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Interview: Downstate
Local producer, Downstate kicks out his first Shanghai release "Farewell Static" this Saturday night at The Shelter. Chit chat inside.
By Feb 23, 2012 Nightlife

Good one on for Saturday night as Shanghai's underground music community celebrates one of its own. Local DJ / producer, Downstate has finally managed to get his Shanghai debut album out there into the world and we all get to have a lil' listen. It's called "Farewell Static" -- 21 tracks of glitched, smokey 8-bit goodness out on local label, PAUSE: MUSIC.

From the horse's mouth, "it's the result of his hermit lifestyle, hiding behind curtains in a dimly lit room, constructing layer upon layer of geeky electronica."

Some links: Here's a nice preview of the album. Cycle through that and taste the goods. Here's a video for "The Heartache was Visible", made by Kim Laughton -- he also did the artwork and booklet for "Farewell Static".

And here's a track from album that you can download. But, of course, show up on Saturday to get the full deal with the lovely artwork and everything.

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SmartShanghai talked to Downstate about making "Farwell Static" and other tertiary matters.


SmSh: Maybe you could introduce yourself -- who is this Downstate, where are you from, what’s your musical upbringing, and what’s the first CD you ever bought?

Downstate: I'm from sunny ole England, somehow I have sneaked up to being 29... but I’m sure it’s a mistake. Let’s say I'm 17 because I can’t even buy a beer in my own country without showing ID!

The first CD I bought? Damn, Phil bloody Collins Greatest Hits… although I’m sure my mum and dad 'persuaded' me to invest in that [laughs]. My first record is much more acceptable, that was “Friday I'm in Love' by The Cure.

As for musical background, I owe most of that to my older brother. He's six years older than me which was wicked growing up. I was listening to Aphex Twin, FSOL, rave tape packs and goth bands when I was about 11. I started off heavily into metal when I was a pissed off teenager. My first love was metal, yeah. Fear Factory, Slayer, Slipknot -- all that good stuff. I remember seeing those bands live, feeling the energy and deciding there and then that someday I wanted to make my own music. But I couldn't play fuck all instrument wise... in the end I got some old decks and started to mix.

I was going to metal festivals and mixing cheesy trance on the sly, not telling my cool metal buddies [laughs]. But I'd also have my pot smoking friends -- we all listened to Orbital and basically a shit load of early ‘90s electronic. Autechre, Global Communication… So throughout school I went from mixing trance, to progressive house, ended up on breaks and drum and bass. Once I got fed up spending 20 quid a week on vinyl for about 4 years, I decided to make my own tunes. Downloaded a crack of Fruity Loops and that was that.

Still love making nerdy electronica every day…

SmSh: When did you get to Shanghai? What do you do for a day job?

D: September 2009. I teach small humans when I'm not making music. Teaching is actually pretty cool. Kids just have such a pure brain. They say the funniest shit, if they get upset it lasts for two minutes, and then they're smiling again. It keeps me sane, and gives me hope in humanity. Adults are just a pain in the arse, really aren't they.

SmSh: Do you DJ out a lot in Shanghai?

D: I still DJ yeah. Every Monday I host 'Jiong' at Dada with Icenine. We basically just play good, head-noddable music. Hip-hop, electronica, wonky, bleepy stuff... you know the drill. But if I play out on the weekend I'd say I'm still a drum and bass DJ.

Recently though, I've grown tired of it a bit. Maybe I've gotten slower in my old age. But with drum and bass, it feels like so many producers are trying to emulate a certain popular sound, a certain bass noise, a certain horrible high res wobble that sounds like a duck getting raped... truly fresh stuff like 'Rockwell' and 'Break' is few and far between, I reckon. So actually, I’m probably more likely these days to play a set of stuff like Ital Tek, Slugabed, Pixelord... that kinda stuff. Stuff you hear, and can only describe as “Yeah, that’s dope man”. [Laughs.]

SmSh: What are your impressions with the electronic music coming out of this city?

D: I’d say when I got here I was surprised there was an underground music scene at all, to be honest. I think the music coming out of Shanghai is at a really exciting time. I heard some sneaky preview of a new AM444 song recently, and it was so fucking good. You got SIG -- that guy is just criminally over looked by the rest of the world. I mean that album isn't what I'd say is a "good record"... I'd describe that as a truly amazing record. The production is great and its totally original. And of course you got ROM bringing another totally original sound.

I guess that’s my impression of electronic music coming out of Shanghai. It’s very original.

SmSh: How would you describe your own music for someone who hasn’t heard it?

D: I hate this question. It’s a fine line between sounding artistic and like a pretentious bell-end. I’d say it sounds like a children’s keyboard being played by a sad blind man, whilst sailing on a boat with a computer game drummer for company, but the drummer is fragile, and on his last legs of life. Yeah, that’s it. It also sounds like clicky drum beats, 8 bit computers, pianos and elves.

SmSh: What sorts of musical, film, or literary influences do you have that you can trace in your work?

D: ‘80s horror movies, videogames, early Warp records, early Orbital, Sigur Ros, The Cure, Hip hop. Geeky, music-related electronics is definitely a big influence too. Something low-fi, like a circuit bent toy, a homemade guitar pedal...

SmSh: Can you discuss the writing of this album – what instrumentation were you using – hardware, software? Where are you getting your samples?

D: Mostly software. I made it on Fruity Loops and Renoise, and finished off in Ableton Live. I made a small software synth inside Reaktor, just a simple, really simple synth with the basic waveforms, perfect for those 8-bit sounds, and soft sine waves chimes I always use.

