Conrank’s name came out when he was just starting a new project with Killa Kela, the duo needed to have a name for the new project, they were looking for names that would flow well with Killa Kela’s, playing with ideas, he step into MC Conrad’s, one of his favorites, playing with sounds finally it was the one that the root to his own name.
Conrank gave his first steps into electronic music learning to beatbox by the side of Killa Kela, once he was ready, he toured by Killa Kela’s side. Later he adventured into music media and music promotion, but he never felt totally full filled, until he started to produce his own music. Soon after he became a producer he came to Asia where he met Michael Ohlsson who became soon one of his loyal partners, he came to Shanghai, played at The Shelter, and went back to London as planned, but quickly he decided it was time to move to new lands, and get deeper into producing music, to do so, he chose Shanghai as his base, that was two years ago.
Now Conrank is very well set in Shanghai, he has released already a couple of well recognized EPs, played in several festival, done a lot of great parties, and yet he has much more to pull out of his hat.
We met at his new studio, CTRL Sound Studios, where he will produce more music, share with producers from all around his neighborhood, and do some interesting, and fun hangs with cats that love bass as much as he does.
Layabozi: How did you get to Wo Yao Ni?
Conrank: Well, every time I was riding a taxi, there was this famous ad of a guy with a girl and guy riding around Shanghai, and they used this track, and I kept hearing the chorus. And one time I was hearing it, I was bit-boxing at it, and I started figuring out the tempo, and I realized is drum and bass tempo, it’s 80 85 bpm, so double that, and that’s drum and bass, so I just went in the studio, and I literally did it in two days. It’s probably one of the only tracks I haven’t come back to it, I did it in two days, and that was it, I thought about going back into it, and I have a couple of times, and after 20 minutes I go no, it doesn’t sound the same, it’s just that the energy it was there from the start. I posted a little video of me in the studio making it, and people has like it, and I’ve been playing it now for over a year, and I gave it to one or two DJs, but I’ve been really protective of it, because it’s a song that has something special, and I didn’t really just want everybody to have it, and next thing you know it’s available for free, I just wanted to play it and see what the reaction was, and then when I was ready and the right release came up, and this is the perfect release for it, then it was going to be okay.
LYBZ: DJs here seem that are not playing very often the releases by other DJs/producers in Shanghai, and China…
C: Yeah, it depends what the music is. There is a lot of very interesting stuff being produced here, …. I’m quite lucky that Heatwolves has been playing the “Wo Yao…“ track, and Siesta has been playing a couple of my tracks, I’m a bit rubbish at it myself, I’m really good at getting my tracks to European DJs, but I’m really rubbish to get them out to people over here, but I’m trying to get better at it, I think it’s good for people here to support each others music but at the end of the day you should not squeeze a track into your set just because it was made in some place, if it’s good and it fits with what you play, then you want to play it.
I wouldn’t expect anyone to be pressure to play one of my tracks cause I’m living in Shanghai. There are a lot of new producers coming up in Asia, but it’s such a fine line between a track that is ready to be played out, and one that is not ready. Even with my tracks I haven’t felt until probably the “Wo Yao” track, that was probably the first track I made after producing for many years, that has the effect I wanted it to have, and that sounds the way I wanted it to. A lot of the songs I’ve made in the past, you think it sounds good in the studio, it sounds good in the stereo, and then you take it into a club, and the reason why it doesn’t work i’s because you play next to a Sub Focus track, and then you play your track, and then you go like “oh god, it sounds rubbish, you know”. So it’s not that I’m not often supporting other producers I really want to support other producers, we are actually going to do a regular forum at my studio for producers to come and hang here, but if I like a track I think it works in the system and in my set, I will play it.
There’s this guy from Hong Kong, Blooddunza, then there is Downstate, and Wash, and Steven Lorenz, they sound good, they sound fat, also H3, Red-i , there are a lot of producers in Japan as well, but too many to mention.
