[INTERVIEW] Mikrodot Sheds Light On His New EP, 'Are U Mad'
It is rare to find an artist who has cultivated a signature sound as hypnotic as Mikrodot. Hailing from America's midwest region, this innovative producer-DJ hybrid has fused world instruments and heavy dubstep together to create tracks that are sometimes aggressive, often meditative, and undoubtedly wonky.
Passionate about growing the music community and spreading positivity, Mikrodot has mastered the 140 sound and has showcased his mixing skillset throughout the country. Additionally, he has launched his own imprint, High Vibration Audio, and avidly shares his production knowledge to up-and-coming artists. We linked up with Mikrodot to get a behind the scenes look into his new EP, Are U Mad, and more.
Check out iEDM’s exclusive interview with Mikrodot below.
iEDM: When working with deep dubstep and experimental bass songs, obviously the pace is going to be a lot slower (even though it is technically around 140 BPM). What essential techniques do you use to keep the listener engaged and on their toes in terms of weaving in exotic noises, FX, and layering?
Mikrodot: I think a lot of keeping the listener’s attention comes with the flow of the bass synths. Variations between 1/8 notes and triplets especially seem to get a groove going. Even with just a basic kick on 1 and snare on 3 for all 16 bars of a phrase, you can still have so much variation in the flow that it stays interesting. You don’t even really need to change notes!
On the flip side, you can also slow down the bass synths with 1/4 notes for an entire phrase, and have a faster kick line with hats that really propel the beat forward. There are so many variations you can do. It’s part of why I enjoy sticking to a single BPM for the most part, it allows me to get as creative as possible within that one BPM.
Having multiple sounds filtered in different ways is also effective, as this can keep the ears interested with varying pockets of frequencies. I also like to use different-sized rooms for reverb depending on the sound and also delays that exist in different parts of the stereo field to create what feels like a wider and deeper space, all within the same tune.
iEDM: Which track in Are U Mad pushed you the most out of your comfort zone as an artist? What obstacles did it present and how were you able to overcome them?
Mikrodot: Definitely “Game Over”. That tune has a lot of elements that in the past I wouldn’t have even tried to combine. For example, combining an ambient intro, a heavy dubstep synth, and an 808-style sub. The biggest obstacle was designing a build that could gel the intro and the drop without sounding too bipolar.
The next obstacle was something I’ve tried in the past but wasn’t too happy with the result, which is having an 808 sub move with a different pattern than the bass synth. That being said, I am happy with the overall result, and I feel like experimenting more with an 808-style sub that moves independently from the bass synth in the future.
iEDM: What is the story behind coming up with the title “Zion” for the opening song? How does the name embody the soundscapes present throughout it?
Mikrodot: “Zion” is a very powerful tune to me. It is named after my son, and at the time of writing it, he had just been born almost 3 months premature and was in the NICU. It was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. I still feel like I haven’t fully processed the emotions that went along with that. The vocal sample felt to me like a crying out to him, asking him to come home. Zion is a happy and healthy boy now, and is very smart!
Overall, I feel the tune sets a nice pace for the EP, which is the main reason I suggested to Pieter (DUPLOC) it be the first one. Although the title wasn’t based on the sounds I used, I could see where someone would perceive the ethereal soundscape as having a sort of heavenly vibe to it.
iEDM: What was your process to create the spooky vibe in “Paranormal”? Are there any specific sounds that can be attributed to the haunting, hypnotic track?
Mikrodot: So “Paranormal” is another tune that has some very real inspiration to it. The house I live in has had some strange occurrences that are more or less unexplainable. I’m usually the first one to rationalize some of these things, but even I was left speechless in some situations.
I was producing in the unfinished basement of my house after moving my studio from our spare bedroom to the basement so that Zion could have his own space. While we worked on building a studio in the basement, I was down there for some time producing.
“Paranormal” was the result of feeling an unnatural spiritual presence around me during that time. While I think there are a few sounds that contribute to the ghostly vibe, the one that I feel sets the tone the most is the sound of the wind that’s been pitched and heavily band passed for a really eerie effect.
iEDM: How were you able to fuse reggae and Rasta elements with wubz in “Are U Mad”? What role do the various drums play in this lethal combination?
Mikrodot: “Are U Mad” was such a fun tune to create! My process on this one was to create an offbeat synth pattern that had enough space to utilize percussion in between the gaps. I even found a spot for the brass instrument to fill in, some additional space, which to me really killed it!
Instead of having different synths take up the empty space of a phrase, I’m really keen on using percussion and other live instruments. It keeps the beat feeling more minimal and organic while still keeping it interesting. Traditional reggae-style instruments set such a vibe, and I love using them in my dubstep tunes.
iEDM: Can you walk us through how you crafted the drop in “Game Over”? What plugins did you use to help shape the progressions of psychedelic bass?
Mikrodot: For heavier dubstep tunes, it’s almost always a good bet to introduce the bass synth halfway through the intro. I feel like this creates a solid amount of tension, and with the added “cliffhanger” (when the synth cuts out and the vocal comes in) four bars before the drop, it really prepares the listener for the release of the drop.
Tension and release are a critical part of giving a tune musicality. I also like to have a kick that starts slow and picks up speed over time, which is pretty typical with modern drops, but I keep it pretty minimal. The progression of the bass is something that I’m proud of, and also something I used for the first time in this tune.
