[Interview] BTSM, Apashe and Dabin of Kannibalen Records

Last week, at Terminal West, Atlanta was treated to a rare showing of electro house, trap, and electronic bass music from artists who don’t often make it down to the south. Kannibalen Records, headed up by Patrick Barry, Marc-André Cagnon, and Julien Maranda of Black Tiger Sex Machine. With them, they brought fellow label-mates Apashe and Dabin. We managed to catch up with all the artists before the show to ask them a few questions about music, running a label, and what makes them unique.

These were absolutely some of the most relaxed and chill guys to interview. I believe in southern hospitality, and always try to extend a feeling of comfort and relaxation to the artists I interview. They gave it right back. I walked in, introduced myself, and before we got started with the interview they had already offered me a beer. Patrick rapped the first eight bars of “Welcome To Atlanta” with me, then we all got comfortable on the couch and chairs of the Terminal West green room. Everyone introduced themselves by their first names. Unfortunately, Julien wasn’t feeling well so he wasn’t there for the interview and arrived just as I was leaving the green room. However, he was ready to put on a full performance by the time he hit the stage a couple hours later.

BM: Welcome to Atlanta. I saw on Facebook you guys went to a Waffle House, which is a local Atlanta favorite. Really, almost a religion here. What did you get and how was it?

Patrick: I had the waffles. They were great. I had some country ham. I didn’t know there was a difference between country ham and city ham?

BM: Well, there’s Canadian Bacon...

It was good. Everything was good.

BM: Speaking of Canada, I have to ask, how great is Universal Healthcare?

Marc: It’s great because we never think about it.

Apashe: I’m not even Canadian, but I can access it. I have free healthcare. I’m Belgian, but I live in Canada and I got it pretty easy.

Patrick: It’s definitely not perfect, you know.

BM: Yeah, you Canadians with your healthcare and your sexy Prime Minister doing push-ups all the time. You know American girls are totally aware of Justin Trudeau? Like, they know all about Canada’s sexy king.

Patrick: We actually went to the same high school as Justin Trudeau, us two (pointing at Marc).

Apashe: I went to the same high school as Jean-Claude Van Damme!

Patrick: Really!

Marc: Dabin, drop some high school reference! Any celebrity at your high school?

BM: Well, Dabin went to his high school...

Marc: So, basically you’re the first celebrity to go to your high school.

BM: I have a few questions about Kannibalen. These days, artists have way more incentive to go indie than ever before. Why did you want to start a label? I know Kannibalen comes from the party you ran in Montreal. How'd that name arise? You guys have been at it for four years now?

Marc: The big first release was December 2011, when Apashe and Dabin did their first release with us. After that, they came in on the label and both had EPs. I guess to answer your question, Kannibalen is the place where we all work together and we make sure that all the artists come together under one umbrella. Not just for a single, but full-on. They have access to a platform. We make sure that there are releases every six to eight weeks, if they have the content. We help them evolve as artists throughout the years and have a full story all year long, and mix in a good show strategy. It’s really good because we can brainstorm about it every day, even though we’re on tour like this. For John (Apashe), right now we’re working on his new release that’s probably going to be out in like four weeks, but it’s not really ready. We feel that track has a lot of potential. It’s really cool to be able to do that.

The foundations of Kannibalen are about timing and having artistic control over the music. I think one mistake that a lot of young artists make is not trying to make the most out of everything in your career. Maybe you’re playing a local show, or an early set at a festival, you’re playing to 2,000 people! You should be dropping a track the next week, because you’ll probably get an extra 750 plays. That’s not big numbers, but if you’re starting out and you’re already doubling the number of your plays, then you’re building a fan base. We have a very tight and opportunistic mentality, and we apply it to all of our careers. I think it’s been paying off really well, and I don’t think it imposes any artistic restriction or anything. It feels good to me, at least.

Patrick: Yeah, we try to focus on just releasing stuff from the core artists who are a part of Kannibalen. We don’t really go out there, actively looking. Obviously, a ton of people send us demos, but it’s pretty rare that we go outside of our circle to release something, just because we try to keep everything kind of tight and not release too much music.

BM: It sounds like you guys are more of a collective than a traditional label.

Marc: Yeah, the label has a lot of integrity. We don’t want to go chase the flavor of the moment. Obviously, the hybrid phase was super big for us. It put Snails, Apashe, and Kai Wachi on the map, but these guys were already making hybrid trap and dubstep before anybody was making it. All of us listen to and share music from outside, so the outside world has some influence on what we do. But, it’s 100% make what you want, and we will work around it to make sure that every person {on Kannibalen} can reach out with that song, or that EP, or album.

BM: There are way more DJs in masks now than ever before. It’s sort of become “a thing," almost a trope of the industry. That I know of, you guys are the only trio that wear masks. What led to your decision to be a masked trio.

Patrick: It’s about our common interests when we started making music. On the musical side, we listened to a lot of Justice and Daft Punk. Also, all the visual stuff that influenced us, other forms of media like movies and video games. A lot of the stuff we like in common is sci-fi influenced, or post-apocalypic. We drew from that, and wanted to have this feeling or vibe to the visual aspect and the helmets give us this very dark appearance. Not like some psychedelic stuff or something. I would say that’s how it expresses our collective identity.

Marc: Did we ever have a discussion about this? I don’t think so. I think we were just at a party and we reached out to a friend and asked him if he could do tiger helmets. He said yes.

