Drum n Bass
Raphael Johnson, aka Spktrm is an electronic music composer, based in Michigan. He has been releasing music on some of the most well known Drum & Bass record labels for the last five years, and is regarded as one of the most upcoming and forward thinking musical minds to come out of the American scene. His music has graced dance floors from small American nightclubs to packed arenas in Russia, and has been supported on the air locally to stations such as the BBC.
Spktrm’s sound is notoriously difficult to categorize, as it is in a constant state of flux. From massive club smashers to dark, subtle broken sci fi soundscapes, There is no telling what he will release next. The only consistency in all of his artistic endeavors has been an underlying sense of futurism, with production quality that is second to none.
1-For starters would you please tell us the story/idea behind the name SPKTRM?
Well, the name has several potential connotations. I have always had a diverse taste in art, and wanted a name that would reflect that. If you listen to the kind of music I compose, along with the kinds of sets I play live, I think this comes through quite clearly. It’s also evident in the podcast I have done for you guys. The name was originally spelled with the vowels included, but I realized there was some French (I think?) house group using the name, so I altered the spelling to avoid potential copyright/royalty issues. I actually prefer the current spelling, so it worked out.
Other meanings of the name could have to do with the fact that culturally and racially I come from two different worlds, and have spent my life living in and finding the balance between the chaos and beauty that is generated whilst living life as a biracial human being in this era (in the United States). The ultimate meaning of the name I suppose, is a sense of nothingness. No one should seek any kind of definition in my style/art, or else it loses its significance/relevance. I represent one facet of the deepest/most abstract spectrum of human expression and thought.
2-How did it all begin? The music production & DJing? Which came first?
I had brief classical piano training as a child, but lost interest. I was listening to electronic music by the time I was around 9 years old, and then decided to start playing it when I was 13-14. Although, after about 1 year, I lost most interest in DJing as well, and realized that I needed to write music. By the time I was 15, I was composing. So, I guess DJing came first.
3-What was your first party to play at (house/private..etc)? What about your first event?
The first time I was ever on stage playing music was in Costa del Sol, Spain in 2001. I was 13, and on a school trip. A friend of mine and I walked on stage at the bar in the hotel basement and convinced the DJ to let us take over his rig for a couple hours.
The first real performing I did was locally here in Michigan. I was about 17-18 or so, and it was at a residency I had with a group called Sonic Synergy. I think the first professional gig I did was in San Diego, California some years back, although I’m not sure. I don’t remember much from those days.
4-You have any in-scene influence? old skool jungle producers maybe? What about music styles?
Early on, I was into what are now old Moving Shadow and Metalheadz releases/artists (i.e. Dom & Roland, Technical Itch, Photek, Dillinja, Paradox, J Majik, Peshay, Goldie, Grooverider, etc.). Lately, I am still influenced by a lot of those same artists/records, but have also found a couple folks who really inspire me in the United States. Gridlok is a huge influence right now. Even though we have very different styles, the vibe of our music is on the same level in some crucial ways. He calls it ‘Blade Runner music’. For me, it’s closer to something written by Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov and Otto Rank, all mixed up together, but you get the idea…
Other than that, I am always influenced by Jazz. I believe that what some of us are doing is in some ways the continuation of experimental/highly expressive genres like that. More than any style of music or artist though, I’m influenced by space. There is no greater source of wonder or inspiration, in my opinion. I wish more people would look up.
5-What was the first record you bought? What’s a record you want to buy? What’s a one record you recommend to have?
The first Drum & Bass record I purchased was one of the Moving Shadow ‘Killabites’ compilations, I think. Then I started going back and buying older stuff, as well as what was current at that time. One record I would love to have again is ‘Modus Operandi’ by Photek. I have the album in other formats currently, and may have had it on vinyl at one point, but I don’t know where it is. That album is the record I would recommend to anyone else. The tunes are truly timeless.
6-What DAW(s) you operate on & what VSTS do you recommend for futuristic/galaxias sounds?
I mainly use Reason (although I am trained on and have several others). I do not use VSTs at all, for the most part. I create my sounds using the synths/samplers in reason and sometimes I use other programs/methods to accomplish this. I am not opposed to using plugins. There have been times when I’ve worked with them to get a specific sound, but it’s not often enough that I would recommend any in particular. My advice would be figure out which tools work the best for you as an individual, and then exploit them. The real reason my music sounds like space music is because that’s what my brain focuses on. I can’t control or teach that. Just use whatever you have to in order to get the sound to come out of your monitors/headphones that matches what’s going on in your brain. There are no rules.
7-What’s a good advice would you give to up and coming DJs/Producers?
Please, write music for the right reasons. If you’re making (good) Drum & Bass, do not expect to become rich or anything like that. This music is ahead of its time. It will be for a while (think about it, the electronic music movement hasn’t existed for even half a century yet). So, make peace with that; then, if you still have the passion, give it everything you have. Good Drum & Bass is challenging to make, so take your time, learn the history of the music and develop your craft. Focus on writing good music first, but then start spending time learning the technical art of mixing/engineering. Drum & Bass is one of the few genres where in order to truly discover yourself, you have to know how to write, as well as engineer on some level. If you can, spend a little time in analog studios mixing non electronic music, or watching sessions. This has the potential to help quite a bit.
As for DJs… Try not to train wreck on stage I guess? Sorry, I’m more of a composer than a DJ at this stage.
8-What’s your favourite party venue? Country? If you could throw a party anywhere, where would it be?
I have only been out of the country (USA) a few times, and it was not music related. I don’t have a favorite place to play, but I have enjoyed most of the shows I’ve done in California so far. Electric Daisy Carnival and Starscape are fun events. Although, I really prefer playing to hundreds of people who really enjoy/follow the music than to thousands who have no idea what’s going on.
My ideal event would be in a smaller, intimate, sweat and smoke filled nightclub with about 500 serious Drum & Bass fans. The location is irrelevant, as long as that vibe is present. Those are the kind of shows I’ve played where people have come up to me during or after a set and said things like “Hey, this tune changed my life.” Those parties bring out a different breed of human.
9-Drum’n’Bass is a controversial dance style, do you agree? What’s your view on the scene, how it was & the direction its going?
I don’t see it so much as controversial anymore. I think years ago I did, but honestly it’s just incredibly ahead of its time, on a very fundamental level. It has not existed for very long, most people don’t get it and that’s completely fine. As for my stance on the global scene, I think that as always, there are some people who are truly doing good and innovative work, and there are some people who are not. That will never change, because that’s the nature of art. I do have a soft spot in my heart for the older sounds (as you can hear in my newer productions), but honestly there is a lot of really good new music coming out now. I am comfortable with the direction the scene is going, if you are looking at it according to what I would define as good music. If you’re looking at it according to music that sucks, then the scene sucks. It’s all cyclical.
10-Anything else you want to add? Any shout outs? Last words for our local DJs/Producers?
Thanks for taking the time to ask me these questions and support the sound that I’m into and make. The mix I have done is just a bunch of good tunes, both forthcoming and already released, by a number of artists (including myself). I hope you all enjoy it. As for local DJs/Producers, please keep supporting/creating/playing good Drum & Bass music. For those of you who have been wondering why I’m not putting out a lot of material right now, it’s because I’m about halfway through my first album. It’s going to be released on Project 51 Recordings. You can hear a few of the tunes in the podcast. Enjoy!