An Elaquent Interview With The Guelph Producer
The Guelph beat musician discussed Soundcloud as the modern equivalent of crate digging, and predicting the next big thing by looking backwards.
There's an entire subgenre of music on the internet based on the same sounds that helped keep old Justin Timberlake songs from going stale. That slower-than-a-boom-bap but faster-than-a-love-song tempo that drips from the wavy synths of the Discman era, the one pioneered by producers like Timbaland and The Neptunes. Today, Soundcloud-based producers all over the world are running with it, making new fans out of pop stars, rappers, and even the artists who laid the genre's foundation.
It's usually called beat music, though there isn't really an established name for it. Think trap music elements, minus the overkill of 1/64-beat 808 hi-hats, and having to know what a "bando" is. Throw in some female R&B vocals, the occasional distorted synth chord, maybe a flip on an obscure pop track, and you're getting close.
Beginning from Los Angeles-based club Low End Theory in the 2000's, the beat music scene has grown into an international music phenomenon. Artists like Onra, Ta-Ku, and Guelph native Elaquent have helped spread and infuse the audio equivalent of lava lamps, Nintendo 64 games and bong hits to a new territory, all while utilizing Soundcloud and social media to amass a sizeable following along the way.
No stranger to the scene, Sona “Elaquent” Elango is an early signee to boutique beat label Huh What & Where, and has been pivotal in emphasizing the varied influences of beat music. He cites SEGA Genesis as an early influence, right beside the sounds of J Dilla and Pete Rock. Weird? Of course, but we’re talking about a subgenre where it’s not unusual to hear a sample from an old Mortal Kombat arcade game.
With 13 projects on Bandcamp alone, Elaquent’s work is both prolific and varied. Remix projects of old Redman, Notorious B.I.G. and Lupe Fiasco tracks with the self-depreciatingly tagged “Crappy Old Remixes,” gave him a starting point for his current sound. The music Elaquent creates now is somewhere between hip-hop head with a penchant for hard rap instrumentals, and an experimental electronic producer interested in going to strange, new places. His Bandcamp releases are accompanied by brief explanations of his perspective, often with a sentiment more along the lines of “this is where I’m aiming, but not where it quite hit.” After all, beat music is inherently experimental and it’s tough to find what works. It’s not unusual for certain VST plug-ins and drum kicks to have their 15 seconds in the timeline sun after a certain sound element takes hold.
Elaquent sat down with Noisey to discuss Soundcloud as the modern equivalent of crate digging, the development of the beat scene, and predicting the next big thing by looking backwards.
What's the aim with the PRESSURE events you've been putting on with Muneshine?
Elaquent: Over time, you see how the beat scene is growing everywhere else, there's so many people passionate about the same time of music. It's like, "screw it, let's do it ourselves." Why sit back and complain about why nothing's happening when you have the ability to go do it yourself? We could just jump through all kinds of stuff. We go from 90's boom-bap straight to a trap record straight to some old Chicago house, RIP Frankie Knuckles, shit. There's certain shows in Toronto where a big name from the U.S. will come through, but we wanna build something consistent to get more people involved in a more regular basis, rather than wait for so-and-so from Europe to come in, nam sayn? That's how I look at it.
What have been some of the roadblocks in establishing a scene?
Logistics can play a role, especially when so much of the beat scene happens in L.A. On any given night out there, something's going on. That vibe is slowly spreading outwards. I've been to New York a couple times. I feel like they're in the same boat too, where there wasn't that much of this type of stuff going on, but now I'm seeing more of these shows happen. I feel like it's right on the cusp of being really big, it just takes time to develop.
What are some of the big things happening in 2014 in the beat scene?
Soundcloud confirms that people are listening. A lot of music trenders like to think that Soulection, for example, is their little secret or something. But the reality is that their whole movement, along with the rest of the scene, have eyes on it, from major labels and so forth. They know what's going on, and they're listening. You might not see it translate on Much Music, but people know. When I hear things like "Kaytranada got a beat on Mobb Deep's new album," that's not an accident. Like, I remember the first time I played Montreal in mid-2011 and I met Kaytra, when he was Kaytradamus. Seeing that fool doing Azelia Banks remixes, and Benji B playing this kid. It's not just him, there's a list of dudes we've been up on, and they're blowing up and doing dope shit. Like, Onra having his music played during the Olympics. With the Internet, and the way Soundcloud redefined how we interact with music, sky's the limit.
It's a beautiful thing. What's old is new again. It all comes back. In another decade, what's the next big sound gonna be? Maybe old 90's boom-bap will be back one day as if it was brand new, just as people start to tune it out.
What else is coming up this year?
I put out Green Apples and Oranges on Urbnet a few months ago. When I finish a project, it's usually right onto the new one. Now, there's a whole gang of projects I have planned but I kinda want to distance myself for a little bit longer and just do a bit more DJing and shows first. I did promise myself I'd do more collaborative work this year. There's a few tag-team albums planned, but I don't wanna speak on it now. It's usually never to long between projects. Maybe put out a collection of shit for free, give back to the fans sort of thing.
Are you warming up to the idea of being a DJ?
I've been very unapologetically one-track minded about my sound, how I approach music and that's not changing. But through these mixes, these shows, it's forcing me to listen to more music and I'm getting new ideas. With me, I've never been content with knowing and hearing everything that comes out on the spot. It's awesome to discover all this shit I've missed over the years, and that's making me a better producer and sound creator.
Eric Zaworski is a writer living in Toronto, he is on Twitter.
Remember that time we spoke to Kaytranada?
Or that time we found a cool band in Guelph?
Or that time Rob Ford made a beat? Good times.