole studio setup before, but I’ve got accustomed to working on the go, so I like to have everything portable. I terms of synths and hardware I don’t really mess around that much, sound design isn’t my strength, I mainly do sample based production, it works better for me in terms of workflow and I can get a more authentic sound somehow.
For sure, the potential for sampling has gone through the roof since the MPC days, nowadays you can take a micro-second vocal snippet, or field recording and twist them into a pad or a gnarly bass line.
That’s it yea, you can almost go crazy with sound design with samples themselves, I used to really like using Native Instruments plugins, but I don’t really need it now. My computer’s too shit to handle it anyway (laughs).
Is there anything in particular outside of music that feeds back into your creative process?
I’d say that music production is a ritual need in my life, otherwise I start going a bit loopy, it’s my creative outlet. I feel fulfilled when I sit down and make a bunch of tracks that I enjoy, I see myself moving forward in terms of accomplishment. I don’t know where that inspiration comes from, it’s something I’ve always done and always will do I think.
You have briefly mentioned to me before that you focus on the atmospheres or feelings in the music that you make rather than becoming hung up on the bpm. Do you ever see yourself potentially branching out further afield in the musical spectrum? Personally I feel as if your minimal, clean, bass driven production style could lend itself quite well to techno.
I guess I’ve been experimenting more and more with different styles and sounds, moving to Melbourne I’ve become more and more influenced by the techno sound. I like to think of myself as somewhat of a cross-over artist. I’ll use techno influence and inspiration in dubstep tracks, even the Raindance EP is quite techno-y in terms of atmosphere and groove. Who knows I might be making ambient jazz in the future, no one knows (laughs).
You have mentioned your interest in dub techno a few times now, is that something you have always been inspired by?
It’s actually quite a new influence for me, since moving to Melbourne I guess. I’ve always been interested in the techno sound, like old Hessel Audio, Hotflush, Addison Groove, 2562, all of that really meditative sound, it’s always appealed to me. Since moving here I’ve branched out and found artists like Deadbeat, Rhythm & Sound, Basic Channel. Also all the stuff on Punch Drunk has been a huge inspiration to me, and it’s all starting to tie in now. I feel like Melbourne is really helping to shape my style.
What specifically do you think has shaped your style in your relocation from New Zealand to Melbourne?
I was living in Auckland, and I feel like the music scene there is great in some areas, and not so great in others. It’s kinda limited because it’s quite small, we don’t get all the big artists coming through. Whereas Melbourne is a real hub of music for international producers and DJs. I’ve seen some great techno acts since I’ve come here, which has helped me explore deeper into that sound in a supportive community. There are so many great artists and creatives around that you can bounce ideas off of. Being surrounded by likeminded people and crews is helping shape my sound, would like to say thanks to Modern Hypnosis, Bare Vibes, Scott, Monty, Fraser and Sandra.
Do you have a favourite place to perform in terms of clubs, raves, festivals, countries or otherwise?
Obviously I’ve had a few gigs with Perverse around New Zealand, and my favourite place to play has definitely been Christchurch. Because there is such a strong scene down there, people are so interested in coming along, there is such a vibe. Not to mention getting to play on Subtle Sound System, I haven’t had the opportunity to play on the Eyes Down Sound System yet, but every gig I’ve been to down there has just been amazing. Ryan from Subtle used to book us a fair amount back in the day, we played a couple of shows for him supporting the likes of Youngsta, J:Kenzo, Distance. That rig is just insane, I love it man.
If you had to pick, what would be the best gig you have ever seen?
For live music it would have to be Radiohead, I saw them in Auckland, that was amazing, a huge inspiration. DJ wise, I recently saw Deadbeat and Tikiman play together, that was pretty awesome. They are really different, sorta dub-techno stuff, but its where my interest is sorta heading towards. Other than that, I would have to say… tough question. I saw J:Kenzo in Christchurch, which was such a varied set, it was very fluent even though he plays a range of different styles. Also I saw Mala in Auckland, which would have to be one of the best sets I’ve ever seen.
A track… by your favourite new artist: Another Channel – Deep Space that always gets the rewind treatment: Objekt – The Goose That Got Away you would like to remix: I’d love to have a crack at Aerial – Rhythm & Sound, probably unachievable but one can hope. you’ve been opening your sets with: I’ve been finding that now I like to open my sets with some slow bpm stuff, I’ve been making a bit of dub techno from around 110-130 bpm, and then slowly bring it up to 140. Otherwise I’ll transition from 140 to 170, but it depends. I get sent a lot of good music, and I’m quite active with making songs myself, so I’ve always got something fresh to play.