Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Skellington Crew - Max Golfar gets to know Duke Skellington

Duke Skellington is an American electro-swing producer and DJ from Los Angeles, and he is also part of the production duo The Vaude Villainz. He is also a promoter for Electro Swing events in the West Coast of America and runs his own podcast with Professor Watson, called the Jitterbug Jukebox. I caught up with The Duke, and spoke about a few things such as the American Electro Swing scene, his own music productions and his history behind how he got to where he is now as a producer, and we also spoke about some of the projects that he is working on.

What is the American electro-swing scene like, could you tell me a bit about it?

I have my best insight in California, what I can say about it is that in LA it is growing. We have a core of people. It’s weird, a lot of people like the sound but they don’t know it is an actual scene. I went out to see Parov Stelar and I saw Caravan Palace and it was massive! Jam packed, really big arenas, it was crazy; but as far as the local electro-swing events, we haven’t figured out how to tap into that group yet.

I think what it is, these people hear groups like Parov Stelar and Caravan Palace, they don’t know it’s a scene, they think it is like house music with a bit of swing in it, and they say ‘I like it’! They think of these supergroups as being unique to themselves, rather than part of this global movement. I think there needs to be an education process in bridging the gap between those artists and your Dutty Moonshines and Catjams, the artists doing really great music, but they’re not as massive as those guys… yet.

Me and a couple other buddies, The Gentleman Callers of LA and a guy from Swingtronic, Marshall, we had a meeting at the beginning of the year. We have some big strategies in place to take over and bridge those gaps and to build the networks and throw the events! LA is tough though, it’s big and it’s super spread out. If we throw a big event in Downtown LA, all the people in the West Side and Long Beach, they don’t want to drive out to it because they don’t want to deal with drinking and driving and it’s super expensive to get a taxi! So we’re trying to bring electro-swing to every little community in LA, and we’re looking to build our base.

I feel with other cities in America, except San Francisco, they are right there with us, I think they are in a similar place, but I think they just don’t have as a big of a crowd.

We throw these parties called Trapeze parties, it’s like a warehouse rave, but with electro-swing mostly, and we have burlesque dancers in between, we have magicians sometimes too. We have a bit of a circus element. We have a certain crowd of what we call ‘Burners’, some gypsy, some hippy, artsy, folky kind of people, all kinds of ages, from late teens to thirties. A real hodgepodge of people coming to our electro-swing events.

Trapeze events:

What have you found Los Angeles crowds respond best to at electro-swing/Vintage Remix events?

That’s tough… there are different crowds that respond to different things. I’ve DJ’d at different events, like Swingtronic for example is an event which is people who are mainly into classic Swing and are into classic Swing dancing, but also there is a part of the night where we bring in electro-swing, and when I am DJ’ing there, I play less grime-y and less bass heavy stuff and more classic electro-swing like your Parov Stelars, and a lot of the Freshly Squeezed stuff. It can be House-y but it doesn’t get too electronic. Although, when I do Trapeze, I get really bass heavy and grimey, I bring out the stuff that crosses over into the really really glitched out and nasty stuff and people love it! If I were to talk about Americans in general, if I had to pick a majority, I would say they lean more towards the more electronic and bass-y stuff, but there definitely is a crowd for more ‘classic electro-swing’.

Where did the name Duke Skellington come from?

I was just doing plays on words and with old Swing artists names, and I was actually going to go by ‘Duke Skeleton’, and I was talking to a few friends about it but they kept saying ‘Duke Skellington’ and I was like why do you keep calling me that? I was then like, ‘wait a minute…’ if everyone is saying that, maybe there is something to it. So I did a poll with a few of my friend’s who I really value their judgement and I asked them what they preferred and they unanimously said they preferred ‘Duke Skellington’.

What plans do you have for your upcoming productions?

The plan for this year is a want to put out a free remix tune every month. It will be free for thirty days and each tune I want to ramp it up so that I can get more followers and stuff… on top of that, under The Vaude Villains I am releasing an album on Ragtime Records, four songs are coming out in the next month or two. Also, some stuff on Green Queen, on a compilation, it’s a song called Turtle Glitch, it’s a remix of a song called Turtle Twist. It’s a really fun track. I would like to have a 4 song EP out this year under Duke Skellington that is going to be mostly original joints, I want it to be with vocalists, and as much as I love doing remixes, I think I’ve got to break out of doing the remix thing and put out some originals too, so I can put my stuff out there in its own lane.

How long have you been producing and have you produced under different aliases before?

Yeah I’ve been producing since I was 15 or 16 years old in the late 90’s doing electronic music, back then the scene was so different… even before that I was a piano player and I wrote my first actual Swing song when I was 14.

I was into Swing music before I was even into electronic music. In the 90’s there was this style of music called The Swing Revival, Neo Swing. There were bands like Royal Crown Revue, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Squirrel Nut Zippers, and I was super into it! I was then playing in bands and then I got bored of the band scene, and then I got into electronic music. I never really thought those two worlds would collide and I always thought I would have to choose one and never thought they would end up blending together.

