We got to hang out with Sgt Slick last Saturday – his first time in Boston! For an hour before his midnight set at Gypsy Bar, we got to interview the Australian DJ/producer and chat music biz, recommend restaurants to hit during his stay, and find out where his name came from.
Your sound has bounced between progressive to deep to electro house. What did you start with?
► In Australia, I started doing parties and private parties where I got a good ground in pleasing varied crowds. I played pretty much everything when I started and then narrowed it to house after two or three years of experience.
Are there any genres you want to experiment with that you have not tried yet?
► I spend all week in the studio so I get a lot of time to try different things. Since being in the US, I’m moving into things like trap and a little bit of hip-hop. I’m up for anything.
What do you use to produce?
► Ableton. I switched from Logic about three years ago because I saw some people doing things that just blew me away, like using racks and macros. [Ableton] is so flexible. You hear people saying Logic is “the program,” but there are so many things hiding underneath the foot of Ableton that blow Logic out of the water. I just got Ableton 9 and am loving it.
Did you start as a DJ or producer?
► I started with DJ’ing and was doing that for probably two years before starting to produce. I get bored very quickly, so once I kind of mastered the DJ’ing side of things, I wanted to try what was next. I knew I wanted to be in music but I didn’t have the patience at the time to learn a new instrument, so I started cutting up edits and megamixes and things like that, and gradually adding synth lines, drum machines and loops.
When you got into producing, was it due to an urge to create something of your own, or was it more like sensing an opportunity to fill a void?
► I had been playing other people’s records and noticing gaps in the records that I wanted to fill up. That’s how it started, just adding beats to other records and re-editing. A lot of guys start that way. The void, the more you add, the more you take away… before you know it, you’re really making your own music without knowing how you got there.
Between DJ’ing and producing, is there one you feel more comfortable doing?
► Not really. One kind of drives the other for me. I can’t see myself doing one without the other. Obviously any DJ will tell you they use DJ sets as research as a testing ground for the new productions and I’m exactly the same way. I try and get out as much as I can. Even if I’m not DJ’ing, I’m in clubs listening to other DJs and surrounding myself with as much music as I can.
Are you currently working on any collaborations with other artists?
►Plenty, but none I can really talk about yet. I’ve been in LA for six or seven months now and got a great opportunity with DJ Vice. We had been working on things together and I eventually made the move to come over here. We have a studio set up in downtown LA and I’m doing a lot of remixes, placements, collaborations, and writing with different people. LA is amazing for that.
What do you think of LA?
►It’s an amazing place. You can go out seven nights a week and there’s someone amazing playing… there will be three or four amazing people playing. As I said, I go out a lot to try and soak myself in as much of the scene and culture as I can. That’s why I’m here.
From your own experience, how would you say the electronic music scene in Australia is different from that here in the US?
►We kind of had our EDM boom there – what you guys are going through now – eight or nine years ago. Maybe the bubble has burst a little. We have a lot of festivals down there and that tends to take a lot of people away from clubs. Over here, the money spent on the venues and sound is amazing. You have some of the most incredible venues I’ve ever seen. I go to Vegas a bit and all the clubs in LA, and just the sound and quality of venues, and the enthusiasm, is amazing. It reminds me of how Australia was seven years ago when everybody was discovering and getting into this music. I hope it lasts over here.
What do you think about the crowds you play to here?
►I think they’re pretty well educated over here now. I’ve been coming [to the US] for a long time and each time I can tell by the quality of the requests coming through and the reactions to what you might consider to be an underground record – the reactions you see on the dance floor are much more enthusiastic than perviously.
What’s your favorite part about performing?
►I do a lot of my own bootlegs and edits as most DJs do, but testing out the new stuff is what gives me a real rush. Feeling what happens when you drop them, taking notes, going back and changing them, and bringing them out again… by the time my record comes out, I’m on version 48 or 49 and I keep them all until the track gets released.
Do you remember the point in time you realized this would be your career?
►I started DJ’ing when I was in university. By the time I graduated, I was kind of earning more than a first-year graduate was in the course I got my degree, applied science/town planning…
►Not interesting. Not interesting at all. In high school I was into geography, legal studies and history.
Does the name Sgt Slick have anything to do with slicked hair?
►It’s actually a totally uninteresting story and has nothing to do with me at all. I had my first single, “White Treble, Black Bass,” and I was on the phone with the label ready to approve the vinyl. They said I needed a name and I had no idea. There was a hip-hop CD in front of me with a guy with a big afro and I thought he looked slick, so I said Slick. My buddy said to put another word in front of it, “S, something S…” so I said Sgt.
What goals do you have for the next year?
►To keep the output high. I have a couple of exciting things happening with placement at the moment so just trying to get those over the line. I’m here to make as much music as I can and keep on that path with some great gigs along the way.
What advice do you have for upcoming artists?
►There are so many people picking up turntables instead of guitars now, computers instead of keyboards and drum kits. Learn your craft. There are so many ways to gain knowledge of dance music production. There are tons of YouTube tutorials, and for each one you watch, there are like 50,000 other guys watching the same thing and learning the same tricks that you are. I’d say to pick one platform – whether it be Ableton, a plugin, or whatever – and just learn the hell out of it. Learn every single thing it does, learn it thoroughly, back to front. Software is the vehicle, but talent shines through.