Freq Nasty, one of the veterans and pioneers of the underground music movement, takes the time to sit down with MXDWN and talk about everything from his discrepancies with the music business to the advent of his own music.
I saw you perform at Burning Man last year for the first time. It was great, but I’m curious how you manage to keep all of your equipment protected from the elements in the middle of the desert.
I use the same equipment I use for regular shows, but I wrap everything in plastic. I don’t know how people manage to keep CD players and the like going out there, but everyone seems to make it through in the end.
What is your favorite venue sound system to play at?
In terms of most reliable, it’s probably Fabric in London. They’ve built their reputation on it and they are always updating their equipment. On this tour, yesterday we played in San Francisco at 1015 Folsom.
That place is fantastic. The sound and lighting and everything is just perfect there.
Yeah, they did something similar for Chinese New Year.
At what point in your career did you realize that making music could go from a passionate hobby to a full time job?
I never really did much else but make music. I always thought it was what I was going to be doing. But you make a good point, I was doing music without getting paid for a long time. I remember the first time I put 10 pounds worth of petrol in the car. It was a mini Metro made in like 1982, which I’m sure you don’t see over here. But I usually would only put 2 or 3 pounds in at a time, so I remember getting paid for a DJ gig and putting 10 pounds in and thinking I had finally made it. Its then when I thought I might be able to make a living out of it, but the people who do that are often the people who would be doing it for nothing. That’s what makes an artist.
How long were you doing that before being really discovered?
Well, I’ve been in and out of bands since high school, but as far as producing original tunes, 6 or 7 years. I probably put in 10,000 hours.
What new content coming out of yours are you excited about?
I just did a single for Moving Music, who do a lot of the glitch-hop. It was great to work with them and I feel privileged to appear on that label. I do a lot of work with Skin Records and the last mix album I did was for Fabric Lies. The last single I did with Moody Records. Essentially though, as an underground artist, it makes more sense to do it yourself. Unless you make a pop record, usually labels can’t sell more records and will take 80% anyway.
Why do you find that labels can’t sell more records?
Because kids don’t give a shit how many posters you put up when they are immune to advertising. You can’t put bullshit everywhere and expect them to buy it. The LPs are for discerning music lovers, while some people here crap on the radio and go, “Oh, it must be good because it’s on the radio.” It’s a different game. It’s narrowcasting now and not broadcasting. You have to target the right people with the music they love. It’s a different paradigm.
It’s a shame that diehard fans of the underground can’t hear their favorite tunes on the radio. But with the advent of the internet, I think it’s made things like self promotion a lot easier while disarming smaller labels.
The record I did for Skin came out worldwide, but the people from Sonic get it when they have Mariah Carey’s album coming out the week before, so they send out a press release and, goodbye, it’s gone. As far as underground music goes, it’s just a partnership, not like you’re signing a big deal with them. I haven’t got time to handle the business stuff so they do that and I make records and it comes together. There are a certain amount of expenses but after that it’s 50/50. Fair enough. They are working really hard and you’re working really hard. It’s a partnership and it’s a good way to do it.
Does it feel like a huge wait lifted when you are free to make music knowing the promotional aspect is taken care of?
Definitely. With things like the rise in social networks…
Record companies just don’t exist anymore…
Yeah, and I can see somewhere in the future when a band includes an online social network person who handles all of that stuff while you only work with the labels if you really want to. It’s a lot of work, and the reason I could sit in the studio and smoke a bunch of weed for 12 hours a day and not worry about other shit back in the day was because I had a label and a manager who could do the industry work. Those same labels are now struggling, but the upside to that is that everyone is listening to everything now. Kids nowadays will have on their iPods a deathmetal tune next to a dubstep tune and they don’t give a shit. They just want music that they like.
I was talking to Escape the Fate who release an EP with their rock songs remixed by several DJs in order to reach a broader audience. Robert Ortiz told me that people who normally wouldn’t listen to their music heard the LA Riots remix of their song and now Escape the Fate is the only rock band they enjoy.
It’s a great way to reach a wider audience.
And if people want to remix your songs, they will just go ahead and remix them anyway.
Yeah. Also, a lot of people do little booties and chuck them out on blogs and stuff. I’ll never see it and the label will never see it but they can play it even tough you’ll sign up for like 15% or something like that. I’m used to this old school paradigm where there is this saying: Working with a label is like kind of like a bank lending you money to buy a house, then when you finish paying them off they say, “Oh, by the way, we still own the house.” That deal wouldn’t exist in any other industry and it’s no surprise that this paradigm had ended now. There are a lot of different concepts now so who knows what it’ll be like in five years time.
Are you dealing with these record companies directly?
I have an agent in the UK and an agent in North America and I have a PR producer who I work with in between them. This idea if you’re trying to go pop or go big, that’s great, but for me, I make underground music. I don’t inspire to be Oakenfold or anything like that. You don’t make underground music for money, you do it for the passion, and I can tell you right now you won’t get rich doing it.
Still, underground music is rising in popularity recently. With that in mind, what will become the new underground?
There are always a wave of guys coming through. For me, I saw the cycles of underground music 10 years ago my first press release. After the first 5 years there was another scene. Then 3 years, then 2 years. It’s happening quicker and quicker. There will be something else coming up in a years time. Pop culture is eating itself more and more quickly. Next you’ll hear Brittany making a record with a dubstep sound. Then a new scene will come out six months later. As it changes faster and faster there will always be guys peeking out of the underground.
What will be the next wave of popular music?
Remember when Jungle first started in the mid to late 90s and it was coming out of London and into America and it was underground? The idea of a pop artist making a jungle beat was ridiculous. It was way too fast, though you could hear the influences in Timberland’s music for example, like a half time version, but you wouldn’t hear a straight jungle record. Now, how long has dubstep been in America, 3 or 4 years? And it’s in a Brittany record! So now popular artists aren’t waiting for the music to become popular, instead they are reaching into the underground and taking some of those vibes, and I think you’ll be seeing more of that because everyone is listening to everything now they are not offended by something they haven’t heard before. I did a bit of production with a friend of mine in London, and we’re dealing with one of the record company owners there who shall remain nameless, and his classic quote when he would hear something from one artist was, “People only want a little bit of originality.” But now, you listen to American music and Brittany will put a dubstep sound in her record! There will be more and more of that. You know the kids are listening to this shit anyway. In a way, as a society, our minds could be opened by things like the internet. There is such a broad scape of music and anyone has access to it. If I want to find out what are the hottest deathmetal tunes, I don’t have to find some hardcore metalhead, I can just tune into a metal blog.
Shiny Toy Guns told me they were interested in incorporating dubstep into their music.
And that’s great!
As far as new underground music goes, you can only push the experimental envelope so far before people will go, “What the hell is this shit?”
There is a very fine line. Some people can make an amazing hit underground record but they might be eight months too early and when it blows up people go, “Fuck I already made that record!” Timing is very important.
It’s been very enlightening talking to you.
Thank you very much.