Vaski on the dubstep divide

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Photo by Nick Patton
The Twin Cities electronic music scene is having a bit of an age crisis, and Minneapolis' own dubstep boy-wonder Vaski is right smack in the middle of it. A bassy lo-end sound made up of skittery, planetary beats, dubstep has produced an entire second generation (or third, depending on your perspective) of dance fans who go out to hear this kind of music over all other genres. They don't care to join the old-school ravers at techno gigs or the college kids at Too Much Love. They come to the Skyway Theatre on Hennepin in droves for shows by local promoters TC Dubstep, and they're very young.

Vaski, who headlined and nearly sold out the theater on Thanksgiving Eve, is himself only 21 years old. Off the steam of his first hit "Get Down," he traveled the country's club circuit before could even legally enter the venues.

"There's been multiple times where I almost wasn't allowed to go in and the promoter had to plead with the venue owner," says Vaski, who grew up Alex Brouwer in Savage, Minn. "At one gig, the law was that you had to be in by 11 p.m. and I wasn't playing until later, so that was interesting."

Considering Vaski's popularity not only in Minneapolis but across the country and in other dubstep meccas like the U.K., it seems crazy just three years ago he sat with his parents at a local Chipotle seeking their blessing to quit college and his job as a Wells Fargo bank teller to pursue this music.

"They had me write down different artists or people that I knew who were actually making a living off of it and somehow I eventually convinced them I could do it," he says. "Now I'm living comfortably off it and I'm getting to see a lot of places they want to see."
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Photo by Nick Patton

The divide between the older and younger electronic music crowds is something that's not just conducive to Minneapolis, Vaski says. He's seen it far and wide and says the dubstep crowd is getting younger and younger.

"It's cool to see all these really young kids getting into it," he says. "A lot of the time people will listen to the music that they listened to in high school for the rest of their lives. I know that's true for myself -- some of the music I listened to back then I still listen to now even though people might not like it. So that means that there are kids that really feel this is their music, and it's going to be their music for a long time."

As for Vaski's own dubtep future, he's putting the finishing touches on his album now, his sound moving away from the dark side he embraced early on and entering more melodic territory, even remixing Foster The People's massive single, "Pumped Up Kicks" (download below). The older crowd might not be on board, but if his latest shows around here are any indication, who needs them.

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Editor's note: The piece above ran in the Gimme Noise column in print this week, and below we offer up the full interview:

In the Twin Cities EDM scene, It seems like you're an older person and you like techno or you're young and you love dubstep shows. What do you think about this and how it relates to electronic music in general?

The way you described it is kind of how it is in a lot of places in the United States. You have the older people who have been doing it for a long time and they still like their music and a lot of them like dubstep but they don't like the scene, they stay away. I don't know if they feel old or if they don't like it live, but they stick to themselves. The younger crowd sticks to the dubstep. 

Do you think the younger crowd will stay interested in dubstep?

There are a lot of kids who are even younger who go to shows and get really into it -- I've seen junior high kids at all-ages parties. They are more excited for it than even the 18-24 year olds, which is my main fanbase. It's cool to see all these really young kids getting into it because I know that a lot of the time people will listen to the music that they listened to in high school for the rest of their lives.  I know that's true for myself -- some of the music I listened to back then I still listen to now even though people might not like it.  So that means that there are kid that this is their music, and it's going to be their music for the rest of their lives.

What music did you come up on that got you interested in electronic music?

I've been all over the place, really. When I was 12, that's when I first started to really love music and it was Linkin Park that I listened to. I progressed into some hip-hop after than and some other rock. I liked house at the time because my dad liked it. I would listen to internet radio and podcasts and stuff like that, I didn't know many artists at that time. I also loved the Killers and Arctic Monkeys and Atmosphere. Underground hip-hop was great but I also got into some of the more mainstream hits then, like Usher "Yeah" and "Pop Lock & Drop It." I also got into screamo and metal for a minute -- bands like Devil Wears Prada and August Burns Red.  I've liked a lot of different stuff, and I still do, but I make my career in electronic music and dubstep.

