Name a premiership D&B label and there’s a high chance Xtrah has appeared on it in the last four years…
RAM, Metalheadz, Critical, Symmetry, Subtitles; the list goes on. Next month you can add Invisible to that list, too (complete with two collaborations with none other than Noisia themselves) with his Gravitas EP
Before that, however, is the Matriarch EP. A various artists collection on his own label Cyberfunk, it features two huge Mefjus collaborations and solo tunes from two brand new artists; Incognito and Phentix.
While many artists who have emerged and experienced the same cross-scene success as Xtrah have signed album deals with the more well-known record labels, Xtrah has actively avoided any exclusive deals and it’s beginning to pay off in a major way.
Read on to find out why November is a massive month for Xtrah, how the Noisia collaborations came about, what he feels the scene thrives on and how his sound design game has recently upped quicker than a Glastonbury ticket sell-out.
First, though, this exclusive premier of Xtrah & Mefjus – Fever…
Now get to know…
Firstly, Noisia collaboration… Bit of a career milestone!
Yeah! Well actually two Noisia collaborations. It’s definitely been a life goal of mine for about 10+ years. Now it’s done I don’t know what to do with myself! I’m super happy and excited it has and hope that there will be many more in the future.
How did it come about then?
They started following me on Twitter about three years ago. Then Thijs hit me up and asked if I had any music. It was definitely a ‘what?!’ moment. At the time I was working on music but I didn’t think it was my best at the time. So I told them I didn’t have anything that I was happy enough to send to them, but I’d be in touch.
It took me ages to get up to that standard where I was ready to send them things! Then, really annoyingly, one of the tunes I sent and they liked corrupted, so I couldn’t actually work on it any further but it was pretty much finished anyway so we kept it as part of the EP. The only thing we could do to improve it was master it but I wrote it for their label, it was purposely built for this release so It had to be on there. It’s actually a year and a half old but I’m not going to say which tune it is. It’ll be interesting to see if people work it out.
Very interesting. 18 months is a long time in D&B…
Crazy long! The amount I’ve learnt in that time is incredible. The amount I’ve learnt since finishing the Gravitas EP is amazing. I learnt more during this project than I’ve learnt during the rest of my career i think. The level of detail in the sound design is just crazy now. I have realised what you have to do to be anywhere near close to the same level as Noisia and the guys at that level of production… Go in or go home, basically! If you’re not ready to spend weeks on drums and sound design, you’re not ready to compete with the producers at the top.
Basically I’ve realised that my transients needed a lot of work in general and my whole RMS vs peak game had to be tightened which means louder mixes to simplify things. It’s all about changing things in a mix by tiny amounts, 0.2 db less bass can lead to extra headroom which can lead to a louder mix.
It’s these tiny tiny tiny details that really make you stand out against the rest. I want to be in that top tier of people who make records that really cut through everything else in a club. The thing is, there is no end to it. I think I’ll always be chasing something and trying to push myself. That’s just how I am. I feel that I’ve found a sound. The only thing is it almost makes me want to re-make every record I’ve ever made. But you have to start somewhere I guess!
I hope that you’ve retained your funk and groove. It’s very easy to lose that funk in exchange for fastidious design and mixing detail…
Of course! I’d never deliberately sacrifice the funk man! You can’t name your label Cyberfunk and not have any funk in your music right? I’ve always been happy with the groove and funk in my music. For me it’s about paying real attention to the stereo design and trying to make music where every sound interacts with another, no filler. It’s things I never paid as much attention to before but I feel are important now but above all is the funk.
Did you go to Groningen and work with Noisia in their lab?
Unfortunately not, it was all done over the internet. I made the first version of Gravitas around two years ago now. I’d been playing it for a while and it was getting wheeled every time I played it so I decided to send it to Noisia to add it to the EP. They were into it so I suggested they finished it and give it the Noisia finish. I was really happy with what they did with it.
The other collaboration came about the first time I played for them at their hometown event in Groningen. Thijs played me a tune he wasn’t sure about finishing. I thought I could add to it so he stemmed it up and gave it to me to finish. It’s called ‘Up To something’. To me it sounds like huge waves of sound and I hope people get what I mean when they hear it. It’s not trying to be a banger, the vibe is really unique and the mix is great. I hope people feel the same when they hear it.
What else can we learn about the Gravitas EP?
Well firstly, it’s six tracks… That’s why it took so long. That and the fact I kept tweaking and tweaking and tweaking. I probably could have stopped a year ago. I’m constantly thinking I could do more and I’m always in danger of overworking projects due to this.
How about the new EP on Cyberfunk? Did that take three years?
Ha! No… A lot less time. It’s got two collaborations between Mefjus and myself – Matriarch and Fever – and also features two new artists; Incognito from New Zealand and Phentix who’s a friend of Mefjus’s from Linz, Austria. Both very talented producers and I really can’t wait to hear more from them. Foundations by Incognito is more of darker step sound, Friction has been supporting this on the radio a lot and Phentix – Hoax has more of a rolling feel to it, almost reminds me of the type of tunes DJ Die used to make and play a lot, Hype told me he LOVES it and has been playing it every set! The EP has had some great feedback and I hope there’s something for everyone on it.
That’s the whole Cyberfunk ethos, right? New talent and sounds across the board….
Definitely. I feel like the scene thrives off of new artists and labels! It always has. I wish there were more labels bringing lots of new artists through. It seems to me like the second artists get to a certain production level and create a hype around their name, they get snapped up and tied into an album deal and that’s it. You don’t hear from them for ages while they write their album. And when you do finally hear it, in some cases, it’s not quite the same vibe as it was before when they were hungry and really wanted to be heard or stand out from everything else.
Unfortunately in some cases signing too early can definitely hold back an artist from trying new things in the studio. If you settle down, get lots of gigs and become comfortable with where you’re at with production levels and career wise; why wouldn’t they be pressurising you to be better, do more and progress?
I like pushing myself, and being uncomfortable helps me push myself to improve my music and production levels. I don’t ever want to feel too comfortable or feel that I’m on top of the game. That’s not why I do this at all, I’m just doing what I love and hope I can continue to do so for the foreseeable future!
Couldn’t agree more. What’s the biggest thing you’ve learnt during this transition from sole trading music maker to music making businessman?
I don’t like the word businessman, makes me sound corporate or something. I’m just someone who set up a label so they could keep doing what they love and offer a platform for other people who also want to do the same thing as me. I’ve enjoyed this this time more than I’ve ever done making music.
I no longer worry about which label might like my music or where I should send tunes to or how i can boost my profile. It’s very liberating and it’s the result of working with a lot of the best labels and artists in this scene before I decided to make this leap. My advice for any artist that its worth something to, is – work with as many people as possible find out as much info as you can and always learn from every experience but above all I think it’s very important that you really learn about sound! Understand everything it is that you’re doing with sound. If you master that and you can pretty much do whatever you want to do.