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"Not Everyone Can Produce Releasable Quality Dance Music": A Candid Interview on Drum and Bass, Plus Podcast Mix With Boston's Shawn Conte (aka FDOT)

I first met Shawn Conte (aka FDOT) back in 2007 at a humble drum and bass weekly that took place at All Asia Bar in Cambridge. A recent transplant from Connecticut, he didn’t even need to tell me how enthusiastic he was about drum and bass music. It was proven instantly via the not one, not two, but THREE mix CD’s he handed me, all recent forays beyond 170 beats-per-minute he exhibited on the wheels. It was clear the man meant business, and before long he was producing as a vital part of The Statesmen and throwing events such as Seismic at Goodlife.

Fast forward to 2013 and, unlike many fair-weather fans, Shawn has remained squarely dedicated to drum and bass music, even amidst all the changes happening in dance music these days. Following the amicable dismantling of The Statesmen, he largely flies solo, spending a great deal of time refining his sound both as a producer and as a DJ. He was, however, added to the M.I.A. roster, a long-running collective showcasing the genre in multiple cities across the Lower 48.

Shawn isn’t one to hold back his opinion on how he feels about the changes that have taken place in the scene the past few years. Some may dismiss it as “jaded”, but I’ve actually found his brutal honesty pretty refreshing in a vast sea of social media circle-jerking. He was very eager to record a podcast mix for BBD, so I figured I’d tag along an interview we did over email as a bonus. Check the interview; the mix is down at the bottom!

Nick: It’s no secret that learning to produce songs of releasable quality is a MASSIVE undertaking that requires the same level of commitment to that of a full-time job. In fact, it can often BE a full-time job. Many argue it’s not about the money, but others feel if a producer isn’t paid fairly for the work they put in, they will move on. What are your thoughts on producers who came up on drum and bass, but eventually chose to “genre-hop” to pastures they think are greener?

Shawn/FDOT: Damn, that’s a big opener Nick! Drum & Bass production does require full-time job like dedication, and although some money will be made, it has a small chance of being truly profitable. The end result is the profit. D&B production is absolutely done for the love of the music first. It is a HUGE step to take from the realm of being a DJ, and not everyone can do it. I repeat, NOT EVERYONE CAN PRODUCE RELEASABLE QUALITY DANCE MUSIC. As a solo producer, I still haven’t yet. Anyone who tells you the opposite is trying to sell you something. 

A producer who “genre-hops” is more likely trying to broaden their musical horizons more than a DJ who does the same. It’s the “genre-hopping” DJ you have to watch out for, as that seems like a grab for instant gratification, whether it be monetary or social. I don’t think it has anything to do with a disdain for D&B or its community, but the tempo just might be too niche for them, and I haven’t heard the word “niche” associated with the words “money” and “fame” too often. 

With the recent mainstream explosion of EDM, there will be a natural draw to the path a bit less rocky, even if it’s at the cost of musical integrity. At the end of the day the music industry, big or indie, will still be the most difficult business to find success in, and to a certain degree it will always be about the money. If you love electronic music enough to get good at it, some money will come. The question I pose to the “genre-hoppers” is this: What would it have sounded like if you also gave one genre the time and attention to polish and actually further it?

Nick: Social media is great because it connects fans and artists with each other in ways undreamed of years ago. Yet many feel it has removed the “wow” factor and the mystery behind the events, the DJ’s, the way songs are produced, and many other “behind the scenes” facets. What are your thoughts on all this? Do you think an artist needs to have a presence online in order to become successful?

Shawn/FDOT: I could chat on all day about social media, so we’ll concentrate on the question at hand, particularly Facebook.

Facebook is a great connection tool. It has changed the game completely. However, it has absolutely eliminated any hope of creating mystique. An aspect which I feel has always been essential in creating and maintaining a musical theme, persona etc. Before social media, the quest for good music was part of the experience, the sense of fulfillment for the dance music enthusiast. Now you almost can’t escape it, and it is deafening at times. On the business end of things, the idea of social media as a promotion tool works on paper, but should have never become an ultimate alternative. There are barely any more physical flyers anymore, which I believe was a huge aspect of the experience, and that’s a shame. 