I don't use any samples apart from just single drum hits. Never really work with drum loops or sampling old vinyls and stuff like that. I use a drum machine in Reaktor, just loaded with drum sounds I’ve collected off the internet over the last five years... I also use trackers when I’m doing 8-bit stuff… Modplug tracker, Famitracker for the NES sound, sometimes the Gameboy. There's quite a lot of Gameboy on the record although it’s sparse and blended in with everything else. Those beats on “Helium Stare” and “Not Beacuse I Wanted To” are mostly from the Gameboy running LSDJ. Also I’ve got a shit guitar I can’t really play, a glockenspiel, some old Casios and kids’ keyboards.

SmSh: What’s the process of putting together a track? Are you working from a similar starting point? Creating songs around a hook? Working from a drum beat on up?

D: It's usually 11pm on a night I should be getting ready to sleep. I'll be watching or listening to something, and get an idea... I don’t really have a set process. Maybe I’ll just play a bit of piano, write a nice melody, whack a simple beat on it and then just keep tinkering til it feels “done”. I re-sample my stuff a lot. Like record a bit of synth, export it, detune it, do whatever, and then put it back in and work around it. I never have a rigid idea of what it’s going to sound like before I make it. When I try to do that, I sit and play for an hour and it’s all shit and I stop.

Just those times when I’m walking past the Glockenspiel, have a little jam -- those times it’s more likely I write something decent that gets me started on a song.

SmSh: Did you have an overarching aesthetic to create this album of songs, “Farewell Static”? Or is it more a collection of single tracks?

D: It's not really a conceptual record no. But it’s more than a collection of single tracks. They can range a lot in BPM and style, but I think the overall vibe of the record sounds like an album. They all use the same palette of sounds, it’s pretty raw in places, like low-fi. That’s kind of what I like I suppose, fragile sounding, melancholy, but also with a bit of optimism and warmth.

SmSh: There’s a fairly prevalent 8-bit / chiptune edge and undercurrent to most of these songs… what’s your background with these tones and arpeggios? Did you grow up playing video games or do you come at it from a musical point of view?

D: Both i'd say. My brother called me megabyte kid when I was a teenager. Because I could rinse through a game on Christmas morning. I kinda feel bad for my dad forking out 30 quid on my morning’s entertainment. [Laughs.]

I have always loved videogame sounds -- they're just so great. They can sound so beautiful and emotive but at the same time they sound so raw and machine like. I like using the old trackers, making those old arp sounds. So from a musical point of view, I just wanted to try and mesh these sounds with new electronic sounds and also organic stuff, field recordings, piano…

SmSh: Of course there’s the album title, “Farewell Static” – but also there’s static, fuzz, and rough glitches all over these songs. Is that a conscious effort to crush up and distort the sound? What’s your reasoning for that?

D: Yes, I think that’s fair to say. I hate over produced music. I like hearing artifacts and crackles in music. It doesn’t have to be perfectly sequenced and clean just because its digital. That’s why I like using some shit recording from my mp3 player in the background, and glitching the sounds in software.

I guess my reasoning would be because I love experimenting with sound, trying to make sounds appear broken. This is owed a lot to the pioneers of course -- Aphex Twin,s Squarepusher. I've always loved those scatty, glitchy beats...

SmSh: How long were you working on this one for?

D: From late 2009 to the end of 2011, probably over two years. These are the tracks that stood out to me, that I feel most proud of that I’ve made. I must have made hundreds of tunes in that time, but these ones were always in my mind, to be building a new album.

SmSh: Where do you see people listening to this album – is this a club album, a stoned-in-my-bedroom-with-headphones album?

D: The latter for sure. The album is definitely a listen-to, as opposed to a dance-to affair. But, for me, the tracks individually, they live beyond the CD, because I’ve got them all re-edited and reworked in my live set. So I kind of look at the songs with two minds in that respect.

SmSh: And what about your latest material. How would you describe your newest stuff -- a continuation of the themes on “Farewell Static”, or are you trying something different?

D: A bit darker, bit noisier, but also possibly a bit slower and drudgier, if that’s even a word. It’s like ambient-goth-hip hop recorded through a 4 track cassette recorder.

God, that sounds shit! It's good, trust me.

SmSh: What are you plans for future releases?

D: Right now, after the release I'll get back to work on a kind of ‘80s horror, 8-bit hip hop mixtape thing I’ve been working on. Also this month, I released my first 100% Chiptune release called, "The Coin Paint EP”. It’s glitch, 8-bit Gameboy music. Free download from

SmSh: How did you get hooked up with PAUSE: MUSIC and what’s the release run for “Farewell Static”?

D: I've known the beans behind PAUSE since I got here. I did my first gigs at The Shelter and Antidote parties. They've always been a massive support and given me a platform. Something I’m really grateful for, and of course they're releasing my record.

It’s 500 copies, CD, and it’s released this Saturday [February 25 @ The Shelter]. 50rmb gets entrance and the CD. It’s going to be a wicked show -- I’ve worked on getting the live set as live as possible. I'll be using an MPC, coupla keyboards, and the laptop. Olive Pixel who did the beautiful artwork for the album is doing the live visuals to accompany the live set. Support is from ChaCha, Blaise & Icenine, and Drunk Monk.

SmSh: What are you working on right at this second?

D: A 'Dope as Fuck' live set for Saturday night!!! I'm too immersed in that to be thinking about anything else.


PAUSE: MUSIC pres. Downstate "Farewell Static" Release Show is this Saturday night at The Shelter. Cover is 50rmb -- comes with a free CD. Support: ChaCha, Blaise & Icenine, and Drunk Monk.

All photos with this article by Andrew Rochfort. Thanks, man.

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