In science, a transient state is a time of chaos, uncertainty, the gap between one predictable steady state and another. It’s a state of change, and the perfect title for the first artist’s album from acclaimed French deep house producer and DJ Brawther.
Transient States is a house music album unlike most of its kind. It holds together; it coheres in the way a good album from David Bowie does.
I’ve been following Brawther’s career since before I knew who he was, or that we had any friends in common or ideas that aligned. The first record I knowingly heard was officially untitled but commonly called Endless after the A side track (distinguished from Endless, the quasi-album released in 2015). It was released on Balance Alliance in 2009 but I learned about it some 8 or 9 months after it was released. It still sounded tremendously fresh to me, electrifying – “on fire,” in the way Christians are on fire for God. This was something I had to show the world, even if the world already knew.
Brawther’s tracks are like that – they get you excited and they stay with you, and they feel like they’re made both for the wider brotherhood of the club as well as for you alone.
The tracks on Transient States hold up to this lofty standard (sometime in 2019, another kid is going to find these and feel compelled to shout his or her excitement about them, like they found a new element of the Periodic Table.) But there’s also something more to Transient States. “Thoughtful,” is a word that comes to mind; “deliberate” is perhaps more appropriate. Endless was the record of a young producer who tried to make the most perfect sound ever heard; Transient States is the record of an older brother equally concerned by both the sound and what the sound means.
As the title reads, 2018 does indeed find Brawther in a state of change, particularly the profound revelation that occurs when a person discovers that their time and their life itself is no longer their own. Locking himself in a studio recently vacated by a seminal UK rave act, Brawther emerged with Transient States, an album born from one.
photo by Adam Cropper Photography
I was Googling some of your recent sets before this interview, right? And I came across an event posting that referred to you as the “Legendary Brawther.” That’s the first time I saw that. In Chicago you almost never hear that applied to anyone younger than 50!
Oh really? Well… they meant well but “legendary” is bad. That’s what Chez [Damier] always said. When you’re legendary, that usually means you’re dead. [laughs]
Well I’m glad that’s not the case. So this is our second interview but we’ve talked a lot over email over the time in between. How have you been lately?
I can’t complain. DJ life is kind of precarious, as you know. There are ups and downs. I was in a down period in terms of bookings awhile ago, but it worked perfectly because my son was born in September of last year. He took over my home studio which had been the second bedroom in our flat. So I had to outsource my recording studio. Working on music became a 9 to 5 thing. I used all of my free time to go and make music and make the rental worth every penny. And it worked: I made more music in six months in the remote studio than I’d made in the previous five years.
Is that so? Did you change up how you work? or become more disciplined?
Well, when you’re at the studio at home or you’re traveling or playing gigs all the time, it’s kind of easy to just sit on your laurels and let yourself be distracted. I made the album in December and once it was done I gave the keys back to the studio and it’s been in storage since. It all worked really well, because I really needed to reconnect with my music.
So the entire Transient States album came out of these sessions?
I think every single track off Transient States came out of the studio.
This is interesting because I think almost everyone I know who is a creator – musicians, label owners, writers – now works from home. It feels like with the economics of the arts, that’s just the way we work now…
When you’re doing music at home you always have a small space. I rented a small room which I thought would be perfect. Then these guys named Utah Saints, a band from the ’90s – have you heard of them?
Oh yeah, absolutely.
Utah Saints had a studio there that was massive. They had it for ages and then they left. For about $100 more I could have it. So I decided to do it. Now I had a massive room to put all my gear in and that’s how it started.
It was quite refreshing. Small spaces are really tough for making music in terms of acoustics. The bigger the room the better and the less music bouncing back and canceling. So that was already a big starting point, to have space.
Another big change was working in the morning. My son just started nursery recently, we’ve been juggling between my mother-in-law helping out and my wife being off work and being a mother so I split my time between going to the studio in the morning and coming back in the evening to help. I had to make the time there as productive as it could be.
When you don’t have children and you’re self-employed, you can work whenever. The day you have children that freedom is gone. You have to wake up when they wake up. Now I’m up every morning at 6am without an alarm. He’s my alarm. You can kind of convince yourself that nighttime is a creative time, but I was never as productive as when I was working in the daytime.
You know, Transient States, the title, also means that everything I did was different. I learned to be productive by changing my methodology. Like a lot of producers, when you create music and you have your own studio you do everything – writing, engineering, mixing, some even mastering. Those tasks get intertwined in the musical process. Instead of having a writing time separate from the rest of the process, you make a beat and you’re already working on the sound and doing stuff that has nothing to do with the musical content.
I separated all the technical stuff and instead spent time writing ideas and jamming without thinking about how it would sound. That helped me to do new music every day and find ideas and jam as much as possible. And then pick what was worth arranging, and then work on the arrangement. And then decide what was worth finishing, what was worth mixing. It worked.
This is a question that I have asked before but it’s always hard to get out. And that’s how you, as the creator, envision people listening to your album. There are electronic music albums (say, by Brian Eno) that are obviously meant for people to listen to at home. But we live in the part of the industry where sales are driven by DJs, and they buy records to play in nightclubs. How do you expect people to listen to Transient States?
For house music and dance music producers, it’s definitely a challenge. My mindset was a bit different. I was just gearing toward building an LP and finding tracks that would fit this double LP format. I tried to make it a little bit less DJ-friendly, in the sense that not every track is a track you can play in the club. You have a more downtempo one, for instance. But it’s not a “concept album” in the sense that I have a really clear vision of what vibe or direction I want to go in. That is something I’d really like to do someday, though.
For Transient States, I wanted to have a fresh body of music made for this release. A lot of the records I do sometimes are resuscitated and finished long after I started them, or they took years to release. A lot of times my “new” tracks were made long ago. And there are repressings and repackaging – I’ve squeezed all the juice out of all the music I make somehow. So I really wanted to make a brand new project.
I don’t know. In French we say, “The ass sits on two chairs.” I feel like I have a bit of a problem with this sometimes. It’s not really clear overall if it’s to be one or the other.
But some of them really do bang for the club. Do any of them evoke like a place, like a specific club or city?
“Jaxx Freaxx” is very Chicago-inspired for me. It’s a very ’90s kind of vibe, like Relief Records, jacking, the Latin bassline that reminds me of Derrick Carter… I don’t know but that’s the attitude I was going for. It’s club-driven for sure.
Are you doing strictly vinyl or will there be a digital release?
Vinyl and I’m actually going to put it on Spotify and some streaming places. It’s not going to be for sale digitally but people will be able to stream it. I think I want that. The music is already on YouTube, so it’s already on streaming, isn’t it? Why can’t it be on Spotify? If that’s how people consume music… well… What do you think?
I think a couple of years I might have argued with you, but I’ve come to the conclusion that you’ve got to go where the people are.
Yeah, I think it’s the old thinking to behave exactly the same way as you behaved 10 years ago when the world has moved on. As long as it doesn’t hurt record sales – but I don’t think it will.
Do you think it’s healthy for an artist to think about their metrics?
No, I don’t think you shouldn’t be aware or effected at all by looking at that. You shouldn’t be looking at feedback and comments and the comment sections of the internet. It’s kind of unhealthy, to have this kind of proximity.
I mean, I owe everything to the internet. I really do. But there’s definitely an unhealthy side of it.
You mentioned earlier the advantages of working in a big room and sound quality. Most producers start with shitty or cheap equipment, and don’t really understand at first why their first few records don’t sound as good as they should. How concerned are you with sound quality?
There are a lot of old records which we love that sound horrible because either the pressing wasn’t good or the studio was made with a shoestring budget. They sound rough and sometimes you get to like that. The Detroit sound, a lot of producers had a very limited budget and it kind of had a sound, right?
But sound quality is the ultimate quest for a producer, you know? You should be concerned with your sound quality. It’s the best way to feel music, through a quality sound system. It can make a huge difference in someone’s life when they experience good music on a soundsystem that is properly designed. You can’t really control the quality of the sound system, but you can control your own output. If the soundsystem isn’t good – like half of the soundsystems out there – a record with bad quality is going to sound even worse. You should always try to learn about the craft, especially if you decide to do everything yourself. If you use an engineer to do the mixing, it’s in his or her hands, but in this day and age you can achieve a lot on your own.
