Subtronics breaks down Cyclops Recordings’ ‘Boot Camp’ compilation, shares label goals [Q&A]
In mid-December, Subtronics launched Cyclops Recordings with a hefty imprint opener: the 19-track compilation LP, Boot Camp. Featuring a wrecking-crew of up-and-coming bass acts such as LEVEL UP, Leotrix, Al Ross, Akeos, Syzy, and more, Boot Camp provided a platform for more than 20 artists who used the album as the place to showcase their best absorptions of modern bass sound. Not to be overlooked is the label head’s own contributions, manifesting in three new originals, “Tractor Beam,” “Point Breeze,” and “Scream Saver VIP.”
Boot Camp can be split into three subdivisions, “High Knees Headquarters,” “Psychedelic Division,” and “Heavy Artillery.” In commemoration of the launch, Subtronics gifted fans and his “Cyclops Army” a brimming drum ‘n’ bass bootleg of TikTok’s viral “Oh No,” which samples The Shangri-Las’ timeless rock classic “Remember (Walking in the Sand).”
Dancing Astronaut caught up with Subtronics to gain insight on the inspiration behind Boot Camp and its many facets. Find his latest bootleg, Boot Camp, and the interview below.
Can you explain the three sonic subsets on Boot Camp?
Subtronics: “The High Knees Division is basically what that particular style of music generally makes people do: high knee kind of jumps. It is specifically designed for tunes that fall more under the umbrella of what people these days would refer to as ‘riddim’ (dubstep, not riddim dancehall). I originally came from that community, so I want to represent it as accurately as possible and give the kids who want ‘dubstep riddim’ some of the best material we can find. Obviously, not all of the tunes in this division are textbook ‘riddim’ by any means, but it’s the general theme and aim. ‘Riddim’ is more of a spectrum than a specific wall for a genre. Anything over say, a 5, gets put on High Knees.
The Psychedelic Division is probably the style that I listen to most in my spare time. Its key mission is to find and distribute as much forward thinking, outside of the box, tunes that are completely free from restrictions, rules, and genres as possible. There is literally no song too weird or out there for this group. I might put a full ambient soundscape on it one day, who knows! It is where we experiment with the newest things, and where we don’t expect everyone to understand what we are trying to do. It’s for the most cutting edge and forward thinking but also trippy songs we can find.
The Heavy Artillery Division is pretty much what it sounds like—it’s for the heavy rip your face off stuff [that’s] probably a crowd favorite. These are the songs that will most effectively destroy a crowd of people, tunes specifically engineered to leave the dance floor a smoldering crater. Truly the home of the angry robot sounds.
Why name it Boot Camp? I have ‘Cyclops Army,’ my giant fan group on Facebook that is very active, so it felt right to keep the mission going for my next step, Cyclops Recordings. You’ve joined the army, now here is your training.”
Were there any major influences for this project?
Subtronics: “Honestly, my key driving mentality has been my own experiences with labels in the past and what I didn’t like about how my releases with them went. I intend to run this from an artist’s perspective and give everyone exactly what I would want if I were releasing on the label.
I have been heavily inspired by people who are able to create a theatrical and almost plot-driven story line parallel to the music they release. Porter Robinson stands out to me especially with his Worlds project, for example. Ganja White Night also comes to mind, with Ebo their visual artist and Subcarbon [their label].
My mission statement truly stems from an inner desire to share songs that excite me and at the same time freak me out. When I find a crazy song, the first thing I have to do is get in someone’s car or my own and play it for anyone who will listen, so the label is that experience, but for everyone to hear.
Another major component is that I was an artist who struggled to find a platform for almost a decade because I was ‘too weird’ or ‘not cool enough.’ Crowds really didn’t get it at first. Today, I see tons of other insanely talented artists going through a similar thing, artists far more ahead of their time than I ever was at that stage who deserve the biggest platform possible to share the incredible things they create.