LYBZ: You mentioned the difference between a track that is ready to be played and one that is not. That’s interesting, I have a friend that produced for a long time and until he didn’t DJ his own stuff he never realized those tracks were not good to be played, they were almost impossible to mix. Also that makes me think of this thing that some producers are really not good DJs…
C: Every producer is different at the end of the day, some don’t connect with the crowd and just stare at their laptops and some like me go crazy and jump around, I think maybe in some cases producers don’t need to be super good DJs if they are killing it with production, because they are booked mostly for their name, where as someone who only DJs and doesn’t produce has to be a stand out DJ to be booked. For me the excitement comes playing my music in front of people, if I’m playing my music, and people reacts good to it, I can’t help but going crazy. You know, people has made comments about my shows me acting like a cheer leader yelling “hey come on! Everybody dance”, and you know, it’s that I want to have fun. At the end of the day if you come to one of my shows, expect to have fun, don’t take it too seriously. I take my music seriously, I love what I do, but as a DJ I’m there to have a party. I want to get drunk, I want to go crazy, in HangZhou, I got so drunk I knocked myself out on the side of the stage. I’m there to have a laugh, and I want to have fun.
And I don’t think there’s a thing to say about producers being bad or good Djs, I think everybody is different. The thing is that when it comes to DJing, I don’t actually DJ that much, I don’t practice a lot because if I have a couple hours to spare, I prefer to make a track than to practice DJing. I’m not the best mixer in the world, I’m not super tight, I just go there, I have fun, and I enjoy myself, and people get that vibe, and I enjoy that. But the difference between a track being ready for going on a big system, and not being ready. There’s a certain amount of science to it, you know what I mean, if it doesn’t have enough highs there it would sound dead, if doesn’t have enough bass there it would sound empty, if it doesn’t have enough reverb or too much reverb or if the kick isnt hit in the right frequency, there is so many little bits there, besides weather is ready to go out or not, like I’ve had people coming to my studio saying okay, this track sounds amazing in my headphones, and I want you to mix it, I think is ready, so then we put it on my system and they go “oh..” [laughs] “yeah, I gotta work on this some more”. You know, I say to everybody who’s up to make music, get a set of studio monitors or studio headphones, because if you are making music on consumer products, they add certain frequencies, they want to make your sound sound the best, so when you listen to someone else’s song it sounds brilliant, you are like wow this stereo is amazing, weather studio speakers they are flat, they just give you the sound that is exactly there, they don’t fill in, they just give you what it is. So don’t expect your tracks to sound good on a big system or to sound good in a studio if you have been making them on consumer’s speakers, but it’s down to practice. And it’s down to your personal opinion, maybe other people will think that it doesn’t sound good, but maybe that is exactly how you want it to sound. At the end of the day is an art, I mean although there is some science involved, it’s not a precise science, you know.
LYBZ: Yeah, and about that… What’s your pallet of sounds?
C: I love pads, I love big luxurious pads. My first ten releases where very atmospheric, lots of pads, lots of arpeggios, I want a feeling from my track. I was working with a producer one time, and I said to him “oh man, I’ve been listening to this track, and it really makes me buzz”, one of the tracks that I made, and he said “wow, you get excited about your own tracks?!” and I’m like yeah! [laughs] that’s what I like about my tracks, and he is like “oh, I never get excited about my tracks, I just made them how I think they should be, and then I play them, and hopefully they are good, but I never really feel anything” and that’s kind of sad, you know, I want my songs to make me feel something, so when I start to make music I was very specific about it, I was like into LTJ Bukem’s kind of sound, I like the emotion that was there and I wanted that in my music. So even in my more aggressive songs there’s still an element of emotion in the breakdowns and stuff. So I think that yeah, big lush subs, I like ravy sounds, the one thing I’m always kind of consistent is the drums, and how I treat my drums, and what drums I use, and how I use them.
