Preferring to keep their exact identities under wraps, what we know for certain about the members of Seekersinternational is that they're a Filipino-Canadian crew based in Richmond, British Columbia, with strong ties to Metro Manila. Whatever their origins or current location, the music that’s been trickling out under the Seekersinternational (or SKRSINTL, or SKRS) moniker over the past half dozen years draws on sources from just about everywhere, and represents a fresh, modern take on the dubwise approach to music making.
With roots in the soundsystem culture and studio artistry of 1970s Jamaica, dub music has seen a huge number of mutations emerge in the decades since – with some varieties sticking closer to traditional (reggae) stylings and others taking the dubwise route to the outer limits of sound. But what makes Seekersinternational’s output unique (and uniquely enjoyable) is that they somehow manage to go in both directions at once with their consistent knack for drawing out the melodic "hookiness" and flow of their sometimes dense, sometimes stripped-back sample-based collages. Or, as they put it: “SKRS crucial selections take us to a dance from another dimension.”
We chatted with Seekersinternational spokesperson Daddy Coolbreeze about the crew’s roots in 90’s turntablism and visual art, how they find and hone samples in Live, breaking down dichotomies with dub, and much more. Plus, the SKRS crew have produced a free sound Pack of unique laser sound effects and sirens for you to download.
Where and when did Seekersinternational begin?
Our collective formed as an offspring of the DJ and turntablist culture of the mid-to-late 90s. Of course there were lots of artistic movements that influenced us during this time, but DJing and turntablism in particular opened up new possibilities for us, specifically with regards to being able to create new and original compositions by simply piecing together samples from records. This was quite a revelation for us, having no prior music education nor access to instruments and other production equipment.
Equally, if not more importantly, the figures leading this turntablist movement were Filipino Americans from the Bay Area like DJ Q-bert, Mixmaster Mike, Shortkut, DJ Disk, DJ Apollo, etc. – all of whom provided a face and a voice to a lot of us fellow immigrants and minority figures. It was very empowering to say the least. Overall, turntablism brought this whole new energy and perspective for us and it pushed us to develop and create our own artistic expression.
Simultaneously, our discovery of Jamaican dub music and soundsystem culture provided the final key ingredient to the whole SKRSINTL modus operandi. The two seemingly disparate cultures actually have plenty in common, most notably the DIY attitude of finding creativity within one's means, making the best out of what you have, extracting the most out of the least. Besides that, we fell in love with the whole for-the-people vibe that was intrinsic to Jamaican music; unpretentious and non-elitist yet still packing a ton of heavy and deadly good vibes.
We want to challenge the old rhetoric that "dub is just about the drum and the bass".
Earlier SKRS releases, such as The Call from Below album and TheWhereBetweenYou&Me video, sound like they may have been inspired by latter-day takes on dub as formulated by Basic Channel / Rhythm & Sound and others in the 90s. There’s a similarity in the way your early tracks largely dispense with drum sounds but fill the sonic space with chords and bass – augmented by a hazy atmosphere made up of hiss, crackle, compression artifacts and other incidental sounds. Do you see SKRS as part of that lineage?
The entire Burial Mix/Rhythm & Sound/Basic Channel catalogue most definitely blew our minds in terms of showing us how dub music need not be trapped in its own innovations anymore. Dub up to that point seemed to have gotten stuck in a particular template and format, i.e., versions of Reggae Music only. We heard dabblings in dub within different genres of course, such as dub remixes of disco and pop 12” singles etc, but not as far as a real study and serious inquiry into its ethos and approach – until the Basic Channel boys changed the game.
