Today’s feature is a long and thoughtful interview with a promoter, DJ and producer from Athens. Billy Widz hit us up just after getting back from Croatia where he and his parter at Big Bang Athens played the Ballroom with a mix out of the blue. We had a listen and we had a chat and things progressed to what you’ll read below. This one’s a long (but interesting) read so skip down to the mix and press play before you jump in…
Mr. Billy Widz! How are you?
Hello, I’m ok thanks! I’m trying to experience most good things life has to offer without getting caught up in the web of negativity. That can be very tricky sometimes, especially in Athens at the moment. I am thankful for the music and I am staying positive.
For those that don’t know you, can you introduce yourself?
Hey my name’s Billy and I grew up in Athens from Greek and French parents. I currently produce and DJ sub-heavy beats around 140 bpm under the Billy Widz alias. I’ve done studio engineering in the past for many bands and later worked as a producer with Athens-based reggae collective Fundracar, while also running the small vinyl imprint Renegade. I am a studio-head and I have luckily always had access to some sort of recording or mixing equipment. I’m also involved with filmmaking and video editing, which has been my day-job for a few years now, my personal highlight being the work I did last year, under another alias, for a seminal London label. Apart from running the BigBang night in Athens with my bro Jeph1, we both build beats and also DJ together on a bi-weekly show on Greece’s best radio, Paranoise. We also played b2b at Outlook Festival ‘12, Ballroom stage, which was a mental experience.
Would you describe yourself as a DJ or a producer? What came first, mixing or making tunes?
Both came naturally together. From a young age I have been involved with vinyl, tapes, mics, recording mixtapes, Fostex 4-tracks, early Mackie mixers, being the drummer in bands while also playing live & spinning music with friends at high-school parties and such… So I can’t really say the one came before the other! I’ve been involved (through DJing) in this little “scene” in Athens which I love so much for the past four years. I have also been playing at parties around Greece and a few festivals. I started messing around with 140bpm production some time ago as a side-project between recording bands, but I have only really taken it seriously – and seen it as a priority – for the past six months. I also feel that some of my best understanding of production came through DJing and analyzing what others are doing.
Tell us about BigBang Athens. When did you decide you wanted to promote the music as well as mixing and making? Who’ve you brought to Greece?
BigBang is Jeph1 & myself, but first and foremost it’s the people that reach to the dance every time. It is a bi-monthly night we run in Athens. Again, nothing was planned really. I luckily got introduced to Jeph through our friend MC Sadacore after a Pinch & Mary Anne Hobbs party in Athens back in the beginning of 2010. Back then we both had our nights with other friends also involved. I was more on a dub/jungle/techno vibe myself, while Jeph with his other crew FTF were more hip-hop and beats influenced. It was definitely our shared love for the darker, more minimal, sometimes tribal, sometimes techier, sometimes dubbier sound, that made us gradually bond and form the night after a discussion we held when playing together at a festival in July ‘11. Our first guest was V.I.V.E.K exactly one year ago, then Tunnidge, Goth-Trad and Jack-Sparrow, every two months each. We also did a Deep Medi ‘Heads’ print exhibition with Tunnidge at the venue we play, Bios. For this year the season kicks-off on Friday, November the 9th and we’re very excited to bring Quantum Soul to Athens. We basically started BigBang because there wasn’t a night in Athens devoted to the Medi or eyes-low vibe. No lights, big Funktion-One system, decks and a few DJs is what our night’s about. The people make it special. No-one cares about how you look or dance. It’s one love for the sound - foundation style. The smoking ban is also not working in Athens so a few herb clouds can always enrich the atmosphere. Apart from Jeph1 & myself spinning the previous slot to our guest, we also host local producers & DJs for the warmup and after slots, with people like Duckem, Insom, Harris Funxion, SRJ, Red, Circo Inverso, & Black Athena having graced us with wonderful sets. BigBang is also a radio show, which is an amazing effort from many talented individuals around the country and abroad, for a full-on radio experience. I can’t thank them enough for having us on the roster, since we get to constantly share our love for the sound, play dubs and latest releases, reaching more people every time. The radio ting is Jeph1 b2b myself with MCs Sadacore, 2Delta & the FJ Skullz rotating on the mic.
How do you go about building your tunes? What’s your production setup like?
I start in Logic but along the way I’ll also have Reason or Ableton running in a rewire set up, depending on what I’m after. Usually drums and some percussion first and then it’s a puzzle which somehow, sometimes gets finished. Probably atmospheres come second with the sub and bass being next. The truth is I don’t think there’s a definite pattern. The right pattern must be in the mindset and how you approach and connect with what you are doing. My main set up is Logic Pro, UAD2, Native Instruments Komplete and Trilian. I also use a fair amount of plugins for dynamics and effects, all running on a Macbook Pro connected to a MOTU interface. I also use the Nord Lead 2X synth, a TL valve compressor, few mics and some percussion. I own a lovely Toft Audio mixing desk from my analog studio days, which I haven’t used in a while, but I’d like to see that changing in the future and rediscover what happens when beats run through it. I use Mackie HR624 MKI and Genelec 8050 monitors. All that equipment aside, I firmly believe that a laptop, a DAW with a good selection of plugins and a pair of decent headphones are more than enough. Having said that, I really enjoy working in my studio which is a little sound-treated for reflections. I am moving to the Netherlands later this year though, so I’ll have to get used to a more portable setup, at least for a while.
