Guest Mix: Urbs (+ Interview)
It’s been over twelve years since Toujours Le Même Film, a soundtrack to a fictitious film noir by Vienna-based producer, DJ & musician Urbs. And even longer since the loop-based Breaks Of Dawn and Peace Talks! in the early 2000s together with fellow Vienna beatsmith Cutex.
After years of listening to his older material with the melancholic expectation of never getting any new albums, now all of a sudden there’s the self-titled (or according to himself, untitled) album Urbs on Beat Art Department. It’s the very first time he’s been collaborating with emcees, with contributions by R.A. The Rugged Man, T.R.A.C., Wordsworth, Tyna, amongst others.
Read the interview below, and listen to his new guest mix for The Find while you’re at it, which is a remix and edit bonanza:
“You, the song, the universe – it’s all one big thing, a cosmic manifest. Then all of a sudden there’s MC Shoot ‘Em All who thinks it’s the perfect beat to rap about mayonnaise and pillow fights. And there you are, left as the producer, wondering how different perception can be…”
Have you always been pursuing a career in music?
Music has always been my path, but I would not call it a career in the usual sense. I’ve grown up detesting the kind of abnormal ambition it takes to have a real career. I’ve always felt attracted to the “sloppy genius” kind of artists. Unfortunately I’m neither over-ambitious nor a genius, so there you go.
A friend of mine once said it’s “bourgeois” to refuse advertising yourself, but I still find it hard to do. There’s certainly some truth in that the working class can’t afford modesty. I grew up in a middle-class, pseudo-catholic surrounding and I guess my mother was disappointed I didn’t become a doctor or lawyer, though she never said so. I wanted to be independent from my parents and started working in a local record shop, and I did all kind of things that have to do with music.
I’ve been a music journalist doing interviews with people like Kurt Cobain and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Actually, pretty much everybody I ever interviewed died. So nowadays I hesitatingly call myself “a musician”, and I do the occasional radio show, create music for ads and films, and I DJ.
What has been the most important thing you’ve picked up from your parents, that you now bring into your work?
Maybe my mother’s attitude to not be too precious about what you do, and my dad’s classical music collection. Classical was the first music I fell in love with. Especially Eastern European composers like Dvorak, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakoff, Prokofiev, Shostakovich… I’ve always longed for melody in whatever I created or listened to. My uncle was a DJ in the local discotheque and gave us kids loads of tapes with pop music, which was mid-70s to early 80s. He always included odd bits on his tapes like Ennio Morricone or popular Jazz or Progrock, which gave me a certain open-mindedness towards music.
My father never let us touch the stereo or even his records, so with time they became magical objects of desire… It makes me think a lot now being a dad myself: all these kids these days with everything accessible all the time will probably never develop that kind of longing that comes from a shortage of supply.
In the press release for Urbs you say “surrendering yourself to emcees gave you a hard time”. How come?
The instrumentals I make create pictures in my head. What I feel about them can be pretty spiritual, even though I’m not a spiritual person at all. I struggle to find words for most of the songs, just knowing deep inside they have a deeper meaning. You, the song and the universe – it’s all one great big thing, a cosmic manifest. Then all of a sudden there’s MC Shoot ‘Em All who thinks it’s the perfect beat to rap about mayonnaise and pillow fights. And there you are, left as the producer, wondering how different perception can be.
But that leads us to the golden rule to not be too precious about what you do—maybe it ends up to be the best song about mayonnaise you’ve ever heard. Now that I’m thinking about it, I’d say “NYC Everything” by Bobby Digital featuring Method Man is probably the best song ever referring to the matter of mayonnaise.
You also mention that when an emcee starts rapping over one of your productions, “it’s a little bit like your older brother’s rude friends turn your child’s room into a mess – in your presence.” That sounds like a traumatic process…
A year ago emcee Blabbwona received one of my favorite instrumentals, a really deep song. The chorus had a vocal sample in it saying “When rain is falling in the night/it’s not too late to see the light”, so spiritually uplifting lyrics would’ve been fitting. Blabbwona sent some great vocals, but instead it was an angry, streetwise song about mean-spirited folks within your inner circle. He completely ignored the existing vocal in the chorus, just rapping over the instrumental like a bulldozer. Really nice rhymes, but the contrary of what I felt was right for the song.
I was shocked and gave the instrumental to True Ingredients who completely understood what I was looking for. A year later I made a song called “Code Of The Snake” with Blabbwona’s vocals, which is part of my new album.
What’s your drive to all of a sudden start working with emcees? Or, in other words, what has been your drive to not work with emcees up till now?
To me, rap is vocal percussion; one of the instruments in a song. If I’m completely honest, I’m not that interested in lyrical content. If it’s good, it’s good. But I’ll always be happier with something like Biz Markie rapping “I’m the drunk dance rocker / But don’t drink Vodka / Never sang a song called Frère Jacques” than 4 zillion syllables of pure eloquence. For me it’s about the voice and the catchiness of it all.
Wait, I forgot the question… I’ve had a few nice vocals already and started collecting more to make an album. That took me ten years, and it’s probably the last time I’ll ever do it.
Is there anything you strive for with your music?
Banging your head listening to a new song you’ve just created is one of the best feelings. I like to think that if it moves me like that, it will move other people, too. I always look for a certain intensity that’s comparable to a wall of sound, and I guess subtleness is not my strength.
So your music has to move you. Should we picture you dancing in your studio?
I’m a DJ, DJs don’t dance. If I dance, I’ve had a few beers too many and they’re probably playing “Ancora Tu” by Lucio Battisti.
For the curious beatmakers among our readers: what’s your studio look like?
At the moment my studio is an absolute mess because we’ve just moved to a new apartment and we have a baby son. So whatever is in the way or too dangerous for the baby ends up in my studio, which is his only no-go area. Before that my studio has always been part of my living room. But it’s actually still very comfortable with all these racks of records and old furniture. Most musicians that stop by say it looks like a museum. I kinda like that. There’s just loads of… stuff. Good for the sound, too!
By the way, how’s Cutex doing? Are you guys still in touch or planning to make new music together as Urbs & Cutex?
I see him from time to time and we chat a little, but it’s always been hard to motivate him doing something. So I kind of gave up. The last thing we did together was an edit of “Easy Star” by Poor Righteous Teachers, which I included in my The Find mix. I guess in the studio I’m too commanding for his taste. But never say never…
Whom or what would you consider an underground or forgotten gem that influenced you?
Here in Vienna a lot of musicians have been influenced by DJ DSL, who has a completely unique style of mixing and selecting. He plays hip hop in a way nobody else does. Especially in the 90s he played these super-long sets and treated hip hop more like house music: doing long mixes instead of fast cutting and he played around with double copies a lot. He sometimes extended and layered songs until these minimal loops became really hypnotic.
Back then, he played a lot of Mark The 45 King instrumental releases that are kind of obscure nowadays. He also introduced us to the Dope Beats style which was created by people like Kenny Dope and the Nubian Crackers, which is still part of my producer’s DNA. DJ DSL’s album “#1” is an absolute classic. He’s now more into drawing and graphic design. Together we’ve created the artwork for my new album, which I’m really proud of.