Arthur Oskan is a man that has been causing quite a stir over the past 2-3 years with many of the big names in the industry. He comes from Toronto, Canada and he has been immersing himself in the electronic music scene since he was a teenager. Since his Juno Award nomination in 2012 (an award given to Canada’s top musicians) for his album “A Little More Than Everything”, Arthur Oskan has continued to roll crowds over with his analog powered live sets and melodically rich productions. A debut on Canadian label My Favorite Robot in 2013 saw his “Chromantic EP” rise to one of the labels highest selling records and it even caught the attention of none other than Sasha. The single “Omegaman” was recently licensed for Sasha’s latest Mixmag CD and he even opened his set with the track at the Space closing party in 2013.
With a catalogue of over 40 releases, (a mix of LPs, EPs, and remixes for Aux 88, Matthias Voigt, Fairmont, Luke Hess, and Deepchild), Arthur continues to push the boundaries in all areas of electronic music.
We caught up with Arthur to discuss his musical background, his favourite studio techniques and his much anticipated follow up album which is due for release in 2015.
Hi Arthur, firstly I would like to thank you for spending the time to answer my questions today. So, how is life treating you in Toronto?
Summer is in full swing here I’m happy to report. Park cookouts and day jams are all the norm. I’ve also have a good balance of freelance graphic design work and marathon training when I’m not writing music. So all in all, life is treating me very well.
Can you tell us a little about you upbringing in Toronto? Did you come from a musical family or are you skills self-taught?
Bit of both! As an only child I was encouraged to discover my own path. My great aunt (who is 95 years young) had a very successful opera career in Europe, studying in Milan before immigrating to Canada from Ankara, Turkey. When I wasn’t in school, I would always look forward to our visits together, listening and absorbing, rifling through her photo albums and early recordings. My parents enrolled me in piano lessons, which was great for the basics, but I soon found myself experimenting with sounds outside of the traditional realm – specifically placing objects between the hammers and coils of our upright piano. When you’re young your mind is a sponge. Naturally I was curious how things worked and why. This curiosity really started to take shape during my teen years when I began building a small studio of electronics, samplers, and recording devices.
Can you talk us through some of your earliest musical influences?
Influences work on two levels for me – sonically and spiritually. My aunt played an important role in my development as a musician through her level of commitment to her craft. She truly gave me the strength and confidence to express myself musically. Sonically, many artists who used synthesizers had me craving more. My earliest memories where those of listening to 7” records by Giorgio Moroder, Herbie Hancock and a electro outfit called Alex & The City Crew. I was also very into theme songs from early 80s crime drama TV shows, spending evenings mic-ing and recording ‘Street Hawk’ or ‘Air Wolf’ just for their synthesizer based intros to edit later. A few years later I got into all the same bands that all electronic musicians from my time were influenced by like Human League, anything from Mute Records, New Order, etc. All I knew was that if I dug deeper beneath the surface, discovering the who and how, I was going to end up in place to start making my own music.
There are a number of great DJs and producers from Toronto including the likes of Carlo Lio, Fairmont and My Favorite Robot. Can you describe the electronic music scene in Toronto and why you think it seems to breed so many great producers?
Toronto has always been a centre for great talent across the arts. I’ve been fortunate to see our scene’s evolution over the years. We’ve have had waves of artists over the years move away, and others who’ve moved here. Through this alignment Toronto is stronger than ever. Another shift is also in the promoters circle. We’ve got crews doing events of all sizes from large festivals to dark warehouse events. If you’re into Carl Craig, Life & Death, or Luscine, you’ve got a place to go. If you’re into Justice or Calvin Harris, you’ve also got a place to go. Toronto really supports it all. This is not to stay it’s all perfect. With the proliferation of EDM here (and everywhere else for that matter) there is most definitely a skew in attendance, which reflects our young audience.
With long winters here, artists can create with minimal distraction. As a result, producers can really be closer to their art and really understand what they’re doing and why. I feel the space away from parties and such helps good producers become great ones.
In 2011 you released your first album, “A Little More Than Everything” on Thoughtless Music. The album was very well received and gave you some well-deserved recognition. When creating the album did you go through a particular thought process?