Do you prefer turntables or CDJs for playing out? Do you think the opinions about playing one being better than the other are relevant?
If you’re a good DJ it shows and most times people will feel it and connect with you. I think the opinions about playing one being better than the other are very irrelevant. Obviously vinyl will sound warmer and more pleasant on a properly tuned sound system with big subs, serviced turntables and an engineer who knows what he’s doing. Other times though turntables are plain FKOFed from years of abuse and it’s frustrating playing on them, or it could be an underground rave booking which usually won’t have turntables these days. At the end of the day the decks are just an interface between the DJ and the people. What matters for me is how the person is controlling the interface. Of course I love watching a DJ play vinyl and dubs but I can surely understand why the vast majority of DJs spinning acetates and vinyl in the past have moved on to CDJs and Serato. I personally love collecting & spinning vinyl, I get most of my tunes cut to acetate at Dubstudio in Bristol and I have an addiction to that whole culture, but I also love using Serato control vinyl when playing out and on radio, so basically it’s best of both worlds for me. It’s also much cheaper not having to cut every dub I feel like playing out. More recently though I acquired a pair of second hand CDJ-900s, which I like a lot, so I am getting used to them at home for use at gigs later this year. I’m also planning on using CDJs in Amsterdam next season where most mid-sized nights don’t have turntables usually these days. The “compatibility” factor is a big bonus with CDJs.
You’ve brought a selection of some of the best DJs and producers in dubstep to Athens. If you could pick a gig that stands out, which would you choose - and why?
I think both Jeph1 and I couldn’t pick one. Yeah all 4 of them are amazing artists and great characters so I really can’t choose. V.I.V.E.K’s gig was so deep with an amazing spaced-out quality to it, Tunnidge destroyed a full house Chestplate-style, both Goth-Trad gigs in Athens and Thessaloniki were pure gold. We also got to fly with Goth-Trad for the second gig and spend more time together which was nice. He dropped so many of his tunes plus bare Mala and Skream dubs. Finally the Jack Sparrow gig was again very special, being also the Athens Outlook launch party, he played lots of styles which I enjoyed alot, many Author dubs and closed his set at 170 bpm. I can’t thank all of them enough for the positive vibes they brought and I can’t wait now for what Quantum Soul has in the bag for kicking off this season.
How do you see the dubstep sound progressing over the next few years? What will we all be listening to this time next year?
No one knows and I feel that is the beauty of it. Each year new producers surface with their unique twist on the sound and this is what drives the scene forward. I do believe though that next year the techier sound Youngsta is pushing at the moment, and all the producers he’s involved with lately, will evolve even more and push the boundaries in directions we can’t think of yet. Icicle, Proxima, Killawatt, Biome, KM, Seven, Kaiju, Amit, Truth and the Tempa roster are all killing at the moment. I can also see the Deep Medi sound and family expanding even more next year. V.I.V.E.K, Quest, Goth-Trad, Commodo, Jack Sparrow are all on fire and I won’t be surprised if Kahn gets on board soon. The Chestplate, Osiris and Black Box crews are releasing gem after gem, I love the variety on Tectonic and Antisocial are upping their game all the time. On the other hand young labels having just celebrated their first anniversaries like M.U.D and Innamind have already built an impressive back-catalog and Tribe12 is also killing it. The scene in my opinion is healthier than ever and very inspiring at the moment. Producers from all over the globe are contributing to the sound and it feels very exciting. On a non-140 tip I love how Kromestar is pushing the bass boundaries with The Immortalz, same goes for Om Unit and the Cosmic Bridge crew. Also I can’t wait for what Swamp, Keysound, Burial & Old Apparatus all have to offer in ‘13 and finally I hope we get blessed by a new Horsepower album. Benny Ill is the don.
In terms of advice, what are your top points for new producers and DJs looking to get heard, signed or booked?
