Sam. When you were a kid what did you answer to the question ‘What will you be when you grow up?'
Baobinga: I wanted to be a designer / engineer – I wanted to build cool things like ships and bikes and planes! I was, and still am, a geek.
So you never thought about being a musician in your childhood?
Baobinga: Not really – I grew up playing piano and drums but I don't think I saw it as being something I wanted to do professionally. Weird huh…
Not really, as for a kid. And how did it all start for you musically? So that you started to do it.
Baobinga: Well like I say, I grew up playing classical piano. Then I started playing drums, and played in various bands and orchestras. But from quite a young age I was obsessed with synthesizers – I used to drag my mum into the music shop and reverentially look at the synths in there. So I think that is where the seeds of electronic music making came from. I also managed to persuade my parents to get me an atari and a yamaha dx11 at quite an early age and I used to mess around with those, not really knowing what I was doing though.
Who influenced you as a young man musically? Who are still in the favorites, who are you listening to now?
Baobinga: Well, when I was an angry 14 yr old, I used to like metal – but that hasn't really lasted! I think a big turning point for me was listening to the first Placebo album a lot, and then hearing jungle and techno, and realizing that every song on the Placebo album kind of sounded the same, but all this electronic stuff sounded completely different – you weren't limited to drums, guitars and bass. And I still love jungle and techno
Your name sounds like your own perky drum rhythms! What is the significance of your name 'Baobinga'? How did you come by it?
Baobinga: Well, I spent 6 months teaching English in Shanghai, and I had a drink that was kind of a pineapple smoothie – and I think it was called a Baobinga... But when I came home and did my first demo, I had no idea what to call myself
plus I thought no one would sign anything from it so I would have time think of a decent name that people could spell and pronounce. Sadly, but also happily, a label called up and said they loved the demo, and really liked the name! So from then I was stuck with it.
Ok. Tell me, where do you find inspiration for your music?
Baobinga: The need to pay the rent each month! And travelling, reading, meeting people, just life. I get itchy if I can't write music. And as a dj you need fresh tunes, so that is a motivator too. I was thinking about this the other day actually. Basically, my job is to sit down each day and create something that excites me and makes me want to go crazy. Pretty cool for a job description :)
Sound's like not a bad life!
Baobinga: Ha-ha that's the good side! The down side is general lack of financial security (gigs get cancelled, laptops break etc). And the sense that any time you relax and stop working, you stop earning. So the cool part is very cool. But the bad part can be really stressful. But I am not complaining!
So, 'music is all your life'?
Baobinga: Yeah it's definitely a massive part of it. Possibly too much sometimes – it's easy to neglect friendships and relationships. But on the flip, it is great to have something you are passionate about and can be so involved with.
The fact that you work with different styles is impressive. Your set in Kiev in 2009 was an absolute riot of sound. It had amazing energy. All of your releases sound different. Are you able to describe your own sound?
Baobinga: Thank you, I’m glad you liked it! I guess the main thread running through what I do is good drums and percussive energy – as a drummer originally, I really think a great drum track can have an amazing effect on humans – we’ve been dancing to drums for thousands of years! I also try to avoid the overly obvious, without being overly intellectual about it. And I also enjoy mixing sounds and styles that have links, but the links are maybe not so obvious.
By the way – do you always have the track lists of your sets?
Baobinga: Not usually. I play a lot of tunes so it’s hard to remember.
So in start of your set you always don't know what would you play?
Baobinga: I try and work that way – I mean I have some ideas about who things will work and what direction to go, but it’s open to change. Like I often try and start slower and build it up. But if the guy before me is playing very hard that might not work. Basically I try to keep it fresh for me, so it’s fun, and fresh for the crowd, so they don’t have the sense that I am just going through the motions and playing a set that could just be from a mix CD. The whole point of playing live, whether as a band or a dj, is that there is the potential to make mistakes. If you remove that you have perfection – but perfection can be sterile and dull.
What difficulties have you faced as a budding musician and producer?
Baobinga: Well getting started is difficult because you have to persuade someone to invest money and time into an unknown brand. Once I got over that hump, the next problem tended to be that I don’t want to fit in with the mainstream, and the tendency is for people to generally want more of what they already know. Then I had the problem of being known for making breaks, and breaks becoming an 'creatively challenged' genre – so I had to work hard to show that I was versatile and was just about good music, not fitting into that genre and that genre alone. And now the main issue is that the music industry is in, at best, a state of major change, and at worst, complete collapse.