I happened to stumble upon a modulation that automatically changes the sound of the bass depending on which notes are hit, so there is actually no automation that changed that aspect of the sound. I create most of my sounds within Serum, not typically adding additional FX. Those sounds were constructed exclusively within Serum.
iEDM: What advice would you give to people who want to learn how to produce wubz and deep dubstep, but have no idea where to start? What are some available resources that they should be aware of?
Mikrodot: I think the best thing you can do is start downloading trial versions of all the main DAWs that you might like to work with, and just start turning knobs and experimenting. They all have different workflows, and each person is going to find one easier to use than the other. The comparison of DAWs has been an ongoing thing for a long time, but they all end up doing the same thing, it’s really just what works best for the individual.
Also, you can watch YouTube tutorials all day long, but nothing will beat actual experimentation. Oftentimes, after watching a tutorial, you can even try to do exactly what the person did, and still not come up with the right sound. Experimentation and experience are really the only things that are going to help a new producer uncover their sound.
Once you find the program that best suits your workflow, start to look for drums outside of the stock ones in the program, and even do some research on the best VSTs and soft synths for the sound you’re going for. I will say at this time, most producers I know use Serum and Massive to create their sounds, with newer plug-ins like Pigments, Vital, and Phase Plant on the rise as well.
iEDM: What are your favorite parts about working with and teaching up-and-coming producers how to level up their sound and musical identity?
Mikrodot: Being able to give back to music and the community is my favorite aspect of teaching. Music has done so much for me in my life that I want to help others have that experience in theirs. It can potentially even change the course of a person’s life.
I’ve been to places I probably never would have visited, met amazing people who I may have never met (my wife included), and continue to have amazing and fun experiences, all as a result of being involved with music.
iEDM: Whether it is the learning process, the musical knowledge required, or anything else, are there any similarities between playing the violin and producing deep dubstep? What is one thing piece of wisdom or revelation about yourself gained while being a violinist that has transferred over to your journey as an EDM-based artist?
Mikrodot: I would say for the most part, they are very different, and being able to play an instrument is definitely not a requirement to being able to create music digitally. I think the biggest element that sticks out to me in the comparison is the need to practice. Just like with anything else in life, practice is the only thing that will level up your skills, and that can take years, but I truly believe that anyone who puts in the time can be successful. If it’s something you’re passionate about though, it doesn’t ever really feel like practice, and if it’s something you love, don’t ever give up!
Some wisdom I learned from my violin teacher that still resonates with me today is that the way you feel when you perform is the way the audience is going to perceive your performance. Always make sure you’re dressed comfortably and are confident from being well prepared. Some wisdom I’ve learned is to always keep the mindset of the student no matter how much you may know because there’s always so much more to learn.
iEDM: Reflecting on your live set experiences, what festival or club performances stand out to you, and why are they so memorable?
Mikrodot: I think the most memorable show is the one I met my wife at. I was booked by my close friend and now agent for Undercoast in 2016, a Northcoast after-party in Chicago where I’m originally from. It’s a night that has forever changed my life, and I hope I’ll always remember it.
Another show that stands out to me which was also in Chicago, many of my family members including my mom came to see the show. It was pretty nerve-wracking at first. I wasn’t sure how they would all react to my music, but after a while, it set in that they were there to support me, not the music, and I started to worry a lot less. Plus, a lot of them actually did enjoy the music!
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iEDM: What inspired you to launch your own label, High Vibration Audio? What is your vision for the imprint and what impact would you like it to have on the realm of music?
Mikrodot: The HVA project really started out for a few reasons. One was so that I would have an additional outlet to release my own music on. Self-releases tend not to do as well in my experience without a label backing them. I feel I have a good ear for dub and dubstep, so another reason was to release genuine tunes from people who are deserving of an outlet but might have a difficult time releasing with bigger labels. In my experience, a lot of the bigger labels are pretty cliquey, it can be difficult to even get them to listen to demos.
I also want to be able to help up-and-coming artists make a name for themselves, and I do that by pairing them with more established names in the scene. This is most evident in the compilations that I try to do once a year since the label was established.
Pairing a new artist like SNITH with The Widdler for example is probably not something most label heads would do, and yet SNITH’s tune had the second most likes on the compilation, even more than some of the more established names in the scene.
Along with teaching, ultimately HVA is a great way for me to give back to the scene. It’s a great feeling to help artists make a name for themselves, and it’s an outlet I wish I had when I first started producing.
iEDM: What are your largest objectives for the remainder of 2023 as an artist? What is one new thing you would like to try, inside or outside of your music career?
Mikrodot: I would really love to tour again this year, and right now there is something in the works with another artist on the Prysm roster. There’s a lot going into it, so I’m really excited to see how it turns out! I’m also really trying to release as much music as possible this year, I’m already working on tunes to be released in 2024, so that means grinding out as much new material as I can as well.
Finding new management that has a vision for the future of the Mikrodot project would also be a huge win, so I’ve been trying to manifest that. One new thing I would like to try is producing dub tech, it seems like a really cool route to take.
I just want to thank iEDM for the thoughtful questions and to everyone reading and supporting me in all ways! Much love and respect.
Photos courtesy of Mikrodot
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