The simple act of dispensing with the usual drum beat actually holds a lot of weight in our research. Tying it back to Basic Channel, the very first time we were exposed to their sound was actually at an outdoor rave (a very Pacific Northwest tradition, haha) and from a distance there was a Burial Mix track on full blast. We were completely in the dark, entranced listening to this riddim, where from that distance all the higher frequencies like the high hats and snares have all but dissolved; all we could hear was this looming, imposing, powerful – yet welcoming – pulse and riddim that seemed to emanate from nature itself. It was simple, awe-inspiring. Sure, that experience was most likely drug-induced as well, but the impact on us remains ingrained in our creative DNA ever since that moment.
This experience also reinforced within us the understanding that there is always an underlying pulse in all music that propels it, and that this pulse is not reliant on drums, bass or anything else in order for it to exist, despite our common notion. Drums only “verbalize” or embellish this unspoken pulse, they don’t necessarily create it. Taking out the drums for us is mostly an exercise in recognizing and celebrating that undercurrent. In dub music, we always talk about that certain moment and feeling of awe we get when the vocals and other elements are suddenly dropped out into delays, and the drum and the bass alone are left to hold the groove. We tend to forget that we get the same feeling as well when the drums and/or the bassline is dropped out and there’s that sudden sensation of floating while still solidly locked into the groove. We want to challenge the old rhetoric that "dub is just about the drum and the bass".
Anyway, we feel there is a tendency to limit, label and categorize music too quickly based on hearing the first bar of the beat or drum pattern before even hearing any piece of music in its entirety. “Oh OK this is a Reggae style rimshot,” “This is House style 4/4 kicks and hats,” “808s? Trap,” or worse, “Congas? World Music”, and even “Oh, no drums? Ambient!”. There’s no denying the powerful effect of drums, we just want to see if we can recreate and convey this particular sound-feeling we have in our head without the monopoly of drums. Having said all that, you can be sure that when we DO include drums in some tracks, it is very intentional.
Listening back through your catalog, there seems to be a movement towards ever more sample manipulation. In particular, you’ve developed this way of using vocal samples not just as one-shot punctuations but as the central motifs for some tracks. Was it a conscious decision to move in this direction? Where do you get your samples from? What do you listen out for when searching for a sample?
Coming from the world of turntablism, sampling is simply at the heart of what we do. In what we consider the golden age of scratch DJ mixtapes and DJ battles, it was common for us to hear whole phrases/bars/lines being scratched, manipulated, looped and collaged into dense, unique compositions. Take for prime example, Mixmaster Mike’s epic “Mixmasterpiece” or “Explosive Box Cassette” – just a steady barrage of cuts and samples formed into this crazy, frenzied collage of sounds (like an audio version of a Murakami piece?). Actually by these standards, our use of vocal samples is quite restrained and minimal in comparison! So yes it was a conscious decision to move towards heavier sampling but it’s more like a return or revisitation of our roots, so to speak.
Just like our early heroes, we take samples from absolutely everywhere. Records, tapes, field recordings, phone recordings, TV, VHS, YouTube, live, analog, digital, it’s all fair game as far as we’re concerned. Even when we add our own keys, synths and other instrumentations to a track, we think of it more as sampling ourselves rather than us actually playing on a track. It’s quite a subtle difference in result of course, but it just shows our mentality and approach when building our compositions.
The main thing we keep an ear out for is FEEL. The certain feel and context of a sample I think is our priority over straight phonetics or semantics, as far as vocal samples go. For example, when searching for the word-sample “murder”, sampling that same word as reported in the nightly news is completely different from sampling a soundsystem deejay toasting “musical murda!” in a dance; the feel and thus the vibe it will convey will be completely different.
When we start arranging and layering, say, vocal samples together, it’s just a matter of determining which sample(s) will be taking on the lead role and which one(s) will be playing more supportive roles, just as one would do with instruments in a band/symphony or colours in a painting or actors in a play. Like with Undercover Lovers, for example, we literally just found an early 90s r’n’b song where we chopped the words “undercover” and “lovers” and “girl” from the first or second verse and that formed the main loop from which we built the other samples around.
