Evolving from his deeply nurtured musical roots planted firmly within the hip-hop and drum and bass genres, Mesck brings forth a unique style that strikes a novel balance between his hands-on, crate-digging, sample-based origins and the sound design processes and technical prowess of modern electronic music production. This multifaceted producer uses his diverse musical background as a framework to concoct his current sound; an unmistakably powerful sound situated within the booming underground dubstep genre that boasts a highly original and volatile style blurring the lines of headphone and dancefloor listening. His attention-grabbing output constantly delivers a fresh take on dubstep’s complex and ever-evolving personality while remaining ethereal, deep and dark without ever sacrificing strength, energy or heaviness.
Since embarking on his journey through the dark fibers of the dubstep genre, Mesck has unleashed an array of weighty, fresh and engaging releases, including Crucial Recordings’ adrenaline-infused Ghettonomics EP with Thelem and labelhead Sleeper as well as three roaring Chestplate releases and a four-way collaborative release on Joe Nice’s Gourmet Beats imprint. Mesck’s most recent musical feat comes in the form of his four-track release with TRUSIK entitled Doomsayer (TRSK003). Meaning “a person who predicts impending misfortune, catastrophe or disaster,” Mesck’s Doomsayer EP sonically captures the essence of impending doom with its razor sharp percussion, unforgiving baselines and foreboding melodies, combined with the release’s ominous visual artwork comprised of a single burning palm tree. Featuring four tunes, including an unexpected 85 BPM dancefloor detonator and a collaboration with up-and-coming producer Kālī, not to mention original artwork created by Mesck himself, Doomsayer stands as a trailblazing collection that encapsulates the diverse and unexplored potential of bass music production.
We caught up with not only Mesck, but TRUSIK labelheads Alastair and Jake, ahead of the Doomsayer release to discuss the inner workings behind the EP from both the producer’s and label’s standpoints. This four-track release can be purchased now in physical, with full color sleeve, and digital formats.
In my eyes, there are two very apparent and striking features about theDoomsayer artwork that I’d like to touch on. First, can you describe and give some insight into the story and symbolism behind the burning palm tree? How does this image relate to the Doomsayer title in your eyes?
Mesck: Ultimately, I just wanted to make sure this record meant something in its entirety, and that it wouldn’t just be a few miscellaneous beats combined with some random artwork, and no connection between the two. The symbolism used on the sleeve is just as literal as it is figurative. During the time I was finishing this record California was literally burning as we were being hit with what eventually became the single most devastating wildfire in the state’s history. From Los Angeles all the way up to northern Santa Barbara, scorched spider-like palm fronds and ominous glowing tree lines became standard as I made my way up the coast every weekend to visit Morgan (Kālī), whose neighborhood had become a voluntary evacuation zone. The air was thick and the sky was raining ash for over two weeks. If it sounds a bit hesh that’s because it was *slayer*. This was a crash course courtesy of mother nature in learning how little control we actually have over life in general, which lends itself to the title ”Doomsayer” for obvious reasons.
In the figurative sense it’s a symbol that marks my decision to leave Los Angeles for Denver after living there for nearly twenty years. It was a solid run and I don’t regret anything, I just felt as though it was time to explore some new places and meet some new people. The politics, repetition, congestion, inflated cost of living and general lack of a supportive musical community were all beginning to wear me down. So I basically just quit my job, packed my shit, and left. With that said, during my time there I learned a lot about people, places and all things good and bad. I met some of the most talented, dedicated and influential artists that I have the privilege of calling my close friends. I keep that circle tight and always will. But on to the next chapter—a massive shout to everyone in Denver who has welcomed me with open arms.
To follow up from the previous question, you come from a graphic designer/visual artist standpoint, so when it comes to your own releases, you have the unique privilege of not only crafting the music, but equally controlling the artwork (and promo videos) that coincide with it. How important is it for you as an artist to have the chance to control multiple facets of your releases through the music as well as the artwork? How do you think this differs from artists who don’t come from a visual artist background and aren’t capable of making their release art themselves?
Mesck: For me, it’s incredibly important to have a certain level of creative control over how my music is marketed and promoted. I’ve tried hiring people to do the work for me in the past but I never really ended up with what I wanted, so I found it better to just do it myself. I would imagine there is always a potential disconnect between the music and the art when it’s outsourced. I’m extremely lucky to have an extensive background in design and marketing, so where some would see more work, I see another opportunity. When you actually have something to say, you can fuse audio and visual art together in an amazing, communicative way and I think we’re beginning to see a bit more of this due to the increase in vinyl record sales as of late.
I remember a time when seeing smaller labels releasing music with full color sleeves was just unthinkable, but that’s no longer the case. It’s nice to see more labels and artists paying attention to how this elevates the entire community, though I still think we can do better and there are trends we need to start moving away from in order to keep things interesting. There are still people who don’t realize or simply don’t give a shit how important this is to the genre as a whole. Thankfully, everyone involved in this project has been very supportive and kind of just lets me do what I want, though I try to make sure it’s somewhat of a collaborative process.
