Glitch Hop maverick, Atomic Reactor, just dropped a killer two track release on Bandcamp: ‘Vatex // Girth Quake’. I got the chance to catch up with him and talk in-depth about his experience writing it. Atomic Reactor dropped a lot of juicy production tips and insight into the world of releasing music in the conversation. I won’t spoil it with a lengthy description. Get ready to jump in.
Conscious Kalling: I just listened to both the tracks while driving home. I could tell you were getting into some new areas. Girth Quake sounds like three tracks in one. It starts out with flute sounds and natural instruments, and then switches in the middle to almost a drum and bass track, then switches again and has that big dubsteppy clap. It was a real journey. Can you talk about what influenced the writing of that track, and how you ended up putting so many different styles into it?
Atomic Reactor: The very highly synthetic, not overtly but I just like super bubbly laser noises, mixed with really organic instrumental orchestral has always been my manifesto with Atomic Reactor. When I first started out, I actually really struggled to write tracks with a part A, part B, and part C, then back to part B or A like a normal hip hop track is written. I struggled with that because it was hard to keep a theme going. For a while, a couple of years, I really made it my goal to try and write tracks like that and appease an aesthetic that I saw as modern hip hop music and modern electronic music. But at the end of the day, I just like to write music that’s a journey, kind of like a stream of consciousness. It doesn’t need to go back to this, because it’s gonna do this, you know? Then again though, I still do really like the connection, like bringing instrument parts back in and tying synth parts back together – making a cohesion of the beginning and ending.
CK: It sounded to me like this release shows a mastery of your sound. Like a more overall developed version of Atomic Reactor. What are some of the new techniques you tried, or things you did differently on this release than before?
AR: Well thanks man, I appreciate you seeing that. I released Android Soul in April , and that was me trying to push a manifesto of what I do as Atomic Reactor. Since then, and from here on out, every track I release I want to be really perfect. You know, you are always doing that as a producer – everything always needs to be as good as it can be. I really hit a point where I figured out a lot of production techniques that really helped me with the mix down. I think that goes along way with the sound; figuring out how to EQ and compress the right frequencies, and right instruments, and which instruments are gonna sound better with that. If you can apply a certain amount of compression before the mastering process, it makes the mastering process so much easier and streamlined. I can imagine when Tipper masters his stuff, all he’s probably doing is applying limiting and compression in the mastering process because he’s already done all the EQing and compression actually in the track itself.
CK: Did you master this release yourself as well?
AR: Yeah, totally.
CK: Did you do the artwork also?
AR: No. An artist by the name of The Matik; actually the guy who used to run Enigmatic Records when they were still around.
CK: I was thinking about the jewelry you make – your stone and metal work. Does the physical art influence the musical art or vice versa?
AR: Everything influences me, but I would say they are isolated manifestations of my consciousness. I don’t necessarily make jewelry that’s related to my music, but it’s all kinda the same thing.
CK: We like to talk production on All The Machines. Are there any tips you want to share that helped you bring it up a level on this release?
AR: I’ve really been getting into reverbs. They really help polish your sound a lot. Up until the last eight months I would say, I hadn’t really done a lot of polishing with my reverbs. I produce with all my channels running through eight different buses so that I can apply individual or bus stuff. It’s been helping my bass lines really mixed down and all sounding like they are coming from the same instrument. I apply compression so that the dynamics are taken down and the overall loudness is up. Parallel compression too, so I’ll leave some dry – put it in a group and just leave one of the channels dry, because you don’t want to lose some of the richness of the original dynamics. Just like how with drums you can get great punchy drums by applying New York compression.
CK: I’m in the middle of finishing up mixdowns on a new EP. I’ve been using lots of New York, parallel compression, and reverbs on buses. I’m curious… Do you use any compression on channels before they go to buses, or do you do it all as bus compression?
AR: It depends on the scenario, but a lot of times if the sound is in need of a different kind of compression or very light compression, I’ll apply it just to that track. But for continuity and uniformity I’ll still have that running into the main bus of mid basses so that it’ll get the same compression as everything else. Another thing I’ve been working on a lot lately is my stereo imaging and using the stereo field to create psychoacoustic effects. I used to prescribe to all my mid basses being mono because that provides punchiness in the mid low frequencies, but in the high frequencies it can be really nice to spread that top and it makes your ears perceive it as 3D sound which is cool. I’ve been having fun with that. Learning to produce is the ability to synthesize so many things at once and bring them together in a way that, I guess you could say, generally people like.
CK: Well I think you were pretty successful with that on these two tracks. ‘Vatex’ – towards the second half of the song it totally changes, and when it happened it was awesome. I literally said out loud to myself in my car “Damn, that’s dope!”
AR: Thanks man!
CK: We talked a lot about ‘Girth Quake’, is there anything specifically about ‘Vatex’ that you want to talk about?
AR: I have a few other unreleased tracks right now that are more like ‘Vatex’ in that I’m going for a more minimal, less instrumental, styel for my next release. It’ll be more just mid basses and really.. maybe more like a dubsteppy feel, more dark. By minimizing, I’m optimizing the mixdowns which I’m really into. That’s just practice – I’ve been making more minimal tracks so that I can just have the almost Mr. Bill sound where everything is the perfect loudness and where it should be. It’s crazy how good he is at mixing down.
CK: He is really good for sure.
AR: Yeah. I’ve been writing lots of new mid basses for that. I’ve got a new synthesizer named Serum which is really cool. I like that one a lot.
CK: You just teased the future for us a little bit. Is there anything else you have in store, or anything interesting you want to let people know about?
AR: I’m gonna try and do another release before this summer. Probably a three or four track EP. I haven’t talked to any labels, but I’m going to put it out on a label. And 2Nutz, side project, we have – potentially next week actually we’re gonna be releasing an EP. We actually have a lot of unreleased material. So over the next few months we’re going to be trying to drop as much of that as we can. We just bought bulk artwork. We bought like eight pieces of art from this dude. We bought two for 2Nutz, and three for each of us.
CK: That’s awesome.
AR: I like a graphic designer that sells his art in bulk.
CK: Right? I’m always doing my own album art, partially to save money, but it’s also just one more thing I have to get done to get the release out.
AR: It’s true, it gets so expensive, but there’s so much power to having a visually stimulating thing to draw people in. So much of it is just peoples unwillingness to try new thing when they see your name, so if you have cool art to sell music to them visually – people are so visually driven – you can get get them to click play. That goes so far.
CK: That’s true, man. And it’s the first impression of your album – what it looks like.
AR: Yeah. Right? Not what it sounds like.
CK: One last thing I want to ask: You’ve released both on labels and independently on bandcamp, do you feel like there are advantages or disadvantages to either?
AR: The point of releasing with a label is that they have the promotional power of like 3000 of you. A label already has an invested fan base that they are going to bring you in on, and try and share their fan base with you because you are sharing your music with them. That’s exactly why I release with labels – they have dedicated fan bases that they have been building a lot longer than I have been making music. It’s not that I’ve ever made much money off record sales, it’s just that at this point in time to get the promotion of a record label, you have to sell your music. I really like what Gravitas is doing. I love that they are doing name your price while still bringing a label name to it, and giving it that extra push.
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