Residents in the area of Utrecht, The Netherlands, have reported seeing a certain shady figure lurking about the local hospital. This individual is dressed in some sort of freakish doctors’ attire, including coat, stethoscope and a scalpel the size of a small sword. It’s rumored that he has been able to infiltrate the medical staff, referring to himself as ‘a new kind of medical expert’ called a ‘Beatdoctor’. All that is known so far is that he goes about the hospital, indiscriminately prescribing unhealthy doses of cinematic, dark and melancholic hip-hop beats to unsuspecting patients. When confronted with these reports, the medical staff has been quick to distance itself from the practices of this shadowy individual, describing his brand of medicine as ‘unusual’, ‘evocative’, and in some cases even ‘dangerous’. The point of his experimental treatments, and the side-effects they might have for his test subjects have seen rampant speculation from keen observers in the field. Now it seems his plans can finally be revealed…
First up, can give us an introduction to yourself and your path through music to where you are now?
Hello all, my name is Bas but I also respond to Arts. My focus was on making instrumental Hip-Hop sample-compositions, as opposed to just beats. After releasing the Fragments EP in 2006, Transitions album in 2007, and Progressions EP in 2008, I took some time off to decide where I wanted to go from there.
After some musical soul searching, an amazingly intense time touring both solo and with side project The Q4, and generally just not being very productive, something clicked into place, and the last year I have been working on new tracks that are rooted in my trademark “nightly” sound, but with a far more energetic edge to them. The first of these tracks, “Ghost In The Machine” has just been made available for streaming on my SoundCloud, with a lot more songs and remixes coming up in the future.
What made you decide to take some time off, where you not happy with your musical direction or just lacking inspiration?
I didn’t consciously take time off – almost every day I was working on new sketches or preparing for shows. I think I made two albums worth of material that I was proud of, but still didn’t feel as passionate about as I did with my previously released works. Most of my songs take weeks or months to finish, I tend to do a lot of detail work after the basic song is set up. I just couldn’t find the drive to work so much on a song after 2008. I think it has something to do that I was still developing and learning a lot when I made Transitions. So basically I was surprising myself with every new song. I kinda lost that somewhere.
So, a few months ago, I decided I wanted to learn again. So I collected a lot songs by other artists that amazed me, or that I found interesting without being able to say why. Then I would do some analyzing sessions – Some tracks I transcribed and analyzed for their harmonies, others I tried to recreate the sounds that I found interesting. I guess that was the way to go, because after that I set up sketch after sketch that I liked. There’s still a lot of work to do, but I’m moving in the right direction for a new release now, for the first time since 2008.
Tells us one fact about yourself not many people know.
I didn’t drink, eat meat or use drugs until 2008. This also means I didn’t use any drugs while making Transitions. That seems to surprise people.
If you could choose just three albums to listen to for the rest of your life, what would they be?
Hard one… this calls for albums that have proven their staying-power to me and also have some variation from one another. So I end up with:
Forss – Soulhack
Fink – Sort Of Revolution
Gonzales – Solo Piano
Tell me a bit about your home country, Holland. Is there much of a Hip Hop scene there, or what kind of music are people into? How would you say the country has had an impact on your musical output?
Well, I don’t know. Hip-Hop has been a thing here since probably the late 80’s (Dutch Hip-Hop legends 24K are from my hometown Eindhoven by the way). But personally I’ve never been very active inside the Hip-Hop scene. I know there’s a lot of stuff happening, but I’ve always been most interested in the happenings on the outside. Like Zwart Licht, mixing Hip-Hop with Dubstep, Kyteman, building from Hip-Hop beats to full orchestral scores, and, a bit earlier, Shadowhuntaz (Dutch production).
I think there is a pretty healthy culture in Holland for developing, although next year, most of the government funding of music will cease to exist. But culturally, there’s room to do stuff outside of the box, especially in Utrecht where I live now. Maybe it also helps there’s near to no money to make in music here, so you either go super-commercial or do your own thing and learn to live very modestly.
You worked with Dutch legend Pete Philly on a few tracks, how did that come about?
What I heard is he picked up my demo that was lying around at a friend’s house. I still don’t know why he decided to listen to a discarded demo at somebody else’s house, but it had an impact I guess…
How do you tend to select mc’s for projects?
Actually, since I’m very instrumental-minded, it needs to be very good, and interestingly different. Because I basically make full instrumental songs, somebody really needs to catch my ear to make me decide to make room for them in a production. Pete Philly did, as did Skiggy Rapz and Pax. They all do more than spit their bars in a dope way.
If you could work with one mc, however big or small, who would it be?
At the moment I’m totally in my little space, working on instrumental tracks, unaware of any other artists. I guess it would be epic to collaborate with Roots Manuva, even if it’s just because of the many, many hours spent listening to his tracks from a young age. I think the 2nd or 3rd live show ever that I went to see was a Roots Manuva show.
Good choice! How do you find your style and process of writing tracks differs when an mc is involved?
It makes a huge difference. Vocalists tend to take the most prominent place in a production. If you decide not to include one, and you need to take that space just with instrumental composition/production, you have to do really come with something interesting. It’s been a while since I worked with a vocalist, but I tend to like working together from the first moment, sometimes even preferring to do a remix-style track (so I can build around the existing vocal). That’s how Joe Kickass and me created “Gratitude”. Just laying down a beat for someone to do his vocal is not so interesting to me. If I am going to work with someone, I want his or her input to inspire me.
