In conversation with: Balatron
Balatron has swiftly gained the attention of a number of forward-thinking labels. His unique take of halftime and beat-focussed genres, with an aesthetic that connects a range of ideas from nostalgic hip hop to the cutting edge ideas of IDM, delivers a dancefloor-focused, yet heady vibe.
Balatron recently released his debut, full-length ‘IÐAVÖLLUR’ LP on YUKU. It features a diverse and pointed array of his stunning and timeless ideas, as well as collaborations with artists such as DJ Craze, Monuman, Subp Yao and Survey. The future is bright for the original sound of Balatron. With his new album ‘IÐAVÖLLUR’ hitting the stores, we thought now would be a great time to catch up with the main man himself and get the lowdown on his latest creation.
Hey! Thanks for participating in this interview! Tell me something about your Bass Music project Balatron!
Balatron started about five years ago. I was making a lot of Boom Bap for Icelandic artists, which I still do, and I heard a couple of tracks. ‘Hallelujah’ by Hyroglifics and Halogenix which I heard on Noisia Radio and ‘Sunday Crunk (Mefjus Remix)’ really blew me away. I was like “Damn, this is awesome!” and I thought “this is basically what I’m doing right now”. So I just kept on doing the Boom Bap drums that I love, the Eastcoast 90’s Hip Hop Pete Rock / Primo stuff, and just combined it with bass and sound design that I love from Drum & Bass. This is basically my sound, it’s not rocket science, you can easily pick up what this is. My biggest influences aside that is Liam Howlett from The Prodigy. My god damn spirit animal!
So your style is pretty similar to guys like, as far as the collabs go, to Subp Yao or Craze, or Two Fingers for instance?
Amon Tobin? Oh, he is a genius! I was so surprised when I saw the trailer of the Two Fingers album live stream. He was playing a track of my album and was like “NO WAY”!
But it’s kinda obvious as he states he just loves the new wave of Bass producers and wants to play their stuff!
It’s an honour to have such a legend play your music.
Also you share the same influences!
Yes we do, that’s right. He was a b-boy back in the day, breakdancing and stuff. I mean, the biggest influences to Drum & Bass back in the day where Hip Hop and Rock Music.
Yes, If you listen to a Dillinja tune from the 90’s there’s a Shaolin-like sample in there guaranteed. You don’t hear similar nowadays…
It needed to evolve at some point but at the core of all of this, it’s just Breakbeats and Hip Hop. That’s where it all started. Cutting out breaks and just move them and trying stuff.
Chopping up breaks man!
Yes, I use breaks heavily in everything. I love it, it’s part of me, it’s part of my music and will probably never change.
Obvious, when coming from a Hip Hop background! So, how did the album idea actually come about? Was it an intended LP?
Not at all! Not all the time but it has to have a direction, a flow, a purpose. If you’re just releasing like straight bangers all the time it kinda gets boring on the whole LP. I wanted my LP to go up and down and different formats. I always wanted to do one.
I think every artist wants to do an LP at some point but I was releasing singles and EP’s with various labels and started talking to Jef and released a couple of tunes on MethLab. He just asked me when I was working on an EP if I wanted to an LP. I thought about for maybe 20 seconds and said: “Yeah, let’s go!” Then shortly after that conversation, I went: “Shit, how do I do an LP. I have no idea how to do an LP, this is crazy!” That’s why it took me like two years to do it. I took my time, did collaborations with artists that I love like Craze, Subp Yao, Monuman and everyone else on the album. Even had my boy Kilo, a rapper that I produce here in Iceland, doing something on a track with me. It was great!
I can imagine it’s pretty overwhelming to have that mission to produce an LP. So how did you approach the album concept? Did you have a step by step plan?
Not at all. I think if you have a step by step plan it’s not gonna deliver. You just kinda need to make more tunes and see what fits, what doesn’t and get this overall feel for where you are going. So I don’t plan my music normally. If it will be in another genre I will go there. If I feel like doing a Country record – I WILL NEVER DO A COUNTRY RECORD! I mean I’ve done Eurovision songs.
Yeah, I did. I did Pop records, I’ve done everything and if I do the same thing for too long I will get bored.
Amazing chuckles! Your forthcoming album ‘IÐAVÖLLUR’ seems to be covering aspects of the Norse mythology at least title-wise. Any more correlations?
I myself am a Norse pagan and I wanted to represent that a little bit with my first album. I thought putting it into a Norse mythological world would actually fuse the album together and have a theme. I loved doing that!
How was / is working with YUKU in that matter?
It was great! When they started YUKU they asked me to do the album as the first release of the new label. I asked some questions about where we were going, where the label will be going and I thought “Yeah man, I’m in!” The support that I got from the whole YUKU family has been amazing. I could not have done this without them at all. The curation, the collaborations and different ideas I would have not gotten by myself.
That’s is what’s important about labels, they need to be supportive in every way!
