At the end of 2010, NPR’s Ann Powers wrapped up the year with a story aptly titled “The Year in Music: Dubstep’s Identity Crisis”. Written from an etic perspective, the story examined the stylistic and, to a certain extent, sub-cultural contention that exists between two distinct renditions of the genre. On one hand, we have the damp, atmospheric sound deserving of a namesake that brings to mind Jamaican masters like King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry. On the other hand, we have the tactless, frat boy arousing gibberish that injects images of sadistic liaisons with power tools inside a crippled baggage claim on the dark side of LAX.
Now, forgive me for sounding like some PBR drinking, skinny jean squeezing hipster fuck-tard, but many electronic music fans were way ahead of Ann Powers on this one. From early on, interest in dubstep spread like MRSA at a rural Kentucky middle school. At first, this seemed like a good thing. Dubstep carries musical traits that seemed to cross sub-cultures—hell, for a while there it seemed poised to serve as a musical ambassador to connect the masses to other forms of underground electronic dance music. But all good things must come to an end when desperate record labels and branding experts realize there’s an accessible market. Now we’ve got misbegotten fashion victims like Skrillex winning Grammys by recording their vintage converse thrashing about in a washing machine.
Transitions in art feed off retaliation. Just as Romantic artists applied a painterly impasto and emotional themes to combat the linear coherence of their Neo Classical counterparts, many bass music producers are dropping the tempo and abandoning the wobble, creating a broad range of post-dubstep grooves that splash vivid bursts of color upon the electronic music soundscape.
Sebby Frescoe’s no stranger to the subtleties of bass music. Much of his early work channels the abysmal, delay-heavy alchemy that, for at least a little while, was a critical genome among outstanding dubstep cuts. Today the guy’s… well, he’s all over the place. Some of his tracks stylistically mirror elements of UK-Funky, a relatively recent subset of bass music that incorporates luscious elements of electro, techno and garage. Sometimes his work generates a distinctly Latin flavor, evident in his series of gyrating cumbia bootlegs. If one thing’s clear about Sebby Frescoe, it’s that his musical interests are limitless. So, without further ado, let’s kick off the first installment of The Soundboy Interviews.
Let’s start with the mandatory opening questions: Where are you from? What are your influences?
So I grew up in Santa Fe. My whole family were pretty much artists. My father’s a painter, my grandfather’s a painter, my mom works with textiles and stuff. All my uncles were poets and musicians and writers, so there was always paintings on the walls and good books around. I guess it was always about painting. Music was always there, but I went to school for painting. I guess the music started kinda later when I started DJing. A friend of mine gave me a bunch of his old house records, so I stated learning how to beat match with those. Then I moved more into like the jungle sound. When I moved to Santa Cruz, I was exposed to more bass music. So that’s when I started making music, around 2002.
What made you transition into producing?
It was really because I just wanted to make my own stuff to play out, you know. I kinda got sick of playing other people’s tunes. It took me a little while before I could make a tune [good enough] that I could mix with something. But, you know, I got there.
What kind of music did you start producing and what are you doing now?
When I started it was dubstep. That’s back when dubstep was a lot more like dub music. It had a lot more space, more bass. It was way more about the low-end—the sub-bass—not as much mid-range. Tons of delay and reverb. Old dub music was a huge influence, along with newer stuff from Skream and Kode 9 and Distance—you know, what those guys were doing.
I started experimenting with different tempos, slowing it down to 130, making a skippidy beat. Now I’ve gone even further, making 100 BPM stuff. I’ve been using a lot of Latin stuff, like cumbia, which actually comes from Columbia and is actually one of the most listened-to music in the Americas. It’s pretty cool once you get into it.
So we’re all aware of dubstep’s alleged identity crisis. What do you make of that?
I definitely see that’s there’s two parts to [dubstep] right now. There is the more commerical side, which I don’t really associate with dub music. You have guys like Skrillex and Datsik making some really cool music, but I think a lot of it comes back to the younger kids not really knowing what dub is. They don’t know about the sound system culture and the roots of it. I think it’s about not understanding the history of the music. When I listen to music, I always want to know where it comes from, what the person who made it was listening to. You go back to that, then all of a sudden you’re learning about all kinds of other music and things you had no idea about.
What are you working on now?
I have a new EP coming up. More 130 bpm bass stuff. It’s coming out on Snatchy Tracks, which is the sister label to Rouge Dub (Kansas City, M.O.) who released my first EP. I’ve been working with M.C. Jamalski on some stuff. We have an EP we’re starting to put together. He’s a really fun guy to work with—sick M.C. Then there’s all sorts of random collaborations and remixes. You know, stuff like that.
Any advice for people getting into music production?
I would say don’t discount the old shit. Go back and listen to old music. There’s a lot of really good shit.
Any final thoughts?
I just love to make music. I think it’s something that we all need and a lot of people don’t get enough of. It’s essential to being alive. For me that’s all it about.