Exclusive Interview: Basto discusses new single and radical changes to ‘EDM’ industry
“There’s a good chance history will look back on the past 5 years of main stream EDM as the most anaemic, meaningless period in 70 years of pop history.”
Strong words, but when analysing the rinse & repeat nature of many of the biggest tracks and musical trends in the past half-decade in the industry, Basto may have a point. Rewind to the start of ‘The Noughties’ and the name Basto was, quite simply, everywhere. Cementing a reputation as one of electronic music’s high-flyers, the Belgian producer (real name Jef Martens) stormed to the summit of dance charts globally with tracks such as ‘Again and Again’ (showcasing his performance at Tomorrowland 2011), as well as ‘Gregory’s Theme’, his huge 2010 hit on the iconic label, Spinnin’ Records.
Building a large fanbase on account of his one-of-a-kind melodies, Basto instantly garnered a reputation as a true maestro of the melodic. But after easing off in the middle of the decade, with very few releases following his initial success, Basto came storming back at the end of the decade, bringing his cleverly crafted production style back to the masses. Celebrating the launch of his new single ‘The One’ (feat. Comet Blue), We Rave You sat down with Basto to discuss the changes of the ‘EDM’ industry, his part in the boom of electronic music a decade ago, and why his signature style will always remain at the forefront of his production techniques…
Basto! Many of your earlier successful productions such as ‘Gregory’s Theme’ or ‘Again and Again’ really seemed to help kickstart the boom of electronic music as a whole – Why do you think that was?
“For starters I believe dance music in general was at that tipping point where it was bound to spill over into the mainstream music scene. During more than a decade, a whole generation had grown up in this sub-culture that was electronic music in all its forms and shapes. Couple that to the fact that internet was booming, the arrival of Napster and other peer-to-peer file sharing apps, and the arrival of devices such as the iPod and iPhone, and radio had to get on board or they were going to become obsolete because no longer catering to the major chunk of the younger demographic. So even without me, there was no way electronic music was not going to boom. That being said, I am a strong believer in melody. People generally don’t hum beats of chord progressions in the car or under the shower. It’s melody that sticks in their heads. And melody is what those Basto songs provide in spades!”
You’re very well known for your melodies, but everybody has a different creation process, so how do you go about crafting your tracks? Do you lay the melody down first and then add in other elements over the top, or is there an alternative method?
“Every Basto song starts at the piano. I’ve been playing piano for over 36 years, so I think in music through the piano. Composing melodies and harmonies there and hearing the magic unfold in such a basic setting, is the best guarantee that what you’re creating is really worthwhile. The naked essence is there, and then you can use production and all sorts of bells and whistles to dress up the bride. But it annoys me that too much electronic music is just smoke and mirrors without essence. Again, not many people hum a noise burst or a sub bass boom or a sweep under the shower because they just can’t get it out of their heads.”
Many sectors of the dance industry have said that the uplifting and euphoric nature of your melodies has never been replicated by any other artist (with perhaps the slight exception of some of Tim (Avicii)‘s earliest work), so what is it about your tracks that makes them so incredibly unique?
“A melody is a miniature world, a tiny little story on it’s own. There’s a question and an answer, an a slightly different question and new answer. Every melody starts by leaving the comfort of your home, creating a tension that wants to be resolved by the melody returning home again. That question might be an upward going melody line, and the answer the melody that comes back down again, and then you rephrase the question by climbing the mountain again through a slightly different route, only to find peace when you come back down again. It sounds a bit nerdy, and it probably is, but you can break down almost any good melody in these little question/answer segments. Regarding the euphoric quality, I try as much as possible to start melodies with a general upward going phrase, that usually starts on a minor chord and ends on a major chord (like in “Gregory’s Theme” and “Again and Again”). That creates a natural lift.”
Between the middle years of the decade, you seemed to stop releasing tracks with the same regularity, only dropping 1/2 per year after ‘I Rave You’ – Was this a conscious decision to take a step back, and focus entirely on quality rather than quantity?
“Mostly it had to do with being fed up with where EDM was going: harder, more formulaic, less original, a whole scene solely focused on money rather than making good music. It got so bad that I couldn’t even play my own songs during the peak of my sets on a main stage, because it was all about harder harder harder, and one DJ after another playing virtually identical sets. I’m a musician, I was never in it for the money, so at a certain point I was just done with it.”
How do you think the dance music scene has changed over the course of the past decade, and why is it that the popularity of certain sub-genres of dance music have experienced trending peaks in that time?
“Dance music, main stage EDM style dance music has fallen into the same trap as hip hop and R&B before: it started to be all about the money instead of the music. Artists became brands, focused on fame, money, status, recognition etc. Did I say money? Music has become so much of an afterthought that most of these artists are not even involved anymore in creating “their own” music. And while we’re being honest, most of them don’t even have the talent nor the skills to create the music that they’re putting out. How do you expect a genre to evolve and thrive if it’s no longer about the music? It comes as no surprise that the sub genres have started to flourish again. Real talent with real love for real music that decided to devote themselves entirely to their craft with passion, dedication, failure and even more passion and more dedication. That is what pushes music forward. There’s a good chance history will look back on the past 5 years of main stream EDM as the most anaemic, meaningless period in 70 years of pop history.”
Which artists do you, or have you ever, looked up to, or seen as personal inspirations to yourself?
“Ludwig van Beethoven, Gustav Mahler, Johann Sebastian Bach, Johannes Brahms, Richard Wagner, Pjotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Claude Debussy, Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Rachmaninov, Miles Davis, John Mayer.”
What does the future hold for Basto?
“The foreseeable future holds a Basto release every two weeks. Because I feel like trying to practice what I preach and contribute to electronic music in a way that I deem meaningful. And on a personal level, my own classical (piano) music that I’ve started to release under my own name Jef Martens last fall, and which took off as a rocket. It won’t come as a surprise when I tell you it’s extremely melodic!”
You can check out the exclusive PREMIERE of Basto’s new single, ‘The One’, below, right here: