Remaining Raw As Fuck

31 March 2012 | 10:14 am | Staff Writer

More Freestylers More Freestylers

From their b-boy hip hop origins to experimenting with an 11-piece band, there is no denying that the Freestylers have a unique and diverse sound that draws upon more than 15 years of shared experiences, and a passion for remaining original. When it comes to their ability to continue to search for new ways to sonically develop, Aston Harvey is one of those rare few who seems to never quit redefining themselves. ”We are always trying to do something different with our music, otherwise people would say it sounds like the last one,” enthuses Harvey. ”You gotta keep making it fresh!”

It is this attitude of perpetual innovation that is synonymous with the legendary duo. Originally bonding over an affinity for hip hop and breaks whilst sharing a studio in West London, Harvey and production partner Matt Castor began to produce records as Freestylers in 1996. Over the intervening 16 years, the pair have released four studio albums and have a plethora of collabs and remix collections, and have developed an eclectic and dynamic live act. Their initial records were heavily instrumental and a reflection of their early influences, however they tracks increasingly featured vocals, to the point where Harvey proclaimed, “We can't keep making instrumentals anymore!” This is evident in their 2004 crossover release Push Up, a track laden with innuendo, and a reflection of the duo's developing attitude. The most recent single, Over You, featured Ami Carmine on vocals. When pressed about the departure from their original sound, Harvey muses that it was a multitude of factors that have led to their current releases, including changing the way they recorded and the music they themselves are listening to; “adding drum'n'bass and dubstep into the style that we are known for.”

It is at this point that Aston Harvey becomes pensive, and reflects upon how the process of recording has changed drastically since he cut his teeth, and the attitude of young wannabe DJs and producers. “When I first started making music I always thought you would have to work for ages in a studio, making music for bands, you know, kicking shit. But now that is all different because everyone can be a musician, and you can have a studio in your bedroom.” When pushed for more on the matter, including the availability of webinars and YouTube courses on how to DJ/produce, Harvey reflects upon his own origins, and uses a strange, albeit fitting, analogy. “It is good that there are all these courses, but it's all about how people take it and develop it and not just be a robot; really take this knowledge and use it. It's like learning to drive; everyone learns to drive, and once you pass the test there are good and bad drivers.”

So what then are the implications of all of these 'qualified' kids out there? This is clearly a topic that Harvey has considered about as much as the average 15-year-old school kid has contemplated what Jen Hawkins looks like without her clothes on. And it is the final insight that Harvey provides on the matter that is really elucidating: “You can learn about the whole aspect of it, but obviously only a certain percentage are going to have the talent to take it to the next stage. I know plenty of guys that are amazing at mixing a record, but have not idea about how to put a tune together. They might be technically gifted but cannot put a tune together. It's great there are these things now; there was nothing like that when I was coming through.”

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It is clear that both Harvey and Cantor have the ability, and have taken it to the 'next stage', but being a kid in primary school when they first started releasing music, one can't help but ponder what it was like when they first started recording, and if their has studio changed. Harvey almost chokes with laughter at this thought. “The change in making music I have seen has been massive.” His reflections are an insight into his passion for music, and for continuing to remain original in what he does. When asked about his studio setup, he elicits another chuckle and responds, “It is well different. Up until last year I had a big mixing desk that we had used since we began The Freestylers. You had to put everything through different channels, and make sure it was all balanced. When I first started making music the sampler I had had something like an eight-second sampling time. So you used to have to put the vinyl up to 45 and then record onto tape, and put that on channel one, and work your way through the channels.” This laborious process has been replaced now with everything largely done on the computer sans a “bunch of old keyboards and proper synths.” This change in itself is indicative of the sonic development of the duo, although Harvey is quick to reassure, “I make the music not as technically as you can get involved, so the end product still sounds like the Freestylers.”

After contemplating the past, Harvey speaks of the future with the same vigor that might be expected of someone half his age. “We have loads of tracks on the go, and some that just need finishing.” Could this mean that Freestylers are edging towards their first studio release since 2006's Adventures In Freestyle? “I'd like to have [the new record] done by May. Three more tracks need vocals and that's it.” With the new record almost complete, and a stated desire to stop producing instrumentals, attention logically turns to the 2011 single Over You, which featured Ami Carmine on the vocals. The track was a commercial success, and begs the question whether Carmine will feature on any other tracks on the impending release. “She has worked on another track for our album. With these vocalists sometimes the record label sends someone over and it doesn't work out. But when you meet someone it tends to be more natural.”

Armed with new material, and a number of commercially successful tracks, the Freestylers return to Perth for Villa's third birthday this Easter long weekend. When asked what we can expect, Harvey is a little cagey in his response. “We will be playing some new stuff from the album. But for the past couple of years Matt would play an hour and I would play an hour. But now we combine our strengths. Matt will cut the beats, I'll scratch, find the a capellas and effects. It is not done by computers, it is all manual. It is never going to be the same set as before.”

Harvey's closing words surmise what Freestylers are really all about: “I'm into fat bass and some good vocals, playing good fat party tunes.” It seems that despite the trends in electronic music, this UK duo have maintained the same MO that they adopted when they started – to keep the party going, and remain Raw As Fuck.