Up-and-coming electronic hip-hop producer Dorian Concept, otherwise known as Oliver Thomas Johnson, will take to the stage come this Thursday at The Shelter. Having developed his own distinctive twisted sound, the 24-year-old Austrian has just released his debut LP and performed at this year’s Gilles Peterson Worldwide Awards a few weeks back.
FREE the WAX talks to the geeky beat banger recently as he spills the beans on his music and other bedroom secrets.
Dorian Concept: The Keyboard King
Venue: The Shelter, 5 Yongfu Lu (near Fuxing Xi Lu) 永福路5号 (近复兴西路)
Date: 19 Feb. 2009 Thursday
Time: 9 pm – Late
Cover: RMB 30
Man, you look young – in the good sense of the word, of course! When did you start getting into this crazy music making?
Like many other people, I will have to say, it just kind of happened. At a young age I had piano lessons, then turned into a pot smoking teenager, and then heard the first electronic music when I was 16. From there on my friend showed me how to make music with software and the rest is history.
Dorian Concept is quite a nom de plume. What is it about?
It’s a musical scale that has been used in many different cultural settings. The “dorian scale”, which is similar to the minor-scale, was the first thing I improvised on when I was about 16. And when I first recorded myself playing the piano, I just gave the audio file the name “Dorian Concept”. So it’s really been there for a while, and it is there to remind me where I come from.
In some of your videos you appear playing in what seems to be your bedroom at home. How much of a bedroom producer are you?
I’m pretty much a full-on hardcore bedroom producer. It’s the only thing I know: waking up and going to the computer instead of having ham & eggs. I think out of healthy reasons it should change one day but, as of now, it just feels right.
Do you think the term “beat maker” defines accurately what you do?
Not really, but I don’t mind being called one. I think everyone who is able to sequence a couple of notes and layer a beat, in my eyes, is a musician. So I prefer just being called a music-maker.
Your music makes a lot of organic experiments with vintage sounds and crafty synths. Do you look for a particular texture when composing?
For me it’s definitely important to find the middle between a certain analogue and acoustic thickness and a more digital and electronic sound world. I think it’s the most interesting border to explore.
How much of your music is influenced by the past, and how much of it is looking into the future?
I would say it’s 70% past and 30% future. The music I listen to is mostly older electronic or acoustic music, but when I’m behind my computer working on music, I just ask myself; what could I possibly make the I haven’t heard yet? So I end up in a way looking for a future sound.
Some of the chord changes in your songs are pretty crazy and jazz-like. Does your sound feed off a lot from your keys improvisation? Do you search for a certain kind of beat liberty in your songs?
I think my sound lives off the things I do with my synthesizers. I tend to just start a track by playing around with a certain sound, and then trying to find chords that just hit me as being either right, beautiful, fun, etc. So in the end it all revolves around some kind of process with the keys. Beat liberty is very important to me.
From your videos you seem to have quite a collection of synths. Can you tell us a little bit about what you like from each one, what kind of sound you can get from each of them? What is your most prized synth?
The two synthesizers I’m a proud owner of are the MicroKorg and the Alesis Micron. For me the MicroKorg is also my main production tool, and I get all kinds of sounds from it, ranging from basslines to pads and leads. I just love this one. The Alesis Micron is more of a Live-Synth to me, because it’s really nice to play, but I’m not as impressed with the sounds you are able to generate on it. Other than that I just play on whatever’s lying around from children keyboards to midi-keyboards.
What artists out there do you admire and think are the biggest influences on your sound?
Almost too many to name, but here I go: Mccoy Tyner, Tom Chant, J.Swinscoe, Squarepusher, John Coltrane, Dabrye, Four-Tet, Manitoba, Tim Koch, The Clonious,… List goes on and on and on…
Do you see any relations between the kind of beats/music you are making and that of other producers putting out some stuff at the moment?
I think the relation I see has mainly got to do with the tempo (BPM) that a lot of producers seem to be working at right now. Club music gladly just slowed down, and it’s nice to be part of a group of people that don’t have to speed up drumbreaks to get some kind of energy going in a room.