It is interesting to know how you perceived the music business when you first became involved and how your perception of it has changed over time. Has the reality of the music business lead you to become disillusioned in any way?
Baobinga: Some things don't change – if someone like joker comes along, and writes something completely game-changing, they will do well. But it is constantly depressing seeing people who essentially create a knock off or watered down sound, succeeding by appealing to a lowest common denominator, and through using good marketing. Music can be something special and amazing, or it can be a cynical exercise in marketing and promotion. I guess a balance between the two is ideal Haha.
But how we could find that balance?
Baobinga: You can't, it evolves. Good ideas come along. People imitate. The sound gets popular. It gets watered down. The people who wan something fresh start something new and exciting. The whole thing repeats.
There is a perception, amongst many people, that if you are starting a career in music or Djing in England then success is a foregone conclusion. What are your thoughts about this perception?
Baobinga: I can assure you that is not the case. Everyone wants to be a dj or a producer. The competition is immense. Most don’t get anywhere near being able to make a survival level of income from music. Even getting to the point where you can pay your rent and food is incredibly difficult and involves huge amounts of work, and a fair bit of luck. In some ways, if you are a city outside of England, you have an advantage in that you can create a scene yourself and put yourself at the centre of it. If you are the only person in Kiev pushing bass music, you are unique. If you are pushing bass music in Bristol there are a hundred other people trying to do the same thing.
Can you give an insight into the diversity of the electronic music scene in the UK? Which styles are the most popular right now?
Baobinga: In terms of non-house or techno, big noisy dubstep has taken over – it’s the default dance music for most students for example, drum and bass is still massive. And probably happy hardcore still packs arenas out, but I don't know anything about that!
Heh lucky country!
Baobinga: Well yes and no. It's just the problem of only one sound dominating. People think that that is all there is to dance music – that one thing. Ideally they would look beyond that. But you can't force that to happen.
Sam, you've played in many countries. Was there a big difference between the musical atmosphere and feedback of the public in your gigs in different cities?
Baobinga: Yeah definitely. I was in Germany and they loved anything with a solid 4/4 kick, and they enjoyed the slower stuff, whereas in the UK at the moment, it can feel like people are just waiting for the dubstep. Also in the UK stuff with caribbean vocals works really well, as we have such a strong caribbean musical influence. But abroad those tunes may be a bit lost. But I would like to think that if you present what you do well enough, you can play pretty much anything to anyone. You just have to find a way to give it context.
Tell me about your label – Build. Why did you decide to create it?
Baobinga: I'd wanted to do a label for a long time but I couldn't think exactly what I'd put on it. But then recently it seemed like people have got a lot more open to different styles mixed up. Which suits me as one of the reasons I didn't do a label was I didn't want to be stuck with one sound. So when I started Build, it felt like the right time, because I had started to get a reputation as someone who did a variety of music, and so I was able to reflect that in the label. It's great to have a home for your music as well. Without having to worry about dealing with other labels.
If we are talking about full album releases we should talk about the collaboration between Baobinga and I.D. You have collaborated on two albums, singles and EP's. How long have you worked together? How did you first meet and begin working together?
Baobinga: Word to Ed!
I.D.: We met in university. We were doing the same course, which was Music, Acoustics, and Recording, in Manchester. We chatted, realized we were into the same kind of music – all the usual stuff. So we decided we should write some music. Our first tune was this pretty bad jungle track. Then there was a fairly bad breaks track. And then we moved into the same house.... Sam had a demo signed, we both had jobs, so it took a long time for us to start writing together properly and effectively. But once we were living in the same house I guess it was inevitable that we would write together eventually!
Your release 'Bass Music Sessions' is of special interest. There have been very few musicians who have released songs for free. Why did you decide to release it for free?