Yeah, it is! What I particularly love about working with them is that it’s a tight-knit crew. You get a lot of support, there’s dialogue going back and forth, we joke around, we kid around. I think that’s very important for an artist today because of a disconnected feel between an artist and a label. They just release this – BAM – and go! It’s important to have that connection and dialogue with a label you’re working with.
I feel that too! The album is your first full-fledged LP on vinyl?
It’s my first full-on solo album. I was on ’20/20 Vol. 2’, that was on vinyl. Also on the ‘Sentinel’ LP on MethLab with Machina Puta which came out on vinyl as well.
Nice one! Tell me something about the film shooting for the album! Was it difficult to shoot in Iceland especially at those locations?
A little bit! He had me climbing mountains and stuff with strong winds but overall it was fun! It was just me and him. He is a very talented guy, Midnight Mar, a friend of mine. He did a lot of videos for artists I produced before. When the label told me that it would be a good idea to do a video he was the first guy I called. He said “Yeah dude, let’s go!” He straight away got a concept going and the storyline and it’s gonna be epic. You’re gonna see a lot of amazing Icelandic scenery, rocks and geysers – no, no geysers. The landscape there usually becomes a character by itself, like in movies because it’s so alien to see. I grew up in this nature and a lot of Icelandic families take their kids camping all around the island every summer. For our people, nature is a huge part of our life.
I mean, basically you can’t go anywhere when you’re stuck on that island to some extend.
The location we shoot was a 20 minute drive and you can’t see anyone at all. If you want to disconnect from the city you don’t have to travel more than 10 minutes and you’re completely out of it, engulfed in nature. Every Icelandic artist who’s ever the talked about influences talks about nature because it’s a huge part of us as people. We respect it!
You should! Would you say matching visual aspects like film, artwork and such are a big part of releasing music in 2020?
It’s a tricky question. With music videos, it depends on a genre actually. Looking at Hip Hop and stuff like that, music videos don’t really mean that much. The market is saturated with music these days that you go “Meh, this is nothing special”. But depending on the genre having something visual go with the music and storytelling is absolutely necessary. All design and graphic design that goes with music go hand in hand. I think it’s a huge part of the releases, even Drum & Bass. I mean, the artwork on Drum & Bass records has always been amazing.
And then there are guys releasing stuff this year with an artwork that looks like ’95!
I respect that, too! I made an album with an artist called Elli Grill last year which is called ‘RASSA BASSI Vol. 2’. It’s built on Miami Bass stuff and it’s just a party album. His album artwork was just straight 90’s cut up girls sat upon speakers. I think that’s cool, why not!
If it fits the vibe or respectively the music.
I know people like that, I understand their point of view! I say to them “Yeah, yeah, that’s you! You do you!”
Well said! Neck deep in productions of various kind, can you shed some light on your production process?
I’ve actually heard this question a lot. People always think there’s some kind of a cool trick to making music but there’s not! It’s just having a space and playing around until you get to somewhere and just keep going with that. I do have a thought process where to start which comes from a lecture I saw with John Cleese on creativity. I recommend everybody to watch that because he has some pointers that are very very very correct and they will help you to get into a creative state.
It doesn’t work all the time but a lot of the times. It’s basically disconnecting from your normal life in a space you can close up like in my studio and not think about the rest of your day for an hour and a half. Because that’s basically all you need to get creative. My process is just getting into a playful mood, playing with the ideas, trying stuff, having fun with it and when I hop out of my chair and start headbanging like crazy I’m in a good place and will work on that tune until it’s finished.
I think that’s one of the best answers I’ve got for this sort of question.
There’s no secret, just do stuff! Stop thinking about everybody and what they would think about your music. This is a expression of yourself so express yourself and keep on going!
Speaking of ‘doing’, what are you doing “outside of the box” Can you live from music?
No, far from it! I have a day job, a family, we’ve got two cats, two kids, a girlfriend. I do this in my free time and produce for others. Producing for others is a lifeline, it helps. Getting chart placements and selling beats helps a lot but living off music solely if you’re not touring and playing shows, it’s not gonna happen. This music industry has changed so much that it’s just not possible. You have to rely on gigs but I haven’t been playing gigs before the lockdown and anything anyway. I’m in a very difficult place in the whole world. Flights are costly either going left and right where it’s either Europe or the US. I think it’s because of the flight costs that I haven’t been getting gigs at all which I’m trying to change after this album.
Yeah, the whole situation goes on my nerves as well!
Come to Iceland, everything is open, everything is fine! People just came together and did what the doctors told them. No politicians were involved, it was the health authorities that told everyone what they need to do and it didn’t take a lot of time at all. It took like three months and everybody was careful and watched out for their neighbours. Schools are gonna be open, all the shops, swimming pools and gyms are open. It’s just being aware and we’re fine! Let’s see if America can do that!
Booyakah! Well, I’ll stay in Europe for now but Iceland is very tempting! Thanks for the interview!