Instead of attending EZoo after-parties, some of us decided to head to a Gramatik show at Webster Hall. We sat down with Denis before he took the stage to hear more about his backstory, which we suspected was an interesting one. As if we were familiar old friends, he gave us the low down of how he ended up in Brooklyn, NY. Read more after the break.
Denis’s first musical endeavors began at the age of three. After forming a band in elementary school, he he discovered hip-hop in middle school — namely the album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). “I was really captivated that you could write really cool poetry over music and perform it,” he told us enthusiastically. Soon enough, he debuted one of the first rappers on the Mediterranean coast of Slovenia.
In due time, one of his classmates’ parents bought a computer, and allowed the kids to muck around on it to their hearts’ content. He was fascinated by the concept of making music on the computer with an audio sequencing program, and spent hours on the machine. “I’d never even had an MP3 player so we needed a week to figure out how to loop a track or just to figure out the tempo,” he recalled. “The whole thing blew my mind.”
As Denis became aware of the narrow market in Slovenia for rap, he began to invest his energy another facet of hip-hop, producing beats and instrumentals. The advent of the internet allowed him to reach a much larger audience with his music. In November 2008, he dropped his first production on Beatport and attributes the success of the track to the void of hip-hop on Beatport at the time. Before he knew it, he received a message inquiring about his representation on the now defunct MySpace from Hunter Williams at PGA, who also booked events for artists such as Pretty Lights and Michael Menert. “Nobody had done my bookings anywhere, and I had never done a show. I was just making beats and dropping them on Beatport. He told me he wanted to bring me over and put me on tour with this dude on his first major US fall tour in 2009. I had never heard of Derek or Pretty Lights, and at the time, his crowd was just 1000-2000 people and his show wasn’t the production that it is now.”
Denis fell in love with New York from the moment he saw the city captured on film, so he immediately took the opportunity to move to the states to meet his new tour mate. As they delved into each other’s music and inspirations, they realized they were creating kindred sounds, combining hip-hop, funk, and soul into a new collage. “Here we were — a kid from Slovenia and a dude from Fort Collins, CO — being influenced by the exact same influences and trying to make the exact same sound,” he remarked.
Their musical trajectories only continued to parallel each other as they moved from raw hip-hop sampling to a focus on glitch hop. To see Gramatik’s transition, we suggest checking out his first Street Bangerz albums (Volume 1–2). Furthermore, No Shortcuts is a great set of tracks that exhibits his move into glitchy bass, while maintaining his bluesy roots. Denis highly attributes his dance music influence to Propeller Heads, Daft Punk, and Prodigy — the only really established players in the EDM world in Slovenia in the 90s.
Pretty Lights soon actualized his open music label Pretty Lights Music, and Gramatik was a name he quickly brought along. The label provides a platform for lesser known artists to utilize a pre-existing fanbase, and in return the PLM name is promoted. “He doesn’t try to control you or try to influence your music,” Denis says. “There’s enough money out there for all of us, so there’s no reason for us to have big egos and say ‘oh, I’m bigger than you’ or ‘I have more fans than you.’ That’s how we differentiate from the hip-hop scene because it’s all about the cockiness, and for us, it’s all about camaraderie.” The title of his newest album, #digitalfreedom, exactly embodies his sentiments.
Gramatik will be touring with Bassnectar for the next few months. The two met at a festival in California, where they connected over their shared comic appreciation for John Stewart and The Daily Show. He quickly accepted the invitation to support Bassnectar on the tour, and only had good words about his fellow producer: “He’s one of the smartest dudes in the EDM scene right now. He’s not a regular bro.”
We walked out of the artist room as Kid Koala spun classic “New York, New York” and continued to throw down an insane turntable set, even including his Yo Gabba Gabba commission. After waiting for his electric guitar accompaniment to set up, we watched Gramatik step into the midst of five subwoofers. He dished out tracks that ran the gamut from his earlier days (like the funky “Hit That Jive”), to cuts like “Fist Up” from his newest album — all the while looking as though he didn’t mind whether he was performing for a handful of people or a packed house at Webster Hall.
Photo Credit: Jesse Grushack