Blu Mar Ten Music is one of those rare labels in d&b that seems truly prepared to take a risk, something that’s often paid off with their exceptional A&R introducing many a talented newcomer to the scene and providing a much needed outlet for left field experimentation amidst the 170 tempo. Their latest signing, a German born, Switzerland residing, producer with a background playing the classical violin is perhaps the most out there yet. With a sound like no other and a live show that involves gadgets and instruments we’ve never even heard of, Frederic Robinson has entered the d&b scene as somewhat of an enigma, twisting the tempo to almost unrecognizable levels. As he himself puts it, it’s “music for the listener with a broad horizon and a short attention span“.
Approaching d&b free from all of the unspoken rules and structural stigma that are the result of a dance and DJ culture, he writes songs rather than tunes, the skittish progression of which uses a dismissal of those rules to create surprise. His debut twelve on BMTM, Theme Park/Off Topic, for example immediately startles with Theme Park’s infectious, up beat sound full of bells and light hearted singing for a track that refuses to take itself too seriously, despite it’s incredibly intricate drum programming. Off Topic continues in a similair vein with airy strums, uplifting pads and plenty of edits to keep it ticking along. With another twelve (Bloom/Shore) coming later this month and an album at the end of the year, we felt it was time we got a proper introduction into the man behind some of the most original d&b we’ve heard in a long time. Carry on reading to find out what he had to say for himself.
Hi Frederic. Tell us a bit about yourself firstly, what were you doing before your music took off?
Hi, I am Frederic Robinson, 21 years old, I originally come from Bavaria in Germany (Lederhosen etc) and I have always been making music of some sort but started taking it very seriously after I was finished with high school. I’m having trouble remembering anything else so it must not have been that interesting. I did a few sports, had dreadlocks at one point, wanted to become a math teacher at another and never really learned to cook. I am very glad my life’s become a bit more exciting in the last few years.
Am I right in saying your from Switzerland? It’s a country not particularly known for it’s d&b, do you ever feel cut off from the rest of the scene? If so, do you see this as a positive or negative thing?
Yes, I currently study in Switzerland and there is not much happening in d&b there, although that was the case in my hometown as well. I don’t really feel cut off from the scene, because I’ve never been a part of it! I don’t see that as a positive or negative. I don’t make dance music, so a lively scene with good events happening regularly would be nice but not particularly inspiring for my music. Having access to the scene’s music over the internet has been enough for me. Most of the music I’m interested in (not just d&b) is made in the UK though and I’d love to be closer to the musicians who inspire me and be able to meet them without having to jump on a plane.
Your music seems to flit around rapidly, like small birds darting between tree branches, and is very light and airy. Would you say it reflects your personality in this way?
Interesting question, I would not say I have a “light and airy” personality, but I would say my music is much more relaxed, excessive and uncontrolled than I am. I am very ambitious and disciplined and can’t take a 5 day holiday without feeling like I’m wasting time. I guess I let loose in my music instead, which works great for me because I like the thought of having more than just a memory (a piece of music for example) from the time I spend on something.
Despite coming from d&b roots, you’ve created an eclectic left field sound that warps its tempo and should appeal to much more than just 170 aficionados. What would you say its main influences are?
The influences of my early releases are clearer to me than those of what I make at the moment. When I started, my plan was to “make something with the euphoria of liquid d&b and the intricate sound design of darker, more stripped back d&b” and that is kind of what I did. Now it is a bit more complicated. For some reason I really like working in the d&b tempo range, but I also listen to a lot of acoustic/electronic crossover artists, I’ve become obsessed with very raw and emotional Singer/Songwriter music. My course of studies has confronted me with purely sound/noise-based contemporary electronic art-music and together with classical music theory it just becomes a big mess of “things I should really try at some point”. I have no idea what is next, but I know I won’t run out of ideas.
Is there a key moment, in terms of a piece of equipment, a new technique or simply a creative epiphany, where you feel your sound sprung forward and you really found yourself?
Definitely, it was a time period of 6 months right after I finished high school. I was highly dissatisfied with most of what was happening in my life, I had no idea what to study and I was not proud of anything that I did, especially in music.
I had a little apartment and pretty much locked myself in there for 6 months, doing nothing but making music. After 2 or 3 months I started being proud of the finished tracks and after another month I made ‘Mood Swings‘ and ‘Laughing At Cloud‘, which later became my first releases. The confidence from that gave me the courage to study music and I’ve been having the time of my life since then.
You originally trained as a classical violinist, something that’s seems to have had an influence on your electronic music. How do you think a classical ear makes you approach music differently to a self-taught producer?
To be honest, I don’t think the classical training I received had a influence on my musical taste. I’m very thankful for the huge amounts of practice I went through since the age of four, but there are many different kinds of music that I am more interested in and I don’t think for one second that a background like that is necessary for becoming a good musician.
I guess I approach electronic music differently to a self-taught producer, because my first 8 years of creative experience were away from a computer. The methods of working very much influence your way of thinking and when you make your first steps of being creative in a production environment you will develop sound aesthetics according to the possibilities of the machine. I spend large amounts of time trying to mess up the perfection of the computer because my sound aesthetics are based on acoustic sounds and a lot of electronic music sounds a bit too sterile for me.