For the most part, I wrote pretty simple ideas without putting pressure on myself to create a track – painting with broad strokes really. I included these ideas in my live set and over time decided wether or not to develop them further. This process also gave me an opportunity to gauge a crowd response, not by a track, but by a specific baseline or melody. Personally, it’s the melody and it’s progression which peaks my interest.
From there, I took the best ideas and locked myself away to start the sound design process in order to build around the musical ideas. A few weeks for mixing and mastering and the process was complete. So all in all, the album itself came together pretty quickly, however the writing took more than a year.
If you had to choose, which would be your favourite album on the track and why?
I would have to choose ‘Moodswings’. It was the only song (aside from “Sentimental”) that was not born from a live set and was written last. The track came together very naturally. Until that point none of the songs on the record was recorded in this fashion, so to have the album process end this way was refreshing. I continued this method with my follow-up EP “Exit Strategy” for Thoughtless.
Your latest full release is currently available on the label Beachcoma and entitled “Primitive Waves EP”. The track “99” is a firm favourite here in the office and a dance floor gem but the other two tracks are more downtempo. Do you have a preference in style when producing a track or do you just go with the mood you are in at the time?
“Primitive Waves” was written during a personal loss in my family. In fact, I moved my studio closer to my grandfather during his passing and wrote this entire record in week. Down or uptempo, it didn’t matter. I just wanted to capture how I was feeling at the time. Recording it in the room where I was a newborn brought home from the hospital connected me to my art like never before.
There are rumours flying around that you are due to release your follow up album to “A Little More Than Everything” this year. Can you tell a little more about the album and when it might be available?
I’ve been focused on EP’s and remixes this past year, but I did get to start the writing process. I do have another album near completion and I would foresee a 2015 release.
I read somewhere that you started collecting studio hardware from an early age and soon get the bug for creating music. Can you talk us through your current studio setup and what hardware/software you like to use?
I still use quite a bit of the hardware I got as a kid. While I don’t have a crazy amount of gear anymore, I kept the pieces that inspired me the most. Currently, I’m using the same setup as for my live sets: Macbook Pro, Novation Launchpad, Evolution UC-33, Dave Smith Tetra, Moog Minitaur, MFB Synth II, and an Arturia Microbrute all fed into my MOTU Ultralite audio interface. Aside from that, I’ve got an TR-909 and heavily modded TR-808, Sequential Circuits Pro-1, Kenton Pro-2 MIDI to CV Convertor, Roland MKS-30 and JX-3P, Korg ESX-1, and Maschine. I’ve also got some classic microphones built by my late great uncle which were used for ‘Omegaman’, off my My Favorite Robot release, “Chromantic” as well as on my upcoming release with Cityfox.
For software my main packages are Ableton, Logic and Native Instruments Reaktor. I also love using Max for Live for crazy MIDI patterns to trigger the analog stuff. At some point down the road, I’d like to get into some modular gear though. But with all honestly, I love the fact I’m able to capture ideas on a laptop, then drive my synths with the MIDI patterns.
When you are in the studio producing an original or remix track, what do you feel are the most important elements? Also are there any particular elements you find harder to create than others?
When I get remix offers I’ll listen and try and pick out what I’d like to focus on. More often than not, it’s a sound that sits way back in the mix, or perhaps it’s a sound I think needs more attention. Ultimately, I have to hear that sound, pattern, or a melody that I gravitate towards. These are the types of tracks I look forward to remixing the most.
Mastering a new track is essential for producers to ensure all the elements are working to their fullest potential. Do you master your own music or do you send it away to be mastered?
Almost always, the labels that are putting out the records send out to do the mastering. I’ve been involved in the process from time to time, but I really don’t fuss too much. As long as the mastering engineer doesn’t have a lead foot with compression/limiting, I’m happy. The key is to give him or her very little to do technically, but leave room to make the track pop. In other words, keep your mix in the pocket, well EQ’d, full of dynamics with plenty of headroom for them to work their magic. I’ve learned a lot about the process over the years, from both the wax and digital sides, and I can’t stress this enough.
