“I THINK THE INTERNET IN GENERAL CAN BE SO SATURATED THAT NEARLY EVERYTHING YOU CAN IMAGE HAS BEEN DONE BEFORE.”
“Sticking to the formula” was long the standard for making it in the electronic music scene. Take the most popular electronic trend, riff off of it just enough that you could call it your own, and you had a fairly straightforward path to success. When you stayed in vogue, you got radio plays, sold out big shows, and became a known commodity.
Since the introduction of streaming services, however, that formulaic, structured path has become much more open-ended and free-form. There is no one way to become successful, leaving artists the option to create music that’s similar to what’s popular, or to branch out in a new direction. Artists are now more free than ever to create music that pushes the boundaries of their genres as well, without the fear of operating completely outside of the view of a listening audience.
Taking advantage of that industry evolution is 21-year-old electronic artist Taska Black. The Antwerp, Belgium-based producer blends his classical music training with a progressive electronic ear, combining thoughtfully written lyrics that have meaning and depth, along with masterfully composed scores that balance atmospheric melodies with dark bass lines. This manifestation of electronic music differs from the EDM of yore, and he’s not alone in creating it.
Along with his fellow counterparts at music label bitbird, Taska Black is changing the common perception of the genre as a whole, and may very well be at the forefront of a new trend in electronic. The end goal? To find a balance between pop and electronic that attracts listeners who are otherwise typically averse to traditional EDM.
With two new releases in the last two weeks, “Dead Inside”, featuring singer Ayelle, and a collaboration with San Holo in “Right Here, Right Now”, that goal seems as achievable and real as ever. Read our feature interview with Taska Black below to get to know the man behind the electronic music that’s bending genre standards.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
EB: Let’s talk about your new single “Dead Inside”. The song itself stays mostly in line with the music you’ve put out so far, but it has a bit more optimism to it. Can you tell me about the direction you wanted to take this song compared to what you’ve put out in the past?
TB: Initially I had this dark majestic atmosphere in my head that I wanted to create musically. I had this little melody and lyric line in my head, “I’m dead inside.” So I started writing the lyrics, and kind of like I always do, I started creating an atmosphere with my music. And then I got introduced to Ayelle, and we finished the song together and sat down later on. When we started talking to video producers, we actually got to the real meaning of the song, of this depression amongst millennials and all. That’s really where I wanted to take things, and it’s kind of a more experimental song for me compared to my other tracks. It’s also a relatively short track, but I think that’s all how it was supposed to be. I didn’t want to make it long and pop-structured, but I wanted to be experimental and send a message.
EB: tell me, as a millennial yourself, do you think that part of this “millennial depression” has to do with everything in our lives being put out on social media, visible to the whole world?
TB: Yeah, definitely. I think the internet in general can be so saturated that nearly everything you can imagine has been done before. And social media, of course, plays a big role in this, and kind of sets a standard for how people should act, how people should think, how people should look. Social media has also been a channel for people to push out so much more content than ever before. So I think people are not easily impressed anymore, and that’s what kind of evokes this depression, in my opinion.
EB: There are some interesting visuals in the music video, like the person sitting in front of the burning computer or the burning car. Did you have any involvement in the direction or the vision of the music video?
TB: Yeah, that’s actually me sitting in front of the computer. We worked closely with the directors from Blom Productions, they made the video. So we started brainstorming on the meaning of the song, and they actually had the first idea of “Hey, this actually makes me think of the depression among millennials.” So it was their idea first, and then we got thinking about that, and how we could represent it visually. We had the idea of having a couple of scenes that really classically represented [these] feelings, like the girl on the yellow slide with the yellow pullover, and me in the car not being impressed at all when it’s interesting all over the place…me laying in the coffin – these are all metaphors for being dead inside, so to speak.
We kind of talked about the meaning of the song and then they came up with these ideas, these scenes, then we executed everything together.
EB: It’s really a cool video, and the song itself, as you mentioned, sort of takes a more pop route. With your vision for the project, do you want to move your music or play in the area of pop a little bit more than you have in the past?