From your first releases to touring worldwide and releasing your new album in the end of January, do you see your work taking on a different shape or a different direction as time passes?
I definitely have the feeling that I need to do something else, because you always have people getting excited about certain tracks, and often I ask myself “hmm, can I do another track as good as this? Or as similar?” And in those situations I noticed it’s best to just let go and see where the music takes you.
You’re releasing a new album in the end of January. What’s it gonna be like? Is it being released by Kindred Spirits?
Yeah, it’s going to be released on Kindred Spirits. It will be quite eclectic I suppose, because it ranges from quite energetic and club-friendly tracks to some more weird-spacey soundscape stuff and even has a lot of noisy and edited parts. I just really wanted to release something that’s all over the place, instead of maybe making an instrumental hip hop album like people would’ve expected.
You are being hotly tipped as one of the freshest beat-makers of 2009 by a few people around. How do you personally see the reception of your releases and the attention you’ve been getting lately?
In a way it’s flattering, but I tend to not think too much about it. For me it’s more exciting seeing a Youtube video with music from me whilst some guy from South Dakota is walking through the woods than someone saying that I’m “hotly-tipped”. I ften like the small things that happen, if that makes sense.
What does the near future look like for you in terms of releases and albums?
For now it’s just the release of “When Planets Explode” on Kindred Spirits, and then a tour throughout Australia, China and Europe. After that I think I’ll just head back to the studio, aka, my bedroom.
You are a Youtube star of sorts, with your most watched video reaching around ¼ million hits. How important is the internet for you as a musician?
Yeah, the Youtube thing is crazy. Feels weird when you put something into the internet for no real reason (I would’ve never thought that it could be that interesting seeing me play a mini-synthesizer), and then have so many people seeing the video. The internet for me has worked wonders, because I was able to find a lot of inspiring music and get such good feedback from all around the world through it. So, yeah – it’s really important!
Your shows look like quite a lively affair when you are there dropping those fat beats and working the keys to an audience. What’s the reaction you’ve been getting from people so far?
The reaction has mostly been really good, also because I don’t really work out a program for an evening, but rather try and see, in which mood the people are, and then just work around that. I think the live-key playing has always been a bit of an attention-grabber, just because you so seldom have a musician improvising over club music (with the exception of those cheesy half naked saxophone players of course, but yeah)
How do you see playing live against recording in a studio?
For me playing live is just something I really do for the people. I just want them to hear the stuff I do as loud as possible, and tweak around and have fun. In the studio it’s just a long process of trying to figure out how I could make this sound better and that sound better. So for me in a way I can really live out both my extroverted and introverted side in both of those settings.
You are playing at the Gilles Peterson Worldwide Awards. What’s that gonna be like? Are you excited?
I’m very excited because there are going to be some crazy people playing there also. I just found out that I’ll play after one half of Basement Jaxx, and couldn’t stop laughing, because I saw their videos on MTV about 7 years ago. So yeah, it’s exciting and I have no clue what to expect.
You participated in the Red Bull Music Academy in Barcelona. What does it mean being there for a young musician such as yourself?
It’s just a playground really, where you get the greatest input you could ever get as a musician. You are around people that are into music for two weeks, 24/7, and just get into the most interesting discussions, and have the time to make some crazy music. Looking back, it really just helped me understand so much more about the process of making music, and how people approach it. Very thankful for that experience.
Man, you are coming to 3 Chinese cities for the first time (and a couple of them don’t usually get a lot of international artists coming to play there). What does it mean to be playing to an audience that -I’m assuming here- has no idea what you are gonna hit their heads with?
Honestly, it’s just crazy. There is no way that I can really get my head around playing in china, because it’s just a place where I, as an European musician, normally don’t get to play at. So for me it just feels like flying to another planet, taking along some laser guns that I’ll sell to people in form of audio-waves.
What do you have to say to any budding Chinese bedroom producers out there?
If you’re a bed-room producer, and you have a bed and a computer, then all you need, is everything that you already have.