I.D.: Well, we were in a funny position – we had been writing a lot of tracks in a lot of styles, but we were still mainly associated with breaks and dubstep. So we weren't sure what to do with them. We'd sent them out to people, and there were a couple of house labels that wanted to release the house tracks, some dnb labels that were interested in releasing the dnb tracks, and so on... But we figured that would be a long and slow process, and we weren't sure that it would really help our profiles anyway. Like, an average house fan would never have heard of us before – then we'd release one single on one house label and then probably nothing else for a year or two. So we wouldn't build up a profile in any of these scenes. So, we thought we should make it all into an album that covered all styles – but we didn't really know any labels that were interested. So that's one part. On the other hand, we had the blog, and we'd given away a couple of free tracks, mainly to promote the blog site, rather than to promote ourselves (they were exclusive to our blog) – but one day I decided to try and promote the track too. So I went online and found maybe 50 blogs, and I emailed them all with this track. Lots of them posted it, and it got picked up from there – it was even featured on the website of a national UK newspaper. They had found it on one of the blogs. So that gave me the idea – I spent one day promoting that one track. What would happen if I spent a lot more time promoting a whole album? So, we had a whole album ready to go, it was unsigned, and I quite liked the idea of promoting a free album...
50 blogs! Huge
I.D.: Haha that was just the start. I really went to town on the full album. Probably sent it to 300 or 400 blogs. Plus magazines. Newspapers. I spent maybe 3-4 weeks in total. It was good. I think it helped that the idea of 'established artists' giving away a free album was still pretty new. So that helped coverage – we managed to get a review in the magazine iDJ. a little piece in DJ Mag later on. But then – a lot of that was also helped by the fact that we had already spent 5 years releasing music normally. So we knew some journalists, because they'd met us or reviewed us before.
About your promo... I know that you did a 'Diary of free album'. Is it a promotional device or marketing tool? Or is it another way of exploring how you are involved in the creative process?
I.D.: It was all 3! I wanted to explain it to people, and create a narrative
Do you write it still?
I.D.: I did one post recently. I still do if there is any news. But yeah, my 'clever plan' was that if I did this diary, then on one level, it would help promote the album – every week there's a link and a nice big piece about the album. On another level, it promotes the blog, because it's interesting content. But on a third, it could go 'viral' – because it's really about the new music industry. So I promoted the diary on a lot of industry sites. Hoping that they would see it and discuss it on their sites, so it would get attention from people who don't normally read about UK dance music.
What was the reaction of other musicians to the fact, that you released the free album? Where there not only good comments?
I.D.: It was very good – most people thought we were crazy to give it away for free! If people were unhappy, then they didn't tell us! I can understand that people might have seen it as something that devalues music. But at the same time, I think everybody understands that it's 100% possible to find any music you want for free. And if people pay for music, it's because they've taken a decision not to get it for free. Oh yeah – I forgot one other reason for giving away it for free, which was that we'd had some bad luck with labels and stuff before this. Labels going bust. Distributors going bust. Labels being shady and not paying us the money they should have paid. So we'd had lots of releases which were not free, but we didn't get any money anyway! And the first album, that had been screwed when the distributor went bankrupt
So you got nothing to lose.
I.D.: Exactly. With the first album, I don't know how many it sold, but I know it did plenty of CDs. So there's a situation where people who like our music are paying for it. Between them, our fans are paying thousands or tens of thousands of pounds for our music. The shop gets money, the taxman gets money, the distributor gets money blah blah, we get nothing. So we figured if we get nothing, it should be at least because it was free!
Why do you think it is that people voluntarily pay for music that is available freely?
I.D.: That's slightly difficult to answer for us. I would say that in general, people pay (a bit) for free stuff because they understand the need to support the artists. The people who pay, they understand the need, and also want to support the artists! For us, that was about 8 - 10% of downloaders. But we made it clear that if people were going to donate, it would go to charity. So we don't know if that made more people - or less people – donate
While Sam is distracted for a phone call… Tell me Ed, why are you I.D? I mean the name.
I.D.: It’s the worst name in history. But basically, I wanted to be Ed B. Just my real name. But when we got signed the label already had Ed209 and Ed Solo, so they said they didn't want another Ed! So I had to come up with something new in one day. And I.D. was the best thing I could think of. It's actually a terrible name because you can't google for it!
Like... it's identifier.
I.D.: Yeah. I quite like that angle. Like in the UK there's a big political issue. ID cards, cctv monitoring, All that.
Sam, why do you think it is that people voluntarily pay for music that is available freely?
