Set to headline day one of the #FVDED Stage at Contact Festival, Gramatik is sure to bring his signature mix of soul-funk infused chill-step fury to attendees. This year alone Gramatik produced a solo LP, The Age of Reason, the inaugural Exmag LP entitled Proportions, and continued collaboration with Griz as Grizmatik.
Genres be damned—live instruments, a steady blast of infectious bass groove, and a flair for nostalgia—Gramatik never fails to surpass expectations and shred preconceptions. In order to find out just how the #FVDED stage will live up to its name we sat down with Gramatik to talk Lowtemp, revitalizing the dance music scene, and the power of great live music.
Blueprint: How would a mission statement for Gramatik read?
Gramatik: Art is the key. Without art we’re boring, as a species. There are so many artists contributing to the worldwide pool of art and I can be one of them: that’s my mission. Create art as long as I can, and express myself in different ways 4ever!
Blueprint: Let’s talk Netflix for a second…what is currently your favorite show to binge watch?
Gramatik: I’m waiting for the new season of House of Cards, I think that is one of the best shows ever produced for TV. It’s just everything I wanted from a show like that: dark, corrupt, well written and executed, and Francis Underwood is just the worst person on the planet. Just like how I imagine high politics would look like. Yuk.
Blueprint: year after releasing your first album, Expedition 44, you were signed to Pretty Lights Music: at that point in time you were the only artist aside form Pretty Lights on the label. Can you tell Blueprint reader’s a bit about that stage in your career?
Gramatik: When I was still just releasing music under my name – Gramatik, my current agent contacted me and asked me if he could represent me in North America. At that time I wasn’t performing as Gramatik yet, I was just making beats. He offered me an opening spot on Pretty Lights’s tour and that’s how I met Derek. We talked and I liked his whole idea of giving away music for free, I thought there could be a movement behind it. It later actually became one, and it is still going on.
Artists who are releasing what is now called future funk or future soul are mainly releasing the music for free. I was very unsatisfied with my label at the time and so I signed to Derek’s Pretty Light Music, which brought me huge exposure in the US. I managed to catch the wave and today there is a whole scene forming up of artists that produce this kind of music.
Blueprint: In 2013 you left Pretty Lights Music to form Lowtemp: why was this the right time to make a creative shift?
Gramatik: The deal was always one album and one EP. After that I decided it was time to create something that would give me the ability to release music under my conditions and own all the rights to my own music. Quickly a lot of artist friends decided to release music with Lowtemp, and slowly Lowtemp started to grow. The main goal of Lowtemp is to expose young and talented artists, to help them establish their own careers so they can start playing their music live for fans.
Blueprint: What does Lowtemp offer the dance music community that Pretty Lights Music didn’t?
Gramatik: I don’t know, it was never a competition, not from our end. PLM is not signing acts like we are and we’re not functioning as a label. It is more of a creative hub, artists I collaborate with and we can tour together. Gibbz, Russ Liquid, ProbCause, Andrew Block…they’ve all been touring and playing with me and they all have their own careers and albums out on Lowtemp. We do our own thing, we don’t want to compete, it’s not like we’re taking away business, and we give all our music away for free.
Blueprint: In a past interview you said: “the Beatport Top100 plays like the production line in a can making factory.” Can you elaborate?
Gramatik: Yes. Most of the music produced in the EDM scene these days are tracks, with sequences of sounds designed to fit in a set for a DJ. It’s a formula that every producer follows. It’s created for events and DJs. There was a SoundCloud link where somebody mixed together 10 top big room house hits. It was one track with different pitch on synth, everything else was the same. But I’m not hating, I think there’s enough good music and fans that appreciate it and there’s enough for everyone to go around.
Blueprint: Following that up, you’ve also stated that there’s a reason dance music was dubbed EDM and not just ED. Your current goal is to put the M back into EDM—but why did dance music lose its musicality to begin with? Where do you draw inspiration to revitalize the scene?
Gramatik: That was more of a word play, a joke. EDM became a synonym for all the genres in the electronic music, but we don’t want to be called that. Most of the artists on our label experiment with so many different styles but nobody actually produces or plays the music that most of the crowd understands as EDM. We do our own thing, everyone that releases on Lowtemp. And most of the time it’s not EDM, we just released a funk album by Andrew Block. Everyone on Lowtemp somehow contributes musically, they remixed each other, and they played instruments on other’s songs or did the vocals for other. We always welcome new artists but we don’t really call ourselves EDM.
Blueprint: For those who don’t know a lot about Exmag can you explain how it all started?
Gramatik: My previous guitarist Eric introduced me to Tyler and Mike and for a while we lived together in Brooklyn. I helped them produce their album and they helped me produce mine. The idea of Lowtemp peaked there and those albums were the first releases on the label. We started touring and they did a national tour with me and later went on their own tours. Today they’re doing very well, playing all across the US and gaining recognition.
Blueprint: “Freeing music by making music free.” How does forcing individuals to pay for music while harshly criminalizing ‘illegal’ downloads caging the music industry?
Gramatik: This is a concept that obviously doesn’t work for anyone, not everybody can afford to release their music for free, it cost them a lot of money to produce it. But just today Pirate Bay was raided and is down. The industry is still trying the old ways of locking people up, imprisoning them, suing them, and so on—bullies—still the old ways of getting paid, like back in the day. Streaming services are booming and everybody is launching their own. Soon all the big labels will have their own streaming services and will prevail again, they have more money and power than anyone else.
Netflix is winning as a video content provider, now HBO wants in and Amazon and so on. With streaming services and BitTorrent starting to monetize their content you can see the shifting towards this kind of business model and in the future every major studio and label will have their own streaming services. They have to change the way they treat this question and evolve to the next level, or they can continue to raid and imprison people for downloading content. That’s why we give it away for free and on streaming channels, to get the music out there.
Blueprint: On December 26th you are headlining the #FVDED stage at Contact Festival directly after Griz finishes up his set. What can fans look forward to for your performance and should we expect a little Grizmatik jam session during either of your sets?
Gramatik: Expect a lot of funk, I’ll be bringing Russ Liquid on the keys, trumpet and saxophone and Andrew Block on the guitar. And Griz is releasing his new album soon so probably we’ll come up with something; we always do whenever we get the chance to play the same festival
With a minimum of two dedicated instrumentalists bringing funk to life—the potential for Grizmatik—and Gramatik officiating as grand conductor, this is one #FVDED act you can’t miss. Four days and counting till #Contact2014! See you all there #BPfamily.
– Ryan Hayes