Another thing that stands out is that the samples you use often remain recognizable as samples. That is, they’re pitched, chopped, stuttered and stretched in ways that highlight their materiality. Are you using Live for most of these manipulations?
We like the game of making some samples obvious and recognizable, while keeping other samples disguised, or maybe keeping it to a level where listeners aren't too sure (nor bothered about) which ones are sampled and which ones are “played”. But yes, when we do highlight a sample as being a sample, we are paying homage and giving a nod to the process/art/practice of sampling itself as well as all the memories and associations the listeners may attach to a particular sound.
I think it’s important to mention that the core members of our crew have strong visual art backgrounds, even before we came upon DJing. This speaks to and informs the way we approach music and composition since none of us are musically trained (nor tech savvy). To us for example, using samples to create tracks is directly related to using image fragments to create a collage. The way we view and use Ableton Live is like an artboard where we create and shape building blocks to form a composition. Live’s layout and design somehow appeals to our visual nature, and even strangely reminds us a lot about visual applications like Photoshop, which makes it easier for us to understand and navigate its layout.
Each member of the crew may start out with different sketches and ideas on their own, whether its a sample or a bass riff or drum pattern etc, but ultimately they are all brought into Live for finalization. We definitely enjoy using a lot of older classic synths and samplers but we equally embrace and enjoy particular characteristics and qualities (not to mention efficiency) that the digital realm offers, so it is in Live where we make everything work together – from rough draft to fine tuning the final piece.
Sorry if that sounded like some product endorsement haha, but we really mean what we say that Live caters very well to not-exactly-musical types like us; that it can be approached in a visual way. We want to highlight that and hopefully encourage other non-musical types to get into it.
Black Mazda Soundclash - SKRS’s latest release is a heady mix of abstracted dancehall flavors
How do you usually go about giving tracks and albums a structure?
Technically speaking, we’re almost always exclusively in Arrangement mode. Again, it lends itself more to our visual tendencies. All the live playing that we wish to do is done outside the box, i.e. from our synths, drum machines, samplers, etc. We record all of that into Live as building blocks and then we cut, edit, process, mold and shape it all in Arrangement View. Often we will record tracks already with the external effects applied (that way we’re already committed to the sound), but every so often we’ll assign a send out to some reverb or delay or whatever.
We don’t really consider ourselves gear nerds nor very technically savvy heads. We have a nice collection of analog synths, effects and tape machines, but again, nothing extravagant or obsessive. We have the usual suspects like the Roland Space Echo and Moogerfooger units, etc. for our effects. We use our analog mono-synths quite extensively too; the trax in Dancehall Showdown for instance were built almost entirely using our Korg MS-20.
As our samples and recorded sounds are often NOT synced nor MIDI clocked to one another, we use Live's time stretching functions quite a lot. Basically a big portion of our process is making things fit together; so it’s a lot of pushing and pulling, shifting and coaxing, trial and error. This allows us to maintain a certain looseness and jankiness and funk in our compositions, both by default and by design.
Actually we’ll do pretty much everything all the way to final mixdown on Arrangement View. Specially once we start shaping long-form compositions like we do in our albums and “mixes" (Dancehall Showdown, Gunman Cult Classixx Mix, Black Mazda Soundclash, etc.), where all the tracks are woven into a larger piece, we’ll have a crazy TON of samples going on at once. To even attempt to do that in Session View would be sheer and utter madness!
Finally, thanks for making a sample pack and sharing it with us. Can you tell us a little about it?
The sample pack we’ve created is called our SKRS SHØCKOUT PΔCK and it contains 15 unique and original laser sound effects that anyone can use in their production and soundboy burial rituals. We created the sounds entirely from our Sequential Circuits Pro-One. We recorded a gang of the Pro-One’s edgy monophonic sounds, layered a few of them together then processed them with Live’s onboard effects to create richer and more complex waveforms, with which you can proceed to embellish your sounds and drive more nails into a soundboy’s coffin.
All imagery by Mysteryforms
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