Producing While Walking: An Interview With Senz Beats

Son Raw enlists Senz Beats to talk about staying sane during quarantine through sampling -- and the app that made it easier than ever to do so.
By    March 24, 2021

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Son Raw makes a beat then writes a paragraph before brushing his teeth every morning.

Over the past year, one of the ways I’ve remained relatively sane has been to participate in Loop Sessions – a series of monthly beatmaking showcases originating in Montreal that have since spread from Melbourne to Paris to Detroit and the DMV. Participating in my local chapter’s online events has been a great way to sharpen my sword while meeting local beatmakers, and one of the people I eventually linked up with is Senz Beats – an expat from Brussels with a particular passion for The Koala Sampler, a phone app that’s made sample-based beatmaking more accessible than ever. After seeing interest in that App skyrocket thanks to a few timely co-signs from names like Dibiase, and after checking his Bandcamp and hearing nothing but fire, I reached out to Senz to discuss his process, his catalog, and making beats while walking.

Where are you from? How’d you first get involved in beatmaking?

Senz Beats: I grew up in Brussels, I’m Dutch-Irish so English is my mother tongue, but I grew up in a French speaking country. I started in music via DJing – I started collecting records from ’97 or ’98 and got a pair of turntables with my best friend – we’d alternate months holding them. I started with scratching and we were hyped from the start and it went on to 2004 or so. That was my main thing in music – Hip-Hop but also Drum & Bass and later Dubstep as well, and I’d get more gigs for Drum & Bass DJing which was dope. I’d be in clubs even if I was technically underaged, and the Brussels scene was fun around that time. In 2004 I went to an event at the Beurschouwburg which was hosted by Bun Zero, who’s a Belgian Dubstep legend, and I think it was Skream’s first event in Belgium. He was super young and my friend gave him a joint and we kind of blew Skream’s mind since it was one of this first times he was out of the UK.

After a while, I still loved DJing but once I got a taste for blending stuff, I wanted to make beats. I started on a friend’s laptop, I was studying in Dublin and my friend had a terrible program called Music Maker 7, which let me import audio and put beats together. I had no idea what a grid was so it was just placing samples to make a groove. I did that for a couple of years until I finally got an MPC 2000XL and things got a little bit more serious. That was my main tool from 2004 right until last year when I started using Koala [Sampler]. I never thought I’d find something that would come close to it and certainly not on my phone!.

In Brussels, who were some of the people you looked up to?

Senz Beats: A really fundamental part of me getting into music was a venue in Brussels called The Ancienne Belgique, which was like Montreal’s Metropolis (note: an important mid-sized venue) – that was the nicest concert venue in Brussels and they held events with Ninja Tune. It was insane because you’d have 4-5 different rooms with names like Amon Tobin and DJ Vadim. I was 16, you could smoke inside at that point… it was crazy vibes in a nice venue with a great sound. To hear beats on their soundsystem was a big influence on my sound and Ninja Tune was a huge part as well. Stuff like DJ Krush vs. Coldcut is still to this day is my favorite mix that I’ve ever heard. It still blows my mind, but that they did it with the technology back then, I have no idea how they did it. It’s clean as fuck.

In terms of local people who might not be as known internationally, a guy named Reda showed me how to use my MPC before Youtube. At first you’re just really copying one person’s style so that definitely had an impact on what I do. For international names, El-P – the Cannibal Ox’s Cold Vein blew my little mind!

That’s an interesting touch point because not everyone knew it but everyone who did was on some shit. It was like a secret society.

Senz Beats: I still have the ticket seeing Cannibal Ox and Aesop Rock at Ancienne Belgique. The crowd was so nuts Vordul was on stage telling people to calm down. It was almost like a metal show – a lot of movement for a Hip Hop show.

How did your move to Montreal happen and how did you break out of the scene here?

Senz Beats: Aside from personal choices as far as knowing people here and speaking both English and French, I didn’t have too much of an idea as far as the Montreal music scene goes. I was pretty clueless but I knew I’d be moving into a North American dynamic, 6 hours away from New York. I figured I’d be well positioned for music. I also heard it was just a dope city, I didn’t hear one bad thing about Montreal apart from the weather.

As far as getting involved in the scene here, it took a while. It takes time to get established in a new place and you need to get the courage to present yourself and say “hi, I’m a beatmaker and I’m new here.” Also, coming from Brussels, at the time it felt like a bit of an exclusive scene and I figured Montreal would be the same and so I’d see people like Dr. MaD on flyers or big 3-meter-tall posters… I figured they were untouchable and they wouldn’t be down to hang with us everyday mortals [laughs].

Then I went to Loop Sessions event that took place at a small café called 180G, which is managed by Chris De Muri. It’s a great café and record store and he was one of the first people who I could have these nerdy chats about records with. He put me on to the Loop Sessions beat showcase. The first time I went there, I was so embarrassed because Vice was filming, the whole Montreal scene was there and when it was my turn to play, my MPC reset for some reason and I hadn’t saved my beat. I was like “my bad!” and I was one of the only people who’d brought a big beat machine! But next time I came back, I made sure to save my shit and I made what I thought was a dope beat and when I played it everyone went crazy. That one moment gave me one of the biggest boosts in terms of confidence in my career. That’s when I met everybody that I know in the Montreal music scene. That event gave me a home in Montreal in the music sense.

