PLUTONIC LAB is somewhat of a veteran and celebrity of the Melbourne Hip-Hop scene. He’s a beat-maker, engineer, audio boffin and chances are you may have seen him playing an electronic drum set on a stage in your town before. He’s also a super nice dude who took the time out to answer some questions via email.
OOPS I guess the best place to start is to get you to tell me a little about yourself, you know, the regular bio information…
PLUTONIC LAB I’m a producer/beat junkie/musician from Melbourne; I started playing drums at the age of 11 and from there drummed in many Reggae, Funk, Rock and African bands whilst practicing the art of recording and producing music. Initially releasing some early work on tape in 1989 & 1990, I then formed a Hip Hop band (members including Derm & Michael Pablo) with which I later released a CD in 1995 showcasing my production skills. From there I remained producing predominately Hip Hop beats, all the while becoming involved in media arts. All of this progressed to producing many beats as Instrumentals and for MC’s on Nuffsaid records, Obese records, Creative Vibes, Brick (Boston) C Side Trax (U.K), Warner & Sony Asia amongst other labels from 1997 till present. My new instrumental album is due for release mid year on Obese records.
O Tell me what drew you to beat-making. Can you describe what your first ever beat was like and what you’d think if you played it back right now?
PL I used to be obsessed by good rhythm or drum beats when I was a kid, I was trying to make beats before I even knew what a beat-maker was. As far as my first beat, it’s hard to pinpoint just one! It depends – when I was a kid I before samplers where around, I used to record stuff from records to cassette creating loops then playing bass and other instruments over the top, or use my dads old preset latin drum machine and play drumkit over that with an old roland synth pulsing basslines in time. I would feel complete nostalgia listening to them now if I had them.
O You don’t have the tapes anymore? Is there a reason for that? At what point did you start archiving your music? (Even your musical sketches…)
PL I guess you just do stupid things when you’re a kid, like throwing away important shit, but you have no way of knowing without hindsight. I have music on cassette that I recorded in late High School.
O Do you consider yourself to be self-taught or have you had teachers and mentors that have helped you to become the musician you are now?
PL I consider myself to be self taught, although I had about 4 years of tuition when I was a kid. As far as making beats just about everything I know is self taught. It’s kinda annoying when people wanna know everything without having worked it out for themselves, it’s so much more beneficial to find out for yourself. Later on I did 4 years of Media Arts/Sound design with Phil Brophy and Phil Samartzis at RMIT, I learned a hell of a lot from those guys.
O How important is being a live drummer and using the Roland V-Drums to your sound and your approach to music? How long have you been drumming for and are there musicians in your family?
PL My dad used to play keyboards in bands when I was growing up – jazz stuff, waltzes & shit. I’ve known drumming for a very long time, but I think all of the techniques I’ve tried over the years have shaped the way I make music. At the moment, I use the Roland V-Drums for live stuff only, lately though I’ve been playing my vintage Ludwig acoustic drums, I’d forgotten how dope they are.
O Does this mean that all your drums on the record are sequenced or played with a keyboard? If so, how do you go about programming your drums? Do you use step sequence editors or do you record MIDI performances and tweak them?
PL A bit of both, sometimes I want the programming tight, but it always has some swing in it. I guess I think programmed beats like a drummer, if that makes any sense.
O Do you find that using MIDI allows you really tighten up your production? I imagine that an artist like Madlib wouldn’t bother spending a lot of time on drum sequences, do you?
PL Yeah well, the drums in the beat are my favorite part, so yeah I spend a lot of time.
O How did you hook up with Prowla? Is he someone you have known for a long time or did you meet through music, or because you sent him demos off you tracks?
PL I met Prowla in 1994 because I needed to use his DAT machine to lay down some beats from an ASR 10, so me and the guy who was rapping with me could do shows with original beats. He was really cool about it too, it was around the time MC Que was recording Tellin It Like It Is because Prowls played me some. But I didn’t really hook up with him proper, until we where in a band together around 1997 (he played turntables). I remember Jase & Prowla coming over to a warehouse I was living in to hear some stuff, this was before Rock Da City. They were just very supportive of my music because I was trying to do different things and didn’t give a fuck about it fitting in to what was around at the time. Later on we got together because he
wanted to move into doing stuff on PC.
