Cxemcast 074 – Cassius Select
How did you go about recording this mix?
The mix starts off at around 100BPM, there's just a lot of tunes that I liked for a while. I try to showcase other people's music, so there are some tunes by people I'm sort of friends with, like Galtier, a Melbourne guy who is, I think, based in London right now. At some point it switches and goes into 130 stuff: there's this tune by Tom and Jarred, really close friends of mine. Tom does Cop Envy, Jarred does DJ Plead, and together they are doing a collaborative EP — 3 songs which are going to come out on Decisions. That was a template for the rest of the mix — just really tough 130 stuff, nothing too loud.
I hear African and Brazilian sounds in there which I really enjoy. How did you encounter them personally?
I love stuff that is just drums, and that seems to be happening a lot now with these really tonal drums. I've always been into drums that have a melodic tone. A lot of it might come from growing up with hip-hop which is so ingrained in my brain: I'm constantly looking for those sound templates, and I really respond to them. The first dance music I heard as such was The Chemical Brothers' song “Block Rockin' Beats”, but then I've gotten more into hip-hop, which sometimes feels like the most advanced type of dance music even though we don't categorize it in that zone. I feel like if you play some of those beats in the club, it will go off.
Also, I am living in Sydney, where techno and house scene is massive, as I'm sure it is in Europe. Jarred and I, and to some extent Tom, make music that is kind of swung in different ways partly in response to that. Not that I don't like house or techno, It's just tiring to hear it all the time. It’s the same with every genre of music: if you hear it for 3 hours, you're like “pff, I'm done”.
I read that your older sibling is a drummer, do you think it had any influence on you?
Yeah, I think so. He would always talk about the groove in the music. Also, just hearing the drums live all the time and feeling how powerful that is made me attracted to breakbeat kind of stuff. There's so much feel in that. Not that you can't get that in electronic drums, but there's so much information in those frequencies!
Does your brother live in Canada where your parents are?
Yes, and my other brother lives there. I'm about to go back to Canada, I'm just living here in Sydney for about 7 years. After high school, I came here to study drawing and painting but the music sort of took off, so I just leaned more towards that and then started making dance music.
Australia doesn’t immediately strike me as an electronic music hub. What’s the scene like in Sydney?
I've been here for 7 years and saw a lot of changes. When I first got to Australia, people were just starting to play with laptops and have PCs or drum machines live, mimicking what was happening in LA — Brainfeeder kind of stuff, really beats-y, hip-hop-y. That genre of music was getting big, and then there was a chillwave thing, which was super weird. Then a lot of people started making dance music.
I think Sydney has this thing where it doesn't know what it is. It's not New York or London, but it wants to feel that way, wants to have that sense of identity, so it looks onto these other scenes. It tried to be like someone else, but I think that's changed throughout the past 4–5 years. It has settled with trying to be itself and sometimes it's a bit shit, music doesn't sound good or people are a bit weird, and then other times it's good. So, it's a mixed bag of stuff.
There's a lot of different types of scenes here, but I can't speak for the rest of Australia. At least people that are close to me — namely, Jarred, and Tom, and Sam who does logic1000 — are in a loose sense a scene. We're all friends, we share the musical taste, and we're all really close. I can safely say that it feels like its own thing, even though it's really insular.
Could you explain the lockout laws? They are soon to be scrapped, but how did they affect the nightlife in Sydney when they were first implemented?
It was like four-five years ago. At 1 AM you couldn't go in or outside the club — if you left, you couldn't go back. It killed a lot of nightlife and everything moved out towards the suburbs. There were a few more warehouse parties, and they would get shut down sometimes. A lot of stuff happened in Marrickville, which is like an inner-city area with a lot of warehouses. Sometimes it would be like 50 people, sometimes 100 or 300, roughly. That was a weird time.
Apart from the legislation, what are the main difficulties the Australian scene and local artists face?
If you make music that is not house or techno, you might not get the pool you want. For example, DJ Plead will be able to play shows in Europe or Asia, but then will find it quite hard to get bigger shows in Australia. There's a big house and techno scene, but the scene of people who are into, for lack of a better word, “deconstructed club music” is small. And also, just paying rent [is difficult]. Sydney is quite an expensive city to live in, and it can be hard to put on shows and make a return on that.
But then again, I was living in Toronto for like a year — and there's basically one venue called Bambi's where you might find music that we are into. It’s hard to put on shows there. People try to organize warehouse parties, but cops shut it down, and it's really hard to make money. You have to rent a sound system, a door person, etc. whereas Sidney has a few venues that have an okay system. So here’s the contrast. I always thought Sydney was not great for dance music, but compared to Toronto it's pretty good, there's an infrastructure to sustain something.
How did you get into the club scene?
