In recent EDM history, Kill The Noise has come to encompass more than just the name of a talented producer. From three electrifying EPs, crafting his own record label with legendary turntable master Craze, and consistent touring hustle, the name has stretched across electronic music as a skyrocketing force accompanied by hard-hitting beats. Although many bass music fans may remember Jake Stanczak as a young drum & bass DJ under the guise Ewun nearly a decade ago, his creative evolution as KTN pushed the envelope to this moment where one of the finest sounds to come out of OWSLA has finally dropped his debut album. Enter Occult Classic.
In this album, we get to see familiar names and new ones shake up our expectations. From Jake’s usual buddies such as Dillon Francis and Feed Me to new team ups with I See Monstas‘ frontman Bryn Christopher and indie singer-songwriter Stalking Gia, Kill The Noise makes his latest batch of tunes as aggressive and rowdy as it is precise and elegant. The album is also sealed at the start and the end with featured vocals from Aaron Bruno of AWOLNATION, adding another level of interest in his list of versatile collaborators.
Hardcore fans of Kill The Noise’s music who start listening to this album will find that it digs deeper in diversity than previous projects. Although we do find many subgenres that Jake has come to master over the years, Occult Classic has a way of surprising your ears with its rolling basslines and flaring synths. The second song on the album “FUK UR MGMT” exemplifies this by starting off as an electro house tune. However, unlike many of KTN’s previous electro songs, this song relies primarily on its hi-hats and basslines. This kind of production even takes another shift in the second drop where we get a trap overhaul pinch and quickly returning to the G-house groove. We also see this on songs like “I Do Coke” and “Lose Ya Love” where we find Jake exploring uncharted territory for himself. He may not be inventing a new genre of electronic dance music, but he does flex his creative muscle and it pays off extravagantly.
This album also makes major references to past works from Kill The Noise. In particular, we see the song “Dolphin On Wheels” with Dillon Francis is a spiritual sequel to his previous song with Dillon “Meow Machine” under their name Meowski666. Subtract dog barks and cat meows and replace them dolphin squeaks and monkey noises and add a few more comedic vocal samples and you have the same song but ramped up a notch. The same applies and almost doubles with the song “Spitfire Riddim” with Madsonik and twoton. Here we get a hybrid of Kill The Noise’s dubstep finesse that we heard in his Black Magic EP in the song “Jump Ya Body”. We even hear that same drum roll throughout both of these songs. We continue to hear that dubstep sound that made Kill The Noise music unique in songs like “All In My Head,” “Without A Trace,” and “Mine.” To further reference his older production prowess, the second half of “Spitfire Riddim” explodes into a drum & bass drop just like fans have heard from back in his Ewun days.
But where this album shines, it also falls just short of a perfect score. Most of the weight that holds this album back comes from the electro house song “Louder” where Kill The Noise teams up with Tommy Trash and Rock City. What strikes this song so painfully low is how it raises the intensity with Rock City yelling the words “Louder” over and over. But as it releases into the drop (and a good drop I might add), it doesn’t come close to matching the ferocity that listeners might have expected. Another low point of the album falls on the song “Dolphin On Wheels” where although it does reference his previous work with Dillon, it leaves me thinking I’ve heard this before and not in a good way. These moments don’t wreck the record, but they do hold it back from being a solid A+ album.
What we have with Occult Classic is a soundscape filled with years of refining a craft diligently and effortfully. Tying together ten tracks of varying sub genres is no simple feat and yet Kill The Noise does so in a way that doesn’t reimagine electronic music, but does voyage as far as his musical creativity can. What makes Occult Classic a great album is that it sets a high standard for Kill The Noise and his future works. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait too long for another record with vicious dubstep, in-your-face electro house, and unexpected drum & bass from the mind of Jake Stanczak.
In addition to having the honor of reviewing the new Kill The Noise record, I also got a chance to speak with Kill The Noise about his new album, the hassles of touring and making music at the same time, and his latest endeavors with Slow Roast Records and possibly resurrecting Kill The Zo.
When did you begin work on Occult Classic?
Ah man, I think almost two years ago. There are some demos that existed before that. But if I had to put a “start point,” that was when I was like “Alright, let’s pull this stuff together.” So I’ve been working on it for quite a while.
Writing the first tracks or demos, did you have it in mind from the start that this would become your debut album or did that come later after the tracks were made?
