In this post, we will be interviewing Slovak drum & bass producer Subtension – his beginnings, progress, and ambitions.
When did you start with music, and how did you jump into DnB?
I started in 2009, shortly before I entered High School. I remember that particular summer holidays when we met with my friend Jakub (Minor Rain). He was a pretty skilled piano player, and I had a little studio at home, which belonged to my father. As we had free time, we started experimenting with music.
The next important thing was that our other friends from the little neighborhood where we lived already had some experience with making drum n bass, and we wanted to compare with them badly. Competition always helps to motivate 😀 Of course, our music was way worse than theirs at that point.
Which instruments did you play in high school?
I played piano a little bit. When I was at elementary, my parents wanted me to attend music school, which I attended for a year or so. During that time as a child, I had totally different things to do, so I didn’t want to spend much time there. I regret this till today, but at high school, as the music started to interest me more and more, I learned something on my own.
So I can play some basic stuff on the piano but can’t read music sheets, and I haven’t mastered a theory. You can still work with your ears, but I believe that theory definitely helps to make melodies & harmonies way faster.
Describe your favorite and least favorite part about being a musician.
Most favorite – You can create whatever you want; you have no boundaries. Least favorite – You can create whatever you want; you have no boundaries. Musical freedom is amazing. When you have no limits, it’s hard to decide which direction you want to go.
When you are limited, you can paradoxically be more creative because you are forced to invent new ways to achieve what you want. It’s kind of a challenge. I am also often struggling with my musical direction. Sometimes I want something delighted and melodic, sometimes completely opposite & dark. With this bipolarity, it’s hard to keep your audience consistent.
On the other hand – after the music stopped paying my bills during Covid, I realized I could do whatever I want. It doesn’t have to be drum & bass; it doesn’t have to bring me money — just joy and happiness from the music & process of making it.
Describe your favorite venue for performing
I had great fun in Gretchen Berlin, as I remember. Also, Flex in Vienna is awesome. I prefer small venues packed with people, where you have close contact with the audience. I feel a bit remote on huge festivals.
What are your top 7 favorite albums of all time? Why those?
Ok, those got me into the drum and bass, so I have to put them here:
High Contrast – Tough Guys Don’t Dance
Pendulum – Hold your color
And those, which I listened to more than it’s healthy:
Massive Attack – Mezzanine
Trentemoller – Into The Great Wide Yonder
Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
Portishead – Dummy
Alix Perez – 1984
Omg, that’s already 7. Now I really don’t know if I mentioned the “right ones.” I listen to a lot of older Slovak music as well (big beat, art rock). There are many newer releases which I would like to mention, but they are not albums. Album is a bit obsolete concept in 2021. It’s more about singles & EP’s right now.
How would you handle traveling and being away from your home for an extended period while you were on tour?
I would handle it well as I love to travel and I also enjoy time alone. I am quite an introverted person. But I won’t lie, recently I brought my girlfriend on almost all gigs I had, she is my great support. Ahh, traveling, tour, gigs, those are forgotten words right now. When I imagine it all, I’ve got Goosebumps.
Describe your creative process when you write new music
It depends. When I have no idea, I will start from scratch. Drums, bass, some FX. Those projects mostly end up in the trash, as they are usually not as original. I realized that projects that work the best typically start with some idea (melodic idea, sound design idea) or something original and can provide a central pillar for your track.
Do you use any third-party plugins or not? Tell why
Just a very few. Choose your weapon and master it. I love native Ableton plugins & Serum. I also like to work with samples. Sometimes they can be used only as initial waveform, and the process afterward is infinite. Even, after you master one synth (if we are talking about subtractive synthesis), you won’t have a problem understanding other ones, as this is the most common concept. Serum is excellent for learning. It’s straightforward and easy to understand.
Do you start tunes from the intro or drop? Or it’s different everytime?
Mainly from the drop (working on the main loop of the track), starting from the intro is very rewarding. When you begin with the opening, you usually sketch musical/harmonic ideas as well, which is essential. Also, with a good introduction, you can imagine what a drop might look like. It just better stimulates your fantasy.
Have you ever taught anyone how to play an instrument?
We have a private music school in Bratislava, but I am teaching only music production in Ableton. There are much better teachers for piano in our school, so I leave this work to professionals. In this case, the question would be when I finally kick myself to sign up for their lessons.
What’s the best piece of advice another musician ever gave you?
The happiness should come from the process of making music, not from the expected results (e.g., plays or money). If you are happy while creating it, you are doing it right.
What is your biggest musical challenge?
The biggest challenge is probably to evaluate and connect all my skills to something that makes sense. Currently, it’s perhaps the live performance. This is harder than I ever imagined. Also, I would like to start doing more and more audio-visual works.
What would be your advice to starters?
Keep it simple, and do not overthink it.
Here are few technical tips:
- Save your headroom
There are frequencies that you don’t need in almost every sample (Low ones <120 Hz), cut them!
- Don’t use sine wave for your sub:
Perfect sine-wave has only the first harmonic frequency, which might not be heard on some speakers. Distort the sine wave, or use the square or saw and filter it to generate also higher harmonic frequencies. You will hear the bass on smaller speakers as well. Redundancy!
When you are tired of composing a track, do not do that. Do sound design, create a sound bank, play around and record everything that can be useful later.
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