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Interview: Protoculture talks about his album and more!

April 25, 2014
Armada caught up with South Africa's Protoculture to talk about his new artist album ‘Music Is More Than Mathematics' and more!

Hey Nate, how’s life? Are you excited for the release of ‘Music Is More Than Mathematics’?
Hey! Yes, life is great and I’m am indeed very excited. I’ve been working on this for a year and a half now, and it’s always a fantastic feeling when your work is finally realised in a finished product.

You’re staring down the barrel of an impressive FOURTH studio album.  Was there a particular motivation or inspiration that was the source of this record?
Well, its my first album with Armada which in itself was a big motivation and inspiration. I’ve gone through quite a lot of changes stylistically over the last few years, my last studio album ‘Love Technology’ was very much a crossover album for me and I feel that with ‘Music is More than Mathematics’ I’ve really reached a good space musically.

The soundscapes in your music are like nothing else.  Can you tell us something about how you approach the genesis of an album?  Do you start with singles, or do you have a “grand vision” for the album as a whole before you start?
I often get asked questions like this and I always find them quite tricky to answer. Music is a very organic thing for me, as is putting together an album. I don’t usually have any idea what I’m doing at the onset. I write music predominantly because I love it, so for me it is really important to focus on enjoying myself rather than meticulously planning what to do. I obviously had a rough idea in that I wanted to do some vocal tracks, some more serious dance floor tracks and so forth but that’s about the extent of the ‘vision’ I had.

Obviously there’s more than just number-crunching in this release. How important do you believe knowledge of real musical instruments is to constructing a lasting electronic record?
As the name of the album implies, yes, it is important for me. Meaningful melody really plays a huge part in the music I make, something which I sometimes find is lost these days in dance music. Being classically trained, in my case in piano, or being proficient with an instrument does give you the tools to express yourself quickly and easily, especially when, if like me, your focus is on melody and conveying emotion for driving the track forward.

The collaborations on this album are powerful, and tastefully done.  How do you go about finding either a vocalist or co-producer? Are there certain requirements in your mind for who you will or won’t work with?
Again, I didn’t really set out with a clear vision for who I wanted to collaborate with. Obviously, a vocal or style of an artist has to be compatible with what I want to do, but otherwise I’m pretty much open to anything. Most of the collaborations on the album started off as friendly banter between myself and the artists in question, or as vocal demos which really caught my eye (ear?). I often like working with a vocal that’s already been recorded rather than writing a backing track. That way I get to really build something around the vocal from the onset, rather than have the vocalist conform to what I initially had in mind. ‘Vertigo’ was a perfect example of this, where Ilana sent me a vocal that had been done for a different track that they had never finished. I got hold of it and we scrapped the backing and even the original chords completely and ended up with, in my opinion, one of the most moving and beautiful tracks on the album. The collaborations with Shane Halcon and Jennifer Rene, as well as the one with Johnny Yono and Lynn Olsen on the other hand, both started out as backing tracks.

For budding or experienced producers, is there a Protoculture sound design or production secret you’d like to share?
Layer everything. Then take those layers and layer them again. I often end up with track after track playing the same line with slightly different sounds. It does make your job a lot harder at the end of the day when it comes to mix downs, but I love the thickness and warmth you get from complex layered sounds and atmospheres. There’s also sometimes an element of chance, which I love. You’ll be adding things and all of a sudden you’ll stumble on that one little sound which interacts in just the right way with everything else to make something really special.

Your fans will undoubtedly be wanting a tour from you when this record drops, are there any current plans in the works?
Most definitely! I’ve had a quiet beginning to 2014 mostly due to me taking some time off to spend with the family as we’re expecting our first baby. Rest assured though, my team is working on plenty of tour dates and some great festivals for the summer. We’ll be touching on all the major continents this year so keep your eyes peeled for dates in your country.

Not many globe-trotting DJs call Cape Town home.  How do you feel your geographical location has helped/influenced/hurt(?) your career?
As far as travel is concerned, Cape Town is a bit of a nightmare to travel from. It’s isolated and expensive to fly from, and I’ve spent far more hours on long-haul flights than I care to mention. That said, South Africa, and indeed Cape Town, is a very special place that I hold very dear. I think it’s played a huge role and influence in my sound over the years, and living in a place this beautiful does tend to soften the blow when taking the travel into consideration.

Do you ever feel the pressure of trends in “EDM” (which is something of a loaded word these days)?  Is it possible to produce relevant records without conforming to the current tastes?
Yes, for sure. Anybody relying on music sales and live shows for a living does feel the pressure, especially when you see the EDM (Why do we even call it that? haha) scene blowing up like it has in last few years around the world. It is tempting to follow the trends, but I feel it is more important to stay honest and true to yourself. I believe music is quite transparent, in the sense that you can often hear when someone created something from the heart, or created it for other reasons. I try really hard to make sure I always fall into the former group. That’s not to say one should be bound by one particular genre though. I’m all for experimentation and variety, as I think is the case on my new album.

Ideally, what do the next 5 years look like for you?
Well, I’m about to become a dad, release a new album and hopefully relocate to Europe, so this year is already looking very busy! Other than that, all I can really ask for a is a steady stream of shows and the continued support of all the amazing fans around the world.

Thank you very much for you time — we wish you all the best for this album!

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