Yeah, there were definitively a bunch of pivotal moments where you get to a certain place and think that this is going to be another EP. Then there are some days were you get into the studio and put something together pretty quickly and all of a sudden I ended up in a place where I felt that I needed to start that idea over again. The big part of the reason why I went into starting this record is that I wanted to explore some new ideas and that was the energy this album was charged with. In the beginning I thought I’m just going to try a bunch of stuff that I’ve never done before. It turned out be a lot more work than I anticipated because of the process of coming up with new ideas that were reaching outside of my comfort zone. The initial process is a lot fun with coming up with these “demo” ideas, but taking these points of inspiration and turning them into finished songs was this whole grueling process of re-inventing my engineering and learning a bunch of new stuff. So you get to this other vantage point where have all these really cool ideas but they don’t really sound the way that they should. I have to go back in there and learn some new techniques, get some feedback from some of my buddies, and fix stuff from before. Then you start getting the hang of it. Then you start making some new stuff that sounds really awesome. You realize that you have this whole deposit of new songs that this different kind of vibe going on. But as a whole piece, like an album or EP, I feel like there was some energy missing from the record that my core fanbase would miss, my more aggressive stuff. There were all these points where I took a step back and thought, “What do I have here? Is there stuff missing from this package? Is there more of a story that needs to be told here and [involves] getting back into the studio, writing those songs, putting them in the mix with the rest of the stuff, and seeing if it is a complete picture?” The idea sort of mutated and grew over this time and there were key points where there was a more conscious effort of pushing the record. To put it in a good analogy, the first year was like painting pictures every day on a blank canvas and doing whatever I was feeling in my heart, you know? As you get a body of work, you start curating the best ones and refine them. It was me wanting to go somewhere new and then reeling it in. It may have taken a lot longer than I may have expected it to take [laughs], but I’m happy with the result for sure!
After all the creating and rehashing of ideas again and again, did you need to back away from the new music? Did you fry your brain after all this time locked away in the studio?
Yeah. Every record that I’ve ever done has had that issue. There are super rare instances where you sit down and write a song and it comes out quickly. In those cases, you are just as excited about the record playing it out because you’ve made it. But, a lot of these other ones you’re sort of going over and over again on it and making some tweaks. You get to a place where you’re happy and proud of it, but I need to step back and get a new perspective on it because the only place my head has been was on these handful of edits. Now that I am on tour, I’m making live edits to these songs bouncing around with the stems and reorganizing the songs so that they fit better live. I wrote those songs [on the record] to be listened on an album back-to-back. In a live scenario, however, I want to spread them out and to mix in with my other music. When I hear it in that format, I get excited because I’m hearing the same songs in a different context. I’m stoked [for fans] to listen to the record and see the reactions.
From a musical standpoint, what were some of the biggest inspirations going into Occult Classic?
A little bit of everything. I think now, the usual suspects have always kind have inspired me. This includes all the bands I grew up listening to like Nine Inch Nails, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, and other old rock bands as well as some of my peers and contemporary artists like Skrillex, Knife Party, and a lot of guys who I identify with. There have also been some new records that have come out. When I’m working on music, I try not listening to too much electronic music just because I have a tendency of subconsciously borrowing ideas from other people and I have to be very conscious of making sure I’m not deriving to much from them. It’s good to be inspired by other people, but when you’re playing a lot of shows and referencing your album with other people’s music you are losing your sense of direction. But I don’t think it’s that big of a deal when you’re listening to someone like Tame Impala that is sonically miles away from your target. In particular, that Currents record that came out was towards the end of the writing process for me. Listening to it gave me a lot of confidence to stick to my guns. There were instances where some of the mixes on this record weren’t as aggressive or “in-your-face” as some of the stuff I had done in the past. Listening to that record, The Weeknd’s new album, Nero’s new album, or Porter Robinson’s Worlds you remind yourself that you don’t have to blow people’s heads off to make a connection. This record is an amalgamation of a couple different sensibilities with mix-downs and songwriting trying to get a reaction from my audience where as my last EP was about blowing people’s heads off [laughs].
You’ve said in the past that one of the biggest problems was finding time to write new music while touring. Is this still a struggle or are these issues behind you?
I think that’s always going to be a problem for those fortunate enough to get themselves out on the road. You have to remember that most of the new guys doing nothing but making music up to that point. They come off the gate with all this great music and go on the road for a year straight touring. By the end of that year, it’s like where’s the new stuff? They’re like, ‘Well, shit! I’ve been touring this whole time so I don’t have any new stuff.’ Then these new guys end up playing this game of catch-up for the rest of your career where you try to take a month off while [simultaneously] accepting these really good offers to tour. Some can’t not take these other offers, but they try to take a month off to work on music. In their minds, it should give them enough time to finish a couple of tunes. Some people can work like that and I think it is super rare. For me, putting together albums and EPs I have to be off the road for a month at least. Towards the end [of recording Occult Classic] I had to take six months off where I was only playing a handful of shows. You have to give in to that rhythm of waking up, getting into the studio, and working on music. You leave the studio and in your subconscious you’re still cooking up ideas. You sleep on it, you wake up, you go back to the studio and your subconscious has been working on the tune while you’ve been away from the desk. When you sit back down and you think to yourself, ‘Oh shit!’ You can see all the things that are wrong or all the things that are missing and that whole rhythm gets stronger and stronger the more that you do it. But when break that rhythm with going out on the road, traveling, sleeping weird hours, staying up super late, and maybe not sleeping in certain cases it breaks that whole vibe you got going. Have you ever watched a series like Breaking Bad or something like that where you stop watching it for like a month and then you come back to it and your like ‘Wait a minute! Where was I? I can’t remember what’s going on in the story.’ But if your watching them all back-to-back, you are one-hundred percent immersed in the story line. I think it’s the same with making music, man. Especially working on an album where you are trying to make each song works on its own but also has this synergy when you listen to the whole thing and it feels like it was all an intentional piece of work. That struggle of touring and making music at the same time hasn’t gotten any easier, man. But if there’s anything that has made it easier is that now I know that it makes sense for me to take out a bigger chunk of time than waste my time all throughout the year taking off small increments of time working in the studio. The only way that this is going to work and in the long run is going to save me more time and make better music is if I say, ‘I’m going to be on the road for the next six months and if I want a record next year I have got to take half that time off to work on music.’ There are some really crazy mutant people like Skrillex, for example, who are somehow able to do both simultaneously. The only explanation that I have for that is he is like a fucking alien or something. [laughs] It’s really difficult for me to do that. It’s like needing the two halves of my brain to be activated in order for me to make all this music and tour consistently.
