We need to talk about Dopplershift


Build it, and they will come: A resounding theme, woven into our collective consciousness. A theme that’s also fitting for the story of Dopplershift – AKA Keiran Ritson – a South African drum & bass artist who imagined how his love for the music would want a home and how it would unite others. Ten years forward and one can agree that he’s been successful in achieving his vision.

Ever since Keiran shifted to Cape Town a few years back, he’s been kicking it in exemplary manner. With a constantly expanding catalogue of releases in recent years, encompassing more than a dozen labels – among them SINE Audio, Skank & Bass and Delta 9 Recordings – Dopplershift pushes beyond his comfort zone in terms of sheer output and style.

Better still: As a label owner of Rubricate Records, Dopplershift is involved in providing a platform for upcoming talent from South Africa. Numerous releases on his label, highlighting different aspects of bass music, have welcomed upcoming local talents, thus enabling them to dream bigger dreams, too.

We caught up with Keiran to talk about his journey, his mission and his most recent EP on Impact Music called Motion Focus. Dig in!

Did you grow up in South Africa?

Yes. I was born in a small town called Pietermaritzburg, just outside of Durban, in the eastern part of SA. I always lived on the coast, from there I moved to Cape Town and then on to Port Elizabeth. Right now I live I Cape Town again, for the past two years.

Was music the motivation to move back?

In Port Elizabeth, there wasn’t really a drum & bass scene. Predominantly, Johannesburg and Cape Town are the places for D&B. I decided to move to stay in the game, I love drum & bass, so it was a no-brainer to move. I also met someone and been in a new relationship for the past year, which helped me solidify my grounding.

Was always doing events wherever I’ve been, mostly where I’ve gone I was the only D&B-guy, but in Cape Town there are quite a few other parties. One would be Pressure, the other one It Came From The Jungle. We tried to fit our event Rubricate Sessions by having it on a Thursday. We don’t like to compete event-wise, and we mainly do a label night, using a quality system and providing decent equipment for the guys, while promoting whoever is releasing on our label. It’s what you see in Europe, and we try to adopt that.

So you strictly release material from local artists

We started five years ago, because the only other label was Counterstrike’s label. Then they moved overseas and there wasn’t anything else left. A mate and I decided to start the label. We’ve done about 80 releases now. We don’t just do drum’n bass; we like any kind of bass music, be it half-time, dubstep, bass house, though I do 100 percent drum & bass.

Tell us more about your motivation to start the label

We had no contacts overseas and started by releasing ourselves. The initial drive, some five years ago, was to see our stuff online. An achievement by itself. It grew from there, and we’ve done some cool various artists releases with internationals and local guys. While releasing on different labels in Europe, I came in touch with various guys. That partnership is important.

You picked up a lot of momentum ever since

I am trying to. Since coming to Cape Town and being surrounded with like-minded people, it’s like: wow – you see others, and it becomes a healthy competition. You see them, dropping by in their home studios, thinking: I have to pick up the pace. Before, there was none of that.

Even now, while Johannesburg being like 1600 kilometres from Cape Town, ever since I moved, I am getting more bookings In Johannesburg. It’s nice to play out instead of sitting in a cave (laughs).

How did you get into drum & bass?

I have always been involved in music. I was setting up the sound at a local bar. There was this crew that pulled in, and I never heard about drum & bass. That night I was sold. It was actually at a metal club. These guys came in and brought more subs than I have ever seen. At the time, I mixed bands and thought it would be an overkill. Obviously now I know about the genre it makes a lot of sense.

When did you bridge into writing music and why?

It was when I finished school – I studied music – meanwhile my family has always been playing music. My mom plays a bit. And my sister is a great saxophone player. I studied music and didn’t know in what direction to go. Mixing bands was my niche. I recorded a lot of bands before I even started my own work. I picked up Logic after that and thought: okay, I can do this by myself, and fell in love with the process.

What made you fall in love?

Hah, I don’t think I chose it, but it rather chose me. I have always been involved with drums and love them. I loved the ability to express so many moods, all the variants of it. Likewise, I don’t really stick to anything, and find myself making power liquid or a liquid roller sound.

Your EP on Impact Music, Motion Focus, has been out of for some time now. How has the reception been so far?