If there is any way I can try to pay back the blessings of having my career, any way I can show gratitude or pass on what has been given to me by the incredibly talented producers who came years before I did and helped me out when I was a new face, I will do everything in my power to do that. Also, Flume. Totally unrelated but I have to just throw the name out there because I worship him. Isn’t Flume awesome?”
Do you have a favorite track from the compilation?
Subtronics: “I love all of these songs, and I really mean that, they all hit, but ‘Swing‘ by smith. just hits in the exact spot. It fits my personal exact fucking taste just perfectly, and when smith. dropped that DBZ AMV with it a few months ago, I probably watched it more than 100 times. S-tier bass weight type beat.
‘Poison Muffins‘ by Syzy stands out as well, simply because it has been a legendary dub in the community for a while. I was so honored that Syzy let us release it, but I was so honored that everyone released with us honestly. Thank you again to all the artists for trusting us with your hard work.”
Are there any interesting background stories behind your discovery and subsequent signing of certain songs to Cyclops?
Subtronics: “My collaboration ‘Point Breeze‘ with Chee is funny because we made it well over a year ago when we were roommates. Those days were for sure fun times. My ‘Scream Saver VIP‘ was made in a panic while prepping for a festival because I needed to upgrade my set just a little bit more.
My other song ‘Tractor Beam’ was extremely close to being put on my String Theory EP, but I could not think of a second drop in time. As for all the other tunes, 99 percent of the A&R process was me sliding into Twitter DMs being like ‘ayyyyy hi starting a label u got any tunes?'”
Are there any particular artists on the compilation who you feel listeners should be paying special attention to at this current moment?
Subtronics: “Honestly, all of them. Every single artist on the compilation is going to have a massive career. I do want to shout out one in particular though. Phonon has figured something out and mastered it to a degree that literally 90 percent of touring bass music struggles with, and that is set pacing. He takes the audience completely outside of the box, ventures all the way to full-on freeform jazz breakdowns, then wipes everyone’s pallets dry, and out of nowhere, smacks them in the face with the newest, freshest sounds in dubstep right now. It is the perfect juxtaposition.
The only other artist I have ever seen pull it off so beautifully is GRiZ, because Grant can go from full big band funk with backup singers and everything, then out of nowhere drop it into crazy dubstep. Nothing gets a crowd response like that. It is the peak of proper bass music. In order for there to be big impact, you need big shock value and big contrast. There is no better way of pulling that off than going entirely outside of bass music and then slamming back into it. Phonon’s set does that the entire time. It is an incredibly hard art to master and that dude had it locked in his second time ever even using CDJs.
I would also be remiss not to mention how well Level Up does this. Coming from an unbiased standpoint and viewing it as an artist, she pulls songs from a jukebox that spans the lifetime of all our favorite songs, old and new, and always blends them into some crazy double. Big proud of that lady.”
Are you surprised by how popular riddim has gotten? What future do you see with it?
Subtronics: “Oh man, I have gone on so many rants about this topic before and there are many things I want to touch on. Huge yes. Years and years ago when there was a much smaller number of us ‘non-mainstream’ type dubstep nerds floating around on SoundCloud, we started forming groups and Google Hangouts. Everyone started virtually meeting each other and getting closer. We all sounded noticeably different from the ‘bro-step’ and trap music that was popular at the time. We were all much more inspired by UK-sounding dubstep in all its flavors, and many different vibes were covered during those years. The genres all had a bunch of different weird halfway names, and some solidified more over the years than others. I can’t remember the last time I heard anyone call a tune ‘robostep,’ but I was trying damn hard to make it at one point.
Anyway, the dubstep term ‘riddim’ I believe came about from a popular tune leaking site. They needed a code word to find leaked dubplates from our specific corner of dubstep (I say ‘our corner’ to signify the community I was a part of). At the time, I had almost no following. It was much more about artists like Trollphace, Getter, Subfiltronik, etc.) Most of us honestly didn’t go with the phrase at first. 12th Planet was calling it swamp, Getter sarcastically tried getting everyone to call it trench, and for a while it was just kind of a bunch of weird names flying around.