Aside from Ewun, you’ve been part of multiple side projects including Meowski666 and Kill The Zo. Will these projects reemerge in the future?
For the Kill The Zo stuff, Mat and I are already working on another record. We don’t know if it’s going to be an EP or an album or what, but we have like a handful of songs and it’s coming back. Since we got together making music, we are always passing projects around to each other. But the only time we work on music is when we are in the room together. We did a little bit of work on our own, but ninety percent of the time we should try to be in a room together if we are going to be working on this project which makes it difficult to get stuff done quickly. But the stuff that we do get done is why we have to keep it like that. We have to keep that cohesive stream going. Because when we are on our own, we each of a strong style and sound from being artists who mostly work alone. If I end up with a project and I’m by myself, it’s just going to sound like something I would have make. The same thing with him. If he ended up with the project by himself, it would sound like the extreme of something Mat would do. When we are in the room together and someone suggests an idea and we’re both working on the idea on the spot, it becomes the version of both of us. It has made move a little slower than we would like it to, but we have a handful of tunes and there is a Kill The Zo Part Two. That’s actually done. But we’ve been holding all the stuff. So we’re hoping that by next year’s time, like spring or something, that we can put out the EP or album. Now on the Meowski-thing, I’m probably not going to turn that into a thing. I mean, Dillon and I have always worked together on music. But he’s super, super busy and I’m super busy too. For us to create another identity is… If you’re going to create another identity like Diplo has the Major Lazer thing, Diplo and Skrillex have the Jack Ü thing, Skrillex and Boys Noize have the Dog Blood thing and at a certain point you have to prioritize your time and decide what projects you’re going to be putting your energy into. With Meowski, if we’re going to be turning this into a thing we really should put energy into it. I don’t think, at that moment, either of us have the time to do a whatever that album would be. [laughs] It would probably be funny! Who knows? We’ll probably work on it down the line.
If you didn’t work as a DJ and musician, what could you see yourself doing?
I would find other things to do. I’m interested in being creative. Even discovering music was kind of like in the midst of doing all kinds of stuff. Like working with video. The natural inclination if I were for some reason to stop doing music would be to start working on visual art somehow. I don’t know what it would be. But using music as a platform, I try to find opportunities to get involved in visual projects like music videos doing documentary-type stuff with blogs. When I talk to management about these projects, I always see if I can talk directly to the Director about stuff and if I can hang out and watch them on how they do stuff. It’s like the more I inform myself about the process the more likely I could get to a point where guys like Mr. Lazzo who has directed his own movies and films. There are a lot of guys who are musicians first and then sort of reveal that are interested in film and directing and even acting. That’s not really my path, but I would love to get involved in the visual stuff. Even if I’m still doing music.
What can we expect from Slow Roast Records? We saw the new Craze EP and we want to know what more news can we expect from your label.
Because of this album, time to do other things have been truncated. I try to consistently put stuff out on Slow Roast every year. The reason why Slow Roast exist is that it is a really convenient outlet to put out stuff Craze and I are working on and to put out stuff from our homies. It’s cool to have that directness. Even with OWSLA who are obviously all homies. But there’s a process to putting out records with another team of people. There’s the whole schedule to date that you have to work with. But Slow Roast has been great. There was this song I did with Feed Me and the remixes. It would be a lot easier to put our own resources behind our own label and push it ourselves. I’m sure there will be moments like that in the future. We got all kinds of plans with Slow Roast and all sorts of records coming out. There is a guy named Sudden Beatz that people should check out. He’s from Russia and he’s got an EP that’s coming out. Craze is got something coming out. Believe it or not, I’m just getting back into the studio to work on new stuff. I’m working on new remixes and a lot of stuff that didn’t make it onto the record that are odds-and-ends and ideas that never finished. I’m sure some will come out on Slow Roast and some on my new record coming out on OWSLA which should come out next year.