Our September 2019 Student Spotlight goes by the name of XELA. Although his tracks tend to live on the low-end, he is a multi-faceted producer who loves music from every genre and style.
We chose XELA for our student spotlight not just because he is a talented musician (which he is), but because he embodies the more subtle, internal aspects of what try to teach our students at ICON.
Manipulating sounds in Ableton or Logic is only half the battle when unlocking your potential as an artist. Before you even sit in front of the computer or at the piano, you must understand how to put your ideas into action, and that’s where XELA shines.
One might classify his music using traditional genre standards, such as “dubstep” or “bass music” or “trap.” But a keen ear will reveal slight subtleties that display a much deeper interest in music.
The level of attention and care XELA puts into his music is not going unnoticed. He’s recently been supporting impressive artists like Mastadon and playing huge parties like Space Yacht. Keep an eye on his socials for more new music and live dates.
We spoke to XELA about his relationship with bass music, his unique approach to sound design and more in this exclusive interview.
1. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned from your time at ICON?
In hindsight, the most important lesson learned while at ICON is how NOT to think. When I started producing, I was so wrapped up in the mindset of “is this good?” or “will people like this?” which took a toll on my ability to freely create what I wanted. I vividly remember stressing, trying to force a certain sound or idea, and it would never work out the way I wanted. This was due to the attachment I had with my mind and allowing the ego to grab hold of me through countless studio sessions which was counterproductive.
Overall, ICON has taught me how to remain in a flow state and detach myself from what I create. Counterintuitively, doing so helped with my ability to freely express myself, which made producing more joyous and all-around about feeling the moment rather than thinking about it. I now make it a point to produce for the sake of creation and expression itself, rather than creating with the intention of the tune being the next big thing.
2. What is it about bass music that excites you so much? How do you integrate your love of bass music when you’re making other genres?
I absolutely love this question because this is something, I think about often! Overall, “bass music” hits a certain spot within me that allows for past experiences of anger/sadness/rage/resentment and all the above to release all in one moment. There is something special about the 100hz and below range that excites the soul and allows for low energies to be felt. Personally, that’s what I believe bass music and life, in general, is all about! Feeling the “lows,” not attaching yourself to them but instead allowing them to wreck your world for a short period before getting hyped about a new beginning (or intro) till the next nasty drop comes.
I try my best to integrate my love for bass music within all genres I create by always having a present low end. I feel that the lows are what support the highs, and this goes for life and in music. It’s why I utilize sub frequencies and groovy drums to make a strong foundation for a track which can be felt both physically and emotionally.
3. Recently you’ve been playing live at impressive parties like Space Yacht and sharing the bill with prominent artists like Mastadon. How do you feel about playing live? How do you express your vision as an artist through your sets?
I’ve been extremely blessed in having the opportunity to play such awesome shows lately. I always give it my all and make it a point to create a fresh set each time that encapsulates my love for all genres. My sets are very unconventional, and I never hesitate to throw in anything from house music, riddim, psy-trance, trap, and even Top 40 stuff. I try my best to express my vision of integrating various genres within my sets so I can further drive home the point that all music contains something people can connect with.
Personally, I love when a DJ is an open format and bounces around genres/bpm during live sets. I’ve always admired the moments when a crowd can go from raging their face off one minute to crying/dancing in the next. That’s why I try my best to create a cohesive set with peaks, valleys, and all the above so that each crowd will stay on their toes and not be able to anticipate what’s coming next. Elements of surprise and spontaneity have always been my forte.
4. Your music involves a very intuitive sense of sound design. What’s your process when producing these different sounds? Who are other artists you look up to regarding sound design?
My process with sound design is EXTREMELY unconventional from all that I’ve learned, and I must thank Petey Evans for that! As of late, I’ve been running Serum or Operator through a guitar distortion pedal and resampling whatever comes out. An important thing to note is that I make it a point to go into every sound design session with the intention of not caring what comes out. This technique has really taken the burden off of me as I simply make sounds and follow them with whatever knowledge I have of certain plugins.
I also use a mixture of stock Ableton plugins (Amp, OTT, Limiter, Grain Delay, Frequency Shifter, etc.) along with a few third-party plugins (Effectrix, Camelcrusher, Portal) to get a unique and solid fundamental sound, then I bounce everything to audio and start post-processing, warping/time-stretching things in the most random ways. Honestly, every sound I’ve made recently could never be recreated even if I tried! Once stuff starts sounding nasty, I stop designing and start arranging. I guess my point is that I don’t try to get a certain sound, I just go with the flow!
Lately, the artists I look up to as far as sound design goes are Svdden Death, Taiki Nulight, Skrillex, and Oolacile, to name a few. I’m all for artists who push sonic boundaries. Although, I honestly derive my inspiration from each and every track I listen to. I’ll take my favorite parts in each song and incorporate it into my productions in a way that says, “This is XELA.”