The second biggest facet of your Doomsayer artwork comes from what it’s lacking. Not only is the burning palm tree an intense and eye-catching piece on its own, but there’s a complete absence of your name, the release’s title and the TRUSIK logo altogether. What was the intention behind doing away with what many within the dubstep scene would consider critical parts of album artwork?
Mesck: No gods, no masters, no logos [laughs]. But for real, it seems like absolutely everyone has a festival gig and a logo these days, so that’s exactly what this is not. Don’t get mad, I’m not trying to hurt feelings here but holy shit, being constantly beaten over the head with gassed up branding and promotion is tiresome. Obviously people are gonna do their thing and it doesn’t really matter what I say here, but from my perspective a lot of it just becomes indistinguishable noise. In fact, I’d like people to pick this record up having no idea what is on it or even who made it.
With this project, the idea is less about the social media popularity contest, less about the artist name, the label hype, and more about like-minded people getting together and deciding to create and curate something that goes beyond the status quo. I mean of course I’m gonna slap some info on the back because I don’t want it to come off as some ambiguous student art experiment or whatever and we still want to sell the damn thing, but it has to be done in a way that keeps within the theme of the music and not just some branding protocol. For me, the self promo game has always been extremely weird, as I’m certainly no social butterfly. As artists, I think we all spend a lot of time seeking acceptance from others to some degree, but with social media it can grow into something narcissistic and disconnected. The approach here was an attempt to step away from that brand-based ethos and just create bold and visually stunning work that communicates something a bit deeper without becoming cliquey, pretentious, or preachy.
Many of your fans will be pleasantly surprised to see an 85 BPM tune, “Pills and Chains,” in this collection; a bit of an unexpected change of pace from your usual 140 output. How did the birth of this tune get inspired and come about for you? Can we anticipate more tempo change-ups like this from you in the future?
Mesck: I’ve always loved DNB, and even though I may be a bit disconnected from most of it these days I’ve found myself really inspired by a lot of the halftime sounds I’ve heard within the past few years. Fusing analog elements, dusty-hip hop rhythms and DNB production techniques into my music has really helped me find my own sound, so taking that fusion of influences to a different tempo just felt like a natural progression. Sometimes an idea just won’t translate to 140 so rather than getting stuck trying to force it, I just decided to step out of my comfort zone a bit and try something new. It’s definitely not the first one I’ve made nor will it be the last. It’s become very comfortable over the years to sit down and set the sequencer to 140, but it’s a habit I’ve been trying to break a bit more often lately.
From the tribal, percussive nature of “Doomsayer and the melody-driven psychosis-inducing patterns of “Psychodrama to the aggression of “Ill Behavior” and the swag and attitude of “Pill and Chains,” this collection is impressively, but not surprisingly, extremely diverse yet cohesive at the same time. What keeps you constantly inspired and thirsty for discovering fresh sounds and ways of expression despite having been in the dubstep game for over a decade now?
Mesck: Ultimately, it was a conscious decision born out of conversation with Sleeper and Distance some time after I had released Dead Language to keep pushing in different directions and not settle on what has already been done by myself or others. That way of thinking just kinda stuck and I truly admire other artists who have the ability to shapeshift in a way that remains true to their own sound without getting too preoccupied with trends.
You could think of this in terms of the equipment and processes you use. Some things will start with a sample lifted from a record and flipped, while others begin with sound design sessions away from the computer. Going outside the box with hardware synths has also helped me evolve my sound and keep things interesting. Some analog sound sources worth mentioning that I’ve used on this record are the Virus Indigo 2, Minibrute, Korg ms20, Hertz Donut modular, and Modal 002. It also has everything to do with what you draw inspiration from as well. For me that could be anything from obscure Italian horror soundtracks to a Neil Young and Crazy Horse record, or even a Francis Bacon painting. When you keep a broad range of inspiration, whether it’s audio, visual or simply experiential, you end up with a more diverse idea pool to draw from, and when that changes over time you end up with this vast catalog of influences and concepts. Or you could limit yourself by only listening to dubstep and staring at memes all day…it’s all up to you really.
Standing in most of the dubstep scene’s eyes as a music blog first, TRUSIK has successfully gathered together a highly established and well decorated artist, full color artwork and a full-sized, four-track EP for its third release. What was the motivation behind making that leap and shifting focus towards TRUSIK’s more untapped, record label side with such a special release?
Jake: To me personally, TRUSIK always seemed destined to release a record (or records) at some point. Back in 2012-2013, I used to follow TRUSIK when it was just a Tumblr page that tried to track down tunes for Youngsta’s Minimal Monday sessions. After a while of just simply reviewing and keeping folks informed on the goings-on within dubstep, it seemed like a natural progression to start a label after Tony (Headhunter) wanted to release with us. While I still consider TRUSIK a blog, we have been putting more effort into the label side of things more recently and it’s exciting to see that aspect of TRUSIK growing and developing. It was also important that Zach (Mesck) should have an equal part in the overall process of the record release (granted we’ve done this for both Headhunter and Tremble). Too often there is a top down approach to making records, where a label wants X,Y, and Z songs, and then the artist fades into the background. Myself and Al are more collaborative in nature, which creates a nice working environment for everyone involved by having a voice throughout the whole process. That’s not to say that there aren’t disagreements, but having everyone on board makes the whole thing a group effort where everyone is involved in the decision making process. More specifically, after Headhunter and Tremble’s release, it seemed that the third record should not simply just be a black sleeve with some A-side artwork. In my opinion, I feel that as dubstep has aged and more folks have started buying records, the need to make each record feel individual has become another factor. Some of my favorite records and labels have always melded both with their releases to better illustrate the sonic headspace they inhabit; the artwork imbues the record with a sense of identity and vice versa.