You’re music has an element of the night about it in it’s calm, melancholic and thoughtful nature and I’ve always thought of you as a shadowy, flitting persona, something confirmed by the references to a ‘shady figure’ in your biography. Are you a creature of the night? What is it that you find so fascinating about it?
In a few different ways, I am. Early on, I found that I make my best work at night. So now, a lot of my creative work happens when the sun is down.
Another reason is that sleeping really seems to tire me. I need a few hours after waking up to get my brain and body to be ready again. So it worked out really well for me to start the day with routine work, emails, cycling, and leave the creative work for the night.
The feeling when it’s the middle of the night, you just spent a few hours not worrying about the world because of being totally immersed in making a new song – there’s nothing like it to me.
What was the thinking behind the name of your debut album, Transitions?
Well, I like letting coincidence happen, and taking the best of that. In detail, that’s how I work – combine samples randomly, and try to take the best of what happens in that coincidence.
The title is another example: At the time I was building the basis of the album, trying to work parts of some tracks into others, to get them to link. Some tracks really blended together, had great transitions. Then I started working on the song Transitions with The Proov (then still under a working title). The track ended up with a lot of references to travelling by train, and Gumshoe’s verse ended when he transitioned from one train to the other. Cee Major’s verse then starts, with him transitioning into the train Gumshoe just left. After recording, they told me they wrote those verses separately. That’s how the track got its name, and it just felt like a perfect description of what I was trying to do with the whole album.
How would you describe an Arts the Beatdoctor live show and what goes into it? Do you DJ or work live with MPCs etc?
When I started playing live I decided my show was going to be a live performance, and not just a presentation of my songs, like a DJ can do. That always has been the core, whether playing with live musicians and vocalists, playing solo, or in combination with a movie (I composed and performed an alternate soundtrack to the movie Gattaca in 2009). So, expression and improvisation are always important.
After deciding to cut back to the core in 2010, I developed a system for live improvisation. That system is mostly finished now, and I’m now playing shows where I try to find a balance between improvisation on-the-spot, performing my songs, and DJ-ing.
It’s basically an electronic setup that allows me to perform the songs, but also to re-arrange them, remix them onstage, or build something from scratch. To me it is the best way to keep it interesting – Every show is going to be different.
Have you ever DJ’d, or is it something that appeals to you?
I did some DJing when I was younger. I stopped when I noticed I wasn’t really developing. For me, a good DJ is half technique, and the other half is a delicate balance between maintaining your identity, feeling the atmosphere of the night and the audience, and build on that using whatever is in your crates. It guess I’m a bit too self-centered to maintain that balance. So I decided to focus on the studio, and later, the stage, but as an artist instead of DJ-ing.
How did that Gattaca project come about? Was it something just out of the blue or had you worked or had connections in that industry before?
It’s a concept of the Unheard Film Festival in Amsterdam, where they ask musicians that are not usually connected to film to write music for a movie of their choice. I didn’t have any experience in that field, although I did some ground work while studying composition & sound design.
And how did you find having to respond to the visuals and vibe of the film in the music, was that something that came easily?
It turned out to be pretty inspiring. It felt very similar to making an album (I already finished Transitions when I started work on Gattaca) – in that you are thinking on a small level, finding nice sounds and harmonies and rhythms, in this case to fit the particular scene, but at the same time you’re working in a 90-minute time span. So a melody does not only relate to what’s happening on the screen now, but can actually signify something that happened an hour earlier, or something that still needs to happen
That way of working, when the little piece of music you are working on is more than just that, is like working on a big puzzle, and it turns out that puzzles make me very productive.
Also, because we performed the soundtrack live every night, it meant not every note was “set”, there was room for improvisation and following the movie. It meant every night the soundtrack was a bit different, depending on the circumstances that night. That way of working, more “preparing” than “producing” really gave me a lot of experience for upcoming live shows.
Sounds dope! Being a musician who works heavily with samples, are you much of a vinylist, or do you tend to do this part of the process digitally? Where do you look to find your samples?
I tend to sample from everything. I started out sampling mostly vinyl, but later on I began recording and re-chopping vocalists and instrumentalists. My latest song “Ghost In The Machine” is very sample-heavy too – although I made all the samples myself with synths, percussion and string instruments. So, although my basis is sampling from vinyl, I wouldn’t call myself a straight-edge vinyl-only samplist.
Can you describe a bit about your production process for us? Do you tend to find a core sample and then work around that, or lay down drums and then search for samples to lay over them?
One thing that always features heavily in my creative process is something I call “indirectness”. I try to get something interesting out of musicians and myself by removing the link to the song they are playing on. For example, I was recording a saxophone player on “Laughs Drinks Jokes Tricks” but the result was a bit too obvious – It was just what you would expect a saxophone player to play on a beat like that. So I ended up cutting it out totally, and using phrases of the recordings on “Reprise” where it worked perfectly.
It is basically what makes sampling so much fun: fitting a musical statement onto something that the performer was totally unaware of at the time of him playing it. It can leave you with something more interesting than what the best musician could have directly played on it.
Sampling an old record is a very obvious way for this to work (they could have never imagined being chopped onto a beat), but there’s also a lot of other ways to get this effect.
So that’s basically how I work – interchanging between Directness and Indirectness, to build up enough inspiring material to in the end be able to arrange a full song.