Deadbeat “Let the lightning come and strike you!”

Foreword by Sophie Kübler

Friendships, Communities, Relationships, Families, Love and Compassion have all one thing in common, they are deep connections from the heart. 

Scott Monteith aka Deadbeat is a figure that has kept his career on a solid and long-lasting path. We met him in Mexico City in November after Mutek 2019 because of his long history with the platform. Our first meeting was set to happen in the hotel lobby in La Roma, CDMX followed by lunch with local fish specialties around the corner. To be fair it was the morning after his live set at the festival … a too ambitious interview set up … we had to improvise and got the chance to talk with him a few days later. 

In our conversation he told us he moved to Berlin for music, a decade ago. He always accepted his career with great gratitude and passion, however life challenged him. The long and close connection with Mutek not only played a decisive role in this, but he also calls the people behind it a family, as original as it can be. Scott has been part of the global music scene for 20 years now, and he feels ease in his work environment, although he does not neglect the reality and seriousness of a career and his responsibility as an artist. That everything is not always rosy and that you need a lot of discipline and courage is a dazzling insight that does not change or feel different even after 20 years.

Read this piece touching upon big labels, collaborations, life philosophy and the importance of community spirit.

“There are definitely moments when you are like “What the fuck am I doing here?”. This is a disaster, this is an absolute disaster! You have to just push through these things, that’s the only way to do it.”

Interview by Pat Aliyeva for NSNS

P: And how was the festival?

Scott: Fantastic! Absolutely mind-blowing. I have been going since the very first one, and I have lots of friends here. I was supposed to be here for a week but I arrived Thursday night and had to leave on Monday, so heartbreakingly short! But as far as the festival experience goes it was amazing.

P: By friends you mean fellow artists or?

S: Friends from DF, Mexican friends from all across the country really, both artists and beautiful souls in general I have had the pleasure of meeting. I laugh more in Mexico than any other country in the world by far. Mexicans have an electric spirit. I’ve known Damian Romero, the director of Mutek MX, for almost 20 years now, as well as many of the key players who have built the whole Mutek organization down here. I have been involved with Mutek in Montreal from the very beginning. I played my first live set on the first day of the first Mutek in Montreal. That’s real family for me, it doesn’t get much more family than that. And for me the Mexican contingent is an important part of that as well.

P: Sounds like you had a lot of cool people around you, so what made you move to another continent? You live in Berlin now, don’t you? 

S: That was a very unfortunate and practical decision. I was living in Montreal for 12 years, and when the music stuff started to get going for me, I was playing in the US a lot. At some point, in 2007 or 8, I got kicked out of the states for going down to play there without a visa. It was an instant 7-year ban, and at that time there weren’t enough gigs to be done in Canada or Mexico for the kind of music I do. The only alternative was going to Europe, and after a couple of months spent traveling every other weekend between Montreal and Europe, I realized that It didn’t make much sense doing this. I was killing myself with travel in a very real sense. So It made more sense to make Berlin the base. At the time I was working with a label called Scape, which was based in Berlin and I developed some good friendships in connection with this in Berlin. So it was a sad move, but it was logical.

P: Do you think the whole situation and the scene has now changed, as you said, “for the kind of music that you were making”? Are there more clubs, gigs, opportunities, more of everything, in Latin America and Canada?

S: Absolutely, hugely! If you look at the US it has grown exponentially! Mexico has grown exponentially too, there are so many crews just in DF, like NAAFI and many more. I remember playing in Guadalajara in Bar Americas, it was the first tour we ever did in 2002, and it was tiny. Now in the second room hosts a thousand people every weekend. If you look at Colombia, Chile, Argentina or Peru, they have their own ecosystems now, and it’s expanding beyond that. I am not talking about bullshit big-budget EDM stuff. You can play respectable underground music and find like-minded people everywhere on the continent.

P: Do you think the Latin American scene became more homogenous and united?

