Following our third record with Mesck, we thought it was appropriate and timely to interview the Slovenian duo, DubDiggerz. With releases on a new wave of record labels – from Jack Sparrow’s Navy Cut, to Joe Nice’s Gourmet Beats, to Foamplate’s shadowy Plantpower, TRUSIK as well as their own label DeepEnd!, Mark Divjak and Daniel Grintal have proved themselves to be up to the task of carrying dubstep’s torch for new scores of listeners, ravers, DJs, and producers as the genre nears twenty years old. Building and cultivating the dubstep scene in Slovenia first with their DeepEnd! label and events with a creative partnership alongside Boris Sound System, DubDiggerz have built a small, but devoted fan base for the sound in a country that is otherwise not known for its contributions to dubstep. That has changed now – something new has dawned. We sat down with both Dan and Mark and their talk ran the gamut from their approach to production, how TRSK004 came about, cultivating up-and-coming Slovenian producers, and the importance of vinyl records for dubstep.
I was listening through your discography earlier and what I appreciated the most was how each individual track has a completely different style. I was engaged for the entire listen, and I think you guys are really beginning to find your sound.
That’s good for us as artists. It’s hard to say that about the music that you’re writing, but it’s good when you get to that point where people hear a tune and they recognize the style. This is progress for us. We’re both growing together and a little bit older now than when we started six or seven years ago. All the processes weren’t similar in the beginning like now. Of course, each record is something fresh, so we don’t build tracks from a “template”. We always start with a new channel, with a new idea. We start from scratch, then choose a kick, or choose a bass. We always want something new. Each release is a story. I’m glad that you also hear that.
The black and red artwork on TRSK004 is rooted in your original DubDiggerz branding back when Dark Dawn was made, whereas Bōgu is a newer track. It’s evident that in the two years between when these tracks were produced, you have evolved as producers. What was your process with Dark Dawn versus how you approached building Bōgu?
With Dark Dawn we were just siting in the studio making some WIPs, it’s more built-up with samples. Whereas Bōgu was built-up with midis and blank things. In Dark Dawn, you can hear some roots drums, and in Bōgu, you can hear a different digital synthetic sound, which is more operatic like TRUTH.
It has a nice balance to it, just like your Navy Cut EP. ‘Monstera’ reminds me of those DMZ sessions where you would hear loads of new dubs but never find out who they are by, whereas ‘An Mande’ is the perfect swashbuckler for Outlook.
It’s interesting how you mentioned the other labels, as they are also very different compared to the other label bosses. For example, Ryan or Louie or Joe Nice have their own preference. We are just making music. We don’t think, “Okay, we’re going to do this tune for this label”. We just make music and enjoy it. But it’s really interesting how you said for Navy Cut, how every label boss picks a tune because you can already hear. For example, for Plantpower, we were surprised. We remember when somebody cut it from a show onto YouTube and I saw a comment by somebody that said, “This is a new Foamplate tune”. It’s interesting because he [Foamplate] signed it to his label and because of how it ‘sounded’ somebody thought it was him. Foamplate really has a signature sound. So, if you’re coming from a producer’s perspective, you know the difference immediately. You wouldn’t change it. But people who are just listening and enjoying the vibe, it’s actually a good guess because it was released on Plantpower and nobody knew that at that time.
Louie’s got a really good ear for identifying those gems. When I went to SYSTEM in Bristol, he played some new Plantpower tunes and I couldn’t believe the extra level of depth I was hearing, and feeling, because of the power of the system. It’s mind blowing. You’re re-discovering the track for the first time again.
That’s definitely the case with most deeper tunes. They’re not built to be listened on shitty speakers or headphones because you don’t hear it right. When you go to certain clubs and they cut off the sub because of the neighbors, you can’t actually hear the tune because half of it is gone. You get the wrong picture about it.
I wanted to ask you about your crew in Slovenia. Do you think your close connection with DeepEnd! and the Boris Sound System aids your own approach to production – with being able to test your music on Boris and identify any niggles you may have missed in the studio?
