Designer Drugs Talk Hardcore/Softcore, Sex Cult, and the Dark Art of Remixing

Categories: Q&A
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Last week, Crossfade urged you to gobble some Designer Drugs and dance till death at the Fillmore Miami Beach's July edition of the more-or-less monthly Honeymoon Series.

So ... Did you heed that advice? Did you cop a dose? Did you snag tix? Well, if not, here's our second attempt to get you to dress in solid black, join a sex cult, find that line between hardcore and softcore, do bad things, and learn the dark art of remixing with DD's Michael Vincent Patrick and Theodore Paul Nelson.

See the cut for Crossfade's full Q&A with Designer Drugs.

Crossfade: In between all of the touring, what are you guys currently working on in the studio?

Michael Vincent Patrick: We're working on our second album, and we both took on a bunch of remixes for the Teenagers, Innerpartysystem, and a few other artists too.

We're also working on our record label, trying to get together all the material for that. The record label's called Sex Cult. It's this small, underground label we're doing, a punk rock, DIY kind of thing. A bunch of our friends are involved as artists.

What are you getting together for the label? 

With the label, we're doing a few remixes, and releasing several singles of our friends' music, artists like PLS DNT STP, Your Dirty Habit, and Black Matter. They're all listed on the Sex Cult Facebook page.

We're also doing a tour, and we've been doing some shows in Florida. We do a monthly show in Gainesville and Tallahassee, and we'll send our artists down there to perform at these shows. We're also planning a bus tour with most of the artists, where we take a bus and go up and down the East Coast, and maybe all the way out to Chicago.

That's going to be in the winter some time, and some time around then we're also going to release a full-length extended compilation online, with maybe 15 or 20 tracks. It'll sort be a best-of; some of the songs will be re-released, and some will be exclusively released.

That seems pretty ambitious. How are you guys finding the time to work on that between doing your own gigs and everything else?

Um, I don't know, I think we just like to be busy!

Is Theo still in medical school?

Yeah, he just moved out to San Diego to finish some of his rotations out there. He's really busy with that so I pretty much run the label myself, and I'm pretty much the producer as well. He writes a lot of the songs and remixes, and then I take the ideas and finish them.

How did the monthlies in Florida come about?

I'm just good friends with the promoters down there, and they wanted to get involved with the label, so we just came up with the idea. It's easy to work with them and it's just really simple.

You mentioned you're working on the second album, but the debut album just came out in February, even though you've been around as Designer Drugs for a while now. What took so long, and how long in the making was this material?

Well the thing was, we were doing a lot of remixes for the first three years. We just had so many remix offers that we continued to set aside the original stuff. But then we got to the point where we wanted to just write our own stuff.

So we sort of had a lot of songs laying around that we were just working on that were half-finished, so we took the best ones and finished them. We started with a lot of tracks, maybe 100 songs, and then we kept narrowing it down until we had these 13 or so.

How old are the oldest tracks on the record?

Oh man, they might even be like two years old. They've progressed a bit over time, where they started with a pretty rough idea and then we formed them into something more elaborate. It's a learning process; the second album's going to come together a lot faster.

The first album we did things, and then we were like, "Hmmm, maybe we shouldn't have done that," and then redid them. Some of the songs even had different vocalists on them originally. But with this new album I don't think there are going to be many collaborations. We're going to do most of the vocals and stuff ourselves and keep it simple, and it'll be more original.

If you had to do something differently from how you wrote the first record, what would you change?

It's not that we would do anything necessarily differently, it's just that we know our sound. We know what type of music we want as a representation of us, whereas when you're doing remixes, it's more like, you just have to take their song and make it a club song, you know? It's totally different because you don't write the melodies or chord progressions. We occasionally do re-write them, but it's still someone else's vocals and you can't just change the words.

But with the original stuff, you have to come up with the words and all that ourselves. So it's a bit more like, "What do I want to say?" as opposed to just banging out a remix.

So was the biggest challenge for you with the first record just defining your sound?

Yeah, I think so. I don't think it's 100 percent spot-on, but I think the second one is going to be more really what we want to do. The first one, we still didn't know what we wanted to do, so some of those ideas where we didn't know what we wanted ended up on the album.

You guys are well-known for your indie remixes, and then when you hear the original material, it's a lot harder and darker than one might expect. Was that a conscious decision?

Yeah. Sometimes we'll adjust the key or pitch the vocals because that's what we just enjoy listening to more, the more minor-key scale stuff. So we do a lot of adjusting sometimes and try to make it as heavy as possible.

Before people started coming after you specifically for remixes, what would appeal to you about doing a remix, or what would you look for in a track that would make you want to tackle it?