I've been making music since I was 13. When I was in Australia studying I started sending out music to blogs and then, weirdly enough, some of that stuff took off. It wasn't even great music, but I was very lucky that people were like “yeah, we'll put it up”. This was under a different, sort of electronica, act. I started playing shows, club stuff started to happen more. I had no idea about dance music then, I was a total idiot. I heard a bit of house and thought “pff, I can make this” and started making house music without really knowing why. And then, I discovered more dance music, like dubstep, garage, and footwork, and started to understand what type of music I want to create.
Also, one thing about Sydney. When I got here, there was more of a crossover between live bands, electronic acts and experimental stuff. You could see all that shit in one night in a gallery or something. Weird gigs would happen. Now it doesn't: it's either club shit or bands.
What do you think happened?
Club music just started becoming really big internationally, so maybe it overtook other things and people were like “fuck all this experimental stuff!”
Where do you place yourself as a performer in all this?
With Cassius Select, it’s club music, I just DJ. I used to do a live show where I'd play two drum machines and mix tracks in and out, but it was complicated, and I just like dancing. If you're a DJ or producer and you're not really into dancing, I feel a bit suss about it.
I DJ, and if there's a certain groove or certain pocket I like in the song, I'll groove to that just to let the audience know, especially if it's a weird groove. It sounds belittling, but it's just showcasing what I like about music. You're behind decks, there's already so much mediating your interaction with the audience — but it seems to be changing, DJs are now performing in their own way, dancing to the music or reacting to drops. That is sick, I'm into showing your physical reaction to things. You can just stand still, the music will do the work, but it's cool when you can see that bounce back between the DJ and the audience.
However, this other act, called BV, that I do with Jarred and Marcus, is very performance-heavy. Marcus sings in it, Jarred, who's DJ Plead, plays the beats and I also do some singing and rapping. Someone described it once as “three ethnic guys doing ‘Prodigy’”. Not a great description, but kind of accurate. That's more like shouting and dancing and sweating, being really full-on. That's super fun because I'm not doing it alone, someone else's there — and there's energy, we are putting our hearts out there. Also, performing alone is quite nerve-wracking for me, but when I do it with BV all that stuff goes away. You’ve got people backing you.
I was able to find your other alias Guerre, is that the electronica act you mentioned earlier? How do you feel about it now?
Yeah, I feel sentimental about it. I listen to that stuff and I just think "wow”. I would sing about love and shit, and I'd never been in a relationship. You just have these ideas of what pop music should be like and you sing about this stuff that you hadn't really gone through. There's a real innocence in that music, and now I'm just cynical as fuck.
I also really like the first BV record. That was at a time when we didn't really know what we were doing. The record doesn't sound experimental, but it is very dynamic. We had no rules. We were trying a lot of shit, sort of “oh, this sounds cool". No context to things, we were just like “this is fun,” not trying to be cohesive.
There's also FAKE, which is more vocal-based and less dance music-y.
How did you come up with the name for this last one?
The FAKE project was me trying to do rap stuff. I was living in Sydney for a bit, and all this local rap scene started to get huge in Toronto. At that point, I was feeling quite homesick. I felt a yearning to be back in Toronto and do that thing. I wanted to be a part of that scene, but there wasn't anything like that in Sydney. I called the project FAKE because I didn't feel like I was from Toronto, so it's not authentic. Even though amazing shit was happening, I jumped that boat. By the way, that's why my Instagram name is Screwyville, which is a reference to Toronto because one of its names was the Screwface Capital.
Where do you feel at home? Is it Sydney?
Fuck… Sydney is, by all means, my home, because I spent most of my adult life here. But Toronto as well, I'm trying to get to know Toronto again. It will always be my family home, but I made my friends in Sydney, I grew up as an adult here. Two different homes, I guess.
What does having several creative aliases mean to you?
Well, Guerre was electronica pop stuff and then I thought “I don't want to make this type of shit anymore”. I didn't want that name to have a continuum, I just wanted to cut that off and start fully fresh. Same with the FAKE thing, if you really want to say a certain type of thing, it's easier if you have a clean slate. But then again, saying that, I really like a lot of artists who just do everything. Now that I think about it, to end a project and start again is not the most tactful thing to do. But it's fun because you're able to build your own world. Cassius Select is club stuff, it's drum-heavy, that is its own thing, FAKE is experimental and a bit more left-leaning. You can be more focused this way.
What is your music motivated by in the present?
I think it's less romantic now, less emotionally driven and more technically driven — certain grooves that I like, certain BMPs that I know will work, certain sounds that fit together. I think that's a part of being a DJ, you have a certain sense of taste and then with electronic music it's so easy, you can just go “here are some signifiers I like, here are some references.” You can just curate those sounds into a thing and make it work. So, it's less romantic but I'm also not devoid of trying to give it a soul. Technical things like a groove or a tone are already so emotionally loaded. Like, an 808 sound on its own — that's enough information for me, I've got so much to work with. So, it's about arranging those things into something that feels like it's saying something.
Interviewed by Maria Ustimenko.