Denver-based D&B producer Sinistarr has just released an EP that's been over 10 years in the making. We got him on the phone to find out more...
Timing is everything. Some tunes need to be fired out quickly, in response to the moment, in order to hit the right spot. Other tunes can happily sit in the vaults and mature, just like a fine cheese, wine or cryptocurrency.
Just ask Detroit-born, Denver-based break-meddler Sinistarr. A professor in the dark art of biding time since he first emerged in the late 00s/early 2010s on seminal D&B labels like Hospital, Creative Source and Metalheadz, he’s been sitting on tunes for upwards of a decade, waiting for the perfect moment, context and people to release them.
Tunes like those on his latest release for Leipzig label Defrostatica, Everything On Time: an EP whose tracks range not only from 10 months to 10 years old, but also from glacial futurist doomsteppers to dreamy Afrobeat-influenced deep drum & bass. In-between it has a 10-year-old collaboration with Agzilla (another man who knows about timing, having waited over 30 years to release his debut album, as he told us earlier this year) and a five-year-old collaboration with a singer who’s since moved on to pastures so removed from Sinistarr’s beguiling icy sound you’d never recognise her.
Each tune personal to Jeremy Sinistarr, each tune already heavily played by his peers on dubplate, he’s been waiting for optimum time to release them. And Defrostatica, a label he’s released with several times since it launched in 2016, is the perfect place. In fact, label founder DJ Booga actually requested the opening track KNS from a dubplate he’d been given by the track’s collaborator Kiat (a hugely talented Singapore artist who’s released on Metalheadz and created artwork for many D&B labels over the last 15 years) way back in 2009.
Not content with giving him just the militant rough-and-ready original – which can be checked on Defrostatica’s Bandcamp page – Sinistarr remade the track so it’s relevant to this very moment while stillsmacking of maturity. We called up Sinistarr to find out more. No cheese, wine or cryptocurrencies were hurt during the making of this feature…
So this goes back to 2009…
"Yeah, Kiat and I connected online, I heard a tune of his called Last Lullaby on MySpace, and I was like ‘Yo, I love this tune!’. So I kept tabs on it, sent him a message, we linked on AIM, chatted and made it work. One of the tunes we made, Black Diamonds, got picked up by Hospital."
What happened to the rest?
"There was one, Native, that he put out on his label Qilin. And of course there was KNS, which kinda had a marching band vibe going on. We were throwing a bunch of sounds together to see what happened: we really wanted to capture that apocalyptic, four horsemen, Renegade Hardware, Metalheadz type of style."
How about Emo with Agzilla, is that as old?
"That came about in a similar way, at a similar time. Agi hit me out of the blue on AIM, I did a little fact-checking and realised how super-legit he was. We chatted a little and started working on music. The usual thing: via the internet, just making it work."
Any favourite AIM memories from that time? Like signing a tune or a big DJ hitting you up?
"It was pretty wild when Fabio hit me up for tunes! That was crazy. Him playing or releasing my music was a big aim when I first started, so that was cool. The first record I ever signed came about through AIM as well."
Were you sending tunes to Fabio anyway?
"Sorta. I had his AIM and I’d send him stuff. He’d never answer back so I didn’t know if he was checking them out or playing them. But then Mutt from Toronto was sending my stuff to him too, telling him to check my stuff out. It was through him, really. Mutt and Gremlinz they were sending out my tunes and we picked up from there."
Nice. So run us through the Everything On Time concept…
"These are the last four tracks that have been sitting on my hard drive that have been in-demand, so to speak. KNS was made just after we’d signed a track to Hospital and really wanted to make something for Metalheadz. Kiat was already in Goldie’s ear and I didn’t know that I was going to be a little while later when he signed Mainstay and Solar 9 to Metalheadz Platinum, but we were just making stuff like that to see what happened in that realm, and I ended up sitting on the tune for 10 years until Rob [Defrostatica bossman Booga] hit me up about it.
"Emo is a similar deal. It was the first thing Agi and I ever finished. It was meant to be signed a while ago but the label folded. I held on to it, in case they might still want it in the future, and a bunch of people were playing it. It was on Goldie’s podcast, Craggz & Parallel were playing it, Subwave was playing it, all these crazy mixes and people were asking me about it. I didn’t want to give it away. That wasn’t an option for me. I felt I did enough on it for it to be signed so waited until the time was right. "
Are you quite a meticulous archivist?
"I am a little I guess. I back things up. I’ve had losses here and there but for the most part I make sure things are in line. I’ve got back-up CDs and DVDs at my folks’ house. I went through all of them and found things from 10 and 11 years ago. Emo was sitting on one of those drives and I was like, ‘What’s up with this?’."
I love finding old gold you forget about. How about the two solo tracks on the EP?