There’s this “lo-fi” movement that’s been going on a few years now. What do you think of that?
Like lo-fi house? From what I see, the pictures and everything, it reminds me a bit of the hipster kind of thing but I don’t really have an opinion about it. I guess I can’t really relate to it because they’re really young and it’s a totally different generation. I think some tunes are kinda cool and deep but I don’t buy those records, so I’m not really in the know.
Someone put it to me this way recently: You can have a really energetic track that’s badly mastered or a Beatport Tech House track that’s perfectly mastered and completely boring.
All day long you’ll take the first one, huh?
Is this the world we’re in now? Pick one, you can’t have both!
But I want both! I want the best of both worlds. If you look at Masters at Work, they’re a perfect example of amazing music produced to the highest level possible.
Where do you get your inspiration from? Like Rick Wilhite says it’s from going to city to city, meeting people, going to record shops and supporting the underground everywhere he finds it… I thought that was the best definition of the underground that’s out there.
As an artist I think of it as converting souls in a way. And the bigger the stage the bigger the opportunity to convert more people with your performance. Most people don’t know me in a club. I don’t expect them to. So I’m always grateful when even 50 people are in a place. You get your inspiration from the people you meet and the parties you play and take that with you. That plays a big part in why you keep going.
Whenever I meet people abroad I feel inspired, but to be honest a lot of times I don’t advise people to make a career out of this. I’m really lucky – I’m still going. But I consider this profession precarious. If you’re too hot, one day you’re going to find yourself falling. I never want to be that person. People’s attention span is so quick these days, you’re going to burn your cards too quickly if you’re famous. And this is if you’re one of the lucky ones to be popular in some form. It’s really tough to make a living out of it, man.
Who are the artists that you measure yourself against?
I look up to a lot of people. I don’t necessarily believe in myself that much but I’m getting better at that with time, I think. I’ve been around long enough so I guess people genuinely like my music, I guess? But I’m just a student, I always want to better my craft. I’m still an amateur as far as I’m concerned.
I don’t really measure myself by any of them. I’m grateful to be where I’m at and what drives me is there’s so much more to be done and I always want to do better than my previous records. So the answer is that I measure myself against my old records, I think. I think that’s a lot better than if I try to start measuring myself against others. There’s always going to be fresh, exciting talent year-in and year-out. I just need to do as good as I can, stay relevant and work hard.
I definitely believe in studying and if I’m making music I want to understand as much about musical theory as I can learn. I worked with some musicians on this album – it really improved my sound so much. Arrangement is really important to me, too. A friend of mine told me that arrangement is a bit like writing: it’s about knowing where you place your periods and your commas and knowing how long the sentence is going to be. It’s a sense, about where you pause, how long your breaks are.
For instance, the track I did with Javonntte from Detroit on Transient States, “I Can’t Explain.” This one has a bit more of a classic song structure – intro, chorus, bridges and so on. That’s maybe just a manifestation of me trying to better my craft and add to the production.
Do you see yourself graduating more into vocal stuff, live stuff?
I don’t know man, I would love to. Working with musicians strengthens and took my music to another level to my eyes. I could see the added value from it straight away. So I know that’s definitely a direction I want to go in. But I want to go into so many directions and keep growing like a tree. Using musicians? For sure.
When we did our last interview, I found myself having to come up with some kind of a title that wasn’t just “Brawther Interview.” I wound up with “The Underground Is Alive,” which I thought was kind of corny but really spoke to a belief that the underground was still full of joy and beauty and heart. So I guess the way I would close this interview three years later is by asking, is the underground still alive?
Yeah man, for sure. I wouldn’t be here without the underground. There’s definitely an underground in every city I travel. You know, when you make 500 records or 1000 records, and then you talk to someone who doesn’t know house music or doesn’t remember what a record is… It’s nothing to them. The number 500 is ridiculous. To tell them I have a career from pressing records and selling that amount – selling 100 in Germany and 100 in the States and so on – that’s where the underground lies. It’s still alive.
Transient States is out now on vinyl from Negentropy.