The Jazzsticks boss and master of smooth, soulful D&B on his debut album
There's never been a better time for Austrian drum & bass. Stronger than the global takeover bid by artists such as Dkay, Epsilon and Rawfull in the early 2000s, stronger than Kruder & Dorfmeister's seminal sessions in the late 90s... the country has never enjoyed so many world class, genuinely exciting junglists and breaksmiths per capita, each one exploring and grafting the vast bass coal faces of all possible corners of the ever-fractalizing genre.
Whatever D&B direction you look in, Austria's representing right now. There's the warm vintage synths and disco twinges of Camo & Krooked, the perplexing neuro complexities of Mefjus, Fourward or Phentix, the deep, otherworldly essence of Kimyan Law, the constant fresh talent excavations of Mainframe Records, the funk-licked jump-up of Dossa & Locuzzed... and of course, the ageless atmospheric soul and jazz of Paul SG and his Jazzsticks label collective.
Conjuring 170bpm spells since 2008, running Jazzsticks since 2009 and enjoying a six-year tenure at LTJ Bukem's influential Good Looking label, German-born Paul is one of the Austrian drum & bass smorgasbord's longest-standing exponents. Unhurried and unaffected by everything else going on, he's gradually developed a strong label philosophy, connected a strong crew of kindred spirits such as Decon, Pulsaar, Furney and Flowrian, and honed his own musical signature that's best experienced on This Is Me, a debut album that lives up to its name.
From the oddball jumpiness of Lefthanded to the mystical, brush-drum slo-mo jazz finale Swosha via the deep baritone badness of Conrad on You'll Never Know or the 23rd Century car chase scene Cosmic Jam, This Is Me is the sound of a man just hitting his music stride. It's also the sound of a highly textured and diverse assault on the senses, glued together with soul, subs and some serious samplecraft.
Which is our conversation begins…
I'll never unravel the mysterious dark art of this music - where the sample ends and the musicianship begins. I get the impression you're about 50/50 samples and instruments, but I might be wrong...
"50/50 is about right... you have to mix it up. We call it 'clever sampling' at Jazzsticks - odd phrasings, changing pitches, sliced and diced arrangements, different chord structures. If you can tell where it's come from, then you haven't sampled it right, and it's more like a bootleg or edit. I love playing pads, keys and instruments but there's something about a sample that's been recorded and mastered in a live situation with a human factor. You can't recreate that."
Do you agree that sampling has become a dying art?
"It has for bigger labels, for sure. But we're not Hospital Records - we don't often licence our music to big brands or TV, so we're that guy in the corner who can get away with a lot more!"
Do you ever worry that, one day, sample sources will dry up?
I know guys like Paradox have flown across the world for a 45 that has a super-rare break. How deep does your own sample-sourcing go?
"Well, I've never travelled to the other side of the world for a sample - that's pretty extreme! I sample whatever I'm listening to that's given me an idea. Just through being a music lover. I might be listening to something on Spotify or a radio show or a friend's mix. It could be on YouTube. Something obscure from other countries or a little speech that isn't even on vinyl. In an average track I'm using samples from six to seven tracks."
Do you know each source and list them?
"I know where I personally sampled them from, but not the serious details. Like Furney: he knows everything about the band he's sampled, all the member's wives and what their dog ate for breakfast. He loves facts! I'm more laidback about it. If I like it, I sample it."
From samples to humans... Conrad is a stand out voice on the album. An old Good Looking connection?
"Yeah, we first met on tour and have been friends ever since. He's very inspirational. He's a deep man. Listening to his lyrics and voice, even back in the day... I've always known he's deep since I first heard him on Progression Sessions. He's real. He's a great musician and human being. He hasn't been in the studio much for the last few years, his biggest hit was Golden Girl years ago, but he's done stuff more recently with guys like Zero T and Total Science. He likes to take his time with projects, which is really important."
What did you take from working with Bukem?
"It gave me confidence. If Bukem's playing my music to crowds of thousands at festivals then I can play my music out confidently, too. He's a true lover of real drum & bass. He's inspirational too. He's been touring this planet for over 20 years and never tired of it. He's still on the fresh stuff, he's still motivated by it. He calls me once a week for new music. I have to be careful that I don't send him stuff too early!"
Sonically there's a strong parallel between Good Looking and Jazzsticks...
"They're such big footsteps to follow! I was with Good Looking with six or seven years, so I picked up things - not just musically but branding, imagery, presentation. There are definitely elements of Good Looking in the Jazzsticks philosophy, especially in our collective nature. That's something very important to me. I could go out and seek music from everyone and his mum and sign it - there's a lot of great music out there - but it's about sticking as a group, as a collective who have time to work with each other and help each other."
Was a label always your intention? It happened pretty early in your career…
"I was called by a distributor who realised I was with Good Looking. I think they saw something that wasn't actually there back then, but they wanted a piece of the cake anyway and offered me a P&D deal. I thought, 'Why not?'. I'd never even thought about a label before but came up with the artwork overnight and ran with it. The distributor went bankrupt eventually, so I took a break from the label for a year and then came back seriously around 2012. With a lot of hard work from all of us, gradually and naturally it's become stronger every year."
I think the Jazzassins album consolidated that the best last year. An album made in a week by four of you and a bunch of analogue machines in a Swiss chalet, it summed up your collective spirit and sound with a concept and a story.
"That was very special. Myself, Flowrian, Pulsaar and Decon, who have been friends for years, all together just solidly making music for a whole week was bliss. Waking up to someone working on drums, falling asleep to someone on the wrong notes on a bass. It was very funny and I'm very proud of that album. It was definitely a pivotal moment for Jazzsticks."
How about your own album, will you be touring it?
"Yes. I'm taking my time with it and we'll be launching it next year. Conrad is on board, and a few of the Jazzsticks guys will be too. The dates are shaping up really well and in the meantime I'm back writing music and feeling refreshed. The album reset and refreshed everything for me. I didn't realise how much I'd enjoy writing an album and how you can convey a concept and bring a lot more ideas together. For years I've always worried about music getting lost when it's presented in a larger project. Especially compilations, as single tracks can get dangerously overlooked because there's so much on offer."
Agreed... it's an endless battle in the thrust for newness. You don't have to put out everything just because you can.
"Definitely. I've found a lot of labels instantly ask for EPs now. Four tracks is almost half an album! Singles are so much more in-tune with dance music and DJ culture. Just two tracks and each one gets the spotlight. Often we'll split it between artists so two guys get something out there and we take our time with each release to let it breathe. This is so important because I think that thrust you mentioned is a result of ever-decreasing attention spans. And the only way to fight that is quality control and quality over quantity every time!
Words: Dave Jenkins
This Is Me is out now on Jazzsticks
Tags: Paul SG, Jazzsticks, Jazzsticks Recordings, Vienna, Conrad, LTJ Bukem, Flowrian, Pulsaar, Decon, Camo & Krooked, Mefjus, Fourward, Phentix, Kimyan Law, Dkay, Epsilon, Austria, D&B, drum & bass, DnB, drum n bass, drum + bass, Goodlooking, Good Looking