Over the last couple of releases I’ve been very aggressive on my music, just because I felt like it, I kind of wanted to do that, now the next couple of releases are going to be really kind of chill, more kind of intelligent, because that’s how I kind of started, and that’s how I’ve done this other thing, and I don’t want to stop it, but I want to go back to the whole intelligent thing, and create some interesting rhythms. I kind of show that a little bit on this EP, on the flower track, the first one, it’s a bit more thoughtful, I didn’t want to take away from what the original producer had done, but it’s hard to say what your pallet of sounds are. I can say what kind of synthesizer I used the most, I use Massive by Native Instruments, it’s kind of a standard one, people use it for bass lines, but I don’t get suck into that, just using the standard preset. I tried to learn to use it really well and properly. And then I use Albino by Rob Papen, and Omnisphere, and Trillion, and then Refx …. anyway, the specific plugins and synthesizer I use the pallet sounds changes each time, but the one thing that you’ll always found in my tracks is there will be moment thick pads and kind of atmospheric pads, and ravy pads, and in all my tracks I want melody, I don’t want them to be just empty minimal. Melody is really important, but there is a lot of music there that doesn’t really have melody, a lot of the really aggressive stuff, like people like Skrillex, and in his tracks some times there’s no melody, I think a certain amount of hate for that kind of music, when is just very repetitive, and there’s no thought process by it, it’s kind of noisy, it’s no like rock music that doesn’t have a real kind of structure, it’s just let’s be aggressive and noisy, unlike Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones, and I love that, and I don’t want to loose that. Maybe for live electronic music, if the track is really aggressive and really loud, and there’s no melody, the crowd might still enjoy that, still if you play that and then you play a track that’s energetic and has melody, I’m pretty sure, the one with melody will always win.
LYBZ: Yeah, electronic music without melody is difficult to me, melody is friendly and easy to hook at… tell me, do you work with the common structure of music, music theory? Do you write your music? Or you just follow your instinct?
C: I have no music theory at all. I know what I know. I’ve always been doing music. I played the piano, the trumpet since a kid, but I don’t have any clue about theory. If you asked me what key is that, I have no idea, “middle C?” [laughs] …It’s kind of embarrassing, but if it sounds good it sounds good, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t, most of the time when I make a track is instinct. Some times when I want to make a certain track I follow a certain structure. But usually I roll with just what I feel, obviously I’m influenced by music I’ve listen to.
I’m aware what’s going to work in a night club, or what’s not going to work, for example, if I’m making a track and it sounds like a dance floor track, if I make it so bizarre, that people can’t mix it, the crowd is not really going to react to it properly, then no DJ is going to play that, so why exactly am I doing it, you know? If I’m going to do something like that, then I just make something a little bit more chill, or a bit more leftfield than isn’t designed for a club, but if I’m doing a track for a club then I need to think about that. And you know, a lot of the time in the studio session I listen to a track and I think is great, and then I come back home and then the next day I listen to it again and it’s fucking rubbish. So I have twenty versions of a track, sometimes even seventy versions, because each time I change something I usually save it, track 001, track 002, project 001, project 002, so if I want to go back a couple steps, I can. So sometimes is a massive long kind of process, and then without the tracks they don’t have to be so precise, in a night club they don’t need to sound so massive, or have such crazy patterns, they can be more experimental. And sometimes is a lot quicker process, you do what you feel and you are happy with that. I make two kinds of music basically, one that comes out easy like that, and then music that I have work harder to make it work, because I want to play it loud and I want people to go wow that track is great, I want people to dance, to have fun to it… I have two sides, I mean I love making the atmospheric, intelligent stuff but I love playing energetic aggressive stuff too, so one day I was just like, right I’m gonna make some of that more aggressive stuff, why shouldn’t I? I love playing it so why not make some, but I have done that now, and I’m gonna really concentrate on my older vibe now, it’s how I got started and it means a lot to me. So … I really didn’t answer your question [laughs]
LYBZ: No, you did, [laughs] I was just thinking, don’t you think that is interesting all this work to produce this music for people to get drunk to it and dance like monkeys at it. All this work, to use it for people to act irresponsibly and crazy
C: [laughs] Yeah, it’s true, and when I’m making music I don’t really drink or smoke anything, you know, at the most I eat some sugar, but generally I take it very seriously of course.