Your first single on Blu Mar Ten Music, Theme Park/Off Topic, was released over the summer and is like nothing else that’s been released on the label before. How would you describe those two tracks?
When I started those two I already knew I would make an album for BMTM and that I was free to do whatever I felt like. As a result, both of them have large changes of direction halfway through; ‘Off Topic‘ ends in massive distortion and ‘Theme Park‘ features me singing and whistling. It was huge fun to make those two and they have a certain humor and happiness to them that will always remind me of the euphoria I felt after being given the possibility of making an album.
The second, Bloom/Shore, lands at the end of this month, can we expect a similar sound and approach to those two?
The second single will be quite different to the first. I covered a lot of bases on the album and wanted to reflect that in the singles as well. ‘Bloom‘ is a collaboration and its sound aesthetics and how it was created is already very different because of that. ‘Shore‘ was made in the month just before I started studying and its motto was “make something very different from what you did before for educational purposes and without having in mind a possible release”. I went in a new direction with it and that led to a few more tracks that will be featured on the album.
Bloom also features Stray, how did the collaboration with him come about? With your sound and methods of music being so different to your contemporaries, how do you approach collaborations?
I was always a big fan of his music and many of my early tracks were inspired by him. He stumbled across me on Soundcloud and is responsible for my first release, ‘Mood Swings’ on Brownswood.
We talked a lot over the internet but he was always against collaborating without being in the same room (something which I now understand and support). When Chris Blu Mar Ten invited me to London to talk about the album, Stray suggested I stay a bit longer to work with him and I did.
He’s the only producer I have ever collaborated with and it was quite an experience; great fun and very exhausting since we had 3 days together to do something which I myself usually take a month for.
Your debut album is also being released through BMTM in October, can you reveal anything about it in terms of length, sound, name etc?
The name is ‘Mixed Signals‘. I love names with several meanings and this one is my absolute favorite so far. Other than that, I can just tell you that it will fit on one piece of vinyl and hopefully sound incredible!
Due to your music being less DJ focused, it feels like it will suit the album format more than a lot of contemporary electronic music. Are there any ways in which you’ve approached the tracks on the album differently to a standard single?
Yes, definitely; I love the thought of making something primarily for listening. For musicians in other fields that kind of seems like a given but since I have started in dance music with singles and 12′s it does make quite a difference. On the album I experimented a lot with pacing, with moods, with everything really. The whole concept of “presenting a sound to the listener” that is common in the music I am dealing with at university is something that has no place on a single. I did a lot of that on the album. Primarily in calm vocal pieces that require a kind of listening a single usually does not get.
Apart from that, I see the album as a summary of my current interests, talents and skills. Some of the tracks on the album are in a style or use a particular working method which I will not use ever again because I’ve moved on to other things. It’s hard to get that kind of closure from a 2-track-release.
Looking forward to it! The video for Theme Park shows footage of your intriguing live show. What equipment features in it and how does it all get together? What’s the most unusual bit of kit or technique in it?
My live setup has a kind of a “many simple, small, easily replaceable parts make a complex whole” -approach. In that video I had several controllers from the Korg-Nano-series, a Novation Launchpad (much too expensive for what it does, as I later realized), a drum pad, a wii-remote, an electrical violin and a lamellophone. I very much focused on mobility and price when getting together all the parts and none of them can do much on their own. Everything complex happens in the programs I write, which I like. That makes it all feel very personal.
The most unusual piece of gear is probably the wii-remote. There is no real “plug and play” way to use it as a midi controller so to use it you need a bit more background knowledge. It is a bit of a gimmick though. It always gets a nice reaction but the data flow is not fast enough to build/program truly responsive instruments with it. I will build my own one at some point. I just have to find the time to get into micro electronics.
Good luck with that. Has the live element always been part of your practice, or is it something that came later? If so, what inspired it’s development?
For a long time, I couldn’t imagine myself on a stage, because I thought the only way of playing my music live would be by DJing and that’s never really interested me. When I met Chris BMT for the first time, he mentioned I should develop a live performance and I liked the idea but did not really know how it should look. The person that eventually made me start the development was a German promoter who had asked me to come to Germany and play live several times over two years. At some point I just could not say no anymore and that deadline made me create a first prototype with the skills I had gotten by then through my university work.
Because producing and performing live are so very different from each other, the music changed a bit too. Things that are “easy and boring” in the studio suddenly become really hard to realize on stage and as a result there are now new elements in my music which were not there before. It’s very exciting to see how limitations can inspire you and shift your focus on aspects of music that you did not see before.
Where can we catch you playing live, and what else is coming up release wise?
If you are London-based you can see me supporting Ulrich Schnauss at the Royal Albert Hall, Eldar Room on 30th September. If by any chance you live in Toulouse, France you will be able to see me perform at the Festival Jardins Synthétiques on the 4th October.
The second single towards my album is out 30th September and the album itself mid October.
Thanks for the time Frederic!