Do you think it's that breadth of music taste that helps you when you're doing production?

I think so, and I think that dubstep has a lot more depth to it than a lot of other genres. People from all over the place listen to it and like it. If you talk to people who are hardcore DNB fans, tis' just DNB. But dubstep fans tend to like other music, they love Sublime and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It's just so diverse. It means aggressive baselines but it also means really chilled out UK baselines, so there's a lot of different fans.

Have you noticed a dubstep backlash in certain cities? There are some people that are really vocal and Facebook and forums talking about how it's a fad. It's got a polarizing affect.

I've seen those people and they've been saying it a long time, they've been proved wrong over and over again. They keep saying "Oh it's dying out.. oh wait, no, it's dying out now..." and I've had people tell me throughout my whole career that it's been peaking.  It's not always the same people bc oftentimes what will happen is they'll hear a song and say, "Oh, I hate it but I actually really love this one song" and then they start to like a producer, and then they like it in general. I didn't even used to like it when it first came out but it's changed so much. The stuff I started making in 2008 than the stuff I heard the year before. The stuff i make now is a lot different now than what I made in 2010.  They loved if five years ago and now it's way different so they hate it. They're really mad about what happened to their genre and they're vocal about it on the internet, but that's pretty much it.

 
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If you go
Talk about your production style now. I interviewed Skream a few months ago and he was talking about how dubstep got so big there's new subgenres.

It's more diverse than that. I'd say my stuff is more melodic influenced than a lot of the stuff I'm hearing form North America now. I have really long chord progressions in things now that is gonna have some vocal stuff on it. It's not as dark as my older stuff and it's more accessible. I'd say some of it is more danceable than some of my older stuff was. I've been DJing now for a long time and I know what works for the dance floor. Some of my songs when I show them to people they dont like it at first but they like them live. I"ve got certain songs I've made specifically for the dancefloor and other stuff I've made just for listening.

Is there a sense of relief now that you're 21?

Yes. It's a lot less complicated now. When I go to some of the middle states they have stricter liquor laws. There's been multiple times where I almost wasn't allowed to go in and the promoter had to plead with the venue owner to let me in. One time, the law was that you had to be in by 11 p.m. and I wasn't playing until later so that was a tough one. A lot of clubs have it so 21+ has to be in a separate area than in 18+. I love that Minnesota has the "X"-ing policy because I think it would kill the vibe and it works.

That almost went away in 2008. City Council was trying to make all 18+ shows dry.

That would have killed the scene and hurt our economy.

Agreed. So how often are you traveling these days?

I've been finishing songs and trying to put out an EP so I'm not traveling as much as in previous months. I'm not sure what's going to happen with the album but it's really complicated and annoying. I don't know when it will be out or how many songs quite yet.

I know we've talked before about your dad being a disco fan, but I really want to know what your parents think about your career thus far.

When I was 18 and talking about this and telling them I want to drop out of school and pursue music full time.. I was at Chipotle talking to them about this, they were like, "Is there legitimately a way you can make money doing that?" They were trying to figure out what I was thinking. They had me write down different artists or people that I knew who were actually making a living off of it and somehow I eventually convinced them I could do it, too. I was working at Wells Fargo as a bank teller and going to school part time and I got a part time job instead as an audio engineer working with sound. I did that for a while and the work ran out and I was just on my own DJing. So it just kind of worked itself out. Now I'm living comfortably on it.

So they're happy with your choice?

They're really proud of me now and think it's really cool. They also like to hear about what I did when I was traveling and where I went and what I saw. I'm getting to see a lot of places they want to see. Just over Thanksgiving, I was talking to my extended family and they were really interested to hear about it, too. It's pretty fun.


VASKI plays with KILL THE NOISE at The Varsity Theater on Saturday, December 10 at 9 p.m. 18+. $15.



Pumped Up Kicks(Vaski Remix) by Vaski



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