O Is the band that you we’re in called “Disasterware”? Also, what do you mean by “what was around at the time”?
PL Yeah it was the first manifestation of Disasterware, the core of which later became Madlock. If I could show you those beats, they’re not as tight but they are very original, just the style in them, I actually think I became more conformist over time. Some of those beats I’m using now for a project on Awakenings, those things are 7 years old!
O What are your music influences? What kind of records are you attracted to when you go digging? Is there a particular style, sound or vibe you look for when you dig?
PL I have very broad range of musical tastes, like actual stuff I listen to (not just sample). I look for different things when I go digging, usually emotive stuff, but if it’s for sampling I try to listen for things I can change up easily (ie not loops), more “one
shot” samples. Some of my favorite artists to listen to are Nick Drake, Ann Peebles, Mobb Deep, Tribe Called Quest, The Velvet Underground, Curtis Mayfield, Gil Scott Heron, GZA, The Pixies, Ennio Morricone, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Sugar Minot, Saafir, this could go on for a while! and I’d probably forget some really big influences.
O How much would you generally be willing to pay for records? Do you have a price limit for general sampling purchases? What’s the most you have paid for a record you planned to sample only (i.e not really listen to in it’s entirety)?
PL Just for a few samples on an otherwise shit record, anywhere from $1 to $10, it depends, I mean if you can already envision the beat in the record store and it’s exciting to you, you’d have to make a decision on how much the beat means to you, not just the music on the record you know?
O Without naming names, do some of your favourite artists feature in your production or do you try to select more obscure samples for your compositions? How much effort do you go to to either disguise samples, or do you prefer one shot sounds that you can re-play to make new melodies, thus removing the need to bother with copyright infringements?
PL All of the above. I have tracks where every sound is original, as in I recorded the instruments myself and there are beats with slabs of stuff in there, whatever.
O Your most recent album Collision Of Days has a very ambient, and sometimes 80’s feel to it, I can sense samples from suspense and horror movie soundtracks. Tell us a little about the meaning (if there is any) behind the tracks and if there’s a common mood you felt whilst making it.
PL I think sometimes people confuse the 80’s with the 70’s but in any case… For Collision, I had imagery and some photos. I wanted it to be very cinematic and emotive and kinda like a revealing fragments of a mystery. Sometimes the tracks had stories attached to them, and other times it was just trying to represent certain images, photographs.
O To me, the closest point of reference to you in terms of hip-hop production is RJD2. Have his records had any influence on you at all? There’s definitely some soul and emotion behind the compositions, they aren’t just straight up bangers.
PL RJ’s stuff is great but he’s not an influence, he’s like a recent artist for me. The whole point is to relate something through these tracks, some soul, but I try to do bangers too.
O Are these solo instrumental records an opportunity to express your personality a little more than the beats you make for MC’s?
PL That can be true, I think most of the beats I make for MC’s stand OK on their own.
O Have their been any times where you have given an MC a beat and been totally disappointed with where they took the track in terms of lyrical content? For example, you have a strong idea of what the beat makes you feel, but when the MC jumps on the track, they totally spoil the mood for you?
PL If you’re going to give the beat to someone and say “do whatever you like to this” you have to just be open to that, hopefully you’re working with people on the same page so that you don’t get disappointed, but rather surprised and excited by where they take it. A good MC can also make an OK beat come to life too.
O What’s the most successful collaboration you’ve done so far?
PL Hunger Pains without a doubt, lots of stuff with Prowla I feel is up there.
O Listening to the first track on “Give Me Sabotage Shell” I would have the say that the first thing I think of is that DJ Krush/Mo’ Wax style of smooth, dark beats; sound that was very typical of that era of hip-hop/beat production. What beat-makers were you listening to around that time? It’s making me think back to when Ninja Tune and Mo’ Wax we’re very big, and must have made a lot of money during that boom.
PL To me the best MoWax shit was like early to mid 90’s, Ninja Tune never really influenced me, my influences were always more straight Hip Hop, in terms of beats. Actually Mick Harris or Scorn were much more of an influence when I was making that record, to me it has a real caustic tone at times rather than a smooth one.