TB: Definitely. I feel like my last couple of releases have been all over the place, but somehow they still sound like me. Over these last couple of releases I’ve really come to get to know my strengths and my weaknesses. In the future I really want to find a perfect merge between pop music and what I’m doing. I’m really in the middle of exploring sounds and seeing how I can manage to do that. It just seems like everything I do still sounds like me somehow, too. That allows me to explore different genres too, so I’m not bound to one specific sound.
“MY MUSIC IS VERY MELODIC AND THERE’S ALWAYS AN ATMOSPHERE I TRY TO CREATE.”
EB: how did you come about discovering those (strengths and weaknesses) with your music? Was it by listening to other people’s music, hearing criticism or praise – how did you identify what you believe your strengths and weaknesses are?
TB: It comes from other people, and from criticism… People calling my music majestic – that’s the first time I heard the word, and I thought “Yeah, that’s actually a pretty good description of my music.” I found that I did use [that idea] more in my music, and tried to make that feeling more prominent in my music. My music is very melodic and there’s always an atmosphere I try to create. I’ve tried the opposite and I learned that I’m not very good at that. So I told myself just to stick to the melodic stuff, the majestic stuff, stay chill, stick to what you’re good at – so that’s what I’m trying to do now.
EB: I’ve used the word “cinematic” before to describe your music. It sort of plays this balance between the atmospheric light tones, and then the dark, heavy bass. Between the light and dark, what attracted you toward that sort of contrast?
TB: Honestly, initially when I started I had no idea what I was doing. I dipped into the jar of future bass and I just started doing things that I thought felt right. After some releases, I just got the hang of it and I thought that was part of my sound, you know? So I just did more and more without really thinking about it.
EB: You mentioned to Earmilk that the second part of your stage name, “Black”, refers to your style and aesthetic. Can you describe to me how this identity of “black” or darkness ties into your own identity and your music?
TB: Initially I had to come up with a stage name really quickly, because I wanted to put out a remix. I had this name “Taska” but I thought, a lot of people won’t remember “Taska”, so I thought it needed a familiar name. So I added the word “Black”, and that’s what people remember somehow: “It’s something Black, “Taska Black”. I think black, for me, refers to how I wanted my aesthetic to look, because I didn’t have an aesthetic back when I started. But, I wanted it to be kind of obscure, a little bit sad, not colorful or rainbowy.
To put it into musical terms, I use a lot of minor chords more than major chords. The message can be positive, but the music is rather sad, and I had that in mind from the beginning, so I think that’s what the word “Black” refers to.
“EVERY SINGLE SONG I MAKE STILL STARTS BEHIND MY PIANO.”
EB: Let’s talk a little about your background a little bit.
Having grown up with music, and from a young age being put in music classes learning classical instruments, I think a lot of people would have burnt out by 21 years old. But you’re still doing it. What about music and producing has kept your interest over time?
TB: The lust to create, really. Since I graduated at this music school for teenagers, I stopped playing from sheet music and all I did was improvise. I actually stopped by my piano room today just to fiddle around and play some chords or some interesting melodies. And I think in my head I keep having the feeling like I have yet to create my best song, and I think that’s the feeling that gives me at least decent governance.
I’ve never had the feeling that I’ve created my best song ever, and I don’t think I’ll ever have that feeling (laughs). I don’t think I ever want to have that feeling. I think it takes away the lust to create something even better. I know people that have had one big hit, that afterwards really struggle with trying to be better than that one song. That hasn’t been the case for me and I’m pretty happy with [it], honestly.
EB: it’s a good problem to never have reached your pinnacle.
Growing up playing those instruments and learning the theory behind it, you think it influenced your music nowadays significantly?
TB: Definitely. First, because I had to play a lot of classical music, which has of course impacted my style. But also because I’m able to play the piano now, and every single song I make still starts behind my piano. I wouldn’t be able to create the music I make today without playing the piano. Every single melody that’s in my head, I try to play it on my piano, or I just sit down at my piano and come up with some new chords that are interesting. That’s how every new song comes together.
“I’M TRYING TO TELL A STORY, MORE THAN TO CREATE A COOL BEAT OR SOMETHING.”
EB: Your music always has this sort of intro and then it leads into the song and it creates that sort of story for the song, rather than just being right into a chorus or big beat. I certainly appreciate that about it. It’s more complex in nature.