Finally, I believe that the “like” is an inaccurate, deceptive, dangerous statistic to put so much value in. In theory, social media was a venue to express your individuality and communicate it to others who share the same interests. Users don’t realize that the umbrella of conformity is just too big to see. You can “like” something without experiencing it, and you can ONLY “like” something. The only way to express “dislike” is to explain yourself in a comment. No explanation necessary to “like”. The “like” is a form of currency now, and I think the act of fishing for “likes” as a solution is tacky. 

The tools available for musicians to share their music in a contained venue are great (Soundcloud, Mixcloud, etc), but Facebook always seems to be the starting point of the quest. There is just no quality control, and with Facebook going public, you’re now bombarded with entities trying to sell you something. The only advantage to Facebook is that it’s free of charge. Proper promotion costs money, and it should. If you’re a DJ or musician, and you have enough money to go out to everything you’re “invited” to, then you certainly have enough money to properly promote your music in more effective ways. 

There are too many parties, every day is a bleepin’ party. Money is squandered and the dance music experience suffers because the second most inaccurate, deceptive and dangerous Facebook statistic to subscribe to is the “attending” count… but, EVERYBODY is on Facebook and unfortunately, it is in fact absolutely necessary to have a Facebook presence as a musician. I wonder what would happen if Facebook went down? Even for a month. We’d have to use the (gulp)… phone! Call Wilkins and revive Mission Control!

Could you imagine?! The horror!

Nick: Drum and bass has always been a saturated market when it comes to DJ-ing; gigs are especially hard to come by these days. What is your advice to the younger generation of kids trying to get some play time? How about the older generation who have experience but feel they’re being overlooked?

Shawn/FDOT: To the new kids I would simply say be professional. If you’re looking to seriously network, write releasable music and gig often, treat it like a real job. Avoid trying to make substantial industry contacts with Facebook alone. Most importantly, DON’T think that attending every party, show, rave, after-party, clubnight, etc is a realistic way to “show face”. Don’t just be a punter. Yes, many local DJs are on every local (digital) flyer, but a bit more research will show that their gigging radius is small, and so are their fees. If you’re partying all the time, when will there be time to become a viable musician? Professionalism, time management and dedication are the keys.

To the old heads still aiming to produce and perform… please make an attempt to open your vision to what’s currently happening in your branch of dance music, especially if it’s Drum & Bass. Old-school nights happen few and far between, and as fun as they are when they happen, are a gimmick at best. An integration of the music of the past with the music of the future is the best way to keep it relevant. 

I also have reservations when it comes to vinyl purism and vinyl-only events. Collecting vinyl for posterity is a great hobby and takes dedication to the music. However, I believe the type of media the music is on is superseded by the music itself, every time. As warm, crispy and unique the sonic quality of vinyl might be, it is a destructive medium. 9 times out of 10, older, rotation heavy vinyl will never give you the same sound as when it was first purchased. It is also the most difficult medium to replace, as vinyl is becoming more scarce. Promoters who promote vinyl-only events are cutting off access to a world of talented musicians, and nobody can afford to think narrow in this stage of the game. The music and the technology, especially in Drum & Bass has come further than it ever has in the last 5 years. This is the music you’ve embraced for so long, you’ve intertwined it with your way of life. Utilize your wisdom. Enjoy the evolution.

Nick: Who are three drum and bass producers very few people know about right now, but you feel are likely to become household names a year from now? Which long-established producer is your biggest influence? 

Shawn/FDOT: I don’t know if many D&B producers will ever become names that transcend the genre’s following, but I know a few that are definitely doing great things:

Fred V & Grafix: They produce uplifting dancefloor D&B of the finest caliber, can’t wait to see them at Middle East next month! Their music sounds like they truly learned from their contemporaries. Forward-thinking with dance appeal.

Ivy Lab: A veteran collaboration that is thinking way forward. A near-perfect fusion of soul, funk and R&B with future-minded moody D&B. Only a couple of releases, but all pure gold.

Shimah: I can only describe his music as epic-minimal Drum & Bass, truly unique.