Patrick: We already had something going. Our MySpace page had drawings of futuristic superheroes. We didn’t have the helmets, but viewing the Black Tiger Sex Machine back-story as some kind of sci-fi odyssey had already been established. The tiger helmets fit into that pretty naturally.

BM: Can we look forward to other interesting visual projects from you guys? Maybe similar to what we’re seeing from Gorillaz or Major Lazer?

Patrick: Yeah. You’ll see tonight. We have a bunch of new visuals tied into that imagery, and we’ve definitely had ideas for a long time about comic books or cartoons or something like that.

BM: What are some Dos and Don'ts of helmet design? If you had to start over, what would you tell yourself?

Marc: For the first one, go as simple as you can. We just have one on/off switch.

Patrick: Yeah, we have new helmets coming out, but we’re still programming them. Helmets are fragile, so you have to think about how they’re going to hold up. Also, we sweat a lot, so you have to think about that.

BM: What are some advantages and disadvantages to working as a trio in the electronic space? How do you balance control? Does everyone have clearly defined roles or do you juggle it live? Are you improvising or are all sets planned?

Marc: Yeah, so our guy who does percussion (Julien) also has a lot of vocal samples matched to tempo, and a lot of effects, and all the percussion. I play a lot of stripped down tracks, usually about 25 to 30 tracks per hour on average, and Pat has a lot of synths. For a lot of the more melodic tracks we have, Pat will redo all the melodies live. He’s got a lot of stabs and sounds. We’re adding more and more sound design to tracks that he can add on the fly. It’s very flexible. We have two Ableton computers. Pat’s is sending everything quantized through the mixer or to my computer, and then the other computer is also fully quantized with all the loops and stuff. Then we just pull everything back into a DJM-900 (Pioneer mixer). Our sets are about 80% planned every night, and then about 20% we change from night to night. Depending on the key of the track, we might swap out a new one. We switch it up if we know a lot of people have seen us at a festival recently or something.

Patrick: Usually, like on a night like tonight, we know what we’re going to play, but then tomorrow, we can switch stuff around during the day. The thing is, since we have helmets, we can’t talk to each other.

Marc: We’ve never had a mistake at a major show, probably only two total this year, and it’s always at the weird shows. (Editor’s note: this is some heavy foreshadowing, for any English literature folks reading along)

I then asked Apashe about his success in Russia, which apparently stemmed from his track “No Twerk” being used on a Russian “So You Think You Can Dance” equivalent. This led to some bookings in Russia, and fed the viral growth of his music.

I wanted to ask Dabin, who plays with live instruments, about his thoughts on the future of analog instruments. According to his view, rather than a hard break between traditional instruments and computers making music, he looks forward to a future where new instruments are created including or alongside modern technology. Marc jumped in with, “That guy is a machine. He plays like twelve instruments perfectly.” It seems likely that Dabin’s voice is one we can trust on the matter.

Dabin had to leave the interview early to begin his set, and we quickly started wrapping things up. I had been told going into the show to expect Dabin to play a chill set, but I was blown away by his energy. He played a good mix of future bass and trap, adding to the set with a bright red electric guitar. He moved all over the stage, and even stood on a pedestal behind his equipment so everyone could get a good view of him shredding it up.

Apashe played a much heavier set, sticking mostly to high-tempo trap and twerk, but with some almost dubsteppy moments. He reminded me somewhat of his labelmate Snails, in that even with the hard drops and bass wobbles, his set maintained a bouncy quality that kept the energy high without being exhausting. He’s a really fun DJ, full of energy, and clearly in love with the music he plays. I’m not sure if the front row of the crowd could even compete with his head-banging and flailing arms during some of the heavier bass drops.

By the time BTSM took the stage, the dance floor was full, but still surprisingly roomy. Everyone was exuberant and full of energy. There wasn’t the flailing elbows or foot stomping that plagues so many shows. Everyone was very aware of their surroundings and respectful of everyone else, a further credit to both the venue and the acts performing. Everyone seemed to be having a really great time as the Canadian trio threw down electro house and dubstep in a rapid-fire hurricane of energy all night.

Sadly, they did have two technical malfunctions during the show, as we hauntingly alluded to during the interview, but they were quickly recovered. The crowd quickly filled in any gaps of silence with chants of “B.T.S.M.” at the top of their lungs. The party never had a chance to die down. After the show, all of the artists, including Apashe and Dabin came out to the front row and shook hands, signed autographs, and talked to anyone who wanted to stay and chat with them. As these guys make their rise in the world of dance music, it’s nice to see them stay connected to their fans, and make themselves easily approachable for questions, instead of running off to the green room or tour bus with a bottle of booze and some groupies.

They struck me as very open, very honest, and very realistic artists who aren’t caught up in the hype of whatever celebrity they are enjoying. Instead, they are focused on building their brand, enjoying their success, and fostering a community of artists under the Kannibalen banner who can collectively produce a body of work they are proud of. In today’s age of micro-genre chasing, and seismic careers that fall as quickly as they rise, that is worth a lot to the fans. I think the deeper value of connection and artistic integrity is worth it to these musicians as well.

Photos by Ryan Purcell

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Sam Lawrence

Sam is a correspondent for Bullet Music, but has a strong background in the software industry as a product engineer. He is a lover of all music, but can most often be found covering the electronic scene in Atlanta.