Ontronik Khachaturian has been known as many things in his lifetime. From a young DJ in Los Angeles, to co-founding System of a Down and Apex Theory, to simply being “Andy,” Ontronik has had quite the career already and he does not look to be stopping anytime soon. His self-titled project has already ushered in a monstrous mix-tape, as well as numerous live shows that incorporate many of the musician’s talents like drumming, singing and mixing.
At this point we are just getting warm, because what is to come in the future from the producer is sure to be even greater than his debut single “Silence,” which is more than terrific. The collaboration with We Bang was released through Funky Element Records (Dank, Lazy Rich, Calvertron) as a free download to celebrate the debut. It’s some mad heavy dubstep that would blow up any venue in a hurry. Coming with the single is the chat I had with Ontronik, where we talked about the project, Funky Element and how the future may unfold for this creative being.
Warning: Non-Bassheads Beware
Your EDM Interview:
1. When did you get into playing music originally?
O: At a very young age; it was around seven probably. My parents come from the old country (Armenia) and the only instrument they knew was the accordion, so they threw the accordion on me. Actually, looking back; I mean it’s a weird, funky instrument and it’s totally not the norm here. But it does something to the creative shaping of your mind and the way you see music and the way you think. It’s really unique. Cause your left hand does not see what it’s doing at anytime, yet your doing these.. well it’s almost like finger magic.
Anyways, after a few years of that, around ten or eleven, I got into classical piano training and next came the drums at twelve. When I was fourteen that’s when the whole DJ thing started and I immediately fell in love with it. The vocals came in later; right around eighteen, with little things being picked up along the way. Whether it be a new instrument or a new way to play something or taking up film scoring. But for me, the vocals are the purest form of expression. It also allows you the freedom to perform other things too. Drums and vocals together make for the most powerful feelings in me.
2. Who were some of your influences growing up?
O: Well the first things you really hear you never have control over. You have your parents music around; I grew up with a lot of ethnic, Mediterranean, Middle-Eastern and classical. I remember being really young, at like 8 years old and getting a Michael Jackson tape and just being fascinated by the production and how it was being represented. The production really left a mark on me.
With the drums, I got into the heavier styles of music. Really aggressive; Metallica type stuff, but I also had Pink Floyd and other obscure bands; and of course The Beatles. Yet at the same time I was seeking, going to parties and DJing. My range went from super conscious hip-hop like A Tribe Called Quest, Puba and De La Soul to like, 180 bpm London bass. Really heavy shit. Also everything in between; house, breaks and stuff. Some stuff you don’t even know what to call it, but it’s fucking cool.
3. How has your view on the music industry changed since the days with System of a Down?
O: Well, one change in the music industry is obvious. There used to be buildings that had physical structures and people bought a physical product from there. It’s a great feeling when you go into a record store and shop around, listen to different stuff and feel the records. Or even CDs. But now those structures are gone. I mean, when you have someone like Tower Records shut down it’s a game-changer. I think it’s still about searching and finding it though. It’s just instead of getting up and walking around, you’re sitting in your boxers at home in front of the computer screen. It’s different. It’s still a personal experience.
I’ve seen it come to a place where musicianship, as far as being true as an artist to yourself with whatever type of art; if you are not authentic you are not going to be remembered as an artist. That’s always been my goal, especially with Ontronik now. I just want to honor and be true to who Ontronik is.
4. Is Ontronik a breathe of fresh air for you coming from bands and given the fact you used to DJ?
O: It’s freedom; plain and simple. Within a band there’s a certain structure and everyone has their role and it’s a beautiful art and a beautiful thing. But for me, it’s all about being able to be free, musically free. If I wanna collaborate I will. If I want to perform I can do it on my own, I can bring a guirarist; I’m leaving the door open.
It’s hard for people for some reason to wrap their minds around a “rock” guy really being into electronic music, but not because of the times. Cause it might seem that way from the outside looking in, but the electronic music lives and breathes in me; I understand it. I was the kid with the hoodie and the backpack.
5. Your debut Ontronik set was with Adventure Club and Flinch; how was kicking off the brand with them?
O: It was great. I was invited out to do a show in Tulsa, Oklahoma and the cats out there put it together. Shout out to Subculture; Jerry and the crew. I flew it out and did that show. It was an amazing experience for me. It was kicking it off the right way for me. All the artists and everyone involved was so cool. It was good to know that crowd had the respect and welcomed me. That felt good.
6. Can you tell me about Funky Element and how you guys got in touch?
O: Funky Element is Dank’s label. Basically we just did a couple of shows together and hit it off as friends really. It went from shooting the shit to “Oh I want to put out this mixtape, have you ever though about putting one out on your label?” Then it led to the release date being set eventually. It was the Anger Management mixtape that came out last year. The free download with We Bang is on Funky Element as well. The track’s “Silence.” You’ll hear some vocals, some guitar work and other more electronically based stuff.
7. What producers would you want to work with in the future?
O: I’d love to collaborate with anyone who’s got an artistic arsenal that I can’t bring to the table. It’s all about being open. Be open to any styles of music and don’t get stuck in the genre trap. I think that’s death to music. Dance music let’s things breathe which allows for new things to come to the surface.
8. What software do you use to produce?
O: I’ll use a combination of software. I might mess around on Ableton with some beat structures and growls. I might go to Logic and utilize the symphonic/cinematic aspects there. I always seem to master in Ableton though. It seems like the final output from Ableton has a certain feel to it. But it’s just whatever you are comfortable with. I’ve used Reason in the past and Pro Tools, especially given the live recordings. Ableton is just put together really well. But for scoring and thinking in a cinematic way, Logic seems to have a better flow for me personally.
9. What equipment do you use for your live shows?
O: I have some drums with me, but I am looking to bring in an electronic drumset for capacity reasons. I’ll have the mic with some pedals, like a delay, reverb and a pitch shifter. Serato for the software and a controller. The reason I use a controller is because I like to be self-contained. I’d like to avoid any type of CD skipping or anything. Cause I jump around and bang shit a lot. But I can DJ with CDs or vinyl. If you give me a Frank Sinatra record and a London bass record I can make it work. The Numark controller is just for ease of use. It could change anytime.
10. What’s some advice you’d give an aspiring musical artist?
O: Follow your instincts. Do what you love and for the right reasons. Really believe in what you are doing. Don’t take no for an answer. Push as hard as you can; when you feel like you can’t push anymore, get the fuck up and keep pushing. Toughen up your skin. With anything in life there are obstacles.
11. What does the rest of the year look like for Ontronik?
O: Hopefully a lot of touring and a lot of music. I want to collaborate and put music out that I am proud of; that’s the goal. I want the project to organically grow however it will. People will tell you if they like it or not. Everyone is a critic and has an opinion. I think it’s a good thing though, but you have to be careful. It’s too easy to say something malicious; gotta be careful.
End of Interview
Ontronik has stood the test of time by always keeping true to what being a musician is all about: Authenticity, Integrity and Evolution. Pushing for progress will continue in the new journey that just may be the LA producer’s most innate project yet. Be on the lookout for more by following Ontronik on his various social media pages.
Photo Credit: Eric Fehringer