"They’re a little newer and showcase where I’m at right now. Well, actually Garden was written about five years ago when I was in Europe. The singer works under another alias in another realm now – quite far away from this music – but she was really killing that kinda dreamy chill sound when she gave me these."
How about Torpor? I love that word. Like a slower, hibernating state. Have you ever been in a creative torpor?
"Definitely. I like to be in those spaces because it forces me to be creative. If I’m not looking at my computer and I’m out there disconnected from that, then I’m able to at least naturally stimulate more ideas and think about how I arrange my music. Rather than sitting there forcing out ideas. Changing my space, lulling on that, going in hibernation and really just thinking about it, rather than trying to hammer it out, makes more sense to me."
Similar to how limiting your tools can help the creative process…
"Definitely. You just limit your thinking – I’m here, I’m not making music, I might be listening to it, or I might be out with someone else. If I’m in an Uber then I’ll passively listen to their music and see if there’s anything there that makes me think differently. I like taking myself out of the situation. Or take a weekend out, no networking or studio, just be outdoors or doing something out of the ordinary."
You’ve just moved to Colorado, right? That's a beautiful state!
"No denying it, it’s gorgeous here. And it’s booming musically too. It’s the centre point of getting to the west, so if you play New York, Chicago, Detroit, somewhere on the east, then you fly to Denver to get to the west coast – Seattle, LA, San Francisco."
Every time we talk you’re in different places. Are you a bit of a nomad?
"I do move a lot. I used to live here in 2012 and that was when I started getting into the 160/170 sound. It was the year I met Om Unit and he was getting into that sound too. It was a big catalyst for things creatively for me here. It’s a central city, there were four or five clubs within walking distance of where I lived last time. I’d have friends coming to town every other weekend, or friends of friends or people I was the same agency with. So we’d hook up and collaborate. I got on Tectonic through linking with Pinch in Denver that way, for example. This time it’s a bit different as I’m out of town a little, but it’s still a very inspiring and good place to be."
I’m interested in that Asante remix you’ve just dropped. A meeting of cultures – Ghanaian and Liberian in a D&B framework.
"Yeah that’s my friend Brendan. We met at a DJ Lag show in Detroit. We realised we shared a few connections. He produces and sings Afrobeats and Ghanaian music: he flies between Detroit and Accra regularly and is very prominent within what he’s doing. I sent him my Aine Rouge EP from Exit and some other things, he was into it and asked me to remix him. It’s drum & bass meets Afrobeats, which I don’t think has really been explored much."
I can’t think of any instant examples, no. So you’re tapping into your Liberian heritage… was that the soundtrack you grew up to?
"Oh, totally. We listened to a lot of west African music. Liberia is a melting pot of African and West Indian culture. We listened to a lot of music in that realm. Lots of high life, lots of soca, lots of things within those territorial countries. That was my soundtrack."
Afrobeats meets drum & bass is an exciting new fusion… unless you’ve been doing it a lot and I haven’t noticed?
"I’d have used certain drum arrangements, I guess, but I’ve never sat down and gone, ‘Okay, I’ll make an Afrobeats/D&B track,’ it’s just happened naturally. I’d say the closest is actually Torpor and that’s where I’m shooting for right now. Clubby music with more thought to it rather just a riff, something perhaps more complex. African music had always had that for me."
It’s got that energy, too…
"Yeah! I want to be able to translate that into my music."
It’s full circle. I interviewed Fabio & Grooverider and they were saying how a lot of New York house was a big influence at Rage. Masters At Work and those big, swinging African beats were a huge influence in the sound that became jungle…
"Most definitely. And a lot of it, for me especially now more than ever, has a lot to do with representation. Growing up in an African household in Detroit which was also black, but black American. Then I got into drum & bass which is UK black. The deeper and deeper I got into this music, I found the same thing. House and techno, both black music.
"It had a lot to do with a realisation like, ‘I’m listening to music that’s made essentially made by people who look like me, and they’re making really interesting stuff whether they’re from Africa, the UK, Detroit.’ But this happened naturally. I’ve never been a 12- or 13-year-old who was like, ‘I’m only listening to black people’. Black sound and black culture was just always around me."
It’s a natural gravitation…
"Exactly. So that’s really interesting, and the idea of it being full circle is super important for me. It’s just that now I have the production knowledge to take those sounds and shape them into something I want to hear and listen to and say something with."
You don’t feel you’ve been there before as a producer?
"Not until I moved from 170+ back down to around 160BPM. It suddenly opened up more space to work and get a production together.
"Coming back to the EP, when I did KNS 2019 is a good example. When I decided to re-do it, I could keep it the same tempo but make it so much heavier and darker. It was much easier to map out in my head. It took forever to arrange but in terms of what I wanted and how I wanted to arrange it I had that in my head, I knew what I wanted and shot for it. That’s not always been the case, and it’s very satisfying when you can do that."
Words: Dave Jenkins
Everything On Time is out now on Defrostatica. Order it here.