Listening to dubstep, the good stuff, in 2016 is like being a part of the rebel alliance—it’s all underground and nearly everything happens under the radar. But while old heads mourn that days of ’04-’08 (aka the galactic senate if we want to extend the metaphor way too far), a new generation of production Jedis have taken up the fight, and they’ve got styles. Joe Nice’s Gourmetbeats radio show and record label are ground zero for current developments in dubstep, and Fill Spectre’s one of the most interesting producers working in the scene, one who goes way beyond the usual triplet drum patterns and sound design to write real, honest to god songs. I spoke to him via Skype to discuss Montreal, Joe Nice and what makes his music tick. —Son Raw
Introduce yourself. Who’s Fill Spectre? Where are you from?
Fill Spectre: I’m from Montreal, and I’ve been living here my whole life. I’m a dubstep producer—I hate to say this–and an experimentalist at the 140BPM tempo under the umbrella of bass music. I make beats, people seem to like them and I’ll keep making them. That’s Fill Spectre.
The dubstep tag is funny. When you attach your name to a genre, you lose that measure of control in how people perceive your music.
Fill Spectre: People generally assume that dubstep is tainted because of what happened with the American version of it, but I feel people just say that because that’s what you’re supposed to say. People don’t want to associate with that genre or brand, and that’s why I’m wary of it, but yeah–I make dubstep. But what is dubstep in 2016? It’s so large. That’s why I say bass music.
How did you get involved in that scene? I never used to see you out in Montreal.
Fill Spectre: I got into it pretty late compared to some people. 2007-2008. When it started making noise in America. The first time I heard it live was when Rusko played at Igloofest in 2009–I already knew him because of his Fabriclive mix. But I was never much of a raver back then, I didn’t go to many parties.
What kind of music were you doing back then?
Fill Spectre: I was doing music like Burial and brostep stuff at the same time! I was kind of a bipolar producer. I got tired of it around the time that Skream and Benga quit doing their show on BBC. They used to do garage shout outs and it was funny. They might even play your beat if you were lucky. But then their sound got saturated with noise. The scene got torn apart and then you’re like: what’s my identity now? You got to see what’s left and start from there.
That’s funny, because dubstep here definitely wasn’t popping here back then. Not until 2009-2010. In any case, all of a sudden you popped up fully formed as a producer and that was a surprise because we didn’t know you. How’d you get involved and develop your sound? Radio?
Fill Spectre: I was a big time Soundcloud fan back then. I was listening to brostep but also Mala and guys like that. I wasn’t networking though, to me it was all about looking for next level sounds. I kept following people but would never speak to anyone. That’s how I gained my knowledge. I had different aliases but eventually I settled on Fill Spectre. I was working hard and then one day…well, it’s all about Joe Nice. Without him I wouldn’t be doing this interview.
How did you link up with Joe Nice? In terms of cosigns in North America, there’s no one stronger.
Fill Spectre: It’s been a year and a few months since I’ve spoken to Joe. I found out the source Gantz used for “Rising” and basically remade it from the original samples, then sent Joe a tweet about it. I ended up sending him five tunes and four hours later we were speaking and he told me he was going to cut all five tunes to dubplate. Now, over a year later, every single one is coming out, either on Gourmetbeats [Joe Nice’s label] or through another imprint, which is crazy.
The connection was natural, it happened over good music. He’s just a supporter and I’m honored to be under his umbrella. He’s been showing me how things work. When he said he wanted to sign a single, I was floored because Joe’s on the same level as Mala to me. He’s an incredible talent scout so getting his approval is massive.
Joe Nice really was the first guy from the US to even know about Dubstep. He was at the first DMZ, that’s something practically no one even in England can claim. REALLY positive too.
Fill Spectre: He’s always hype! I thought it was an image or a persona or a front but no. He’s really that enthusiastic all the time.
I’ll never forget that after-party in Ottawa: it’s 5:30 AM and I’m trying to sleep, meanwhile there goes Joe Nice PASSIONATELY breaking down the history of ’80s R&B to a crowd of Canadians. Then he got up the next morning ready to DJ!
Fill Spectre: He’s in amazing shape! At first I wondered if he was on something but no, that energy is all natural.
In terms of putting together the release, how was that process? “General Masta” is a banger, but “Gate 15” is REALLY different as well.
Fill Spectre: I sent Joe “General Masta,” “Gate 15,” and “Killa Soundboi” in that original pack of dubs the first time we spoke. What happened is that he played “General Masta” and it got a good reaction, so he wanted that for the label. I personally wasn’t sure about “Gate 15” but Joe, he really insisted on it and I trusted him.
He told me it sounded like a Mala tune so that shut me up! But listening back I kind of get what he meant. Basically “Gate 15” is a song about my girlfriend: she’s from France and was heading back home for the holidays. The actual “gate 15” was the bus station gate where I dropped her off to go to the airport. I was just feeling a bit of dread and wrote that tune.
The last track, “Killa Soundboi” came out of a sound clash between [dubstep web portals] Cloud9 and FatKidsOnFire. I was set to be clashing with The Illuminated and was so hype that I made 10 new tracks. So that was a sound clash tune that Joe picked up when I sent it over. Joe’s a big boxing fan and there’s that Mike Tyson sample at the end. Plus it was a short track that fit on the wax as a third tune–so that worked!
The 2-step pattern on “Gate 15” is really dope to me. You can proper dance to it. Plus Joe’s right, that lead does remind me of Mala.
Fill Spectre: I guess you could dance to it! That’s what it’s there for. I made that one in three hours so I don’t remember making it. I just remember that the first time I mixed it, I trainwrecked the mix–those drums aren’t quantized. When you try to blend it, you gotta ride it [laughs]. It does sound great with almost every other tune if you can hack it, though.
I think my emphasis on riffs and melodies is because of my background in metal. At first I wasn’t making music for DJs, it was music to be listened to. The idea of cutting off a song mid-way was foreign to me. I wanted to make complete songs that change throughout.