S: I am not from Latin America, but from my point of view, there’s a commitment to experimentalism, whether you looking at the Uruguayan minimal scene, which has become the kind of associated with the Perlon and Romanian sound, or at Colombia, probably some of the best hardcore rough neck techno DJs in the world are coming from Colombia nowadays. Perhaps more than anywhere in the region Mexico has one of the richest and most diverse electronic music scenes, from bleeding-edge experimentalism to banging techno and soulful house, and more so all of the local hybrids like electronic cumbia, reggaeton, or tribal from the north. If we consider things globally as a circle, the edges of the radius of that circle being pushed most aggressively and consistently in Latin America and that is really exciting.

P: Ok, back to you, looking back at everything you have achieved, during all these years, what were the most unexpected things that happened to you or most important moments in your career?

S: The fact that it all has actually happened at all! I am not religious but to use a religious colloquialism I would say I have been very blessed, I happened to be at the right place, at the right time, at a few key junctions. Linking up with the Mutek crew from the very beginning and being part of this very organic international expansion was the first and really crucial part of my development as an artist. Those travels took me to Chile, Argentina, China, Japan, and of course Mexico. And Meeting more friends and collaborators over the years, and being honest about what you do in terms of music and not chasing whatever the sound of the minute is. It hasn’t been a walk in the park, I have been doing it for 20 years now, there were good moments and there were great years and there were absolute shit years when I couldn’t even pay the rent, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. As I said, I feel like I’ve lived a very blessed life.

P: What was helping you not to give up, to keep going and making music?

S: All the sort of cliche things. Friends, both locally and abroad, and the greater sort of global family dynamic. Being involved in a tight-knit scene and feeling part of something dynamic, magic, and special. There is this more pragmatic way of looking at it as well, as I really don’t know what else I would have done.  This is the road I chose to travel, and whenever things have gotten tough, when I put my head down and say “Ok, this is a bad period, put your head down, keep trucking”. It always ends up paying dividends. It always ends up working out in the end. I think, and I hope, it’s able to sustain itself in this way for a long time to come.

P: Do you feel part of a scene, and well, in your case, how would you actually define a scene?

S: Not a scene per se, and I apologize for repeating myself, but I really count my blessings in this regard. I’ve managed over 20 years to develop this widely drawn family network, so when I go to Mexico, I have friends I’ve been friends with for 20 years, when I go to Japan, I have friends with whom I’ve been friends for close to 20 years, Montreal – even more so. If I go to the States – the same. I don’t know really how to define it so well, but there’s definitely a really large community of people who have the same kind of philosophy which is kind of “Keep your head down when things get tough, keep rolling, don’t worry about the press, don’t worry about anything, just keep doing your stuff that feels right and what feels good to your head and your heart and trust in doing so”. And I think, as a result of that, although we may make widely different music, we managed to sustain amazing friendships and make amazing collaborations. It might sound a bit cliche, but there’s this true-hearted, true headed mode about the way certain people do things. Put the stuff out that you love and people come to it, if they don’t sometimes, that’s also fine, but if you stick to it, they will come. 

P: That’s true, absolutely. You seem to be quite focused on hard work, you have this approach work hard, stay true to yourself. Is that true?

S: I guess that’s it, yes. And that also sort of sticks to my studio regime. I am in the studio every single day, from Monday to Friday. It’s important to be creating all the time, and pushing, and exploring, and challenging, and trying to break the safe parameters I have set up for myself. It’s like a constant process of building a house and burning it to the ground over and over again.

P: Do you think this approach helped you to keep the balance, overcome creativity blocks? I mean, if that ever happened to you, I don’t know, maybe it didn’t.

S: I would say, if not on a daily basis then on a weekly basis certainly. There are definitely moments when you are like “What the fuck am I doing here?”.This is a disaster, this is an absolute disaster! You have to just push through these things, that’s the only way to do it.

P: I wanted to ask what shaped your style and approach to making music? You have been called “the Canadian dub explorer”, did it all start with dub music? What brought you here, where you are now?