O What was it like to release a producer album back then? You must have been one of the first Australian beat-makers to do that…
PL There were other really well put together records that came before, Moonrock, Soup & Avene come to mind, but yeah I guess it was at a time when it wasn’t so typical, especially in Australia, and on wax too.
O Do you know what RuCL is working on these days?, he and MC Que were
the only guest MC’s on that record.
PL You’re forgetting Prowla, but yeah RuCL is doing his ting right now on Universal. We made an album together of more dancehall shit that probably will never see the light of day, that’s just unfortunate.
O You’re working on a new instrumental LP, what can we expect from that when it drops? How many tracks have you already got for it?
PL I have about 18 tracks, I’m just moving on from the last record in terms of the overall feel, this one’s a little more optimistic than Collision or Sabotage. I’ll also have a proper media push this time so it will be interesting to see how it goes, hopefully I can get over to some people who’ve never heard my shit before.
O How important to you is it to make a purely instrumental records? Is it something that you do to challenge yourself, or is it just a nice change from working on MC-focused tracks?
PL I’d say it’s more work than an MC album, it’s not so much a nice change as it is a more determined personal approach as a producer. For me it’s important to express myself through this, so I guess I’m serious about continuing that.
O Have you ever considered doing a producer album with guest MC’s ala Evil Ed, Jon Doe, Chasm, DJ JS, etc, etc… What do you think of these kinds of releases?
PL They’re great. They let the producer shine so that’s all good, sometimes they can be like bland compilation records or be too all over the shop as in style. But generally I like them. I’ve actually been asked to do one for Obese but I’m a while away from beginning that.
O What beat have you heard that either made you a) want to give up beat making all together because you thought you could never top it, or b) made you realize you had to lift your game as a producer?
PL Everything on Liquid Swords and The Infamous, but really I find hearing something like that inspiring.
O What other hip-hop producers or musicians inspire you to make beats?
PL I find that other artists I work with inspire me the most, Producers and MC’s that I have a dialogue with, sometimes it can be a non Hip Hop related artist like listening to soul records or Folk and think, “they really got that feeling down, I wanna try that in a beat”.
O Tell us about your studio. Explain what gear you have and it’s role and importance in your beat making. What are the best and worst pieces of gear you bought and what makes them either so good, or so bad.
PL At the moment I have a PC that I use to sample and sequence on, a 16 channel mixer, turntables, 1967 Ludwig acoustic drums, V-Drums, electric bass, roland SH2000, Stylophone (ha), semi acoustic guitar, some percussion, Records. The PC is the hub, it has my sound library (which includes my drum libraries) that I’ve built up from way back, the best thing about that is it’s all there, not on floppy or zip disks, like I used to have with the ASR10. I never had so much money to spend on something without really knowing what it could do, so pretty much every instrument I’ve owed has been valuable.
O Do you use any soft-synths at all? There’s quite a few synth tones on your productions, surely it ain’t all the SH2000?!
PL Yeah a whole shitload of those, my favorites are the B4 and Lounge Lizard, but seriously it’s all the Stylophone.
O (laughs) You use Fruity Loops to make some of your beats. Do you think that affects your final outcome and what do you like about software based production? What in your opinion is the future of hip-hop production, are you excited about the revolutionary technology we are seeing developed each year? Have you used hardware samplers, and if so, what is your opinion on those machines?
PL I used an ASR10 for a long time (which is an amazing sampler), hooked up to an ATARI running emagic Notator software to sequence with (Notator later dveloped into Logic). The Atari was before hard disk recording so it was just being used as a sequencer, you could say I cut my teeth on that machine. Before that setup it was all about drum machines dedicated sequencers, keyboards and reel to reel 4 & 8 tracks for me. My PC setup is very similar to the way I used to make beats (on a keyboard), the only difference is there’s no agony backing shit up or changing sounds and a billion other functions that machine would do slowly.