Roy Green & Protone: They mix liquid, minimal, beard and funk in a similar way Spectrasoul has, with their own little kick. Really feelin’ them.

Cirrus: One of two people that currently give me dubplates :P BOSTON MOFUCKAS! But yes, hard working, crisp sound, really moody vibes. Can’t go wrong. I think things will start happening quickly for this guy.

That’s 5, deal with it :P

As far as my biggest influence in Drum & Bass, that’s an easy one. The man they call Break. He’s a producer that truly captures the essence of Drum & Bass in the simplest way possible, DRUMS AND BASS. Break can pull off any style of D&B, and you still easily know it’s his tune. A signature sound, the most difficult thing to achieve in Drum & Bass. And he’s got the best drums in the game, hands down.

Nick: Tell me the craziest story or experience you had hanging out with a big-name drum and bass DJ/producer.

Shawn/FDOT: When Damian Silva (from Bassic) and I booked Marcus Intalex for Goodlife in early 2008, we picked him up and went for sushi. Unfortunately a friend of my brother’s was driving, in a mild snowstorm. He couldn’t drive and was a nervous dude. When trying to find parking, the dude almost hit a Brookline traffic cop, like 6 inches away from the guy. And while everyone was about to go bat-shit, Marcus simply sat back and let out a chuckle. During lunch, Marcus proceeded to tell us a story of how he was on a plane that had an engine on fire, and didn’t really phase him. He’s a gigging beast!

Nick: What are your predictions for Boston’s drum and bass scene three years from now? Do you think there will be an influx of younger fans coming through? More weekend events?

Shawn/FDOT: I think it will be the same as it is now, which is very good. Elements brings a superb variety of Drum & Bass performers, drawing dedicated crowds, both seasoned veterans and new people. It’s definitely a draw for kids who seem to want more out of their dancing experience. Embrace brings the arena-rockers to The Middle East on the weekend about 6 times a year, which sell out, the ceiling sweats, a good time for all. I believe D&B shows can grow in size and frequency in the near future. The rest of the dance music community must accept and embrace it first. It always seems like, at least locally, the Drum & Bass heads enjoy and support other kinds of music, seldom the other way around…

Nick: A couple years ago you expressed interest in exploring other styles of music outside drum & bass; techno most specifically. Do you still travel at speeds beneath 170bpm, or are you focusing just on drum & bass these days?

Shawn/FDOT: I’ve been playing techno and some tech-house ever since my first DEMF 2 years ago. My girlfriend Alison and my friend Chuck (Deph) initially plugged me into the sound. However, not to sound cliche, it was a Richie Hawtin set (1st night, Beatport stage DJ set, NOT the Plastikman show) that sold me. I’ve since been hunting for tunes non-stop, from Tom Hades to Maceo Plex and back around again. 

Approaching a new genre with no prior knowledge of it is a unique opportunity to really find what pleases your ears without the encumbrance of it’s respective “scene”. I like the vibe, plain and simple. It started out as just fun, but upon further review I think I could play it out successfully. I’m sure I’ll know when the time is right to pursue a substantial techno performance. For now, between Reset From Start, MIA and my solo efforts, Drum & Bass is overflowing my plate to an almost overwhelming level. Nick, you’ll be the first to know when I put together a techno mix recording :)

Beantown Boogiedown Podcast 039: FDOT (Deep Drum & Bass) by Beantownboogiedown on Mixcloud

To sum this mix up, it’s clean without being clinical, refined without being rigid, and takes equal advantage of space as it does the bass. It’s definitely not an anthems mix. It builds seamlessly to roller territory by the end. It also inks a good sketch of the current evolution unfolding within the minimal and experimental confines of drum and bass. Hope you enjoy; I definitely did.

On the Boogiedownload :: FDOT (Shawn Conte) (Deep Drum & Bass)

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Reader Comments (2)

Man, those are some catchy tunes! Do you know if we could play some of these at some singles dances in Boston? Very few things can compete with great music. Thanks for sharing!

February 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFred Smith

Very cool stuff, but I cant read this awesome interview without getting blurry eyes..why is the background black?

January 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAR

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