Eventually, it just became ‘riddim’ even though riddim was already a gigantic other genre that had been around for decades and falls under the dancehall category. A huge portion of the scene did not want to call it that for that exact reason, but I think it just kind of stuck due to the number of people that already adopted the name. Anyway, yes at first we were literally just making shit post songs for the internet culture of it, never thought it would blow up or be a popular thing and that is kind of why we fucked with it. It was for sure counter culture, and we would frequently joke how ‘riddim would never pay the bills.’ We did it purely for the love of it because it was fun to make and to post new shitty clips on SoundCloud every week so the same 20 people could comment ‘AYY 55555555555.’ Maybe if you were lucky, Lebawski would come in with an all-caps freak out.
Fast forward to three festival seasons later, and now kids think ‘riddim’ is mainstream. Almost dystopian levels of surreal hit me when I see that shit, it legit blows my mind. It feels like a movie with a punchline at the end because we joked about this for years and now some people think it actually is mainstream??!!? WTF?!?!?! Fuckin’ crazy how shit worked out. Literally unbelievable on so many levels.
That being said, after five years of hearing ‘Passout’ on repeat, ‘riddim’ is certainly moving forward at an incredible pace and new ideas are constantly being pushed. Labels like Halcyon are innovating and pushing melodic/future/tonal riddim along with countless other incredible producers. Homies like Danny (Voyd) and Hamish [MARUADA] are giving new definition to what it means to be heavy. Production gods like Voltra are blending hyper-complex supersongs in with key ‘riddim’ attributes. Thousands of incredible new ideas are circulating and splintering off. Dozens of groups of friends are creating all their own waves at once and the scene is getting exponentially more diverse and cutting edge.
We have seen a massive rise in headphone music as opposed to dance floor music, especially since everyone has been locked inside. With a much more cerebral wave of music, surely the entire scene has been changed and influenced. It is constantly evolving in many different directions.”
How do you feel your own sound has evolved in the past few years?
Subtronics: “Obviously, I am by no means ‘textbook riddim’ and to be honest, I never really was. As I have grown and learned more as a producer, I continue to do more and add more of my own unique style. My number one goal is to sound the most like myself and the least like anyone else as much as possible. If I piss off a bunch of genre elitists (check that box off) for not making the same sound done a million times over and over (lame sounds the elitists think I should be producing just because it makes them happy), my mission has been accomplished. As I have evolved, my main goal—and I think I have succeeded—is to cover and learn as many different styles and vibes as possible, but still always sound like myself.”
Which track of yours would you want a future fan who has never before heard your music to listen to?
Subtronics: “I produce such a range of music that I would want them to listen to a bit of each to get a sense of like, the overall vibe, so I suppose one from each category:
D. Then, check out “Griztronics”
E: I would also like them to listen to “Headband” with Ganja White Night without skipping. Also “Hit Em” with Boogie T, “Nuclear Bass Face” with Boogie T and NGHTMRE, and my “Oh No” bootleg of the viral Tiktok song that just dropped on my SoundCloud.
Ok well, that is too many, sorry ’bout that, I couldn’t think of an answer because there’s too many different vibes that I try to curate, but pick one trippy one, one heavy one, one ‘riddim,’ and one wobbly. I think if we have learned anything from this interview, it’s that I don’t exist in one genre.”
Anything special we can look forward to in 2021?
Subtronics: “A lot of really big collaborations, probably a few EPs, so many things for the label, and also some super nice merch. We have a lot in the works on the live event, festival, and touring side too for when things go back to normal. Also, I will continue to smoke a lot of weed and pet my dog. I plan on doing all the things and then some.”
Featured image: TraumaShoots