This month’s feature interview is with Krust, currently riding high with the remix version of last year’s superb ‘The Edge of Everything’ album.
Krust’s ‘The Edge of Everything’ album from last year was a bold, boundary-stretching tech funk collection that took the components of drum & bass and rearranged them into slick, hyper futurist new forms. Prior to release, Krust had taken a hiatus, “reconditioning” himself via extensive research and the launch of a parallel career as a coach and mentor. Crosstown Rebels have just released a remixed version of the album featuring superb reworks from the likes of Masters At Work, UNKLE, Hodge, Four Tet and Calibre so we took the opportunity to talk to Krust about his working methods and the psychology of creativity via a lively, fun and fascinating Zoom conversation.
Attack Magazine: You’ve been studying the psychology of creativity over the last few years so perhaps you could help us with a popular question among young producers: how do you know when a tune is finished?
Krust: That’s a great question. The thing about music or creativity or any art that is subjective is that the answer is it’s never finished! [laughs]. Like, at the height of Full Cycle, Roni would say “you have to finish it, we’re cutting tomorrow!” and on this album, Die said to me “you’ve got to stop at some point!” And you have to get to a point where you let it go and move on to the next one.
The reason most people find tunes hard to finish is that they try and put all their ideas into one tune. They think that this one tune is “the one” but it’s not. Of course, there are tunes that are really great, but there’ll be probably ten failures before you got to that “one” and probably about thirty tracks you had to work on to understand how to make that one “the one”.
So when I made ‘Soul In Motion’ there was like 15 tunes in a row that came before that. When I made ‘Warhead’ there was like 20/30 tunes in a row prior. So it’s not that one tune that’s “the one”, you’ve got to get momentum up, you’ve got to build up your creative energy, your mental stamina, your chi energy. You see when Mike Tyson goes into the ring he’s sweating already and he’s not even started but what we don’t see is that he’s just done four rounds sparing in the changing room, just to warm up. Because he knows you need a running start. And it’s the same thing with making tunes.
The question really should be “how should you prepare yourself to get into the creative state, how should you prepare yourself to make music that stands the test of time?” I do a podcast called Adapt The Canvas and we’re going to be doing a coaching and training academy too. There’s so much preparation that goes into your art form before the days’ work.
So what are these preparatory steps, what preparation went into making ‘The Edge of Everything’?
Even before I was in the studio I spent two years researching the idea of what it was I was trying to achieve. If you ask a DJ what they do, they’ll say DJ but they’re wrong – they’re an entertainer. Same with producers, we’re in the entertainment industry. Your job on a Friday night is to get feet on the dance floor, the same way that Netflix’s job is to get bums on seats. So we have to ask, how do we entertain our audiences. So then we have to find out who’s the best at entertaining the audience, so that’s what I did.
I know how to make music, how to create an event, how to create stories, I now need to put all these things together and create an experience. And that’s the difference. If you read the book ‘Blue Ocean Strategy‘ it talks about the red and the blue ocean. The red ocean is filled with competition, it’s what everybody else does. [in a nutshell, Blue Ocean Strategy suggests creating uncontested marketplaces rather than competing in existing ones, thus making the competition irrelevant and capturing new demand]. The first thing we have to do is completely change our understanding of what we’re doing and that’s completely alien to what you’ve just spent nine grand a year learning on a music production course!
So young producers need to rethink who they actually are and what their goals are…
Yeah, and once you get that ideology – I’m not a DJ, I create experiences – then everything changes because your approach to what you’re doing is different. And in that you have to answer the next question, which is how is the best at creating experiences. That’s where my search led. So I started to research from dumper trucks in mining, to bridge builders in China, to deep-sea free diving, to medical equipment – and I’ve not studied music yet! I study everything, trying to understand the psychology of why someone wants to do freediving, why do want to hold your breath and dive for two hundred metres?
And what did you find out?!
[Laughs] It’s interesting, when you read about free climbers and free divers, they never tell you about what it is that they’re doing, they always tell you a story about how they got there. So this is about the human experience. You start to understand it’s nothing to do with music, it’s just that I’m really good at music and I understand how to put the pieces together to tell a human story. And that’s why this album in particular has got people’s attention: I’ve had 10/15 years of studying my art form. I was really good in the beginning and spent ten 15 years creating music and I created ‘Warhead’ and ‘True Stories’ and then I took a step back and was like, I really need to understand who I am as a creator and understand why I need to keep doing this.
I was attracted to the psychology, how people think and how it affects their behaviour and then I started to apply that to my art form. I started to look at people from the psychological point of view and it was a different story. And so I started to try to tell my story, from that perspective, in my music.
You obviously feel storying telling is important…
It’s everything! We all tell stories, everything’s a story, I’m telling you a story now. Listen to ‘True Stories’ – I’m telling you a story, the story’s in the title but it’s also in the twelve minutes, there was not a 12-minute drum & bass track back then so that was the story.
So with this album, after two years of working on just the narrative, the next part of the story is what tools do I need to tell the story? So then I go into my favourite era of music; I’m a child of the 70s and I grew up listening to funk, blues, rock, so I started to look at the equipment from that era, the old school compressors and desks and I compiled a soundscape of what I wanted my album to sound like, based on the 70s desks, synths, EQs etc.
I cobbled together some analogue stuff, some digital stuff and then started experimenting with sound, pushing the gear through different plug-ins, pedals, spent months just tinkering, not even trying to make music, just going through the processes trying to find something that would give me the sound I wanted.
So what kind of things stop young producers from being successful?
Overthinking. Believing that there’s a right and a wrong way to make music. Staying in genres, being too-genre specific. Listening to people! Not trusting their own instincts. Not really having a ten year plan about how they see themselves, not trusting the process, not having a process.
And preparation is clearly vital to production success…
Listen, the problem is most people think that what they’re doing is what it says on the box but they’re not and once you understand that you’re not doing what it says on the box, you’re free. Great artists, painters, musicians, designers, dancers: they’ve transcended the genre, they’re not bound by a name, title, they’ve understood what it is that they’re doing. They don’t even give a fuck about the audience! What they care about is reaching a high level of excellence in themselves.