Since that time, since 1999, I’ve done a few different genres. I was really into Aphex Twin, what they call IDM. I did music under the name ‘Chad Cells’. It was very IDM-y and Aphex Twin-ish. I still have a soft spot in my heart for that guys music. I also used to rap! I did Hip-Hop for a long time, been in different Hip-Hop groups and put out some releases. All throughout that time I’ve experimented with House, DnB, a little Dubstep before it got too big, pretty much everything under the sun.

Chad Sells Rap Release ‘Skulls & Butterflies’:

Because of my age I’ve done a lot - I was in the military, I have a kid - so there were different points in my life where things would take me in a different direction and I couldn’t focus on music as much as I wanted to. So there was a certain point where I was like, I can’t let life keep taking me away from what I am passionate about, so in the last few years I’ve really started buckling down on production and I’ve been trying to learn new ways to do things in a quicker way and a more efficient way.

I think there is a point in every producer's path where they go ‘man it’s good but it doesn’t sound like the stuff I’m DJ’ing, it’s not quite there’. I think every producer gets to that. Either one of two things happen, they either quit or they go ‘you know what, I’m not going to stop until I figure that out’. That’s where that fire got lit in me, where I’m like ‘I’m going to figure this shit out’. I thought my songs would be good but they would have something missing. I’ve been developing these techniques to figure out what other people do and trying to apply that to my own stuff. I feel that’s been a big part of my evolution in the last few years, I feel my production skills have gone up. I’ve only been doing electro-swing for about two years, but it now feels like a natural style for me.

Which artists influence you and your music? In the electro-swing community, and outside of it too.

So definitely Aphex Twin and Squarepusher were my early influences for sure, outside of ES that is. Inside of ES it would be… you know what, it would be that song by Gramophonedzie ‘Do Right’, I heard that song maybe four or five years ago, I thought it was amazing and I didn’t even realise it was a genre. I loved hearing the old and the new mixed together. That kind of planted the seed, so that song influenced me back then. I now think songs like Swing Break, those more glitchy Swing tracks, everybody from Howla to WBBL to Phibes, those guys all doing there thing have been very influential to me.

So you run your own podcast called the Jitterbug Jukebox. Could you please tell me a little about it, what it is, and what you discuss on your show?

Jitterbug Jukebox is a podcast with me and my partner Marshall AKA Professor Watson, and basically we’re focusing on the music from the 20s to the 40s and the subcultures that surround it and also in its current form of Electro Swing, which is big in Europe and it is building here in the US. We focus on interviewing artists, fashion, dancing; Marshall’s a professional Swing dancer, so he talks about Electro Swing and Swing dancing and how those areas go together. We want to do more historical sections on artists from those eras, that maybe people don’t know about their history. We’re focusing on Swing music from the past to the present and we try and cover it from every angle.

Jitterbug Jukebox:

What is the Swing DnB and general Drum and Bass scene like in Los Angeles/America? What’s it prevalence in the Electro Swing community?

I’ll be blunt, there isn’t a strong scene for it, people don’t even know it’s a thing. It just gets lumped into Electro Swing in general. Drum and Bass though, I have friends who have been doing DnB for almost 20 years! I had a conversation with one of my buddies who has a DnB radio show, and his feeling on it is, and I don’t know if other people feel like this but, he thinks the UK is so prominently doing DnB that when he throws an event, he says he can’t get people to come out to it unless there is a big UK headliner. There is a core of people who love DnB, but they kind of look to the UK… but I know there are a lot of producers in the US who do DnB, but I’m sure there are American producers who have been successful with it, but I haven’t gotten too deep into American DnB producers. What I do understand though about the DnB scene out here is that they do very much look to the UK. Whilst other things like Trap, that may not be so much the case. I used to be into Jungle in the late 90’s, that was the shit! I was getting my mind blown every event I went to!

What production software do you use and why?

Ableton Live. I like it because it has treated me the best over all the years! I’ve used like five different DAW’s in my history of production, my last one I was using was Logic Pro and I was using that up to 2010, but yeah Ableton Live has some key features in it that I will probably keep using for a while longer.

What music, other than electro-swing do you particularly like?

I’m an Old-Skool Hip-Hop kind of guy, so definitely Hip-Hop. It’s funny my 9 year old son, he gets me listening to songs I would never listen to. They are like the pop radio Hip-Hop stuff, but I probably know more lyrics and songs that are on the radio than I have ever known in my life!

I actually tried to show him how easy it is to make a Trap beat, I build 808’s and I have drum kits, so I said if you want to make music like this, this what you have to do. So I started messing about, so I then decided I’m gonna make this into a Swing and Trap tune, it’s almost there!