Jean, the guy who runs the label, is really friendly. Two years ago, they (Impact & Screamarts) were hosting a remix competition that I entered randomly. I ended up third or something. Through that I made connections with him, and he sent my an email proposing doing an EP. We eventually got round to it.

There were two tracks I was holding onto, one being Motion Focus together with Stokka and featuring vocals by Leo Wood. The other one was Flowers, together with FinnaDrift, another talented SA  artist. He’s released with Goldfat Records and has more stuff coming.

That EP was very well received. It was fun to work with Leo. And Stokka, Hendrik, we made such cool stuff. Even when looking at our EP on SINE Audio. He’s done remixes for me, vice versa. We’re actually working on a second EP together. There’s so much music. The track with Leo, we were sitting on it for about eighteen months. It was played by guys like A.M.C – nice to have that response.

Why do you like working together with Stokka?

He was also on that remix competition and won. So we got in touch. We started to bounce tracks back and forth, hit it off immediately, and became close friends as well. We share problems and issues. It bleeds into the music, going beyond just a collab. It’s about discussing in great detail and never really feeling like it’s finished.

You did releases for fourteen different labels at this point. That’s a lot of output. Of course, you can sit twelve hours in the studio, but how do you keep the balance?

Now that I am in a bigger city, it’s such an inspiration to be around other producers. There’s another producer, Among Us, who’s also working on the label with me. Seeing his work ethic has pushed me.

After a while, you get into a nice routine. I also noticed that about simplifying my process and my gear… I remember starting out, building up all the stuff – different synths and drum machines, best monitors, the best headphones… After three or four years, I realized that simplifying my process, just having a keyboard in front of me, was all I really needed. Ever since, I can put my focus in one place.

The process repeats itself. Not like a carbon copy, but I know that after practising so much I can sit down, before I start and envision it. If I hear a vocal piece or a sample, for example, I can try to find something in a similar key. Also, I listen a lot to other music as well – indie rock, hip hop, even old jazzy shit.

While in the studio, do you have a specific routine?

Sometimes I force myself to get going, and sometimes I will be like: I really want to make this. At times, it doesn’t work, while sometimes it flows. There’s an element of luck involved. You can hit the wrong keys at the right time.

And that’s always what my drive has been. To test myself. It didn’t come naturally, I had to practice. Sometimes I sit inside the studio and I will start with my drums with 16 or 32 bar drum loop with two different phasers. Or I will be like: fuck, I can’t do anything today and will leave it at that step.

Does it become more fun with time to write music? 

I think that comes back to my point of challenging the self. Drum & bass allows that. You can sit down and write something really emotional, or you can be in the key of ‘A’, wanting to write a liquid track. You can design a bass line and dedicate two hours. Maybe you won’t use it in that track, but it’s that challenge that I enjoy.

What I like about that is hearing other people pushing the genre. You go through different patches and hear a sound for a while. You can integrate that in all these different subgenres. Small pieces, going into different productions while moving forward. And that’s what I am trying to achieve.

Obviously, you are aiming for results. But at the same time take the lessons from the process along the way, even when something doesn’t succeed…

Yes, I see it as a sport. You can’t skip practice or not get into a routine. It’s also about dealing with the less positive responses. Sometimes you send a demo to a label that you think might fit, and you don’t hear anything. Dealing with that… I always take it on the chin. Again, it’s all about practice. That’s why you’re there.

Makes sense. So, about creative blocks. Some will step away and return. Do you have a way to reset without waiting for at least a day or two?

I used to have all this equipment. These days, I only have like an MPC (drum computer). I’ll go and open a looping station and try to freestyle a hip-hop or low-fi beat, while I don’t have to save anything, I feel like that triggers creativity.

I do also enjoy taking a break, I like cooking, enjoy fishing, most sports, too. In SA that’s mainly cricket and rugby. I enjoy soccer. In South Africa we have this barbecue, called a Braai, it’s like a BBQ, but on an open flame. We basically cook all kinds of meat on this open flame, among them boerewors (farmer’s sausage). Pieces of chicken, some steak – pretty much!

I think now, again, moving to the bigger cities and meeting all these international guys at bigger events like Science Fiction, they brought down like 30 of the biggest names. Now that I moved to Cape Town and am able to play these shows… Recently, Peter from Overview came down with Wingz. So we did two shows with them in Cape Town and Johannesburg, and it was a lot of fun experiencing that.

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