Baobinga: Yeah technically, there is no need to do that – but I think if people like the music someone makes, paying for it is a way for them to 'buy into' that artist and his career – you're saying that you care enough about what they do to show some tangible support, and that feels good for people. As Ed mentioned, there is also a growing understanding that creating music is not free – even if you stole your laptop and used cracked software, just the amount of time you need to invest in creating and promoting your music adds up to a significant sum. So hopefully as people start to have a more mature understanding of issues like this, they'll move to a more mature understanding of why paying for music is important – and this may involve using free downloads as a 'sampler' and then going back and paying for the music, or downloading the MP3 for free but then investing in a high quality vinyl copy of the record, or whatever. I guess it is easy to see stealing music as a great way to get one over the evil music industry – that's a great meme. But for people like me and Ed, we are effectively a tiny cottage industry all on our own – we don't blow huge sums of money on limousines or cocaine, we're generally happy when we pay the rent on time and can maybe take a girl out for some chips! So whatever you think about 'Britney Spears doesn't need the money', your favorite underground electronic artists almost certainly does, and if you like their music, paying for it is a relatively inexpensive way of investing in the whole process. I could go on, but that's probably enough!
So in this case. Tell me, what is your opinion concerning the further development of the music business? Do you need intermediaries like record companies or online stores such as the iTunes Music Store? I mean, if you want to be sold you must sign a contract with a company that has a contract with the Music Store. So the independent musician does not automatically falls into the large distribution system...
I.D.: You will definitely need some help, somewhere! At least, for the next few years. Right now, even if you start your own label, you'll still need to be on iTunes and Beatport, because that is where most people buy their music. So for people to find you, then you have to be prepared to do business with them; and they take a large %. But to get on those sites, you'll need to go through a distributor, and they take a % too. But I think sites like Bandcamp.com are going to help change this, slowly. It's a popular site, it looks professional and as more musicians use it, I think music fans will become more comfortable with the idea of paying for music through Bandcamp (with paypal). But then – the problem is being found!
It's like a market where you buy direct from the manufacturer?
I.D.: Yes that's right. Bandcamp takes a cut -– it's 15%, and then paypal takes about 5% too. But it's much much better than iTunes and a distributor taking 50%. but then you have the problem that there are 1000000000000 musicians who all want to sell their music. It's very difficult to find them, or to be seen above everyone else.
It's a fact that the global music industry is centered around the US and Great Britain. Do you think this puts musicians from other countries at a disadvantage?
I.D.: I think it probably does, yes. I think it's two-sided. Firstly, yeah I think that UK and US music often has this 'authenticity' that can be difficult to achieve from another country. But then that's because of the roots of the cultures. i.e. dubstep is basically a music culture from London – so when you hear about a Swedish DJ, you wonder whether they would really have the connection with the music. The same as if you heard, I don't know a Canadian reggae band. So in a way, for music that starts in the US and GB it's easier for musicians from these countries. However, there is an awful lot of competition in the UK. Here in Bristol, you need to be quite a big name just to play a small show in your home town – it's not unusual to see 10 of the biggest names all playing in one weekend. But from travelling, I've met guys in some countries who are not known producers, but they play all the time. Like in Czech Republic, I was living there for a while. Because the scene is quite small, a producer who has released two or 3 singles can be playing all around the country and become quite well known. In the UK, two or 3 singles is nothing.
What is your attitude to music in the movie? Why do you think there are no electronics in the soundtracks except breakbeat, disco-house and electro?
Baobinga: I think that there is going to be a massive coming together of electronic music and film making, but it won't be dance music so much as stuff like Ben Frost, Fenesz etc. – people making highly charged and intense music that involves a lot of electronic treatment but is not 'dance' music. You have to remember that while it can transcend its functionality, dance music is designed to fulfil a need – it is music to dance to. Therefore it comes with fair amount of baggage – associations about how and where it is consumed. Which can be a bit of a hindrance in terms of creating a mood in a film.
Not so long ago you wrote on your twitter about the 5th Build release. Tell me about it. What to expect? Any collaborations?
Baobinga: Yeah! This one is me and Hyetal collaborating on both sides, and I am really excited about this one. It was a great process working with Dave, I think we both pushed each other – I definitely learned a lot as Dave's natural instinct is to remove things, and mine is to add stuff. I think both tracks are great examples of when a collaboration works really well – you can hear elements of both our styles in there, but it doesn't sound like a simple equation of 'Baobinga + Hyetal = these tunes'. The artwork is great as well!
When it comes out?
Baobinga: Hopefully the end of January for vinyl, with digital shortly after. Start the year with something quality, and take it from there!
text — Anna Maslennikova