As we all spend more time indoors, the productivity of producers has had the opportunity to thrive and 19 year old Newcastle artist Kastro is no exception. Since appearing on the scene two years ago, his name has started to become familiar to those keeping an eye on the dancefloor side of drum & bass. After a collaboration release with Scudd on Serial Killaz and tracks on RAM complications, the time has come for him to step up for his first solo EP.
A release on PROGRAM within four years of being in the studio speaks volumes of Kastro’s work rate, while the tracks themselves display a broad strength of production skills. Anyone who has tuned into live streams over the last few months has probably pulled all sorts of faces to Creation Of The Black, with a roaring bassline and steppy, dynamic drums carried forward by the vocals of Kyst Cortez. Endorphins has energetic but scattered drums and hypnotic vocals, as well as a second drop where the tempo slows down and you can really feel the groove. Rooftop Melodies finishes off the EP with fast-paced drums, a futuristic lead synth and warm vocals that patiently appear.
We caught up with Kastro, real name Chris McCarty, and had a chat about discipline, the thriving collective of artists in the Newcastle scene and how the release on PROGRAM came about.
What have you been up to recently?
Literally just making tunes and going to uni, that’s about it. There’s not really much else I can do [laughs].
What are you studying at uni?
I’m doing music technology which is quite fitting.
Was that always the plan, or did you decide that after you started progressing with your productions?
Originally I was going to study business or graphics and I couldn’t decide which one. Then one day it clicked that I didn’t really want to do either and that I quite like making tunes.
When did you start producing then?
About three or four years ago now.
Wow, that’s pretty quick. You had your first release a few years ago, didn’t you?
Yeah, my first tune came out on The Mixtape Volume 2 on Serial Killaz towards the end of 2018.
Congratulations because that’s really impressive, from nothing to a release on Serial Killaz in 2 years.
Having people like Skantia and Nectax around me 24/7 definitely helped a lot.
How have they helped?
I used to do 1-1 tutorials with Nectax. He does them more often now with different people, but he used to do them with me to help me get better at producing. Also, the friendly competition of being the underdog and wanting to be as good as them helped motivate me.
What’s the Newcastle scene like for you as a producer?
The Newcastle scene is sick. We’re all pretty much best friends. The scene is so small and tightly knit. I’d still be mates with Skant and Nectax if none of us produced. We’re all just really good friends and get on, but just happen to make tunes.
How did you first meet them?
I met Nectax through skating and then ended up meeting Skantia at raves with Nectax. We ended up becoming really good friends.
That’s really wholesome, you hear a lot about the London, Bristol and Manchester scenes but not as much about Newcastle. It’s good to hear that there are other pockets of tight-knit scenes around the country. Does other music thrive in Newcastle, or is it mainly drum and bass?
There are quite a few people getting into rapping, like grime and hip-hop, but I feel like the drum and bass scene has a stronger history around here. Especially having Turbulence here back in the day.
Is there anything unique about the Newcastle scene?
It’s how close the whole scene is. All of the promoters know each other, which is a really good thing. Everyone is friends and gets on. It feels like home no matter what event you play at.
I know that’s not always the case down south, promoters fighting for the same crowd and not really working together, so it’s amazing to hear the scene is more unified in Newcastle. Have you had the chance to collaborate with any of the producers local to you?
The thing is that we’ve tried to collaborate plenty of times but it’s not always gone to plan. I went to Skantia’s studio recently and we started working on a tune, but it ended up turning it into a 140 garage tune and we just vibed out. So there’s nothing on the drums side but I’m hoping to make some tunes with Skant and Nec eventually.
That would be wicked, it seems like the natural thing to do. What have you been up to over the last couple of months?
I’ve been working on as many projects as I can. I’m striving to get a release out every month. I’ve got this EP on PROGRAM, an EP next month on Biological Beats, a release on Overview next year and another EP for Serial Killaz.
Sounds like you’ve been really productive then. How have you stayed inspired?
That’s a hard question. I find doing little things like having a good sleeping pattern, trying to eat well and only drinking on weekends helps me keep a routine during the week. It makes me feel like I have to use my time wisely. If I go to bed and wake up at a certain time, do certain things at certain times, I’m more likely to be a lot more productive than if I just winged it. I try to be like this as best as I can.
Over the last couple of months you’ve obviously not been playing as many sets. Has the music you produce changed at all?
A lot of the tunes I’ve made over the past few months have still been dancefloor drum and bass tunes. But over the last couple of weeks I’ve started messing about and making some garage and 80 BPM hip-hop tunes. Just something that is easier to catch a vibe on and more enjoyable to make, because it can get a bit boring making the same kind of drum and bass tunes.
Definitely, I guess it’s the same from a listeners point of view. Is this music that you’d like to release, or are you just doing it for the creativity?
I’m just doing it for myself at the minute, but I wouldn’t be opposed to releasing it or putting it out for free on Soundcloud. If I didn’t have a release for a while I might put it on Soundcloud for free to get some content out there.
Have you had the chance to play at any sit-down events recently?
There’s a group that runs an event in Newcastle called Gunfinger Sounds. They put a sit-down student event on once a week on a Monday night before this second lockdown and it seemed to sell well every week. They got me down for a few of those nights which was nice. I got to play out quite a bit, only in Newcastle but it was still a highlight of my week every time. Just to go out, listen to some drums, have a drink and meet new people.
I think that social aspect has been missed by quite a few people.
Definitely. I didn’t realise how much I missed it until I had it back.
So, what’s the story about this EP on PROGRAM then?
It’s a funny one really. Obviously Skantia got signed to RAM recently and I didn’t have any intentions of getting anything signed to RAM, but one day before work I sent this batch of tunes to RAM, Playaz and Metalheadz. I didn’t really expect anything from it, but thought “Why not?”. Then Jim, the label manager at RAM, replied saying that he wanted to sign all three tunes and that he wanted me to work with RAM on a first refusal basis on my tracks. I had a couple of tunes on the RAM Drum & Bass Annual and RAM Rave Part 2. Then around March this year, I had a few tunes that were signed to them and I just asked if they fancied turning them into an EP on PROGRAM and they said yes. So I was working on those and perfecting them in time for the release date.
How would you describe the tunes?
My favourite thing about this EP is that each track compliments the others but they’re all different styles. Creation Of The Black is a heavier roller, with some loud, live drums. Endorphins is really sub-heavy, with tight drums. The sub carries the whole track, it’s made for listening on a sound system. Rooftop Melodies is fast paced and liquidy, with a nice vocal that comes in. It’s more of a sit back listen tune. I feel like they all compliment each other well.
It sounds like there’s something for everyone there.
Yeah, that was my aim.
What’s the first thing you’re going to do when things go back to normal, whenever that is?
I just want to carry on making tunes and getting more releases of the tracks that I’m happy with. Push to get more sets and eventually travel more as well. I’d like to travel around the world and meet more people.
Speaking of people, is there anyone you want to shout out to sign-off?
Big up to the Newcastle crew. Nectax, Skantia, Hexa, KL, Stompz. Also big ups to RAM, Serial Killaz and Biological Beats for taking my tunes.