Interview: Scott Xylo

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Ashton James Brown caught up with intrepid beatsmith Scott Xylo and discussed his love of all things animated, his ideal music tech purchases and his latest project “2003 // HeERO Scott”.

Leicester-based producer Scott Xylo’s vibrant brand of electronica infused “Boom Bap” and imaginative concept “Beat Tapes” make him one of the most intriguing talents in the UK underground. His latest release, 2003 // HeERO Scott, is a succulent dish of michelin-starred sonic cuisine seasoned with airy polyphonic synths, thumping unquantised Dilla-esque drums and a plethora of vocal samples originating from his personal collection of videotaped Toonami shows. I caught up with the gifted producer and discussed his penchant for animated media, his love of comic books and the tools he uses to craft his distinctive sound.

Ashton: What was the first video game that you purchased?

Scott Xylo: I actually brought two games at the same time when I got my Gameboy Colour. One was Star Wars Pod Racing, that came with the little rumble pack. It was futuristic and pretty crazy. I sucked at that game haha. The other game was the Pokemon Trading Card Game. I bought that because it came with free Pokemon cards. It was my first ever RPG game and I hated it. I was 5/6 at the time and to me, reading in a game wasn’t really my idea of fun. However as I couldn’t buy another game I eventually got into it and now that I look back, it was a really awesome game.

A: Currently, what are your favourite cartoons? Do the cartoons of today compare favourably to those that were on television during your youth?

SX: At the moment I’m a huge fan of Regular Show, Teen Titans Go, Star Wars the Clone Wars and the latest iteration of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I am also a huge Young Justice Fan, it broke my heart when they cancelled it prematurely. Cartoon Network has a habit of cancelling great cartoons early, as they also done it to Class of 3000, Megas XLR and Sym-bionic Titan.

When comparing the cartoons of today to the ones that used to air when I was younger, there aren’t as many series’ with original ideas as there used to be. Many cartoons are just used for the purpose of selling toys and no longer focus on telling a quality story. Some others just entirely lack originality.

A: Who is your favourite comic book author?

SX: It has to be Dwayne McDuffie. Not only was he the creator of my favourite super hero, Static Shock, he also was not afraid to cover topics that are rarely covered in the comic books of today. In the original Milestone Static Shock comics, he would cover difficult issues such as racism, gangs, drugs and bullying in a rather realistic manner. This allowed me to relate to the comics incredibly easily when I was younger. In addition to this he was also a talented screenwriter and wrote some of the best episodes of Justice League/Unlimited and Teen Titans. Sadly he passed away in 2011. Rest In Peace.

A: Name your top 5 anime of all time…

SX: This isn’t in any particular order…

Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan)
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Samurai Champloo
Cowboy Bebop
Neon Genesis Evangelion

There are many other series’ that deserve a place in my top 5, however those are the ones that I have seen 5 times or more because they are awesome.

A: How do you feel about the ever declining use of samples within Hip-Hop music?

SX: Due to the internet, we’re living in an age where Kanye could release a new track and we’ll find out about the samples he used the next day. It’s kind of cool in a sense, but it’s also bad for the artist. It’s especially bad for independent labels and artists who don’t have the money to clear the samples, as the ease of identifying a sample can lead to them getting sued. I would say that greed has played a huge part in the decline of sampling. When a song utilises a sample and it is only moderately successful, it can be cleared and no trouble usually occurs. However is a song is more successful than expected, the person who owns the rights to the sample could refuse the amount they were offered to clear the sample and either ask for a larger percentage or pursue litigation.

A: Other than Hip-Hop, are there any genres of music that you particularly enjoy listening to?