LYBZ: Tell me about the EP? It’s a couple of remixes but then some are your originals…
C: Well, with remixes, without the parts from the different artists, like a vocal, or a hook, they are nothing, but even the remixes it takes a lot of work and have a lot of original stuff in, I mean you have to take someone else’s track and try and make it sound original, its tough. But tracks like the Red-I track, apart for the drums, everything is his, because I just chopped up the original track. The Red-I track, I didn’t actually get the parts of that track, I just took the mp3 and chopped it up, mpc style, that’s kind a bit more like an edit of the track. The H3 track, that’s a collaboration, so it’s done fifty-fifty, he provided a lot of stuff, and I provided a lot of stuff, and then I mixed it. But you know, even the remixes, it’s still a lot of time producing it.
Sometimes people get confused between remixes and mashups, because you got people that gets two tracks and then they mash it up and create a new track, but it’s actually just sticking two tracks together. But with a lot of producers a remix is just as complicated as creating a new track, sometimes its even harder.
The Lady Citizen came out through my label, and I always loved it, I always wanted to create something different out of it, and I wanted to create something that would reflect it, but still could be played in a club, still with solid suby bass lines, and still got a kind of a drop, but it doesn’t take away from the beauty of the track, so I contacted the guy, and he was like yeah, go for it.
Boys Climbing Ropes, I wanted to do that for ages, it took about like six months to get any part from them, but finally I got the parts. Actually Grow Up, and the Knitting Song were my two choices, and I hadn’t made the decision about which one I wanted to do yet, but when the Knitting Song came, there was a problem with the files, I couldn’t get the song out of the disk, I could only get Grow Up, but I was actually very glad, because I ended up very happy with the result. Morgan as much as he kind of jokes about it, he has always enjoyed my aggressive stuff, so I specifically wanted to make something quite big.
The track of Lo-Fi, Lo-Fi is actually three people, it’s me, Double, and Shen-Yi, they are all from Taipei. We got together, we were actually writing an EP. It was difficult because we were all very busy, and I went over there to produce a lot of stuff with them, and we made two more tracks, and sadly I lost my laptop, and I lost those tracks, and there was no chance to make them again. And this is the one track that we actually finished and I wanted to put it on here, cause I’m really happy with it.
Then the track with H3, I always wanted to do a collaboration with him, and this was the perfect opportunity, I didn’t wanted to have just expats from each country, I wanted to work from people that was really from each of this countries, Lady Citizen is from Kyoto, as Shen-Yi from Taiwan, and H3 from Malasya. Red-I is from Manila, that was a link through Michael, and he sent the album, I got to pick a couple of tracks that I thought were good, and I really like this bass track, and I like the vocals, and I was under a bit of pressure with the deadlines, and I thought “I’m gonna see what I can do with just the flat mp3” if I just take that song, and a few bits from here, and make something fun, is only like a minute long, and I’m actually very happy with what came out, it’s actually one of my favorite tracks. And the Conrank vs. Grace Chang, we talked about that already
LYBZ: Yeah, it’s becoming your signature track, right?
C: [laughs] Yeah, everybody expects me to play it, so now I’m under pressure, do I play it? , but then when I don’t play it people comes up “why you didn’t play it”
LYBZ: So how was the launch party?
C: It was great, actually all the DJ’s smashed it Nao Nao, Ozone, Cavia and Deadlock, I had a good time, got nice and drunk and the vibe was great, I saw a lot of friendly faces there. People were on a good level, everyone was dancing, smiling, just having a good time really… what more can you want, and I didn’t knock myself out so that was a touch [laughs].