It’s definitely helped us, but I think of all the things that you mentioned, it’s helped more with the development of the scene here itself, because when we started here the scene was really small. I think the right word is tiny. I remember the first booking I made with DeepEnd! was Gantz, and that was intentional so people would get something that they are not expecting, which Gantz is. There were 30 people on the dancefloor and when he started there was only 15. When he finished there were only 5 people left in the dance. Some would say, “shit, this isn’t good” but if you’re doing it for the love of music, and the development of the community, it definitely helped.
For example, now we have problems finding a proper venue because with DeepEnd!, we don’t do events without the Boris Sound System. We only do events with proper sound, not with the club’s in-house sound because it’s not the same. Our last event with Egoless was our first event in almost 6 months so we didn’t know what to expect, and whether we were going to get the same support, but it was even better. I think that was down to our good production work, our label, the other artists which are also involved from Slovenia because there’s still a lot of people who don’t know that DeepEnd! is a local thing, even though all seven artists that are on the label are Slovenians. And we’re only signing those seven, that’s it. We’re going to circle all the releases around those seven. It’s also one reason why we [DubDiggerz] don’t have an EP because we want to give the younger producers here to have a chance that we didn’t have when we started seven years ago.
I love that. So you’ve built up a foundation and now curating that platform for the younger generation to keep your scene thriving.
If you look at the dubstep scene in Slovenia today, it’s really only us [DeepEnd!] who are DJ’ing, and we’re all producers too. We come from the point of view that if you want to build the scene, you need to build up the core, and that begins with the music first, and then the sound system, which provides the platform to hear the music as it should be. We started from that. The little push from Dot at the beginning definitely helped us to push even more so we’d develop and so on. She was definitely an inspiration because she started from scratch like we did.
Daniel has a lot of knowledge in production because of his other alias. He’s been making music for 15 years now, but I introduced him to dubstep. Well, he was always listening to “bass music” because we both love dub and reggae, but he was never listening to music like dubstep. He didn’t know anything about it. As for professional skills, Daniel got in to it via techno music, house, dub, reggae, and he was also in a band. He was always looking forward and learning all these things by himself. Whereas with dubstep, Dan was beginning to learn again when I introduced him to it. It was something new, something fresh, and something which was rooted in dub. So, that was how we started. Step by step, we made tracks. We made a lot of test tracks, fast tracks, all kinds of tracks, looking for a direction and a sound. It took two years.
We were satisfied when we made ‘Fire’ and ‘Passion’. They were self-released on the Splash of Fire & Passion EP after we got booked to play at Sea Splash Festival in Pula. They were the first tunes that we cut to dubplate and we got to test them on a custom built sound system at Sea Splash. It made us fall in love with the sound of vinyl. There’s a nice feeling to it, the room, the depth of sound, there’s a warmness that is hard to get from digital tunes, especially for dubstep. Here in Slovenia, a lot of sounds cut the low end from the system and you don’t get the full picture. When people come to the dance, especially someone who is not into dubstep, and there isn’t good sound, there’s less chance they won’t like the genre. But if they come to a night when you have a proper sound system, they will feel the vibe. Come meditate on bass weight. It’s not promotional propaganda. It’s real.
I still remember the time I took my friend to his first SYSTEM night and the look on his face when we entered the room!
This is something that is very important for us because when we’re going to play somewhere, the first thing we do is the sound check. “Is everything okay?” The Technics, the mixer, the sound system. “Is there bass? Is there sub? Is there everything for this genre?”. It’s actually weird how a lot of DJs don’t care about sound checking. For us, it’s one of the most important parts of DJ’ing somewhere. And we always use our needles. We never use club needles, because you know what to expect out of your needle. I don’t think there’s one brand that is only the best. Everybody has their own preference. For example, Joe Nice, he really likes Shure. It’s a different feeling. It’s a preference of first, how the needle goes on the vinyl and second, the sound of the needle. Then, there’s the sound output. If you have needles for €200, usually the sound output is really good. If you buy a pair of Ortofon for €50, €70 that can’t be the same. It’s logical. Not to everybody though, especially when you’re mixing with vinyl. It’s a different sound because of the needle, and how you treat your vinyl, and so on.