S: Chronologically I guess you could say I arrived at this passion for dub in reverse. Initially, I discovered dub based stuff within the electronic realm in the mid-90s with people like the Orb and Scorn, and all of this sort of dub-influenced electronic stuff. And from there I kinda went backward into older sounds, the UK steppers things, dancehall, etc, and eventually arrived and discovered all of the Roots Jamaican dub stuff, King Tubby and Prince Jammy, Lee Scratch Perry, etc. On an aesthetic level the spaciousness of it and the endlessness of it, and questing for the perfect loop always really appealed to me. As I started learning about the technical side of it, the idea of using a studio as an instrument also appealed to me because I am not a trained musician at all. I can play a little bit of bass, a little bit of piano, a little bit of guitar, but nothing well in a conservatory sense. I certainly wouldn’t get up and play an instrument on a stage, so the idea that the entire studio, that sort of living organism of a studio, could become your instrument, was instantly appealing to me.

P: Deadbeat as an educator, what is it that you do, could you tell me more about it?

S: I’ve done stuff from very, very early on. I used to work for a music software company called Applied Acoustics Systems, in Montreal, for four years and through them met Robert Henke and Gerhard Behles who started Ableton, and met a lot of people within the music technology industry. I was always a really self-taught, geeky, hacker sort of person when it came to computers. When I started making music it was with trackers and all of these nerd software things. And still, I would say, 70 percent of my process takes place in software. As a result of that I ended up doing workshops about music technology for Mutek and for other organizations like M Audio, Native Instruments, Microsoft, and RBMA. I have always really enjoyed that and that ties back into the sort of the importance of the community for me, that you are able to, as a person who wasn’t classically educated, it’s important to share the knowledge that is required and to show people that its not fucking rocket science and that anybody can do it. If you invest the time and enjoy yourself, anybody can do it.

P: Was it difficult for you to keep the balance between your day job or the job that brings you money and making music?

S: Well I haven’t had a day job for 20 years! So thankfully I’ve managed to sustain things for better or worse, and, as I said before, there’s good years and bad years, good months and bad months. But yeah, the last day job that I had was at Applied Acoustics Systems, in Montreal, I left it in 2003 and haven’t had one since. Again the sense of blessedness comes back into the conversation 😉

P: And while you were working there, was it difficult?

S: Yeah. I mean I was obviously a lot younger then, I was 20.  I would go to work every day from 9 to 5, and then go home and work on music till three o’clock in the morning, and then go get drunk, and then go to work the next day, I certainly couldn’t keep that pace now, you know.

P: I don’t remember where and when, but you said that music always carries a message and is political. So, what’s your message then?

S: It varies from situation to situation but the inherent politics of electronic music, of nonvocal electronic music, is the coming together of people from all races and creeds, backgrounds, life experiences, economic realities, etc, . Simply being together in the same place at the same time and enjoying the moment and forgetting all the crap from the week, from the world, from the newspapers, from everywhere. It’s more than just escapism. I’ve certainly had some very very dark moments in my life where simply being in a room of smiling people, and enjoying the moment, and sharing the music, and looking people in the eye, and seeing their happiness, and having that shared experience… It’s very freeing, It saved me from some very dark places in my life. I think that these days it’s inherently political.

P: So music is a means of bringing people together?

S: Absolutely. And more than that, it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, or if your cat has just died or if you just got divorced, or whatever. It just doesn’t matter. In that situation, in a big dark room with no fucking lights and a giant sound system, it doesn’t matter who the fuck you are or where you came from. It’s cathartic. For everybody. Its freedom.

P: Do you think it transcends time and culture, whatever?

S: I think it bends time!!! I think anybody who has had a really intense experience in that kind of context can relate to that idea. Perhaps more elegantly stated, that experience can bend time to your required emotional, spiritual and psychic needs from night tonight. Again, it’s an environment that offers freedom to those who may not otherwise have it. 

P: How do you think the music industry changed in recent years, compared to back when you have just started versus now? 