Can you talk us through some of the electronic music that inspired your sound today?
I covered that earlier so I’ll tell you a bit about what I’m listening to now. I can’t say they’re influences, but I’m rotating Beck’s ‘Morning Phase’, Harmonia’s ‘Deluxe’ and Rhye’s ‘Woman’. As for more current electronic releases, loving the new Cityfox promo of Gregorythme on Cityfox as well as the new Beachcoma by Norwell. Both records are stellar. The new Com Truise full length on Ghostly is also fantastic.
What do you feel are some of the most challenging obstacles as an artist?
Quite possibly one of the greatest challenges I face is to know when a track is complete. With the advent of computers, simply opening up a DAW and making endless adjustments made this step incredibly dangerous. Too much tinkering can certainly make or break a track. Same as with cooking. Over the years I’ve learned to trust my instincts and not to overthink things.
You play out as a live act. Can you talk us through the setup you use?
My setup revolves around my MacBook running Ableton Live, with a Novation Launchpad and Evolution UC-33 controller. As I mentioned previously, my main live synths are the Moog Minitaur, Arturia Microbrute, and a Dave Smith Tetra all running into a MOTU UltraLite audio interface which also handles my MIDI. I was using an MFB Synth II, but it was one of the first rev production models. It’s become increasingly unreliable due to its age. I have a pretty slim but powerful setup and am pretty used to performing with it. I’m not a fan of checking gear when travelling so it’s important to me have a small set to carry on.
One of the most famous artists to come out of Canada is Deadmau5. He is a man that is well known for airing his thoughts on the scene and other artists. What are your thoughts on his reactions and do you believe DJs/producers should behave in this way?
For the most part, I encourage artists to share their opinions and experiences. Social media channels can be used as another outlet for creativity, self expression, and interaction. It’s really up to the individual artist to define how much they’d like to reveal or how they’d like to dialogue with the world around them. You’re ultimately responsible for your online presence and how it’s perceived.
Some artists we have interviewed have had very strong opinions about the way that music promos are handled and even stated that music should be given away for free. What are your thoughts on music promotion in the industry and the idea of giving music away for free or even a subscription service?
Everyone will have a different opinion, some of them stronger than others. Music production, mastering, promoting using PR firms and marketing, vinyl and CD production, even digital availability all cost money. Nothing is free and I’m sympathetic to the labels I’ve worked with. That being said, I do think the introduction of new revenue models to help labels and artists is a step in the right direction.
You are clearly a very busy man with your productions and your live shows but every artist needs some downtime. What do you do to take a break from the electronic music scene? What is your favourite way to relax?
I’ve been an Art Director for many years so that keeps me busy when I’m not writing or performing. Aside from that, I’m an avid runner which allows for my affinity for beer.
Is there any advice you can give to any up and coming DJs/producers out there that are looking to break through into the scene?
Take your time. Hone your craft. Research labels before sending them demos. Learn to draw from, but not mimic those that inspire you. There’s a fine line and people will pick up on how genuine you are. Your music is the naked form of your personality, and if your music is coming from a honest place, you’ll speak volumes through it without having to say a word.
Finally, is there anything you can tell us about that you have planned for 2014?
I’ve got a remix for Rennie Foster on Thoughtless Music out for promo currently, that’s set for release August 25th. I’m also pretty excited about appearing on Throne of Blood’s ‘Moon Rock” compilation as well as my solo EP for Cityfox slated for release later this year. And of course, more live dates!
01. Arthur Oskan – TBA-1
02. Andre Sobota – Red Dust – Ryan Davis Sub Dub – Proton Music
03. Simian Mobile Disco – Tangents – Anti Records
04. Rennie Foster – Perimeter Abstract (Arthur Oskan Remix) – Thoughtless Music
05. Adriatique – Mr Creasy – Diynamic
06. Anthony Rother – Traumzeitreise – Datapunk
07. Arthur Oskan – Freedom Town (unreleased live mix)
08. Arthur Oskan – Maximilian (unreleased live mix)
09. John Selway – On Time (unreleased live mix)
10. Arthur Oskan – TBA-2