Science interview: Dak

Lightless Digital, the digital offshoot of Fanu's label Lightless kicks off today with its first release, a 5 track ep from Dak. We at Science thought it would be a good idea to sit down and have a chat about Dak, his music and his methods in the studio. Check the previews of the ep below, view the full article to see the full interview.

Science: So, who the hell is Dak? In other words, please introduce yourself:
Dak: Hi, people call me Aki. I live in Espoo, Finland and I mostly spend my time with various activities related to music such as producing and djing, playing mandolin etc. and also just generally wondering about the nature of existence.

How long have you been doing this jungle thing, and why?
I started getting interested in drum & bass in around '96, when my big brother started bringing home some interesting cd's such as LTJ Bukem's Logical Progression. At first the music sounded pretty weird (coming from a strictly classical background) but eventually got me hooked.
My brother got himself a pair of crap Gemini turntables and a mixer and started buying vinyl. So basically I just got into this whole jungle / d&b thing in his footsteps. At first I just started buying records and tried to learn how to mix, but eventually a couple of years later I had a chance to try making music with a simple setup and I was instantly hooked.
In 2000 I got a computer with Cubase so after that I used most of my time learning to produce by myself and eventually buying some outboard equipment to try and form a little home studio for myself.

Has music been present in your family all along then, since you mentioned you had a classical background?
Yeah pretty much. My parents put all of us kids (3 brothers) into music school and choir at an early age. We all played various instruments and we're still pretty much involved with music in various ways. My older big brother is a semi-professional singer alongside his doctor profession and the other big brother (the DJ) is a professional classical percussionist.

Are they now completely mad at you because you're doing beats and bleeps and not "real" music?
Haha. No, at least not anymore. They're pretty supportive now that they know I'm doing what I like doing. My father is very enthusiastic about violin and all of us brothers played violin at some point. Initially it was a big disappointment for him that none of us pursued that instrument as a career, and none of us play it anymore at all. I was the last one to drop it altogether so at that time there were some negative feelings between us, but it's all past now.

Some people have said that you've done "minimal" drum & bass long before it was even cool to do so, but how would you describe your sound in your own words?
Well the last couple of years I've done pretty simple and breaks-fuelled drum & bass with a quite gritty sound. Jungle with a certain 'hardstep edge' to it, if that makes any sense. It's been a trip to old school for me. But I also really like a more spacey sound and that's probably something I'll look more into in my future d&b projects.
I've already incorporated that approach years ago in my minimal techno productions and also my ambient project Lopus. But somehow I haven't ended up doing that in d&b as of yet. Maybe next!

Who/what would you call your biggest influences then?
Hehe, that's a hard one. Anyway, here goes, some of the influences off the top of my head, in no particular order of genre or logic: JS Bach, Brian Eno, Jonny L, Pete Parsons, Thomas Köner, Basic Channel / Chain Reaction, Gas (Wolfgang Voigt), Photek, Kemal & Rob Data, Roni Size, Krust, Biosphere, Aphex Twin, Lemon D, Domenico Scarlatti, Vangelis, FSOL, LTJ Bukem, James Brown, King Tubby, Lee Perry, DJ Shadow, Scientist, No U-Turn, Danny Breaks, Gil Scott Heron, Squarepusher, Vivaldi...


Back from the past to the present, how did you end up doing the ep for Lightless? Is there any clear concept behind it?
Well the tracks are from a time span I consider the 'new era' of drum & bass for myself. It's the stuff I did after I had produced only techno and ambient for several years.
After that I approached d&b from a new perspective that led to more focused tracks instead of the d&b I used to do which was a little more all over the place and weird, such as the tune Nutcase that was released on Counter Intelligence in 2006.
There's really no underlying concept behind the EP as such, Fanu liked all of the tracks and I think the tracks fit naturally together as a consequence of a certain kind of unifying approach so that's how it happened really.

You had something lined up for release also before Nutcase, right?
Yeah some stuff was supposed to come out on Replicant Audio but the label went defunct before that.

And then you got into techno around the same time too? How was it first to start writing techno, when you have a drum & bass background and move to a bit more, well, "focused" aesthetics as you said? Was it a big difference?
Well the techno stuff I got heavily into, stuff like Basic Channel, Rhythm & Sound, Fluxion, Gas etc. has a very different kind of aesthetic to what I was used to. I think the main difference was getting into these really detailed textures and modulations that evolve slowly in time rather than develop in a straight-forward fashion.
Something about all that really gripped me and I got really into this microscopic world of sonic manipulation. The method of constructing the tracks then became to be more about the various ways of processing sound signals rather than creating a fully detailed linear track structure in a sequencer program.
A track is then created in a dubbing fashion by playing with the mixer, using faders, eq's, delays, reverbs and other signal processing in creative ways. Usually you would need to record several takes until you have the definitive version.