S: I can tell you some very concrete ways, how it has changed. It used to be that somebody like me, who is virtually unknown, could put out an album and sell 5000 records and 20 000 CDs. And If you were really successful, like Richie Hawtin or something like that, you could sell a quarter of a million records and CDs. And now, even if you are Richie Hawtin, you would be really lucky to sell 3000! And the vast majority of people would probably sell 300 records and that’s it. Those economics have changed because everything has shifted to streaming. And it does make money, but in comparison to the money that was being made from physical products, it’s nothing. The economics of the industry has shifted entirely into performance. As a result of that, you’ve got to be on the road constantly. It used to be that you could release an album once every two years you and tour on it for two years and now there’s a lot of people who are releasing three or four albums, solo and collaborative perhaps, just to keep their names on top or keep their name in focus. Also because the performance end of things has become so important, it has really become a DJs’ market and a lot of DJs, maybe even the majority, don’t release anything. It’s more names on flyers and names on festivals, for better or worse, it has become a name game. There’s a whole rabbit hole that we can go down in terms of economics. Like, does it really make sense that DJs are taking three-quarters of a one million dollar budget for a festival, when the artists that are actually making music are getting the quarter split between 20 of them? But that’s the way it is right now. As Alfie Solomons in Peaky Blinders said, sadly, “Big fucks Small”.

P: Do you think it has to do with the way the crowd reacts to music live acts, it changed also in the recent, didn’t it?

S: Yes. I think people are redefining what a live act is. I mean for myself now my performance is more kind of a hybrid DJ live thing, there’s a drum machine and there are FX and there’s also CDJs and that was more to get the computer out of my face, more than anything else. I still play all my own music, but I’d much rather look people in the face while I do so and share the moment and a smile or a wink with them. You can’t do that behind a computer or staring at a stage full of machines. I’ve got nothing against anybody using a computer on stage. Whatever works, I don’t mind whatever anybody wants to use. But if you’d look at live acts just within our community that are running successfully, they have a huge footprint in terms of gear. If you look at Sebastian Mullaert, or at Richie’s stuff that he’s doing, it’s giant productions. As for me, I still have this sort of commitment to head-down-no-lights- dark-clubs underground aesthetics. I was never interested in trying to become a rockstar, and don’t care at all for the blinking lights and spraying champagne on the crowd and stage diving. I just want to share my music with people in that big time-bending dark room and be happy and enjoy the moment with the people there.

P: Running a record label is quite time consuming, it requires some effort. What made you start BLKRTZ?

S: For me it was really simple. My label is not a real label, it’s just basically an outlet for my work and occasional collaborations. For example I just did a collaborative record with Ryan Crosson, and as another some years before I did remixes for Lee Scratch Perry and the Orb, where I basically traded, I did the remix for free and said “You have to let me release the vinyl on my label”, cause they weren’t gonna release it on vinyl otherwise. So we just did a straight trade. But it’s just a vehicle for my music. There aren’t that many real classic labels around anymore. Most of the labels are just vehicles for individual artists work and a couple of their buddies. The reason you wanted to work with a label previously was because they could provide promotional support for you. If you were doing an album they could probably provide a sizable advance for production of the album, they could probably help you to get gigs, they had a much larger infrastructure. But the income levels with physical sales are so low now, there are very, very few of those labels left. So the majority of the labels that you see these days are one-man shows, where the guy who started the label is putting out his own shit and he puts out his friends’ stuff as well, occasionally. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, you’ve still got the big dogs like Mute and R&S and also very successful boutique operations that sell really well like Perlon. That sort of traditional old school rock’n’roll label structure within the electronic music scene just doesn’t exist anymore.

P: That was basically my next question, so it’s gone already?

S: Yes, it’s gone and it’s never coming back. There’s no way. It doesn’t exist. And you see that proliferating out into pop and hip hop and all of these things. All the major hip hop artists start their own labels now, very few of them are signed to Universal or Sony, but even if they are, it’s an edition underneath the multinational, where they own all the rights and Sony owns part of the publishing or whatever.

P: How important is the family and support of your loved ones in your creative process?