O Tell us about Fruity. There’s alot of great producers using it. 9th Wonder being the most famous, and other local cats like Paso Bionic are making beats and releasing them with FL. How long have you been using that for? What is it that you like about using that software? I wanna hear some quotes from you that are going to make other FL users wanna stick their middle finger up at all the purist hardware fanatics.
PL It’s not so much a competition for me with gear, it’s whatever you find works the best for you, if you like tapping out beats get an MPC or if you like to play things on a keyboard go that way. FL Studio & Nuendo are what works for me. I’ve been using FL for years now, since version 1.5, before that it was all about hardware. I got into PC computers when another producer friend of mine Derm (Capricorn Cat, Lonewolf, etc) was getting into it so we traded info. Later I got together with Prowla so he could create his Lonewolf LP. Before that Jase & Prowla were using an Atari too, hooked up to an Ensoniq 16plus (the little brother of the ASR10).
O You have been making beats for quite a while now, well before the boom of hip-hop that we’ve seen in Australia lately. How has hip-hop changed in Australian since you first started producing?
PL Put simply it’s just exploded with more people wanting to either hear it, or make for themselves. I guess my main gripe is I see a lot of kids wanting to “make it” overnight. There’s so many more outlets now to learn how to do stuff, back when I started you just had to figure it out. That goes for performing, booking shows, having
the time to refine your shit. These days I feel shit gets handed out on a platter, but the upside is there is an audience now, not only willing to hear local music, but fiending for it. That shit’s mad.
O You say that a lot of knowledge is being handed out on a platter, and I totally agree. Do you think that breeds less experimentation and formulaic hip-hop? What do you think of the DIY, teach-yourself style DVD’s that are around? Surely they have their place. You’ve got a chance to say something to future hip-hop producers right here,
what do you consider to be good advice for any budding producers out there?
PL I’d say have your own ideas first, bring something to the table that will set you apart from the next guy, then use whatever you can get your hands on to make it happen. It’s in your best interest not to sound the same, this goes for MC’s too. You wanna get noticed in an ever growing scene, this is the way. Heads will be thankful to you for being yourself.
O Who are some MC’s you dream of working with? Are there any producers you’d like to collaborate with?
PL There are so many MC’s I would love to work with locally and overseas. Mos Def would be a dream, Rakim, Jehst, GZA, A.G. I’d love to collaborate with a whole bunch of local producers, Lazy, Trem, Danielsan, Bonez, too many to name.
O How are the shows with Muphin going? Are you glad to be out of the road playing drums live over tracks you made? Tell us about your experience with live shows?
PL Live shows are crazy, people are really responding to us, playing drums live is great when I’m up there playing them, but a pain in the arse all other times (ie luggin them shits around).
O What ever happened to Madlock?
PL Madlock was a really good Hip Hop band with the emphasis on instrumentals, we’d just get guest MC’s from time to time so it was much more experimental than my stuff with Macronauts, having Prowla DJing, Chris T on bass and Derm on samples, it was my dream group and I’ll probably never get to play with musicians as amazing as I think all those guys together are, no disrespect to Rueben here, but in the end it was like playing in RuCL’s backing band so it became less interesting and just sort of faded out.
O OK, this is a fairly standard question, but people are going to want to know what you’ve got on the stove at the moment, and what have you been scheming lately?
PL OK, well there’s the new Pegz album that is about to drop called Axis, I produced all the tracks except 2 absolute bangers from Suffa. There’s the next Plutonic Lab LP, there’s some stuff I’m doing for The Living Dead Dudes (Awakenings), and a bunch of beats for people, but I can’t reveal those right now.
O You haven’t done a lot of remixing, is that something you’d like to get into?
PL Yes and no, it’s not something I’m itching to do.
O How about mastering? We’ve seen mastering credits on a few releases lately, is that something you enjoy, or is it just a little something extra to pay the bills?
PL I started doing that that out of necessity for myself and Nuffsaid, people just seemed to like what I was doing, so I ended up doin shit for Obese too. I’d recommend people go to a mastering suite though.
O You are also recording MC’s down at This Is It, can you tell us a little about that?
PL That’s really just to help people out with something that might be difficult for then to achieve at home.