SX: I’m a huge fan of Jazz music. If you catch me in a room, 8 out of 10 times I will be listening to either Jazz or Funk music. I mainly listen to Jazz Fusion and Post-bop but lately, I’ve been cultivating an interest in Bossa Nova and more free form stuff. I am also a lover of Progressive and Psychedelic Rock haha. I could listen to “Moving Pictures” by Rush, “Close To The Edge” by Yes, and “Jefferson Airplane” by Surrealistic Pillow for hours on end. Honestly I listen to a bit of everything, sometimes I will randomly replace all of the Hip-Hop on my phone with a rather more obscure genre, such as Stoner Rock. However I HATE bubblegum pop haha.

A: If money were no object and you could purchase one vintage synthesiser or drum machine/sampler, which one would it be and why?

SX: Firstly I would get the Korg Mono/Poly. I feel that it is an incredibly underrated synth, the effects and modulation on it are perfect for that vintage 80s sound. The weirdness you can get from the arpeggio is crazy. It’s not a good poly synth, however it is an amazing mono and unison synth. The next synth that I would buy, would be the Moog Sub Phatty. MY GOSH! The basslines that the Sub Phatty produces are otherworldly. The final piece of equipment that I would purchase would be the Roland SP-303. I’m going to keep it 100, I only want this sampler because Madlib and some of my other favourite producers on Soundcloud use it. I would just play around with it when I get bored haha

A: I have noticed that you have a rather diverse style of production. What inspires you creatively? And how do you cultivate variation within your own compositions?

SX: Madlib. A lot of my inspiration comes from him. He has such a strong love of music, and this shows in his projects. When you first put on a Madlib album you are never quite sure what you are going to get. It’s this creativity that inspires my own, I could go on about him all day haha. Madlib’s music has truly changed my life and he will always be my favourite Hip-Hop producer.

I would also say that my boredom is also a source of inspiration. I get bored extremely easily, so I like to do a lot of different things with my music. I cannot bring myself to constantly do one thing, I always like to find new ways to make my music interesting. For example I might get bored of using synths, so I will find different samples of a Fender Rhodes, stretch them and then layer them just to do something different. Sometimes I may get bored of Hip-Hop and then go and make an R&B or Synthpop song. I listen to lots of different musical genres, and I love to fuse elements of different genres together. Such as jazz chords with chip tunes, or house drums with a melodic bassline. There is a large amount of trial and error involved, but sometimes it really works.

A: What DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) do you use?

SX: FL Studio, and I’m starting to use Ableton Live.

A: Are there any specific VSTs or Audio Units (If you use Logic) that you would say are your favourites?

SX: I’m going to give away too much information by answering this haha. I don’t want people knowing my secrets. However some of my favourite VSTs are: 32 Chip, Tweakbench Peach, Arturia Minimoog V, NI Massive and Absynth.

A: Could you tell us about your EP ‘2003 // HeERO Scott’?

SX: The main concept is nostalgia. 2003 and 2004 were rather important years in my life. It was at that time that I took a significant interest in Hip-Hop. With this project, I wanted to tell a story through classic Toonami cartoons. HeERO Scott is a little tribute to the UK’s version of Toonami, which was cancelled back in 2007. The idea began when my little brother was at my house with my dad, and he was looking at my old VHS tapes and he was like “What’s CNX and Toonami?” This was the first time in my life that I felt old, so I showed him the tapes and while I was watching these cartoons, memories came flooding back. I then thought “I should make a tape that will invoke these very same emotions and memories”. While I was making the EP, I always played tapes of the Toonami shows that I recorded and that put real emotion into the music. I would then sample some of those episodes. In addition to this, the track “Last of A Dying Breed” is a tribute to the Gameboy Colour, as they were discontinued in 2003.

A: Are there any other upcoming projects that you would like to tell us about?

SX: Yeah I need to make my Senzu collective debut, which will be coming soon this year. I’ll probably make 2 more EPs, if I have the time haha. I’ll be working with some talented emcees and singers, and hopefully collaborating with some of my homies on Soundcloud.

A: We appreciate you taking the time to do this interview.

SX: Thank you. I would like to give a shout-out to the Senzu collective, Pira.md records, Divine Atoms, Gin-Yu Clan and all the homies. You know who you are.