New Zealand electronic act Substax are genre-bending pioneers of electro-soul and breakbeat. Based in Auckland/Tamaki Makaurau, they produce a unique fusion of soul, funk, breakbeat, and deep house. They are renowned both for their epic downbeat as well as breakbeat-influenced club tracks. This time around, the duo is delivering an emotive L.A. Sonic EP via Punk City Holdings which is scheduled for release on August 18th.
We sat down with Substax to talk about their upcoming EP, influences, creative process, and more.
Hey Substax! Thanks for joining us today. How’s your summer been so far?
Substax: Hey! Thanks for having us here. It is winter here in New Zealand now. Summer was not really a summer: severe flooding and a major cyclone, so we hope it is a better deal for everyone in Europe.
Congrats on the release of your new L.A. Sonic EP on Punk City Holdings. What was your inspiration behind this record?
Substax: Thank you. The primary inspiration was the fusion of deep house and breakbeat. It is a match we think works really well. We then took inspiration from Los Angeles – which is a city I love visiting – and kind of merged those things together. Speaking of summer, that probably does give it a summer flavor, but an atmospheric one.
Based in New Zealand, how much of an influence did the environment have on your sound?
Substax: It is always an influence. We both live out on the coast, one of us on the west coast and one of us on the east coast. Our homes both look out over the sea and my house over a huge inland sand dune. We are incredibly lucky down here that the landscape is hugely inspiring and it is always there in our music either in atmosphere, texture, or structural dynamics.
Tell us more about Substax. How did you meet, and whose idea was it to start making music together?
Substax: The act was originally formed in London many years ago when Jason Johnston and I (Nick Farrands) were living there. We were both friends from back home and had played in guitar bands together for a while. We both had a love of electronic music and used to go out partying and to festivals as you do. We set up a small studio in Kentish Town and started working on material. I encouraged Jason into it as he was a drummer and I figured (correctly) that this would be a great collaboration with my keys based production style. We were programming beats of course as well as finding breaks to use but his drumming knowledge and improvisation were huge. After we moved back to Auckland I met Claudia Gunn, our vocalist, through mutual friends and we started working with her. She comes from a folk music/singer-songwriter background but was really excited to work with electronic producers, and it just clicked. We were looking for a vocalist so the timing was there. Jason is not involved in new writing now but is available for live shows.
Could you walk us through your creative process?
Substax: We really try not to get too formulaic, but these days I would typically write the instrumentals and send it to Claudia for vocals. But we have also worked pretty much 50/50 together on songs in the studio from scratch. So certain tracks might start out on the piano before we bring them into the DAW. Claudia writes primarily on the guitar initially and she might bring me an idea and we produce it together. But the vocals on L.A. Sonic are licensed samples, as Claudia was busy with her solo music work. So I began playing around with samples and found they added an element we would never have come up with ourselves. I used to work significantly with samples back in the day so it has been a bit of a return to old styles. Cool samples just have a nuance that you can almost work a whole track around.
How do you define success? Is it about the number or is there more to it?
Substax: It is just about the music for us. If we write music we are passionate about and which we believe in, that is success for us. Any further success, whether through exposure, streams, downloads, or financially is just icing on the already perfect cake. Obviously, like all artists we work for as much exposure as we can achieve for each release and to keep growing a following, and we work really hard on the promotion, but the music comes first for us.
Where can people expect to see you perform live in the coming months?
Substax: We are not playing shows at the moment. Just focussing on production, new material, and promoting the releases, but we will look to develop a new live show within the next 6 months or so. The live work is a big production process for us as we want it to be as live as it can be for electronic music and that does involve a lot of time. We also work with visual (usually video) artists on the shows, so that also takes time to collaborate and refine the integration. We will be working with Rachel Dreyer, who is a VJ and DJ/producer, and also my amazing cousin, on the next show. In the meantime, we have some cool stuff in the pipeline with 2 further EPs and 2 singles scheduled for release this year.
Last but not least, is there a message that you wish to spread to the world?
Substax: Believe in the music. Music has the power to transport people and that is a pretty incredible thing.