Duke Skellington Soundcloud:

Duke Skellington latest song - ‘Life Goes To A Party’

Vaude Villainz Soundcloud:

Duke Skellington Facebook:

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Red Light Reverie

Sam Baker

Sam Baker asks if the electro swing can play a similar role in combatting toxic politics as the original sound.

As we envelop ourselves in the re-creation of a genre long thought dead, reviving fashions, songs, and slang, it’s brutally important that we do not ignore the deeper meanings and the historical parallels, as well as the differences between our world and those of ages past.

Swing has meant many things to many people throughout it’s century-old history. To many Americans, it represented the opulence of the Twenties, and later an escape from the desolation of the Thirties. For blacks in Harlem, it meant a means to own their own personage in an era where most minorities were kept from owning land and exercising their right to vote. In Europe, it was a cultural travel-agent, allowing people to leave their homes and scoot across the Atlantic and the English Channel by means of the short-wave radio and innumerable local dance halls. Even the Nazis couldn’t quell the thirst for swing’s syncopated rhythms and blasting brass.

The music known today as electro swing is often very much apart in terms of performance from the genre we celebrate. Today it is mostly DJ/Producer-centric, albeit with a handful of stellar live bands and live-electronic hybrids; however, the early days of swing and jazz in general were a free-for-all of wild improvisation and musical conversation. What it’s lost in spontaneity though, it has made up for in community forged through means never before imaginable. Early swing made a world tour by way of the radio, and to this day has continued to step in time with the forefront of technology.

Swing bands, once eschewing even amplification, have now taken up the mantle of electronic bass and digital performance. DJs freely meld together sounds from the early years of jazz and swing with sounds so forward they sound as if they’re from a future which has yet to come. And somewhere in this tug and pull of yearning for the past whilst reaching for tomorrow, something is cooking the likes of which haven’t been seen since the hot houses of New Orleans’ Red Light District on the eve of the Great War and the birth of the modern era.

Swing is distinctly American, and yet it is not. The rhythm and the melodies came largely from traditions rooted deeply in Africa, fuelled by Hindu cannabis spread by the Spanish, and nurtured at the breast of a largely French city before steam boating up the Mississippi and out through the arteries of a nation still searching for it’s voice and identity. Today, we see and hear the results of it’s curation to and by the rest of the world and the results have been astounding.

Unlike many other popular musical movements, such as hardcore rock and mainstream EDM, the progenitors of electro-swing and neo-vintage connect across borders and disparate cultures, almost instinctively. This reminds us all of the fact that we are global citizens first, and national citizens second.

In the era of European fascism, swing was a bridge between increasingly separated worlds. Men like G√ľnter Discher risked life and limb to collect and share the sounds and styles of swing, eventually spending three years in a concentration camp for his brazen defiance of the Nazi’s cultural control.

Swing wasn’t outright banned, but was controlled and scrutinised, it’s patronage punished. It was “nigger-kyke” music in the eyes of the Nazis so those who enjoyed and proliferated it were identified as enemies of the state, routinely being beaten, arrested, and thrown in concentration camps.

Now, we face a wave of democratic nationalism which threatens to undo more than a half century of multicultural integration and democratic advancement. As people seeking power aim to split people across ethnic divides, it’s all the more important to highlight what we share with our fellow humans.

We are not, as many people like to claim, at the gates of fascism. Fascism took hold as a reaction to a very real threat of communism, in an age where Bolshevists had just violently stripped entire classes of people of their land, wealth, and titles and in which Communists clashed with authorities in the streets of Germany using guns and grenades. Hitler, for example, was able to play off these fears and invoke Article 48, allowing for suspension of democratic rule in the face of a state crisis.

Things may seem grossly divided, but we aren’t embroiled in the often-fatal political violence of the 30’s. We are; however, seeing a rise of ethnic nationalism which threatens to undermine and unravel the European Union, as well as the relative peace enjoyed in America. The far reach of this is hard to predict, but it would certainly lead to less stable markets and more polarised populations. Unlike the fascists, the modern nationalists seek power through democracy, as opposed to trying to unseat it. It’s a crucial difference and important to avoid alarming sensationalism which only further divides us. This still doesn’t bode well for free and prosperous societies, as even those nationalist surges which do well by economic indicators leave behind those they characterised as out-groups to scapegoat in the pursuit of power.

So here we are, swinging into the future with our hearts in the past. As we, strap on our suspenders, don our stetson hats, and groove to house beats beneath the swing-era hits, let’s remember where we come from and keep close to heart where we can grow from here. As the swingjugend of Germany did, we must strive to highlight what we share in common, and express ourselves through voice of art and dance, transcending class, creed, and borders. Those who seek to divide us don’t stand a chance if we continue to come together over what we love — building bridges instead of walls.

— I would like to thanks Benjamin Studebaker, longtime friend and current PhD candidate at Cambridge, for taking the time to discuss the histories of fascism and nationalism in modern times.—