S: Massive… unimaginably massive! I’ve got two kids. Thankfully my studio is just around the corner, so I can sort of 9 to 5 it and pretend like I’ve got a normal job, but go home to dinner every day and read them bedtime stories. Touring stuff is, of course, difficult for them, it’s hard. Because the little one is 2 and the other one is 9, and the 9-year-old is sort of used to this at this point, but it’s difficult for the 2-year-old, you know. But beyond this sort of like the nuclear family, I also have my larger family/community as a whole, and that is equally important. I am really, really fortunate here in Berlin to have Mike Shannon, Matthew Johnson, The Mole, Konrad Black, Chris Hreno,  and all the friends that I met since I moved here all living just around the corner. I am sharing the studio with T. Raumschmiere and having those sounding boards and those people fighting the same fight as me all the time, and that you can be like “Hey would you mind listening to this?” or also regardless of music be like “Fuck dude I’m having such a goddamn bad day or a bad month!”. And to have this support network in place is crucial, without it I wouldn’t be able to do it, I would have jumped off a bridge years ago if it wasn’t for that.

P: Do you think it’s good to have a shared studio with other musicians? Does it help you in your creative process?

S: One hundred percent. Again, I feel totally blessed. I am part of a real studio community here, it is called Chez Cherie and it’s myself and Marco Haas aka T.Raumschmiere, Tilman Hopf, who is a mixing engineer. Also, PC Nackt and Cherie herself, who were in a band Warren Suicide before, and have a giant project called the String Theory now, that just got nominated for Grammy for the best-spoken word performance this year, and Ben Lauber who is the most badass drummer I have ever met and just a giant composer in all ways…it’s massive! We’ve got like four pianos, organ, guitars, bass, every synth, every microphone, everything you could possibly want. It’s still a super, super punk-rock place. Everybody smokes, everybody goes for a drink by the end of the day. It doesn’t look like LA recording studios normally do, there’s no giant mixing boards, everything’s dirty. It’s a lived-in place. We have a giant kitchen in the middle, we cook all the time, we throw each others’ birthday parties here, it’s a real community. It all changed for me when I moved in here. I guess I have been here for four years now or something like that, and it changed everything for me. I’ve had shared studio spaces here in Berlin previously, but this is a real community space. If you look at the credits of the records that have come out of this studio in the last four years, all of our names are on them, all of them! Like everybody did something. Always. Having this tight-knit group of people is great. If you need somebody who is a really good piano player, they are in the next room, or if you need someone who can play horns or can write string parts for you or is an amazing singer, whatever you want it’s here. And downstairs we have the Brandt Brauer Frick guys! I can not stress how wonderful it is to share a studio with people.

P: Whose idea was that? Who’s running the studio?

S: The studio was founded initially by PC and his partner Cherie, this is why it’s called Chez Cherie. They founded it, I think, like 10 years ago. They had this warehouse space which they were living in, which you’ll never find in Berlin now, that sort of run-down cheapest warehouse space. And they decided to turn it into a studio, and got their friends together, and just did it, you know. It was like jumping off a cliff financially, in terms of if it would it work or would be able to sustain itself, but it has. They recorded some of the biggest bands in Germany here now, but it’s not that kind of place either. It’s not a place where bands come and record, there’s no website for the studio for instance, they don’t advertise it, like, hey, come and record your band here!

Everything happens organically.

P: You collaborated with Pantamuzik label run by…

S: Oh my God, I did! Signal Deluxe Guys! It was years ago! I think we met at this absolutely famous after-hours, crazy club called Bar 25. I think we may have met there deep into Monday morning sometime. And they were like, “Hey, what’s up! We really like your tunes, we would like you to do a remix, would you be up for it?” I was like “Yes, totally, let’s do it!” It was again one of those organic happenings, and a total example of Berlin magic at the time.

P: So it just comes to you and you are open to possibilities?

S: That’s it. You have to be open, bodily, mentally, and spiritually to let the lightning come and strike you!

Deadbeat’s 8 track remix project for Sasha’s Last Night on Earth label, LNOE in Dub is out now. His new album with Paul St Hilaire aka Tikiman, 4 Quarters of Love and Modern Lash will be available in May via French label Another Moon.

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