TB: I really tried, yeah. That’s kind of the EDM versus my open intros that put the vocal in front of the track. I’m trying to tell a story, more than to create a cool beat or something.
EB: It’s sort of on the bleeding edge of where electronic is going. There’s a split, there’s club tracks and exploratory electronic. Do you think that electronic as a whole is moving away from just creating heavy club beats?
TB: Yeah, I think so. I think people are more and more open to new sorts of music and new subgenres in electronic. I don’t think people want to hear just club bangers anymore. I think people are way more open to complex songwriting or just a great rhythm, vocal, or a deeper story behind a song. I think the mainstream is way more open to this now more than ever.
EB: There’s gotta be a large learning curve to electronic production, especially when you’re not trying to repeat music that other people have created before. Have you found it difficult to create your own sound instead of imitating others?
TB: Yeah, I struggled with this for a long time. For a long time I was trying to replicate other people’s sound. But as I said, when I sent my first song to bitbird they thought I was something special, and it was really musical to them. It was my song “Right Now” and it had some acoustic drums in it. I thought that was how it was supposed to be, but apparently it was way more musical than how EDM was at the time.
So I felt like, okay, I have this musical asset that other people don’t seem to have. So it’s really finding my strengths and my weaknesses, and just trying to do stuff like that instead of trying to copy other people’s sound.
EB: Being a part of the bitbird family, you have yourself, DROELOE, San Holo, and you all have similar sounds. Do you think being around the bItbird family has made your music better, and how has bitbird been able to advance your career?
TB: I think it was like two or three years ago that I signed my first song with bitbird. I’ve learned a lot from being in the studio with people like DROELOE and San, of course. Also, with being managed now, I have the chance to work with singers, so I’ve also learned from that.
Every session I do, I just learn a ton of new things, whether it’s from a producer, or singer or a lyric writer. In these past six months, I’ve improved so much in terms of songwriting and production, just because I’m working all the time and I’m talking about it with people all the time. I think it really helped my production process and my learning curve especially.
EB: Speaking of singers, you’ve worked a few tracks with Nevve, who has been featured with tons of other great up-and-coming artists. What was it like working with her on “Dreaming” and “We Would Never Do”?
TB: She’s one of the greatest singers in the electronic music industry, I think. She’s great to work with. “Dreaming” was a slightly different project than “We Would Never Do”. For “Dreaming”, I wrote the vocals myself, and then we contacted her to sing these vocals for me, because initially I demoed them myself. And it turned out great.
For “We Would Never Do” she actually wrote the lyrics. Immediately when I heard it, I fell in love with that top line. I think everything she touches is gold, really. Also the new record with DROELOE, BACKBONE, is really great in my opinion.
EB: You toured with San Holo in Europe this winter. What kind of mentor has San been for you as an artist?
TB: It’s been great watching him. I’ve been in the studio with him, I’ve worked on some music with him. It’s been great to see how he works on music, how hard he works, and also being on a couple shows with him have been great because he’s also a great performer. I’ve learned a lot from him production wise, but also performance wise. It’s been great being able to spend time with him, he’s super talented and it has been super inspiring for me.
EB: “Right Here, Right Now” seems to very much fall in line with your desires to create music that’s closer to pop than EDM. Is this song a step in that direction?”
TB: Both San and I love pop music and like to find a nice balance between pop and EDM. This song was an opportunity for me to work on something even more pop inspired than I’ve ever done. I got to say I definitely want to make more of this in the future.
EB: What else do you have on the docket for 2018? Along with your new singles that just came out, what else do you have planned?
TB: Lot’s of new music, lot’s of originals. Some remixes, some exciting collaborations I can’t talk about…I might be working on an EP. I’m playing Lollapalooza Paris and Bonnaroo, I’m very excited about it, and we’re working on more show dates for this year, so that’s definitely in the back of my mind.
EB: Traditionally Bonnaroo and Lolla aren’t for EDM, although in recent years it’s become more popular. Do you use festivals to reach new people?
TB: Actually, these are going to be my first festivals, so I’m still going to have to find out. I really hope to get some new fans or get some people to appreciate my music. Because there are a lot of people who hit me up and say “I don’t like EDM, but I do like your music”, so that’s really nice. I hope festivals will give me the chance to show my music to people who initially don’t listen to this music.