O What do you think you would have done if you weren’t a successful beat maker? Any thing else you wish you had more time to do or an alternative career you might never get to experience?
PL I would have loved to have made some films, but my instro shit is probably the closest I’ll get to that.
O We’re both older cats, what happens to someone like you when you reach your 40’s? Do you you keep making hip-hop records?
PL I’ll definitely be making music, producing Hip Hop…I don’t know, maybe I could take some younger heads under my wing and help them make records or something. I think MC’s have a shorter use by date than producers, as long as I’m keeping up I don’t think it would be so sad.
O Alright, one last question, let’s make it like the end of the daily news, the feel-good-ending. You’re in an asian restaurant, you’ve just finished your meal. The waiter brings you a fortune cookie. What does it say?
PL I am the owner of this restaurant, here is the phone number for my
(Obese Records) 2005
Muph & Plutonic
(Obese Records) 2004
Collision Of Days
(Nuffsaid Records) 2004
The Blackout Of 1977
(Nuffsaid Records) 2004
(Obese Records) 2003
More Than Music
(Obese Records) 2003
Give Me Sabotage Shell
(Nuffsaid Records) 2001
(Nuffsaid Records) 2001
(Plutonic Lovely) 1995
Kill Em All
(C Side Trax U.K.) 2004
(Nuffsaid Records) 2004
Eternia & A-Love
(Warner Chapel) 2003
(Nuffsaid Records) 2002
Taskforce & Pegz
(Obese Records) 2002
A Dream Led To This
(Nuffsaid Records) 2002
The Great Rescue
(Nuffsaid Records) 2002
(Obese Records) 2001
(Crookneck Records) 2004
Muphin – Smoke Stained
(Sound Punch) 2004
Breakfast News (Main Title)
100 Forms Of Happiness
Building With Bricks Volume 2
(Brick Records U.S) 2004
Karma – Art Of War
Culture Of Kings Vol 3
(Obese Records) 2004
Pegz – Tins Of Beans
(Revolver Upstairs) 2003
Muphin – Smart Risk, Big Benefit
Strait From The Art Vol 1
(Warner Chapel) 2003
Eternia & A-Love – Movin
Other Worldly Fusions
Plutonic Lab & RuCL – Runnin Hot
(Obese Records) 2002
Plutonic Lab – Knowing Disintegration
Muphin – Tape In A Green Case
Culture Of Kings Vol 2
(Obese Records) 2002
A-Love – Petty
Top Fashion Dolphin EP
(C Side Trax U.K) 2002
Plutonic Lab – Mental Big Gun
Tumi – The Inner View
Stealth Issue 2 Vol 3
(Stealth Magazine) 2001
Plutonic Lab – Glory Days
Sounds Like Left
(Planet MG/Sony Asia) 2001
Plutonic Lab – Mental Big Gun Remix
Plutonic Lab – Sunshine
Rock Da City
(Nuffsaid Records) 1999
Plutonic Lab – Slipping Into Darkness
Madlock – Madlock
4 Element Effect
Plutonic Lab – Evidence
Evolutionary Vibes 2
(Creative Vibes) 1997
Macronauts – Atstrue Remix
Club Zouk Singapore
The Pharcyde (2002 / 2004)
The Mo’ Wax Showcase (DJ Shadow, Money Mark & James Lavelle)
The Charlie Hunter Trio
Vibes On A Summers Day (1995 / 1996)
Lee Scratch Perry
DJ Motiv8 and MC Supernatural
Hilltop Hoods (Melb & Tasmania)
NuBreed (Falls Festival)
DMC Australian Finals Melbourne 2004
People Under The Stairs
Obese Block Party
Braintax & Mystro
Cockatoo Island Festival
SOUND DESIGN / SOUNDTRACKS
Short Film By Philip Brophy
(A.C.M.I. Federation Square)
Online Science Series
(San Francisco Museum Of Modern Art)
From The Lives Of Li Ji
(International Exhibition Amsterdam)
Li Ji, Warrior Girl
(Art Gallery of New South Wales)
(Museum Of Contemporary Art, Sydney)
(George Cinema / 2001 Poitier Film Festival France)
(Kunji Theatre, Shanghai, China)
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