It's hard to explain. It's part of a producer's ear. Whenever I listen to music, whether it's something on the radio or whatever, I say, "Oh, the drums could be different," or "I wish the melody was different." That's how I listen to music, consciously I pick out all the different elements and critique them based on my own aesthetic. I'll hear a snare drum and wish it would sound different.

So when we hear these songs, we think, "If we were going to make them playable in a club with the other type of music we play, what would we have to do to them?" When you hear a song, some times you get a good idea from the key, or if the bass line starts out on a good note.

On the album, not only do the tracks sound darker, but there are a lot of different styles. Some are really industrial, some are really Italo. Was that part of an active desire to showcase all these different things you could do, or was it a result of winnowing down all the tracks you had to consider?

I think it was a combination of both. Even with the remixes, we have tons of different styles of remixes we did. That's one of the things we do, is a lot of different types of remixes in a lot of different styles. Some are more radio-friendly, some are straight for the club, some are more experimental.

We have a pretty wide range of musical tastes, so that's how that ended up happening, and that's how we came up with the title of the album, Hardcore/Softcore, because some songs are so hard, and some are pretty soft, so it's a full range of music.

You mentioned the term d.i.y., and to me at least there's some of a punk influence on the record. What's your musical background before you came to electronic music?

We listen to all types of music, and we've listened to electronic music for a while, but before that I was into punk rock, I guess, and some hip-hop as well. Same with Theo; he really liked hip-hop. I think he was more into that stuff than me; he loved Wu-Tang when he was a kid.

What was the first artist that really drew you into electronic music, and what do you think influenced the initial stages of Designer Drugs as a project?

I think the electronic music thing, what got me really producing it was this album called Mysteries of Funk by Grooverider, the UK drum 'n' bass guy. It was a pretty crazy album, and I remember that really inspired me to get into the studio. Once I listened to that, I realized at some point that I could also do what they were doing, I could envision it.

I think what got us working on this project was that around the time MSTRKRFT put out The Looks, there was a lot of electroclash going on, and the production was kind of dodgy, it was kind of under-produced. So we were listening to it and making it, but when they did The Looks, the actual sound quality and production was so good, I realized there was going to be a change, and people were going to be producing this cool, underground music on a more professional level. So when that change occurred is when we decided to do this new project.

Now there's been another sea change in underground electronic music. Now, the super-cool thing is dubstep and bass-centered music. So are you worried that you might have gotten lumped into this previous wave of electro remixing duos?

Nah, I don't think so. What we're trying to do with the second album is make it more so you can't classify it into a genre, and it's just electronic music. Guys like Green Velvet or Felix da Housecat or Armand Van Helden, their styles have changed over the years and they did what was cool at the time, and then 10 years later, they's again be doing what was cool at the time. They keep up with the current music, and I don't think that would be a problem for us, to keep it fresh.

At the same time, those guys are more "electronic artists" as opposed to making a specific style. Some of it's not even dance music, and that's what we're trying to do, too. We're not just trying to make, like, all dubstep or all Dutch house or something like that.

On the new material, what do you think will be the biggest surprise for people who have been following the evolution of your sound so far?

I'm not really sure. We have some songs that are pretty weird, they're kind of like Joy Division meets Dirty South rap. But I don't think people will be that surprised. It's actually some of my favorite stuff on the album, but it's a bit left-field. If people just want club music, that's not really club music. It's more like listening music.

There are a few downtempo songs that are kind of like Air-esque, and over-produced with guitars, bass, vocals, all kinds of weird programmed drums and synths. It's just kind of us with a blank canvas, as opposed with trying to make a genre. Most people try to make a genre, I feel, and they don't truly experiment.

How much of this second album do you have done at this point?

We actually have a lot done, but we have to get together and finish, which is always the hardest part. We have about 15 really solid ideas that we're stoked on, so we're going to whittle that down and get into the studio.

Your show in Miami is at the Fillmore Miami Beach, so it's a theater, and it has seats for the most part except in the front. Have you played many venues like that in the past, and if so, what do you do to make your live show fill up a space like that?

We have played some spaces like that, although not too many with a lot of seats. It all depends on the crowd. We just usually do our thing and it kills it 99 percent of the time, but there are other times when people are more into this or that, and you kind of move the music in that direction.

You guys are known for crowd participation and some almost rock show kind of stuff.

Yeah, sometimes I guess we get a bit into it.

It just depends on your mood?

Yeah, usually I'm in a good mood, though!

Designer Drugs with Vaski and Sluggo as part of the Honeymoon Series. Saturday, July 23. The Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. The party starts at 9 p.m. and tickets cost $20 plus fees via livenation.com. All ages. Call 305-673-7300 or visit fillmoremb.com.

Follow Crossfade on Facebook and Twitter @Crossfade_SFL.

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The Fillmore Miami Beach

1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, FL

Category: Music

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