Alastair: To echo Jake’s sentiments, it was always on the cards to start a label once the blog had evolved and matured from a basic Tumblr page to a fully fledged website. I had actually been digging around for the right tunes way before 2015, however, my picky taste in music and a string of polite declines from various artists prolonged me from getting it started. Fortunately, it all came together when Tony (Headhunter) agreed to sign on in a real pinch-me moment, and then after we worked together with Tremble on his TRUSIK mix feature, he delivered a killer follow up. The experience was incredibly fun and a real eye-opening operation, especially as the three of us live in different locations; Rob in London, Jake in the US and myself south of Bristol. However, as a new fledgling label, we were completely engrossed with each release that we lost sight of the next, which explains the year long gap between 001 and 002, and the two years between 002 and 003. To make up for our long hiatus, we wanted to make sure 003 was something special and would stand the test of time. What was originally a two track signing became four, with Kālī also being brought into the fold for her involvement on “Ill Behavior,” and a halftime piece which Zach insisted on mixing down to the Nth degree. You have to admire his passion. As the pair were leaving LA at the time, Zach had this awesome idea for the artwork but wouldn’t tell us what it was. We had complete faith he would come through with the goods so a full sleeve to express his vision was a no-brainer.
Having stood as a pivotal platform within the scene for the last eight years with the blog’s finger constantly on the pulse of its output since the beginning of dubstep’s global takeover, what changes (both positive and negative) have you noticed regarding the nature of the scene, the evolution of its sound, etc.?
Alastair: The obvious sour spot which has had its fair share of discussion is how the genre exploded, and morphed into this ugly bastardised form, tarnishing the sound in the process. It’s a shame that ‘dubstep’ became a dirty word; forcing some of us to distance ourselves from it. I felt like the genre became a bit of a parody of itself, and certainly became fodder for internet trolls and music memes. On a more positive note, the original sound has bounced back with a new generation leading it through a supposedly second “golden era.” I feel like the 140 template is being experimented with more than ever, and while it’s not all to my tastes, I fully support the fusion of sounds appearing in people’s sets; fusing dubstep with grime, trap, and the whole make-whatever-the-fuck-you-want mentality that Gantz and co. helped create over the years. It’s also fantastic to see some of the older guard and dubstep blogs who have been around for a while launch their own labels to help nurture the new talent and provide them with a platform to release their music on. Finally, and most importantly, it’s encouraging to see more female DJs and producers appearing in the scene, headlining nights and releasing music on respectable labels. Genres like house and techno have seen the likes of Nina Kraviz and The Black Madonna rise to the top of their game, while Madam X and Flava D are working hard at the forefront of the grime and garage scenes. To see artists such as Eva808, Kālī, Khiva, Sicaria Sound, L U C Y, and even our very own Walya breaking through and bringing some balance to what is arguably a very androcentric scene, is incredibly refreshing and extremely positive for the healthy development of our community moving forward.
Jake: An aspect that now seems lost that I’ve noticed is that earlier dubstep used to be a lot more melodically and rhythmically free from the halfstep template. That’s not to say that there isn’t interesting dubstep coming out, I really love Oxóssi, Epoch, and Samba records, but there has been a tendency towards everything “sounding” grey and sticking to the halfstep formula, which has slowly been taking cues from trap music. Even brostep has gotten “deeper” with that weird thing called “riddim” (don’t get me started on that though). It’s not all gloom and wistful “back in the days” thinking though, as dubstep has grown here, there has never been a better time to see your favorite dubstep act. Whether up and down the East Coast (where it’s quite possible to see the same DJ three times in three different cities), to the Mecca that is the Black Box in Denver, to Las Vegas’s Dubstep Pizza Party to California’s B-Side. Even soundsystem culture has really taken off here as well; from Dub-Stuy, Tsunami Bass, Grand Ancestor, Steel Yard Soundsystem, Big Horn Sound, 40hz Soundsystem and other sound systems have allowed the genre to be accurately represented at dances. It’s also created a wealth of US labels, producers, and DJs that have continued to push dubstep here in the States. I also think dubstep has paved the way for the greater appreciation of genres like techno, grime, footwork and 130 for both the hardcore dubstep fan as well as the layperson, which if we time traveled back a decade ago would have been met with weird looks and hecklers. Lastly and perhaps one of my favorite (and recent) things to come about is how producers like Nomine and TMSV (amongst others) are breaking down barriers between the artist, the art and fans by holding streaming production tutorials, daily videos and other production based video content. Given the sort of “solitary” nature of producing, these videos really help break down barriers and other forms of gatekeeping that I hope that more producers and artists take note of.