Have you tried using the same approach in 170 bpm yet?
Well I've tried some experiments with that but I've yet to strike the right nerve.

What is your current studio setup like and how has it changed during the years?
Initially I started with Cubase, using only software. But during the last 8 or 9 years I've bought various outboard gear and now I've got a small home studio.
Most of everything is done in my Akai S3200XL sampler which I love to bits. I also have a 24 channel Studiomaster desk and a pair of Tannoy monitors. A couple of small synths (Technosaurus!), a couple of lo-fi BBD echoes, some compressors and a multi-fx un it.
I used to have a Virus C still around the time I finished the Lopus album but I ended up selling it because I needed some money. I'm seriously considering buying a new one or a similar synth because it's such a good synth. It's the ultimate tool for a sound surgeon.

What do you need all the fancy stuff for when you can use VST's these days?
It's a good question. It's not a need as much as it's a preference really. It's related to a certain workflow and also to a certain sound aesthetic.
With fully digital setups you basically have no sources of uncontrolled uncertainties. Also it feels as though the analog desk really has quite a lot more headroom compared to mixing it all in the digital world. Also the behaviour of various sources of nonlinearities present in the analog domain seem not to be adequately mapped in to the digital domain as of yet.
Of course the models get better all the time but personally I'm not fully convinced yet. This is an important part because I love overdrive and distortion. I'm also currently working on one tune that is all Ableton. There's absolutely no problem about the sound, but the feel of it is certainly different. But anyway, it always matters more what you do with what you've got.

What's your chosen studio snack?
Nachos & habanero garlic salsa.

What about other activities than music, what do you do?
I study acoustics and audio signal processing in Helsinki University of Technology. Other than that I play quite a lot of Go (the ancient board game). I enjoy whisky, preferably with friends.

How have your studies influenced your home studio audio geekery and/or vice versa?
Well at least I'm now a lot more knowledgeable about various synthesis and sound processing methods and how they work in practice. I also have some of my own ideas for plug-ins that I might actually code one day if I can spare the time to really get down to it.
I think my studies have probably also made me much more analytic in regard to various issues which can really help when things in the studio start to get complicated.

So you could say in a way that you have an analytic approach to production as well, I suppose that helps when you tweak the midrange fart reeses and mad amen edits, but then again the dub approach to things is, at least to me, more about intuitive approach and almost anything but analytical, or is it?
Haha yeah, of course the dubbing process is more intuitive and more closely resembles the playing of an instrument. The best results come when you're relaxed and immersed in the moment, not analytical. But the analytical side is great for resolving a variety of technical issues one might encounter in the studio.

Speaking of an instrument, how's the mandolin? It's not the most usual instrument to play so how did you end up picking that one up?
It's an easy one really. Around the time I picked it up it had been about 5 years since I had dropped playing of instruments (violin and piano) altogether. My hands were basically aching for some proper motor exercise.
It was very natural to try the mandolin as we had one at home (my father has a collection of various instruments) and it has the same tuning system as the violin. So it meant I could easily read notes for the instrument and just start playing.
The challenge of the instrument is the outrageously small size and double strings. I'm mostly working on some Bach violin material for it. I might even write some of my own stuff for it someday, who knows. Currently it's enough that I enjoy it as an alternative musical outlet.

Amen + reese + mandolin = win?
Hahaha, I'm sure someone could make that happen!

How are you feeling about drum & bass right now, minimal or not? Any favourites?
I've liked what I've heard from Data. There are others, I know, but I have to admit I'm currently not too well up to date with what's happening in the scene. What I know for sure is that a lot of the stuff around right now has more space than before and that's a good thing in my opinion. I think things are looking pretty good!

What's your relationship like with dubstep?
None really, I've heard some of it but never really got to check it out actively. I know there are good sounds though.

Time to wrap up the interview session with a bit of "this or that" game, ready for that?
Shoot me.

Alright, here goes: Coffee or Tea?
That's a hard one as I love both, still: coffee.

Amen or think?
Amen.

Steak or pizza?
Pizza.

Berlin or London?
Berlin.

Chocolate mousse or vanilla ice cream?
Chocolate mousse (Fanu would agree!)

Virus or Metro?
Virus.

I guess that’s enough now. Thanks for the interview. Do you have any last words?
Peace out to all junglist worldwide!

Dak's ep is available now in all good digital download stores, and his ambient album Glow under his alias Lopus is still available as a free download at last.fm.

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