"I am not a Drum and Bass producer; I make what I feel." A Candid Interview With Om Unit, Who Makes Boston Debut Tonight
Touching down at Elements in Cambridge tonight is a producer who’s been on a number of people’s “must see” lists for a minute now: Om Unit. This guy’s enjoyed a massively successful year in 2013. Threads, his debut album under that alias, is a atmospheric ballet dance between a variety of his influences: most notably golden-era jungle, Chicago juke, and hip hop.
The album’s announcement lit the blogosphere on fire following the hype of the highly limited juke-jungle 12” singles he penned under his Phillip D Kick guise in 2011. In fact, Om Unit has no problem juggling multiple aliases and musical styles at all: he once dabbed in hip hop, flexing MPC’s and scratch records alike under his 2tall alias before the faster-paced stylings of dance entered his radar several years ago. This is important to suit a sustainable career; Om Unit may be his current flagship, but that’s not to say he’ll be on some different shit five years from now. That’s part of the excitement of it all, especially considering he isn’t following trends. He’s helping create them.
Thanks to Om Unit himself, I was able to conduct an interview with him over email to discuss the reception to his album, music production, and his various aliases. He provided some interesting answers and definitely didn’t hold back!
Nick: Threads has been out for about a month and is clearly one of your most ambitious efforts under your Om Unit moniker. Did Civil Music give you complete creative freedom in crafting this album stylistically? How has reception been to Threads so far?
Om Unit: Thanks for saying! Civil have never “dictated” the output as such, which is a great incentive for me to work with them. They did help me with picking final tracks and the order, but the final word was mine. In addition to that, the “Spares” were put together for this free EP “Offcuts” on my Facebook page.
Reception has been fantastic, we sold out almost immediately and re-pressed which has never happened to me before. The public reaction has far outweighed some of the luke warm reviews, which I suspect have been written by journalists with a more dance floor agenda.
Nick: You are one of the few producers who has managed to re-invent himself without compromising or selling out. From your formative years as a purveyor in hip hop under the 2tall alias to Om Unit, as well as your off-the-cuff footwork explorations as Phillip D Kick, do you find it necessary to flip the script every once in awhile to maintain a healthy long-term career in music? Are there any distinct sounds or elements you’ve employed across your body of work under all these aliases that an astute listener automatically thinks “oh shit, that’s a Jim Coles track!”?
Om Unit: Re-invention for me has been organic, I think that ultimately it shouldn’t matter what name you use but for most people it’s psychologically better for them to compartmentalise. So for the switch from 2tall to Om Unit it’s really a personal choice as opposed to a career thing. I got sick of banter about my height, also people feeling the need to spell it 2Tall with a capital T when it’s always been a small t on the artwork/press etc.. also turning 30 was milestone, felt like to rack up and go deeper. It should be noted that a lot of the 2tall stuff was centred around scratching and turntablism, which I have since left behind me.
Stylistically there are threads throughout the work, if you listen to tracks like “Rain Part 2” from 2004 you can almost hear a proto-dubstep groove in there I think but the minor chords seem to have always played a part.
2tall in another life, as a DMC-competing tablist
Nick: Many have said that drum and bass can be a notoriously difficult scene to break into. When you launched the Om Unit project were you initially trying to establish yourself as a producer in the drum and bass community, or did things start to happen almost by accident?
Om Unit: I am not a drum n bass producer, I make what I feel. It would so happen that i’ve driftted into the fringe but i’m really passing through here and exploring the tempo, I play a bit of classic jungle out, and new bits but purposefully avoid the template stuff, it doesn’t interest me. Metalheadz approached me for music and so i’m paying homage to the style, same with Exit and some remixes I’ve done, but you only have to listen to the music i’ve put out on Civil to see there’s more to me than drum and bass.
Nick: As a producer do you find more importance in a song that sounds rough but musically has a different and refreshing idea, as opposed to one that is sonically pristine but creatively goes through the motions
Om Unit: Of course! Who the hell wants clinical beauty, it’s like fake tits.That shit is for people who “wear” the genres. I’d much rather have something rough and prototype, something exciting and/or weird.
Nick: With many bedroom producers trying to emulate the juke-jungle sound (via the endless quantity of bootlegs I see of golden-era tracks from the 90s on Soundcloud), do you think this sound you’ve helped pioneer has peaked, or do you think it will continue to grow in influence? Where do you see drum and bass music from a creative perspective five years from now?
Om Unit: Yeah we created a monster in that respect, I mean each to their own but bootlegs are ultimately not a good look, I got warnings and advice from mentors about this and I’m leaving that shit alone. I still play some of my own Phillip edits out because people like them, but we really have to move on from that. Drum and Bass in 5 years? It’s not important to guess the future, I don’t think that’s a useful thing to do.
Nick: A number of our readers are budding music producers. What’s your current studio setup like? Any advice you can offer to these up-and-coming artists who are trying to establish themselves?
Om Unit: A computer and some synths really; I’ll say don’t just buy shit people geek out about and feel like you’re competing. I know people who use the weirdest setups that don’t get talked about in music production mags. It doesn’t matter ultimately. The ballsiest people out there probably don’t even record their music, they just do live improv at private parties and most likely make magic that would floor most producers. Music Production as a thing is an industry, it’s big business selling DAW’s and synths to kids. I’d say take all that with a big pinch of salt and focus on your creativity instead of trying to be like your heroes, because by the time you’ve emulated them, everyone will have moved on. So best get really good at being yourself, personally and creatively.