2013 has been a groundbreaking year for Excision, especially after the release of the debut album from DESTROID: a subsonic alliance with his friends Downlink and former Pendulum drummer KJ Sawka. Alongside DESTROID, Excision plans to redefine the term “live performance” with physical instruments that seamlessly trigger computer-based elements.
Recently, Into the AM warped into the vast ranks of otherworldly onlookers at Excision’s House of Blues, Las Vegas tour stop. We could only look on as X tore apart the very ground he stood upon. But we kept our hearing long enough to catch him for a discussion about his roots, his new beat bunker, and his plans for DESTROID.
Into the AM: Who are the main influences behind your sound?
Excision: The first electronic music that stood out to me was the Prodigy’s “The Fat of the Land.” I loved it, but I couldn’t find anything else even close to it. It wasn’t until 2005 that I discovered drum ‘n’ bass and the Vex’d album “Degenerate,” which showed me the extent of what dubstep and all electronic music is capable of.
Into the AM: How did your career begin?
X: In 2005, I started producing and DJing, dropped out of the business degree program at the University of British Columbia, and decided that this was what I needed to do. My parents weren’t too impressed, but they had some level of faith when they saw I was putting in 12 hours a day to get better.
When I started, the Internet had a few places you could read up on production techniques, but it definitely wasn’t like today where there is a YouTube tutorialfor everything. Learning how to create the sounds of your imagination is a long, arduous process that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone who isn’t willing to sacrifice a big chunk of their life.
ITAM: What effect has your Canadian heritage had on your success?
X: I think that the biggest part of my Canadian background is that there really is no electronic music scene in Canada. Living in Kelowna, I didn’t know any other DJs for over a year and I didn’t meet other producers until I was touring in 2007. So most of the artists who hail from Canada end up sounding quite different than those who come from a strong scene with other artists influencing them.
ITAM: Do you think Dubstep is watered down by mainstream popularity?
X: I still think dubstep straddles the line between mainstream and underground, and certain kinds of dubstep have definitely become more mainstream now. But it’s not like you’re going to turn on the radio and hear an Excision track anytime soon. Instrumentals are the core of dubstep, and the mainstream stuff is very vocal driven. So as long as the core of dubstep stays instrumentally driven, then dubstep will always stay underground.
ITAM: What exactly is this mechanized bass monstrosity?
X: My new stage “The Executioner” has been in progress since April of last year. When we built Xvision, we learned what projection mapping is truly capable of, and with a bit bigger budget this year, we were able to produce something far more complex. We wanted to move away from the 2D “trippy visualizations” as much as possible. My team and I felt that we had learned enough from Xvision to tackle the entire project ourselves.
ITAM: What did it take to launch such a revolutionary live experience?
X: I worked with Ben from Beama Visual and went through 66 revisions before we finally settled on the current design. Then, I hired 50 or so animators from around the world, created storyboards of what we wanted each animation to look like – how we wanted it to sync with a specific song – and spent a huge amount of time getting each one dialed in.
Justin is our Mr. Fixit guy. He handled the window to the DJ booth, which goes up and down at the push of a button, as well as the panels that open and close to reveal lasers within the stage, CO2 jets, low-lying fog machines, and even snow machines! A Canadian crew can’t truly put on a high production value show without snow.
ITAM: Are you limited by the number of available animations?
X: I wanted to keep everything as close to a traditional DJ setup as possible, and still have the freedom to play whatever tracks in whatever order the crowd wants them. We use Serato music videos for 70 songs; usually I get through 55 in a set. Each of these videos stay in perfect sync with the attached song and the Serato video technology is perfect so far.
Where we ran into trouble was creating a fully synced lighting show. We bridged Ableton to Serato and hacked a bunch of things in order to get the time code sent out to the lighting desk and trigger all the cues. The result is a system that gives me full freedom to cater to the crowd and still be a real DJ, but at the same time give a fully synced audio-visual show.
ITAM: That sounds promising.
You might think this has been done before, but every artist I’ve seen, and I’ve seen nearly all of them, have a 100% pre-planned set that they literally just press a play button at the beginning of the show and fake it for 90 minutes. Fuck that!
Due to how long it takes for movie-grade animations to be created, I had to be careful about which songs I had them made for. I won’t ruin the surprise, but it’s going to be an epic set that stays true to my roots, but still has enough diversity to make everyone happy.
ITAM: So exactly how loud is this thing?
X: How loud a sound system is depends on how close you are to it, and how big the room is. Our 100,000-watt PK system is really dialed in for dubstep with 40 subwoofers putting out pure bass. It can do serious damage to venues, especially the smaller ones. The bass in small venues bounces off the back wall and double the bass in some places.
On many occasions, we would explode thousands of dollars of alcohol bottles. Venues also don’t like it when huge chunks of drywall fall from their ceiling at every drop, or when all their light bulbs explode.
ITAM: What are some rules for your crew while touring?
X: The rule when the tour bus pulls over is, if you get out, leave something on the passenger seat. Our sound guy Jesus, as we call him, forgot this with a dead phone in his pocket and got off to buy something at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. He had no money or any way to charge his phone. Somehow he managed to call us from a random number an hour later, but he never forgot the rule again.
ITAM: What are you most proud of about your musical journey?
X: The most memorable achievements that come to mind are playing to 10 or 20 thousand people at epic venues like Red Rocks in Colorado or The Gorge in Washington. Looking out at the crowd, and the awesome view and, seeing so many people rocking out to such nasty music is a pretty righteous feeling.
ITAM: How’s the Destroid project coming along? Any news on potential tour dates?
X: I’ve spent over three years on this new Destroid project and I believe that the way we are putting it together sets a new path for electronic music performance. Yes, it uses computers, but you’d never know it, nor will you see them on stage. All you’ll see is two custom midi guitars and a fully custom digital drum kit. We’ll be playing our songs, covers of other tracks, and songs shared with us by our friends.
We’ll have intricate, alien, robotic costumes with tons of crazy technology embedded, and the freedom to play each song differently each night will be truly unique. We’ve gone so deep into the storyline of this project with viral videos and a graphic novel series that they all tie in with the storyline in the tunes. We have our album nearly finished and we are looking at a March or April release! We have our first gigs booked at festivals this summer across North America and we can’t wait to show the world everything we have in store.
Destroid and the Executioner Stage are my main focuses for the next year. As far as Excision goes, I am going to keep pumping out tunes under Excision and playing shows as Excision while working on building up Destroid.
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** Special Thanks to Jeff and Brett Abel, Excision’s GM John Ochoa, Photographer Travis Zebe, and the House of Blues Las Vegas**