Build beats, more beats, set up a night, more beats, more beats, record mixes, built beats, play on radio, more beats, more beats, hook up with like-minded producers, build beats, more beats and forget about Twitter, Facebook and forums for a change. When I see big talk from young producers up online, I get the impression some are producing mostly to impress their friends or girlfriends and I feel they’re in it for ego complacency foremost. But ego and impatience combined with free production tools and free web space are responsible for a lot of force-fed mediocre stuff no one cares about. For most producers it’s a hobby anyway, one that will eventually be put aside when they move on with life, so please stop pretending that it’s all so important and rather enjoy what you do. Music is for real, if you’re serious about it, “stay in the trenches”. When your tunes get good, then you’ll get noticed. When you get noticed, eventually you’ll get signed to a quality label and then you’ll get heard by more and get booked. I feel it’s a long process like a marathon, a slower but long distance race. Don’t stop and never get discouraged. Learn more everyday and do it with more love because you enjoy producing or DJing, not for the end product, not for the tune, the set or the hype. A serious label is willing to invest time, money & much effort in an artist, so it is only fair for an artist to be ready to invest in his art. Otherwise anyone can upload some tunes up online these days on bandcamp and become a label, but most times no one pays attention or remembers those artists and tunes the next moment. What is the point of having these releases out for sale and spending energy to promote something that is mediocre? Try to find your sound, don’t jump from one bandwagon to the next. Refine your sound, do it for the long run. It is said that you need x hrs of practice to “make it” anyway. This x number also depends on each individual artist but nevertheless they’re alot of hours. Might be just 2 or 3 years for some, might be 10 years for others, you never know, so you might as well enjoy all this time and effort. Basic stuff really but traps into which we could all easily fall. Self knowledge is a virtue worth pursuing in the Arts. Also for some, including myself, eating healthy, getting some regular form of exercise and having some early nights per week can massively boost creativity. Sometimes all you have to do is to forget about music, go have a walk or a run, ride a bike or go swim, read a book, play a game of chess or watch a film. Find what works best for you. Finally, repetition and “showing up” is hugely important. You can’t write big tunes if you’re rarely in the studio.
Tell us about your mix for MIG x FKOF…
I recorded this mix the day after returning to Athens in September from playing Outlook Festival. I used Technics 1200s and Serato and it features 6 tunes of mine, which for the most part I got an offer to release, but which I finally decided to rather keep on dubs. The mix also includes dubs by Jeph1, Quantum Soul, Gantz and Ekelon. In addition I included released tunes I am feeling by Vivek, Mala, Commodo, Wayfarer and a couple more. The idea behind the mix was to showcase some of my tunes and those I’m feeling by others for the first part and for the later part to convey the listener with a tribal-percussive-subbed out feeling, which I like to get into when playing out. It was also a way to part with that batch of dubs before starting the next one, which is the batch I am working on right now and which I can already see fitting in a few players’ bags. On a side-note the mix closes with Rastaman Chant by Bob which we dropped at the end of our set at Outlook, at 5am in the Ballroom – a special moment.
Yeah mad respect to everyone coming to the events, everyone locked to our shows on Paranoise, Jeph1, Mr Mazz, my Fundracar fam & Professor Skank, Sadacore, 2Delta & FJ Skullz, all the Paranoise massive, Runner, Insom & all crews pushing the sound with love in Greece. All producers sending me their dubs, all DJs we played with last season in Athens, all booking agents we’ve worked with and the Bios crew. Also big up Quantum Soul, Gantz, J.Robinson, Ekelon, Compa, Numa Crew, Peng Sound, Dubstudio, Vagabondz, Subdub & Outlook and of course FKOF and everyone reading this and feeling the sound. 1Luv
Best dubstep track ever produced is…? ‘
Livin’ Different’ by Mala. ‘Education’ again by Mala and ‘The Goat Stare’ by Loefah come in pretty close though.
Best label in dubstep is…?
DMZ each and every time, second to none.
I think Billy’s interview is one of the most thoughtful I’ve read - a lot of time, effort and love went into those answers. It’s always awesome to read those kind of interviews! Luckily for those of you out there who like your mixes deep and subby, Billy Widz has putt the same effort into his addition to the MakeItGood x FKOF series - his mix is truly brilliant. 19 tracks, 45 odd minutes, a good number of dubs and ending with a Bob Marley song. Can’t ask for anything more…
Click to DOWNLOAD
1. Billy Widz - 1Luv [dub]
2. Billy Widz - Deliverance [dub]
3. Quantum Soul - Xolotl [dub]
4. Ekelon - Ital Sounds [Free download]
5. Billy Widz - Kapari [dub]
6. Wayfarer - Fall Of The Zulu [Tribe 12]
7. Olie Bassweight - The Void (3rdeye remix) [Bassweight]
8. Billy Widz - Flatlinerz [dub]
9. Gantz - Tesseract [dub]
10. Billy Widz - Forest [dub]
11. Jeph1 - Genesis [dub]
12. Billy Widz - Mentor’s Trap [dub]
13. Commodo - Buckwild [Deep Medi]
14. Gantz - Cave Dance [Innamind]
15. Mala - Cuba Electronica [Brownswood]
16. Quantum Soul - Otherside [dub]
17. V.I.V.E.K - Meditation Rock [Deep Medi]
18. Quantum Soul - High Priest [dub]
19. Bob Marley & The Wailers - Rasta Man Chant [Tuff Gong]
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