I’ve been doing those Loop Sessions events online for almost a year now during the pandemic and what I like about that community is that it’s supportive but you can still tell when people REALLY feel it. No one’s ever mean but you can tell when they actually fuck with it.

In terms of that community of people, you featured a lot of people from Loop Sessions on a recent compilation. [Full Disclosure: I was among the beatmakers focused on this compilation] How did that come about and how did you select people? Because I also know there’s a Brussels connection there as well.

Senz Beats: There is. In 2019 my mom passed away but I also put out my first record that June so it was an intense period – a lot of bad and a lot of good. I was doing promotion for my vinyl release so I hit Julien Mourlon from LDBK Laid Back Radio which had a big following when I was still in Brussels which played Hip-Hop, Soul, Funk, that kind of stuff. They had an event with Mixcloud in London and I’d done sound for that event so we knew each other. They put my release on their Spotify playlist and we started talking about Montreal and whether I’d be interested in doing a mix representing the scene since I was plugged in here. As I said, Loop Sessions was a huge impact on me so I wanted to give something back and share my excitement of discovering these producers here, but it took a while to put together.

First off, I had to decide what I’d even be doing so I went with something personal, so it’s in no way an authoritative representation of the Montreal scene – there’s big names missing, but it’s my slice of it. The contributors are all people I met in either real life or online and it’s all beats that I think are dope. That’s the main thing! I hit up every artist and asked for exclusives, but that ended up being a bit tricky so I opened it up and asked for something that represented their sound and they’d be happy to be shared with a European audience, since LDBK is more of an online platform geared towards that market now. I was really hype to crossover those two worlds, my old stomping grounds and the Montreal scene.

Getting back to your music, your Bandcamp goes really deep and there’s a lot of music to cover – what would be some good starting points for newcomers?

Senz Beats: I’d say a good starting point for stuff with vocalists – I just put out an EP with Roughneck Jihad called The Little Assassination Handbook, that’s on Bandcamp now and it’s getting a vinyl pressing via DJ Jazz-T’s Boot Records in The UK, that’s an exciting project for me because I’ve been listening to him and his group Third Sight with D-Stylez for a good 20 years. I had their tapes on cassette, and he’s an emcee that I feel that has aged like fine wine. He’s in a slightly different place than in 20 years ago but it fits and it sounds great. That project is 100% produced on Koala, and it might be the first emcee-led project made that way. Also, my project with Lex Boogie From the Bronx, A Tale of Two Planets, which came out in 2017. I’ve been working with him for 5 years now and we have two new projects dropping together this year, so that’d be a good way to get familiar before those.

In terms of instrumental projects, the two Koala Sampler beat tapes, Eucalize Legalyptus Volumes 1-2. They’re on Bandcamp right now and they’re also getting cassette releases from Booms and Baps, within a month or two. Those would be the main starting points. I also have a project coming from myself, Lo-tek, Stxn.x, and Tvkii where we’ve been passing around the same Koala sessions and messing with them, it’s a collaborative EP that’s gonna be dope.

You were the first person to put me on to Koala, which is making a lot of noise in the beatmaking community. How did you come into contact with them and how has it affected your sound and workflow?

Senz Beats: I became aware of it via either Dibiase or Giallo Point, I saw them making beats with it and I was about to go to Europe, end of 2019. I wanted something to do on the plane and I figured, “oh this is a $5 app, let’s mess with it on the plane.” And I’ve never felt the way I did with it. I never felt like an app was made for ME. I thought “this app understands what I want to do and made shortcuts for all of it. It felt weird – to identify with an app. My phone isn’t something I used for music apart from listening to it. It’s super versatile and allowed me to make beats on the plane, on trains, walking in the streets – which is really something I’d encourage everybody to do because it brings a natural rhythm into what you’re doing since you’re in movement, which is a really different way to make a beat.

I find different ideas come and you don’t sweat the small stuff as much: you lock in. It’s also got a pretty decent mic option so it’s allowed me to strike up conversations with a dude playing his trumpet in the park and sample a bit of his playing. It’s mind blowing to me how it can do more than what my MPC does. I remember posting my first Koala beats on Instagram and I was just saying that it was for fun, they sounded like my first beats again, but I got a lot of reactions from those posts. People were saying I just sneakily dropped an EP on Instagram. So I figured, let me keep going. By January or February 2020 I dropped my first Koala project, Legalize Eucalyptus. I didn’t know if those beats would hold up or if they’d sound like Fischer Price beats. I will say that I don’t think I can get the full depth of the MPC yet, it sounds deeper on the MPC, but for me, I can make stuff that smacks just as hard. It’s just the details.

There’s also something happening right now that I think is worth talking about. Because of the way you can share beats made on Koala, it’s led to quite a big community on Twitter which is spearheaded by people like Dibiase, who was early on the trend. What’s neat about it is that Koala isn’t a multinational corporation – it’s made by Marek, who’s one guy in London. For me, I’ve never had that level of rapport with say, Akai, so there’s something very personable about it. It’s timely as well, cause it hit during the pandemic when nobody could go out or socialize, so a few different elements came together, and it ended up saving the year for a lot of people who were a little lost – to find that online community. It’s been a shitty year but there’s been some beautiful stuff happening, so I gotta shout out the Koala gang, and Dibiase and all those cats.

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