How about the mastering of your tracks? Various labels work with different mastering engineers, though it seems most dubstep vinyl labels seem to use Ten Eight Seven. But there’s also Dub Studio, StarDelta, Precise, and of course Transition.
All the records that we first bought from the early DMZ days always had Transition mastering. Again, it’s just preference. We’ve had different mastering engineers. On Plantpower, it was Transition. For Gourmet Beats, it was Ten Eight Seven. We have ultimate respect for these guys. It’s an honour to hear our tracks mastered by these guys who have so much knowledge. It’s also really rewarding for us. Some of them told us that they were really satisfied with the original input from the pre-masters we sent.
Each one of those mastering engineers who have mastered our tracks are special. For example, on the Gourmet Beats release we have three tracks. The first one is Le Hospital, the second Up And Dub VIP and the third is Busted. Busted is something from another spectrum. It’s a cleaner sound, but from the same audio engineer and from the same master engineer. We were satisfied with the output. We always say wow, because Le Hospital is rawer and darker.
But on Busted, we noticed the biggest difference in the mastering, and this was mind-blowing. When we got our master back, it’s like we heard something totally new. You learn for your own production where you may have missed something, and what you can improve. I think it’s a never-ending learning process. You always find some ways to improve your sound and to change it a little bit. Like I said before, on every tune, it’s a different vibe. When you have different vibes, different mastering can make the best out of it.
How do you feel about the masters for Bōgu and Dark Dawn?
It was the same feeling as with Busted in a very, very positive way because it’s an older tune. When you get a mastering back, it makes you happy to play it again. It’s not like we don’t want to play it because it’s old, we always like to play different sets, and of course, we always come back to older stuff. We’re really looking forward to playing the test press at Outlook, especially in the Moat. But yeah, now that we’re hearing it again in its mastered form, we are still proud of it, if you know what I mean.
I’m really happy to hear that.
From our perspective, all the labels that we’ve got involved with has felt like a family. Every label has different approach. You and Jake have one approach. Louie has his own approach. Jack Sparrow definitely has his own approach. As for Joe Nice, his first goal is to promote unknown artists. A lot of guys that were really unknown were first played by Joe. I think we were even first played by Joe.
That’s how I discovered you, I didn’t know who you were before the Gourmet Beats EP.
And Jay [Kenzo], we can’t forget him. Jay is the same. He has a lot of exclusive stuff, but I think he really listens to the music of unknown producers, and he gives them a chance. For example, he played our Up And Dub tune, not the VIP that was released by Gourmet Beats, but the original. It was a free download but he played it anyway. That tells you something about somebody. He doesn’t play it just because it’s exclusive, but he really listens to music and wants to support people.
Before you go I would like to ask, what’s next for DubDiggerz?
One thing that is important to us, maybe it sounds cliché, are vinyl releases. Many artists would like to have a vinyl release for the sake of vinyl, but they don’t play vinyl. I don’t judge that, it’s their decision, but for us it’s a natural step. We play from vinyl. In Slovenia, it’s maybe a little bit different because it’s our playground. Sometimes we use one CDJ just to test our new productions or new DeepEnd! productions, but we feel that when we go outside of Slovenia, and when we represent DubDiggerz or DeepEnd!, the only way to play is from vinyl, and not because we want to be elitist. It’s just a sound preference. It’s the same with releasing music.
And it needs to be fun too. It needs to encourage us to move forward, work harder, explore more, learn new things. We just want to do our thing. We’ve been around for seven years now, and we hope we’ll keep on doing it for the next seven or more. We wish of course, to get more gigs, get more signings. That’s just part of the process and how everybody wishes it to be. There is no bigger plan or anything. We just want to enjoy it and have fun in between. When we look back on it after 20 years, we want to be able to say, “Wow, that was a really great ride”.